Saturday, December 31, 2011

Predicting 2012

Are you frightened? Have you heard about the predictions for 2012?  Some folks believe a non-technical Y2K kind of world-wide event will occur this year. If you remember Y2K, the transition from 1999 to 2000, caused quite a stir among companies and agencies. Businesses launched expensive efforts to ensure that computer systems continued to function properly with the new year’s arrival.  IT experts feared computers would incorrectly interpret the switchover from ’99 to ’00 and wreak havoc with our financial investments, systems and operations. Nothing catastrophic happened back then, but now here we go again with new predictions for the coming year.    
It’s a little different this time. According to certain people and the ancient Mayans, a change is on the agenda for 2012. Actually, before we attribute the scare to the Mayans, let’s review how they’re connected to the hype. It seems that a part of the Mayan culture’s calendar, which covers over five thousand years, ends at 2012. So, some people think that this ending signifies the end of time and our planet’s demise. Is there a leap in logic here? Has this ever happened to you? After working for long periods of time on a colossal project, at a certain point, you just want it to end. Here’s my take: The Mayans grew bored with calendar-making, they put an easier system in place and moved on to completing their pyramids, or some other fascinating project. Like kids with toys at Christmas, when the fun ends, it's time to move on. Apparently everyone has an opinion about 2012. Listen to a more serious comment on the 2012 hullabaloo: 
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what actually happens this year. Maybe there won’t be a catastrophic earthquake or a planet crashing into earth, but I know someone will graduate, get married, find a job, start a family, start a business, travel or create a new invention.  What are your public or personal predictions for 2012?                        

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's the Small Stuff?

As I sat at a stop light on a multi-lane road, the light changed from red to green. A millisecond later, one driver beeped the car horn. Was that for me? What’d I do wrong? That’s what I would have thought years ago when I first started driving. Back then a parallel parking spot used to send me hunting for a “regular” space. Okay, it still does. But the point is now, with years of experience under my belt, whenever I hear a car horn beep while I’m driving, I think, “Hold your horses. You should’ve left home earlier!”   
If you talk with anyone sixty years and older, I believe they’ll tell you that the things they worried about decades ago pale in comparison to the issues that occupy their thoughts today. It’s interesting how knowledge and experience change our perspectives. Sometimes it’s a matter of focusing on the big picture.
One of our kids chose to replicate Neptune for a science project, and I learned that it’s approximately seventeen times the earth’s mass. I’m always fascinated by the solar system and our position in it. We always seem to discover something new things in space. This video provides us with a fresh perspective on life and our universe:

If you’re feeling insignificant, be encouraged! Despite the minuscule blip of space we occupy in the universe, we still have big jobs to tackle, like creating lasting legacies through parenting, teaching and role modeling. As you pass on the wisdom you’ve learned over the years, what small stuff would you advise a young adult not to sweat?        

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift of Giving

I enjoy hearing about the charitable giving that happens during this time of the year. Up north, a man decided to give away hundreds of dollars to various individuals he met on the street; one mother of six children received six hundred dollars.  Another news story told how several people put solid gold bars and diamond rings in the Salvation Army buckets. Don’t we all feel more charitable at Christmas? Watch this little boy get into the spirit of giving:

Ooops, I hope that wasn’t a tear-jerker for you—it was for me. I remember seeing scenes similar to that while riding through Mexico on a bus tour to the ancient ruins and the beach. We didn’t stop—poverty wasn’t on the agenda that day.  I’m not suggesting that we give away all of our Christmas gifts, we can plan to do that next year.  I am suggesting that we play Santa. Small gestures don’t go unnoticed. How about paying the toll for the person behind you or tipping the harried waiter who didn’t serve your food, but dealt with a demanding customer? I know you’ll think up some really special ways to play Santa this season. Share with us what you would like to do.          

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Behold The Past

During this time of the year we become nostalgic about past Christmases. We fondly recall our favorite gift and reminisce over the wonderful hours spent with friends and family.
Years ago, I taught a teen class. The lesson focused on living each moment to the fullest. We talked about how older adults sometimes idealize their high school memories and behave as though the best years have passed. I wonder at what point those adults concluded that their high school years were the best ones. Was it after family responsibilities piled up? In light of a job and bill-paying, I can understand why your high school experience might very well seem like paradise.
As a child, while playing school, I wrote in red crayon on our yellow dining room wallpaper while correcting an imaginary student’s class paper. It was an accident but back then, as I stared at that red mark I remember thinking, “If only I could go back in time…” I felt the weighty truth of how some mistakes cannot be undone and how time marches forward, no turning back. Fortunately, I managed to get off with a stern warning. We can’t change the past, but our tomorrows are a different story. Check out this inspiring video about a man who has plans for the future:

Now there’s a story that might cause us to ponder the possibility of time travel. Be careful going under the sink. 
If you could travel back in time, which wonderful moment would you (re-)celebrate?                      

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Real Deal

Have you noticed how people and situations seem normal and ordinary at first glance? People mosey about their daily activities, kids go to school and parents go to work. But upon closer examination, you’ll find that everything is not as it appears.
Watch how things unfold. Every so often packages show up at your door only to be whisked away from the light of day and tucked into a nook or cranny. Look around. You may find a box or two stuffed in a rarely used closet, under a bed or stashed in the basement. Day by day the house percolates with more and more packages, shopping bags, wrapping paper and ribbons, (don’t forget tape) all in preparation for Christmas.
Just prior to roasting and hosting for holiday gatherings, we go public by adorning our homes with decorations, inside and out. Suddenly, there’s an explosion of color: twinkling lights, glimmering candles and a beautiful tree placed just right. If you’re not in the holiday mood, you will be after hearing the carols play over and over and over. When a smile plays at the corner of your mouth—you’ve caught the Christmas spirit!
Since the kids in our family are older, they understand the real deal about Santa. You know, the inside scoop about how ordinary men wear the red outfit, listen to gift requests and shake the donation bell—Santa can’t be everywhere at once.    
How do store managers decide which candidates will make good Santas? Do managers ask to hear a ho, ho, ho or do candidates take personality tests? On the surface many Santas look the part, but somehow I doubt store management expected this riveting performance.

Wow. No one expects a boogie-woogie Santa. He must be an impersonator. I’m sure you’ve experienced your share of fakes and phonies and can spot something genuine when you see it. What’s authentic? Who or what is the real deal?        

Friday, November 25, 2011

Shop, Drop and Stop

On your mark, get set—go! It’s Black Friday! There’s no stopping us now—shop, shop, shop ‘til we drop—not literally, of course. We’re on autopilot. We can’t stop shopping, moving, talking, doing. There is at least one thing that’ll stop us—a funeral. Do you groan at the sight of blinking hazards, orange “funeral” signs and the lengthy line of cars snaking past you even after your light turns green?
At a funeral l attended last week, I heard that it’s state law to stop for a funeral procession. Later that same day, I came across a second funeral. As the mourners crawled through traffic, headed to the cemetery or to the family meal/repast, their light changed from green to red. Wouldn’t you know that when they kept moving, one of the drivers outside the procession starting beeping? If I had questioned the beeper, I’m certain the driver would come clean and admit to wanting to get home for an “important” TV show.   
In our zippy, fast-paced lives it’s difficult to slow down to acknowledge someone else’s grief or to simply savor a moment. In earlier posts, I‘ve suggested ways to question, examine and modify our behavior. Well, I’m offering another challenge: sit. Yep, that’s it. I think this guy is on board. Have a listen:

It’s easy, or is it? Try sitting and doing nothing for a full five minutes—no listening to music, no texting or tweeting, no watching TV. Don’t let the silence stress you out, believe me, it won’t last forever.
Let us know how you feel after tuning out the distractions that compete for your attention, we’d love to hear what you discover.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fa-La-La-La-I’m beat!

Let me officially announce the start of the Christmas shopping season. I know—I’m too late.! Sooner than necessary, the music plays, the decorations sparkle and Santa sits on his throne. Traffic snarls make us late and the never-ending stream of stores catalogs fill our mailboxes. Newspapers bulge with coupon offers and the frenzy to get your dollars will continue unabated until well past the last gift-wrapping party. The shopping season flows well into January with the long lines for Christmas gift returns, New Year’s Day sales and opportunities to purchase a little something nice for yourself.

Thanks goodness online shopping allows us to shop at two a.m. in our pajamas, if we want. That’s efficiency.  Of course, it also makes more time for hosting and decorating, creating an even more frenzied holiday season. I’m tired just thinking of it all. Shouldn’t we slow down? A night spent camping out in front of a store doesn’t count. Watch this:

It’s time to stop and smell the poinsettias, admire the sun glinting off the snow (it’ll be here again soon) and enjoy a warm beverage by the fire.  This year let’s break the Christmas shopping insanity cycle.  How will you modify your holiday season to grab a few more moments of peace?     

Friday, November 11, 2011

Got GPS?

Raise your hand if you use a GPS. Are they installed in all new cars yet? I have a “mature” vehicle and it definitely didn’t come with one. We do own a portable GPS, but I avoid using it because I’ve heard stories about drivers who faithfully follow directions from the voice in the box and end up in the wrong location anyhow. I depend on directions printed out from the online services, I need to clutch that paper and see my route laid out, line by line.
I’m also bothered by that pleasant GPS voice. When I’m in the car and the voice says to turn right, I feel  we should turn left just to make it say, “Recalculating….”  My husband and I joke that manufacturers should design a nagging GPS so when you miss a turn it yells, “Hey! Didn’t you hear me? What’s your problem? Do you want to be late?” Now that’s a gag gift.  Speaking of gags and directions, take a look at this:

Like the driver in the video, I will ask for help when I’m lost. Usually, after I ask for directions, I discover that my destination is right around the corner. The other day, I couldn’t find the candy section in a store. I looked around for a little while and finally asked a nearby clerk for assistance. Can you believe he pointed to the shelf next to me and there sat the candy?
Sometimes we’re perfectly positioned to reach our destination, but if we click off the GPS and discard those printed directions too soon we'll find ourselves peering out and thinking, “How in the world did I get here?”   
Who or what functions as your GPS? How do you stay grounded and headed in the right direction?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Real Reality

Yes, fact is stranger than fiction. The famous writer, Mark Twain, suggested that fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities—truth isn’t. Given the outrageousness we hear in news stories and reality shows, it’s no wonder we feel like drama addicts constantly feasting on the spectacular, unending, over-the-top, idiosyncrasies of life.  Sure, reality shows exaggerate drama for TV, but after we sweep away the wackiness those same shows might offer a little nugget of truth and a lesson to boot.
Let’s consider a show like Wife Swap. Two families, with contradictory lifestyles, switched wives for two weeks while the wives slowly introduced their versions of “normal” life to their new families.   Although the title seemed questionable, no hanky-panky occurred. At its best, Wife Swap taught a lesson; at its worst, well…it sometimes epitomized bad reality TV. Most of the families eventually accepted recommendations from the new wives, but sometimes—they didn’t. Have a brief peek at an episode:

Why do reality shows grab our attention? Are we fascinated by the abnormal or do we want assurance of our own normality? I bet you could star in a reality show. What would you name it and what aspect of your life does the world need to see?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are You Dead Certain?

I don’t like Halloween. There, I said it. While that might not be a popular opinion, most children love it and many adults celebrate the day by attending parties and decorating their homes with witches, goblins, jack-o-lanterns and boo-tiful, (couldn’t resist) festive orange lights, a precursor of the Christmas red and green ones.
As a child, I used to enjoy going door-to-door to collect that FREE! candy, but I don’t do that anymore. These days trick-or-treating in your neighborhood can be a risky proposition, especially at unfamiliar houses.  A kid could do quite well making the rounds at the various organized candy-distributing functions, it’s safer, too.  Ya gotta love those bags bursting full of candy. Parents, stay calm and just keep repeating to yourself, “Now’s not the time to worry about cavities, now’s not the time….”    
For the past two weeks, different towns have hosted walking dead gatherings.  I can just imaging the creepy make-up, fake blood and hideous masks—the stuff of nightmares. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see the dead walking—not no way, not no howl (see what I did there?)! Given the number of deaths we’re exposed to, both in the news and on TV shows, it’s interesting how people avoid formulating personal ideas about what happens after we die. Check out what these people say about death:

Considering how they rambled, hemmed and hawed, you’d think the interviewer asked them to explain string theory. In the spirit of Halloween, take a moment to consider what you believe happens after we die.  What’s your theory? Are you dead certain about it?                  


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What’s In Your Collection?

Whenever our family goes shopping or out to dinner, I’m the one yelling, “Wait, I think we have a coupon!” I love to save money and getting something for free feels even better, don’t you agree? I thought I shopped fairly well until extreme couponing came along. Have you tried it?
Here’s how it works: A shopper uses coupons to buy multiple sale-priced items at the supermarket and then stores the items until needed. Slowly, over time, their homes evolve into private mini-markets. This process takes couponing, if it can be a verb, to a whole new level. The true experts pay a fraction of the actual cost of their groceries. Let’s meet an extreme couponer and take a peek at her stockpiles:

I like knowing that my essential items, such as soap and paper towels, are stored within reach, but when does stockpiling cross the line? How do you distinguish between a smart shopper and a hoarder?  You’ve seen at least one news story of the person whose possessions slowly fill every nook and cranny of their home; some of the worst cases require good therapy. People seem to collect all types of things—stamps, shells, figurines. As a child, I kept a small stone collection under my bed and I always enjoyed the soothing feel of the satiny, smooth pebbles. I believe, at some level, we all have a natural desire to acquire.
Tell us about your collection(c’mon, we know you have one). Better yet, what’s your emotional connection to it?  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The New $50,000 You

One of my favorite cable channels is HGTV (Home and Garden TV). They broadcast a slew of shows ranging from interior design and renovations to staging your home to sell and home buying. One particular show, “Bang for your Buck,” features a real estate agent and a design expert who examine three home renovation projects in a similar geographic area. Each one of the homes has undergone a renovation for the same room, i.e. a kitchen, for the same price, usually around $50,000. The experts review the completed projects, work up the numbers and decide which homeowner earned the biggest bang for their buck. The winners walk away with bragging rights, praise for their great decorating taste and the satisfaction of hearing that their money was well-spent.  
We love to decorate and spruce up our residences, but what if we used the money on ourselves? Judging by the media’s news coverage, many people are doing just that, take a look:

With $50K you’d be able to create a whole new you. Cosmetic surgery can carry a hefty price tag, but with a whopping $50k we could throw in a fitness trainer, spa and salon expert and still have leftovers to splurge on a new wardrobe. That might take care of our outer bodies, but what about the inside? 
How often do we slice and dice our personalities, our personal habits and our lifestyle choices to expose them to the probing light of deep reflection and examination? It’s a useful exercise and it’s free.  Some of the most valuable ways to improve ourselves cost no money, just time, effort and perseverance. You’ve probably heard that some of the best things in life are free. So what’s the best free thing that you have done or could do for you?                

Friday, October 7, 2011

Too Close! Too Close!!

Do you know anyone who might be classified as a hugger? Whenever you see them, you know they’re going to greet you with a big, warm hug. Then there’s the other group of people who feel a nice smile or a firm handshake is warm enough. I started out in the handshake/you’re-too-close club and eventually joined the hug club. Now I’m much more comfortable sharing my personal space, although depending on mood and circumstance, I can easily slip back into the you're-too-close club.  
I’ll give you an example. One time Terry,* a family friend, patted my pregnant belly, so I reciprocated. Surprise! Terry wasn’t expecting to get a belly-pat back, but that small gesture spoke volumes, in a humorous way. It said, “No touching the big belly, babe!” Beyond hugs or handshakes, wouldn’t most casual friends or acquaintances touch your arm or maybe your shoulder? So why do people see pregnancy as an open invitation to rub the big belly?
The rules for personal space vary by person and by culture. If you require a lot of personal space, big cities like NYC, will test your tolerance. In crowded NY subway cars strangers regularly squash up against strangers, and in parts of Japan, I hear they’re considering female-only sections on trains. Not a bad idea.
If you’ve ever had a too-close-for-your-comfort encounter where someone exceeded the unwritten rules for personal space, you’ll sympathize with these patrons:

As long as belly-rubbers pair up with natural huggers, everybody’s comfortable. When you’re forced to step beyond your comfort zone, how do you distinguish between a stretched comfort zone and compromise?     
*fictitious name  

Friday, September 30, 2011

The New Normal

It’s interesting how the things that used to make sense now seem to make no sense.  Judging by news reports, I think it must be opposite day and abnormal is the new normal. Take the seismic activity for instance, have we always had this many earthquakes in a two year time span? Somebody must be tracking these events. Weather-wise our hurricanes seem stronger and we’ve talked enough about the extraordinary thunderstorms. I just got caught in another crazy one yesterday. And as we discussed in an earlier post, even the Catatumbo Lightning is a-changing.  What is going on?
Here’s something else outside the norm: the number of abandoned retail establishments. Borders? Closed. The Petco in our area? Closing. Jonn’s furniture stores? On it’s way out. Say it ain’t so, Joe! I frequented these businesses, and their closures are turning my world topsy-turvy. How many vacant building will there be? Take Borders, for example, people have spent Saturday nights there browsing bookshelves with a mocha latte something. I bet some people even slept there, treating the store like a second home. Economists suggest that there’s a rational explanation for these closings, in the spirit of the 1992 presidential election, “It’s the economy, stupid.” OK I’ll buy that, but I’m not stupid, something else is going happening.
I think our culture is changing in unprecedented ways and I’m experiencing culture shock! Things that used to be the norm are no longer normal.  I find myself constantly looking around and wondering, “What in the world is going on?” I believe that’s just what these gentlemen are thinking in this video:
Change is inevitable; culture will continue to change whether we like it or not. The key is how we handle it. We can laugh at the absurd, be angry at the injustice and promise to make a difference.  What’s the long-term prognosis for our world? From your perspective, over the next twenty years, will things improve or deteriorate? Why? 


Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Foodie's Tips

Welcome to this week’s foodie tips. In case you’re wondering, a foodie is someone who loves eating, discussing and cooking food. I enjoy the first two, but the cooking part—not really.  I’d much rather watch someone else cook. Fortunately for me, my kids inherited their grandmother’s and their father’s love for cooking. They plan to be professional chefs so I foresee many wonderful meals in my future. Until then, you’ll find me cooking out of necessity, and when I’m in the kitchen, I keep it quick and simple.
What’s easier to make than French toast? Actually, I can think of a lot of things—soup for one, especially if it’s right from the can, but that was last week’s post. We’re moving on. Tell me, is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy piping, hot French toast for breakfast?  Start with the right bread and your dish will be fabulous. I like to use cinnamon bread, with or without raisins. I call it Double Cinnamon French Toast because there’s tasty cinnamon swirled throughout the bread and then it’s dipped in a cinnamony-egg mixture just before frying. What a yummy treat!  By the way, cinnamon is more than delicious, it’s healthy, too. Nutritional experts call cinnamon a super food because the spice helps lower cholesterol levels. So, for tip number one: use cinnamon bread. But since this is a two-for-one deal, I have a second tip for you.
 Last month when we were on vacation, I discovered a great way to improve on your classic French toast. With limited frying pans, I could only cook one piece of French toast at a time. Once I finished the first piece, I popped it in the oven to stay warm while the next piece cooked on top of the stove. I’ve read a few recipes that describe how to make French toast in the oven, but if you prepare it on the stove and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for about seven minutes—you’ve got your own little plate of heaven.  I’m not usually proud of my cooking, but that was the best French toast I’ve ever made, pure oven-toasted, cinnamon-laden, crunchy goodness.
I know these aren’t revolutionary tips, but sometimes our best ideas come from our most unexpected sources and experiences. Here’s an opportunity to pick up a few tips from a lady who’s experienced a long, long life:     

What’s the best life tip you’ve ever received?        

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pho Satisfaction

Have you noticed your diet changing as you age? It’s a slow process, but before long friends will question your identity. You’ll hear things like, “Aren’t you the same person who used to eat a whole cake? Now you won’t touch sugar and you only use Splenda?” I supposed it happens to the best of us.   
One day, while discussing our morning routines, an older relative and I shared what we ate for breakfast.  I used to eat very little for breakfast, but with kids in the house, my morning meals have ramped up to include anything from scrambled eggs to French toast or waffles, and don’t forget the fruit and/or yogurt. My relative remarked that he often ate oatmeal, and sometimes…soup! I didn’t see that coming. But later I started thinking, “Why get locked into the same, old routine?” Shake things up a bit—go ahead and have soup for breakfast. Actually, I haven’t eaten it for breakfast yet, but I am reaching for soup more often. It’s light, yet filling. Last year I discovered a wonderful, new soup. If you’re ready for something a little different, try a bowl of pho.                         
Beef Pho (pronounced “fuh”) noodle soup is a Vietnamese dish. Our community has several new Vietnamese restaurants and, from what I’ve seen, some of the Vietnamese dishes resemble Chinese food, but pho is special. The hot, rich, brown broth hides a tasty mound of rice noodles, and you get to order one or two types of thinly-sliced beef such as brisket or flank steak to include in your soup.
Fresh basil, lime, chili peppers and bean sprouts comes on a separate plate so that you can add them to the pho as you wish. Usually Vietnamese restaurants keep several sauces like Hoisin ( a sort of Chinese barbecue sauce) and Sriracha (a flavorful hot sauce) on the tables to enhance the food. Mixing these sauces into your pho adds layers of flavor and gives the soup a savory, spicy kick.
Still looking to add adventure to your meals? Imagine yourself dining with these people at Trump Towers in NYC:    

I never encounter scenes like this when I’m out for lunch. Improv Everywhere filmed this prank for the Today Show, look closely and you’ll see Ann Curry.    
Despite the warnings to cut back on salt, sugar, fat and various meats, there are some foods we’re just not giving up. It’s interesting how we can become emotionally connected to certain foods and many times our favorite meals evoke our best (childhood?) memories. So, what’s your favorite food and why?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don’t Count on It

From last week’s post we learned about a special light show that occurs over the Catatumbo River and Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, South America.  For centuries, people living near these two bodies of water have experienced over 150 lightning storms per year with each event lasting about 10 hours per night. If you researched this unusual weather, then you know the prior post skipped over an interesting tidbit.
Are you ready for this? Between January and April of 2010, the lightning ceased. We’re talking nothing, nada. Incredible! I can imagine puzzled people peeking outdoors and searching the night sky for a tiny sign of “normalcy.” Scientists offer differing theories for the lightning’s presence and its temporary absence. Some experts believe geography and gases from the surrounding waters cause the lightning so when the lake and river dried up due to drought, the gases also disappeared—no gas, no lightning. Let’s visit Venezuela to hear what the local people think.   

Was it more startling to learn that this lightning show has existed for centuries or to hear that it stopped?  Do you think people in this part of Venezuela have expressions based on their lightning? For instance, we might say, “As sure as day follows night, I’ll return,” but people living near the Catatumbo phenomenon might say, “As sure as the lightning comes, I’ll return.” Some things you can count on and other things you thought you could count on. After all these years, even Catatumbo lightning is undependable.
In our culture where people, places and things change at lightning speed, who or what can you depend on?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Dirty Side

Alas, I’m not the weather expert I thought I was. During all of our extreme weather conditions, I learned two new weather-related phenomena. Even if you’re not a regular weather follower, you’ll be surprised by these discoveries.   
Did you know that in a section of Venezuela, South America a lightning storm, with little or no thunder, lasts ten hours per night 140 days a year? Scientists believe rising gases cause this activity called Catatumbo lightning.  The region’s local people have witnessed this natural night light display for centuries. After hearing the story on TV, I thought, “What? That’s amazing! How could I not know about this?”
Then, a short time later, with the onslaught of Irene, I learned about the “dirty side” of a hurricane. It refers to the right or easterly side of the storm that carries with it extra power, more rain, and stronger winds. So how come I’ve never heard that term used in any other hurricane-related news before now?  
I thought I had a good handle on weather-related information, but apparently not. Aren’t we like that sometimes? We think we know ourselves until an incident or event occurs and we’re stunned by our ignorance or our responses. Oh yeah, others may say we’re nice, but I believe anyone is capable of anything at any time.  You’ve seen the news reports where neighbors describe the criminal as “the nicest person the block.” Whether we admit it or not, we all have socially undesirable “dirty sides.”
Let’s do some self-discovery. Have you ever taken a personality test? Its reliability may be questionable, but the tests can still be fun, interesting and informative. Grab a pen and paper and try this one:

Did the outcome surprise you? If you’re willing to hang onto a tiger, prepare for a wild journey. Speaking of wild, regardless of the reason, does it seem like there’s a rise in socially unacceptable behavior these days? I know you’re not a part of the problem, so what helps you keep your “dirty side” in check?              

Friday, August 26, 2011

In, Out of and Under Control

During our recent vacation we went horseback riding. It’s usually a lot of fun, even with the sore legs and stress I feel after the ride ends. It’s always a relief to return to the barn injury-free because anytime I climb onto a horse and grab the reins, I wonder who’s really in control.
Before our ride the guide told me that my horse had a “sensitive mouth” and then she showed me how to steer the horse with the reins, reins that connected to the horse’s mouth. Horses are smart, powerful animals with minds of their own, so I wondered how well the horse would respond to my commands. As we walked along the trail the horse kept stopping to eat the vegetation and that’s when our second riding guide showed me how to keep moving by pulling on the reins and slightly kicking the horse’s sides. So I’m supposed to pull at a sensitive mouth and kick. Was this a recipe for disaster?
Fortunately, it wasn’t. But after the ride, I heard that my horse had been bitten by a snake the day before. Was it in the mood to walk the trail? I don’t know. I can say that the rein instructions worked and my horse behaved. Despite my nervousness, the guides were pleasant and the ride was great—this time. In times past, I‘ve had some unsettling experiences with unruly horses.
Here’s a video of a horse not in the mood for a rider:

I like animals, especially horses, but they can have their moments. A trail guide can offer great instructions, but until animals talk, it’s mighty difficult to know what they think or what sets them off. You’ve heard the news stories about trained animals suddenly going on the attack and their handlers never see it coming.
We like to think that we’re in control, don’t we?  Who or what really controls the reins in your life? Is it money, an addiction, your job, you, the boss, your spouse, your parents or someone/something else?          

Friday, August 19, 2011

Happy Days are Here Again

We’re back from our Branson, MO vacation! I think people assume that we visit relatives there. When I assure them that we don’t, I get a blank look. I guess they’re wondering what “Branson vacation” really means. Apparently not many people realize that Branson is the vacation capital of the world. Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but believe me, that town is an extraordinarily enjoyable vacation destination.
Branson is like a Las Vegas for families because of its approximately one hundred musical, comedy and variety shows. During our trip we saw the Noah play at Sight and Sound, which featured a menagerie of live animals and a three-story high ark.  In addition to the shows, we went horseback riding, visited a water park, a wax museum, and rode modern-day rides in an amusement park where people dressed in attire from the 1880’s and demonstrated crafts such as glass-blowing and candle-making.
In Branson, it’s not the activities that make the place great, for me, it’s the people and the environment. Everyone is pleasant; the vendors and wait staff always provide service with humor and a smile. During our two visits to Branson, I can’t recall meeting a surly service person or encountering any unpleasantness. Even the local news seemed benign.
Visiting Branson is like stepping back into an era of good, clean fun. The experience reminds me of the Happy Days TV show set in the 1950’s.  Here’s part of an episode:

Oddly enough, searching through the Happy Days archives, I was surprised to see the number of segments that mentioned dating, girl-chasing, making-out, the draft and war.  I never associated those topics with my memories of the show. I wonder, do we generally filter out certain things from our past and focus on the more pleasant aspects? Are our “good old days” really that great or do we actually compare our current realities to distant and distorted memories?  
I know you cherish memories from your past. What’s wonderful about those special times or places? Why do your thoughts tend to linger there?                           

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don’t Go Changing To Try and Please Me

Last week my husband and I talked with our kids about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The current list, established in about 600 A.D., identifies fascinating man-made treasures including an Egyptian pyramid, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse of Alexandria and several other ancient statues and buildings from around the world. Invasions and natural disasters have destroyed six of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Since only the pyramid still exists today, various people and organizations attempt to modernize the list. Currently several updated Wonders of the World lists exist but the most recognized one includes a Mexican pyramid called Chichen Itza, Christ, the Redeemer, which is an enormous Brazilian statue and Petra, an ancient city in Jordan.      
One of my favorites, the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights appears on the Seven Natural Wonders of the World list. This mesmerizing curtain of color ripples across the sky in Alaska during our fall and spring seasons. Words fail to describe this natural phenomenon. Take a look at it in this video:

Apparently, earth has an ample supply of wonders. As a society, we constantly toss aside the old in favor of the new, and seek the latest version or model, sometimes with unfavorable results. In the June 3 post, And Then We Will Change, I half-celebrate change as Sarah Vaughn performs a moving rendition of the song, Everything Must Change. The part-time realist in me recognizes that progress can be good, but the part-time idealist in me sometimes longs for an unchanging world.
What things, people or places are you glad don’t or won’t change? 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In the Center of a Storm

I’m a pseudo-meteorologist. You probably don’t hear that confession very often.  My mother said that, as a child, I always asked about the weather conditions. At my house, my husband or kids seem to think I have the inside scoop on the weather. Almost daily one of them asks, “What’s the weather today?” and “How hot is it going to be?” Maybe it’s because they catch me listening to the forecast about twice a day, and more often when a big storm is predicted. I just like to be prepared for whatever comes.
Although I dread getting caught in bad weather, that’s exactly what happened last week. Driving home, a curtain of wind and rain slammed across the windshield. I don’t usually pull over during storms but the blinding rain obscured everything. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t pull over. The curvy road offered no shoulder for the faint – hearted. Fortunately only small branches littered the street and nothing fell into my path. After the storm, numerous split tree trunks testified to the storm’s strength.
A tornado‘s power is amazing, and one videographer managed to capture beauty amidst chaos. Take a look: 

Despite a tornado’s massive size and destructive power, it can also create a majestic and tranquil scene. When you find yourself caught up in life’s storms, how do you reclaim peace? 

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Tiny Tree and a Giant Zucchini

In an earlier post (July 13, Whoosh!…), we discussed how summer is nearly over. Well, I looked out my window and, lo and behold—it is autumn! OK, not really. We have a tiny tree in our yard that’s been putting up a good fight for years. Now, after multiple heat waves, the tree’s brown leaves seem to scream for tender loving care.  Unfortunately, I have a theory (yes, another one). Here it is: water the flowers, the trees are on their own (sorry arborists).  Some of our trees, including the little sick one, would require too much e-x-e-r-c-i-s-e to care for them. Remember from the July 22 post (The Other Boomerang Effect) how tree-watering would NOT fit into my current work-out schedule? I’m not fond of cumbersome hoses and sloshing water buckets.
Shortly after I noticed our suffering tree, someone gave us a massive zucchini. This veggie measured fourteen inches long and three and a half inches in diameter. A gardener put love and care into cultivating that plant. I learned that a zucchini isn’t difficult to grow. Give them a little attention—water, sun and fertilizer and—you’ll have a huge, healthy vegetable.
Our tiny tree and the giant zucchini are great metaphors for our various relationships. Some flourish when we nurture them and others—when we neglect them—not so much.  Here’s great advice from Auntie Artichoke’s video.                   

Too bad she didn’t give the five things necessary to nourish our relationships. We can create our own list. Based on your life experience, what’s your most important relationship and how do you nourish it?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Other Boomerang Effect

Our scattered summer schedule dampens my work-out schedule. During winter, spring and fall, I visit the gym on a somewhat regular basis—at least twice a month (yes, monthly).  But not in the summertime, that’s when my work-out schedule consists of running up and down the stairs with laundry. Actually that doesn’t sound like a bad work-out, and frankly, it’s better than nothing.
Another thing that gets me through many non-existent gym days is the exercise l had in high school. Oh yes, that old physical exertion that built up my cardiovascular system then is saving me now. When my husband leaves for the gym, I explain that I’m still living off the benefits gained from track practice decades ago.  By the way, feel free to borrow this excuse, I’m sure there’s logic in there somewhere.
I might expand my exercise regimen, just in case my theory isn’t true. I could build up slowly with something like a boomerang. It’s a great invention. Stand still, throw it and the amazing thing comes right back to you. Does it get any better than that?  Apparently, it started out as a weapon in ancient civilizations and now it’s become a sport. Take a look at someone who takes boomeranging to another level:

Well, maybe I underestimated the complexities of handling a boomerang…
 Actually the idea of sending something out and having it return extends deep into our culture. We’ve heard the saying, “what goes around, comes around” which implies that our good behaviors will come back to benefit us and our bad behaviors will come back to harm us.  What’s the basis for this concept? Does it ring true in your life?          

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Whoosh! Going, Going, Almost Gone

Whoosh! Did you hear that noise?  That’s the sound of summer flying by. I didn’t feel prepared for summer to begin and now it feels like it’s almost gone. At an office supply store, I saw that they had already set up for the annual back-to-school shopping. When a back-to-school commercial came on TV, my kids groaned. However, I spoke to one little girl who admitted that she was ready to return to school. Fancy that!   
Like it or not, September is just down the road. Autumn is fast approaching with its crunchy, colored leaves and shortened daylight hours. I like the season so I’m not complaining. The weather is nearly perfect—not too hot and not too cold, no perspiring and no shoveling.  Remember this?

Hmm, flip flops in a snow storm. Now there’s someone holding onto summer! Be glad we’re not facing snow storms yet. In fact, I’m sure you still have items to check off on your Things To Do summer list. I’m looking at my calendar, but I don’t see Italy fitting in this year.  If I had a bucket list, that trip would be on it.
What about you? What would you recommend everyone put on their bucket list, and is it something you’ve already done or something you anticipate doing one day?     


Friday, July 8, 2011

Believe It or Not

Psst, come closer!  If someone asked you to believe that a creature measuring 20 feet tall, as long a bus, with teeth 5 inches long, once prowled the earth, would you? This description of a T-Rex sounds like a figure from a nightmare.  Just between you and me, I wouldn’t believe in dinosaurs, except that inside our museums bones stacked upon bones prove that such creatures existed, and so, I have to give in to reason.
We watched several episodes of “Finding Bigfoot,” and now when we drive near a wooded area my kids say, “I think there’s a Squatch in these woods.” The show usually provides several types of evidence for the existence of Sasquatch or Bigfoot. For example, they show casts of footprints, recorded sounds of howling and tree-knocking, and those often-debated videos of a huge, hairy beings caught running through the woods. The show’s investigators constantly evaluate eye-witness stories to decide who’s playing a hoax and who actually has a credible encounter with something in the woods. Watch as this video transports you into the woods for a Bigfoot hunt.

Are they gathering actual proof—who knows? Once thing we do know: Bigfoot will remain a legend until scientists have a real specimen to study. Similarly, when we state our beliefs, someone somewhere will ask for our evidence.  So, tell us what you believe in and what’s your supporting evidence?       

Friday, July 1, 2011

Making Ripples or Going with the Flow?

Mob psychology refers to the tendency for an individual, when part of a large group, to adopt the group’s behavior, even if that behavior goes against the individual’s normal beliefs or morals.  You’ve seen news footage where sports enthusiasts rejoice about a huge win, fan out into the streets to celebrate, and then someone decides to break store windows. Suddenly, law-abiding citizens join the law-breakers to create mass destruction.
The word “mob” reminds me of movies that depict unsavory characters engaging in criminal activity but, add the word “flash” and you have a totally different type of entertainment. I enjoy watching videos of good flash mobs, and fortunately, the Internet is full of their antics.  Their public pranks brighten a ho- hum day, and the bystanders’ responses are priceless, especially when they join in and have as much fun as the mob. You may find yourself singing along to this video:   

Some flash mobs work for weeks or months to synchronize their dance steps. If you’re part of a flash mob, you do what the group does. In daily life, copying a crowd’s behavior can be fun or it can be illegal. In general, are you usually making ripples (and waves) or going with the flow? Why?       

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Unplugged and Powerless

Driving down Main St. and seeing rows of closed businesses, non-working traffic lights, and long lines of cars inching through town made me feel like a visitor in an abandoned town.   
A huge, powerful storm and the lightening that accompanied it left part of Lansdale unplugged and powerless. No phones, no lights, no air conditioning, no computers—and for business owners—no sales.  Buildings, however, remained intact and after a good long wait, power was restored. After this brief, inconvenient outage, merchants could anticipate sales on the following day.  
Compare our situation to victims in the Heartlands and Southern states where monster storms left scores of towns with almost nothing. The news showed pictures of commercial buildings flattened and scattered, and residents facing ruined businesses and livelihoods. Over the last several weeks, the impact of tornados in states like Missouri gives unplugged and powerless a whole new meaning.  Check out a video that captures the devastation.

It’s difficult to imagine how we would respond if our homes and jobs disappeared overnight. We experienced a tiny bit of what a devastating storm can do. Thank goodness it wasn’t worse. How did you fare in this last storm and what is your general attitude in the face of adversity? Be honest. Are you generally thankful or unthankful in dark and trying times—but more importantly—why?   

Friday, June 17, 2011

Best Father’s Day Gift Idea Ever—Maybe

It’s affordable, it’s healthy and if you know a father who wants to stay physically fit, then it’s the perfect gift. Perhaps the dad on your list already has one, but if not, this may be the best Father’s Day gift idea ever—maybe.  I’m referring to the exercise balls that measures about two feet in diameter, like the ones you find in the gym.
In April, we bought one for each kid and I’m amazed at how often they sit, lie and play on it while watching T.V. Without any effort, they’re improving their balance and strengthening the much-touted core. Fitness aficionados know that the core refers to the trunk, specifically the stomach and back muscles, but the ball will help tone legs and, given the appropriate exercises, arms as well.
Imagine the special dad in your life—a hubby, a son, an uncle or a brother—using the exercise ball while watching a game. That’s at least two to three hours of unintentional exercise. When he invites friends over, well, let the competition begin! The ball adds another dimension to the visit when guests try to out balance, out exercise, and out trick one another. If you think things could get out of control, hide your breakables now.  Here’s a video that defines “out of control.”

If the dad in your life begins to use the ball like that, don’t blame me. 
You’ll also love this gift because you can borrow it to improve your own balance which, experts say, is crucial for overall well-being. So, how well are you maintaining a good life balance? What are your strategies for juggling life’s most important balls (emotional, spiritual, health, family, leisure and career)?  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why Walk When You Can Soar?

Winding down a side road the other day, I encountered the dreaded goose parade.  The gaggle of geese meandered across the street as if we had all day to watch and wait for them to strut by. As cars lined the road both directions, the geese took their time, ignoring our impatience. You’ve seen them. They waddle along one direction and just when you think you can pass, one of them pauses and retraces his steps, causing the relatives to follow. And that’s when my blood pressures rises.
We sat for about twenty seconds before a driver from behind broke formation, blared the horn and zoomed toward the geese. If you know anything about these webbed-footed creatures, then you can imagine what happened next—nothing!  I think one of the geese strutted on, raised a wing, rolled her eyes and quacked, “No he did-n’t!”
Why do geese bother to walk at all? After a bit of research, I learned that walking exerts less energy than flying, geese are grazing creatures, and if they’re molting they can’t fly.  Sounds like good reasons to walk.
This situation reminds me of people. Sometimes we forget that we need to walk before we can soar. Preparation comes first. Once we complete the appropriate training, studying and hard work, when we’re prepared, we can accomplish what we’re called to do. I’m sure you have goals. Here’s video to inspire you to achieve them.

How would you complete the following sentence: I’ll feel like I’m soaring after I ______________.      


Friday, June 3, 2011

And Then We Will Change

It’s that time of the year again—and so bittersweet—as graduates of all levels move on to the next phase of life. I’m certain that someone you know is graduating from somewhere. Count the number of times you’ll say, “Seems like just yesterday….” I get nostalgic thinking about these changes. That's when I like to gaze at old pictures of the graduate pretending to be a teacher, a ballerina, a superhero or a famous wrestler.  
Here’s a song that seems to echo the sentiments of this time of the year. Close your eyes and listen for a bit.

Ms. Vaughn has quite a voice.  You’ll hum that tune for at least a week.
Although my children won’t graduate for some time, one of them decided to do a thorough bedroom cleaning, actually it resembled a purging. We ended up giving away an art set, markers, books and games, and the whole time I kept asking, “Are you sure you don’t want that?” and “You’re not using these anymore?” Feeling a little sad by the end of the process, I felt like shouting, “Don’t grow up so fast!”
While I often wish that all of us aged more slowly, from a broader perspective, I’m actually a proponent of change. I’m a been-there-done-that-so-what’s-next kind of person. Change can be great—once we get used to it. In spite of my tiny tendency to complain about new formats, instructions and procedures, (and by the way, why did the U.S. mint change the coin designs?), I try to embrace opportunities to venture into new territory. What about you?
Surprising things can happen from a few minor changes. What personal changes will you make in your life this year?