Friday, November 27, 2009

Asceticism

It seems the more I practice simplicity the easier it gets.

A long time ago it was called asceticism.

Some see it as a form of sacred simplicity.

I have been considering the idea for many months, even before the recession forced changes in my life. But of course the practice has been around for centuries.

While it often has religious overtones, it may be too limiting to consider scaling back as strictly a practice of faith. I wonder about the benefits of getting by with less and adding discipline, and looking for the value of being less dependent on external trappings.

Certainly some see having less as a way to reduce our "carbon footprint". In our home we have less packaging and more recycling. I love that the more we re-use and recycle things, whether we are donating items or buying second-hand, or just cooking more meals without prepared food, we save money, save energy (used in producing more stuff) and have less waste. It feels good.

It's interesting that Judaism has generally rejected the practice, tho Kabbalist (Jewish mystics) often practiced great simplicity in their lives, like so many of other faiths.

My hope is that one of the best things to come from the recession and resulting struggles that so many face in this economy, is a new appreciation for those things that are priceless.
v

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Healthy Terror

A couple of years ago someone at a PTA meeting, when I asked why they didn't celebrate Halloween at the school, breezily said she thought some Jewish parents had complained.

Yeah - right. I didn't even bother to correct her WAY off information. No Jew I have ever met has disparaged Halloween. We like it so much we have another one, called Purim, in the Spring :)

But In a continuing effort to get common sense brought back into decision making and viewpoints, let's think about why so many schools now don't celebrate it. And let's applaud the ones that do.

It's a secular holiday. So is July 4th. Some would like to associate Halloween with pagan worship traditions that go back thousands of years, and they would be right. But many others see it as a Christian holiday, All Hallows Eve. Of course the early Christians, specifically Romans conquering Europe, found it easier to Christian-ize existing holidays than to force the locals to take on new holidays. I love how practical the Romans were - win the fight, then win them over, don't fight battles that don't matter. Merging of traditions among tribes is probably something that happened from the beginning of human time.

Who gets to own the holiday now is my question. If we let the Pagans or Catholics take over, isn't this tyranny by the minority?? As much as I hear certain radicals railing against things like atheists pushing prayer out of schools (when in fact it was our Founding Fathers - pretty smart guys all in all), how can these same people run from Halloween calling it "unchristian" because a very small number of people actually see it as part of their religion??

The beauty of Halloween is you DON'T have to be Catholic, or Wiccan, or anything to celebrate it.

Not that we hear Pagans, Wiccans and Devil Worshipers (G-d help them) demonstrating on the street for equal rights. Pretty sure the lessons learned by burnings, drownings and torture over centuries has sunk in.

If people want to celebrate or "observe" (spooky word!) Halloween at church or with gatherings of friends, and Christian-ize it, have at it.

Has anyone noticed that we don't worry about worshiping the Sun God on Sunday, or the Moon G0d on Monday or , did you know, Mercury on Wednesday (see french, mercredi, or your latin) or Thor on Thursday... these were Roman Gods (actually I think Mercury is Greek and Hermes is Roman). But we don't throw out our Roman numerals, or our Gregorian (Catholic) calendar.

We don't need to dump on other religions just because it isn't our faith.

This is the problem with radicalism. And I'd like to compare it to knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing, in ever so polite a way. It comes from fear. "I'm right and by god you're wrong." Could be you are right, but it isn't up to anyone else but me to figure out right and wrong for me, within the context of my beliefs and values. In fact it's my job to figure out good and evil and what is neither or both. Not your job. It's like happiness, an inside job.

Halloween is both about personal choices and public property. A Frankenstein lightening rod!

Why let anyone take over something that is public property? I refuse, for instance, to yield the ever shrinking Middle Ground, where sane, common sense people should - are in fact *obligated* to - take a stand. To me this is an ethical question and based on "If you aren't part of the solution, then you are part of problem."

Halloween is also common, sacred ground. Not in the sense that it is sacred to Pagans, or Wiccans, or Catholics, but in the sense that it is part of the human condition to have deep dark fears.

Those horror stories, movies, plays (who is more terrifying than Shakespeare?) and costumes... Perfect. Glorious! Amazing!!!

Why?

Because on Halloween, not only do we get to be creative and playful, but WE GET TO MAKE FUN OF SCARY STUFF. What is better than a good fun scare to help us confront the darkest parts of the human condition? For me two things are scary: radicalism/arrogance mixed with power and "not knowing". What is in the dark, will it kill me? Am I smarter than it? Can I see it or name it??

Just as children who have never heard scary stories still dream about monsters, we all have our demons and dragons. As adults they are made real with recessions, job losses, divorce, death, illness, taxes, politicians, insurance companies and fat cat swindlers.

I love fairy tales, especially ones about the dragon or Scary Thing that is outwitted by a calm or powerful foe. This is how we teach our kids and reassure ourselves that terrible things can be overcome. Better if you are calm, and bonus points if you are funny. To be wise and therefore able to outwit the scariest thing you can imagine is to gain unlimited power. Just ask Yoda.

How sweet is that?! Love 2 for 1 deals!

Not only does Halloween provide days of childlike wonder, creativity, an excuse for candy and Fun! but it also gives us the chance to face our deepest fears, run screaming! learn from them (we survived!) and maybe, just maybe, even laugh at them.
:)
v

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Abuse

Abuse is making anyone do anything they aren't ready for. Testing agencies and bureaucrats again strike out - can't make good decisions when it comes to children. Pressure-cooker kindergarten - The Boston Globe

I loved Freakanomics

What went wrong with this one? And like any other large stumble, what about the claims in Freakanomics? Do I have to re-examine them all? Super freaking wrong

Risks of Parenting

This is an amazing story. Reminds me of when I realized, 13 years ago how much courage and determination it takes to risk having kids, loving them completely, and pondered how we go out into the world with them everyday, and manage to live a "normal" life with our entire hearts being on the line. Modern Love - To Mother Again, With Courage - NYTimes.com

No Anti Trust laws for Insurance? Really?!

This I didn't know - that insurance companies aren't subject to anti-trust laws... Reform needs to be real reform.
Congress cranks up pressure on insurance industry Health Reuters

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brain waves and Visual Images

This is the study to which Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka Yarn Harlot, referred in her talks circa 2008: Science Netlinks: Science Updates. Great stuff on brain functioning, worry beads and my favorite, les tricoteuses, or those women who knitted during French Revolution beheadings! Perfect material for the beautiful month of Halloween, or All Hallow'eds Eve :)

Creativity, Your Brain and Working Smart

Hard Work's Overrated, Maybe Detrimental. | Design & Innovation | Fast Company

This is a no-brainer. Years ago when designing databases or programming I'd take breaks and bounce a raquet ball around the office, out on the deck or just take a walk, eat, and then get back to it. But bouncing a ball, a large motor skill that kicked my brain into a different mode, worked best. I didn't have to get verbal. In fact, getting verbal was hard, like switching from one language to another. Literally, you reach for words after thinking in "computer-ese" for a while.

Repetitive motion, by the way, like bouncing a ball, knitting or pressing a single key repeatedly, has been shown to push processing into the higher reasoning centers of the brain. They think it's because your "old" or primal brain (is this the limbic system?) is engaged by the repetitive motion.

A very smart knitter, Yarn Harlot spoke last year in Atlanta and pointed out this research, where participants watch a violent video of a car crash, and how their residual trauma afterward is lower if they are doing something repetitive (like knitting) while watching.

If they were having a conversation and watched the wreck, their trauma after was deeper and more difficult to shake. Researchers concluded that keeping the smart part of your brain busy, and letting just the primal brain concentrate on the video, created more trauma. It's the primitive side of us, literally that which is hard wired, that cannot process the events as well to protect us. This may also be why children process and perceive so well, but are poor interpreters. They have well developed primitive brains, but haven't been able to develop the more sophisticated regions yet. Hence the long time needed to grow up.

Even teens have amazing things going on it their brains, including a newly discovered "die off" of old, less used cells around 16 - 18 years old. Neuroscientists believe it has something to do with the brain's need to make room for growth in other areas where you need more power.

When you are working, if you are using your "higher" brain skills, take break. Do something peaceful and repetitive. If you are using "basic" brain skills, like driving or running equipment repeatedly, read, do a puzzle, or chat with someone during breaks.

So the dwindling American vacation? Makes us less productive, if our job is to be innovative. And who gets to be less creative at work? Isn't that what we created computers for, to do the boring repetitive work? Isn't that why we shipped all our manufacturing jobs overseas? (blog for another day)

By the way, an interesting side note - not long ago The Atlantic published that multitasking makes us stupider. No surprise to me. I've been saying for 18 years that multitasking is a lie - you can't do two things at once well, you just do two things and have to work faster. I have proof. Feel free to make me prove it.

And some even say that Google makes us stupid.

I used to imagine hamsters on a wheel in my head, especially when I can't sleep. These days, I'm starting to switch to habitrails imagery. And very fast mice.
v

Monday, October 12, 2009

Powerful Plant

I've been fascinated by this plant since it captured me and MY HORSE about 30 years ago on a trail: What is Kudzu? What if we could harness it's amazing ability to grow A FOOT each day!? Could it solve the world's energy crisis and oil dependency?! Talk about "going green"!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Funny article

100 Cups of Coffee - 100 Men - Heather Sellers on Finding True Love - Oprah.com

Deep Survival

In my continuing quest to make the blog reflect my many interests, here is a book recommended to me today: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why I haven't read it, but a good friend has and I trust his opinion (Thanks Bruce). I have read and highly recommend The Survivors Club. Great site and book.

I'm now looking hard at going into Emergency Services as a career. I may go for a Masters of Public Administration at Georgia State, where I can add a Certificate of Disaster Management, or I may apply to the DeKalb County Fire Dept for a fire medic position. This last appeals because I would get 8 weeks of training and a salary, which could lead to being a trainer and administration, maybe even eventually some Chaplaincy.

As usual, I'd like to do both. The job and the Masters. I think it could work, but two recent developments will affect the process.
1. New motto: no crazy sh*t.
This stems from having learned to look carefully before I leap. I've always had a good measure of self discipline, which helps a lot. But I see this as a time to develop more. The other reason to implement this motto is just sheer volume of changes. I've had a lot going on the last several years: changing locations, changing relationships, changing jobs, and then changing careers. Yeah, enough to make anyone a bit batty, and we won't talk about where I started from ;)
2. No decisions right now.
Considering the level of disruption in my life, just like thousands upon thousands of other families and individuals, I am taking a break from major decisions for the time being. Truly burn out has set in. This I know because I've pretty much stopped traveling. And I lost the defrost button in the car. Not literally, just couldn't see it. For about three weeks. Yeah.

It was a great year of being on the road, seeing people in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Pensacola, Charleston and St. Louis. I loved every minute of reconnecting those who are deeply dear to me and mine. Now I'm ready to be still for a while. It's a great time to do it, as I love Fall in Georgia. and Football :)

I'll keep researching my options, applying to jobs that are in the emergency services field, consulting and looking at work that would use my background (such as IT, training, accounting, etc.) but I'm clearly still in the information gathering phase of a huge life transition. I will pick up a part time job for cash flow. There is great scholarship funding here in Georgia, thanks to the lottery (which I have strong, mixed feelings about).

I have to say that it is very reassuring to be with family and close to good friends from high school. I do love Atlanta, and it's great to enjoy Georgia these last two years. My teens are coming down tomorrow from TN and we are going hiking, knocking around and probably bowling. I treasure these times.

Seems that many people will continue to reconnect to family and work out the kinks while we collectively face the rupturing and pains in our economy. It's important to be realistic, consider options you may never have considered before, such as : moving in with parents, or having them move in with you, giving up the big house with no equity for a rental, giving up the car for something cheap and dependable, stop paying the creditors if there isn't any income, and instead save a real emergency nest egg, etc.

In the end, we will all get through this time. It is a moment in history. Pivotal in our country and very possibly the world.

It seems like a burning off too of non-essential things and values. Good time for clearing out old junk and outdated ideas.

We will hopefully reclaim some valuable lessons from our parents and grandparents: work hard, spend wisely, don't ever owe money if you can help it, get a good education (or get more), take care of each other, be content with the small things. Pray. Build community. No one is entitled. Be resourceful. Play fair.

The best things in life are both free, and priceless.

Peace out,
v

'Consumer Reports' Chief Backs Health Overhaul : NPR

Great news on the Healthcare debate. 'Consumer Reports' Chief Backs Health Overhaul : NPR I'm encouraged that they have not only been writing extensively on the quality of healthcare in the U.S. but also examined other systems around the world for what works well and what doesn't. Glad to see them weigh in.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Unchecked healthcare costs will ruin America

Good article but especially see comments by Canadians on Candadian health insurance! Unchecked healthcare costs will ruin America - health - 21 September 2009 - New Scientist

Caring for Your Introvert

Great, funny article. Having been married to one, and now dating someone who is borderline (maybe), I have to concur with most of this article. On the other hand, perhaps the highest compliment he's ever given me was, "I've never wanted to tell you to shut the {heck} up."
Caring for Your Introvert - The Atlantic (March 2003)

The Wrong Way to Criticize Healthcare Reform - The Atlantic Business Channel

Good short article about some of the crazy ways this health care reform debate is morphing into rhetoric. The sad part is it's still stalled. What has happened to politicians - elected leaders - who could LEAD? It's not just Obama, but within the parties too? Where are our compassionate conservatives? Who looks out for us, we the People, against gigantic corporate interests? No one, apparently.

The Wrong Way to Criticize Healthcare Reform - The Atlantic Business Channel

Just heard btw (on NPR last night) that the Atlantic Monthly was the most prestigious and widely read magazine in the country during the Civil War and after. I am duly impressed.
v

The Value of a Religious Life

I'm rarely disturbed.(lol Ok, maybe not rarely.)

Still, it is very disturbing to hear how the faith community is suffering during these hard times, Religious life won't be the same after downturn

That people don't naturally gravitate now to church, temple, mosque or another faith community concerns me on two levels.

One, they are likely missing a very key ingredient in their ability to thrive: Hope.

We all need encouragement, forgiveness, inspiration. Sure, we can find it other places if we look hard enough. But where can we get all those at once? It's an efficient use of your time.

People who regularly attend services also get human contact and support. You connect to others, some worse off than you, others better off. But everyone is just there being children of G-d (or Gods :)

And then, while you are there, you can offer those same gifts to others - love, support, encouragement, hope.

It's no surprise that people who go to church at least once a week are healthier and live longer.

Especially now, it's a good idea to tap into your Spiritual side.

If you don't have one, think about getting one. It's just part of a regular, healthy lifestyle. :)

Btw, being "Religious" has gotten a bad name. It's a bad rap in itself. I can find absolutely no foundation to the idea that because SOME religions are a disaster therefore all religion is bad. Usually it is branches, distant offshoots, of a decent religion, and more specifically those crazy radicals (G-d love em) who twist dogma beyond recognition. Radicalism has a lot to do with the problem of giving anything a bad name - religion, politics, exercise.

So don't throw the baby out with the bath water. This thinking is so simplistic. Weak weak vaporous argument. Aren't we capable of more complex thought patterns? Hundreds of thousands of good congregations are out there. They aren't perfect, but who is? It's messy to come together and agree on stuff. The healthier the parts, the healthier the whole.

If the first reason to turn to your faith is mundane: it is good for you, your health, and your community, the second is a bit loftier, but also easy.

Maybe, just maybe, it works.

If G-d is watching us, as I believe, then it's got to be in stereo too.

Why wouldn't G-d, who is beyond our even most basic comprehension, hear our prayers?

Even NOT praying is a form of prayer. Maybe anytime we give attention to something it is a form of prayer. If we intentionally add prayer, like I often do when knitting, then it gives more, well, power or energy to what you are doing.

So prayer and practicing your faith are a way of shifting energy.

If all is holy, as the Kabbalist believe, even into the depths of Hell there exists a spark of G-d, then every thing is holy. Including your walk in the morning, your tennis at night. Burning dinner. Crashed finances. Grief. Loneliness. Joy. Sex. Fashion shows with toddlers in BIZARRE dresses. Crazy dictators speaking at the UN. Mobs of cattle, also known as Congress, running into a river and drowning. Young talented girls winning at tennis tournaments. People trying to dance. Floods that ruin everything. Falling down. Getting up. Especially getting up.

But still, make a practice of your faith. Go be with your people. Support them, let them support you. Be inspired, find Hope, exercise your Faith muscles :)

And know that even doing it "badly" is holy ;)

Big Grin.

Love and Joy
v

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Despite Anti-Vitamin D Bias, CDC Stumbles on Deficiency Link to H1N1 Deaths

I love this guy's website. I don't think the CDC is evil and see it serves a purpose.

Despite Anti-Vitamin D Bias, CDC Stumbles on Deficiency Link to H1N1 Deaths

Then again, why they are into behavior sciences too... I suppose suicide is a disease... but can we just please have another government group - like, I dunno, Department of Homeland Security and Mental Health take care of it?

Why Business Continunity Planning is Important

And personal emergency planning is critical as well.

As Galveston Recovers From Hurricane Ike, Some Residents Feel Left Behind - NYTimes.com

U.S. business group warns of swine flu absenteeism | Reuters

Reason I'm going into Business Continuity Planning and Emergency Managment: U.S. business group warns of swine flu absenteeism | Reuters

Most businesses, in my experience, haven't got a clue how to survive a catastrophic event.

On the other hand, it doesn't take much. Seeking first few (free) clients.
v

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Is the Real and Noble Purpose of Business?

I like this guy - subscribe to his service, a company to help me build a website. Tho I have had my ass on the front lines for so long I have paid for a year (!) of service and haven't done anything with it. Yet. Be forewarned. lol
SiteSell: The Blog: What Is the Real and Noble Purpose of Business?: "It's important to understand and believe in the truly noble purpose of business and capitalism. Every great business, large or small (and the smallest of businesses can and should be great), has enabled its clients to profit off its products (i.e., get more value out than dollar put in)."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One of my Favorite Quotes

A friend posted this the other day. Extremely important to remember "in these troubled times".
Facebook | Home: "'Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always. ' ~ Gandhi"
Truly we are all more troubled than usual. And it is a time when we look to our heros.

I've said for years that it is crucial that we continue to have Heroes, and Heroines. I draw hope and inspiration from these icons every day.

In the face of news that our religions are NOT getting stronger, during our national angst (which surprises me), it is even more important that we find and appreciate those who are Brave, Good, Kind and Wise.

Integrity, courage, and right use of cunning is NOT dead! Take Hope! Have Faith!
v

What's Behind the Anger? - George's Bottom Line

I really like George Stephanopolous and follow him on Twitter. One day I'll find an easy way to link to his Twitaccount. Ok, that wasn't really hard. Spelling his name was harder.

I liked his post What's Behind the Anger? - George's Bottom Line, about how there is so much vitriol and anger on health care reform.

It's similar to this story, out just today, about a Facebook poll about killing Obama, and the increase in hate rhetoric over the summer.

I suspect that a lot of the passions come from people being mired in fear right now. Fears about the economy, swine flu, retirement and our health care, as well as other seasonal stuff like the storms that swept Atlanta and flooded us out.

I've even found myself dreaming of the floods, tho I didn't seem as affected during. I was and am deeply concerned, but didn't worry or fret over it. Nonetheless, mud and rising waters show up in my sleep, along with concerns about caring for my children.

In one dream, children were being catapulted! (I love how my dreaming brain talks to me!) It probably had to do with launching children into an adult world before their time, as well as my fears about how to be a good Mom during all this transition in our lives.

Last week I remember also thinking about how teens so need their parents, and it is our job to remain available and diligent in raising them, even when they pretend to hate us, not need us, and fight to pull away.

A few years ago NPR did an excellent story on the topic. But that is another post, another day.
v

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tyrants and Religion...

Bravely slogging thru about 15 draft posts in blogger application. Again, bear with me, please as I work to recall what I was thinking, much of it half-baked.

Here is a good one:
Facebook | Home: Ronald Clingenpeel : "What do Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Pol Pot have in common? Stalin attended Russian Orthodox seminary; when young Hitler wanted to be a priest; and Pot spent six years as a Buddist monk. Yes, they were all dictators who massacred after leaving the religious life behind. Hmmmm."
I found this factoid absolutely stunning and so will categorize it as Wormhole. New category is born on my blog. I spontaneously plan to tag ideas this way that are too big for me to process all at once.
v

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blue Ring Octopuses (Hapalochlaena spec.)

Finding out that posts/sites captured via Google's "Send to" tool, keep the original date I found them when I eventually publish them. Am pleased with this, as it shows some effort in the past, however half-assed. I started a post, didn't finish it, and voila, get full credit because no one is actually grading this shit, erm effort. (Note to self: think about if I want to cuss in blog, and why or why not. Probably should share decision, in tru BBL fashion - belly button lint. Meaning that it's really too self-examining to consider all that seriously)

Found these gorgeous creatures, Blue Ring Octopuses (Hapalochlaena spec.) after they were referenced in NCIS (tv show). I don't even know what NCIS stands for. Maybe Navy Crime Investigations Syndicated.

I've started watching this show a bit, because
  1. it's on.
  2. My parental units enjoy it so, see #1.
  3. I kinda like Mark Harmon - at least I love his style on this show. Reminds me a great deal of Stan, come to think of it (my S.O.) (Thank G-d Stan is not as stoic, but close)
  4. Love the computer geek chick
  5. Love the Israeli kick ass chick
  6. Nice eye candy in that other guy (smart and cute, go figure)
  7. good writing and character development
So there's my TV review of the month. For now
v

Thursday, September 10, 2009

URban Legend: Relatiolution | UR Chicago

found this months ago - learning new blogging tools (thanks google) and so a few extra posts tonight (thanks insomnia :)
URban Legend: Relatiolution | UR Chicago: "We’re always becoming different people as time goes on. I probably would have nothing in common with “Byrons of Byron Past”. Things are always going to change within our selves. It’s in that evolution where we have to learn how to accept that if our selves are allowed to change and become better than you have to trust your relationship’s evolutions will only get better. In the end, the evolution of our selves affects the evolutions of our relationships."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Conflict

As a friend recently pointed out, it's part of life. Heck, maybe it IS life!

Friction, push-back, wrangling. It's internal, external, political (meaning we don't like it and is largely unnecessary), systemic or isolated.

And we have to deal with it.

Without it gardens don't grow, living creatures don't hunt and kill each other, babies aren't made and born, children don't leave the nest, and old people don't fight to stay alive for one more Christmas. To say nothing of the struggle between good and evil.

I wrote this morning that one of the best ways to make a power struggle go away, with a child, is (sometimes) to do something unexpected. Drop the conflict and see if they want a hug. Apologize for the struggle or at least empathize that it's hard, right there, in that moment.

In my house we use the joke "Somebody needs a hug." or "Does somebody need a hug?"

If they refuse, drop it and go back to fighting.

Lol. Actually the cool thing is you just shifted the nature of the conflict by walking around it to the other side. You probably won't go back to the same place, which is good. This is a great time to drop it (if you can) and pick it up later. Or hold your position, but take a strategic time out.

What is astonishing is how often it works, cause the kid doesn't want to fight you. They don't want to be so conflicted about what they will wear to school. They feel bad about forgetting to do the dishes, and are mad at themselves for it. They truly are at least a little afraid to go to that particular party, even tho they will die if they don't go!


When you train a filly or colt, you start as soon as they are born, and treat them gently, but confidently. As you ask for more, you give more, and you never assume the job is done. Only idiots train by crushing.

It's not capitulation to drop your defenses and offenses with a kid, and just remember that The Point is to raise a strong healthy child into a confident adult. Ergo conflict. If the kid doesn't start standing up to you, then what do you expect them to do when someone offers them a joint?

If you crush their spirit, they'll learn not to trust their inner voice. Destroys their sense of worth and value. Decimates the very strengths you are trying to help them create.

Now think about your partner.

Sam Ting*.

Next conflict, reach beyond the moment of anger and frustration with him or her. Same principles apply as with a kid: Respect both of you, step out of the immediate moment and think about your love for this person, then offer compassion - for both of you.

Power struggles exist for a reason. Smile. And it isn't necessarily lack of respect (child to elder or partner to partner) but often just a demand to be heard. To be valued. Sometimes the question is "How much do you love me?" as much as it is "Who is in charge?"

The cool thing is that while real love is unconditional, it also doesn't put up with any crap.

What we are trying to remind our children, our partners and even ourselves, is that our devotion is unlimited. But we aren't backing down on the important stuff.

No, you cannot get a tattoo. Yes, we can talk about a belly-button ring. No, I am not buying a new car because you feel like a Mommy Van is demeaning. If you want to buy yourself a new car, fine. But we agreed on this budget and we have to agree on a new one.

By the way, notice that you pretty much HAVE to be centered, or grounded, to accomplish this cool move. If you are really lost in your own anger or issues, or fearful about your true level of authority, or freaking out inside about how to pay the bills, you can't execute this. Plant your feet, bend your knees and breathe before you try this at home.

or at the office ;)

peace out,
v

*Sam Ting refers to a great joke. Remind me and I'll tell it, in the comments. I use it to mean "same thing".

Friday, August 14, 2009

Micro Housing, Being Green and Living Simply

I found this cool site today when thinking about sustainable housing and downsizing.

Here we are in the midst of the largest population ever in our history of retirees, who need less house every year.

Even if few people actually retire because of the economy, we'll all find it more efficient to have less to take care of in our lives.

A few years ago the same website posted this article about small prefab houses.

I love that, while micro housing isn't for everyone, many people are trying it. And there are already thousands of people who love to RV (or camp) all summer, legions of retirees who just take to the road every summer, and settle down each winter in a favorite (warm) location. And many families join them for those few precious weeks of family vacation time.

If you were going out to travel for a month, cross country in a nice RV, what would you take?

While we're on the topic, check out Flylady's list to prepare for an evacuation. I love her list: practical and short. If you are faced with wild fires, or a hurricane evacuation, or even just a family emergency that calls you away from your home, are you ready?

Plan and Peace out,
v

Friday, July 31, 2009

Simplicity, Slowing Down and Value in Adversity

There are very solid reasons for making life less complicated. Less stuff => less to take care of.

Less mind clutter (old baggage, resentments, pain, regrets, etc.) => less to take care of.

Less available credit, less to spend, less stuff to have and take care of! => Freedom

I don't like that people are suffering in the economic downturn - yea, a Recession or worse. Yet, there is some good in it, as with all things.

How many of us have become more flexible?

I earn about 20% - 25% of my previous income. I made changes as you would expect. And yes, I'm facing hard choices about some issues. It's not easy. There are still days I let myself buy a $2 cup of coffee. But not often. It was just a bad habit when I used to hit Starbucks everyday. Yeesh, it put pounds on too, over the few years I let myself indulge. Sure it saved me during a divorce, and a couple of moves and really stressful jobs, but like a blanket I don't need it anymore :)

I quit because it became an albatross, not because I couldn't afford an overpriced cuppa joe. It feels like freedom, sweet and light.

The good news - wonderful news - is that I can get by with what I have, and continue to be grateful for what I don't have to worry about (a big house, big payment, etc.).

My kids are healthy and growing up beautifully, my parents are in great shape, and I'm healthy, strong and smart. Most of all I'm grateful and hopeful every day. Being blessed is a constant state, not just something that comes and goes.

I just have to open my eyes in the dark moments / hours when I wonder if I'm on the right path. I reach for my faith and friends :)

Right now I get to homeschool my youngest, explore worlds of fascinating detail with her. I write, consult and encourage people. I give back to the community. I work all the time, and take time to relax at the end of the day. I dance a little, and remember to have simple fun.

There are those who say we Americans have gone soft. I agree. But we also have an amazing ability to pull together, figure things out, be kind, do what has to be done. We come from hardy stock.

When I learned to ski years ago in Vermont, in a much younger body, I found muscles I had no idea I had! I'd danced for years, biked, hiked, swam. But nothing gets to those unused muscle groups like a new sport!

In the midst of adversity we get to exercise muscles we forgot we had. It's not easy watching people figure out how to down-size their lives, to shift their world view.

Many are being forced to do things they never thought they would consider. Yet we have to live life on life's terms.

Once I was lucky enough once to hear Admiral James Stockdale (ranking officer in Vietnam POW camps), when in AFROTC at UGA. We had him as a guest speaker at a military ball, and it was amazing. One thing he said then, which has since been made famous in Good to Great (Jim Collins) is the Stockdale Paradox:
You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be." (quoted from The Survivors Club, Ben Sherwood - awesome book I'll review here soon)
For instance, renting seems impossible to some homeowners, but is often much less expensive than owning. Sure, we'd all love our hundred acres in the mountains, or a vacation home, or extra bedrooms. Some of us only want to keep the homes we are in. We may not know anyone who has had to give up the house. But it's happening all around us.

And it isn't the end of the world.

Hell, it's how we all lived for centuries, piled up three and four deep in the same bed. Most of the world (hello?) still does.

Yes, moving in with family is stressful, but it also lets you spend time with those you love. Personally I believe grandparents are there to counterbalance our parenting ;) They get to be more loving or more strict. Or both. They are the Elders. Maybe they don't want to live alone, really. Maybe they do, but they get to stretch during hard times too (grin).

What good does even a small sense of entitlement do us? Are we really entitled to big homes, fancy cars and toys, beautiful clothes and great vacations? I don't think so. If you have these things, great. Nothing wrong with prosperity.

But what do we really need? I say we don't need all that stuff. Even my extensive library of books - now trimmed to about a third of what it was (about 300 left). It felt great to give away volumes. To trade some in, to donate to the library.

How many pairs of jeans do you really need? as an old friend used to ask, right before I downsized in 1995 to a house less than half the size of my old home, gaining 3 acres with a stream, chickens, bees, a wonderland for the kids, and privacy. Totally worth it.

A lot of our wants comes from popular culture. We give "them" authority. But we should always question authority. Good solid authority doesn't have to sell you on what is real.

Real is having faith, giving to others, taking care of your family and loving every day you've been given. It's baking fresh, home made bread, and growing your own food, and learning if you don't know how. Real is canning, and visiting while you snap beans, making a chair with care, knitting while someone reads aloud.

Real is slowing down to chew your food. Or letting go of assumptions and seeing someone (or some thing) you know well from a new view.

Sure, entertainment is wonderful - I love movies and broadway shows! But it's a treat, like candy used to be, not an everyday thing you have to have.

Real life takes more time. Walking or riding instead of always driving, preparing meals instead of fast food, growing instead of buying, writing instead of talking, reading instead of watching, listening instead of talking, conversing with kids instead of always giving them the electronic nipple, watching sunsets and sunrises instead of hurtling through time and space. But look what we get. We get our lives back.

As far as getting ready for hard times - do it. Get your house in order. If you have to, move down to the smallest place you can stand, and get rid of the things that don't matter. Suze Orman says to get a cash reserve. Dave Ramsey says to pay off all your debts and don't worry about your credit score - don't owe anyone.

If you have to get off the credit "grind" then do it. If you can pay your debts, do it. If you can't, be careful in considering what next. Live in integrity, but take care of your own.

Here is a new website I found today, from someone who knows their stuff about surviving hard times. Check it out. I like Jim's style and there is lots of information here. You may not be ready to move off into the country, but there is good sense in being prepared for emergencies.

But it starts with a mind shift. If it were your last day on earth, what would really matter to you? That fancy car or truck, or just being with those you love?

Shalom,
v

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Professional Journalism

You cannot make good decisions with inaccurate or very incomplete information. If you try, you will fail. This isn't my rule, it just is. You may accidentally make a good decision, but it's a fluke. How many major decisions do you want to make on a foundation of quicksand?

Now, how good is your source of information for local, regional and world events? Is it Yahoo or Google or Fox News or the local radio station between songs?

If you ingest primarily junk food, you get fat and unhealthy. Whether you inhale (breathe in) actual junk food, junk movies, junk books, junk news, junk opinion, junk friends, or junk religion, you will see predictable results.

Walter Cronkite's passing two days ago was a sad moment, tho I was generally too young to remember his tenure as one of the most famous television anchormen of all time.

I'm doubly sad to hear of this loss because the state of our country is so very dependent on professional journalism.

How do you find good solid information? The internet? How many of us check multiple quality sources for information on major issues of our times, such as "cap n trade" legislation, which is an attempt to limit pollution emissions? The issues involved will affect every man, woman and child for possibly centuries and could hold the future of our survival - both economically and environmentally.

I've taught my kids: be very careful with whom you associate. Your friends will help define you. They will be smart and loyal and watch your back, or they will draw you into trouble and bail on you when their self-interest is at stake. Good friends will challenge you at times by telling you something you don't want to hear. Honesty and dedication to the friendship is crucial for real trust and credibility.

I propose that your source for news is just as critical a decision. It defines how you think, who you are in your world, and what you believe.

Further, you can't overstate the critical importance of accurate information to support democracy. It is one of the most fundamental underpinnings to our form of government for and by the People. I would rank it as high as the Rule of Law (meaning we have laws and follow them, and don't tolerate rampant corruption or favoritism) or habeus corpus ("show me the body" in court, and file charges or let them go) or the framework of the Constitution itself.

Think about it. If we cannot rely on professional journalists to give us accurate and unbiased information, how can we make informed decisions on any issue?

My deep suspicion of all radicals stems from two things: I usually cannot discern their point thru the filter of rhetoric, and their agenda creates bias that cannot be trusted.

In short, they make me work too hard.

Why should I pay any attention to a news source that is questionable (biased) if I can simply get good reporting from an organization that is still dedicated to the facts, "Just the facts, ma'am." as Agent Friday politely requested.

Why should I have to question every assertion and research their twisted facts because they cannot maintain the journalistic standards to stay out of the story as much as possible? The whole point of journalism is to report the news, not skew it.

Cronkite was not unusual except in his huge popularity. Indeed in his generation the "infomercial" quality of modern journalism would have been beaten back into the swamp from which it slithered.

My father was a journalist - award winning in his writing for south Florida newspapers. I was very sad when he left the profession. Of all the things he did in his life, I considered it the most powerful and important. My mother has also been a successful reporter. Like Cronkite they considered it imperative to keep personal agendas out of the story.

Has anyone noticed how even the evening news on the major networks is now conducted by "anchors" walking around, ad libbing and being "personable"? Anchors are more like ringmasters, than true conductors, with performing seals and amazing animals to wow us. Has our short attention spans actually reduced us to mere entertainment sponges? Do we expect to be simply spoon fed fascinating tidbits of zero substance, sound bites and oversimplified "analysis"?

If so, then we will get what we have asked for, or allowed ourselves to be lulled into... apathetic passive watered down democracy, run by only the radicals who give a damn enough to pay attention and push their agendas.

It is an ethical issue, because so much is riding on holding high journalistic standards. And remember, the FIRST thing to go in countries that are losing their right to self-determination is credible public news sources, ergo their freedom of information. Witness Hitler's Germany, the (former) Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, North Korea, and countless other war-torn countries. If you control the news, you control the people.

I have to be blunt: any extreme news source is the equivalent of Howard Sterns (altho I do defend his right to be morally decrepit and a poster child for idiocy) and well paid strippers. It's just entertainment. It isn't journalism.

If you don't get the difference, then please do consider yourself part of the problem. :)
v

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bitter Sweet Independence, Service and the cost of Freedom

Fireworks are one of the greatest fun things to watch! I'm full of wonder at them, thrilled and moved by crowds and music and the magic to stand in awe, and also to remember all the hard struggles of our country.

My prayer is that we don't ever lose sight of the key ingredient in democracy - people who care and therefore, pay attention. Then act.

WE the People are a critical part of the checks and balances in our system. Yes, there are the three branches of our government: The presidency, the judiciary and the congress. But there is also us.

We decide to serve - in the military, in government or in other public service. We decide to get involved, to make our voices heard.

The bad rap that government has gotten is well earned, in many cases. But many many more public servants do a good job, care about their work and their role as servants.

Nothing is harder than dealing with the public, and of course no one should stay in a job they don't perform well. But your one bad incident with a DMV official doesn't make them all incompetent.

I just wrote a scathing letter to Sprint for, once again, screwing up my bill. However, I made it clear that I blame their IT systems. Their employees cannot be so incapable as a group!

I include teachers as public servants, especially those in public schools. Take a moment and think of all the great experiences you had in school. I know the system is plagued, and in Georgia we have more problems than most states (with one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country). But most teachers are not power hungry or abusive. Most are devoted to the kids, our kids, and are good people. Their devotion shows because they stay in it despite overwhelming bureacratic demands, children without adequate home support or self respect (and therefore don't respect anyone) and with ridiculously low pay.

Memorial Day just passed, but this weekend I've been thinking about not only our dead, but also our living veterans and soldiers. I read an estimate yesterday that over 300,000 of our military has suffered TBI (traumatic brain injury) which included PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, from the Middle East wars.

5,014 have died in combat in our two Middle East wars. Now multiply those 5,014 deaths by - what? How many lives are irrevocably changed by a death?

Is it 20 family and friends who are deeply affected by the loss of each life? Many many have more like 50 people or even a hundred who knew them well enough to grieve deeply. If we use 50 each, that's about 250,000 people directly affected by the loss of EACH of our service men and women.

If we add the number of wounded up, there have been 34,508 to date
. We don't know how serious the wounds (there doesn't seem to be a "level" system readily found to break down these figures), but almost half of them leave solders out of commission for at least 72 hours. If even just a fourth of those casualties are critical, then that is over 8,000 serious injuries.

Using the same logic as above, if there are even just 10 family members who lives are deeply changed, heavily affected by a serious illness(es)/wound(s) in a service member, that is 80,000 people.

I think of the dead and injured as being the center of concentric circles of love and care. There are their immediate family, and then close family and then close friends, and then good friends and then their communities. Everytime I hear of a death or injury from the wars, I know there are hundreds affected. Ripples of pain and fear and grief.

Now how many soldiers suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)? One estimate is 1 in every 8 soldiers returning from combat. Some estimates put PTSD at 30%, over time, for Vietnam vets. More soldiers from WWII than ever are seeking professional help to deal with their untreated mental suffering.

The good news is more new veterans are seeking help - about 60% according to the story linked above. But that still leaves up to 40% who aren't getting help. The walking wounded. Unaided they will turn to many other means to medicate their pain - alcohol, drugs, estranged from family, divorce, etc.

So the news is grim.

I'll end on an even more sobering thought. While at least (from a ball park guess of the figures above) a million Americans are deeply affected by the war and it's devastation to our troops, here are some numbers on lives lost in the Middle East, just in Iraq since 1980.

It's difficult to quantify how many Iraqi lives have been lost, in the midst of so much turmoil, in the middle of a war. But the link above at least attempts to look at both lives lost in the war, as well as under the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Over a million Iraqi lives lost. Men, women and children.

Evil must be fought at every turn. And we must be careful and wise in our willingness to sacrifice for the freedom of others. More than anything we must continue, imnho, the deadly serious conversations about our role in the world - as keepers of Democracy, as moral and ethical leaders in the world, as role models and as defenders of the innocent and helpless.

We cannot leave a power vacuum in Iraq - and I've always said we must finish what we started. But it will cost us.

Democracy is not easy. Nothing good ever was.

It isn't conferred, but earned.

It's messy and frustrating and maddening at times. But we owe it to ourselves, our founders, our children's children, especially to freedom fighters every where in all of history, to continue the struggle.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

vj

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rutgers University Press: Flatlined: Guy L. Clifton, M.D

I want this book! Heard a review of it on NPR and this guy made a LOT of sense. I wanted to read it during Healthcare debate. But now (October - yeah, I'm catching up posts) it seems unlikely anything substantial will be passed.

Rutgers University Press: Flatlined: Guy L. Clifton, M.D

Sadly, it may take a freaking pandemic to get us serious about reforming healthcare in general, and making sure people have access to basic care specifically.

It is crucial that we offer bare necessities if we are to be a free, democratic, and civilized society. I know it's scarce resources, but are we really willing to let people die, in huge and increasing volumes, due to lack of basic care?!
v

Footnotes:
bad news, found a new button from google :)

Dramatically increases my ability to do short posts. Watch for tsunami.

Climate Change

love this post - but ideas and links are getting stuffed into small corners, nooks and crannies in my laptop... how to do the dusting?

Climate Change

Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week?

I love this - and yeah, am fixin to start this!
Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week? - Well Blog - NYTimes.com

Awesome - Helping Teens

Joe's Place / A Community Partnership

Love This Group

Center for American Progress Publications

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Danger of Judge mentalism

I've written about this before, but it seems a good time to revisit, with the death of Michael Jackson and rampant affairs in the Republican party (especially presidential hopefuls, it seems).

There is no end to those who would cross the line from Judgment (MJ was strange) to Judgmental (MJ molested children). I made the mistake myself the other day when I referred to him as a pedophile on Facebook, forgetting he had been cleared of all charges in his child molestation case.

It wasn't a fair statement, tho we all do wonder.

The truth is we don't know. And now, as soldiers say, G-d will sort it out. It's the shade of doubt that makes me bristle at people pronouncing labels and slurs.

When we don't have all the facts, we often leap to conclusions that are flawed, and ungenerous.

A few days ago many of us thought that Gov. Sanders, (SC) was off hiking for a week. We speculated that maybe he was hiking naked, since Naked Hiking Day was on June 21, the Summer solstice. It was funny, harmless.

How wrong we were. He was on a hike, so to speak, and surely he was naked. But his admission of an affair showed how far off we were.

We were all curious because, after all, he is a very public figure, like MJ. But to reserve judgement is to say "I don't know all the facts." And sometimes it is good to say "I haven't lived that person's life."

It takes a certain degree of arrogance and self-righteousness to be judgemental. We feel morally justified in "calling a spade a spade". But what if we are wrong? How much damage did MJ suffer by being constantly scrutinized?

He was clear about his abusive upbringing - his Dad once beat him with a belt while holding him upside down by one foot. Michael was also clear that the paparazzi's invasion in his private life was cruel and unusual punishment.

Ironically, it was Michael holding his infant son out over a balcony for the press in London that makes it clear he suffered from his own lack of judgment. And yet, that doesn't justify the constant barrage of interest in every detail of his life.

We must give people some privacy and respect.

I think we are a world of consumers on crack. We crave the intimate details of the lives of others, as if it's our next fix and if we don't get it, we'll die.

Die of what? Of boredom with our own lives? Of having no where to turn for pain relief if we DO take the time to look at our own lives, and find it lacking, instead of feeding off the juicy minutiae of celebrity lives?

We are constantly looking for entertainment and "medication". Movies, TV, sex, drinking, over-working, even crippling worry about the economy, which damn few of us can do anything about.

Any form of distraction will do.

In the end, here is the result: our constant craving makes the paparazzi relevant and well paid. The junk food media practically stalks public figures, including our government officials.

I have met the enemy, and it is us.

We ourselves drive intelligent people away from public service.

Who among us wants to go into public service? Or want this for our children? Very few. I would never submit to the kind of constant attention that pulp fiction writers (not journalists, but those hacks, tabloid-like reporters) put on our public servants.

It wasn't always this way.

John Kennedy was taught that along with great privilege comes great responsibility. How many of us teach that to our children today?

We have let the paparazzi pierce a veil of privacy, beyond reasonable reckoning. With that, we subject our leaders to too much stress. And they fall like flies. Why? Because they are incapable?

No, because they are human. Just like the rest of us. We want and crave heroes, leaders that inspire, then we crucify them on the poll of public opinion.

Don't get me wrong, we desperately need heroes and heroines. People who are upright and honest, courageous and intelligent, bold yet humble. But we demand too high a price.

As a result, and in spite of their best efforts, our entire system - the democracy should be made up of dependent on strong, honest, smart people to run it, suffers.

Even John McCain, in my mind an honorable man, fell to the temptation of playing politics, working the media, working "the system".

So first we should give our public figures - both performers and public servants - more privacy. And when they fall, allow a degree of Grace to let them recover.

But one last note - we all hate hypocrites. The fatal flaw leading to Republicans' demise? Constant rhetoric about "moral fitness" to serve and "family values" (as they define them). Governor Sanders was very outspoken in all his moralizing when he voted to impeach then President Clinton.

At least Clinton never claimed to be a saint. I don't ever recall him being self-righteous.

I've always said what happens behind closed doors is none of our business. What happens within a marriage is on sacred ground, and again is never any of our business. Once upon a time Republicans believed this too.

When someone who preaches upright behavior then falls from Grace, we perhaps should be more concerned about their self-righteousness and judgmentalism, than their poor judgment.
v

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cougars

A friend posted a link to an interesting article (um blog post actually) by Linda Holmes on the term "cougar" being applied to women who are attracted to younger men.

I heard that "cougar" was being used this way last year, and didn't think much of it. Frankly I didn't consider it insulting, but rather a cultural quirk. Not worth a lot of thought.

I do think that women going for younger men is s'amusant (self entertaining). I suppose it isn't fair to say that boys become men with some degree of difficulty, but I've found it true.

Some say women grow up the moment they conceive. Whatever play time they've enjoyed gets pushed back, often with their sense of identity as independent women, in deference to the truly OLDEST profession - Motherhood.

Continuation of the species trumps all, and requires being patient enough not to club your mate for asking stupid questions about your headaches, (which normally don't include the very rational "Can I make dinner tonight honey?" or "I'll do the laundry and clean the bathroom because I know you are working hard in there.").

Or worse than not helping, mates take your lack of attentiveness personally. Nevermind that you are growing a human being in your amazingly heretofore "normal" body. Yeah, we learn patience from our men, so we can nurture our children.

So women as cougars? Sure, no judgment here, but Why??

If good men are hard to find, (with a nod to Mae West's version of this truism) then how does finding boys seem hard?

In my experience it's easy. And lots of them are all "grown up" technically, but never quite crossed the Bridge to Full Adulthood. As another saying goes, growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional.

And how is pursuing boys fun? Once upon a time I taunted an overeager guy on the interstate, by calling his work and reporting that he had been making a spectacle of himself during the Atlanta rush hour. I noted that first, I'd never consider meeting someone in a traffic jam, and second, he wouldn't know what to do if he'd caught me.

Older women certainly know what to do if they catch a young man, but wow, that's like a real cougar catching a bunny. Whatever. No sport in it.

Last night I read about a California cougar (real feline) jumping a biker in 2005. She nearly lost her life, and she outweighed the cat by 3 lbs! It was a young male that had eaten another biker just a few days earlier. You may remember the story.

She fought hard, bruising her knuckles with hitting it, and was smart enough to turn her head, chin toward her shoulder, as she'd learned in self-defense class to do when someone is trying to choke you. The cat was going for her jugular.

Then her friend shocked her by coming after the cat, yelling full-bodied obscenities, (esp the F word - shocking from a normally religious, mild mannered woman). She then grabbed her friend by the foot and refused to let go, preventing the cat from hauling his catch into the woods for a snack.

Other bikers came along and helped chase the cat away.

Sure, calling a woman a cougar could be a compliment. And yet, while gorgeous, they are dangerous predators.

I wouldn't want one stalking my son.

I think human predators* lose a lot - like class and self-respect. Hunting and catching easy prey just isn't interesting. Toying with them? Yeah, ok, could be harmless fun. But don't take it too far. Afterall, many of us have already raised boys. Have too often been married to them.

Real men don't want or need their women to be their Mama - and they sure as hell don't want to be chased or stalked. Any self-respecting woman wouldn't dream of it. lol
v
*humans hunting humans

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dads and Fathers and Real Men

It's a beautiful day in Atlanta. Which is to say that at noon it's less than 90 degrees and the humidity doesn't knock you to your knees as soon as you walk out the front door.

I love being here with my Dad and Mom. I'm sure my sleepy hug around his shoulders this morning wasn't as cute as when I dove into his arms at 4 years old, many many moons ago, but maybe it means more in a small way. He helped get me this far. Still sustains me with his faith in me.

He spent a lot of years working grueling jobs in kitchens and the restaurant industry to take care of us. When his heart got squirrely and he had to be on disability, he helped support us with a fruit and vegetable stand on Memorial Drive and then later, once healed up, with computer work - back when they needed people to change reel to reel tapes. (lol) There were some years in high school that I'd work until closing at Wendy's and then he'd pick me up to go with him to help deliver the Sunday papers in boxes all over the city before dawn so the bills got paid.

Those were hard times, with me working two jobs, sometimes without our having much in the fridge, but they made me stronger.

There were five of us kids, and he managed to put food on the table, keep us off the streets, and sometimes even had some wisdom to share.

When I turned 16 he gave me a $100 bill and commiserated with how hard it was to be a teen, remembering his own youth. Then he paused, and pointedly said, "As hard as it is to be a teenager, honey, just know... that it's all downhill from here on out."

(Being an irritatingly eternal optimist, I have always wondered if "all downhill" means it's going to go to crap, or it's all easy, like when you coast down a hill on your bike?)

I took it with the conflicted cynical view of a teen. Now I see it as a paradox, that "downhill" means both entropy and coasting. It's the path of least resistance.

Dad took a lot of those paths, like we all do. But I'm still impressed that he did the things that had to be done. These days, when I play barmaid, I appreciate all over again that work is work, and while all of it has dignity, it ain't easy!

My biggest struggle is to tame my monkey mind, when work is slow. I joke that I'm about to chew my leg off, when everything has been cleaned, and there aren't any customers, and interesting conversations with co-workers and patrons have dwindled.

I imagine Dad had the same struggles, being gifted with a quick wit and mind. It makes his work all the more meaningful, to know that while he did manage plenty of restaurants, and was a "turn around" guru, that he mostly just had to do the grind - deal with kids who didn't show up for work, customers who couldn't be made happy, and stupid accidents on the prep line.

But this is what Dads do. They do what has to be done. And this is what Daddy taught me - that you do what you have to do and you get through.

Unlike fatherhood, so exalted on this day, it takes more than sperm to be a Dad. Real Men become Dads. They don't let the grind of work or other daily distractions keep them from being role models to their kids. They work hard but they also show up at games, and take their kids fishing, or maybe just make breakfast on weekends. They cook on the grill, light fireworks, and fix the cars and then somehow let you cry when you bust your knee, but don't let you wallow in it.

Anyone can become a biological father - I had one of those too. He meant well but could never fully step into the role. It required more sacrifice than he could make. We repaired some of that before he died, in '98, but not enough. Fact was he didn't know how to do relationships, tho he tried. Because I was blessed with my Dad, John, my biological Father didn't have to try to fill those big ole shoes. I think Edwin was happier on the sidelines.

Dads figure out how to stay connected to their kids. They let their kids grow up, refusing to do for us, and push us to do for ourselves, learn from our mistakes. They encourage us and exhort us to become more.

We want more than anything to make them proud. That's because approval doesn't come easy. Ideally, we have to earn their respect. But never doubt their love.

And while they become more human, imperfect and even maybe a bit frail as we all age, we know that they did their best, and that is how Dads keep our respect.

The best Dads make the best husbands too - they show their kids how to love and respect themselves, AND the woman in their life. They keep their word, and slog thru good times and bad in a marriage. They put their wives in the front seat - as partner, and helpmate. They are romantic and sweet and show how grateful they are for a woman who loves them all the way thru. Despite their faults.

Even tho they got divorced years ago, Daddy dancing with Mommy was one of the most important lessons I ever learned. That's what love looks like.

Great Dads demonstrate courage and how to have fun, and think deeply about things, even if it's just how a trout sees the world. And they teach us those things, sometimes directly, but often just by doing stuff with you.

Ultimately, it's about having a shoulder isn't it? A shoulder to cry on, a shoulder to hug, a shoulder to lean on, and laughter that makes you pound on that same shoulder, in tears.

Over breakfast today Mom and I were talking about hawks. I mentioned that a red-tailed tried to take my biggest hen, years ago, tho she was at least 10 - 12 pounds. Mom asked if it killed her. Shortly I replied, frowning, "No, I did."

Well, Mom and Dad weren't going to let that go. I had to confess, squirming inside, that I'd put the hen, injured, into a box with sevin dust because I thought she had mites. They laughed like hell, (I had to join in) and Daddy commented I should have buried her under the tomatoes (which need sevin dust sometimes).

Then he reminded me of the goldfish I killed, at age 7, while cleaning the bowl with hot water. (How was I to know they didn't like hot water? I didn't use soap!)

What a sweet moment, with a man who has informed more of my life than he'll ever know. From my love of country music (which he calls American Opera), to my appreciation for a corny sense of humour, to my passion for dancing, to my taste in men.

See, he's not just my Dad, he's Daddy. Still growing and changing, even if some of that is more crusty and bad tempered. Hell, he's earned it. Still inspires me to do more, while he's still creating trouble, if no longer on a Harley.

Love you Dear Old Dad :D
v

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Have you Changed your Mind About?

In high school I dated a smart, mesmerizing man, 4 or 5 years my senior, who insisted that he didn't want to read all the great masters of literature, the best thinkers of history or art, but rather wanted to come up with his own ideas. I thought him nuts and stubborn at the time. (He was both, as it turned out, but not for this particular decision.)

I, on the other hand, wanted to attend St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland (not the St. John's with the basketball team). It is a wonderful liberal arts education that is taught in the Socratic method - almost exclusively. Students are expected to read the Great Books during their four years, attend weekly lectures on these books, and to memorize almost nothing. Exams are oral, given in a meeting with your Tutor (they have no professors). Tutors, as they call their very learned academics, some of the best in the world, expect you to be able to have an intelligent conversation about the course, and grade you accordingly.

I didn't get to attend, but did visit the campus about 12 years ago. It was heavenly and I still dream of completing my masters there (a condensed version of the undergraduate courses). At the time, I found an open letter from the president of St. John's intriguing. She state that the objective at St. John's was not to teach students to think, because that was impossible. The goal was to give them the foundation in the classics and a method of discourse that would allow them to see and investigate the world differently.

Now my old boyfriend doesn't seem so narrow - only fervent about his need to forge his own path, to think great thoughts on his own. Perhaps with a great education, he wouldn't have felt the ideas of others would get in his way.

Yesterday I saw a title in the science section of Borders - What Have You Changed Your Mind About? Thank goodness I've found a new question to ask at parties - small talk terrifies and bores me instantly.

This reminds me of a Nobel Laureate, in Physics (sorry, forget the name) who said his mother always reminded him as he went off to school, "Ask good questions!"

I believe that good teaching does several things - it models curiosity, encourages creativity and exploration, and helps students make connections. A great teacher also builds relationships with students that models how we rely on each other and how we respect each other. Ultimately this teaches the student what respect feels like, which helps create self-respect and confidence.

Great teaching is energetic - in exploring our world and constantly learning, we must determine what is true and what is misleading. We have to be able to form ideas and then communicate those well. We have to rely on each other for help, and at times struggle alone.

Since learning and teaching take such tremendous energy, we have to learn to pace ourselves. If we pay attention to our ability to absorb information, where we are that moment on the continuum of passive, active, peaceful, joyous, grumpy and/or receptive, then we will become efficient learners. Teachers can help students pay attention to that inner landscape, to their own energy and to respect signals from others.

Great teachers pay attention to the energy of the class and in the classroom. They notice how each child or adult is doing, and offer help when it seems the struggle is too much. But great teachers never spoon feed students. If the answers come too easily, nothing is gained but information. Mistakes are to be encouraged. Great teachers make sure that the class is ready to share getting stuck and learn how to get out of "tight spots". Done well, learning becomes a collaboration, not a competition.

Integrating information is another key part of good teaching. Hooking ideas to each other like rings, or like loops in knitting, lets a pattern emerge and new ideas percolate. We are wired to make connections, in our minds, as we gather new information, in our relationships.

Finally, since students, especially children, can spot fakers, a great teacher is authentic. They are honest, open and truly enjoy teaching. Even challenges to authority are to be taken in stride. After all, this is the nature and mandate of children - to overthrow us adults. Eventually.

May we lead and bring them up well - they hold our future too.
v

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Swim Naked

Many years ago on a summer road trip there was a beautiful rest stop, in South Carolina. At the water's edge the lake beckoned, and I had to go in. I peeled off my sundress and dove into the cove, cool water splashing over my skin, sun on my back, sure strokes until it was far enough.

Finally back I swam, pulling, kicking, breathing, loving every second. Delighted in the world, in every atom of my being.

It was a completely joyful moment. It helped that no one was around (that I know of.. well, one friend) but even onlookers may not have stopped me.

I came across exactly the right summary of this moment today: v’samachta lifnei Hashem, “and you shall be joyous before God” (Deuteronomy 16:11).

Exactly. My body couldn't hold my joy that day, and I had to let it out! Imagine if we could let each joyful moment be a prayer, a tribute to the Divine? Joy bubbles up, laughter breaks clouds and tension.

Too often we cower in fear, let the mundane overtake us, the darkness prevail. If hope is to spring eternal, well, we have to get out there.

Dance, swim, sing, and if you dare, do it naked. (grin)
v

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Flu News on NPR

Transmission In U.S. So Far Not From Casual Contact

Ira Longini of the University of Washington is collecting data on the U.S. outbreaks to plug into computer models that estimate the speed of transmission. "We're not seeing community-wide transmissions," Longini says. "Those would be contacts in casual settings such as subways or movie houses or restaurants or places where people come close to one another but don't spend a lot of time together."

Longini says all the U.S. cases of swine flu so far have involved someone who was infected in Mexico and then infected close contacts in schools or their own families — not casual contacts.

But Fukuda [the WHO's chief flu adviser, Dr. Keiji Fukuda] says the world "is in the process of moving" to Phase 6 — a pandemic. However, he says, "we still need to see the evidence that we are there." Swine flu cases could develop explosively, fizzle out entirely or disappear with warm weather and come roaring back in the fall, as the fearsome flu pandemic of 1918-19 did, he said. [emphasis mine]

The WHO will be watching the Southern Hemisphere closely in the coming months, as it enters its main flu season.

Imnsho if we get a reprieve until the Fall, when they hope to have vaccines in circulation, we'll be fine. I'm still considering whether I'll need to spend the summer out of town. If this ratchets up children at least, I predict, will be sent to country relatives. This is not a bad thing.

v

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Concrete Steps - First, gather info and assess

The other day I wrote about what to do under stress. The first Rule is Don't Panic. Second Rule is Breathe. I wrote a bit about the next steps, and this post will give more detailed suggestions.

First of all, I'm not a worrier. I pay attention, I get concerned, but worry does not rule my life. I have, in the past, had anxiety problems, but no more. It's a different topic, but a crucial one for being able to plan for your family. Don't let fear overtake or immobilize you.

Refresher
Rule 1 - Don't panic.
Rule 2 - Breathe. Separate what you can change from what you cannot change.

Next
Step 1 - Assess your situation, gather information
Step 2 - Create an emergency plan
Step 3 - Create an action plan (to be prepared)
Step 4 - Prioritize action plan.
Step 5 - Do your action plan (get prepared),
Step 6 - Review and see if you missed anything, continue to gather info, adjust your plans as needed
Step 7 - See what else you can do for your community

Before you start: Separate things you can do something about from things you cannot. This is a matter of habitual discipline for me. I cannot change that a baby died from the flu, that many are in a panic in Mexico City or that my oldest children live in TN.

I can choose to respond rather than react and do what I need to do for myself, my children and my friends. Once that is all together, I can volunteer for my community.

Remember, as they say on every flight, if you are with a small child (or taking care of others) PUT THE OXYGEN MASK OVER YOUR OWN FACE FIRST. Don't try to care for any one else before you take care of your own basic needs. This is about doing the most good, being on your game, not being selfish. It's just common sense people (in the voice of my favorite English Teacher of all time, Ms. Griffo) (lol).

Use discipline to focus on what needs to be done, plan and prioritize.

Spend some time each day listening to experts on the POTENTIAL flu pandemic. This is a key part of gathering information so you can make better decisions. Solid facts lead to plans that make sense.

For instance, I didn't know or forgot that alcohol doesn't kill viruses. I thought it killed everything! Alcohol hand washes are helpful but not fool-proof. But I remembered that soap and hot water kill the AIDS virus, and that AIDS is a very unstable virus outside of a human. So now I'd like to know if the same is true of the H1-N1 flu virus that we are now facing.

I also remembered a report recently on an extensive study of sneezing, and that subjects were instructed to sneeze on their fellow card players (yuk!) and there was no significant increase in the spread of colds. It was fascinating that they also had the other players touch their noses and faces in a scheduled way, and this also didn't increase the transmission of the virus. Very interesting. Something I'll look up further.

I know more than most about the 1918 flu epidemic but I keep listening to gather more info.
  1. It was the very first time we had ever encountered an H1-N1 virus (the type we are now facing.
  2. We did not have antibiotics available en masse, nor did we have any flu vaccines.
  3. Communication methods were relatively slow, data was difficult to gather and manage
  4. World War 1 effectively ended because so many people died. Soldiers coming home spread the virus globally
  5. Now we are in a much better position in almost every way.
Because I have done my homework there is no reason to think this will be as bad, at least not in the same ways. So scare tactics by so called "experts" when they compare this virus to that one, are worse than misleading. It's bullshit.

Today I'm researching the local authorities' plans for pandemics. Doesn't look great yet for St. Louis, (found a draft dated 2006) but you can search for your own city's plan.

I found this article with a nice excerpt on getting prepared:
How Individuals Can Prepare
  • Stock Up: Store nonperishable foods, bottled water, medicine, health supplies and other necessities. A two-week supply of food and a three-day supply of water is recommended in the event of a pandemic. These supplies can also be useful in other emergencies, such as power outages. See checklist below.
  • Practice Good Health Habits: Wash your hands with soap and water frequently during the day. Cover your nose and mouth with your sleeve when you cough or sneeze.
  • Plan Ahead: Consider what you would do if you could not go to work, schools were cancelled, or a family member became sick and needed care. Make sure your family knows your plan, and ask about emergency plans at your work and child's school.
  • Stay Informed: Keep plugged-in to local media reports, as well as public health officials like the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the American Red Cross.
Some info I knew, some was reminders, and bingo, I found a list of things to make sure are on hand. I remembered that the Red Cross will be instrumental and may need volunteers. Also this link is great for a clear information. (Note that the tabs, Overview, Facts, Plan, etc for each section are in light grey just under the blue "Pandemic Flu" banner or graphic - not so easy to find on the page.)

I will also be turning to FlyLady to gather personal information, useful during any emergency.

A few years ago, I made a family plan for any crisis. It was similar to what you do when you are teaching your children how to respond to a fire. What do you do first, where do you go, who do you call. What do you do if Plan A fails?? It helped me tremendously during the Y2K scare, (which didn't actually scare me much) and after 9/11. Similar to making my will, it gave me great peace of mind. I kept it for years, and loved the way it came together for me.

Here is a link for creating your own plan.

Another surprisingly good source of information is the National PTA flu website. They are already setting up clinics and have lots of good info for us.

So this is the first step, in detail. Assess the situation, gather information. Continue to do this throughout the planning process, which is your next step.

If you are ready for step two, planning, move on. I'll keep writing on these steps. (It's nice to do something with the disaster training I've had.)

Keep coming back. And keep praying. G-d likes to hear from you.

Shalom and Peace out :)
v

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rule Number One - Don't Panic.

Long ago when I was teaching computer courses, I ran an introduction and then made a couple of points before we started. I pointed out that software (and technical) classes run fast, and you might get stuck or lost. I'd been in it long enough to lay out these rules:

Rule Number 1: Do not panic.
Rule Number 2: Breathe. If necessary, take a deep breath.

Then I went on to assure my students that I was pretty sure I could fix anything that happened in class, and that if I couldn't someone else on staff could, for instance if the computer started smoking or melting. This was their day to make mistakes, in fact, and learn from them. So we practiced getting unstuck and recovering from messes they created.

They loved it. I took all their fears, at least most of those related to the class, and dealt with them up front. We did great classes together. I told them it was my job to fix things, and I did.

Ironically the Diane Rehm Show had a two great segments this morning, related to the latest world-disaster. Melt-down du jour. It was very helpful to hear two top doctors from Johns Hopkins and NIH discuss the swine flu. The next segment, on dealing with anxiety and stress, was an interview with the author of the book, One Less Thing to Worry About.

It was very informative to hear an expert confirm what we already know. Some people handle stress well, some don't. Those who obsess or run/hide from stress are in the latter group. People who do something about it, are "healthy".

I once told a boss, after he let over 200 contracts gravitate to my desk, in my second week on the job, that if his arm got cut off, I'd stop the bleeding first. Then I'd identify what happened.

It's the approach of a medic, not a soldier. I'm fairly sure a soldier would do a better threat assessment. Now all good medics do one too, if with less emphasis, or they don't last.

Your Responsibility
So whether you are a healer or a fighter, or both, let's start with, Don't Panic.

Shutting down your ability to assess the risks, and act accordingly doesn't help.

Secondly, breathe. Take a moment and decide what you can and cannot do.

Sensible precautions make sense. Wash hands, eat well, exercise, avoid things that stress you out, stock up on healthy vitamins and foods. You do this not ony for stress relief, but to prepare in case you do get sick, or someone in your family needs you.

I once had a great reflexologist, in Charlotte, a Chinese man. He had some serious issues, but was a great healer. He pointed out that colds are floating around all the time, and many people don't get them. In fact, most people don't catch colds. His advice was to keep your system healthy, and you'd be immune. Of course science has borne this out over and over again. We don't know why some people catch the rhino (cold) virus and others don't.

We do know that using alcohol "washes" or sanitzers, does not kill viruses, but only bacteria. And we do know that the AIDs virus can be easily killed with hot soap and water.

In the midst of our economic crisis, there are many who aren't ready for more bad news. I'd suggest you get ready. That means doing what needs to be done.

Separate what you can change from what you cannot. Then take one simple step on something you can change. Then do the next step. That's it.

It's not rocket science, thank goodness.

Corporate Responsibility

During the avian bird flu scare I heard (on NPR) that the federal government expected businesses to take all necessary precautions to protect their workers in the event of a pandemic. I asked my then-boss, the firm administrator about this, and she didn't know anything about it. Firm employed about 250 - 300 people.

I'd bet that most companies have the same approach - willful disregard. It's willful because in most companies, especially now when they have an excuse of just trying to stay afloat, no one wants to take responsibility for disaster planning. I used to work in this field, and it's important, as all risk management is, but often overlooked.

If you work at a corporation, or even small company, you may want to ask if they have a plan. If not, help make one.

Shalom,
v

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Social media and Twitter

I have a friend who is a Social Media bombshell. He's in up to his chin. I don't envy him but he does have over 3,000 followers. A few years ago he would have simply been an uber-networker. It's an asset, a skill we all at least pay attention to, if not develop; we have always had friends and colleagues.

Twittering, perhaps a fad (too soon to call) has gone off big enough in the technoratti to become almost passe already.

Another bleeding edge friend of mine says that "agility" is the new area to focus on - that is, helping companies identify who knows what best, and putting them on the right jobs/projects.

I suspect that the two (social media and agility) may intersect at some point, when technology evolves to support such a leap.

As far as Twitter goes, I'd say that it's not the same animal as either Facebook or other social media tools. Facebook is my personal space, to share with friends and some business associates I consider friends. LinkedIn is a professional networking site. My blog is just for my writings and issues I care about. But Twitter a) feeds to my Facebook status, b) lets me follow people I like more closely and c) feeds me info that I'm interested in (based on good filtering).

It filters feeds from friends. Some Tweets go to my phone, many don't and all those Facebook status updates don't. I can pick and choose. Some people who are good with Twitter, (it's much less complex) don't do Facebook. I don't care if strangers or companies follow me on Twitter and assume many ignore me. It's mutual.

It's an integrator and info filter - I don't have time to find good info all over the net, but my trusted "feeds" do, and they send me links. I pick and choose what I'm interested in reading further.

Some will ignore the Twitter-esque, truncated universe and others will stay with it for a while. If it becames inundated with people who have too much time, it would fail. But I don't think that will happen.

It has built in shedding, which the Slate writer identified - if no one follows you, and you can't find people worth following, eventually you quit.

If you don't tweet, or get bored with it, yeah, you probably don't need the aggravation. Not everyone wants pivot tables in Excel either.

Then again, I don't NEED a sun roof in my car either, but I have to smile when I get to enjoy the sunshine on my shoulders.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Favorite Guide

Excerpt from Chapter 38 Accept Impermanence, Loss, and Joy

To open ourselves to the joy of a loving union means accepting the possibility of loss. To be able to love, we need to accept the melancholy of life, the little losses of every day and the great loss called death. Paradoxically, once we accept that change, loss, discomfort and grief are inevitable, life is not so frightening and we are freer to create intimate relationships.

We need to open ourselves to the inevitable daily losses of living, so we can open ourselves to love. We say hello and goodbye. We feel connected one moment, and disconnected the next. A tender sexual moment will never be exactly the same. Every breath we takes connects us to life, then passes, before a new breath fills us. We move through new developmental and spiritual stages daily, weekly.

Impermanence is a central concept in Buddhism. Nothing stays the same, not ideas, thoughts, perception, and certainly not other people. The flowers on the dining room table will wilt in a few days, the clouds will never be the same again. Sadness and joy exist side by side. One the spiritual path we allow these things to be, observing them and watching them pass, just like a breeze. Don't expect the person you fall in love with to stay the same. Like breathing air, the spiritual path is fluid, ungraspable, undefinable, elusive. We stop the flow the moment we try to hold onto something. ...

You partner with someone as they are at this moment. The vitality can remain if you adventure forth, side by side, savoring the moment to moment shifts and changes that inevitably arise as you both stay open to the journey. We need to look at each other anew every day, with clear eyes and an open mind so we see the person of today, not an image from the past.

If the Buddha Dated, A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path