Sunday, December 22, 2013

Achieving Perfection -- The True Meaning of Christmas

            On December 14, the acting community lost a gifted member in the person of Peter O’Toole. In the days following his death, many people wrote at length about him and his incomparable talent and accomplishments. But the article that most resonated with me was a snippet which appeared in the Notable & Quotable section of The Wall Street Journal. In it, O’Toole was quoted from an interview he did in December, 2008, on TCM Word Of Mouth.
            "Many years ago I sent an old, beloved jacket to a cleaner, the Sycamore Cleaners. It was a leather jacket covered in Guiness and blood and marmalade, one of those jobs...and it came back with a little note pinned to it, and on the note it said, 'It distresses us to return work which is not perfect.' So that will do for me. That can go on my tombstone."
            In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I noticed many posts and re-posts on Facebook or  blogs concerning the “true meaning of Christmas.” Among the messages were those actions and sentiments we most often associate with this time of year: deeds of great kindness; declarations and demonstrations of love for friends and family; extreme generosity to those in need.
            Those expressions are indeed heartwarming and inspiring and should be shared, especially during a season when we desire to focus on what is best in mankind. But as I read that quote, I realized that even the best of mankind will never be perfect as long as we are on this earth. None of us will exit this life with a perfect body. Diseases, injuries, or old age will ravage our physical forms. Neither will we leave with a perfect record. No matter how hard we try, hurtful words, unkind acts, selfishness, and neglect will earn us a “Needs Improvement” on our earthly report cards. But unlike the conscientious folks at the Sycamore Cleaners, we needn’t be distressed. God knew humans would never be able to perfect their lives on Earth, so approximately 2000 years ago, He came to us in the form of a baby. That baby showed us what perfection is. And thirty-three years later, that baby made the supreme sacrifice so that we can return to our Maker as a perfect work.
 For me, that’s the true meaning of Christmas.

Wishing You Peace, Love, and Happiness this Christmas and in the New Year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Zumba Gold - A Happy Balance Between Twerking and Two-Stepping

            If you follow my blog with any degree of regularity, you already know I’m all about “the middle”—finding that elusive balance between too much and too little, the right and the left, the ridiculous and the sublime. So when I discovered Zumba Gold at my local gym (KeyHealth Institute), I was excited. At last I had found an indoor activity that struck a perfect chord between insanity and inertia.
            It took me a while to hop on the Zumba Gold bandwagon. Last winter, I started with a regular Zumba class when the thumping beat of the Latin music caught my attention. I peeked through the window at a class in session, and while it looked a little fast and tricky, I figured I could pick it up in short time. Wrong. After the third session, I was still at least two beats behind everyone else in the class and still zigging when everyone else was zagging. Worse, at the end of the class, I was sweating like a farm hand in August and gasping for air. I was also popping Aleve tablets to relieve my aching knees and back. Disappointed and irritated at having to admit defeat, I resorted to the drudgery of the elliptical to get my winter aerobic fix.

Our fearless and creative
leader, Sheri.
            Then this winter, some ladies in my Pilates class insisted I join them in Zumba Gold. I made excuses because I’d tried Zumba Gold once. Quite frankly, not a lot of pep there. I’d felt like I was marching in a parade--a very slow parade. But one day after suffering through another mind-numbing session on the elliptical, I peeked in on the current Zumba Gold class. Something had changed. There was a lot of quick-stepping, high-kicking, hip-swaying, and arm-flinging. There was also a lot of laughing and shouting. In no way did it resemble the Zumba Gold class I’d previously attended or any I’d viewed on YouTube. So I joined in.
            Two months later, I can’t wait for Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It’s hard to describe the attitude adjustment these classes provide. Let’s just say that anytime you “dance like there’s no one watching,” you’re naturally going to feel better. But most of the credit goes to our instructor Sheri Chenevert, who choreographs all sorts of fun and do-able steps and movements, and to the lively ladies who make up the class. With some ex-dancers and ex-cheerleaders in the mix, things can really get hoppin’. Literally.

My videos don't do these ladies justice, but you can get the idea that they can "bust some moves"!

Have a favorite exercise you'd like to share?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Not Your Ordinary Christmas Tale

The Christmas Pageant:
A tradition that never grows old.

            This morning, near the end of our church’s Advent Celebration service, children paraded down the aisle, dressed in the familiar attire of shepherds, wise men, and angels. The pint-sized actors gathered around a manger, where “Mary” gently tended the baby Jesus and “Joseph” helped her keep watch over him.
            Watching that timeless scene unfold, I was reminded of my very favorite Christmas story, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. First published in 1972, the story probably wouldn’t clear all of today's “politically-correct” hurdles as there is something in it to offend just about everyone at least once.  There are church gossips and busybodies, there are schoolyard name-calling and bullying. A good case could be made that it contains child abuse and even—heaven forbid!—cruelty toward a cat.  
You can see from my copy
of this book it is well read.
            But, for me, this is the quintessential Christmas story (besides, of course, the original one). No matter how many times I read this little book or see the play, I laugh out loud at the antics of the  incorrigible Herdmans, a ragtag collection of siblings who terrorize an entire town and threaten to hijack the annual Christmas pageant. But always by the end of the story, I’m in tears. When I read about Imogene Herdman crying as she performs her role as Mary, I think that perhaps no other “actress” has ever taken the assignment so much to heart. And when Gladys Herdman “with her skinny legs and dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe” yells “Hey! Unto you a child is born,” she embodies the excitement that must have filled the first heralds of that message.
            Yes, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever isn’t your typical, reverent Christmas story. But I think it’s one of the best because it deals with an imperfect world and the  imperfect people who inhabit it. Ultimately, it is the story of transformation and redemption. And, after all, isn’t that what Christmas is about?
            Have a favorite Christmas story you’d like to recommend?


Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Tuesday-Panties Mind-Set

            When my daughter was a preteen, one of her favorite movies was Big Business, a feel-good comedy with a plot that revolves around mistaken identities. In one of the scenes, small-town resident Rose walks through the office of a big, New York company where the employees mistake her for a major shareholder. All the workers greet her profusely, inquiring as to her health and asking about her family. To the suspicious Rose, they seem way too interested in and know way too much about her. She responds to their friendly overtures with “I’m fine...fine. Wearing my Tuesday panties, too...but I guess you already know that.”
(No, these aren't mine. I'd feel
a little weird posting a picture
of my own underwear.)
            You’re probably wondering where all this is going, so I’ll get to the point. Whenever I go to my favorite grocery store--Crest Foods in Edmond--that movie scene comes to my mind. Crest Foods is a “Tuesday-panties” kind of place. No, I don’t suspect ulterior motives or think they have inside information on my underwear. But every time I go there, they make me feel important. From the shopping cart handler to the sacker, no fewer than five people greet me with a smile and a good word--like they're really glad I came.
            Grocery shopping is not a chore I enjoy. But the employees at Crest make the task much more pleasant. In fact, they make it worth my while to drive two extra miles to shop there.
            Maybe their enthusiasm is just a result of excellent training, but I don’t care. It works. Even if they’re not really all that excited to see me, they at least make me think they are. And that’s what matters, right?
            My experience with Crest convinced me to start incorporating a little more Tuesday-panties attitude in my life. Nothing major, just making more of an effort to notice people I casually interact with--asking a sales clerk how her day is going, telling a waitress I appreciate her attentiveness, complimenting a receptionist on her smile.
            As the holiday season hits full tilt in the coming weeks and people become busier and more stressed, maybe a Tuesday-panties mind-set would be a good thing for all of us to foster. And you don't have to limit it to Tuesdays!
            I would really, really like to know some of your favorite Tuesday-panties places (or people). Please share them either in the comments below or on Facebook.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Ears" to Making New Friends

            A confession: Having lived my entire life in the Bible Belt, I’ve always harbored a slight wariness of those living outside it. This skepticism arises not so much from differing religious practices or views as it does from cultural discrepancies in general. But since much of my extended family now lives in the Northwest, I lately find myself having to step out of my comfort zone and, if not exactly embracing, at least accepting some of their rather strange customs. Customs such as considering plaid flannel appropriate for formal occasions or refusing to recognize y’all as a perfectly good word.
As evidenced by this picture, my fondness
for corn on the cob, began at an early age.
            Last week my niece Amy sent me a link to Miss Writerly Crankypants. It reminded me if people truly search with open minds and hearts, they can find a common bond or two with fellow humans regardless of differing theologies or politics or style preferences. Although Miss CP lives in the Northwest, I feel as though I have found a new BFF, as she and I share a deep and abiding love of ...corn on the cob. Reading her post made me want to reach across the proverbial aisle and give her a big ol’ Bible Belt hug. After all, war-time alliances have been formed between countries with less in common.
            With her permission, I’m providing this link. If you click on it, you can save yourself potential credit card woes, and you’ll definitely have a LOL read.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Late-Sung Heroes of WWII

            In 2009, I visited the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. An unenthusiastic visitor at first, I quickly became captivated by the history which surrounded me. I think I learned more about WWII in that place than in all my history classes combined. I know I gained a greater appreciation for the men who served in it.
            While wandering through the museum, I happened upon the U.S. Merchant Marines exhibit. It intrigued me because Joseph Fink, my dad, served as a Merchant Marine during the war. To be honest, I’d never given much thought to that period in my dad’s life. Yes, in our house there was a picture of him looking proud and handsome in his uniform. And I’d heard bits and pieces about his travels and had often perused his scrapbook collection of postcards gathered from all over the world. But like many veterans, he spoke very little about wartime experiences, so I never gave them much consideration...until that day in the museum, when I grew so proud.
            All the information I learned about Merchant Marines is too extensive to include in this post, but if this time in history and this area of the service interests you, you can read more at American Merchant Marine at War. Below are a few fascinating facts from this site and from the museum site:
·        In WWII, it took from 7 to 15 tons of supplies to support ONE American soldier for one year.

·        The Merchant Marines carried a staggering amount of supplies all over the world, transporting from 1941 to 1944 over 270 million tons of cargo.

·         One out of every twenty-six American mariners died while in service, the highest percentage of deaths suffered by any service branch during WWII.

·         On May 22, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed, “The American people have reason to be proud of the heroism and patriotism of the officers and seamen of their Victory fleet. During these dangerous days and nights on the sea lanes of the world, with danger lurking above, below, and on the surface, they do not falter in the performance of their duty. Hundreds of them render service far beyond the call of duty. It is gratifying that the Congress has recognized such heroism and authorized the bestowal of proper awards to these men of the sea, who are just as vital to our ultimate victory as the men in the armed forces.”

·         General McArthur stated, “I hold no branch in higher esteem than the Merchant Marine Services.”

·        Many argue that without merchant seamen’s valuable contribution, an Allied victory wouldn’t have happened. Sadly, however, Merchant Marines could not receive any benefits for their service until President Ronald Reagan signed a bill granting them veteran status in 1988.
            In 1989, my dad received a form letter and a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty and an Honorable Discharge Certificate. That same letter informed him, “The enclosed documents establish your status as a veteran.” At that time, he was 68 years old—too old to take advantage of the GI Bill or a VA mortgage. He could have received VA medical benefits, but at that point he was on Medicare and a supplemental health plan and saw no reason to change.
            Daddy wasn’t a man to harbor regrets orresentments about the past, and I’m not writing this post to complain. But I am asking you to remember this often forgotten branch of service in your observance of this day. Their recognition as veterans in 1988 was long overdue. Joseph Fink and all Merchant Marines who served in WWII were veterans of that war from the day it ended, whether  two government documents “establish” it or not.  

My heart-felt gratitude goes out to all veterans this Veterans Day!



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Circle of Friends: The Light Between Oceans

            Last week I had a lot to blab blog about so I limited my information about book club to  theme and decorations. This week I’m going to follow my own advice about partying, only I’m applying it to blogging. This is my “portmanteau” post, built on the one that precedes it.
            The book choice for this month’s Circle of Friends meeting was The Light BetweenOceans, M. L. Stedman’s debut novel. It might be understatement to say I loved this book, and the Friends were unanimous in their admiration of it.  

            I know just enough about Greek tragedy to recognize certain elements of it in modern literature. In tragedy, a decision is made in a moment of human weakness—a decision which will have wide-spread, far-reaching, and devastating consequences. Early in this story, protagonist Tom Sherbourne makes such a decision, and at that point, I almost stopped reading, sure that the ending would be depressing. But, with a sense of dread, I persevered. Passages of lyrical beauty made the expected dismal ending worth the read. Among those passages are ones where Stedman so knowingly describes a young couple’s intimacy and connection with their baby; passages which depict the natural majesty of Janus Rock; passages which contain eternal truths such as “You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day.” And the sentiments are delivered through exquisite writing: “The rain is falling more heavily, and in the distance, thunder grumbles at being left behind by the lightning.” 

            (A small spoiler alert, here.) To my great relief, the ending didn’t follow the traditional pattern of a tragedy. Not a doom-and-gloom ending, but a satisfying and hopeful one. And that’s my favorite kind.

            It’s a time-worn—but nevertheless true—adage: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Had I let my knowledge of tragedy discourage me from finishing this story, I would have missed out on a sparkling gem of a book.   

            Now in an abrupt change of gears, let’s get to food. The Friends outdid themselves this time. One dish that got RAVE reviews was Paula’s Reuben dip. If you have a tailgate or football viewing party—or any kind of party—in your future, this is the perfect dish!

Reuben's Hot Pot

12 oz. cream cheese

1/2 cup milk

2 cups shredded Swiss cheese (1/2 #)

1 cup sour cream

15 oz. pkg. sliced corned beef (or 1# from deli)

1 cup sauerkraut, drained

Soften cream cheese briefly in microwave. Slowly stir in milk, mixing until well blended. Tear corned beef into small pieces. Combine all ingredients in a 2 quart casserole and bake 1 hour at 350.

Serve in a casserole or chafing dish with party rye/rye bagel chips, or Fritos, or celery sticks. OR carve out a round rye bread to put dip into and use the rye bread cubes/pieces for dipping (not too small of course).



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Portmanteau Partying

            So last week I got the urge to clean out my pantry, something I do every ten years whether it needs it or not. In the process of that joyful chore, I discovered a huge stash of paper plates, napkins, and plastic flatware that was taking up valuable space.  Throwing them out seemed wasteful, but giving them away? Who wants secondhand paper goods?
Mismatched napkins?
What's a party-planner to do?
            I was standing on my kitchen step-stool and sorting through the collection of twisty-ties I'd been saving, when it came to me I’d be hosting book club in a few days. I decided to break with our tradition of using bona fide dinner settings and flatware and use the seasonal paper plates and napkins I already had. I’d announced an “Oktoberfest” menu, so the orange paper plates and Halloween napkins would be perfect.
            I rifled through my stash to discover I had nine Halloween napkins—not enough. I rooted some more and discovered eight Thanksgiving ones. Again, not enough for the number of guests who were coming. I could buy more of one or the other, but then I’d have a bunch left over to add to my already over-stocked supply.
            At our recent Inklings outing, the subject of portmanteaus came up. (Yes, my writing group has riveting conversations like that.)  Not the suitcase portmanteaus, but the word ones—those words that piggy-back on each other to form spot-on descriptions of items or situations. For example, Apruary—for when the calendar says it’s April but the weather feels like February. Or chairdrobe—that chair in your bedroom with stacks of clothes piled on it. And check here to find out what glamping is.

            Problem solved. I’d have a portmanteau theme. I dug farther into my pantry and unearthed all sorts of Halloween and Thanksgiving gimcrack and put them to use. My book club friends brought WONDERFUL Oktoberfest food, and we had a great time celebrating Happy Hallowgiving!   

My versatile turkey is perfect for a portmanteau party. In the
years I've had him, he's been a Pilgrim, a surfer, an Easter Bunny,
a bride, and Santa Claus! For Halloween, he's a witch!
Another discovery in my pantry--
a mismatched set of jars which became...

Frosty containers for infused water!

PS If you happen to find some Christmas napkins in the mix of your paper goods, Merry Thanksgivoween has a nice ring to it!
Have a favorite portmanteau word or party to suggest? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Brain Drain

            I’m upset. For years I’ve relied on perfectly good scientific evidence to explain my difficulty with math, to excuse my inability to strategize successful chess moves, to support my claim I’m a “word” and not a “numbers” person. Now it appears that the evidence I’ve relied on is neither good nor scientific. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal  (Kosslyn and Miller 10/19-20/13) reveals that the old left-brain/right-brain theory is bogus—nothing more than psycho-babble.
            How can this be? The theory makes so much sense. I mean, all you have to do to prove its veracity is point to the geek who can build a computer out of tin foil and old television antennas but doesn’t know he shouldn't wear black socks with sandals. And how about the artist who can create a museum-worthy masterpiece but can’t navigate his way through the grocery store aisles?
            And if this evidence right before our eyes every single day isn’t enough, there is the academic community paying homage to the left/right-brain claim. As a former teacher, I’ve lost track of the 
Remember the 1990s movie Soap Dish?
Well, all these brain theories are giving
me "brain fever."
number of workshops I attended that divided students into the “intuitive” and the “logical” and offered tactics to bridge those brain gaps. Surely, experts entrusted with the education of our young can’t be wrong!!!
            So if the whole left/right-brain paradigm is unsupported, how has it gained such a stronghold? The WSJ article gave a lot of facts, statistics, and logical explanations about how that happened, but I couldn’t understand them. So I’m going to skip to the part that tells how our brains really work and give my intuitive interpretation.
            If at this point you are reluctant to embrace yet another brain theory, let me put your mind at ease. The top/bottom-brain approach—known as “the theory of cognitive modes”—is built on “decades of unimpeachable research.” Although that research was conducted over fifty years ago, we’re just now hearing about it because it has “largely remained inside scientific circles.” In other words, they kept it a secret until now. Why? The article didn’t say. You’ll have to ask those inside the circles.
            What I understand, though, is that our gray matter is indeed divided—but between top and bottom rather than right and left. Everyone has the same amount of useable brain available to him, but his “mode” depends on whether or not he optimizes both halves of it. I interpret this as if you’re not wildly successful, it’s because you’re a slacker who isn’t using your entire brain to its optimal benefit. The article claims that no one mode is better than another, but come on. I might not be inside any scientific circles, but even I can decipher that a “Mover”—whose top- and bottom-brain systems are both “highly utilized in optional ways”—has it all over the “Adapter”—who basically coasts along using as little brain matter as possible. The remaining modes of “Perceiver” and “Stimulator,” you might have guessed, use their top and bottom brains to varying degrees between the other two modes.
            If you don’t perceive yourself as a Mover, don’t feel bad. The article states that “Each [mode] is useful in different circumstances.” You might be a slacker Adapter, but you can still be “useful.” You can do things like run errands or answer the phone for the high-powered Mover. There. I knew that would make you feel better. At least until the next theory comes along.                 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lacking Time and Inspiration for Writing?

             Over two weeks had passed since my last post, and I didn’t have the time or the inclination to post another. I was feeling guilty because, although I’d never committed to a blog-a-week contract, that had been my unofficial game plan. Two particular barriers stood in the way of my productivity: 1) I had nothing to say, and 2) I was getting ready to go out of town and had a million things to do.
            Call it fate, serendipity, a fortunate coincidence. On my trip I acquired a great little book entitled Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen. (See post below.) Fay Weldon wrote it in 1983, but her timeless advice helped me gain perspective thirty years later. Not far into the book, Weldon addresses two categories of tormentors that plague writers:  those who stand behind writers and those who stand in front.
            Foremost among those who stand behind is the Muse. The Muse needs no introduction to anyone who has ever dared to dabble in the creative arts. She is as demanding as she is elusive. She dogs writers, prodding them to go forward. “Go, go, go!” she shouts, as relentless as an NFL coach in her insistence they perform. When at last they give in to her goading, she rewards them by bestowing and withdrawing inspiration with sadistic pleasure.
Which necessity impedes your
writing progress?
            On rare occasions the Muse behaves herself. She gives writers a really great plot, an intriguing character, a cutting-edge insight, only to have them attacked by tormentors from the front. Among those tormentors is the one I’ll call Necessity. Necessity steps in front of writers, raises her hand traffic-cop style, and shouts, “Stop!” She insists writers cease or at least interrupt their craft in order to meet the demands of daily living. To impede their progress, she throws in their paths such tasks as doing laundry, transporting kids, paying bills. In her own way, Necessity is as devious as the Muse, imposing stiff fines of guilt on those who fail in these endeavors. 
            So what solution does Weldon offer for overcoming these tormentors? None, I’m afraid. But what she does give, as I stated above, is perspective. The perspective to realize there will never be the perfect situation for sitting down to write. There will always be struggles for great ideas, for the best ways to state them, for enough uninterrupted time to write them down, for strategies to deal with naysayers. And the good news is that—in an almost paradoxical way—it is through struggles and through everyday living, the Muse visits. Or as Weldon so eloquently puts it: “ is the battle the writer wages with the real world which provides the energy for invention.”

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grousing Gratification Delayed

            Those of you who follow my blog regularly—yes, both of you—might have noticed I’ve missed a week or two in posting something new. That’s because I’ve been in the Great Northwest—the damp and rainy Great Northwest—visiting family. Whenever I travel to Springfield, OR, one of my favorite activities is visiting my niece Amanda Bird’s Book Nest, which features “Fine Books, Good Reading.” Amy (family's name for her) has a wonderful selection of quality secondhand books and collectible volumes, and I always find way more books there than I can possibly afford to buy or find time to read.
            On this trip, I narrowed my choices to two books, one of which was Maeve Binchy’s Minding Frankie. I agree with Kirkus Review’s assessment that Minding Frankie is “cheerful, read-by-the-fire comfort.” There is also plenty of laughing out loud. And I’m as much a fan of Binchy’s style as I am her content. The author is a genius at revealing characters through their actions. Talk about “show and don’t tell,” Binchy has the art mastered. In the past, several of my friends have suggested  I read Binchy, but you know how it goes—so many good books, so little time. I never quite made it around to giving her a try. But the upside of rain and damp on a vacation is that it provides a lot of downtime--time to read. Now I’m hooked on Binchy and will be reading more of her work.
            The second book I chose was Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen, written by Fay Weldon and published in 1983. While based on a fictional premise—Weldon isn’t really writing to her niece and, in fact, doesn’t even have a niece named Alice—this book is mainly non-fiction. In a collection of essays, Weldon shares her thoughts on writing and on reading literature—many works of great literature, not just Jane Austen’s. In a review in The London Times, Fiona McCarthy wrote, “...the belief that books can actually change us, have the power to improve us, animate this work...” If you are a Jane Austen devotee, an aspiring writer, or a bibliophile in general, I know you will enjoy her witty and insightful comments. Like Binchy, she also provides many laugh-out-loud moments. And you’re in luck. It can be ordered on Amazon!
             I sat down to write this post, fully intending to grouse about how a blog is not a taskmaster, how I’m not going to be a slave to it, how I do have a short, making excuses about why I haven’t blogged. But I enjoyed these books so much, I just had to share. Don't despair. The grousing will come later.
             If you’ve read either of these authors, I’d love to read your input about them...kind of an on-line book club meeting!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When It Comes to Expressing Emotion Is There a Middle Ground?

            Not long ago, I texted my daughter: “Have you heard ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ by Miranda Lambert? It’s hilarious!” (Yes, I’m a baby-booming, ex-English-teaching texter. I spell out all the words and include the capitalization and proper punctuation.)
            Her reply: “no”
            My response: “When you hear it, give me a call. I want to know what you think. I love it!”
            A few days later I got a call from her. “I know why you love that song,” she said. “The mama is you. You think she’s giving good advice.”
            I didn’t deny the charge, although it’s not completely true.
            What I call my formative years occurred during the 1950s, when “what will the neighbors think?” was a genuine concern and behaving yourself in public in order to “save a little face” wasn’t frowned upon. But I entered my teens during the 1960s—the decade in which pop-culture influencers instructed impressionable youths to “let it all hang out.” So can it come as a surprise to anyone that on the subject of expressing emotions, I stand firmly in the middle?
            I contend somewhere between uptight restraint, which insists we inhibit our feelings to the point of denying them, and flagrant exhibitionism, which says it’s perfectly okay for a full-grown adult to throw a temper tantrum in the Walmart parking lot, there is a balanced way to handle them.
            Here are some strategies I recommend:
1. Acknowledge your feelings, but don’t act on them in public. Your little tirade might be cathartic for you, but it unnerves innocent bystanders. And when it’s all over, you’re going to want to forget about it while others have already posted it on Facebook. (Of course, there are those out there—and you know who you are—who thrive on this kind of attention.) Also, a public display could get you fired or arrested. I’ve always found the shower to be the perfect place to carry out a noisy meltdown.  
2. Talk out your angst with family or friends, but know there’s a limit to what even those closest to you can endure. If the BFF you’ve known since grade school—or your own mother—starts blocking your calls, take the Dear Abby route: consult a professional.
3. Employ a diversionary tactic. Shopping works for me, even if it is just window shopping. But if financial problems are the cause of your emotional stress, find another tactic.
4. “Fix your make-up...paint your toes.” The song makes fun of mama’s instructions to take a little pride in appearance, but I happen to think that’s wise advice. If you're dealing with anger, I’ve always liked Ivana Trump’s approach: “Looking good is the best revenge.” But DON’T make any major cosmetic decisions—like cutting your hair (with or without “rusty scissors”) or getting a tattoo—before giving yourself a reasonable cooling off period.
5. Take Olivia Newton-John’s suggestion and “get physical.” Okay, I’m thinking more along the lines of going for a run or cleaning your house. But if the kind of “physical” advocated in the song works for you, go for it. And speaking of songs...
6. Sing! That’s right. My mama once told me she knew when her mother was upset because she’d start humming. Even if your singing ability falls somewhere between an off-key bagpipe and a cat’s caterwauling, find a private place and belt out a song. The louder, the more therapeutic. I’ve found the shower stall is a good place for this, too.
Above all...
7. Pray. This is the tricky one. I think it’s especially difficult to pray when dealing with anger, but that’s the time it’s most critical. I’ve discovered (after a lot of resistance) that it’s hard to remain mad at someone for whom you’re praying.
            I must admit I’ve learned these lessons the hard way—through many trials and errors. But on the times I’ve had the presence of mind to follow them, I’ve saved myself a lot of grief. And, yes, I've spent a lot of time in the shower.
            If you have some strategies that work for you, I can always use more!      


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Master Brooks's Bookses: MY FIRST DAY

          Grammy Dee came to visit me last weekend, so you know what that means: I must do a book review. Actually, I don’t mind because I love books and I enjoy sharing my thoughts about them. Today I’m reviewing My First Day by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. My Aunt Audrey bought this book for me at the San Diego Zoo and sent it to me for my birthday. (Did you catch that? Birthday? Yes, I’m now three years old!) If you can't make it to San Diego to pick up a copy, don't fret. You can order it on Amazon.
            It’s ironic that Aunt Audrey sent this particular book to me now that I’m such a big boy, because My First Day is all about what animals do when they are tiny babies—only one day old. On the day they're born, some animals are  as helpless as human babies and must depend on their parents for everything. On their first day, kittens can’t see OR hear. Other animals, like the kiwi, are expected to survive on their own the minute they hatch out of an egg. I think that would be very scary! I learned many other interesting facts about baby animals from this book. For instance, did you know on the day a baby zebra is born, his mother memorizes his unique stripe pattern and can pick him out of a herd of hundreds of zebras? I also learned the names of unusual animals. Do you know what a sifaka or a capybara is? No? Well, read this book and you will! And you can get further information about the animals from the illustrated guide in the back.
            I promise you will love learning all the fascinating facts about the baby animals in this book. You will also enjoy the colorful pictures of the babies and their parents.

Aunt Audrey also sent me this cool t-shirt from the zoo. If
I look unhappy in this picture, it's not because I don't like
my shirt or my book. It's because I don't like standing still
long enough to get my picture taken.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Resurrecting Macrame-nia is a Great Idea! Knot.

             When it comes to fashion and décor, I enjoy revisiting bygone eras, taking pleasure in the nostalgia they elicit. But I do have my limits. There are those decades I’d just as soon exclude from any revival movement. Ever.  Among them, the 1970s.
             The fact I’m not a current fan of the ‘70s decade doesn’t mean I eschewed all of its trends when I lived through them. On the contrary, I enthusiastically embraced “feathered” hair a la Farrah,  bell-bottomed pants, peasant blouses, wooden platformed shoes. I even bought my husband a leisure suit (which, thank goodness, he had the good sense to despise and wore only twice). As I was writing this post, I caught myself humming "The Age of Aquarius" (which actually came out in 1969, but close enough). To decorate my first home, I took inspiration from the apartment of Chrissy, Jack, and Janet of Three’s Company fame. And I was enamored of macramé.

A couple of examples of
the macrame art that
decorated my 1970s home
With walls and ceilings
amply adorned, we could move
on to apparel.
(For the record, my aunt made these
pieces. I stuck mainly with three-prong
pot hangers.)
       I’m not sure what it was about tying knots that had the country ensnarled in that craze, but you can count me as a victim of ‘70s macrame-nia. I think part of my zeal was inspired by an aunt who was truly a person created to create. Her hands were constantly busy—crocheting, knitting, sewing, weaving, even spinning. And she was a consummate teacher, loving nothing better than sharing her skills with anyone who wanted to learn them. In the ‘70s, she found willing and eager  students among family and friends for her macramé classes. In knot-tying frenzies, we  fashioned hangers for anything from pots to pendant lights. Products of our new-found skill were suspended from every square foot above our heads. At one point, my dad flatly refused to hang any more of my mother’s “art” for fear the ceiling would collapse. With the space above us either off-limits or filled, we moved on to wall hangings, window and door coverings, purses, belts, jewelry, vests, hats...even bikinis. (I actually never had a macrame bikini, so don't ask me how that worked.) The options were endless, running out of rope being the  only deterrent to our productivity.
            With the comeback capability of a boomerang, macramé has enjoyed a long and interesting history  of wafting in and out of popularity. Originating in the 13th century with Arab weavers, the skill worked its way across Europe. In the 17th century, Queen Mary taught it to her ladies-in-waiting. Sailors brought it to the New World, where, in the 1970s, hippies and housewives practically made a cottage industry out of it. Macramé fell out of favor for a couple of decades, but the other day on the Houzz website, an article suggested it might be staging yet another appearance. A quick search revealed dozens of Pinterest boards dedicated to it. Of course, for the sake of marketing, this most recent phase will involve innovative twists such as...fewer owls.
            As far as I’m concerned, even a dearth of owls can’t be innovative enough to make resurrecting macrame-nia a good idea. It roped me in once, but as with many trends and fads, once is enough.

            Any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from those of you who, like me, were entangled in the ‘70s macramé web.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Let's Put the "Self" Back in Self-Esteem

            I began my teaching career in the mid-1980s, about the same time the self-esteem movement began to sweep through education. I struggled for years with that concept, torn between what I was observing first-hand in my classroom and what the education “experts” were telling me I should be observing (experts being those persons with lots of educational theories but little or no actual classroom experience). Then one day in the mid-1990s in the school library, the cover of a Psychology Today magazine caught my eye. The headline: “The Ten Worst Educational Theories of the Last Ten Years.” Hallelujah! The self-esteem theory made the list.
            Of course, in spite of the experts’ insistence they are “cutting-edge” innovators, they’re often reluctant to abandon ideas they’ve long embraced and propounded—even if those ideas don’t work. So twenty-something years after its initial appearance, the specter of bestowing self-esteem as a motivator still haunts the classroom. But thanks to books and articles I’ve read lately, I sense the ghost can soon be laid to its final rest. 
            I’m sure we all have memories of the fire-breathing, draconic teacher who managed the classroom through heavy-handed intimidation. I’m certainly not advocating that method. But, surely, somewhere between tyrannical teaching and feeding undeserving egos, a middle road exists.  
            I’m not a psychologist (never even played one on TV), but I’ve read a lot on this subject, trying to make sense of the nonsensical. Two works on which I’m drawing to write this post are the book Generation Me, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph. D and an article in the Wall Street Journal by Sue Shellenbarger, dated February 27, 2013.  Based on my personal experience as a parent and teacher and based on what I’ve read, the following suggestions are some of my ideas for a balanced approach to instilling confidence, not hyper-inflated egotism, in children.
            First and foremost, realize the operative word in self-esteem is self. It should be earned, not bestowed. High self-esteem is not a cause, a means of producing better results. It’s an effect, a result of having worked hard to achieve an admirable goal. I’m not saying children actually have to achieve that goal. They just need to know they did their best in order to take satisfaction in their effort. And kids are smart. They know when they don’t deserve that trophy, gold star, high grade, praise, etc.
            Allow children to feel bad about themselves sometimes. If they’ve been mean or hurtful or dishonest, they probably should feel bad. It doesn’t mean they can never be forgiven or have to carry guilt for the remainder of their lives. And it doesn’t mean we withhold love from them. But that uncomfortable feeling can be a goad to correct a misdeed or a deterrent to future bad behavior. Several years ago I read that only the criminally insane have continually high levels of self-esteem.
            Recognize that no one is good at everything. When we suggest that all children have done all things equally well by handing out blanket rewards, we diminish the special skills or talents of some and discourage hard work and perseverance. (Before you start objecting, read my next point.)
            Acknowledge that everyone does something well. The “Good Sportsmanship Trophy” has often been the butt of jokes. But you know what? Over the long haul, the ability to encourage others or handle disappointment with grace or perspective might well be a more valuable life-skill than throwing a mean curve-ball. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging skills such as those—as long as you don’t give a good sportsmanship trophy to everyone on the team.
            Do give encouragement. There is a difference between giving encouragement and doling out self-esteem. Encouragement develops self-control and self-discipline—two assets that will serve a child exceedingly better than a trumped-up sense of entitlement.  
            I’ve already overshot my word limit on this post by about two hundred words, but I can’t close without making this final point. If my suggestions sound uncaring or mean-spirited, consider the full title of Twenge’s book: Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.
            Your thoughts?