Do You Like To Vacuum ? Applauding Manual Labor

Do You Like To Vacuum ? Applauding Manual Labor

There seems a human instinct to want to do physical work.

Do you like to vacuum? Weed in a garden? Plant vegetables? Wash your car? Maybe you enjoy grilling out when the weather is good or taking on a small chore like painting the porch floor or sanding a piece of furniture out in the yard. I’ve done all of these things and more, because I enjoy some physical labor. There are benefits for sure. Physical labor can: burn calories; increase pride of accomplishment; satisfy the urge to be creative.

The Decline of Manual Labor Jobs

Victor David Hanson writes about our changing society in his article AS PHYSICAL JOBS DECLINE, SOMETHING IS LOST. He asks if the reader thinks that the decline of physical jobs in our new culture is to our advantage. “…life superficially appears to get better. Cheap cellphones, video games, the Internet, social media and labor-saving appliances all make things easier and suggest that even more and better benefits are on the horizon.”

But is this a good thing? Hanson talked to academics, lawyers and CEOs, to find that most of them made sure that they biked or ran or lifted weights. So if obesity rates are higher in the class of people doing manual labor, why is this. One possible answer I found: these men and women started out being active and their diet consisted of many calories to support that activity. But as they aged and their metabolism slowed, their eating habits did not change. And possibly they rose up in their jobs and were foremen, more than laborers. Thus age meant packing on the pounds and not burning the calories. Of course not all are overweight. Many are quite fit due to their active work and healthy eating.

But Hanson And I Have A Question For You

What did you do in your past life that you would love to brag about? Or what did you watch or experience that really got your juices going? Hanson claims that the greater percentage of answers would include physical work–the expending of exhausting energy. Like climbing a mountain, conquering a sport for the first time, building something–and to that effect watching someone else expend that physical power. Hanson writes: THERE SEEMS A HUMAN INSTINCT TO WANT TO DO PHYSICAL WORK.

Does TV Have the Answer?

Think about how content on television has changed. While we go to the pantry to get more chips or some caloric snack, we might watch reality TV where people do energy expending stuff. Hanson writes: “In a society that supposedly despises menial jobs, the television ratings..suggest that lots of Americans enjoy watching people of action who work with their hands.”

WHY IS THIS? Because despite our advances, physical labor is the platform, the basis for our success. Men and women have to build cars, pump oil. No app can do that. Hanson writes: “The high-tech, post-modern society still depends on low-tech, pre-modern labor.” That could be you working to prepare a meal for your family, or the mechanic trying to discover why the computer on your car is reading an error. Someone has to get down and dirty to make things happen.

Those I Depended On

When my husband worked in his white collar job, I tended the household. There were many physical things that I could do to keep our home running smoothly. Some of them I mentioned above. But when the basement began to seep water, when termites were found behind a wall, when the roof leaked–I needed the American worker. Without them, house and home would crumble around us. Though to be fair, right this moment my husband is repairing a drawer in our kitchen, one with an odd working angle, not a fun project. He’s found the necessary part and powered up the drill. I will allow a brag or more when he gets the job done.

More of Us Need to Do Physical Stuff

There are many upsides to taking up a chore. As Hanson writes doing what my husband is doing saves money and increases independence. It also helps we humans identity and find common ground with men and women who work.

Philosophical Benefits of Manual Labor

Hanson also mentions something we might forget when shut up in our air conditioned houses and cars, or eager to always dine at a restaurant where we don’t see the slime of meat or the detritus of vegetables. That kind of life hides reality. Some things that we encounter in day to day living must remind us of the struggles of human kind. Maybe they are not our immediate struggles, but someone’s. Hanson writes: “Working outdoors, often alone, with one’s hands, encourages a tragic acceptance of nature and its limitations.” He goes on to say that people who work 20 hours or more in minimum wage jobs know reality more than he did teaching in college.

Final Thought 

Hanson ends his piece by quoting Euripides, the ancient Athenian playwright: “The hopes of countless men are infinite in number. Some make men rich; some come to nothing. So I consider that man (or woman) blessed who lives a happy existence day by day.”

Thanks for reading. I’m going to do some chores now.

PS The Bureau of Labor Statistics States: Among workers age 25 and over, those with an advanced degree were more likely to work at home than were persons with lower levels of educational attainment—43 percent of those with an advanced degree performed some work at home on days worked, compared with 12 percent of those with a high school diploma. (But work at home means sitting at a computer, not building a highway or putting out fires.)

Photo Credit: The New York Times. Take a Labor Day Tour of Blue Color Art.

 

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From My Inbox To Yours

From My Inbox To Yours

Dear Readers,    Life asks a lot of us. Sometimes getting another email that reads: BOOMER HIGHWAY has a new post, it’s like (cuss word), again!? Too busy, done with that. I understand. Life can get crazy: emails, phone calls, your phone reminding you of appointments. I remember the days of phone calls when the phone was attached to a wall. You’d answer. Some lasted a minute or two, some much longer. And if you had a schedule to follow, you might try to hook the phone under your chin and finish something as you talked, something that was in the space where the cord would stretch. Or you might just sit and give up your schedule, relax with the call. Now with cell phones, it ‘s just different. It’s more constant and connections more various and numerous. So the desire to shut off the phone or stay away from email, at least for some periods of time,  makes a lot of sense.

FINDING CONTROL

The word that comes to mind is control. I get to say. I get to decide. The phone, my computer do not control me, though there are studies that show when your phone dings you are most often unable to resist going to it. We have become Pavlov’s Dog. You can read more about that study here.

That’s why it’s a good thing to take breaks from your phone during the day, allow yourself to circle back to a simpler time. I don’t use my phone when:

  • I work in the garden. Heat is not good for the phone in the first place; gardening allows me to listen, but not to someone talking, but to the birds, the wind in the trees, or infrequently eavesdrop on my neighbors. Once in a while I do have earphones, but that’s to listen to music.
  • I take a 2.5 mile walk. If something untoward happens, my husband has his, but he gets calls. I don’t want to get calls. Again walking is for walking and during part of the time we talk.
  • After six o’clock pm. It’s near me, but I am not picking it up all the time. I’m basically ignoring it: during dinner, watching the news, and later when I am reading or enjoying a film with my husband. My family comes first, so of course if one of them calls, I answer. But it is not my prime concern.

DISCONNECTING

I actually enjoy all these times when I am disconnected. I know some of you meditate and that’s a profound way to calm your mind and find yourself at the edge of a sea or high on a mountaintop, not embroiled constantly with the minute to minute sorrows and anxieties of modern living.

It will be fascinating in the years to come, when scientists know more about computer and cell phone use and how it is affecting us. I know my posts lately have all been on heavy topics (minus Mother’s Day.) And I apologize.

WHAT I WRITE ABOUT

I wrote those posts as my way of being heard at a time when we all need to speak out, share our views, help one another. Others of you are in the trenches: volunteering for the homeless, fighting anti-immigration tactics, teaching, working in medicine or simply listening to someone who needs to talk, to cry, to say WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME–please help!!

WE ARE PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL BEINGS

Moving to the spiritual side of our lives at these times (meditation, prayer) takes us on a journey free of cell phones, television, blatant opinion. We can construct our own thinking and find in our own depths HOW TO COPE.

And speaking of coping, no matter what is happening in the wide world or in the immediate circle that I live in, I lean on: my husband, my children, my brothers and sisters-in-law, my friends. And all of you.

I LOVE CONNECTION

No man or woman is an island. So though I try to space out my cell phone, computer, internet activity during any given day–I love connecting with all of you.

When we moved to Southern California, I left behind many people I love and though living here is good, I have not been able to replace them, to replace you. So thanks My Dear Readers. The connections I have made through My Readers, each of you, through two online groups, Midlife Boulevard and Women’s Fiction Writers Association, have filled up my days and my heart.

Soon, I will be back in my hometown–CHICAGO. I will be seeing my son and his dear girlfriend, oodles of family, staying with old and dear friends, eating pizza and attending a writer’s conference. So your inbox will be empty for a few weeks. Wow–did I hear some heavy sighs of relief?? Even some cheering?

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the fathers in your lives. I will always miss mine. And HAPPY SUMMER to all. I hope you have some plans that allow you to drop off, chill out and reach out. The clasp of a loving hand warms the heart, often becomes a full-on hug. SO MUCH BETTER THAN A CELL PHONE.

PHOTO: thanks to pexels.com

America’s Backyard, Part 2

America's Backyard, Part 2

This is Sentinel Dome Rock. I climbed it!

Often writers, myself included, go on and on about things they believe in, but don’t take a step further to support that belief. This week I am admiring of a reporter, Ben Jacobs, who had the tenacity to go after a question and when the person he was questioning attacked him instead of answering his question, Ben continued to report the event, “You broke my glasses etc.etc” (I’m sure you have all read about or seen this event.)

“WHY I BLOG…”

There is much in our world today to support and believe in. There is much in our country today to fight for. I try to enlarge upon issues that I feel need to be constantly in view:

1.healthcare for our citizens; 2. public education for our children, not charter schools; 3. the right of free speech and a good life for US citizens;  4. support for education through National Endowment for the Arts or NEA; 5. belief in global warming and the protection of our planet; 6. women’s rights, healthcare for women; 7. the rights of all citizens, including those new to our country.

I am grateful to all of your who read my posts and often comment. THANK YOU!!!

“SUPPORTING WHAT I BELIEVE IN” 

One of my most recent posts and possibly a favorite, was this one: Saving Our Country’s Backyard. I couldn’t bear the thought that the new administration was intent on rescinding the protection of acres of American land that you and I use for adventure, travel, education, recreation, nature exploring and in some cases even hunting.

Just thinking about Glacier National Park being purchased by some cooperation and renamed THE STAPLES PARK or something, made me nauseous. To underline how  important our national park system is and WHAT A GIFT IT IS, my husband and family decided to take a trip. AND WE DID.

We live in Southern California. So what is in our backyard? Yosemite National Park. It’s a six hour drive on well paved roads and so we packed up two cars and headed out. What did we experience?

  • crashing waterfalls off granite cliffs from snowmelt;
  • vistas of rock formations;
  • open vivid green meadows filled with wild flowers of ever hue and deer, birds, rabbits, squirrels and other wildlife;
  • trees that tower over walkways, climb up cliffs and created dappled sunlight patterns everywhere you walk;
  • the roaring Merced River that flows through the park, tumbling over huge rocks and bringing cool air and fascinating water sounds as you hike.

This is health; this is freedom; this is wandering; this is hiking and camping and visiting and singing. This is America’s Backyard. AND WE MUST VISIT IT AND PRESERVE IT.

America's Backyard, Part 2

Warming on a friendly rock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“YOU CAN DO THIS TOO”

I don’t have the space on this post, to list all the national parks for you–indicating which one is only a drive from your state to another state or is actually within your state. But there is a list for you to study and pursue and you can access it here !!

CAR TRIP THIS SUMMER? ENJOY.

All photos, my personal photographer, JOHN HAVEY, thanks!

America's Backyard, Part 2

Meadows to explore.

America's Backyard, Part 2

America, it’s breath-taking. God bless it.

Making America Sick Again? But It’s National Nurses Week!

Making America Sick Again? But It's National Nurses Week!

MASA: Making America Sick Again or as one Congressman from Idaho argued: “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” Well, as a good RN would, let me EXAMINE THAT.

CAN A STORY HAVE A HAPPY ENDING? SOMETIMES… 

Once upon a time there was a kind leader who examined the number of people in his country who were sick with chronic illnesses or whose children had birth defects or whose parents could no longer work and pay the bills because of health concerns. And he worked and read, consulted and studied and called in the experts to fix the problem. And with their help, he did. Healthcare became a thing. People who could never afford to see a doctor on a regular basis were now able to. It was amazing. It was called the Affordable Care Act. 

Because consider: a friend of mine who does landscape work for a living had what is termed catastrophic insurance. It meant that before his policy paid anything on a claim, he had to pay 10,000 dollars out of pocket.

Another kind of insurance that is not user friendly involved limited networks. If you happened to be traveling and became ill or were injured, there was no guarantee you would be near a hospital or med center that accepted your insurance. Other types of health insurance products that did not qualify as major medical health insurance include: Short-Term Health Insurance and Gap Insurance (Accident, Critical Illness, Telemedicine, etc).

My friend who is a landscaper was thrilled when he could get The ACA, the Affordable Care ACT. Bye, bye catastrophic insurance.

NOW THE UPDATE ON THAT AMAZING STORY

But then a group of mostly men looked around and decided to change things. They did not take their time, they threw something together and then voted YES on it. They were all so happy to be taking the ACA away from my landscape worker friend and millions of others.

And when some of the people who also loved the ACA argued, ONE MAN IN PARTICULAR stood up and said: NO ONE DIES BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE HEALTHCARE. No one dies. No one dies. (This is the guy I mentioned above, the one from Idaho. But I won’t hold that against Idaho. They’ll get rid of him. As they say, he’s toast.) Sorry, as a nurse I should not sound mean. But I am angry.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

I don’t know what kind of life this Idaho guy lives or who he knows and how his heart beats when he’s by himself in the dark. But hasn’t every one of us at some time in our lives said: LIFE IS GOOD IF YOU HAVE YOUR HEALTH.

Here are some voices from friends and family:

  • I had breast cancer and I had to have surgery and chemotherapy and radiation and now I get up each day and life is good because I have my health.
  • My child was born with a heart defect and every moment of my life from his birth on was concerned with the surgeries, all the testing, how the defect would hurt his normal growth. Now all the lives in my family are good because he is doing so well.
  • My husband has a chronic form of leukemia and he has fought this battle for years and now with amazing medical research he is taking a new medication and his blood work is great, he feels good. Wow. Life is good when you have your health.

We all have a story to add to these three. Right?? I’m not being a Twinkle Fairy here. You can live a clean, perfect life where you eat well, exercise, get a lot of sleep, practice safe sex, give to charity–I mean illness, cancer, accidents, birth defects–this is vicarious stuff. You do not call it upon yourself.

DON’T BUY THE GUILT TRIP FROM OUR LAWMAKERS  

But there is this cynical current of thought running under that statement: Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care. No One Dies : because it’s your fault!

Just look at me, I’m healthy and it’s because I made that happen. Oh yes, some congressmen would like to slap that on each American citizen. YOU ARE TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE for your health. So don’t ask us to help you. Healthcare is not a right. It’s your fault if you get sick .

Want to talk turkey about that?

  • water quality (government) Think Flint, Michigan.
  • air quality (government)  Think the Environmental Protection Act and how that is being harmed.
  • access to healthy fresh fruits and vegetables (income inequality works against this. How about raising the minimum wage??)
  • access to safe neighborhoods (racism affects this; how about getting rid of the NRA or at least put in some laws that control the sale of guns. My God mentally ill people can buy a gun now. ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME???))
  • ability to know what foods to eat, how to exercise — (poverty works against this)

So go ahead and rebuke my ideas. Comment. I’m waiting.

  • If you have your health you can go to school, get an education. (well, Betsy would disagree, but so far we still have public schools.)
  • If you have your health your chances of getting work and getting a paycheck are greatly improved.
  • If you have your health you can feed yourself and hopefully your family. If you have one.
  • People without good health often do not have a companion and they do not reproduce. They are lonely and depressed. GOOD HEALTH IS LIFE-GIVING.
  • AND THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT.

If you don’t have good health, your entire life is affected. There might be twenty or more things YOU have to be concerned about before you can get a job. Before you can even get out the door to that job. Before people will hire you.

Ask someone who is handicapped. Has a chronic illness. Has hearing loss or is blind, lost a limb, was born with a birth defect.

NO ONE DIES BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE HEALTHCARE. Are you (lots of swear words here) kidding me? PEOPLE DIE EVERY DAY because they did not get treatment for cancer or a chronic disease.

NO ONE DIES BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE HEALTHCARE. WRONG!!! So Keep calm but then get angry. Call your Congressman or Congresswoman, your State Senators. Or write to them. Maybe the White House? Hmm. Not sure they know where the mailbox is. But keep calm and resist. Your health matters and the health of those you love.

 

Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

When I was right smack in the middle of raising my daughters, five o’clock pm could be an awesome and a crazy time. Awesome, because my mother and I were always in conversation at that time, talking about her day and my day. Crazy because my daughters were doing their homework and they interrupted us. Which on the face of it was fine. My mother would wait, loved them like crazy. But often the topic SHE was relating to me was her passion–the news. What was happening: children starving in Africa, Inda. Or something going down in D.C.

Now I’m near to being in my mother’s place–drawn into the issues, the tension, the worry of what is going on in our country and in the world. But when I am with my children, I see the importance of pulling away from those topics and immersing myself in what concerns them: child-rearing and their jobs. Of course often they cross over–one affects the other. Believe me, I see the importance of both and wrote this in my work-in-progress novel: (Ella is the mother of a child who has gone missing)

It was not unlike when Ella had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother Cecile, something she had done often. Cecile ripped apart the changing mores of society. But Ella defended change, because the result was Ella’s society, Ella’s culture. She lived in it and dealt with it and so she had defended it. She couldn’t condemn what was a part of her, what she had embraced and brought her child into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

THOSE WHO POWER UP SOCIETY OFTEN MUST APPROVE OF IT. And then again, not always.

Let’s consider conversation versus confrontation. I like to think that when my mother and I spoke about our lives it was a conversation. And In fact right now–governments are forgetting conversation. They need to be reminded that diplomacy is all about airing one’s opinions but not in a bullying fashion. It’s not confrontation so that you make THE OTHER want to scream back at you–or drop a bomb on your country. It’s conversation, a sharing. The very word comes from Middle English and means living among, familiarity, intimacy; 

Krista Tippett is the host of a radio program ON BEING. She interviews movers, shakers, thinkers and her podcast has reached a global audience of 1.5 million listeners a month. On Being was listed in the iTunes top ten podcasts of 2014. Tippett was recently interviewed in TIME MAGAZINE.

TIME: (when discussing conversation versus confrontation) Are there limits to listening?

Krista: Listening is not just about being quiet while the other person talks, it is about being present and willing to be surprised and curious. That is muscle memory we have to build up.

TIME: What are you mulling over to explore next in your podcast?

Krista: This matter of what a conversation is, as opposed to a debate or confrontation. We don’t even know right now how to get the people we disagree with in the room with us, unless you set up a formal debate, and it is my ideas against your ideas. Public life is so unsettled, it creates this opening in which we can start to weave whatever common life is going to look like in the 21st century. Can we figure out what questions we have in common if we don’t have answers, and let those be the tools with which we think about how we create the world we want our children to inhabit?

Just think about that. If we continue to fight one another, we are leaving more chaos and confusion for the next generation. We need to listen to the millennials and those behind them. We need to balance their bright and fervent ideas with the history that we might carry with us–whatever age we are.

SO BACK TO MY MOTHER: I needed to understand (and I think I did) the passion she had for helping others as she aged, because she wanted to leave this world a better place. And she in turn had to understand THE CHANGES that I had already embraced with the very act of bringing children to live in this culture.

It’s an ongoing process–it’s a give and take. Conversation must continue. That intimacy. When Krista Tippett interviewed Richard Rohr, one of my favorite thinkers, he said something related to where my mother was and where I am right now:

To be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. Because what you’ve learned, especially by my age, is that all of it passes away. The things that you’re so impassioned about when you’re 22 or 42 don’t even mean anything anymore, and yet, you got so angry about it or so invested in it. So, this word “contemplation,” it’s a different form of consciousness. It’s a different form of time.

“It’s a different form of time” or a different way of feeling time, of living it.

When TIME Magazine also asked Tippett what she was reading, she answered: WHEN THINGS FALL APART by Pema Chodron. I was not familiar with that book, but it definitely relates to the chasm in conversation that we are now experiencing in the U.S.

About Chodron’s Book: How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart—when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy. 

Tippett then comments: ...things are always falling apart. That would be a thing for everyone in this country to remember–that actually the ground was never all that stable under our feet. Understanding is the nature of waking up…Tippett then says: 

In the 24/7 news environment, people are bombarded with the same story of what is catastrophic and corrupt and failing 25 times before lunch. They start to internalize that not as news but as the norm…(We must work against that.)

There are actually so many beautiful generative things happening in the world, and to end this discussion, I would like to mention that this is NATIONAL POETRY month. Maybe each of us could select a book of poetry and read at least one poem a day. Let me know what book you chose and if that helps THE CONVERSATION. Here is mine:

From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver: Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches …

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch? Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?

Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left–fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from where you are, to look for your soul?

Art: CONVERSATION OF A FRIDAY: Gallery 13 North in Lambertville recently signed international artist, Lourdes Ral from Barcelona, Spain.

Parenthood and Sesame Street

Parenthood and Sesame Street

Parenthood and Sesame Street

When I was raising my three children ( we have two daughters and a son), we were a nuclear family, not an extended family–no aunt or uncle or grandparent lived with us. For the time period we were pretty typical–I stayed home with the children and my husband commuted to his work in Chicago five days a week. I loved parenting, I thrived on it. That’s why as the girls got older, I convinced my husband to have another child and our son was born when I was in my forties. I believe having children keeps you young–but today I simply want to talk about and thank Sesame Street.

If I needed an extended hand of some sort to help me while raising my children–take a shower, finish a chore or have a few moments to myself–it was Sesame Street, offered by The Children’s Television Network, broadcast in those days on PBS Channel Eleven in Chicago. For years and even up to the present, all of my children can quote Ernie and Bert, Elmo and The Count or remember various film clips that taught them things–one of their favorite being “there goes another lobster trap.” Don’t ask me why–it was probably the accent of the speaker, but that’s what Sesame Street was–this world that came into our home and became a familiar friend, teaching and entertaining–often better than some babysitters.

Yes, Sesame Street taught ABCs and numbers, but it also taught how to write a story with a beginning middle and end, helped children travel to places they might never see–in our case from the plains of the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean (lobster traps), mountains, the Arctic and more. The world came into our family room in the form of music of different cultures and dance forms (Savion Glover tapped away on Sesame Street while rhyming.My son was enthralled.

As a bonus, Sesame Street consistently created humor for any parent or guardian watching. There were jokes and puns that children might not get right away, but over the years when they themselves were parenting–that aha moment would come, making the experience joyful all over again. (Why are the two pals called Ernie and Bert? Maybe because of the two pals in the famous film It’s A Wonderful Life!)

Recently a documentary about Sesame Street was released: Muppet Guy Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched. It provides an intimate view of Jim Henson, the brains and genius behind the Muppets. Though it wasn’t his goal, Henson got into puppeteering on a local television show while in college. Enamored of the skill, he finished college, studying art and theater design and then producing Sam and Friends (a puppet show) for six years. Assisting him was a fellow student named Jane Nebel, whom he married in 1959.

For thousands of years people have created various types of puppets–but Henson’s was the new kid on the block. At that time, most hand puppets had solid heads (think Kukla and Ollie) but Kermit’s face was made to be malleable so he could move his mouth in synchronization with his speech. He could also draw the viewer in because his arms were attached to rods that moved more like those of a marionette. Henson once said that in order for a puppet to work on television, it had to have “life and sensitivity.” Thus was born the Muppets.

Henson made period appearances with these puppets on the Today Show, until he was invited to work with creator Joan Ganz Cooney on Sesame Street. He hesitated, not certain that he wanted to become a children’s entertainer. But Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, Grover and all the other Sesame Street puppets became the core of the show. Children LOVED them. I loved them.

In the documentary, Frank Oz talks about Henson’s genius–and reminds us not to call them children’s shows. “I’m going to ask you a question, what is a children’s film versus an adult’s film? I maintain that kids can handle more than people think. I don’t know how to perform for kids. In my opinion what happens when one performs for kids is one talks down to kids. And kids, anybody, they want to reach up. So we just do what we as adults think is fun and it will come through!”

After Henson joined Sesame Street, few would disagree that it was primarily Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Grover and the rest who made Sesame Street so captivating. Joan Ganz Cooney once remarked that the group involved had a collective genius but that Henson was the individual genius. “He was our era’s Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, W.C. Fields and Marx Brothers, and indeed he drew from all of them to create a new art form that influenced popular culture around the world.”

Fran Brill, a puppeteer in the documentary, talked about the joys of working with a Muppet. “…it’s easier in a way to become a completely different character when you have a puppet on your arm. I would never get cast in a lot of things, as a three-year-old princess or a lot of the characters we came up with. Which was the fun of it. You’re more flexible as a puppeteer, but I still think a lot of the best puppeteers are good actors.”

The premiere of the film and the interviews with Oz, Brill and others took place a few days before the proposed federal budget was announced that would slash funding to the arts and public broadcasting. I am sure Jim Henson would be devastated. The core values that Sesame Street taught my children and millions of others are necessary for creating good citizens of our country–kindness, empathy and understanding. Try teaching or controlling ten, twenty, hundreds, thousands of human beings who don’t have ANY or few of those qualities. CHAOS. And in our world today when many families must have both parents work, Sesame Street can be that extension, that helper for growing children.

Jim Henson’s death at an early age was a great loss for all children and for adults as well. A TIME article about his life states: Henson was a kind, infinitely patient man. Those who worked for him say he literally never raised his voice. Frank Oz, the puppeteer behind Bert, Miss Piggy and many others, was Henson’s partner for 27 years. “Jim was not perfect, but I’ll tell you something–he was as close to how you’re supposed to behave toward other people as anyone I’ve ever known.” In 1990, at age 53, Henson died very suddenly after contracting an aggressive form of pneumonia.

Jim Henson and all the Muppets and their puppeteers gave my family hours of laughter, education and just profound good feelings. Children soak up what they are exposed to–the quality and gifts of Sesame Street have helped form good friends, students, lovers and parents. The lessons taught on Sesame Street were potent and unforgettable. Quoting TIME again: Henson may influence the next century as much as this one, as his viewers grow up carrying his vision.

Thanks to TIME MAGAZINE, Jim Henson: The TV Creator

Photo Credits: Muppet Wiki, Good Housekeeping

Michelle Obama with Elmo and can anyone help me with the name of the other Muppet??

Parenthood and Sesame Street

Books That Pave the Way for Life’s Journey

Books That Pave the Way for Life's Journey

Books can take us on many journeys and I love to get lost in fiction. But ever so often a book can inform, change an attitude, a choice, maybe even a life. Having the ideas of thinkers and researchers at our side when we have a question, a problem or a new idea can make the difference between informed choice and blowing in the wind. The net makes it even easier, as you can type in a term: education, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel, science, politics–and voila, your choices are numerous. I’ve picked a few today to get your thinking about nonfiction. Some of these choices have been in print for years. Some are hot off the press. We all want to embrace the next decades with knowledge and understanding–so happy searching and reading.

I highly recommend Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles that relates, through his personal experience, how death is truly part of life and acceptance of a loved one’s death makes a passage easier on the one leaving and the one staying. When he was asked to recommend a list of self-help books, he responded: “Every book ever written is a self-help book. What’s the Bible? What about Buddha? Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient was written by Norman Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review. The book relates how Cousins laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers and thus “jump-started the whole mind-body connection.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is the memoir of Victor Frankl MD PhD, who survived Auschwitz. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, states that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and then the pursuit of what we find meaningful..

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This is one I have not read, but it is definitely on my list. If you have read Atul Gawande and Anne Lamott, readers state you should read this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir that finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds. It is written by an idealistic young neurosurgeon as he attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? He died within two years of his diagnosis.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen, a Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira. In this memoir, Cohen relates his battle with MS, startling the reader with his grace and wisdom.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression. She is also the author of Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive illness and the Artistic Temperament.  

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion A personal favorite, this 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and then was faced with their only child lapsing into a coma. (Read Blue Nights for the end of that part of Didion’s story.)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I received this book for one of those “life-changing” birthdays. It’s amazing. The author shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world. You will better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics.

The Book of Joy authors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama Despite the hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—these two men are the most joyful people on the planet.

If you have suggestions, please mention them in your comments. Wishing you good health and good reading. We are all in this together.

Parts of this post appeared in 2011 in a different form.

Photo credit: janeaustenrunsmylife

Have Kids Lost the “Huck Finn” Gene?

Have Kids Lost the "Huck Finn" Gene?

Picture this: Jeannie and I have two forts: one is a pile of fallen tree logs in the corner of her backyard. The other is a lean-to-shed next to her parents’ garage. It has no window, but they let us paint it bright yellow with blue trim. There’s also a weedy rock garden (her mom has no time for gardening with seven children and more to come) and though if I were to transport myself to that rock garden today, it would be small–but to Jeannie and me in the lower grades, it was big–and in our imaginations the perfect place to push imaginary evil doers. Hot oil anyone? We might not yet have read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finnbut we were swimming in their gene pool as “adventure” and “creating our own worlds” flowed in our blood.

OUR PRESENT NEIGHBORHOOD? RIPE FOR FORTS

Now where I live in Southern California, my husband and I take frequent walks. We see open space between rows of houses that is lined with trees on either side and filled with piles of leaves and even inviting dead branches in every size you can imagine. But no forts, in a tree or on the ground.

If it rains, the dry creek behind our house fills up with water. The trails we can easily walk to take us up low hills where you can look out over your neighborhood, pick wild flowers and challenge each other to see who can make the rise first.

WHAT DO WE NOT SEE? WHAT DO WE NOT HEAR? Children. Their shouts, their bikes streaming by, their arms loaded with an old quilt or a cardboard box to add to some fort that is gradually taking shape in their minds or behind their houses. Do kids even know what a fort is anymore?

WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?

Where are the children and what are they doing? When the few children that live near us come out to throw a ball around or rollerblade, we are thrilled. We hear their voices on the evening breeze and are immediately taken back to our old neighborhood, where in summer the sweetest sounds were children’s voices: freeze tag, hide and seek, hopscotch, baseball in the street, tree climbing, bike riding and of course fort-building.

When we were raising our three children–how joyful. In the first suburban Chicago house there was a shed, and because it was filled with lawn equipment, the area BEHIND THE SHED became the fort for our two daughters, complete with dishes and bricks for a table. Our children knew how to make this work. The second house had a huge side yard with play equipment and my son was out there constantly, always joined by his friend who lived–you guessed it–across the fence.

Then in Iowa, we had a tree fort, built right around one of the huge oaks in our backyard. But once again the space behind the garage often attracted friends like Charlie, who could get to our garage roof from the higher ground back there. Why not? That’s what boys do!

BROKEN ARMS OR UNDREAMED DREAMS

So what keeps kids inside and away from the fun? Maybe weather. Okay. Global warming sucks, and one reason, if you lived in the Midwest this past winter, they didn’t even have enough snow to make outdoor play fun. My son would race out of the house during a good Iowa snowfall–because the street one block away provided a magnificent sledding hill. Yes, there were cars, but they were extremely careful going down that hill in a rollicking Iowa snow storm.

Fear. A younger parent reading this will think about broken arms and head trauma. Okay, I get that. So buy your kid a bike helmet and make him wear it. When I was a kid, my old friend Bing broke his arm falling off the railing of our back porch–the distance could not have been more than a 3 foot drop. But it was an accident, it was the angle of the fall. Why stay inside to prevent that. My son broke his arm sliding in a wading pool. I kid you not. Charlie climbed our roof–he was fine. I fell off a bike with a quick turn on the grass after coming down our steep hill–I was no young chicken but I was fine. You can’t stay inside because of what MIGHT happen.

I say give kids some guidelines and then let them go. They have to feel that life is an adventure. You cannot lock them up with a television or a computer, please.

SOME STATISTICS. 

Almost all (96%) of the 1,001 parents with children aged between four and 14 quizzed for the National Trust thought it was important their children had a connection with nature and thought playing outdoors was important for their development. The research found, on average, children were playing outside for just over four hours a week, compared to 8.2 hours a week when the adults questioned were children. To read more go here. 

I HAVE THE VELCRO STORY FOR YOU: I’M SURE YOU HAVE MORE

Tom Sawyer knew how to attract his friends, even if the attraction involved a little bit of work. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was so damn smart. He wrote: Tom had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. 

Let’s pledge to get our children and grandchildren to covet the outdoors, adventure, and creativity. Sure, some young people are making millions bent over their computers and creating apps. But there is still room for roaming that stimulates the brain in a different way. Take, velcro.

George de Mestral invented his first touch fastener when, in 1941, he went for a walk in the woods and wondered if the burrs that clung to his trousers — and dog — could be turned into something useful. See! What if de Mestral had stayed indoors that day. He patented it in 1955 and subsequently refined and developed its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s. He gave his invention the name Velcro, creating it from the French word velours or velvet and crochet or hook. The rest is history, as they say.

FORTS, SPORTS, BIKE ADVENTURES & MORE

Parents reading this might claim that there children get enough of the outdoors through sports. Yes and no Sports today are usually organized with adults there. Sports today are not the backyard lot when you created your own rules and learned how to WORK THINGS OUT with the kids down the block. That’s SO important. Children need to grow up slowly, yes, but as they do, day to day they learn skills that they will never lose. Jeannie and I had to negotiate when selecting the color of our fort or even deciding it would be in HER backyard. Getting out of the house and away from the eyes and ears of parents is part of growing up. STILL WORRIED? Well today, someone in the group that is roaming the hills or building that fort will have a cell phone, connection to Mom or Dad. So let them go out into the world. And don’t call or text them. Give them a deadline and hope that they wander into the world of imagination without an app or a screen to guide them.

Thanks to: DiviantArt

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Who is your other? On the extreme it is the man in the grainy photo in the newspaper–the man being pummeled by another another man, or dragged from a car. Or it’s a woman in a mug shot who is being charged for drug-dealing. This “other” is so easy to look away from. Because is there a connection between these two people and you or me? Remember I said extreme because the majority reading this post do not get involved in crime on the streets or get arrested. But regardless, there is a connection–these are faces of human beings. Their DNA may be different from ours, but we all go WAY BACK, we all have the same beginnings. Again, human beings. Can you open your heart to that concept? It can be really hard.

HELPING THE OTHER

I recently read an article about a man who everyday goes into the streets of LA (and this without belonging to any organization) and works with the homeless. He might spend hours with the one person he finds who is ill or dying. That day he does what he can to help that particular individual. He is answering the call to open his heart to humanity and he is doing it with the other–the extreme other–the total stranger.

My husband volunteers with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Service helping teens and the homeless find jobs. He does have an office where he can sit and meet with people. But when dealing with the homeless, he often deals with people who don’t keep to a schedule, who say they’ll return with a resume and don’t. It can also be frustrating with the youth who one day are all about getting a job and the next forget they even had an appointment to work on a resume, interview skills, an elevator speech. Still my husband keeps at it, opening his heart to the other, to people he has never met, knows nothing about and for some have been living on the street.

VARIETY IS TRULY THE SPICE OF LIVING 

James Baldwin, author of THE FIRE NEXT TIME and other works, wrote: Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. Baldwin makes a valid point. Our ability to turn away from others, to avoid the other, to look down on the other–that often begins in the home. But I posit that it can be changed around through living and realizing the human connection. Through education and being out in the world, we all can learn that fearing the other closes us off from the splendid variety of life, of people and their ideas, of music and culture, art and writing.

WHO IS THE OTHER? TO SOMEONE–IT COULD BE ME 

Yes, it could be. Because when I walk the streets of a busy city where no one truly knows me, I become THE OTHER to someone. Maybe I’m the other because I’m not the same age as the person looking at me or because I’m a female or because I’m white. But I surely know that if I suddenly became a human being in need–if I suddenly fell to the sidewalk with a heart attack or a stroke, I would hope that someone around me would not see me as THE OTHER and walk away, but would come to my aid.

THE BASIC CONCEPT IS TRYING

James Baldwin also wrote: There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. So true. But when you first read that sentence, test yourself: do you immediately think of the selfish and hidden things about yourself that you try to disguise or lie about or ignore?           OR: did you immediately think about all the wonderful possibilities in your makeup that you just haven’t tapped into yet?

How great if it is and always will be the latter. If we are always opening to the possibility of our changing, of our personal growth and development–of our truly SEEING OTHER PEOPLE. That would be amazing. 

OPEN UP YOUR HEART 

My brother Bill Pfordresher is a song writer and one of his songs urges a lover to:

Open up your heart and let it go,

That’s the way it starts,

This I know-Open up your heart to me. 

And later on the lyric is: Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

For a lover or for the love of living, don’t let time get away.

ACT NOW

On Friday, my husband and I took the train to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. We went to a concert and then walked back to the station through an area of LA that is full of government buildings, the Catholic Church of the diocese of LA and places for many homeless people to walk or sit or sleep under the shade of a tree. A march had occurred that morning and there were crowds of people leaving the march and lots of police on motorcycles and bikes patrolling the area. What did we do? We walked. We smiled at folks on the street, stopped to ask one policeman a question and would have purchased something from a vendor but we had already eaten. We opened our hearts to LA and everything it had to offer that Friday afternoon. Call me Pollyanna if you want to. I’m no saint. But I believe that more and more we have to fight some dictum that tells us to turn away from folks because they are not JUST LIKE ME. You can volunteer or write a check, make a phone call or reach out to someone you know (maybe a stranger but more likely someone who needs a friend.) Do it today. Don’t be a person who is Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

Photo: Zocalo Public Square

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Living in Southern California provides many positives: a major one, weather. The Golden State truly provides days and days of sunshine which can lift the spirits and certainly makes nature-deficit disorder a rarity. (Coined by Richard Louv, nature-deficit disorder refers to people of all ages who are disconnected from nature, spending inordinate amounts of time indoors.) But in most climates, we are lured outdoors to walk or participate in sports. Even in cold climates nature provides ice skating and skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.

SEASONAL AFFECT DISORDER or SAD

Variety is the spice of life and that is also true for weather. People begin to feel depressed if the sun doesn’t shine for days at a time. I’ve written about that too–in a post about Seasonal Affect Disorder. Those of you living in temperate climates are familiar with this condition: SAD is diagnosed when a patient experiences depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years during the same season; and it generally applies to people dealing with long winters where sunlight is rare and the body begins to suffer–not only from outdoor activities being curbed but also from the physical affect that light has on the body. Because there is a definite relationship between light sources to the body and the production of serotonin which affects our moods.

FOUR SEASONS ARE THE BEST!

But though sunlight can lift the spirits, a person’s memory bank of weather also plays a part–we love rainy days and snow days and autumn days. A temperate climate allows for FOUR SEASONS that have definite borders. When autumn approaches, leaves change color and drop from the trees, grass begins to form deep roots instead of height, the air gets cooler and the days shorter. Fall requires different clothing and there is nothing better than a brisk walk in brisk fall air. It has its own perfume, its own way of touching the skin.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DOES NOT HAVE FOUR SEASONS. IS THAT GOOD?

In Southern California the shift into fall is often imperceptible. Yes, the days get shorter, some of the trees drop their leaves, but much of the vegetation keeps on flowering so that there is not a definitive change. I miss that. Then suddenly it is Christmas and folks, like those in the midwest where I lived most of my life, are driving cars with an evergreen tied to the top. But it takes some adjusting to drape Italian lights in foliage that is still bursting with greenery. Winter here is our rainy season. The nights do get colder and the rose bushes and hydrangeas get cut back. But there’s no snow. You can travel to northern parts of California to ski, but last year our snow depth in the mountains was very low. This year it is greatly improved.

WOW, SPRING IS COMING AND I ENVY YOU IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES!

Here’s my point: many of you are about to or just now experiencing the beginning of spring. I envy you. The air begins to warm and you shed your jacket by 11:00 am. The trees begin to flower–redbuds, forsythia, then magnolia and fruit trees. Tulips and daffodils push up from the earth and the days get longer. You find yourself pulled from your home where people’s voices once again blend with birdsong and the buzz of tires on the street. It’s truly a rebirth and often produces a smile from a stranger. Because we all feel it–new life, green grass, bluer skies.

WOULD YOU WANT TO LOSE YOUR FOUR SEASONS???

Nostalgia for weather accentuates how grateful I am for nature and all that it provides us. So when spring begins and like a wave of blessing speeds across our country warming the winds and pulling people outside–consider: we need to protect the seasons, make sure that we don’t lose them, honor all the memories we have of spring, summer, winter and fall.

PLEASE FIGHT FOR THE EPA! FIGHT FOR YOUR SEASONS

So forgive me for this final thought, but if the Evironmental Protection Agency is defunded the way the current government is talking about–the entire country might eventually have the desert-like climate that is Southern California. No more leaf-peepers in New England; no more skiing in Colorado; no more ice-fishing in Minnesota. This is no joke. We must fight for the four season. Fight for clean air. AND ESPECIALLY, fight for clean water. No human being can survive without water–lots of it. To learn more go here. (Five Reasons to Like the Environmental Protection Agency)

I love talking about the seasons and how in some climates they are SO different. Which season is your favorite? Whichever you choose, I hope you don’t lose it. Help protect our earth. Help save our seasons or you might become nostalgic for weather you will never see again. Help fight for the EPA.

Photo source: Pinterest