Saving Our Country’s Backyard

Saving Our Country's Backyard

Scenario ONE:

You have worked for over five years to make your backyard a place of enjoyment for your family. You have planted trees, shrubs and flowers, raked and weeded, spent money to fight disease in one of your trees and installed hardscape for more enjoyment of this outdoor space. Then one day a person from the government comes to your door and drops off a sign. Your backyard is now government property and has actually been purchased by a large corporation. The sign with their name will now hang on your fence and the use of your backyard is open to change.

Scenario TWO:

You live in an apartment, condo or public housing and in order to enjoy the outdoors you walk to a public park, a lakeshore or some open space. And wherever you live, when planning a vacation you consider a national park like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or Glacier National Park. But now you learn that the government has changed the use of public lands. Oil drilling will now be taking place at Yosemite National Park and off the ocean shore by Santa Barbara, California.

THIS IS NOT ALL SOME HORROR MOVIE

A crazy movie-maker’s nightmare? The first scenario maybe. The second–a distinct possibility under this new administration. AND I wrote the first scenario to underline that our national parks truly ARE the playgrounds and backyards of the citizens of these United States.

FAMILY FUN IN AMERICA  

Not all families can fly to Europe or some exotic island. But they can climb into the family car and drive to a national park or fly to a central location, rent a car and again drive, drive, drive. That’s what we did in 1988. What did we see with our two daughters? The Continental Divide; Mesa Verde; the north rim of the Grand Canyon; The Four Corners; Monument Valley and Brice, Zion and Arches National Parks. My husband is one amazing planner.

When we lived in Iowa, we drove west through the Badlands to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument and then on to Mammouth National Park. But all of these amazing preserved lands that make America the land of free space for families to enjoy are now in jeopardy. Why?

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR SUCH TRIPS??

When our current president was campaigning, he promised to “streamline the permitting process for all energy projects.” That could mean ignoring environmental protection laws or changing them to “encourage the production of [fossil fuel] resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters.” That means “open season” for oil and gas drilling on public lands.

A recent article in NEWSWEEK reported that Americans see our National Parks as a gift of high value. A report from Harvard’s Kennedy School this year found that 80% of Americans would agree to pay higher taxes to keep the National Parks—and attacking them directly would be politically unwise for any government rep seeking a future term.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

WHO MIGHT FIGHT FOR OUR NATIONAL PARKS??

Who is currently in charge? Who could you write to? Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke of Whitefish, Montana is now serving as the 52nd Secretary of the Interior. He has said that no president in his lifetime has been “more for us” than the current one. WE WILL SEE. Click here for their website.

So what does this guy do? The Secretary of the Interior is in charge of overseeing the National Park Service, as well as overseeing all federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and presiding over the U.S. Geological Survey, a massive scientific research agency which studies America’s natural resources and anything that threatens them—like climate change, which you know who says is a hoax perpetrated by “the Chinese.” Read more here.

THE ANTIQUITIES ACT: REMEMBER THEODORE ROOSEVELT?

We also need to worry about the future of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which permits presidents to create national monuments on federal lands, so that they must be preserved indefinitely. President Obama used the Antiquities Act during his tenure to create 23 new national monuments, including a massive marine monument off the coast of Hawaii, and an expanse of wild land in north-central Maine. Republican presidents almost never use the Act. And under this president, things could get worse.

There is some good news. Dwight Pitcaithley, the former chief historian to the National Park Service says: “For every action there’s a reaction. This president doesn’t have carte blanche. I think if he goes too far, there will be a pushback by the public, and that will be felt in the next election.” Still, Pitcaithley sees no wins for the environment anytime soon. And he is worried.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITE YOUR SENATORS, FIGHT FOR OUR BACKYARDS

Stay alert these next few years. Plan your vacations to our national parks. (We are going to Yosemite in a few weeks.) Enjoy the beauty and bounty of this land. If you do and you want to fight for it, use the web, write to your congressman and congresswomen. Make sure your voice is heard. And thanks for reading.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

The sun was low in the sky at Arches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of John Havey

More Like This….

More Like This....

We all make choices about what we will read, what television presentations or films we watch. In today’s world of “fake news”–almost anyone with an opinion can throw us a curve ball. FACT-CHECKING helps. If you come across something you think might be false, you can go to various sources to confirm it’s truth factor. (I’m thinking news stories–better to have a few different sources before you think Pizzagate really occurred.)

Currently, I think we need to do that a lot. When reading non-fiction that lands on the best-seller list, we are at the mercy of the author. His or her book could still be a vehicle of lies and BS. Sad but true. An Index at the back of the book often helps confirm that the author did research and what and who the author’s sources were. (Think childhood immunizations cause autism. It took a long time for those lies to be correctly challenged and disproved.) Because if the author is known for a certain stance on that subject. then you probably know what you’re getting–unless the book is a complete turnaround or includes new research.

Rebecca Skloot had credentials when she started working on the book that became THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS. She attended Portland Community College to become a Veterinary Technician and then received a BS in biological sciences from Colorado State University, and an MFA in creative nonfiction. Her education prepared her for the ten years it took her to write the book which was on the NYT Best Seller list for two years and recently made into a film that appeared on HBO this past weekend.

Oprah Winfrey played the part of Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter, whose life was shadowed by the death of her mother. Henrietta died in 1951 at the age of 31 from cervical cancer. She had five children whose lives suffered after her death. And unbeknownst to this black family, a doctor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, removed cancer cells from her cervix and these cells were able to reproduce outside the body in petri dishes at an astonishing rate. Called HeLa cells, they enabled researchers to make medical breakthroughs, one being Dr. Jonas Salk who is credited with the polio vaccine.

But there is a downside to this story–how it affected Deborah Lacks and her family. When you tell a person who is not a scientist that her mother’s cells are alive in a lab in Baltimore–complications occur. The Smithsonian writes: A postdoc called Henrietta’s husband one day…The way he understood the phone call was: “We’ve got your wife. She’s alive in a laboratory. We’ve been doing research on her for the last 25 years. And now we have to test your kids to see if they have cancer.” Which wasn’t what the researcher said at all. The scientists didn’t know that the family didn’t understand. From that point on, though, the family got sucked into this world of research they didn’t understand, and the cells, in a sense, took over their lives. Skloot in many ways was a gift to the Lacks family, explaining things as she learned them, comforting Deborah who helped Skloot with her investigation. Read the book! Watch the HBO presentation. We need more like this.

Now consider a work of fiction. Fiction, you make stuff up, right? But when an author takes on a topic that has complicated ramifications, is a topic that she does not feel she can speak to WITHOUT RESEARCH, then I applaud her for letting us know. Jodi Picoult, the author of 23 novels, did just that with her latest novel, SMALL GOOD THINGS.

The novel is about a black maternity nurse who is accused by a white supremacist for contributing to the death of his newborn son.

Picoult writes at the end of the novel: I expect pushback from this book… Believe me, I didn’t write this novel because I thought it would be fun or easy. I wrote it because I believed it was the right thing to do, and because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know. In her review of SMALL GOOD THINGS Roxane Gay writes: ‘A writer is like a tuning fork: we respond when we’re struck by something…If we’re lucky we’ll transmit a strong pure note, one that isn’t ours, but which passes through us.’ To the Black people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – I hope I listened well enough to those in your community who opened their hearts to me to be able to represent your experiences with accuracy. And to the white people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – we are all works in progress. Personally, I don’t have the answers and I am still evolving daily.

I thought the book was well done. It was a page turner and though it tied up things a little too neatly at the end, I did trust Picoult’s research. In the back of the book, she delineates exactly who she talked to on both sides of the situation.

Roxane Gay also writes in her review: And therein lies the true challenge of writing across difference, or of writing a political novel — if the politics overcomes the prose, then it becomes something other than a novel. (Maybe that’s one way to reach an audience that needs to be reached)

Picoult writes: There is a fire raging and we have two choices: we can turn our backs, or we can try to fight it. Yes, talking about racism is hard to do, and yes, we stumble over the words—but we who are white need to have this discussion amongst ourselves. Because then, even more of us will overhear and then, I hope, the conversation will spread. (Picoult even provides her reader with a list of things you can do to get invovled.

Roxane Gay concludes: It is, in the end, the author’s note that leaves me feeling generous toward “Small Great Things” despite its shortcomings. Picoult wanted to write about race in contemporary America, and she does. The novel is messy, but so is our racial climate. I give Picoult a lot of credit for trying, and for supporting her attempt with rigorous research, good intentions and an awareness of her fallibility.

YES, again We need MORE LIKE THIS…

photo: The New York Times

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.

Hey, Listen: I’m a Woman and I’ve Got a Brain

Hey, Listen: I'm a Woman and I've Got a Brain

Thanks a lot, Eve, I guess you were the beginning of it all. And it really sucks: women are temptresses; men need protection from women; and men, because they gained power first, (at least in some countries) get to talk first, deny first. “None of her accusations were true.” “I did not have sex with that woman.” Yes they are and yes you did.

WOMEN, A VICE PRESIDENT and a TV PERSONALITY MAKE SEX the NEWS

So let’s consider some so-called solutions to the eternal men/women quagmire: don’t dine with a woman alone and for sure take your wife to any social occasion if alcohol is being served. Really? Take that temptress, that woman, your wife–how can she help you out? I will state that religion can be a good thing. But good things can get out of control, run to extremes that make absolutely no sense.

Current news underlines that. The VP is the one who needs his wife to protect him. And a certain TV personality claims ( like another male who now dominates the news) that his role working with women is exemplary. He works at Fox News, so maybe not. Because this guy is sometimes into FAKE NEWS and my guess is he’s also into FAKE MORALITY. How did we get here? Our VP might say it’s because women are in the workplace and if you’re a married man–watch out–we’re coming for you. (Snark comment about the VP could go here, but I won’t.)

CONSIDER the JOB INTERVIEW

Instead I’ll take you back some years when I was interviewing for a job. In the tumult of the current news cycle, I reflected on my own life in the workplace. First job interviews.

In my early twenties I applied at three major high schools in the southern suburbs of the city of Chicago. I was interviewed at the first two by men. They were cordial. That’s all I remember. At the third I was interviewed by two women who would become my department chair and co-chair. They sent me to meet the principal who shook my hand and then the school superintendent for the entire district. He happened to be in the building that day and I was invited into his office. He asked me questions about my education, questions I don’t remember. He did ask me one question that I will never forget.

“Would you still want the job if I told you that a student could come at you with a knife?” “Yes.”

When you like everything you have just experienced and then you are asked this question, there might be some hesitation in your answer, BUT YOU SAY YES. You are a female and you can handle your life as well as any male who might or might not be asked the same question. If later I did ask my fellow newly-hired teachers if that was part of their interview, I confess–I don’t remember what they answered. I GOT THE JOB. I loved the job. I handled myself with dignity and quick thinking when we had race riots in our school about two years later. I matured.

As a young teacher and then later on when I became an RN, worked at two different hospitals, a telecommunication center and a health department–I WAS ALWAYS INTERVIEWED BY WOMEN. The interviews were not easy. At one hospital she would not consider hiring me in the labor and delivery department unless I agreed to work on a medical floor. I did not agree and instead interviewed and got a position in an L&D unit at a Chicago inner-city hospital. Best work decision I ever made. Like my teaching position, I GREW in that job. It’s actually the impetus for the novel I am writing. But I digress.

WOMEN WORKING with Men–A GIVEN 

Florence Nightingale was surrounded by men and they thanked God for her presence. She and her fellow nurses saved lives–and there was alcohol present–you know, it’s a germicide. My point is that each person, male and female, has a responsibility to conduct themselves properly in the work place. But of course that doesn’t always happen. Chalk it up to being human–or something along those lines.

Because my work experience has been in professions that are predominantly women, I have had little to no problem with sexual advances or discrimination. Yes, once in an elevator a doctor I had never seen before took advantage of my school-nurse uniform and propositioned me. Luckily, I got off at the next floor. And all of the MDs on the L&D units were not always verbally “proper”. There was no name-calling, but there was tension that went to the stress of a busy night with clients in pain or annoying family members, or just two many children coming into the world in a 30 minute period. You let off steam and sometimes it’s a female nurse you have shouted at. We shouted back. A given. Reprimands were about a mis-diagnosis, or not always putting the patient first–and rightly so. Lots of life is on the line. But the stress of aiding in a difficult birth comes with some passes.

For me it has always been an acknowledgment either spoken or unspoken that I’m doing a good job, if not a great job, and that I have a brain. That’s what counts. Of course different jobs have different work cultures. Being a female working with the men on Fox News speaks to that, compels a woman to know that culture and to be aware of it. I truly hope there will be a time when someone working there breaks the harassment that seems to be endemic.

On an L&D unit when there’s down time, interns, docs, nurses might talk about family, or whose dating who, or even grumble about the anesthesiologist. (We did that a lot, but he was really okay.) When I did leave my nursing position in that Chicago hospital, a doctor wrote me a letter, mailed to my home, asking me to come back, telling me how he valued what I had given to my patients. That was awesome.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED DISCRIMINATION? 

The other part of this discussion speaks to your own personal relationships. If you are single, the workplace can often become the arena for meeting a future partner. And if you work at home but your spouse or partner goes to an office or studio or hospital etc every day, then your relationship relies on its strength. But that’s just the way it should be. Forget some norm that you (if you are a woman) cannot have alcohol after work with a client, boss or co-worker unless he has his partner or spouse with him. Truly, are you kidding me? That’s not to say that nasty stuff is impossible. It is. It definitely is. Use that awesome brain of yours. Be alert. If necessary talk back. Discrimination exists, but there are laws. And within the workplace, it’s great to be noticed. But I for one would advise that the notice relates to your brain, your smarts. What do you think?

Thanks to MrsProfessionalism wordpress.com

 

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

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