A Call to Action

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

Last weekend there was a “Hoodies in the Hood” march in the neighboring city. It was organized as a way to bring awareness of the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford FL and create dialogue about racial discrimination. I have been following this case closely, feeling both horrified and outraged at the racial profiling and acceptance of vigilantism in that town. As new twists in the case keep coming out, the fact that an unarmed boy was killed remains.

I recently reviewed “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. If anyone has read that book you would easily connect the dots and see that all the discrimination which we think we have overcome has merely been shifted under the table. Protected by the Second Amendment and the right to “Stand Your Ground”, a neighborhood watchdog was able to pursue a 17 year-old boy, confront him and kill him because he “looked suspicious”.

I have a 13 year old son. Could this happen to him someday? Will he be wearing his black team hoodie pulled up over his head and walking through a neighborhood where he is not wanted?  Why is it acceptable to shoot an innocent child, just because the attacker claims self-defense? Trayvon Martin was not armed. The 911 dispatcher warned Zimmerman to stop following him. Why did he decide to take the law into his own hands?

We have a system of justice in this country and, for all its imperfections, citizens should let the corrections officers do their jobs and not be allowed to interfere. I would rather have a suspect get away than an innocent person killed.

I am happy to see that there has been a massive public outcry over this case. If Trayvon Martin had to die, at least he has left an imprint on history. His untimely death is an indication that we need to reexamine the ways in which society continues to discriminate against ethnic groups. Whether they are black, hispanic, Muslim or Jewish we should not prejudge people based on their skin color or religious beliefs.

If a Christian organization had wanted to build a church near Ground Zero, would they have met the resistance that the Muslim temple received? If Zimmerman had seen a white boy of  similar build and attire, would he have been alarmed? How do these prolific generalizations become so widely accepted? Why are people so easily classified as criminals or terrorists based on a small minority of the population? Our constitution mandates tolerance and equality for all, so why do age-old prejudices get handed down from generation to generation?

If America wants to carry any credibility of our principles into the 21st century, we need to practice what we preach. We can not condemn a dictator for ethnic cleansing if we are still racially profiling individuals at home. Similarly, we put pur foot in our mouth when we criticize countries for oppressing or abusing women, while at the same time attacking American women’s reproductive rights. Denying women control of their own bodies is only slightly more humane.

I am proud to be an American citizen, but I a very disturbed by the path we seem to be on. I believe there is a silent majority like myself who complacently stand by and let the more vocal extremists (from both sides) call the shots. Now is the time to act. In this election year it will be critical for the grass-roots population to come out of their shells and make their voices heard.

I only learned about the local rally after the fact. In the future I plan to search the web for more timely information. The last time I participated in a protest was before the Iraq War. My children were too young then to remember holding up our sign, which they had created themselves in pre-school fashion, announcing “Use words, not fists!” Since then I have always had a reason to not participate. Either the cause wasn’t deemed worthy of my effort or I didn’t have the time.

American flag

American flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year I plan to take action. My outrage over the Martin case and the ongoing attacks on women’s health care has finally hit a nerve. I intend to find a cause worth supporting and participate in a rally before the November elections. Maybe I can even get my kids interested in a cause. This time around they should have a better understanding of the significance of making our voices heard. After all, the right to protest is patriotic and about as American as you can get.

Teachers who Inspire

Yesterday I saw a clip on the news that caught my eye. One of my children’s’ former teachers had been awarded recognition as Teacher of the Week. There was a video of him playing his guitar while his class sang along. Even though it has been almost a decade since either of my children were in his class, he still seems to be doing what he always did- making learning fun and interactive. He taught both of my children in either first or second grade and they both remember his class as one of the best they ever had.

Teachers play an important role in our lives that should not be underestimated. I remember teachers from my own childhood. Some were inspiring, like my elementary school teacher who encouraged me to explore the world, or my Algebra teacher who whet my appetite for problem-solving. There are, on the flip side, teachers you want to avoid at all costs. The high school chorus teacher was so mean that, even though I loved to sing, I switched to orchestra rather than have to listen to him yell.

Some teachers get to the point where they need to take a break and think about why they became teachers. If it was not for the love of the job or the students, they can turn into cranky, boring instructors rather than the caring, engaging role models that students deserve. I spent 10 years teaching preschoolers. I know how hard it is to motivate kids. I always tried  to keep things refreshing and challenging, pushing them to learn in ways that felt like a game. With patience and a willingness to connect with my students in different ways, I successfully produced a class of kindergarten-ready children by the end of each year.

The former students I encounter these days are well into middle school and only have vague memories of their early education; but their parents recognize me and tell me again what a great start I gave their children. It is rewarding to hear how well each one is doing and to think that they put their roots down in my class. Which brings me back to the clip I saw…

It is wonderful to see that a teacher can keep on inspiring children for 25 years. Unfortunately, this seems to be overlooked whenever it comes down to money. When our school budgets come to a vote this year, we should all think of the teachers who motivated us and recognize the true value of a good education for the next generation.

Spring has Leapt into Action

Today is officially the first day of Spring. It seems hard to believe, given the fact that we have record-breaking warmth in the northeast. The progress of my garden is way ahead of schedule. I have been wearing shorts and t-shirts outside lately, which is normally something only high school students do in March.  I spent the weekend raking off my flower beds. 

Typically I would have waited until April, but when the plants are growing at such speedy rates, it is best to keep up with them. 

The Ides of March is when a big winter storm usually hits this area, but our evening lows have been warmer than our average highs and no storms have been on the radar for days. I surfed the web for a last possible ski run but everything seems to be shutting down for the season- the winter that wasn’t. It was bad news for all the ski resorts, hotels, restaurants and businesses that rely on snow for their livelihood. However, as much as I  try to embrace winter activities, I am ready to turn in my skis for my gardening gloves.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we should not sow annuals until mid- May. My green thumb is itching to get started, though.  I was so excited when I saw these beautiful pansies for $.99/each, that I immediately grabbed some for the deck.    I don’t care if they freeze; I am in the mood for flowers!

At the risk of jumping in before frosty evenings are officially past, my husband grabbed some seed packets for hardy greens: lettuces, spinach, parsley, bok choy and arugula.  

We have a protective cold frame where he plans to start things early. If we have a setback, who cares? The excitement of getting an early crop of Spring salad far outweighs the hassle of starting over.

We uncovered our deck furniture, which had been sitting under a tarp all winter. Since our unofficial snowfall for the season was about a foot, it turns out it wasn’t really necessary.  We set up the volleyball net and practiced our bumping and setting skills in anticipation of some family games. 

Later my husband put away the snowblower, which never got used this year, and tuned up the lawnmower. The grass is already turning bright green and will probably require mowing soon.

In celebration of his birthday, my husband bought a Weber grill. On Saturday he initiated it with our first barbecue of the season. He smoked ribs and sausages slow cooker style, which meant we could smell the tantalizing aromas all afternoon while we worked in the yard.  

Later that afternoon, we had friends over for a drink and he got to show off his shiny new gadget.

I spotted the first crocus of the season on Sunday and today my daffodils have begun to bloom!  

My forsythia has rebloomed despite its confusion in December and the leaves on my bushes are starting to pop out.

When I was walking the dogs, we passed a swampy area where the Spring Peepers were loudly chirping away. I usually don’t hear them until April, but they were already forming a raucous chorus to greet the season. Spring has not just sprung; it has leapt into action!

When I taught preschool, we usually spent the month of March comparing “Lion” and “Lamb”days. According to the proverb, nice weather is like a gentle lamb and indicates spring is coming. Stormy weather is like a lion and is winter’s way of saying it will not go away yet. If I were counting days with my class this month, I think we would be hard pressed to find one we could call a lion. With 11 days to go, I hope we don’t see him make a big comeback at the end.

Plants wrapped in 6 mm (0.2 in) of ice. Severe...

Plants wrapped in 6 mm (0.2 in) of ice. Severe ice storms, which may occur in the spring, can kill plant life. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Using Sport Psychology for Real Life Situations

Smiley head happy

Image via Wikipedia

My son loves to play tennis. He is trying out for the JV team at his school. He played sixth singles last year and is hoping to move up the ladder. Obviously he is nervous about this challenge. When he worries about his game, he doesn’t play as well- losing focus on each point. By thinking he will lose, he is more likely to make that happen. With the goal of helping him, my husband read “The Best Tennis of Your Life” by sport psychologist and former tennis player Jeff Greenwald. Last night he reviewed some of the suggested mental strategies with our son. As I listened to him, I realized these strategies are not limited to sports but could be applicable to every day life.

One strategy is to use the feeling of gratitude. Greenwald says, ” It’s difficult to be worrying about the future…when you become aware of the bigger picture. ….Being grateful requires you to expand your perspective.”  (excerpt from Play with Gratitude)  I looked at the things I have been stressing over, planning our next vacation or losing a few pounds before I hit the beach, and realized how trivial these are in the big scheme of things. I took a deep breath and instead reflected how lucky I am to be able to afford a fun vacation. I am grateful that I am healthy enough to travel and participate in the exciting water or land sports we will do there-  snorkelling, swimming, tennis and hiking. I already feel calmer and more appreciative.

Obviously there are people with much more troubling worries than mine. People with real health concerns or financial difficulties may find it harder to find gratitude in their lives. In their cases, it is important to focus on the moment and not the woes of yesterday or tomorrow. If they can find something to be grateful for right now, even if it is only happiness that the sun is shining, it may help them to calm their minds and relieve some of their worries.

Another of Greenwald’s suggestions  was to recognize the difference between “productive worry” and “unproductive worry”. The first type involves something you can try to change. If you are worried you will miss a deadline at work, you can put in extra time or shift your priorities to meet it. If you can develop a strategy to combat your worry, you have handled it productively. Finding a way to cope with our problems, even in little baby steps, can give us more happiness and less worry.

The second type of worry is “about things that are outside your control”. Whether this is over travel plans or a long-term illness, there are some things over which we have no control. We can get ourselves to the airport early, but we can not decide when the plane takes off. We can follow our doctor’s protocol and look up information online, but every illness must run its course. Maybe there are some things we can improve, like packing snacks and a book if we get stuck or finding a remedy which relieves our symptoms temporarily, but that is where our control ends. The sooner we recognize our limits, the easier it will be to cast our worries aside.

The third strategy I would like to compare is the use of body language. Greenwald points out the difference on players’ stances, walks and facial expressions when they are winning versus losing. The same holds true in real life situations. When we are confident, we hold our heads up; when we are nervous, we slouch or avert our eyes. He suggests making a note of how you feel when things are going well and try to imitate that behaviour when they are not. By forcing yourself to act happy or calm, you can trick yourself into feeling that way too. Kind of like a body over mind power struggle. I know if I smile and make eye contact with a stranger when I am out walking, I feel a little happier. Even if I was deep in thought, diverting my attention to someone else, helps me to not dwell on my concerns too much.

I am not sure which of these tips my son will put into use on the courts. If he could appreciate that he loves this game and that worrying whether he wins or loses is unproductive, remember to focus on the individual points and not the outcome, and to smile and look at his opponent with confidence, then he will have incorporated the most important strategies which will benefit him throughout his life.

A smiley cup on a yellow ball.. =)

Note: All quotes are taken from “The Best Tennis of Your Life:50 Mental Strategies for Fearless Performance” by Jeff Greewald, Kindle edition ISBN 1558708448, Jan.1,2012.

Turning the Tables

viagra is a commercial produced medicine conta...

Image via Wikipedia

I have been very discouraged by all the attacks on women’s health care in the last year. It seems that every month there is another bill restricting our reproductive choices. That is why it was so refreshing to come across these stories (see below) about female representatives finally trying to level the playing field. I don’t think any of them meant their bills to be taken seriously and were just trying to make a point. Let me throw my two cents in and write my own version of the bill.

U.S. Senate Bill 89001

Any male over the age of 60 or who is withdrawing from his 401k, IRA, Social Security or Medicare must pass a rigorous stress test before being prescribed Viagra. This test should simulate the level of activity needed to keep up with toddlers and young children. This would obviously be far more demanding than driving a golf cart to play 18 holes- a more appropriate activity for senior citizens.

Next, said male must also meet with a counselor who will show him a graphic video of a man having a heart attack after having sex,  followed by a warning that at this age it might be safer to practice celibacy. The counselor will then require him to listen to a recording of a baby crying and a child throwing a tantrum while he is driving a car. If he passes this test, he must wait 24 hours before proceeding.

After the physical and mental tests have been met, the male patient will be instructed on how to perform coitus interruptus to reduce the risk of impregnating his partner who was denied contraception because she worked for a Catholic institution.

If after passing all three requirements, said male still wishes to receive Viagra, his partner must sign an agreement that he is in good physical shape for sex and/or childcare and she does not lay responsibility on the doctor. If she refuses to sign, he must channel half of his savings into a trust fund to support all offspring who are still minors at the time of his death.

Would something like this bill pass? And would we even want it to? Of course not, because that would be limiting a man’s freedom. The purpose is to point out how hypocritical our lawmakers are when it comes to restricting women’s rights in a way they would not consider for men. I am glad that state senators and representatives Nina Turner, Janet Howell and Kelly Cassidy are taking this approach. Maybe a little humor mixed with sarcasm will work better than anger.

The New iPad3

English: iPad 2 back with SmartCover at the ri...

Image via Wikipedia

As the buzz about the new iPad3 hits the nation, my son is caught up in the glorification of its improved features. It is thinner, faster, has a better  “retina” screen (something about the way the eye can’t see the pixels because they are so refined) and incorporates voice commands like Siri. Sure it sounds cool, but is it really that much better? My son received an iPad2 for his birthday six months ago. He has been thrilled with it and he certainly has the best gadget in the house.

Apparently it is not enough for him. He wants to upgrade to the iPad3 and I do not approve. I think it shows a lack of appreciation for what he has and disrespect towards the giver of the gift. He disagrees, of course, and has made a plan to upgrade with his own money. I don’t think he realizes how hard he will have to work to accomplish his goal, but I decided to allow him to move ahead with it.

Together we established a list of jobs he could do in order to earn some cash. Some of these I vetoed, as they were expected all along. Others I gave a short term approval, hoping it would change things in the long run. Practicing his guitar without a reminder falls into that category. As much as he hates it when I nag him, I dislike doing it even more. Then there are the opportunities to do something really helpful, like mowing the lawn or helping paint the deck. He is also going to look for some babysitting jobs.

All of this has to fit in around his homework, his tennis practices and games, and the time he needs to spend with his new rabbit (another story). I told him if any of these are compromised because he is trying to earn money, I will not pay him. He still needs to keep his priorities in order.

Part of me is hoping that either he will realize he doesn’t have time to accomplish his goal or that the buzz will wear off as user reviews come in and he will decide it is not worth buying. It’s not that I want him to fail; but rather that I’d like him to come to that conclusion on his own, without me forbidding him to do it.

I have a feeling that he will prevail, though. He has determination and a strong will to succeed. My only consolation if he achieves this will be that he will have learned the value of working hard for something that he really wants. Now I just have to resist the urge to buy his iPad2. It would be a shame to let it go.

Time Passes

A few days ago I was skiing. Today I was raking my yard. It’s been a crazy winter weatherwise.

Here are a few pictures showing the passing of time and season in the last few days.





Is it winter or spring? In a few days we turn the clocks ahead, meaning we will have longer afternoon hours to enjoy the outdoors. Spring doesn’t officially arrive until the 20th; but I am itching to start some seedlings indoors. I’m not sure what happened to Old Man Winter this year. I hope he doesn’t make a comeback at the very end. I’m ready for Spring.

Book review: The Warmth of Other Suns

My book club met last night to discuss, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. To read my review, head over to My Book List  on the right. If you have read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

Discovering the Joy of Spontaneity

I am a very orderly, well-organized person, who likes to plan things well ahead of time. This probably is related to my desire for control and is also the root of frustration. This was extremely apparent when I was younger, but as I age I seem to be catching on to the flaws of my ways and am allowing myself room to step back a bit.The balloon ride I recently took was a good example.

I put my trust in someone else- letting him be in charge, even though he had very little control over what direction we would travel or where we would end up. Did it really matter what our destination was as long as we had fun getting there? Gradually I am realizing not everything needs to be planned perfectly. In fact, over the weekend I have let myself be completely spontaneous and do what feels right at the moment.

After last week’s snowfall, we had considered the idea of going skiing. Saturday the weather report predicted rain and wind, so my husband and I went out to do errands while the kids slept in. We were just about to pick up ingredients for the dinner we had planned when our son called us, asking if we would take him and a friend skiing. Just then, the sun came out and it looked like it could be a great afternoon. We rushed home and threw our gear in the car, deciding it would be worth cancelling our dinner plans. By the time we arrived at Jiminy Peak, we were able to buy a Twilight Pass- something I hadn’t done since high school.

The beauty of the snow covered mountains against a glowing red sunset, with all the variant colors of twilight, and the illumination of Venus, Jupiter and the waxing gibbous moon was breathtaking as we wound our way down the trails.Moon and Venus at sunset

It was a spectacular sight I would not have seen if I hadn’t been willing to drop everything and ski- spontaneously! If I had made plans to get up early for a ski trip, we would have been on our way home by sunset. I wish I had brought my camera to capture the picture of the giant wind turbine slowly turning against this brilliant backdrop;

English: Wind Turbine Sunset. View of wind tur...

Image via Wikipedia

but the image in my mind will serve as a reminder to grab opportunities whenever I can. Carpe diem , or as in this case, carpe noctem!

  (If you want to see more pictures, check out the second link below)

Vacation highlights- not what you would expect

The family vacation I spent in Tucson had its share of exciting activities. Hot air ballooning,

visits to the zoo and the Biosphere 2, were at the top of the list; but we also had some fun activities on a daily basis, namely playing tennis and golf, badminton and bocce, which we could do right in mom’s neighborhood. If you asked my kids their favorite one, I am sure they would say the balloon ride.

While I loved it, I would put some more intimate moments at the top.

One of these was the sunny spot where mom and I would sit in the morning, sipping our coffee and admiring the beauty of the mountainous landscape behind her house. She looks out on a hillside of prickly pears and ocotillo,

where we often spotted rabbits, Peregrine Falcons and coyotes.

While we slowly woke up, we would sit together and enjoy the view. During these peaceful moments, we chatted about our plans for the day or reflected on life in general. I looked forward to our conversations every morning.It was a great way to reconnect as if we did not live thousands of miles apart.

Another time of day for bonding was in the late afternoon, sitting around the fire pit with our cocktails.

Sometimes the kids would join us and spark the conversation with observations of  the day’s activity. One example was after the Biosphere 2 visit,

we discussed what it would be like to inhabit as a subject of a scientific study and why it was important to do that experiment. This conversation led us to rent The Truman Show, a movie about a fake world created as a reality tv show. If their grandmother had not been there to get them thinking, I am sure the kids would have blown it off as one of my “teachable moment” activities. Instead, we were able to compare the movie to what we had seen, which made for another memorable discussion.

My mother encouraged me to go out for dinner with my husband. She really wanted to give us a chance to do something nice together; but I actually preferred eating together as a family and participating in a board game, a Wii tournament, a movie or some stargazing and S’mores.

I told her we would go out when we got home as the kids can fend for themselves. It was more unusual to have such a nice block of time, without distractions of homework, friends or after-school activities, during which we could all interact and have fun.

It does make you appreciate how quickly kids grow and become independent. You think you will have them around forever, and then you start seeing adulthood on the horizon. It makes you treasure every moment you have with them. Hopefully when mine are grown, they will want to come back “home” often and keep our family bond strong. I know how appreciative my parents are when I make the time to see them. That is why these moments of either one-on-one or family time are the most important to me and the highlights of my vacation.