I’m a loser- now give me my trophy

A friend on Facebook posted a link to this blog post– a rant against the idea of giving trophies, or, well, anything really, to “losers”.

The post describes results from a poll of Americans that were asked the question:

Do you think all kids who play sports should receive a trophy for their participation, or should only the winning players be awarded trophies?

and it describes some differences in the answers by groups- with the author making very acerbic points about how kids are harmed when we given them rewards even when they’re not the winners. And this discussion gets sucked in to the liberal versus conservative/capitalist versus socialist schism- that liberals aim to reward everyone despite what they accomplish or do and that conservatives would only reward those that actually achieve, the ‘winners’ (read the report on the poll this is based on). Full disclosure- I’m pretty much a liberal, though I don’t think that word means what you think it means. The post frames this as a “discussion about privilege”- but I’m not really sure that’s where it’s coming from at all. The feeling of entitlement (that is to say, privilege) is indeed a problem in our society. The thrust of this post though I don’t agree with at all- that giving out trophies to kids is a significant problem, or even a symptom of the greater problem. Here’s my answering rant.

So at the most basic, rewarding kids who do not perform well with something (a trophy or a trip to the pizza place) is probably not a good idea. However, the post (and the other chatter that I’ve heard in a similar vein) is generally about this: giving trophies to losers. That is, kids that don’t win. At sports.

I was a coach for a YMCA summer soccer team. The kids were 3 and 4- and one was my son. Let me tell you from first hand experience- NO ONE WINS AT 3-4 YEAR OLD SOCCER GAMES. No one. It looks at bit like a flock of starlings that has suddenly become obsessed with a dragonfly. Often times it does not obey the boundaries of the field or heed the blow of the whistle- multiple times, louder and louder. We had clover gazing, random sit downs, running the ball the wrong direction, and seeming blindness at critical moments on our team during the games. But it was a lot of fun and the kids were learning something about how to work as a team and how to play a game. Toward the end of the season we were planning our end-of-the-season pizza party (the same type that is decried in the aforementioned post) and sent out an email to the parents about buying trophies for the kids. Most parents were on board but one objected, “I don’t want my kid rewarded for nothing” (the parent caved to pressure and did buy a trophy for their kid after all though). Were the trophies necessary? Probably not. Were they welcomed by the parents? Well, really, who wants an(other) ugly wood and plastic monstrosity sitting around their kid’s room? Did the kids love them? Yes. Yes they did. Were we rewarding losers? I have absolutely no idea who ‘won’ in a traditional sense. But all the kids did well in different ways.

Yes, 3-4 yo ‘sports’ are VERY different than sports for older kids, but that’s not my point. The larger picture here is that there’s an idea that winning and losing is ‘real life’ (conservative) and rewarding losers is being all soft and smooshy and in denial about the harsh reality of the world (liberal). This is a myth- or at the very least a misunderstanding about what life is. The concept of winning and losing pretty much just pertains to games- and games, though they may teach important concepts, do not reflect the reality of life. A football game can be won. A team emerges victorious and another not so much. However, not many other things in life an be described that way. Who wins in school? Are there a limited number of ‘winners’ – valedictorians, for example? And everyone else in the graduating class- those who are not the winner, they’re losers? Well, not really. In your job do you have winners and losers? Maybe you have people who do better in their job and people who do worse- but there’s a continuum between these two ends- no one group of winners and one group of losers. And everyone gets paid. I guess in war (what sports and some other games are modeled upon) there are winners and losers- one side is triumphant, the other defeated. But I think we can all see that it’s rarely as clear as all that. Winners have battle scars and losers regroup.

So why not give kids trophies or ribbons or pizza parties when they’ve accomplished something. Hey- my team of 3 and 4 year old soccer players made it through the season. That is SOMETHING. And it was worth rewarding. And the encouragement they got from their pizza and their trophy might get them coming back to try soccer again- or not. But it won’t make them think – “oh gosh, all I did was sit on my rear and I got something for it”.

So the heart of my problem with this whole issue is that I feel that people who think trophies shouldn’t be given to “losers” (as represented by the post) are missing the point. Big time. Life is not about who you beat in small contests that are, really, inconsequential to the rest of the world. That’s not how life works. The real contests in life are those that you win against yourself, and if you set your self worth by how you beat others in contests then you are losing in life. There will always be someone better than you- someone who you didn’t beat- someone who makes you a “loser”. Rewarding kids for recognizing that the larger struggle in life is not against other people, but in how you perform yourself, is an extremely important thing to teach them. (and if you think this is all smooshy talk, think about this: it’s pretty tough to beat someone else in any kind of contest if you don’t have yourself under control first)

So don’t give kids trophies if they didn’t do anything or if they had a bad attitude. But do reward them for winning over themselves: for doing, for accomplishing, for improving, for striving, for learning- you know, all those things that losers do.

 

P.S. I’ve also got a question about the poll itself. I’m no pollster (proudly) and not even a very accomplished statistician. But the poll was of 1000 Americans giving a reported margin of error of +/- 3.7%. I’m highly suspicious of this being a representative sample of the >300 million Americans, but this seems like pretty standard polling practice. My problem with the poll comes from the fact that most of the conclusions drawn are about subpopulations- so democrats are divided between positive and negative answers at 48% and republicans are mostly opposed to the idea of giving all kids trophies at 66%. I’m pretty sure that means that the margin of error is no longer +/- 3.7%. From the poll results it looks like there are about 40% of the respondents identified with either group (so 40% democrats, 40% republicans). Doing a little math in my head that means that there are, ummm, about 400 respondents represented in each group. That would make the margin of error about +/- 7%, which makes the difference between 66% and 48% pretty much non-significant (since 66%-7%=59% and 48%+7%=55%, different, but not all that different). Now I’m probably committing some sin of hucksterism pollsterism, but I note that all the other divisions they talk about in the report divide up into smaller groups (and thus larger margins of error). Please point out where I’m going wrong here.

 

Unicorn lovers and pinksters unite!

Last year GoldieBlox released a few ads that I thought were great. You’re probably familiar with them (see below) but they are advertising a building kit targeted especially at girls. These kinds of products are great and much needed. The idea is to counter the years and years of placing girls in pink marketing boxes with a limited number of career-directed options (NO pink CEOs, pink scientists, pink explorers, pink astronauts). Girls WILL like pink and sparkly things. They WILL like princesses, unicorns, and small sad-eyed puppy dogslego-woman-scientist. As many will know this remains a problem- there’s lots of marketing that is still directed that way. However, there has been a recent surge in non-traditional products directed at girls: LEGO women scientists figures, building kits for girls, These are simply great options and great advances and by all means they should continue to be developed, expanded, and marketed.

But back to the ad and my main point. When we push for something, we seem to have to push against something else- we draw lines to discriminate “us” from “them”. For girl power we should be pushing back against the oppressive, ingrained, male-dominated power structure that has been in place in our society for years. However, too often it seems that we push against the wrong things: those girls who love pink, who like unicorns, who wish they were princesses. You can argue about whether this is a good thing or not, but the fact is that these are girls too. This anti-pink message is too often conveyed in marketing and people’s general reactive attitudes against the traditional, including mine- in the context of saying something good: We should empower girls to achieve and not be held back– along with something not so good: not like those other girls who won’t achieve. What this kind of reactive attitude is saying is this:

Because you like pink you can not be an engineer. You can not be a scientist. You can not be an astronaut. Girls who like unicorns do not do that. They are less than girls that don’t like these things.

Make no mistake- I like these ads, I think they’re funny and they make me laugh. But that doesn’t change that they do so at the expense of a group of people who have nothing but potential to be squashed. These GoldieBlox ads aren’t terrible in this way- the ‘pink unicorns’ are things (toys and some cartoon on the TV), not a set of girls, but it remains that the implication is that liking pink is bad and won’t take you anywhere. Clearly liking a particular color shouldn’t have an ounce of an effect on what you will do later in life- or even what you can do now. This was pointed out to me after I posted the ad to my Facebook page, by a good friend who has girls who do like princesses. And it is an excellent point.

So, in a way, this is a limited example. But it highlights a much larger problem with human nature. Humans LOVE to draw lines. Them and us, us versus them. When lines are drawn around another group of people based on some set of attributes (favorite color, gender, skin color, type of pants worn) then all those inside the group suddenly acquire- in your perception- a set of other attributes from that group, whether or not these are accurate and whether or not the individual you’re talking about has said attributes. We *know* things about “those sorts of people”. This is one of the very natural tendencies that we all have, we all indulge in, and we all must do our best to fight against.

Here’s the GoldieBlox ad:

Here is another ad that I think is particularly well done. It highlights how perceptions and language are important- but also demonstrates a point about the tendency of humans to group:

If you have kids try this on them. Ask them to throw ‘like a girl’ and see what they do.

Maple-bacon-kale-white bean pasta

Oh, also sun-dried tomatoes. This is a recipe I just made up tonight wanting to pair the smoky yumminess of bacon with maple syrup sweetness, and the chewy wholesomeness of kale with the warm comfort of white beans. Oh and sun-dried tomatoes to round out the flavor and provide a splash of color. And it turned out dee-lish-us. So here it is, kitchen to plate to blog to you.

  • What's left in the pan

    What’s left in the pan

  • Fettuccini or linguine cooked al dente
  • 4-5 pieces of bacon cut into small 1/3” pieces
  • 1 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed.
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 3-4 T chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • ¼ c butternut squash soup (substitute)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 5-6 sprigs kale chopped
  • salt
  • Pepper
  • Grated/shredded parmesan

Fry bacon in large skillet until crispy. Remove and drain bits, but leave the grease in the pan. With the pan still hot add white beans and cook for a minute. Add maple syrup, squash soup, tomatoes, and water and bring to a boil. Add kale and cover. Cook for about 4 minutes covered until the kale is wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta topped with bacon bits and cheese.

The only odd ingredient here is the butternut squash soup that we just happened to have in our refrigerator. It worked great, but you could easily make a substitution to something that would provide some body to the recipe. Pureed cooked butternut squash, sweet potato or even white beans, with the addition of some liquid, would serve just fine.

Finished product with green beans and pineapple.

Finished product with green beans and pineapple.

 

Maybe Mild Buffalo Chicken Bites

I had a problem- I had a craving for buffalo chicken (wings or pieces or something, but you know- with the sauce!) but I have kids who have varying levels of tolerance to heat, from 0 to just a little bit is OK. So I did what I love to do sometimes when I’m cooking and looked at about 4 different recipes then combined them to make what I wanted. Most recipes for buffalo chicken have a sauce that is based on Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce- pretty much a non-starter for me. So what I did was to get a lot of the same flavor without using the hot sauce, partly based on some other recipes, partly based on what I thought should work. I’ve now tested this recipe once after writing it down and it seemed to work just fine. An added bonus is that you can separate the sauce prior to serving and mix in as much hot sauce as you’d like for the heat lovers in your family!

Maybe Mild Buffalo Chicken Bites

Sauce

  • ¼ cup butter
  • ½ cup tomato sauce (I used tomato soup, which worked great- very smooth)
  • 3 T red wine vinegar (to taste)
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1 t onion powderDSC_6480
  • 1 t salt
  • ½ t mustard powder
  • 1.5 T smoked paprika
  • 1 T yellow mustard
  • 1.5 T maple syrup
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • hot sauce to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When butter starts to bubble add onion and garlic powder, mustard powder, and paprika. Cook for another minute or two but do not overcook. Add remainder of the ingredients, whisk and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

Chicken

  • 1.5 lbs chicken breast cut into small-ish pieces
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 t smoked paprika
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • ½ t coriander powder
  • ½ c flour

Toss chicken pieces with paprika, salt, garlic powder, and coriander. Add flour and toss coating evenly. Place in a single separated layer on a well-oiled pan. Place in 450° F oven for 10 minutes. Flip each piece over and cook for 4 more minutes.

Remove from oven and put in bowl. Toss with about 2/3 of the sauce and serve. Mix in extra/any hot sauce to part of the sauce here to adjust heat if you’d like.

Chopped the chicken in fairly small sized bites.

Chopped the chicken in fairly small sized bites.

Coated chicken ready to go in the oven

Coated chicken ready to go in the oven

Cooked chicken bites should be browned on both sides.

Cooked chicken bites should be browned on both sides.

The finished product served with celery stalks, ranch dressing (should be blue cheese, I know), and pan fried potato chips. YUM!

The finished product served with celery stalks, ranch dressing (should be blue cheese, I know), and pan fried potato chips. YUM!

 

 

Personal relics: A German-made mandoline from my great aunt

Everyone has things around the house that have personal significance. I was thinking about this the other day and thinking it would be interesting to post some of these items along with something about the memories I associate them with- in a lot of cases centered around a person.

I love to use this mandoline. Not only is it great for slicing and julienne-ing, but it’s also just cool to look at. I’m not sure how old it is but the blade is still razor sharp (not just an DSC_4050expression- I’m pretty sure I could actually shave with it). I see a bunch of newer mandolines on-line with safety barriers to keep you from slicing your fingers off- not this baby. It’s caveat emptor with regard to your finger health. I don’t remember how I came by it, if it was given to me by my great aunt or if it was something I got after she died, but I value it.

My great aunt Hildegard was a force to be reckoned with. One family camping trip, after a late night around the campfire with the grown-ups imbibing and singing late into the night, she walked around to each sleeping site in turn with a wooden spoon and large pan, banging on it and telling everyone to get out of bed. At about 7 AM. I remember when I was very young her house was one that had strict rules about how we could sit on the couch and what we could touch. But she also told me that fairies were real- all I needed to do was be quick enough to look behind a tree, because they were very quick. She was a wonderful cook who had a large number of recipes that I remember- her Christmas cookies a standout. She made a wide variety and they were all so different from the standard American fare (coming from the Czech republic and Poland) and presented so beautifully. She made amazing cakes. And for all of her European properness and style, she was really a progressive and flexible thinker- much like her brother, my grandfather. After my great uncle Emil died (I was maybe a Sophomore in college) I went and stayed at her house for a night. She made me dinner and before dinner she asked me if I wanted a black russian telling me it had been a favorite of Emil. I thought that a black russian was something similar to Kahlua and cream- light. Not at all. That drink was possibly the first strong mixed drink I’d ever had and nearly did me in. I tried not to show it.

The last time I saw her was at my grandfather’s birthday in 2004. This was about a monthDSCN2041 before she died and I don’t even remember if I talked to her then. I know that after that party I thought about going to see her and then thought I should definitely give her a call on her birthday. I thought that I would have time to do that in the future. Of course I didn’t.DSCN0001

 

 

 

 

Instead, on a beautiful Saturday morning we headed with friends to downtown Seattle to visit the new library on it’s first day open to the public. We were having breakfast nearby and thought it would be nice to call my grandfather and see if he’d like us to take him there, maybe later in the day. I very, very rarely called my grandfather. This may haveDSCN2501 been the only time. He answered and politely declined and then told me that his sister had died the night before. The day before was her birthday and she had a great day with family. Apparently she was dropped off at her house where she lived alone after a great dinner, went into her bedroom and suffered a massive stroke. Given her strong will and desire to be in charge of her own fate it was, I’m guessing, as close to the way that she would have wanted to go out as possible.

So one way I remember my aunt is through her mandoline. Like her it is pragmatic, well-worn, and razor sharp.