Sunday, February 11, 2018

Classic Post - Racism, Language, and "White Pride"

 I published this years ago on my old MySpace blog (clearly prior to 2008 when you look at my comment on Presidents' Day).  I wanted to save it for the archives when I shut that blog down.  I realized I never reposted it.  The time is now.

So today I read an interesting bulletin about racism from one of my MySpace friends. The gist of the piece was how unfair it is to use words like "hillbilly" or "cracker" or "gringo" regarding white people with no repercussions, but it's racist to use the n-word. The piece dares to ask why it's not wrong to have black student unions and black history month and display black pride, but why it's racist to have white student unions or say that you're proud of being white.

I'll answer that bulletin first by defining racism. A great definition I learned in Sociology 101 was that Racism=Prejudice+Power. Prejudice is the exclusion or stereotyping or classifying by people's color or religion. Racism takes that feeling of prejudice and institutionalizes it. Prejudice means making stupid jokes about black people being able to dance or eating watermelon. Racism is the lack of CEOS of Fortune 500 companies. Racism is the pay gap between black and white athletes. Racism is the white kid in the suburbs who gets a slap on the wrist when he's caught with a bag 'o' dope, while the inner city black kid has the cops kicking in his door for the same offense. Racism is the subtle things as well. It's the fact that even though my closest friend at work is a black man, our friendship rarely ever goes outside the confines of the office because there seems to be an invisible barrier that keeps us from fully entering each other's worlds.

The words associated with racism are words of power as well. There was a time when the use of the n-word by a white man was meant to put a black man in his place. When you called a black person racist names, or referred to a man as "boy", you were asserting your control, your superiority over that person. Racist words have a very strong context. They still have the power to hurt because the words and phrases have so many years of hate history behind them.

Words like cracker and hillbilly are indeed cruel, but let's not forget that white people often use these terms against each other. Do they really have the same power behind them? The fact that white people don't get offended by these terms is a pretty clear indicator that they don't. Do white people really feel a strong sense of hurt by being called "cracker"? Remember The Jeffersons? George Jefferson threw the word "honky" around all of the time and the reaction tended to be, "Look at cute little George Jefferson insulting people because they're white." Not once did I ever see Tom Willis show real anger over the insult. There was the time in Cozumel when Kevin and I went riding and we were being assigned horses according to riding experience. I asked the guide what kind of horse he intended to give the experienced riders and he replied, "Oh just Psycho Horse, Gringo Killer..." I told him to give Kevin Gringo Killer. I took no offense, and let's face it, why should I? I was the "wealthy" American tourist paying this man to take me for a ride. If all this guy had was to call me Gringo, well have at it.

On the white pride thing, I will argue that there is such a thing as white pride. The thing about white pride is that it's fragmented. There is no unity among white people. We have Columbus Day (which is often considered a holiday for Italian-Americans even though the country known as Italy didn't exist in Columbus's time). We have St. Patrick's Day. We have Ocktoberfest. There are social organizations like the Sons of Italy and the polka halls. I see smaller European-related festivals advertised quite a lot. Sure people of all types might attend these festivals, but what race is the people behind these things, hmmmm?? Blacks get Martin Luther King Day. European Americans have all of the holidays mentioned above plus President's Day (what race were the Presidents?)

It seems to me that those who only identify with being white, and want "white pride" are people who really have problems sharing power. Most of them had little power to being with. The changing face of the United States has made them feel even more powerless. They feel held back by the advancement of people of color. The things that hold them back are the same things that hold many of us back, most of which have nothing to do with race. If people are going to feel victimized by what they feel is "reverse racism" and say that it's the root of all of their problems of why they and others like them can't get ahead, then they are no better than the people they criticize.

People like this don't make me proud of being white. I have no common ground or point of reference with these people. Not all white people in the US share a common culture. What do I have in common with some ignorant KKK dude from some rural backwater other than European ancestry? Why should I be proud of something I have so little control over. His way of life is very different from mine. I'm not going to be proud only of "being white" when that genetically-mandated trait is shared with the membership of the KKK, George W. Bush, and Britney Spears, and Charles Manson. To me, "White Pride" is meaningless. The color of my skin says nothing about who I am as a person.

African Americans do not have the same cultural touchstones that European Americans do. If your ancestors were brought over on slave ships hundreds of years ago, you don't have the luxury of declaring your pride in being an Ethiopian-American, or a Malawian-American, or a Zambian-American. You only know that your ancestors originated in Africa. Those ancestors were living in the United States far longer than many of us European-Americans. (How many people reading this had their ancestors immigrate to the US in the 20th century?) That history is the one thing they share. It is as much a part of American history as the Civil War and the Depression, but it's been mostly overlooked until the latter half of the the twentieth century. Being black unites people in a way that being white can't. The biggest cultural touchstone African-Americans have is race itself, and the shared American history that the books ignored for far too long.

Why the pride in race? It's the same reason we show pride in any ethnic background in the United States. It's because there was a time when being of a certain race or ethnic background was something we were told to be ashamed of. Just about any immigrant population in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were subjected to all sorts of prejudices. Having pride days and marches and festivals is a way of saying, "We're proud of who we are and we're not going to let you hold us back, or put us down because of who we are." It's a declaration of unity over a shared culture and history. It's the same for blacks as it is for the Irish.

Why no white pride parades and festivals? Do you really need one? White men are still running the show in this country no matter how oppressed they feel. What are you proud of? Are you proud of genetics? You're proud of a fluke of birth? You're proud of the heritage that may not be the same heritage as the person standing next to you who also managed to be born with white gene? What would a "White Pride" day accomplish other than to remind those less fortunate who is still in charge?

For anyone who asks me, "Why can't I use the n-word?" I will respond with, "Why would you want to?"

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Way the Fitness Industry Hurts Women the Most (and what I suggest can help)

The fitness industry comes under heavy criticism for the way it feeds off women's insecurities. The fitness media machine makes women feel inadequate as if there is something defective about their bodies that needs to be fixed.  It preys on the way women tie their self esteem to how they look. It sets up and reinforces and impossible beauty standards.  We know all of this.

I have another beef with the fitness industry.  I don't like the way it hits women in the wallet.  Fitness program marketers set up expectations for what women can do about their bodies.  Then it finds a hundred new ways to make them pay for it.

Let's imagine a woman, just an ordinary American woman, whom I'll call Sally.

Sally needs a lifestyle update.  She has become a couch potato.  She orders takeout for dinner most nights and it's not the kind of takeout that provides optimal nutrition.  She notices she has been gaining weight lately, but isn't motivated to do too much about it.

One night she is crashed out on the couch with a glass of wine in one hand and the TV remote in the other.  As she mindlessly channel surfs, she stops on a station where the preview says, "Get a Killer Body."  Intrigued, she decides to keep watching.

The infomercial is for a revolutionary new exercise program called Balloga Kick-o-Rama.  This program was specially designed by the perky fitness guru hawking it on camera.  These scientifically engineered moves provide the exact amount of fat burning and muscle building and it torches hundred of calories per workout.  Do this program and you will reshape you body.  There are testimonials from regular users of the program to prove it.  (Oh yes, there is a fine print saying the results aren't typical and the participants all had to alter their diets, but we won't worry about that.)

Sally decides it's time to get in shape and she buys system.  It comes with an eating plan that she tries to follow.  The first month is torture.  The program is new to her, so she has trouble keeping up at first.  She is out of shape and daily exercise takes a toll on her body.  She is often stiff and sore.  She knows it's important to stay in shape, so she perseveres.  After another month she becomes fitter and more adept.  She has lost a noticeable amount of weight and people comment.  She looks and feels better.  By the third month her feelings change.  She has been doing the program almost daily and has practically memorized each workout.  Her body has adapted so well, it all feels quite easy.  Her weight loss progress slows.

Sally comes to the end of the 90-day program.  She's bored with it and she's no longer losing weight or looking fitter.  She doesn't want to do the whole 90 day program over again.  She has had enough of it.  She is just so over Balloga Kick-o-Rama.  Discouraged, she goes back to being a couch potato and gains the weight back. Six months down the road, she sees an infomercial for Turbo Booty Zumlates.  The cycle starts all over again.

Women are the main target of every "revolutionary" new fitness program that comes along.  They may occasionally be led by token men.  Sometimes men will give testimonials in fitness infomercials.  There is always a man in every workout video.  Still the trendiest exercise classes are always aimed and women and it is mostly women who attend them and buy the videos.  Most women will eagerly start a new program hoping this one will solve all her weight woes (and fix her poor body image once and for all), but after she spends a few months, and hundreds (possibly thousands) of dollars, she finds out the current exercise fad is no better than the last one.  The magic solution to a leaner body wasn't so magic after all.  She moves onto the next big thing.

Exercise programs aimed at women are heavily branded.  Like any advertised product, they promise to sell not just fitness, but happiness and personal fulfillment.  Each program, no matter what type of class or video it is, has a rigorous formula that is clearly defined.  Every teacher has to follow a certain pattern of movement, and that pattern is sold as the solution.  The programs also comes with branded merchandise.  Some of it is optional, and some of it is required.  The companies that sell these products and the specialized gyms who offer these programs do their best to milk as much as possible from their students. It's not just about taking the classes.  You need to buy a certain type of weights, wear special shoes and socks, look cute in the class-themed t-shirts and leggings, and maybe even buy supplements and shakes.

Fitness shouldn't have to be this expensive, or this complicated.  Fitness is simple.  It's not easy, but it is simple.  All your body needs is some strength training for muscle development, cardiovascular training, and flexibility training.  None of these requires a branded program.

The strength aspect of fitness is the one where I feel most women are led astray.  Even though the stigma of women in the weight room is mostly gone, the myth still persists in some pockets of the industry that women who lift too heavy will look bulky (and even if that were true, what's wrong with being bulky?)  A good strength training program needs little equipment and a fairly small time investment.  All you need is a strong routine.

A basic routine consists of a quad dominant lower body exercise (squat, lunge, split squat, and their variations), a hip dominant lower body exercise (deadlift, kettlebell swing, glute bridge, hip thruster), an upper body push exercise (pushup, press, flye, crossovers), a lower body pull exercise (rows, lat pulldowns, reverse rows, pullups), anti spinal flexion exercise (plank, ball rollouts) and and anti spinal rotation (wood chops, paloff press, single arm rows - bonus that's also a pull exercise so you kill two birds with one stone).  Do three sets of each type of exercise with weights that will challenge you within no more than fifteen reps and preferably within about ten reps.  For more challenge, go even heavier and reduce the reps to range of 6-8 reps and increase the number of sets.  The routine should take no more than 40 minutes.  Isn't that better than spending an hour doing 100 reps with tiny weights working small muscle groups?

If it's so simple and effective, why don't more women do it?  It's because the industry doesn't want you to think it's simple.  The companies that sell videos and run branded classes want you to believe it takes some magical routine, one geared especially to women, to effectively change your body.  Men are already doing the basics in the weight room.  It's hard to market to them because the supposed effects of strength training are not considered a negative for them. There is a finite amount of money to be made in weight training because there are only so many ways you can brand and repackage the same exercises.   There is nothing stopping women from doing the same types of workouts other than the industry telling them that if they work out like men, their bodies will look like men's bodies.  The industry doesn't want women to just buy some weights, learn some exercises, and never need much in the way of gear or classes again.  The industry wants women to keep trying every new class that comes along.

But we can't get rid of these exercise fads altogether.  Even I have to admit women need them.  They need them because sometimes being lured into another branded exercise program is the only way to get them to exercise.  Maybe Serenity Boxing classes are expensive and no more effective than a more traditional workout, but that doesn't matter if a woman has no interest in a traditional workout.  If Serenity Boxing lures her to the studio and gets her moving regularly, does it matter if it's expensive and possibly not permanent?  Maybe she will tire of it.  (Maybe other women will tire of it so the studio stops making money and closes).  Maybe it won't always be as effective as it was in the first few months as her body adapts to the movements.  Maybe she will see better results with a more traditional program.  Does it really matter how one tries to get fit in an increasingly unfit world?  Any exercise at all should be appreciated. The important thing is she is exercising regularly without putting herself at risk of injury.

I do believe that any exercise is better than none at all, and any program that persuades someone off the couch deserves credit.  I don't like the predatory fitness marketing machine that keeps women in an endless cycle of seeking the one program that will make her inadequate (by media standards)body into a body she loves.  I despise the way fitness companies make women empty their wallets over and over again in hopes of finding a program she will want to stick to.

Now that I have had my rant, let's talk about what kinds of things we can do to make exercise habits stick and turn exercise into a permanent habit and not just a temporary fad we indulge in.  Here are my best tips.

Try that trendy class, but have a backup
So you are a couch potato want to try that Booty Bandaid class?  That's great.  You're doing something for your body and taking a step in the right direction.  May I suggest that you don't become dependent on it?  You may grow bored with it.  The trend may fade and the studio will close or the makers of the video will stop producing it.  Try to find another exercise that you think you can do and mix it up.  You'll be bored with Booty Bandaid less quickly and you will stay active if you can no longer do the class.  Your workouts will be more effective if you're not always doing the same moves too.

Do something that requires skill building, or has infinite progression 
How many bodyweight reps can you realistically do?  How many springs can you put on that Pilates reformer?  How much more can you jump around in Zumba? It's best to find activities where progression is built in.  For example, with strength training, you can always add more weight.  In yoga you can always try more challenging poses or try to take the poses you can do to a deeper level (as video fitness instructor Brian Kest said, "Most poses are endless.") If you take up running, you can always try to improve time and distance.

Also, look at activities that focus on skill building.  I ride horses and I dance.  I can always work on doing more complex dance steps and more intricate routines.  I can ride more difficult horses, learn more complex dressage moves, jump bigger fences, or simply continuously work on my horses forward impulsion (a skill that truly takes a lifetime to develop).  Don't do pale imitations of a sport.  Do the sport.  Instead of Barre class, take ballet (or jazz or modern).  Instead of cardio kickboxing, take martial arts or boxing classes.  Instead of Zumba, try salsa dancing.

Stand up!
Years ago a trainer talked me into taking reformer Pilates classes.  I decided to give it a try and see what the fuss was about.  Each class started with lying on the reformer, bending our knees and straightening them.  First we did it with feet apart, and then we did it with feet in first position.  It was exactly how we start dance class with pliĆ©s.  However, in dance class, we stand.  As I bend my legs in a standing plie´I am moving the entire weight of my body against gravity.  I have to stablilize my trunk muscles (the "core" if you must) to hold my upper body erect.  My arm muscles have to work to hold my arm aloft throughout the movement.  I am working my entire body.  In Pilates class the only muscles engaged were my legs.  Everything else lay dormant on the reformer bed.  This was supposed to be a full body class?

Obviously there are times when we are unable to stand while we exercise due to injuries or illness.  But a healthy person should be able to exercise standing up.  Where is the functionality of exercising while lying down?  Throughout the day your body moves through three-dimensional space.  We don't lie on the floor to go about our daily activities. Humans are lazy enough as it is.  We shouldn't be horizontal and then call ourselves active.  If you're going to exercise, then move in real ways.  Move your body through space.  See how much freer your body is when you stand up.  Feel the way gravity makes you stronger.  What daily activities do you do standing up?  You probably do many of them in a vertical position.  Now how many of them require lying on the floor other than sleeping?  (Yes, there is that, but if you only do that lying on your back, then you're missing out on a lot.)  If you exercise lying on your back, you're not preparing yourself for anything other than sleeping or the missionary position. 

Don't forget to play
Are there activities you enjoy?  Things you wish you did more of?  Well, stop putting them off and start doing them.   Do you need to get outside?  Then go for a hike in nature.  Ride your bicycle with the same joy you did as a child.  Are you tired of the winter?  Go ice skating.  If it snows, invest in a sled and hit the hills.  When you take your family on that beach vacation, take your boogie board to the waves, rent a kayak or paddleboard, or view the fish underwater with a snorkel.  Go to a climbing gym or trampoline park.  Run an obstacle race.  Join a local sports league.  Not only will these things help make exercise feel like fun instead of a chore, but many of them require skill-building, which means more physical progress. 

Happy exercising!  I mean that.  Be happy exercising.  Don't buy into short-term solutions.  Buy into long-term pleasure.  Enjoying life and feeling healthy is much more important than a short term solution.  I hope every woman (and every man) learns this.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Dangers and Advantages of Following Fashion Bloggers

How I dress is pretty important to me. Clothes aren't just what I wear to avoid being naked.  Clothes are fun.  They are a form of self expression. They help me look my best. I might even go as far to say they are form of art that also conveniently prevent me from being naked.

Dressing isn't always easy.  I have a body that's hard to fit.  I don't have a million spare hours to browse every store and website to find pieces I love.  I also don't have unlimited funds for buying the right clothes when I do find them.  Sometimes I need help trying to find out what's out there and how to put it together into the perfect outfit. 

This is what makes style bloggers so useful.  They are out there finding the trends and making the purchases and putting the outfits together.  I can look at an outfit post and see if I can replicate it with something I already have in my closet, or I can use it to determine if I want to buy something new.  They provide resources for the best retailers for short women.   Most bloggers include links to the places where I can buy their clothes, or if it's an older piece not currently offered by the brand, they provide a link where I can buy something similar.  They also tell me where the sales are.  I can Pin outfits for later inspiration.  I credit many of my wardrobe choices in the past year to the influence of fashion bloggers.

There is a dark side to the fashion blog world though.  Browsing fashion blogs can be as frustrating for me as it useful.  Take a look at some of the blogs I follow and  you will see why.

As a short woman, I tend to follow petite bloggers.  I follow Extra Petite, Stylish Petite, Just a Tina Bit, Cute and Little, 9 to 5 Chic, Color and Chic, and Style is My Pudding regularly.  Other blogs I sometimes visit include Sydne Style, Retro Flame, Wendy's Lookbook, Walk in Wonderland, J Petite, Lace and Locks, Hallie Daily, and Fashion Me Now.

When I venture away from the petite bloggers, I like Kendi Everyday, Not Dressed as Lamb, Atlantic Pacific, and The Age of Grace.

Here is the problem with following fashion blogs.  Check out the petite blogs.  What do all of those bloggers have in common?  If you say, "They're all thin," then you know what I'm talking about.

All it takes is a glance at a few of these blogs before you notice petite bloggers are overwhelmingly thin.  When I say thin, I mean tiny.  I'm talking about no significant curves.  I'm talking about women who could probably shop in the children's department.  Petite fashion bloggers sport spaghetti strap slip dresses, backless sweaters, and off-shoulder blouses, because they never have to worry about how their clothes will go over their much-needed bras.  Petite fashion bloggers will tell you they found the perfect petite swimwear, but it's almost always because they don't have to cover squishy bellies and have a cute new bikini.  Their stomachs are all flat.  Petite fashion bloggers walk around in tiny shorts in the summer because they don't suffer from chub rub on their thighs.  When Jean Wang excitedly blogs about how she found the size 00 fit her nicely and wasn't too big, I just want to give her a whack and knock her on her bony butt! (She clearly doesn't weigh much, so it wouldn't take much effort.)

I know it's petty of me to talk in such a resentful manner.  Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and I can't give any blogger a hard time for inhabiting a certain body type.  That is hardly a hallmark of a good feminist.  It's just so frustrating that there is no place in the fashion world where I can see my body type represented.

From time to time I do searches for "curvy petite bloggers" and usually end up seeing blogs for the plus-sized crowd.  When I say plus-sized, I mean size 14 and up.  These bloggers are lovely women, but their fashion needs are different from mine, and they may not always be shopping at the same stores.  When I do find a petite blogger who is a bit thicker than average, but not plus-sized, the blog is often not as outfit-centric as their slim counterparts.  The blogs tend to focus just as much on beauty and haircare products (I have my own routines and don't have much interests in other women's routines), travel, and shopping resources.  They aren't useful for outfit inspiration and that's my main reason for following these blogs.

Why is a woman who is within an inch or three  of 5' tall, wears a respectable size 10, has D-cup boobs, a curvy butt, and a less-than-flat stomach so hard to find online?  I sometimes feel the fashion world is sending a message that it's okay to be short, but only as long as you are tiny.

I may have to face the truth that clothes just don't look as good on my body as they look on a thin woman.  At least that's the message I feel is being sent here.

I suppose the petite fashion blog world is doing something the rest of the fashion bloggers aren't doing.  Style blogging has long been criticized as the domain of narcissistic, privileged, white women.  Petite bloggers are not all white (most of the ones I follow aren't white). On the other hand, They are often  privileged regardless of race.  They live in a world where buying Chanel bags and Stuart Weitzman shoes are everyday purchases.  Sure they do incorporate some inexpensive retailers into their daily outfits, but so many bags and shoes cost more than my entire clothing budget (even when thrifted).  I have yet to find a petite blog made up entirely of clothes from Target and H&M.  (Let's be honest, I don't shop at those stores either, but I think there needs to be more resources out there for those who buy the bulk of their clothes from low-end retailers.)

Another issue I have with fashion bloggers of all size is the unrealistic world they tend to present.  Everywhere a fashion blogger goes she looks put together and polished.  Even if she's just hanging around her apartment in her underwear, she looks groomed and beautiful.  If she works out, she always wears the most prestigious fitness clothes (and you know how I feel about fancy fitness clothes).

This winter has shown me just how ridiculous style blogging can be. I need to see clothes worn in a way that I can realistically wear them.  This is winter.  Winter means snow.  Winter means cold.  This particular winter has shown us some extreme cold. The east coast has seen some major snowstorms.  Fashion bloggers aren't reflecting that. Weather is nothing more than a backdrop for photo shoots and they will wear what they like no matter how cold it is outside.

Take this example from New-York-based blog Wendy's Lookbook.  This post is dated January 8th.  That was when this region was digging out of a snowstorm and shivering in bitter cold.  Look at her frolic.  She looks like she's having the time of her life in frigid weather.  Note the heels on her boots.  They are not really suitable for slippery conditions.  Her coat is wide open.  She wears no gloves or hat.  Who dresses like this?  Even chic New Yorkers put on the North face coats and the waterproof boots this time of year.  Those of us living on the east coast haven't been frolicking.  We're just barely tolerating. I still cringe when I see a blogger with bare legs on a winter day.  It's not just the cold that bothers me either.  How do you avoid getting shoe bites when you're wearing close-toed pumps with no stockings under them?

Occasionally a blogger gets it right.  I was grateful to Damsel in Dior for providing this post. Maybe what we need to see are warm boots that don't look too clunky.  Maybe we need to see a cute tote bag that can easily carry the heels for the office.  Maybe we just need to be told it's okay to be unfashionable when the weather conditions don't support exposed flesh and high heels?

Would the solution be for me to start a fashion blog?  Believe me I am tempted.  I sometimes think it would be fun to expand The Essential Rhubarb Pie into a full lifestyle blog.  It wouldn't just be about food.  It would be a blog about food, fashion, travel, and fitness, as well as books and culture (a few of my passions).  But I feel that would take more time and money than I currently have.  My blogs are pretty boring looking format-wise because I use the templates Blogger provides.  To have a proper lifestyle blog I would really need to hire a designer to make it look more professional and make individual sections more easily navigated.  I would likely need to host it someplace other than Blogger, which would also cost money.  Then who would take the photos?  I have a husband with a passion for photography and a fancy DSLR camera, but no time to be following me around taking pictures of my clothing.  I don't even have time to be posing in my clothes.  My best outfits are the ones I wear to work every day and I need to get on the train and into the office in the morning.  I don't have time to find an attractive backdrop and pose for 12 different angles.  On weekends I need to get my errands done before I head to the barn.  I don't think my barn clothes would make attractive fashion posts either.  I love to dress well, but dressing well is situational.  I like a cute outfit for work or for going out to dinner or out with friends or to a party.  I also think it's perfectly acceptable to go to the market in jeans and a sweatshirt, or to the gym in a souvenir t-shirt and $10 leggings.

 If I didn't enjoy reading style blogs, I wouldn't be reading them, so I guess I need to stop complaining.  Fashion blogs, just like food blogs, are aspirational.  They're not meant to be a list of rules.  They're not meant to tell women how to dress.  They're just something to enjoy and perhaps inspire me.

Now I think I'll head over to Wendy's Lookbook and lust after her boots.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Scorched Earth. Will I Rise from the Ashes?

The morning of January 1, 2018 I turned on my computer and logged into Facebook.  I read a few posts, and then went into my account settings.  When I arrived at the right page, I took a deep breath, hovered for a moment, and then hit "Request Deletion" button.

It was easier than I expected it to be.  I didn't even ask to download the archives first.  I burned the whole thing down.  No one but my mother and my husband knew I would be doing this.  I had over three hundred friends sleeping off their hangovers who had no idea they wouldn't see me when they logged into their Facebook accounts that morning.

There is a good chance if you're reading this right now, you noticed my absence and are wondering what happened.  You came to my blog for answers.

It is also possible you are here for any other reasons.  Maybe you are just a Red Dwarf fan who came here by accident.

Whether you want the answer or not, this post is here to provide one for you.  What were my issues with Facebook and why did I take such drastic measures to deal with them?

The first reason is the same reason many users abandon their Facebook accounts.  I was addicted.  Facebook doesn't only provide entertainment and interaction.  It provides validation.  I admit I sought that validation.  I wanted that burst of approval on my posts.  I wanted the attention.  It's just part of my personality.  My childhood consisted of being coddled, adored, and admired at home, but brutalized and rejected by my peers in the outside world.  At home I was conditioned to expect adoration and praise.  At school and other areas, I was told I was worthless, ugly, uninteresting, and abnormal. (I admit I had atrocious social skills growing up, but I was not properly taught to face difficult situations, and that created a perpetuating cycle, because my poor coping skills brought on more bullying, which caused me to interact less, and thus my coping skills continued to degrade.)  Facebook provided me a place where I could show off what I have become, and let the world know just how witty and interesting I am now. In my virtual world I had three hundred friends. On any given day I might receive positive feedback from as many as twenty of them.  I became dependent on this feedback and the need to have something new to show off.   Seeking this feedback was ruining my productivity.

I left Facebook more than once.  Once I just logged off and didn't log in again for three months.  Another time I deactivated for almost a year.  During those times I read more books, wrote more blog posts, did more housework, and was more attentive at my job.  Facebook addiction doesn't happen to all users.  Some people log in once a day or once a week and get what they need from it and move on.  I am not one of those people.  I was always checking at every free moment.

Why would I do something so radical as delete my account when I could deactivate for a while and try to come back with a clear head and a fixed schedule?

Assuming I will come back (and I don't know if I will yet), I know deleting the account will prevent me from taking a  "peek".  I did my share of that during other breaks.  Sometimes the visits were harmless.  Other times I would find my feed full of inflammatory posts that would only put me in a bad mood and cause too much emotional stress.  It was putting me back into the same state of mind I wanted to escape.  The need to lash out and respond was interfering with my need to stay out of the fray and be more productive in other areas of my life.

After I returned to Facebook from my last break, nothing changed permanently.  In fact, I found myself wanting to speak my mind no matter what the consequence.  I thought time off would make me more likely to want to stay above the fray.  I found it had the opposite affect.  I was tired of being nice and trying to avoid hurting people when it seemed no one else felt the same way.  I said what I wanted to say and decided to let others decide if they could handle it or not.  This would become my other reason for deleting - the passive-aggressive reason.

I don't think I lack empathy, but I have always lacked filters.  I often want to speak my mind come what may.  I will argue my point to the figurative death.  I'm stubborn that way.  Unfortunately, I also have a thin skin (see above regarding my social skills).  I won't stay out of the kitchen, but I can't take the heat.  (I have something in common with Donald Trump after all.)  In my last year on Facebook I began seeing my friends fall away.  At first nobody unfriended me, however it was clear some friends were unfollowing me.  Friends I interacted with regularly no longer responded to my posts.  I couldn't even get a "Happy Birthday" on July 16th.  They even ignored the likes and comments I put on their posts. Most of them wouldn't unfriend me, since that would make them the "bad guy", but they could still pretend I didn't exist.

A few months ago I decided to be the "bad guy" myself and began unfriending the friends who no longer seemed interested in interacting with me.  I didn't use politics, or religion, or musical taste or whatever silly reason we unfriend each other is.  I merely unfriended  people who had not given me any sort of contact for six months or more.  I defined contact as a simple like on a post or a photo or an acknowledgement (including a simple like) on one of their posts.  I also unfriended the friends who had been sitting on my friends list for years with no interaction at all.  I unfriended people who had interacted with me regularly prior to my flight from Facebook, but quickly disappeared once I returned.  I unfriended more liberals than conservatives (it seems some of my liberal friends were irked by my stance on pseudoscience, quackery, vaccines, and GMOs and stopped following me).  I unfriended people I have known since childhood even though I hold no animosity toward them.  My view was, "We will always be friends, but Facebook is not the place where we conduct our friendship."  I didn't unfriend everyone I had ceased interaction with,  but I had a list of people I planned to unfriend at the end of the year if I didn't hear anything from them.

It wasn't until I was unfriended by someone I had once considered a dear friend that I finally decided to shut the whole thing down.  I was unnecessarily angry that someone who cared about me could no longer bear to look at my posts or let me look at his.  I know it was over politics, but this is a guy who used to send political emails directly to my personal email.  (We're talking stuff like comparing welfare recipients to pigs or saying 9/11 happened because Americans did not give proper due to his God.)  How dare he unfriend me!  I was even more miffed because he remained friends with my husband - a man he has never met and only knows my friend as my college friend who blew off our wedding.  I decided to do him one better.  I blocked him.  He wasn't not entitled to stay in touch with me through our mutual friends.  He was never going to see anything I posted anywhere.   I admit it was vindictive.  It was a symptom of just how much I had let Facebook affect me emotionally.

That's when I realized I needed to take a "scorched earth" approach.  I couldn't just leave Facebook.  I needed to destroy it.

Facebook does serve a purpose.  Even though I wish this wasn't the case, it is the only way I regularly keep in touch with some of my far-flung friends.  I have written before about how it makes me feel guilty that my friends who use Facebook as a primary way of staying in touch now have to make an extra effort to stay in communication with me.  Also, I have a lot of fun with some of my Facebook friends.  I enjoy the banter and camaraderie I have with certain people who may not be close friends but are part of my daily Facebook encounters.

There are also friends whom I only know through online interactions.  There are friends I met through online forums I used to be a member of, or through online games, or through MySpace.  Facebook wasn't just a way I kept in communication with them.  It was the only way.  I will miss them and hate to lose them if I leave Facebook forever.

I worried about leaving more than I should. I was thinking about returning in the spring in time to promote the Harrison Players production of Mame.  As a board member don't I owe them the publicity?  I rationalized this by saying Harrison Players have a Facebook publicity machine of their own (and I'm thinking of leaving the board anyway).  I have many mutual friends with the group.  They will find out about the show and decide to go or not.  The non-mutual friends who aren't my family will not likely come see the play.

I also worried about my friends who use Facebook as a support network, but I eventually decided that was a poor reason to stay on.  I know I have friends who are going through tough times right now.  I would like to help, but I'm not sure if my putting likes and words of encouragement are my best means of support.  I don't do thoughts and prayers.  I tell my friends who need help to let me know what I can do offline.  If you need my help, you will receive it, but you don't need Facebook to ask for it.

When will I return - if I return at all?  I can't answer that question right now.  I need several solid months of being off Facebook before I know if the benefits outweigh the negatives.  I am online in other capacities.  I have these blogs.  I am on Google+ and I am on Instagram.  If I ever find a new job, I'll return to Twitter.  (I shut down my Twitter because I couldn't figure out how to limit who saw my posts without making it totally private the way you can on Facebook.  I didn't want to turn off any potential employers with my posts.)   Please note I will NEVER be on Snapchat.  I hate those hideous filters.  Leaving Facebook means I have one less place where I have to look at another one of my friends wearing dog ears or bug eyes.

If I return, I will be starting over completely fresh.  I will not collect friends.  I will not make friend requests to people just because I know them.  I want an edited list of friends I can have fun interactions and intelligent discussion with.  I will not make friend requests to people who made it clear in the first go-around that they weren't going to talk to me online anymore.  I will accept friend requests from others, but if you're going to be my Facebook friend, I need to know you're going to actually keep me in your feed.  I don't need constant comments and discussions.  I only ask for a "like" now and then - even if it's just on a photo, and an occasional acknowledgement (again, it could just be a "like") of comments I make on your posts.  We will always be friends, but we can conduct our friendship on places other than Facebook.

Happy New Year to all of my friends.  Maybe one day I'll see you on Facebook again.  If I don't, I look forward to seeing you elsewhere.  Remember, you can always contact me by email, phone, or (*gasp*) seeing me in person.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Role of a First Lady

What should the role of a First Lady be?

Ever since her (lying, misogynist, racist, corrupt) husband took office, Americans have closely observed the actions of his wife Melania.  Why does she always look so miserable? Why does she seem to actively avoid her husband (remember when she slapped his hand away)?  Does she really enjoy the perks of the job?  Does she really want the responsibility?

Right from the beginning the pundits speculated that not only did she not want the job, but she was actively shunning it.  She spent five months living away from the White House with the excuse that she didn't want her son to switch schools.  The rumors swirled that she was not interested in the implied job of White House social secretary and national hostess.  Perhaps that was going to be Ivanka's job.

Eleven months later the speculation is still going strong.  Even though Melania is taking on some of the social roles expected of a First Lady, she doesn't look happy about it. Vanity Fair made the observations early on.   The recent photos of her showing off the White House Christmas decorations show her looking blank and emotionless.  Liberal websites seem are gleeful about it.  The media (outside of Fox News and its ilk) all report that First Lady is a job she doesn't want, and doesn't want to do.

I say good for her!

In the twenty-first century women in the USA are supposed to have the free will and the power to pursue any goal they want.  Women can freely chase their dreams without being held back by a man.  A 21st Century American Woman can pursue her career or motherhood or any path she wants without interference from her husband.  She doesn't have to give anything up for her man.

Unless her husband if President of the United States.

Why is First Lady the one job title a woman must accept on her husband's behalf and forsake all of her other ambitions for?

I understand there are potential conflicts of interest.  If a First Lady wanted to continue to pursue her career or business, there would have to be rules in place.  She might have to put her money in some kind of holding account.  She would definitely be forbidden to use her husband's office to promote her business in any way.  There would need to some kind of wall between the White House and wife's business or her employers business.  None of  these rules should be impossible to enact and enforce.  If Melania Trump is happier doing other things, then there needs to be a system in place that will allow her to do them.

If Clinton won in 2016, would Bill have been expected to play America's Hostess?  Of course he wouldn't.  The man who once held such an important office himself is not going to step down from his role as statesman and become his wife's arm candy.  Angela Merkel's husband has a full time job (chemistry professor).  Theresa May's husband has a full time job (financial manager).

Many first ladies embraced the role and seemed to love it.  Although I wasn't alive to witness it, what I know of history tells me Jackie Kennedy loved the spotlight of being First Lady.  From what I have seen during my lifetime I would say Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama all enjoyed the job, even though they had to give up powerful careers.  That doesn't mean every woman will love the job no matter how much she loves her husband.

Melania Trump is the perfect First Lady to start the trend.  Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush came from a generation where standing by your husband was a priority, so they wouldn't have dreamed of not being a traditional First Lady.  If Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama had turned their backs on the White House, they would have been crucified (possibly literally) by the media and the public.  Maybe Laura Bush could have gotten away with it, but I'm sure she wanted to distance herself from the "uppity"Hillary Clinton and not appear too feminist-y.  Trump has a core group of supporters who thinks he can do no wrong and Melania receives that same blind devotion.  Whatever choice she makes, there is that 30% of the country that will still think she is the best First Lady ever.  I also think Melania will garner support from women who feel she is unhappy or suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or being abused.  The more time away from Don, the better.

But what about her activism?  All First Ladies take up a cause and that's supposed to be their contributions to making the country a better place to live.  Should Melania give up her cyberbullying campaign?

Yes, she should give it up.  She hasn't done anything about it anyway.  I know First Ladies feel obligated to take up a cause, but does anyone really care once their husbands are out of office?  Do they make much of a difference?  Does the public even remember what those causes were?  I remember Nancy Reagan was the most passionate (if somewhat misguided) and visible of all First Ladies with her anti-drug campaign.  I have some memory of Barbara Bush talking about illiteracy, but I don't know exactly what she did to improve literacy rates in the country.  (Maybe she just wanted more people to read so they would buy Millie's Book.)  What did Laura Bush do?  What did Hillary Clinton do? I don't remember. I remember Michelle Obama's campaign to improve children's nutrition, but that may be because her beautiful White House kitchen garden got so much media attention.  Also I remember how she was pilloried for telling parents what to feed their children and forcing them to make kids eat stuff they don't like.  (Remember how there were troops stationed outside the homes of Republican parents during the Obama years? They would rush in and start shooting if they learned the kids weren't eating a diet of skim milk, kale, and quinoa.  Good times!)  Ten years from now nobody will be thinking about Melania's crusade to end cyberbullying even if she succeeds at it.

Please don't take this to mean I am some kind of Melania Trump fan.  I don't like her (or I don't like the persona she presents to the public).  I don't think she's all that smart. (Stop telling me about how many languages she speaks.  So what?  Most decently-educated Europeans speak multiple languages since countries are close together.  Slovenia is a bi-lingual country.  I'm far more impressed by Michelle Obama who is the first First Lady to hold two Ivy League degrees.)  I don't think she's beautiful.  (She was pretty twenty years ago, but her face is ruined by surgery and to me she just looks frightening as well as a walking argument against plastic surgery.)  I think she has proven herself to be as racist and classist as her husband.  She's no prize.  Nonetheless, she deserves the life she wants as much as any woman does.

Be free from the First Lady duties, Melania.  Run your ugly jewelry business.  Go back to modeling.  Pursue your dreams.  Be an example for every First Lady that comes after you.

Just please do it from the White House.  I don't want my tax money to continue to pay for you to pursue your dreams from Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Halloween: I'm Just Not That Into It

Whenever I hear friends and acquaintances blather on about how much they love fall, one of the most common reasons they state is a love of Halloween.  If fall is their favorite time of year, then Halloween is their favorite holiday.

What is it about Halloween?  Is it the joy we take in artifice?  Do we believe costumes can transform us into something or someone else?  Do we think decorating with undead characters and murderers and mystical figures puts us in an acceptable place to explore our own dark sides?  Do we like to scare ourselves?  In the end, is it just an excuse to eat too much and (for adults) drink excessively just like almost any other holiday we celebrate in the US?

I don't think any of these things are a bad reason to like Halloween.  I just question if celebrating Halloween excessively really accomplishes any of this.

Halloween has become a massive commercial enterprise.  It is second only to Christmas.  Costume shops pop up in every neighborhood.  Every department store, drugstore, convenience store, supermarket, and card store is filled with Halloween decorations, costumes, accessories, and Halloween-related foods.  Then there are the haunted houses and carnivals and pumpkin picking.

The National Retail Federation forecasts a total spend of $9.1 billion, and that includes:
  • $3.4 billion on costumes
  • Of that, $440 million on pet costumes
  • $2.7 billion on candy
  • $2.7 billion on decorations
  • $410 million on greeting cards
  • $300 million on haunted attractions 
All of this is for one night?   

I think what gives me the most pause about Halloween in the thought people put into their costumes.  People care more about what costume to wear than they care about their Christmas shopping list.  The options are dizzying.  Do you go to a costume shop and buy something off the rack?  Is that too unoriginal?  Do you try to create a costume out of items already in your wardrobe? Do you assemble something original but buy a few separate pieces  (like wear your own dress, but accessorize with a costume shop hat and sword)?  Do you make something entirely from scratch by sewing  new clothes or constructing something from papier mache?  Do you buy a store-bought costume and accessorize it with sexy lingerie and too much makeup and thus become a "Sexy (Insert costume here)"?

In the end, does the artifice transform you?  Do you truly feel like a new persona, or is it just something you did for the photos?  You go into the party, you see if your friends recognize what you are supposed to me, and take some photos.   Then an hour later wish you could take the uncomfortable thing off already.  Is that more accurate?

But it's not just our own costumes.  Are you too old to go trick-or-treating?  Well, you're not if you have a baby.  It doesn't even matter if your baby doesn't even have teeth to eat candy with yet.  Just buy a costume for the kid and take him through the neighborhood.  Your baby doesn't know or care that it's Halloween, but it makes a great accessory for your own amusement.  Your baby will outgrow the costume next year, so you have to buy another one and spend even more money.  You can still go trick-or-treating while you wait for the kid to grow up and you can still eat all of "his" candy without guilt.

Don't even get me started on people who dress up their dogs.  I couldn't believe it the first time I was in a pet store with a dog-owning friend and saw that the store sold actual dog costumes.  Yes, people pay real money to dress up their dogs.  I saw my friend struggle to pick one out that would fit her dog.  This isn't even about the waste of money.  This is about the fact that your poor dog has to suffer.  Your dog doesn't care about Halloween.  In fact, Halloween can be quite stressful for dogs when they see an enormous load of people walking through the neighborhoods at night and then ringing the doorbell.  Do you want to add to that stress by making them wear an uncomfortable costume?  Dogs hate having stuff on them.  Why would you do this to them for hours on end just because you think it's cute and will make some fun Instagram photos?

I do understand that adults want in on the fun. The children are having a blast scoring pounds of chocolate and playing pranks on each other. What do we get? Adults deserve to be in on it too since we're the ones spending the money.  Unfortunately, as it is with most holidays in the 21st century, we are taking it too far.  It's not about candy or costumes.  It's another night of drunken revelry, of hard partying, of alcohol poisoning and drunk driving accidents waiting to happen.  Our culture never seems to stop becoming dependent on alcohol for a good time and Halloween is just another excuse for excessive drinking and carelessness.  

Halloween is not a religious holiday (unless you're a Satanist or practitioner of Wiccan/Pagan tradition that celebrates Samhain).  It is not a time for warm family gathering.  It's not even romantic. So many other holidays, including the most commercialized ones, have a reason to exist.  At best Halloween just a time for people who consider themselves to be rebels and "alternative" to prove how cool they are by celebrating the macabre and darkness.  That is just becoming a cliche`.  

The worst part of Halloween is the reverse side of it.  This is supposed to be a time when our children can go a little wild and eat sweets and roam around at night.  Paranoid parents spoil it for them by being suspicious of everyone and everything.  I remember hordes of kids passing by my decorated, well-lit house during the last years I lived at home.  There were no children in the house, my mother and my brother and I were not known parents, so families deliberately skipped our house because they don't "know" us.  Even though there is no evidence that child murderers are out to poison children on Halloween, too many crazy parents still believe it.  Don't ring the bell at the home of a relative stranger even if the house is lit and decorated.  Don't eat any homemade cookies or cupcakes.  Don't eat apples because there are razor blades in them (that myth won't die even though there has NEVER been a razor blade in an apple).  

Parents, every day of the year people who don't really know touch your children's food.  You decide you can trust them, but that doesn't mean you can.  Your food is touched by wholesalers, grocery store workers, truckers, cafeteria workers, cooks, and servers.  Why do you trust that cupcake from a bake sale just because it came from a church or charitable organization, but not one from your neighbor?  Why do you automatically trust one group of people over another?  NO ONE IS TRYING TO POISON YOUR KIDS.  Just let them eat what they want (as long as it doesn't make them sick due to overeating or allergies).  It someone really wanted to kill your child, he wouldn't have waited until Halloween to do it.  You child is more likely to die in your car. 

I'm not a Grinch (or even a Sexy Grinch).  I am not anti-Halloween.  There will be a bowl of candy in my home on Halloween night and I hope the children will come and claim some.  There is a costume contest in my office and I will be participating.  I thought of an idea for a costume, so I decided I would try to win the cash prize.  But if I hadn't thought of a costume, I wouldn't have stressed out about it.  I'll eat some sweets too. 

 I just don't spend much of my time planning and obsessing with Halloween.  I don't spend large amounts of money on it.  It's just not on my priority list.  I don't sit around in July wish for fall because I want Halloween to come.  I'm going to enjoy the sun and the water and the most important holiday of the year - my birthday.  Halloween can wait, and it can do just fine without me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Autumnal Alternatives to Apple Acquistion

I know I talk way too much about how much I hate this time of year, and much of that talk is less about real issues with the time of year and more about the end of summer and the constant hyping of Halloween and pumpkin spice, and what I call the "Basic Blather" about crunchy air and sweaters.  I do think some of my concerns are legitimate though.  I don't like the dark and the weather is rarely as perfect as everyone wants it to be.  Most of all, I take issue with the traffic.

This past weekend I was driving home after a long day at the barn.  I had plans for the evening and I just wanted to go home and relax for a bit before going back out again.  I was cruising down Route 94 when traffic started to slow to a crawl.

Where was the backup coming from?  It was coming from the traffic pouring out of the road leading from Ochs Orchard to the traffic light.  Once I was past that traffic jam, I drove by Pennings Orchard.  While there were no traffic jams there, I could see just how full the immense parking lot was.  Any other time of year you might see a good number of cars in front of the market, but this day the lot was full from end to end.

The culprit for this massive conglomeration of cars?  Apple picking.

I remain a vocal critic of the apple picking phenomenon.  To me it's a contrived activity.  The bourgeois take a day "in the country" to pick fruit readily available in farmers' markets because it feels like some kind of authentic experience.  It feels close to nature.  To me it's just being duped into doing farm labor and paying for the privilege.  I suppose with immigration being so tightly controlled, farmers no longer having a steady supply of labor.   Having the masses come and pick fruit themselves as some kind of family activity must feel like a dream solution. 

So here is the authentic country experience.  You get in your car and drive to the orchard with hundreds of other apple pickers.  The traffic finally creeps into the orchard parking lot.  Then you have to search for a space on the (likely unpaved) expanse of parking area.  The attendants direct you to a space two states away from the orchard.

You get your bushel bag and picking device and trudge to the trees.  At first it's fun to use your device. You begin your adventure as a discerning customer, looking for the best apples.  Soon you have a dozen apples and this is getting tiresome.  Your kids are bored.  Still, you have to keep going to fill that bag because you can't just pick a few apples.  You have to buy them by the bushel and you need to pick your thirty dollar's worth.  Keep going until you fill that thirty dollar bag, kids.

Finally your bag is filled and you need to soothe your cranky kids.  They beg for candy apples (ka-ching), a pony ride (ka-ching), and a cider doughnut (ka-ching).  You see the apple jelly and apple pies.  They look good.  Should you buy some? (ka-ching?)  Maybe you will make a pie in the next couple of weeks.*  You pass on the pie and save ten bucks there. Good for you.  Too bad you had to have the dozen cider doughnuts and the jelly (ka-ching).

After you have paid for your apples, your treats, and your souvenirs, you make that long trek back to your car.  As you drive out, you have to wait in line while attendants search your car for contraband apples (because a bushel for a small family is never enough).  Finally you're back on the road with another two hundred apple pickers.  Your kids get over the sugar high and nap while you deal with the traffic snarl on the way home.

Was it really worth it?  Did you have your Authentic Fall Experience?  Are you closer to nature?  If you haven't done it yet, is it still something you want to do in the future?

If you answered no, then I would like to offer some non-apple-related activities that will fill a day nicely, get you outside, and help you enjoy those last few nice days on the calendar before winter sets in.  This list is completely non-snarky and I believe can provide you with some ideas that will take you away from the contrived experiences and crowds of the orchards.

Visit a farmers' market

"Hey Rachel," you protest.  "You said this list wasn't snarky."  I know it sounds rather obvious, and it's not exactly an adventure, but if locally grown produce and supporting local farmers are important to you, please don't neglect the farmers' markets.  You will find many of the same apple varieties (and the cider, and often the doughnuts) that you will find at the orchards, but without the traffic and parking headaches.  Maybe the farmers' markets in your town isn't that great.  Start researching the best ones and make a road trip out of it.

Visit a state park

I am willing to bet that somewhere within driving distance of your home is a beautiful state park you never bothered to visit. State parks offer plenty of chances to get close to nature with hiking trails and recreational facilities.  What better way is there to view fall leaves than to hike through a woodland path?  If you have kids who don't like walking around looking at leaves, then try to incorporate some other activities.  Bring a bird book and some binoculars and see what they can spot. Have a natural scavenger hunt.  If there is a shoreline or other open space, toss a Frisbee or fly a kite.  Older kids who are in decent shape might enjoy a trail with a tricky, steep, rock scramble

Go to the Zoo

People tend to consider zoos a summer activity and that's when zoos are most crowded.  In the cooler weather, animals are more active and more likely to out and visible. Seeing exotic animals live is an excellent way to be closer to nature.  If you live in the NYC area, The Bronx Zoo will not just give you a chance to view wildlife, but also boasts beautiful, tree-lined paths that wind through the exhibits.  It is a tranquil natural oasis in the summer.  It is even more beautiful when the leaves have changed.  If you're not in NY, I'm sure there is a zoo near you that will give you a similar experience.  If it's not as hot out, the kids will be less likely to beg for ice cream and Slurpees.

Visit a Botanical Garden

It does seem like a contradiction to go into, or stay in, the big city when you want to be out close to nature, but a botanical garden can provide you with all the nature and stunning displays of flora you crave.  Not only will you see the best of the season's plants blooming, but you can be educated about them.  Again, New Yorkers have an advantage with the New York Botanical Garden, which features conservatory displays of multiple ecosystems, quiet woodland paths, and many themed outdoor gardens as well as beautiful works of art throughout the conservatory.  Go before the end of October and catch the Chihuly exhibit if you can.  It's way more impressive than apples. Other gardens offer other beautiful features and amenities.  The Chicago Botanic Garden is another beautiful place to spend a fall day.

Visit a historic house

Sometime in the history of your region, a man became wealthy and he built a mansion or castle for himself.  His descendants couldn't pay for the upkeep, so it was donated to a historic trust or purchased by a non-profit preservation organization. Now, you, the unwashed masses, can wander through its halls in a way you never could a hundred years ago.   Take a tour and get a history lesson. Find out how the beautiful people lived (and get the dirt).  Most importantly, mansions like this have beautiful grounds and gardens.  Your family can enjoy plenty of seasonal foliage and flora.  If you want a more intense history lesson, there are historic houses that serve as "living history" museums where you can also enjoy craft demos and reenactments. These are always better at harvest time.

Visit a local winery or brewery

If you don't have kids, this is a perfect way to get outside and enjoy nature without having to make massive purchases.  Stroll through vineyards, have a picnic, and enjoy a tasting and a demo.  Have a designated driver if you don't plan to spit.

Then again, these can be as crowded as orchards in the fall.  They just have fewer kids.  Drunk adults may possibly be worse than bored kids on a candy apple high.  

Have lunch at a farm-to-table restaurant

Would you like to enjoy harvest season by actually eating the harvest?  F2T restaurants are almost always charming and you will have the same feeling of pride and responsibility of supporting local farmers that you will get from picking apples and visiting farmers' markets.  You can combine your lunch with any number of activities listed here.

Don't limit yourself to just one fall activity.  There is so much more out there than apple picking.  Go enjoy the season for yourself.

*You won't.  Trust me.  I don't even bake a lot of apple pie and I love to bake.  Give up the fantasy.