Halloween: the Death of a Neighborhood Holiday

Today is Halloween. It’s Tuesday.

On Friday, my town hosted “Trunk or Treat.” On Sunday, the local public high school hosted “Track or Treat.”

I’m not expecting to see too many kids today for Trick or Treat.

And that makes me sad.

Halloween used to be a time when you’d walk around the neighborhood with your kids, meeting and greeting your neighbors, who normally spent their outdoor time in their backyards, or on their back decks, behind fences and arborvitae. If you weren’t on the sidewalk waiting for your kids to say “thank you” as they stuffed another fun-size candy bar into their pillowcase or plastic pumpkin, you were manning the candy bowl at the door, admiring cute and clever costumes and gamely accepting the middle-schoolers’ challenge to guess what their costumes were.

But as these special Halloween events have gained popularity, regular old Trick or Treat in the neighborhood has dropped off.

Luke Halloween 2003
Halloween 2003. Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Maybe it’s because parents believe that “Trunk or Treat” is a safe alternative to making sure small children in dark-colored costumes don’t run out into the street. No cars, no streets to cross.

Maybe it’s because it’s on a weekend, at a scheduled time.

Maybe, as a young adult I was talking with at a rehearsal over the weekend maintains, it’s because people don’t want to watch their kids — and at “Trunk or Treat” and “Track or Treat” they can get in, sit down with their Starbucks and their phones, and let the kids run for it in a contained area until the event is over.

I hope it’s not the latter, but the pessimist in me thinks there’s some truth in all three of these possibilities.

All I know is: for me, Halloween is about hospitality — whether you’re greeting your neighbors as you pull the wagon down the street in case your toddler gets too tired to keep walking or  your ten-year-old’s pillowcase gets too heavy to carry, or you’re waving to your neighbors as you toss little packs of M&Ms into their kids’ toy pumpkins. Earlier this month, Caryn Rivandeneira noted the same in an article at Aleteia.

Halloween is a holiday people of any age used to be able to enjoy. If you didn’t have kids, or your kids weren’t of Trick or Treat age anymore, you could still have fun seeing kids in costumes and greeting your neighbors.

But when “Trunk or Treat” comes along, it robs the rest of the neighborhood of Halloween fun. You can only go to those things if you have kids of Trick or Treat age. If you don’t, then too bad, so sad, no Halloween fun for you.

Now that all of my kids are too old for Trick or treat, I’ll miss getting their costumes together. Hubs will miss taking them around block after long suburban block until they couldn’t walk anymore (seriously: that was his motto.) And yes, I’ll miss exacting the Mom Candy Tax.

Feed Mom Candy fund
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

But mostly, for me, the fun of Halloween was answering the door. It made me smile.

“Trunk or Treat” just makes me sad.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Housing Fight Concerns More than Affordability

children not welcome seniors only
Map: Google Maps. Title added in Canva.

I opened the local newspaper yesterday and read that my town is embroiled in a legal battle over affordable housing. (I’m going to quote heavily because the article will be behind a paywall soon.)

The nonprofit advocacy group alleges that the Township Council is trying to skirt its affordable housing obligations by claiming there isn’t enough vacant space for substantially more low-income homes or apartments, even though the Planning Board recently approved the development of two large age-restricted housing projects. Neither included affordable units.

The spokesman for the Fair Share Housing Center noted that Delran is “intent on locking out working families.”

But the mayor’s comment reveals that there’s more to the story.

“We felt those (age-restricted communities) would have a minimal impact on schools and be good for Delran,” Mayor Ken Paris said Thursday.

This is all about the impact on the schools–it’s not really about affordability at all.

My town doesn’t want to add any housing that might wind up housing children.

And they’re not ashamed to say so.

From what I’ve seen in the past, few towns are interested in building houses that are not age-restricted. No one wants to add children to the school population.

Council President Gary Catrambone said the township has been working for years to keep development at a minimum to help control property taxes and school overcrowding.

That’s their plan for keeping taxes down (a plan which, by the way, isn’t working out so well here): they’ll welcome children only to existing housing. People who want to buy brand-new houses will have to find some other town in which to live.

That plan says a lot about the local government’s priorities (and the priorities of the people who run local government and the people who voted for the mayor and town council.

Delran officials countered that their intent in approving age-restricted housing was to keep the township affordable by expanding its tax base without overburdening the school system with new children.

In a town that’s full of playgrounds and soccer fields (and building more of both all the time), no one seems too eager to welcome the children who would use those amenities. If this trend continues, it won’t be long before our playgrounds turn into dog parks.

Dogs–and seniors–are still welcome here, after all.

Children are the future; there doesn’t seem to be much future here.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

"A Good Dressing-Down" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (FranciscanMom.com)

A Good Dressing-Down

My maternal grandmother never wore pants a day in her life until she was in her 80s and had to go to physical therapy following surgery. They wouldn’t let her wear a dress for that.

Around her home, she wore “house dresses” (dusters) and “house slippers.” She never left the house in these. If she went anywhere–the supermarket, the beautician, the dentist’s office–she put on a dress or a skirt and blouse, stockings, and dress shoes.

When I was in public grade school in the early 1970s, my mother made me wear dresses and knee socks and nice shoes every day. Not just on picture day, but every day. When I got to fourth grade and we had gym class twice a week, I wasn’t allowed to wear my gym suit (those awful blue one-piece numbers) under a pair of jeans. Mom always said, “You’re not going out of here looking like a slob.”

I didn’t even own a pair of jeans. I had pants, but they were generally corduroys that came with a top that had an appliqué made of the same corduroy as the pants. So stylish in 1974.

Right now I’m wearing sweat pants. I work from home, so I can do that. But other than driving my kid to school in the morning when he’s missed the bus, I don’t leave my house in these.

I was surprised yesterday when I read about #leggingsgate: United Airlines didn’t allow two young women wearing leggings to board a flight. They were apparently in violation of a dress code associated with the employee-perk tickets they were using. From what I read, the terms of the dress code were known to the passengers in question.

I don’t have a problem with that dress code. I wish it applied to all passengers. If you’re old enough not to require a car seat on the flight, you’re old enough to get out of your pajamas. And leggings? NOT pants. Put a skirt on, ladies.

Last summer I flew both for vacation and for work, and I saw far too many people wandering around the airport in workout wear and pajama pants. Many of them were also not wearing shoes. Sloppy AND unsanitary!

Over the weekend, the Street Urchins made an appearance. One of them arrived, in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, in pajama pants. Those were all the clothes he had–when Hubs took the boys to the diner Sunday morning, that’s what this kid wore.

It’s about time we upped our standards for dress. I’m not suggesting we return to my grandmother’s way of doing things, but it’s time to take a little more care about what we look like when we venture beyond our own front doors.

Image via Flickr by Emma, 2011. All rights reserved. Text added by author.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

When a prayer becomes a stumbling block

2015-09-17 12.08.55

In our parish’s Perpetual Adoration Chapel there are some prayer booklets. Adorers are asked to begin their Holy Hour with these prayers so that there is a continuous unity of prayer flowing through the chapel. The booklet is several typed pages and contains prayers such as the Divine Praises, a prayer for priests, a specific prayer for each priest who has served our parish during its history, prayers for deceased Adorers, and so on. It takes only a few minutes to pray these prayers and then your time in the Chapel is your own, to pray or meditate as you wish.

The language in some of these prayers is more flowery than my no-nonsense nature normally goes for, but that’s no big deal. For me, the problem comes in the words of the Prayer for the Holy Father (specifically the words I include here in bold):

Lord God, we thank you for the gift of Francis as Pope for our times. You have called him to this office at a very critical time in salvation history. We ask through the intercession of the Blessed Mother that you shower him with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit in full measure. Strengthen, protect, console and guide him in his efforts to defend the truths of the Catholic Faith against her enemies. May he always be the Sovereign Pontiff you are calling him to be, and may he work unceasingly to foster the restoration of the Church to her former glory.

We pledge our complete fidelity to our Holy Father when he proclaims the traditional teachings of Holy Mother Church. Grant us an unwavering faith that will persevere until the end in the midst of whatever darkness or persecution may befall us. We offer this prayer from the safe and secure refuge of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Amen.

To me, this prayer reads like someone has an axe to grind. Is there a claim in it that the Holy Father is not always proclaiming the “traditional teachings” of the Church?

As to “former glory,” that’s extremely subjective. What qualifies as “glory”? Hasn’t the Church nearly always undergone times of persecution, scandal, mismanagement and lukewarm faith? What is this “glory”? Should we seek glory in this world–even for the Church?

I feel like this prayer is a veiled criticism of the Pope and a wish for a throwback to some unspecified time in history that, in this prayer-writer’s nostalgic view, is somehow superior to our own.

So I’ve stopped using that prayer booklet. Instead, I begin my Holy Hour with the Divine Praises and the Angelus (since my hour begins at noon–it’s Angelus time!)

What do you think of this prayer? Am I reading too much into it?

Art and Irreverence

Last summer the Four Evangelists came to church.

evangelists behind altar
Last summer’s Evangelists, AKA the Traveling Willburys

They were set up behind the altar where they distracted me at each and every Mass. There they were, looking over Father’s shoulder as he recited the prayers. If I didn’t keep my eyes closed, I’d find my gaze wandering over to see if I could find the guy on the left’s other hand. The Evangelists were larger than life, but oddly proportioned, with any visible hands flat and deformed and smaller than mine.

And they weren’t in any kind of order, either, as we found out when the pastor conducted a little Who’s Who tour during the homily one day. Not alphabetical, not chronological, and not the order in which the Gospels appear in the Bible.

We musicians, of course, dubbed them “John, Paul, George and Ringo.” After about two months, they disappeared, but we found them again at the other church within our parish. That’s when they got a new name:  the Traveling Willburys.

I’m pretty sure that the purpose of art in a church isn’t to inspire the assembly to new heights of snark. It’s also not there to distract from worship. It should lead the mind to God. It should inspire not sarcasm but devotion.

Gary ColemanI’d forgotten about this particular venture in ecclesial decor until today, when a new set of Evangelists had taken their places behind the altar. These were even larger, and from where I sat in the choir area, it seemed that the one on the far right was giving the musicians the side-eye.

My teenage neighbor told me after Mass that she thought they looked creepy. For the moment, I’ve dubbed them the Suspicious Evangelists.

(That would be a pretty good band name, come to think of it.)

I’m guessing that the Traveling Willburys have taken up residence in the other church, and now that we have two complete sets (collect ’em all!) we’ll all get to be distracted by the various Evangelists until the end of Ordinary Time.

If I had my druthers, the only things behind the altar would be the crucifix and the tabernacle. There’s got to be a spot somewhere else in the church where the Evangelists could go, somewhere that can’t be seen from the pews during Mass.

Lead us not into distraction, Lord, and deliver us from creepy Evangelists.

Don’t You Go Changin’

There’s a commercial on SportsCenter that both creeps me out and makes me worry on behalf of my sons.

It’s a hair-removal ad, and while I can’t remember the name of the product (which goes to show that the ad isn’t doing its job), the subject matter gives me pause.

In this ad, several beautiful women are introduced, along with the amount of body hair they prefer on their boyfriends, who are more than happy to go along with the women’s wishes.

It’s creepy. There’s no other way to describe it.

And the ad makes me think:  if the tide were turned, if a commercial showed several handsome men making demands regarding their girlfriends’ physical appearance, you’d have an awful lot of people up in arms. They’d rant about it on The View. The ad would be decried as offensive, abusive and degrading to women.

I’ll admit, if Middle Sister and I were watching TV together and a commercial objectifying women was aired, I’d say something. I want her to know that she is more than a pretty face and a female body.

It’s OK, these days, to objectify guys. We’re all about empowering girls, which is great for the girls, and I’m happy that my daughter has the chance to participate in sports, study pre-calculus and marine biology, and be the stage manager for the school play. She has earned these opportunities on her own merits–not on her looks, not by virtue of her gender.

We want to make sure our daughters have a healthy understanding of themselves as young women, that they grow up with good self-esteem and aren’t willing to be pushed around or bullied by the men with whom they are building a relationship.

murph and the magictonesDon’t we want the same for our sons? Don’t we want them to be able to accept themselves for who they are–intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically?

Men who demand that women in relationships with them make changes to their physical appearance are considered sexist. But in commercials like this, women who demand that men in relationships with them make changes to their physical appearance are admired. That’s pretty scary. The double standard hasn’t gone away; it’s just changed its focus.

As Murph (of Murph and the Magic Tones in The Blues Brothers) said before signing off, “Don’t you go changin’.”


Much Ado About (Paying) Nothing

Because I write for several shopping blogs, I come across a lot of offers for free or inexpensive items. It’s my job to choose several of these each week to highlight at one of these blogs.

Many of these offers come from the Facebook pages of shops, restaurants or other companies.

Usually I just write up the deal, link to the source and get on with things, but in the past couple of days I’ve read a few of the comments attached to the posts announcing some of these specials.

Yesterday, as I printed out my weekly coupon from the Dunkin’ Philly Fan Zone, some of the comments on the page were blasting Dunkin’ Donuts for offering a breakfast-sandwich coupon instead of one for iced coffee. On other posts for past coupons, people complained that other stores were offering better deals. Or they complain that these coupons are only good Monday through Thursday.

Today, I was posting a deal for teachers from Chipotle Mexican Grill and saw that many commenters complained because the restaurant hadn’t offered a freebie for nurses, daycare providers, student teachers and homeschoolers.

What an entitlement mentality!

I’m a former teacher, so I don’t expect Chipotle to give me free food tonight. And I’m happy for the low-priced breakfast sandwich coupon, but if I weren’t a breakfast-sandwich fan, I just wouldn’t print a Dunkin’ Donuts coupon this week. Next week, after all, there will be another.

These stores issue coupons to get customers in the door and generate some goodwill in the community. I didn’t see a whole lot of goodwill on the Facebook pages for either establishment regarding these offers, and that’s a shame. It’s people like those commenters on Facebook that will ruin things for everyone else, because the stores will eventually give up and stop giving out coupons and freebies.

Can’t use the coupon this time? Don’t qualify for the free offer this time? Oh well! Maybe next time you will. In the meantime, be grateful that the store still offers special deals and stop blasting them because each and every deal is not for you.

Cleaning Up My (Linguistic) Act

A few times in the past couple of days, there have been discussions involving swearing. Patrick Madrid, on Tuesday, hosted an episode of “Right Here, Right Now” where he called out people who use profanity in social media (or anywhere, really).  Then, Katharine Grubb, the 10Minute Writer, brought up the topic in the context of her ongoing series on chivalry.

I’m not one to use the F-bomb, but I do have a couple of other “choice” words that could stand to be eradicated from my vocabulary. Especially the whole “taking the Lord’s name in vain” thing.

It’s been on my mind.

So this morning I was on my way to school, same as any other Friday morning. My timing must have been a bit off, because I got stuck behind a school bus that I don’t usually see. As I drove through the neighborhood, that bus kept turning down the same streets I was about to use.

I hate following school buses, especially the ones that go to the early-elementary school, because they take for-ev-er to go anyplace, and kids’ moms stand there chatting with the bus driver while the little STOP sign sticks out from the side of the bus and the red lights blink, so I can’t pass.

School buses just don’t drive with the same sense of urgency I do.

Once again, that bus turned the same way I was about to go.  “Jesus Christ!” I yelled.

Then I thought better of it, figured I’d turn it into a prayer. “Have mercy on us, and on the whole world.”

Immediately, the bus made yet another turn–down a street that was not on my route.


Big Mistake, or Just Improv?

Yesterday after daily Mass, a friend caught up with me at the church door.  “Did you read today’s Mass readings before coming to church?” she asked me.

Being lucky to get to Mass on time at all (I walked in during the opening prayer yesterday), I admitted that I hadn’t.

“I think Father read the wrong Gospel today,” she continued.  He read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

We don’t have the missalettes with the daily readings included, so I took out my phone (there’s an app for that!)  Sure enough, the Gospel for the day was the story of Jesus driving out the demon from the man who was mute.  I checked today’s Gospel to see if perhaps Father had skipped a page, but that wasn’t the reading for today either.

So if there’s anyone reading who has a clue about why Father might have read a completely different Gospel than the one slated for the day, please comment here.  He’s not really the approachable sort when it comes to things like this.

Deliver Me from the Mall

Whoever wrote the lyrics, “Someone told me it’s all happenin’ at the zoo” had clearly never been to the Cherry Hill Mall.

I go to malls as infrequently as I possibly can.  And I hate to shop on Sundays.  But I had promised to take Middle Sister to the mall for jeans, and if we went today, we wouldn’t have to bring Little Brother along.

The clothes shopping was actually quite pleasant.  She tried to find some jeans for me, but that was a lost cause in the store we were in.  I did find a cute pair of capri pants, a scarf and a peasant blouse that I liked–all on sale.  And she got her jeans.

Then we headed to Forever 21, where I expected to see the kind of clothes aspiring hookers would wear.  I was happily surprised to see plenty of very sweet tops, with feminine lines and floral patterns.  I don’t follow fashion–is “sweet and girly” suddenly back in?  I sure hope so.

The rest of the time, I was people-watching while Middle Sister spent her own money, that she earned pet-sitting for our neighbors this week.  Being all “browsed out,” I sat on a bench while she shopped–there’s only so much blaring rap music and perfumed air I can handle in one afternoon, and I’d hit my limit.  You can do a lot of people-watching when you sit on a bench at the mall for 20 minutes, and you see some scary stuff.

A family stopped outside Victoria’s Secret:  mom, dad and two little boys.  Mom took the younger one into the store with her, despite his loud protests, saying, “Mommy needs you!  You have to help Mommy put on her panties!”

An impossibly skinny girl tottered past, dressed head to ankle in “junior hooker” garb–and shoes that would be more-likely found on a denizen of a retirement home.

And doesn’t it say something about the clientele of a particular store when you have to show your ID to use your own credit card?

I’ll stick to internet shopping, thanks.  The only people-watching I’ll have to do is staring out the window, waiting for the UPS truck.