Archive for November, 2006

That’s Bananas!

Monday, November 20th, 2006

I hate tailgaters. Where I live, it’s the norm to drive on the back bumper of the person in front of you. Usually the culprit is a souped up Honda with a driver holding a Taco Bell Burrito or a posh luxury go getter with its occupant engaged in a cell phone conversation. Occasionally, there is a pickup truck held together by twine, or massive SUV capable of running over me without even scratching my car with its muffler. Because I’ve been rear ended twice, I’m very nervous around tailgaters. When possible, I intentionally position myself around the more conservative drivers in the hopes I can avoid an accident.

Driving down a busy highway, I stayed true to my strategy and pulled in between two minivans. Within moments, I felt a looming shadow over my shoulder. A quick glance to my rearview mirror revealed a driver practically kissing my trunk with his navy blue minivan while eating a banana. What? Not only was this a conservative automobile, the driver was actually eating a healthy snack. Doesn’t that lend one to believe he is an individual focused on safety and healthy choices? That kind of false advertising should be against the law. I mean, couldn’t he have purchased a BMW so I had some clue to his driving style? How can I make good decisions if people refuse to stay true to the stereotypes I’ve created for them? Am I asking too much? To make matters even more confusing, a sporty black Mercedes a few cars ahead of me was actually holding all of us up by insisting on driving the speed limit. Don’t these people read the rule books? Now I’m going to have to start subscribing to that old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Naked Trees

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Well, the leaves are almost completely gone from the trees. It’s amazing what you see when the curtain of green disappears. What looked to be a forest was simply a double line of trees hiding mansions, golf courses, junk yards, businesses and fields. Who knew all of that was back there? Funny how we pass by something every day and never feel the need to dig deeper or question what we are really seeing. Are we so busy we only have time to take things at face value? Are we so tired we’ve lost the desire to be curious? It wouldn’t have been hard to take a few different roads and discover what was really there.

Nature wants us to know the truth, so she strips down and lets us stare at her naked self. Will humans make it so easy for us? Probably not. I hardly expect someone to shed their clothes and skin so I may know better who they really are. That doesn’t mean the answers aren’t obtainable. Perhaps instead of rushing by someone all of the time, we can slow down, travel a few different paths and really open our eyes to clues readily available. What better way to show you care than to take the time and make and effort to know someone beyond what you see on the surface.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Kids can be so cute. Their observations, questions and freely offered commentary are often entertaining and unique in perspective. I’m sure we all can think of funny and heart warming stories about something a child did or said. Occasionally the line between cute and obnoxious is crossed. When you are testing new waters, mistakes happen. Fortunately kids have parents to steer them in the right direction and let them know when and why they are off track. Parents don’t always come through, however.

A recent trip to the grocery store enlightened me to the possibility not all parents are willing or able to distinguish between cute and not so cute. A young boy was pleading his case to his mother while hovering over a giant gumball machine. His mother was attempting to leave the store and was ‘encouraging’ her son to join her. She was laughing as he raised his voice in a more convincing protest. Standing behind them both with a full cart of bagged groceries, I was forced to wait the process out so I could also leave. When the boy realized a gumball wasn’t in his future, he decided to head away from his mother and towards the main area of the store. The only problem was, my cart was firmly planted in his path. Instead of conceding, he decided to make me the target of his frustration. Thumping my thigh, he grumbled I was in his way. Then he started chanting “get out of my way…get out of my way…get out of my way.” As his mother approached, I was naively expecting an apology and a well timed message of how to behave to her son. Amazingly his mother was still giggling and shaking her head at how strong willed boys can be. How disappointing to see an opportunity to teach her son how to be a good citizen of the world was ignored. He wasn’t behaving that way because he was a strong willed boy. He was behaving that way because adults weren’t taking the time to tell him when he wasn’t being kind or considerate.

Now that I have a 7 month old daughter, I’ve been paying close attention to how parents shape and mold their children. It’s a constant effort. Teaching opportunities never end. I admire and appreciate the parents who give their children the ultimate gift, the ability to understand how their actions affect others. In the end, it’s that very understanding that helps us navigate friendships, marriages, employment situations, etc. What starts out as a 5 year old who thinks he’s cute thumping a bystander and yelling to get out of the way, may very well turn into a 30 year old man who throws tantrums and lashes out at his wife or children. Isn’t it worth the time to kneel down beside the gumball machine and offer our children instruction on right versus wrong. Sure, kids may not suspend their tantrum at that moment. They’ve heard the message though. There is a better chance of absorbing a message if it’s actually spoken.

Garlic Breath

Friday, November 17th, 2006

My husband taught me to love garlic. Before we got married, I despised the stuff. Of course, I was buying it minced in a jar and thought that was the best garlic could be. Steve showed me the light. He introduced me to fresh cloves of ecstasy. Now I cook with it all of the time. I’m not quite the fan my mother in law is, who would probably choose a clove warmed in a microwave over a piece of candy. I’m gaining on her though.

Now that I’ve made garlic a regular part of my world, I often wonder if my breath is being kind to others. The trouble with garlic eaters is we have no idea how much evidence of our indulgence is hanging around after the fact. I worry I might have a garlic debris field radiating from me like the dust zone pulsing off of my favorite Peanut, Pigpen. Such a shame something so tasty and so good for you has such unpleasant consequences. It’s pretty well accepted eating garlic has many benefits. Funny how garlic breath is greeted with jeers instead of back pats for choosing a healthy lifestyle.

Garlic lovers of the world can find comfort in the fact they are not alone. Often people who choose to do what is good are faced with the unpleasant. With exercise comes sweat. With frugality comes less fun. In the end, we must do what is right and good for us in the long run and find a way to accept we may not always be able to please others.

Soap Operas

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

It’s 1:30 in the afternoon. I’m stuck watching network television so I can keep on top of any tornado warnings or watches we may have today as some nasty storms roll through. “Days of Our Lives” is on NBC. I haven’t seen that show in 15 years. Considering it has been so long, how is it I seem to know exactly what is going on in the program? The same couples are still going through the dramas of whether or not their love will last. The villains are up to their usual conniving ways. With the exception of one actress with a bad dye job and another who clearly has some extra collagen in her lips, most look pretty much the same as they did all of those years ago.

Seeing these characters take on the same old things makes me really hope my life does not turn out like a soap opera. I can’t imagine reliving the same challenges for 15 years and never once learning how to prevent them. Perhaps it’s all of that weird music playing in the background that distracts them from logical thinking. It also seems sad to me that an outsider could pop in after all that time and find not much has changed. How boring and redundant.

Don’t get me wrong. If I get some rare disease with no known cure, it would be great if my husband’s kiss could bring me back from the brink of death. Or, if I’m unlucky enough to fall out of a plane, it would be wonderful to survive unscathed, only to be rescued by Smokey Robinson. Yep, Smokey is more than welcome to comfort me with cocoa while singing a tune or two. Aside from that, I’m aiming for a life where I learn from my obstacles, have new experiences to decorate each year and refrain from sleeping with my sister’s ex-boyfriend who is unknowingly my half brother.

Mind Your Own Business

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

As kids, I’m sure most of us were told to “mind your own business” at one time or another. When we wanted to know why a couple was no longer living together, whether or not someone’s eyelashes were real or how much someone weighed, we were quickly told to hold our tongue and respect what might be personal to another. I was an inquisitive kid, so I heard that message a lot.

Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, I wonder what has happened to that valuable lesson of common courtesy. Magazines and tabloids are crammed full of stories of celebrity divorce details, bikini cellulite shots, rumors of sexual orientation, etc. This goes way beyond the innocent question of a child. These ‘journalists’ are intentionally going where their mothers told them not to and then putting a price tag on top of the information. Even more disturbing is the apparent lack of concern if the private information being revealed is truly accurate. What is wrong with the individuals who feel comfortable exploiting people this way? What is wrong with us, the consumers who purchase this dribble? Doesn’t either side consider how it would feel to have their own personal experiences in large print and color photos by the gum and candy bars? Are we really convinced supporting these violations of privacy is needed to protect free speech and freedom of the press?

I am writing this particular blog today because of a ‘news piece’ I heard this morning on a respected cable network (yes, they have joined the gossip parade too). The feature suggested Kevin Federline is threatening to release a sex tape of him with Britney Spears if she does not fork over $30M and custody of their children in a divorce settlement. The fact there is even a market to suggest $30M and custodial rights are a reasonable trade, sickens me. I’m not a Britney fan, but in no way do I believe she deserves (or her children deserve) this kind of manipulation. If true, I’m sure Britney’s attorneys have the legal might to shut this thing down. Think of the precedent he is allegedly attempting to set though. Do we really want to put children (celebrity or not) in a position where the parent who gets custody is the one who isn’t ashamed to threaten humiliation in front of a buying public who no longer cares to value what is private? This could happen in the average home too, you know. Whether your privacy is violated in front of millions or a chosen few, it is still something someone may be able to effectively hold over your head as long as there are those willing and eager to hear the sordid details.

I say we turn back the clock and start following the advice our moms gave us all those years ago. Let’s acknowledge privacy has a rightful place in this world and should not be sacrificed or ignored for the almighty dollar. Let’s give our claim to our own privacy a chance by not over sharing details of our bathroom and bedroom. Let’s assure those around us we will only seek to know more about what is openly offered. There will be those who thumb their noses at an initiative to respect what is private. Let them be in the minority. Perhaps their take on the matter will change when they can no longer afford their fancy cars and high end real estate because we, the consumer, refuse to throw dollars at the public humiliation of others. Let’s squash this form of indecency and reclaim a better sense of humanity.

Nice To Know

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Perhaps you know how it feels to walk around all day feeling fabulous only to return home and realize your zipper was open the entire time. It’s not great for the ego. What is particularly upsetting is if friends and colleagues saw your predicament and failed to say anything to spare your feelings. I vote for being embarrassed for a quick second so I can look better moving forward, don’t you?

A similar situation happened to me in college. It wasn’t about my zipper. It was about my writing abilities. I had been told all through high school how gifted a writer I was. My desk drawer held a stack of essays and term papers (yep, I kept them) decorated with comments like ‘fabulous’, ‘excellent’, ‘concise’, ‘top notch’. Forget 100%. Many of my papers earned 110%. Imagine my surprise when my first paper in college earned a 2.5 on a scale of 4.0!!! I couldn’t believe the professor’s nerve. The paper was better than anything I’d written in high school. Surely it was worthy of a 4.5?

My first reaction to the mediocre grade was to discredit the professor. He was a sloppy chap, after all. His shirt was usually not tucked. His jacket never matched his pants. The briefcase he carried was worn and remnants of papers escaped out the sides. This mess of a professor simply didn’t know what he was talking about. He probably didn’t even read my paper.

I was content to let the whole thing go until my second effort in his class failed to impress. Not only was it also viewed as mediocre, it was a step back from my previous showing. An ugly 2.0 was written in black marker at the top. Enough was enough. I had to confront this guy and get him to see what he was missing. I approached him and explained how much of an effort I was putting into the creative process for this class and how frustrated I was that it wasn’t being recognized. He shook his head and laughed a bit. His response…”my dear, I don’t grade on ideas. I grade on how well you express them. You are all over the place. Your sentences change direction like the wind and send the reader on a wild goose chase. Take care of your random approach to your message and you’ll solve your problem.”

Humph! Random?! Not me. Well, I thought not me. That was until I reread my papers (college and high school) with newly opened eyes. Oh my, if they weren’t horrible! My ideas were all over the place. Before I even began to finish one line of thinking, I was off on the next. Everything was patchy and incomplete. I couldn’t believe no one had pointed this out to me before. I also couldn’t believe I was staring at papers covered in accolades and bonus percentage points. Ick. I was mortified.

Taking Dr. Z’s points into consideration, I spent the remainder of my time in his class raking in 4.0s. To this day, I know I’m a better writer for his honest feedback. Yes, it was hard to receive. It was worth it in the long run. Funny he didn’t feel the need to spare my feelings. Perhaps the people who care about you the most are the ones willing to risk you not liking them so they can point you in the right direction.

I’m An Alcoholic.

Monday, November 13th, 2006

Okay, not really. I can’t even drink alcohol without breaking out in giant hives. Sorry to disappoint if you were expecting this Blog to be a juicy confession.

I mentioned my Australian friend Helen on my About page. Don’t jump to conclusions, she’s not an alcoholic either. This post actually has nothing to do with alcohol. It’s about labels. Helen hates labels people stamp on their foreheads. Until she pointed out a label I casually used, I never gave it much thought. Labels smables…why should we care what people call themselves or others?

After giving the matter more consideration, Helen’s point of view is becoming more clear to me. Humans thrive on being able to call themselves something. I’m a manic depressive. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a shopaholic. I’m a Democrat. I’m a Republican. I’m a wife. I’m a homosexual/heterosexual. Our choices of what to call ourselves grows every day. The problem is, no person is one thing. When someone is defined by a label it opens the door for that person and others to limit him/herself to the category they’ve filed themselves under. That label becomes who they are from 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.

Negative and presumably positive labels have the same unfortunate result. You can label yourself in a way that is so good, you ignore or fail to realize shortcomings and areas you can improve. “I am a Mensa; therefore, my actions are never stupid.” It’s hard wake up each morning a better person that way. You can label yourself in a way that is so negative, you fail to realize the positives and bright spots that give you the strength to climb over obstacles. That, too, makes it hard to wake up a better person than the day before. Since we are hopefully striving to become better citizens of the world and happier souls, it seems logical to me the answer lies in understanding and presenting our total person.

How do we pay tribute to our whole selves? I think it starts with putting an end to the “I am” statements of this world. Start talking about what you have versus what you are. I am an alcoholic becomes I have a problem with alcoholism. I am a wife becomes I have a husband. I am a Democrat becomes I have Democratic tendencies. I am an amputee becomes I have one leg. The list goes on. You get the gist. Sure, the things we have could be divided out as good and bad things/qualities. We are all composed of both. Recognizing the individual components that are good and bad in each of us is more just than sticking a label on someone’s forehead and putting their entire person in a good or bad category.

I’m not naive enough to believe we will ever be label free. However, we can strive to reduce the number of labels in circulation. We can also do our best to expand on the labels that are so ingrained in our society they are unlikely to disappear. A cyber friend of mine pointed out the seemingly innocent label of “I am a boy” or “I am a girl”. I mean, boy and girl is pretty basic, right? Wrong. More and more individuals are not feeling like the boy or girl they’ve been told they are. I’m a boy and I like playing with dolls. I’m a girl and I like Tonka trucks. We start grooming our boys and girls as babies to embrace the generalizations that go along with the label we’ve given them. Girl’s clothes are covered in pinks, ribbons and flowers. Boy’s clothes are blue and brown with images of tools and sports. Imagine if we could make being a boy or a girl less about personal preferences and more about anatomy. Is it possible we would see fewer people opting to have surgery in order to reclassify themselves under a label that fits their likes and dislikes? My cyber friend suggested that would be the case. I haven’t been able to find reason to disagree.

So, to wrap up this long rambling, my challenge to myself and you is to tune our ears to hearing the “I am” statements of this world. As you hear or make them, try changing things up a bit by shifting the “I am” to an “I have”. See if it changes the way you look at yourself, another person or a situation. This little shift in thinking, though still a work in progress for me, has changed my view of people and things dramatically. It’s been one of those “ah-ha” experiences that has made me a better person and mother. For that, I send a big American THANK YOU to my friend Helen.

Addicted to Being Healthy?

Sunday, November 12th, 2006

I think I’ve come up with a way to solve the health crisis in America. There are tons of books, lectures and documentaries on how eating smart and exercising regularly helps prevent a number if diseases few of us want to contend with. Knowledge is all around us. That knowledge hasn’t done much to change our behaviors though. You want to know why? There are very few addicting qualities of veggies, water and exercise. I can’t believe the health industry is missing the boat on how important it is for us to chase addictions. There are a few pillars amongst us who can surround themselves with addictions and still turn their nose. I bow down. The rest of us are in a tricky position.

Most of the things we are supposed to avoid or cut back on have addictive qualities. If they weren’t naturally addictive, someone was smart enough to modify the food or activity so it became addictive. Cigarettes have nicotine enhancements. Sodas, coffees and teas are getting stronger boosts of caffeine and sugar. Beer has alcohol. Snacks have more and more of those wonderful fats, salts and sugars we crave so much. Fast food restaurants, soft drink companies and snack food makers have regular contests where the more you buy their product the greater chance you have of winning an iPod, TV, car or money. Casinos have enticing lights and exciting bells and whistles. Department stores are strategically filled with scents and sounds that make us want to buy, buy, buy. Why hasn’t the health industry gotten on board with all of this?

I’m sure the nutritionists reading this blog are cringing. Is this crazy lady suggesting we start adding things to healthy foods that make people want to eat them? Maybe I am. Of course, I wouldn’t want that additive to be ‘too bad’ for me. A ‘little bad’ is acceptible. Afterall, a ‘little bad’ would be an incredible improvement over the ‘really bad’ things I’m currently eating. We’d still have the organic products for the pillars amongst so they wouldn’t have to migrate from ‘really healthy’ to a ‘little bad’.

Aside from additives, the industry really could be doing more from a marketing standpoint to get us on the right track. Why doesn’t Green Giant’s frozen vegetables ever have a game similar to McDonald’s Monopoly? How come bottled water never has a “look under the cap to see what you’ve won” game? Why aren’t gyms researching what smells and sounds will make people want to work out once they get there? I guarantee old sweat and bald guys grunting in the corner isn’t it for me. Perhaps a nice lavendar floating through the air as “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background?

So, am I alone in wanting the health industry to try to manipulate me a little bit. Not the pseudo-health industry that promotes life’s solutions come in a pill. Not the pseudo-medical community that convinces me my fat should be sucked out in a vacuum. I’m talking about the bare bones providers of veggies, water and excercise. Who’s with me?

That’s Debatable

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

Please don’t think I’m confrontational when I tell you I enjoy a good debate. There is something about swapping perceived facts and personal points of view that really helps you sort out your true position on an issue. It’s always interesting to take in and share concepts not previously considered. If done well, individuals on both sides of the debate walk away from the process with a clearer measure of what they believe and a better understanding of their opponent’s position. A lot of good can come from both sides understanding each other a bit better, even if they don’t end up agreeing when all is said and done.

That said, many people will quickly tell you they hate debating. I think it is more accurate to say they hate fighting. I don’t blame them. Fighting isn’t appealing to me either. Too often, what is pegged as a spirited debate, is really a catfight of barbs and bully style brainwashing that have little to do with the actual subject at hand. In a genuine debate, participants are not analyzed and reviewed. The issue on the table is the target of any and all commentary. There is no cause for sticking a finger in the face of an opponent or calling that individual a derogatory name. One’s position is justified with facts; not by belittling another’s intelligence or morality. Making a debate about the debaters, in such a negative way, has little to nothing to do with sorting out the actual pros and cons of a particular issue.

So why have debates turned into heated character assaults? Hard to know for sure. It’s a reasonable assumption the modern day political process has contributed. Often times candidates who don’t have a clear position on issues distract from that fact by switching the focus to negative attributes of their opponent. Voices become raised and participants start talking over one another while pointing crooked fingers and spitting out constructive criticism designed to embarrass or hurt. It’s not pleasant. If we continue with this trend, it won’t be long before the new joke is “I went to a debate and a hockey game broke out!”

To get the debate process back on track, I think adults could take a lesson from high school debate teams. To work through issues, participants are assigned to the ‘con’ or ‘pro’ position. One may end up debating the con side for an issue where they would normally take the pro stance. It’s amazing what you learn when you are forced to find facts supporting a concept or practice you wouldn’t normally agree with. Personally attacking the individual with the pro position is less likely. That would be indirectly attacking yourself, after all.

I’ve purposely taken a position opposite my true belief in debates where the argument is heavily one sided. Talk about an eye opening process. Not only do I find cracks in the solid position I felt I had of an issue, I experience the uncomfortable feeling of being the odd man out. I have never been a minority by faith or ethnicity. If being in the minority when arguing a position is in any way close to the experience of being a minority in general, my blinders are off as to how frustrating that might be. The nasty name calling, dings on my intelligence and gang-up style influence of the masses can be really draining.

Debates really can be a learning experience on many levels. If we treat the process with respect and size up the issue instead of the participants, we could start having a positive impact on how we view ourselves and others. It’s good to put your position on an issue to the test every now and then. If it’s the right position to take, it will survive the scrutiny of review. If, after all is said and done, you are left to question what you originally believed about a topic or other people, you’ve grown in some way. If you can accept there really are two sides to every issue, you are better able to respect those who may think differently than you. Let’s find a way to accomplish all of these things while leaving the hockey game at the ice arena.