Jousting Peeps Season

It is spring and the season is almost upon us. Peeps season.

You know, Peeps – those ultra soft and sweet marshmallow chicks made of 100% sugar? Guaranteed tooth decay in a box, squishy, gooey, yummy, sweet, and fun? Not just for Easter baskets any more. Made for jousting.

What, you ask, is a jousting Peep? Well, I’m glad you asked that. We were introduced to jousting Peeps many years ago by a young lad who demonstrated the marvels of microwaves and imagination. The online Urban Dictionary defines Peep Jousting as follows:

“A game involving the classic Easter candy, Marshmallow Peeps. Each Peep has a toothpick sticking out of the front of it, like a lance. Two Peeps, so armed, are placed in a microwave facing each other. As they are heated, they expand, until one Peep’s toothpick makes contact with the other, causing the unfortunate bugger to pop.”

So to play, you need boxes of Peeps, preferably a small stable of them, a different color for each contestant, a friend (contestant) or three, a supply of wooden toothpicks, a plate, and a microwave. You must arm each Peep jouster with a lance (toothpick) sticking out of its front and place them a couple of inches apart on a plate, facing each other. Then, into the microwave, 15-30 seconds on the clock, gather close to the window, and hit start.  VOILA!! Jousting Peeps! Sadly, each Peep is good for only one Joust, then, boom! But no waste – you get to eat the looser and the winner.

OK, there’s not really a winner, other than the person who popped them in the microwave in the first place because every player eats their Peep whether it was the poker, the pokee, or just exploded in a frenzy of happy cries and applause,  but I can tell you it’s most entertaining to watch. Those little marshmallow chicks blow up like Goodyear blimps on a hot summer day. Each Peep grows bigger and bigger, so do your eyes the first time you witness this phenom. And as they grow larger, they grow closer and closer together, enlarging to engage with their opponent, their jousting lances (okay, toothpicks) often crossing as they attempt to pierce the other. The one who pierces the other (read: pops the other’s Peep) first wins the contest. Eat the evidence and start over.

The point? None, really. It’s just a good, clean, all-American microwave pastime. And a bunch of sugared up players.

How sweet it is!

March 18

This week we celebrate the vernal equinox, the beginning of our spring season. Technically, it occurs the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north. Where I live, that moment occurs on March 20, 2016 at 12:20 AM. It is celebrated around the world with rites of spring and a great sense of joy and revival. Life as we know it is briefly in balance just before our planet tips toward the sun. We can sense the hopeful shift within ourselves, slates wiped clean, as we hasten toward rejuvenation, fertile with the anticipation of growth and renewal of ourselves as well as our earth. We say farewell to the cold and dark of winter as crocuses and other plants emerge, and our outlook changes. We literally smell the fertile earth, ripe for planting. The vernal equinox is a scientific principle, yet even our religious holiday of Easter relies on it and the earth’s predictable movement toward the sun to establish the date on which we celebrate.

The date of the religious celebration of Easter is determined by a longstanding formula: it falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Say what? Easter is a Christian movable feast, meaning it has no fixed date and moves around, but within certain parameters and confines based, in part, on the very scientific vernal equinox. According to the Venerable Bede, the word “Easter” is derived from Ēastre, the name of the goddess of dawn, spring, and fertility. So Easter is supposedly related to a pagan celebration of rebirth that was celebrated on the vernal equinox in honor of the pagan goddess of fertility, Ēastre, sometimes spelled Ostara or Eostre … and from whence cometh the word Easter.

But how did chicks, bunnies, and colored eggs come to be associated with Easter? These seemingly secular elements are symbols of the hope of new, burgeoning life. Over time and through many cultures and belief systems, decorated eggs were exchanged as symbols of life and abundance. These symbols are virtually universal. Who had them first doesn’t matter. What matters is that every year, spring comes round again, predictably, reliably. Just as we are all desperate to have the cold, snow, and ice of winter be over, spring arrives to save the day and our sanity. We have invested hope and faith in spring. Thankfully, spring (its equinox) is scientifically dependable enough on which to base a Christian holiday. It’s absolutely a time of replenishment, of fertility, of life, and of the restoration of our firmest beliefs.

Spring is a time for planting, for sowing the seeds of the future. We can plant grains and vegetables that nourish; grasses for ornamentation, purification, habitat, and oxygen; and herbs that season the foods that sustain us. We can also grow death with plants that appear beautiful but are, in fact, poisonous, such as foxglove, deadly nightshade, and oleander. Soil does not discriminate, offering equal opportunities to plants, both the vital and the noxious.

As we emerge from the contemplative darkness of winter, what seeds will you cultivate this spring?

March 11

I recently attended a meeting of a book club to which my Human Bean belongs. It was held in a book store, and the small group of members assembled to discuss a book by John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany. All of these ladies have college degrees, and some taught literature and writing at the university level, like my Bean. The discussion was lively, thoughtful, and intelligent.

Over the past 20 years, there has been a movement encouraging college drop-outs to complete degrees and adults who never attended college to enroll in a degree program designed specifically for adult learners. Many former students left school years before to pursue careers or start families, and some simply lost interest. The rumor is that these returning adults place a higher value on their educations and that they may be more appreciative of the opportunity to do so. So they get a degree…and then what?

These days, it seems as if everyone has a college education. Society has risen to a higher level, and so fewer people exist who have reached adulthood without also attaining a higher level of education. We used to think that those who went to college were privileged to be pursuing a college degree, privileged to go for a dream. But college loans and scholarships place a degree within the reach of almost anyone who truly wants the degree badly enough and works hard enough to get it. So now everyone can have a college degree, and college has become the old high school.

What does this mean in terms of the economy? There are more overqualified people for available jobs. The number of people qualified for a position requiring a college education has become greater than the number of jobs available to them. At the university where my Bean works, there are 200+ applicants for every teaching position. What do those who don’t get the jobs they applied for do? They look for another job…and another. But it is the same story everywhere, and at some point, they have to stop looking and settle for “a” job, no matter what it is. After all, they now have college loans to pay. And that’s why someone with a college degree might end up as waitresses, cashiers, janitors, or secretaries. But those didn’t sound like nice jobs, so we decided to call those who perform them servers, associates, custodians, and administrative assistants. These days, your coffee shop barista might have a higher education than you do.

Sure, you still have to go to law school to be a lawyer, and you still need medical school training to qualify as a doctor. But the majority of jobs haven’t really changed; we simply upped their qualifications to include a 2-year or 4-year degree and gave the positions new, more exotic names. Now these positions are being filled by people who paid a bunch of money (and are likely still paying their student loans) for four or more additional years of education, only to end up holding the same old jobs that they might have had without degrees.

It makes me wonder: Is the average college education truly worth the price we pay for it?

March 4

I must warn you: this is rather political. But I wish to make it clear from the outset that I’m not a registered member of any political party. I listen to both sides and vote for whomever I believe will do the best job, no matter what color their banner.

That this is an election year here in the U.S. could not have escaped anyone’s notice. Sadly, it is proving to be a rather disgusting exhibition as candidates for the top political office in the nation almost literally battle it out before our very eyes. The debate platforms, traditionally a means for candidates in a political party to express their ideas so voters can get to know them prior to a primary ballot leading to a party’s nomination have become media circuses where each candidate tries to one-up the others and all of them behave like armed gladiators in a fight to the death. I can already feel your eyes rolling.

In one such debate, five men stood on stage February 25: Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz were showcased in the center, flanked by Ben Carson and John Kasich, the decorative bookends who hoped a space might clear long enough for them to do more than simply stand there. There ensued a lot of verbal pushing, shoving, jabbing, poking, and pointing, accompanied by hurled insults and cries of “liar.” If you were not part of the fracas, you might as well not be there at all. This was made most clear when, after one heated exchange between the big three, each trying to out shout, out jab, and out finger-point the other, there was a sudden intense moment of quiet during which we heard a hopeful Ben Carson ask, “Can someone please attack me?”

It’s no wonder that our country is in trouble. Even those who supposedly belong to the same political party can’t agree or get along. Each fills his time with beefed up descriptions of how wonderfully he did something, promises emptier than the used sack from our recent fast food lunch, and more insults. Rarely do the debaters present ideas: they spend their energies putting down other candidates from their own party, arguing, and slinging accusations (and occasionally, a few other items). They rarely provide direct answers but evade questions to present useless drivel of their own choosing. To quote one boast from a prior debate, “I’m gonna win by a lot.” How is this useful?

If people from the same political party can’t get along, how can we expect one of them to bring us all together and make allies for our country?  The election process shouldn’t be about which individual can claim the biggest bragging rights: it needs to be about who cares enough to do something positive to help raise our country’s values, unearth its honor, rekindle our pride in it, and bring us together to work toward effecting positive change.  We need a candidate with gumption and integrity.  This preface to nominating a candidate to run for the highest office in our land should not be about arrogance or winning a verbal shouting match, but rather about which candidate can bring a unity of purpose to the people and help make this country the best that it can be for all of its citizens.  This is a time for unity, not one for polarization.

Our political candidates too often give lip service to values and morals but personally display none. And none of us wants to be responsible for electing any of these selfish, self-centered candidates, one of whom may well become our country’s new leader no matter what we do. We hold an election, people run for office, and someone wins. But does everyone have to lose in the process?

Could debates actually be the primary cause of voter apathy?