Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I have spent most of my life fighting the battle of the bulge. I’ve done it for a variety of reasons. When I was young I did it because I was told men did not find “large” women attractive. Since I grew up in an era when it was more important for a woman to earn her MRS than her BS, this became a major issue in my youth.

As I aged, I fought the battle in an attempt to ward off the actual aging process. I come from the generation that said we should trust no one over 30. That made it very difficult to reach 40 and 50 feeling good about myself.  I thought if I could just be thin enough, no one would notice how old I’d gotten.  Needless to say, that didn’t exactly work out as I planned. When fourteen bones in your back creak and crack when you get out of a chair while making that “oof” sound, people know you are not a spring chicken.
My final battle of the bulge came as I entered my “mature” years and developed health problems that were directly affected by weight.  I’m having more success with the battle this time around, probably due to the fact that it is more about surviving long enough to spend my retirement than simply vanity.
All of the above is an attempt at full disclosure for what follows. And that is that America seems obsessed with the issue of obesity with no middle ground tolerated in the discussion.  You either accept that America is getting extremely fat and the collective weight of the next generation’s poundage induced diseases will crush our health care system or you are wrong. 
As always, I find extremism suspect based solely on the fact that extremists are rarely actually dealing with reality. I find truth can usually be found somewhere in the middle ground that most extremists loathe because it does not fit in with their worldview.
And so I watch in amazement as designers create size 0 clothing with the implication being that if you are anything over a size 2, you are fat. There is a commercial on TV for a diet product in which the pitch is that the young lady was able to go from a size 8 to a size 2 in some amazingly short amount of time.
I think in this instance Muslims fundamentalists are more honest in their actions than Americans. They make no bones of the fact that they want their women to disappear and cover them completely from head to toe to achieve that end.
Here in America, we view that action as reprehensible but see nothing wrong in encouraging girls to become a size 0. Either way, the message going out to women is that to be acceptable, you have to be either a cipher totally enveloped in a walking tent or a size 0 which really just says you are a nothing, literally a zero.
I watch in amazement as cupcakes are banned from school birthday parties or any event for children sponsored by anyone who hopes to maintain any sort of good reputation in the kiddie world.  We no longer allow birthday cupcakes, Christmas cookies, Halloween candy or any munchie that isn’t healthy and sugar free. These same children will then go home to households in which at least 50% of the dinners they eat will be take out and of that, most will probably be pizza.  So let’s take a guess as to which will ultimately have a greater effect on the child’s eventual size and eating habits.
I think our kids need to learn good nutrition and good eating habits.  I think that to be effective, that training needs to be backed up by parents who cook healthy meals at home. I think schools should be allowed to treat kids on special holidays with a cookie or cupcake without risking their reputation.  If what the child learns is that if you eat healthy most of the time an occasional treat won’t kill you, then the child will have learned a real life lesson.
But if what we teach our children is that all sweets are forbidden and bad...well, let’s all remember back to our childhoods and how we responded when something became forbidden.  Made it way more attractive, didn’t it?
So let’s leave the extremes and meet in the middle where common sense should prevail.  Our kids need to learn to eat sensibly. They need to understand that neither a size 0 nor a size 22 is healthy but that leaves a lot of room in the middle. 
And for goodness sakes, grab hold of some sanity and let them have cookies at the class Christmas party.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:00 AM •
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A couple of nights ago I decided to ignore the falling snow and grill a kebob for dinner.  The grill is on my porch. I needed to change from my slippers to a pair of shoes. I went to my closet. There was a pair of black shoes and a pair of brown shoes, both of which would have been equally up to the snowy task.  The brown shoes are more comfortable. But I was wearing grey pants and a black shirt and black socks.  As much as I wanted to wear the brown shoes, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of my sister shaking her head in sad disapproval as I put on brown shoes with a black outfit. And so I put the black shoes on even though they hurt my toes. Because even on a snowy Saturday night in Anchorage, with my sister three thousand miles away, I hesitate to wear brown with black for fear that she will somehow know.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:21 AM •
Monday, October 30, 2006

When boys are selling things at the store to raise money for a team or for the boy scouts, they tend to stand around joking, punching each other in the shoulders and looking as though the last thing on their mind is pushing their product. When girls are selling things for their team or the girl scouts, they seem much more focused on the task at hand and rarely let anyone go by without at least asking if they are interested in buying something. 
No moral here. Just something I’ve observed.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 05:57 AM •
Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dunking? Torture? Yes, I could not be prouder of our current leadership. With Bill Cinton we debated the meaning of the word “is”, With George Bush and his fun loving puppetmaster Dick Cheney, we debate the definition of torure.  I’d was less embarrassed by Bill Clinton’s cigar trick.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 11:11 AM •
Saturday, October 28, 2006

Poor Blue is going crazy trying to figure out how to herd me, Blondie, the three birdcages downstairs and the two birdcages upstairs into the same general area so she can sleep soundly, knowing her job is done.  How do I tell her that even I can’t carry those cages up the stairs for her?  I’m hoping she’ll eventually figure out that the birds are already in safe “pens” for the night and she can relax.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:16 AM •
Friday, October 27, 2006

I picked up his ashes yesterday and now he’s home again. I feel both he and I can rest better now knowing he’s where he belongs with the person who loved him best.  Blondie and Blue sniffed his ashes respectfully.  And my Abdul bird has not said his name since he left us.  I think she knows and is sad in her own way. She used to start every day calling him. “C’m here, T” she’d yell over and over till he slowly trotted by on his way out for his morning break.  Now, she still repeats the “C’m here” part but never says his name.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:22 AM •
Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sandals and socks in 40 degree weather...does anything else better indicate an Alaskan’s refusal to let go of summer?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:37 AM •
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Last week was a hard week for me.  Not only was I attending a seminar entitled The Alaska Child Maltreatment Conference, but I finally had to send my little buddy of 15 years across the Rainbow Bridge.


At the beginning of the week, the only thought in my mind was, “What PR genius named this conference?” By the end of the week, the only thought in my mind was that all our children should have as much love and kindness in their lives as Mr. T had in his.
Mr. T didn’t always have it easy. He came to me as a two year old with the worse case of ADHD I have ever seen in any creature, including my beloved godchild. He’d lost his first home in part because of his frantic activity and was looking for a second chance to prove he could be someone’s good buddy.
Mr. T could spin through my house in a constant circle for hours on end, leaping across couches and chairs, whether they were occupied or not, just to burn off his energy. I used to take him down Fresh Water Lake Road in Barrow and let him run behind the car from the cemetery to the lake and back. It was about three miles round trip and sometimes we had to do three trips before he had used up enough energy to consider getting back in the car.
As time went on and he realized that this life we were creating would continue, he calmed down.  I know some friends who would laugh at that statement and say that he didn’t actually calm down till he got senile but really, he did.  He grew comfortable and secure in the knowledge that it was his house, his food dish, his toys.  He understood that no matter what threats the birds were making, in the end I would protect his stuff and not let them have any of it.  As he grew more secure, he also grew calmer. We still walked every day but the frantic nature of his motion disappeared and he seemed to actually savor the time we had together. He took the time to smell the roses.  And then he took the time to mark them so that every other dog that came along would understand they were his roses.
As I listened to the case studies described in the seminar on child abuse, I realized that Mr. T had something so many of the children we discussed would never know. He had stability, love, guidelines and limits. He knew where he stood in the hierarchy of the household.... ok, maybe he had a slightly inflated sense of that but nonetheless he knew he had standing in the household and that standing was firm.  He knew he’d be fed and walked every day. He knew he had a safe bed to sleep in at night and a safe lap to sit in while watching Animal Planet.
If the kids who go through the state system had half of those things, they probably wouldn’t have to be in the state system. And that’s just such a sad statement to make.  I offer no apologies for the love and care I lavish on my animals.  They deserve it and I can afford to give it to them.  I don’t think this is a case of having to choose to be nice to animals or nice to kids.  In a perfect world, both kids and pets would have all the love, laps and security they needed to make each day an exciting new adventure.
I was taking Mr. T on our regular walk when he collapsed. I brought him to the wonderful people over at College Village Animal Clinic and they helped me help him cross the Rainbow Bridge surrounded by people who cared, in the arms of the person who loved him beyond all possible description.  Till the day he died, he knew he was safe and secure. He knew I would never let anyone hurt him and that the people who I entrusted him to when I wasn’t there would be kind and gentle.
Wouldn’t it be great if someday here in Alaska every one of our children...and really, they are all “our” children.... could have that same love, security and peace that Mr. T enjoyed for the last 15 years of his life. Imagine what a better world that would be for them and for us. It’s not an impossible dream to achieve but it isn’t an easy one.  When you consider what’s at stake though, it would seem that no amount of effort should be too much to make all our children safe and loved.
Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:01 AM •
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

OK, so apparently the dogs take the left and middle side of the bed and I get the right edge if I cling closely enough.  I’m glad we got that straight their first night here.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:53 AM •
Monday, October 23, 2006

The newest addition to people who annoy me beyong human comprehension?  Laura Bush.  I don’t know why.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:42 AM •
Sunday, October 22, 2006

My two potential new dogs came over yesterday and it went very well. They are darling. We took a long walk and once we figured out who was on the right and who was on the left and where I fit in and how to untangle the leashes from my legs, then untangle them from my feet, then swirl my body around to unwrap them from my torso, everything went fine. They return today for good. 
Blue takes two insulin shots a day and has the foster parents convinced that she can’t get out of bed in the morning because she’s so sluggish due to her diabetes. So she gets a treat to get her going.  Now that’s my kind of dog!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:52 AM •
Saturday, October 21, 2006

Do you ever get the feeling that your life is one long sitcom and you didn’t get cast in the lead?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:28 AM •
Friday, October 20, 2006

Blondie, a lab, and Blud, an Australian cattle dog with diabetes, come for a visit on Saturday. If all goes well, they will fill the hole Mr. T’s absence has left in my life.  Blue takes insulin once a day. I figure it’s something we can share.  One for me, one for her.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:32 AM •
Thursday, October 19, 2006

I watch the crime scene shows in awe and wonder.  Will these writers ever run out of really bizarre ideas? Are these ideas coming from real cases or are they making them up? And if they are making them up, then should those writers really be allowed to be free in society?  For that matter, should any writer be free in society? Tis a question to be pondered by all who wonder how many ways you can kill someone and make it interesting for a full hour.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:06 AM •
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Soon after I turned forty, I looked back on my life and decided that there was some things I did very well and some things I didn’t.  I was professionally successful. I had wonderful friends and family. I was a multiple pet owner who loved and indulged her animals in every way possible.  And I was the worse practitioner in the world of the art of dating and relationships.

I realized, as I reviewed the detritus that passed for my romantic life, that I had a problem. Put one thousand wonderful men in a room with one scumbag and I would gravitate towards that scumbag like metal to a magnet.  Try as I might to weed them out, I apparently did not find a man attractive unless he had one foot on the line and one foot dangling over the precipice.
So, I made a decision. If relationships were what I did worse, then maybe I needed to take some responsibility for my choices and not have anymore bad relationships. If I didn’t find myself attracted to someone who wasn’t going to need bail money frequently through the year, then I would simply consider that part of my life on indefinite hold while I concentrated on those things I did better.
Twenty years later I can say that was the best decision I ever made. I have a great life with great friends, great pets, and great passions.  I am not held back or held down by a negative relationship that takes all my energy and money to keep up.  I made a wise decision and even if it wasn’t always easy to stick to it, I did.
Why do I tell you this now? Because I think it is time that personal responsibility become fashionable again.  Why do I think it’s fallen out of fashion?  Because from my perspective, we have become a nation of victims who take no real responsibility for anything we do.  The current fracas in Washington over ex-congressman Foley is a perfect example.
When Foley was outed as both gay and a pedophile, he promptly decided he had a drinking problem and signed himself into a treatment facility. The message?  It wasn’t him. It was the alcohol. When the heat was raised on Dennis Hastert based on statements from congressional staff that his office had been warned a long time ago about Foley’s problem, he promptly threw his staff to the lions saying that he knew nothing about it and if he found out some members of his staff did, they would lose their jobs.  Am I the only one who senses that some poor staffer is about to take the fall for him?
Finally, in the most egregious of examples to come out of this fiasco, Connecticut Representative Christopher Shays defended Hastert by saying that at least no one died like they did in 1969 at Chappaquiddick. 
There is no arguing the fact that Ted Kennedy is the poster child for irresponsible behavior.  You don’t get much scummier than his actions that day and in the days to follow.  But do we really want him defining the lowest common Congressional denominator so that anyone who doesn’t sink quite that far is considered ok?
Remember when you were a kid and you tried to argue with your mother that your misdeed wasn’t half as bad as what Billy down the street did so you shouldn’t get such a harsh punishment?  You know the line.  “But mom, Billy did something really bad and his mom didn’t take his privileges away for a month.  You’re not being fair!”
Your mom didn’t buy that argument back then and we shouldn’t buy that argument now.  Hastert, Foley and Kennedy need to stand up and take personal responsibility for the actions they took based on the decisions they made.  Foley knew what he was doing was wrong. He should not have done it. If it was a compulsion, then he should have sought help.  Hastert should have taken action much sooner.  He is the head of his party in Congress. If he takes the glory that goes with that title, then he must also take the responsibility. This buck ultimately stops with him. And Kennedy should have never left Mary Jo to die in that car in that river.
They were responsible for the decisions they made at every turn. They need to stand up, acknowledge this, take their punishment like the adults we expect them to be and let us get back to the real issues affecting this country. 
Personal responsibility...an idea whose time has come.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 06:17 AM •

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