Friday, December 14, 2012

Not Enough Bubble Wrap in the World

This is not a post I want to write, yet I feel I must. It is impossible to be a parent, make that a human being, and not be touched by the tragedy today in Connecticut. Most of the victims were young children. I am sick down deep in the pit of my stomach, laden with sorrow as I can only imagine the anguish of those living through a parent's worst nightmare. There are twenty tiny beds that will not be slept in again, presents that will go unopened, futures of bright-eyed, innocent children that will never be realized. In the aftermath of today's tragedy, there will be political jockeying about gun control and mental illness, none of which will ease the pain of the families who have lost children and other loved ones. As parents we hug our kids tighter, tell them we love them a billion more times than usual and question the world in which we live.

Growing up I do not recall being afraid to go to school thinking some madman might show up and shoot everyone in sight. My biggest fears were somehow embarrassing myself or having a run-in with the school bully. Perhaps my parents worried and didn't tell us, but I don't think so. Something has changed in our society over the last quarter century, and not for the better. Today brings those feelings of fear and uneasiness to the forefront again, those feelings we try to push back deep in our minds, wondering each and every day if this is the day it will happen here

It seems there should be no safer place in this world than a kindergarten classroom. We should only be worried about our kids running with scissors or eating too much paste or  getting called a name.  But the reality is,  every day  that
we drop them off, we live with that quiet lurking fear... what if? What if someone here loses it? It happened in Litttleton, Colorado, it happened in Paducah, Kentucky, it happened at Virginia Tech in Blackburg, it happened in Tucson, Arizona, it happened again in Colorado, this time in Aurora, and it happened earlier this week in Happy Valley, Oregon for crying out loud... Happy Valley, of all places. And now, Newtown, Connecticut. None of us ever wants to believe it can happen here, but it can and it does and all too often. Mental illness knows no boundaries.

All of this takes my memories racing back to Littleton, Colorado in April, 1999. My boys were both in preschool at the time, and I was pregnant with my daughter. I remember the feeling of wanting to swathe my kids in bubble wrap and protect them from the evils of the world. When fall arrived and it was time to drop my son off at that big, scary elementary school, I remember my feeling of uneasiness, knowing that he was out of my sight, out of my hands, out of my immediate protection, yet knowing I had to let him go. Life marches forward and we can't hide from it or take refuge from the 'what-ifs.' 

Then just a little more than two years later, 9/11 occurred. Once again, that feeling of uneasiness and fear crept back into my bones. I had just stepped back into the house after seeing the boys off on the school bus when the breaking news of a plane crash at the World Trade Center was being reported. As I stood their, motionless, watching the scene unfold and trying to make sense of what was being said, I watched the second plane hit the second tower. I felt physically ill. I remember wanting to jump in the car and go get my kids. My mind raced as I realized this was no accident. Ultimately, I decided to leave them at school, but it was not an easy decision to make. I wondered if there was anywhere that was safe. There are no guarantees in life, that is for certain, but wouldn't it be nice if we could dial down the violence?

Understanding violence is a much deeper issue, and it seems to have its roots in our childhood. If we aren't taught as children how to feel, respond to and defend against our own pain, we are much more likely to strike out and be violent with others or be violent with ourselves. In the case of today's tragedy it appears both of these situations occurred. As our world population grows larger and the pressures of modern society grow greater, that sense of fear and uneasiness is festering within me. I sometimes question the sanity of bringing children into this world, and I wonder what kind of a world my kids will face when they are parents. Then again, I can't imagine this world without my kids. I better get over to the office supply store, I think there is going to be a run on bubble wrap this weekend.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Taxing My Nerves

Where do I even begin? Somebody has to be joking, right? Our government in action never ceases to amaze me. People never cease to amaze me. How is it possible that this is even a headline?
"St. Louis County Tax Collector Owes Personal Property Taxes"
Before you react, you must realize that this woman was JUST hired; this isn't a matter of employers not keeping up to date on current employees, this is a matter of employers not doing proper checks on potential employees BEFORE hiring. Make that government employers.

The person just hired by St. Louis County to supervise the collection of real estate and personal property taxes has not paid her personal property taxes since 2008, nor has her husband. And, they filed for bankruptcy last year. Can you imagine? That is - plain and simple - wrong. If I were to receive an unpaid notice from her, I'd be furious. 

But will she be let go now that her 'secret' has been discovered? It does not appear so. Director of Revenue Eugene Leung, who checked her real estate tax records but not her personal property taxes or financial standing before hiring her, claims “knowing what I know now, she’s still the most qualified person for the job.” Seriously?

I'd like to know who else applied. Jobs are still scarce, and there are plenty of folks with extensive financial backgrounds looking for work. I find it hard to believe there aren't other more qualified individuals out there. Did they not apply or were they overlooked? 

And what I find particularly flabbergasting is that this woman had the nerve to apply for the job in the first place. I occasionally don't manage to return my books to the library right on time and have incurred some minor fines over the years. In my defense, I view this as my civic duty - it helps fund the purchase of new books after all, right?!!! I always pay my fines immediately, but in the back of my mind, I wouldn't even have the guts to apply for a job at the library. I would assume they would check my track record and not want to hire someone who didn't always return materials when they were due. She must be laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe I need to rethink my whole job search approach.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Earlier this week I attended a one-act play, “Talley’s Folly” written by American playwright Lanford Wilson. There were two actors and one set. The play lasted just over 90 minutes without an intermission. The theater was small and intimate, seating no more than 100 people. The actors were so close at times you could nearly reach out and touch them. In such a small venue the story came to life more than any other play I've attended in larger theaters. It reminded me of my childhood, watching Mr. Rogers or Romper Room, and truly believing I was right there with the hosts, believing they were speaking directly to me and me alone. The audience members sighed, chuckled and gasped at the same moments, and you could see and feel the effect of the immediate feedback on the actors.  

The story itself was a very personal dialog between the two characters, Matt and Sally, and at times I felt as if I were intruding on their conversation, and that none of us should be there listening and watching. The play is a somewhat complicated
tale of love that ultimately leads to marriage, with each of the two characters sharing their innermost and longest held secrets and their greatest fears. At one point Matt lamented how afraid we are to share our personal stories, afraid we will crack like an egg if we do, and afraid the damage may be irreparable.  As a result, many of us live too guarded, not wanting to be ‘Humpty Dumpty,’ not wanting to risk getting hurt from a fall. Yet, if we stay hidden behind our protective shells and don’t take the risk of trusting another with our heart then we really aren't living at all.

The protective eggshell is a good analogy. I think it is human nature to be protective and build an outer shell, allowing very few people, if any, into one's inner sanctum.  Over the course of our lives as small hurts are hurled at us, we build up our shell a little at a time with each event –  a name calling on the playground, a criticism from a parent, a slight by a friend, a rejection, a passing
judgment, the list is endless. We build up our shell to insulate ourselves from future hurts, but in the process we also limit ourselves to the joys life can bring through our relationships if we become too protective. The challenge we all face is mastering the egg balancing act, taking the risk and climbing up on that wall, and not being afraid to be ourselves, imperfections and all. Perhaps it’s not so bad to be half-cracked!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Brussels Sprouts: Poor Misunderstood Mini-Cabbages

Brussels sprouts, those poor, little, smelly, misunderstood mini cabbages. Why are they hated so? They are part of a prodigious family of vegetables from the cabbage patch including kale, broccoli, collard greens, radishes, cauliflower, kholrabi, mustard greens, turnips and more. It seems every new generation of kids is forced to eat them at some point during their childhood, seemingly as a form of punishment. 

There is even a a bestselling English Christmas story, The Smelly Sprout by Allan Plenderleith, about a Brussels sprout who is tossed out in the snow on Christmas day, and then rejected by a Christmas tree, a snowman, and a fox, before finding a home for the holiday.

If you've ever wondered whether this vegetable shares its name with Brussels, Belgium by chance or by design, it is no coincidence. While it is believed they first made  an appearance  in our  diet during  Roman times,  by the late  16th century
they were being cultivated in large quantities in Belgium, hence their name. By the 1800s they were introduced in the U.S. The central coast of California provides the majority of  the 70 million pounds of annual domestic production during the June through January season. Britain's production is about six times that amount. Brussels sprouts are also exported to Canada where they are more popular than they are here at home.

Growing up I loved vegetables with only a few exceptions. I particularly was not a fan of Brussels sprouts, lima beans or parsnips. When I'd see Brussel sprouts on the dinner table as a kid I'd scrunch my nose. They were always served boiled or steamed and were mushy. They had little flavor other than a tinge of bitterness, sorry mom. As an adult I'd scrunch my nose at them in the grocery store as well. And then one day while 'chasing squirrels on the webbernet' I came across a recipe for Brussels sprouts with the most delectable sounding description - "like vegetable baklava" - I just had to give them one more chance. They are now one of my ABSOLUTE favorite vegetables, and even two of my three kids eat them, willingly.

So what is the secret to my new found love? Roasting them! I cut them in half, lay them face up in a baking pan, drizzle them in olive oil or melted butter, and coat them in whatever spices suit my mood, whether it be garlic, salt and pepper, or a creole seasoning (Tony Chachere's is my favorite). Then I roast them at 425 for 20-25 minutes. The outer shell becomes crunchy, and they melt in your mouth, just like baklava. Tip - shave just the slightest bit off the outside on opposite sides before halving the sprouts and they will lay nice and flat in your pan without rolling to the sides.

Now, if only I can find a way to stop 'hatin' on the poor misunderstood parsnip! Anyone have a great recipe?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Author the Grouch

I say it all the time, don't judge another until you've walked in their shoes. That being said, I also believe there are times in our lives that no matter what we are dealing with on the inside, we need to put on our happy face on the outside, at least for the moment. And when our livelihood depends on it, it becomes even more important.

What sparks this comment? There was a book signing at a local bookstore this past week. The author writes fantasy novels aimed at the young reader. The parking lot was packed. The line for autographs serpentined through the store. I would guess there were nearly 300 fans anxiously awaiting their moment to meet the author they revered. I made my way along the line as an observer to see who all the fuss was about. A young man in his early 30s was seated at the table. He seemed to be in an unpleasant mood. He was not smiling. He was barely speaking, mostly just harumphing. The youngster who had just received his autograph stepped away. Two young girls around the ages of 8 and 10 were next. They were clearly excited to meet the man behind the table. He barely looked up; hardly acknowledged their presence.

After each of the copies of the books the girls were holding were signed, their father asked if they could have their picture taken with the author. He didn't look up nor respond to the request. Knowing it was important to his girls, the father asked a second time. Seemingly unheard, he pressed his luck and asked a third. The grouch behind the table finally grunted and nodded his head slightly. The girls moved around the table and stood on either side of him. The father asked if everyone was ready. The girls beamed; the author could barely muster a scowl. What will they remember from their encounter when they share the photo with friends and family?

I walked away wondering to myself what his deal was. Was he having a bad day? Had he just received some awful news? Was he on this book signing tour against his will? Does he simply not like interacting with his readers? Were his shoes too tight? What would make him behave like such a grouch towards his fans? I suppose I may never know, but I couldn't help thinking how short-sighted his attitude. If I were a fan, an interaction like that would probably have me reconsidering my interest in purchasing any future publications. As one who day dreams about being a real writer someday, I can't imagine having anything other than a great sense of gratitude for everyone in that line, for if it weren't for them, my career would not exist. 

Children are impressionable and often have a rose-colored view of the world until someone shatters their fantasy. As he is a writer of fantasy, I couldn't help but be baffled by the alienation he was creating for these young readers, and maybe even future authors. I believe he needed to put on a happy, professional face no matter how tight his shoes may have been. And if he wasn't able to do that, perhaps he should have "scrammed" until he was less grouchy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Not a Kodak Moment

Call it sensationalism or call it irresponsible journalism, either way I am appalled. I'm sure you've all heard about and likely seen the image and headline from today's New York Post: “Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die... DOOMED," and he was. Ki Suk Han, a 58 year old husband and father from Queens, NY, was fatally struck.

The image is haunting. It's hard to look at it and not imagine the fear he must have felt. It makes me sick to my stomach. As awful as the story is, I don't disagree with it being published. What I disagree with is the publishing of the picture, and I'm far from alone; outrage spread across the internet today condemning the paper, and the photographer. 

Can you imagine how his wife and child must feel, seeing their loved one in that awful and terrifying final moment, and wondering why no one tried to help him? The photographer claims he was rushing toward the train, rapidly firing his flash in an attempt to alert the train engineer. Really? I've never operated a subway, but I've ridden on them plenty of times. There are all kinds of sparks and flashes in those tunnels and stations; it doesn't stand to reason that a camera flash would have much effect on the engineer's attention other than to catch his eye perhaps. Someone yelling and screaming and waving their arms up and down in the air like a crazy person would likely have been more effective. At the speeds those trains travel, however, it's unlikely the engineer would have been able to stop in time even if the flash had alerted him.
I don't want to unfairly judge the photographer for not rushing to try and pull the man back up on the platform, I wasn't there. There were others in the station as well. Were any of them near enough and able to try to help save him? Until we individually face that defining moment and discover whether we are the 'fight' or 'flight' type, how can any of us judge someone from afar? 

While we may never know exactly what the photographer was thinking, we do know he was aware the man was in jeopardy. He was in the right place to take the picture, and likely he took several if he was rapidly firing his flash. He isn't just some random tourist or photo hobbyist either, he is a freelance New York Post photographer. And the picture is pretty well framed and focused, don't you think? Almost to perfectly if you ask me. I, along with others, believe that the photographer was morally bound to help the victim, if he was able to do so rather than get the picture. 

Once back at the office, there had to be a meeting of the editorial staff. A decision had to be made to run the story and publish the picture, on the front cover, and full page. Wow! How do you make a decision like that? Who makes a decision like that? What goes through your mind? Were the staff giddy with excitement? Given the reputation of that paper, I can only imagine they were. 

In reponse to the outcry that the decision was classless, cruel and lacked integrity, Marc Cooper, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said many people 'rushed to judgment without a full understanding of the facts.' I don't think anyone has rushed to judgment. This was classless, cruel and lacks all integrity. What do you think?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Speak Well, It'll Do You Good

Growing up my mother was constantly correcting my grammar. It didn't matter if we were at the dinner table, in the car, or... horrors... out in public. I had a few bad grammar habits that were like fingernails on a chalkboard for her and she was going to fix me if it was the last thing she did! The bad habit of mine that took her the longest to break was my use of "these ones." For instance, if I saw something I liked and said "I like these ones," she'd visibly cringe and correct me - "I like these" or "I like this one." It took me years to understand the linguistic difference and get it right!

My children now suffer the same fate; no surprise there, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! They have two habits that gnaw on my nerves. The first is when they confuse "I" and "me." For example, "Me and Joe are going to the show and..."
Gah!!! "Joe and I... JOE - AND - I," I correct them emphatically mid-sentence, and they start over and say it properly. I've grown so used to hearing them say it wrong, that occasionally I will correct them when they are right. For example, "That same thing happened to Joe and me." I'll holler "Joe and I" and then I see the wheels turning in their mind, and that sly smile they get when they realize they were right and I was wrong! I readily acknowledge my error, but relish that it got them thinking. ; )

My biggest grammatical pet peeve, however, is what linguists call the "quotative 'like'." That drives me absolutely bonkers. In fact, I find it hard to even listen to what someone is saying when the word 'like' is dropped into the conversation every fifth word or so. 
"I was like walking to like the corner store and like I saw this guy and I was like, oh, like he was like so cute. He was like 'Hey...' and I was like 'Hey,' and like so embarrassed. Like I didn't know like what to say or like what to do. I like just ran inside and like started like looking at like all the candy."
Honestly, at these moments I have no idea what the kid said; I'm too busy clinging to the ceiling from my fingernails and trying not to fall (thanks mom!). I'll get right in the middle of their story too. "You were 'like' walking? Does that mean you were doing something that looked like walking, but not actually walking? Were you skipping? Were you hop-walking? What were you doing? How did you get there exactly?" --- "Like the corner store? Was it not actually the corner store? Did you go somewhere different? Didn't we agree on the corner store? Was the store just a holograph?" --- It drives them crazy when I do this, and I inform them at least we are even in that case!

I believe that speaking well (oh that is another one, confusing "well" and "good", but I digress) is important. First impressions are often lasting impressions and they are formed not only by how we look, but how we speak. As a parent, it is my responsibility to teach my children to put their best foot forward. I know they find it
annoying to be corrected, I did too, but someday they will appreciate it. I know I appreciate the gift my mother gave me and someday my kids will thank grandma, and me, as well.

P.S. I just recalled the time my mother sent a note back to one of my high school teachers who noted I was "doing good" in her class. The teacher did not appreciate the correction! Ha ha ha, oh the memories, love you Mom!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Cream of the Crop

English has its roots in the Germanic languages, yet today it is not even a shadow of its former self. Over the course of history, it has been transformed dramatically through invasion, colonization and social and cultural change. Today, English continues to be in a constant state of flux, as are all languages. The only languages not in perpetual flux are dead languages. It's simply the nature of language. Language changes as our society and culture changes. There are many reasons for this, but I'm by no means an expert on the subject, and I won't try to be. There are plenty of great articles on the topic already.

I am often struck by just how much our language has changed when reading the classics. Shakespeare can be very challenging to read, sometimes even seemingly foreign, yet that was the way people spoke at the time; well the language any way, not the poetic verse! Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mark Twain are undeniably some of the greatest writers of the 19th century. Their writing is easier to read, yet in the century plus that has passed since their pens flowed, it still takes a bit more effort to fully comprehend them today than it would have during their era. Contemporary writers such as Stephen King, J.K.Rowling and John Grisham are understood in an instant because they write in the same language we speak.

I'm often fascinated by and drawn into the debate as to whether the English language is changing for the worse. I would have to say no, I don't think so. It's not the language that is at issue, but rather it's usage; grammatical abuse in particular. Funny thing is, Shakespeare, Poe, Austen and the myriad of great writers over the centuries have had their critics too. Geoffrey Nunberg put it best when he said in 1983, 
"Our picture of the English of previous centuries, after all, has been formed on the basis of a careful seletion of the best that was said and thought back then; their hacks and bureaucrats are mercifully silent now."
Yes, we abuse grammar, but every generation has done the same. Hopefully the 'careful selection' of English we leave behind for future generations will make us look good too. Only the cream of the crop!

P.S. I started this post intent on lamenting over what linguists call the "quotative like," attributable to the Valley Girl population in the 80s. However, I ended up 'like' chasing a squirrel, 'like, you know? I'll get back to my original rant, er post, tomorrow!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

To Ban or Not To Ban?

On the heels of my last post, I have to bemoan yet another ban. This ban by the Consumer Product Safety Commission on a fun and creative toy called Buckyballs (a.k.a. Neocubes) claims the product is defective. The product is not defective, it works just fine. Buckyballs are 5mm magnetic balls sold in sets that can be manipulated into an amazing array of shapes and patterns. The toy is marketed to adults, not children, as an office toy / stress reliever. However, if swallowed, they can be dangerous as the magnetic beads can stick together pinching tissue and perforating the lining of the small intestine.

I never want to see a child harmed, but at the same time I don't think it's right that
a product should be banned because it is used improperly, such as being swallowed or used in ways other than intended. Buckyballs are aimed at adults and come with plenty of warnings that they should be kept away from children. And there are countless other products that should be kept away from children for their safety as well. Little children put things in their mouth, and as parents it's our responsibility to make sure they don't have access to dangerous products. We can't let them have toys with parts small enough to choke on. We need to be sure they can't get to guns, knives, tools, or poisonous plants such as azaleas, poinsettias, daffodils, or mistletoe. We need to keep medicines, cleaning products, alcohol and other poisons out of reach and locked up. The list goes on and on. 

The world is not a safe place and danger lurks around every corner. If we banned every product that is potentially dangerous what will we be left with? Should we ban cars? How many deaths are attributed to automotive accidents each 
year? Should we ban products made of glass which is dangerous when broken?  How about the top ten most often choked on foods? Should we ban hot dogs, popcorn, marshmallows, grapes, nuts, carrots, candy, gum, apples and peanut butter? More than 2800 people choke to death each year on food and other small objects. 

Maybe we should mandate that all corners in our homes and on our furniture be rounded. Fireplaces would need to go. And what about toilets since those have enough water in the bowl to drown a child? All handheld appliances have the risk of causing electrocution. A metal object poked into an electric outlet can be the end of a small child. In fact, electricity itself should be illegal, it's very dangerous and accounts for approximately 1000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Dogs can bite. Bookcases can topple. Clothes can strangle. 

Does this list seem ridiculous? Is it any more ridiculous than banning Buckyballs? Where does the madness end and personal responsibility begin? Why should the error in judgment of a few spoil the fun for the many? Banning dangerous products and regulating the safety of others that are marketed at children is important, such as ensuring painted toys are lead-free. I never want to see a child harmed, but I also don't think that we should ban things because they are used improperly. We haven't banned balloons and those are most definitely targeted at children and a huge choking hazard. Perhaps we should. What do you think?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ridiculous Laws

Ridiculous laws... we've all heard of them from time to time, those antiquated and crazy rules that are on the books that make you scratch your head and wonder what led to the apparent need to pass such a law in the first place. For example:

• Massachusetts - it's illegal to snore unless all
 bedroom windows are shut and securely locked

• Lee County, Alabama - it's illegal to sell peanuts after sundown on Wednesday

• Vermont - it's illegal to whistle underwater

I'll admit, while I don't know the story that led to passing the snoring law in Massachusetts, I can at least understand it; and locking the windows was probably a good idea to prevent an annoyed neighbor from becoming a murderer... though it won't protect a spouse! However, in Alabama, no peanuts after sundown on Wednesday, huh? And in Vermont. what could ever have led to the need to ban whistling underwater? Is that even physically possible? I'll have to try next time I go swimming, just not in Vermont.

While we may not know the 'why' behind strange laws passed long ago, have no fear, we are passing new and equally ridiculous laws across this land all the time that will likely have our descendants scratching their heads too. For example, New York City recently passed a ban making it illegal to sell sugar-sweetened drinks (e.g. soda) in a cup larger than 16 oz. Why? Because the city believes this will help control obesity since "simply educating consumers about how their diet impacts their obesity risks has not worked," according to New York City Health commissioner Thomas Farley. This isn't a restriction on choices he says, "this is an increase in choice options in healthier sizes." What? Now there's some serious spin for you.

And now San Francisco is getting in on the act, proposing a law banning public nudity which will make it illegal for anyone over the age of 5 to expose his or her genitals, perineum or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet or plaza... just to be clear on all the possibilities. If you are anything like me, you may at first be scratching your head, asking why a law like this is necessary. Well, it turns out that public nudity in the Castro district is becoming quite a nuisance. Andrea Aiello, the executive director of the Castro Community Benefit District, supports the ban stating, "three or four years ago, there were occasionally nude men on Castro or Market, and it was fine, but since then there has been a larger and larger gathering, and it's spreading... it has become a place for exhibitionism rather than nudism." I don't consider myself a prude, but at the same time I would rather not have to walk among naked people. Join a nudist colony or go to a nudist beach, there are areas set aside for those of you who feel the need to be free, or one with nature or whatever your motivation to go sans clothing.

The pity of all these laws, whether new or old, is that they have to be passed in the first place. If someone wants to whistle underwater, so be it. If you know you are a lumberjack when you sleep and the neighbors are close by, shut your window already (it could save your life!). If you want to let it all hang out, do so in your own backyard. I just wish we had the self control and common courtesy not to need so many laws to govern our behavior. Speaking of that, do we really think that reducing the size of a soda cup or banning happy meal toys is going to make a dent in the obesity crisis? I could go on and on about my thoughts on that topic.

Stay tuned, I just might... ; )

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Get Shot or Get Fired

TriHealth, a health care organization in Cincinatti operating two hospitals and providing services at more than 80 locations, handed out pink slips to 150 employees the day before Thanksgiving. The employees were fired for failing to get a flu shot. TriHealth required all of its 10,800 employees to get the shot by Nov. 16, which it provided for free.

Requiring flu shots for the protection of patients is a growing trend in the health care industry. On average 5-20% of the population gets the flu each year. Of those cases an average of 200,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths occur each year. It is estimated that 90% of the deaths are of people 65 and older. The very old, the very young and those with compromised immune systems due to other illnesses are most at risk.

The knee jerk reaction of many is that the employees should have simply gotten the shot. However, even medical professionals disagree about the safety of flu vaccines, so should these employees be required to get the vaccine or be fired if they don't?

No vaccine is 100% safe and serious side effects can result. The CDC maintains that while the risks of side effects are real, the incidence rates are very low. If you are one of the people that suffers a side-effect after being required to receive a shot in order to keep your job, do you really care about the odds? And are the rates of side-effects fully known? The system for doctors to report adverse reactions is voluntary, so even if patients report problems, will that data reach the CDC?

Each year the flu vaccine is just a 'best guess' as to which strains are coming around, and those guesses are not always correct. There are more than 250 strains and only 3 are included in the vaccine. Folks who are anti-flu shot do not believe the benefit of guesswork outweighs the risks. Furthermore, vaccines contain mercury, formaldehyde and a variety of other chemicals, that many in the medical profession believe contribute to subsequent diseases such as ALS, MS, Alzheimer's, autism, and possibly even cancer. There is also an increased risk of contracting GBS (Guillain-Barre syndrome).

This is a difficult question and not one which is easy to answer. If flu shots were 100% effective, even with the risk of side effects, I'd be more likely to argue that yes, these employees should roll up their sleeves and get the shot. After all, many of their patients are likely to be in the higher risk categories. On the other hand  the efficacy rate of flu shots falls somewhere between 59% and 73% for people between the ages of 18 and 65. In 2011, 52% of children and 39% of adults were immunized, and keep in mind only 5-20% of the population gets the flu each year.

There are many other viruses and germs that can be spread by health care workers to their patients, and firing employees over a core belief seems wrong. Maybe we just need robots to take care of us to avoid as much risk as possible? Let's face it, life is dangerous to your health.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not So Eco-Conscious in Alaska

Alaska is breathtakingly beautiful and by and large the people who live there care for their environment and live in harmony with it. So when I came across this story of a woman in Alaska who fell sixty feet from a cliff to a ledge below, I was horrified. However, upon sifting through the details, I became a little less horrified and much more judgmental.

For starters, the woman was walking and texting. While I would agree that is not as bad as driving and texting, it's still dangerous. And in a case such as this, it required quite an effort on the part of rescue workers putting their lives in danger to save hers, not to mention the tax payer's expense related to the operation.

What most irked me, however, was the reason she was so close to the edge of the cliff... while walking and texting. You see, she was also smoking, and rather than discarding her cigarette butt in an appropriate way, she decided to flick it off the edge of the cliff. No doubt the wildlife living in an around the area appreciate the pollution... not.

Karma lady, the world is not your ashtray, and Mother Nature was not amused!

P.S. I wish this woman no harm; she just took a big whack at my sympathy is all, similar to someone playing with fire and getting burned... you feel bad for them on the one hand, but you want to smack them with the other.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Last Twinkie

What started out as a humorous premise for a high school film festival contest, has surprisingly become a reality just a few short months after the film's award winning debut. Well, maybe not exactly surprising; management of Hostess Brands has been shaky for much of the last decade. Still, who would have ever thought that Twinkies would become extinct? We often joked as kids that anyone building a bomb shelter during the Cold War Era should load up on Twinkies because they have a shelf life of forever, duh!

Anyway, rather than carry on about the downfall of an iconic brand, it would be more fun to share this short film with you produced and directed by my boys... okay, I'm biased, but it did win first place! Be sure to click on the settings gear icon and select 720p or the highest resolution you can to best appreciate the cinematography.

Warning: this film was produced and directed by teenage boys who think shoot 'em ups are just plain fun. If you don't care for the dark comedy genre, this film may not be for you!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What is a Writer?

One of the most common questions asked of a young child is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The answer is often heard with amusement as kids wish to be heroes and superstars, teachers and parents, athletes and artists, or even birds and trees. Yes, trees, just ask my daughter; it was her life dream at age two!

Some people seem to know exactly what they want to be from the time they are very young; others seem to find their path somewhere along the way; while others yet seemingly stumble into a profession, more by knowing what they don't want to be rather than what they do. I was and am a stumbler, still not certain of what I'd like to be when I grow up. (I know, I'm running out of time, you needn't remind me!).

I've had many dreams over the years of things I would have enjoyed doing and I suppose there is still enough time to pursue some. But the truth is I'm not willing to make the sacrifice necessary to achieve many of them. I don't relish going back to school to become a dolphin trainer, for instance, though wouldn't it be fun?

Writing is one of the things I stumbled into. I never imagined being a writer, and in many ways, I still don't consider myself to be one, at least not a "real" writer. In my world view, a real writer has had their work published in a magazine or has had their name printed on the spine of a book. When visiting the library, I sometimes wistfully run my hand along the shelves, taking in the names of all those authors and dreaming of being such a gifted storyteller.

I started writing early in my 'career' when I worked for a big accounting firm in New York. I researched companies and industries, summarized the information and wrote reports, bringing to the forefront the most  relevant findings I had uncovered to help fuel the business decisions of the firm's clients. Over the years, I've continued to write for business purposes, and while I am paid to do so, I do not consider myself a real writer. Why exactly?

I think the answer is two-fold. Firstly, my business writing is not published nor written for the sole purpose of the enjoyment of the reader, though I hope I don't bore too terribly. Secondly, and more importantly,  it's not what I would consider authentic - I don't write stories that are my own, I merely regurgitate the in-depth knowledge of others into more succinct bits.

But could I be a real writer? Whenever I read a novel or enjoy a well-scripted movie or play, my thoughts drift and I wonder if I have it within me to create something unique and worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lip Balm Banned at School... What?!?

A letter came home to parents in our school district today, informing us that we can no longer send our kids to school with lip balms such as Carmex and Blistex. Why, you ask? Well, the answer isn't exactly clear, but it would seem the school considers these to be medications, even though they can be purchased over the counter at a wide variety of stores. I've even seen these items at the checkout counter of our local home improvement store. 

What 'medicines' do they contain? Menthol and camphor. Both of these are naturally occurring chemicals found in plants of the mint family. Are these products dangerous or bad for us? No, at least not according to any research I can find. The worst they might do is cause a rash. There are plenty of things at school that might cause a rash, especially in the cafeteria. Those of us who have contact allergies or food allergies or other allergies, generally avoid the things that we are allergic too. Why are we so bent on trying to protect ourselves from ourselves? If we continue to ban every single thing that someone might be allergic too, what are we going to be left with? 

In addition to lip balms, menthol can also be found in toothpastes, candies and gums, and even some perfumes. I suppose all those things will need to be banned from school premises before long too. Goodbye hygiene and fresh breath. Forget about the kid with braces brushing teeth after lunch. Hello tooth decay and gingivitis! Kids will definitely learn something, but it won't be the three Rs.

When did we become a culture so bent on making the world completely obstacle free for every situation imaginable? At what point do we say enough is enough?

Monday, November 12, 2012

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag

There are some things I know without a doubt, many others I don't know at all, and others yet in which my guess is as good as the next guy's. One thing I do know is we live in a culture of waste, particularly of our resources. We are a disposable society. We waste water, paper, plastic, food and so much more. Did you know we have nearly depleted the helium reserves of the world? I'll cover that topic another time. For the moment the item in my cross-hairs is plastic, specifically polyethylene plastic bags; the kind used at grocery stores and other retailers. The kind you see overrunning our landfills, caught in the branches of trees, floundering in gutters and streams and parklands. They are harmful on all levels.

In the U.S. alone, we use polyethylene plastic bags at a rate of more than 1 million per minute... PER MINUTE!!! These plastic bags are the worst thing we can use to cart our goods to and from our destinations. We try to make ourselves feel better about using plastic bags by convincing ourselves we are saving trees (trees can be replanted and paper biodegrades quickly) or by reusing them several times before filling them up with trash and sending them to the landfill. Some of us do at least place them in the recycle bin which is better than the landfill, but less than 1% of these bags are recycled. Once a plastic bag enters the trash stream, it becomes a menace with a lasting legacy. 

Polyethylene plastic bags do not biodegrade. When exposed to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun they do breakdown, but only into smaller and smaller bits, eventually becoming microscopic granules, a process estimated to take from 10 to 100 years. These granules are building up in both our water and land environments, and ending up in the stomachs of wildlife, ultimately infiltrating every step of our food chain. Plastic is not one of the food groups for any form of life, and cannot be 'biodegraded' by any microorganism. I don't want to ingest them and neither should you nor our wildlife. 

I could go on about the scientific aspects of the harm this is causing now and into the future, but the bottom line is we need to stop using this type of plastic bag, or more precisely, single-use, disposable plastic bags of any kind. There are other choices. There are faux-plastic bags available, derived from agricultural waste, that are biodegradable and compostable. Paper bags are a better option, as they are compostable and they biodegrade within a matter of weeks. But the best choice of all is reusable bags.

Reusable bags come in a variety of materials. Most notably are canvas (cotton), polyester, and polypropylene. Many companies manufacture reusable bags from recycled materials including plastic bags and soda bottles. Companies, such as Chico Bags, have designed their product line for convenience, making bags very compact and easy to carry in a purse or pocket. Reusable bags can hold more weight than paper or plastic bags as well. Keep reusable bags in your car and get in the habit of opening your trunk before and after your visit to a store. One day soon it may not be an option.

Many local municipalities are beginning to pass laws banning the use of single-use plastic bags. Italy has banned them country-wide, while stores in other countries simply don't provide bags at all; customers are expected to bring their own. Ever shopped in an Aldi's? It's a German owned company, they get it, why don't we? It's a shame it takes the passing of a law to get people to do the right thing. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone would simply start being less wasteful? Reusable bags really are not that inconvenient, try it, you just might like it!

This bag I just may have to get or design my own with a bumblebee instead! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Power of an Apology

It's often humbling to realize the power of an apology, a genuine apology, not one that is a matter of habit without true feeling behind it, but one that comes from the heart.

Just the other day I was driving out of my neighborhood, and nearly collided with another car at a t-intersection. I had the right of way, but as my mother always said "do you want to be right, or dead right?" I was able to brake hard and veer just enough to avoid a wreck. The driver of the other car pulled off to the side of the road and I hesitated a moment, not certain what the person was going to do next. I had my son with me and tried to remain cool, but I'll admit, I was irritated on the inside.

The driver side door of the other car opened, and a sweet little lady, probably in her 60s stepped out and rushed up to my window. She was so apologetic. She simply didn't see me. I can understand that; I think we all can. At some point in time or another when driving, we've all had a close call here or there. Not quite seeing that car in your blind spot when changing lanes or misjudging the speed of an oncoming car or looking past a stop sign or red light to the one ahead. It's scary, but it happens, and that's why they are called accidents. They are not intentional or malicious, but simply those moments in time where we blank out for just an instant, which is all it takes.

As soon as she reached my window and said how sorry she was my irritation melted away. She was genuine in her apology. And what really struck me was that in all the times I've been cut-off or had other drivers do something downright rude or stupid, never has anyone taken the time or made the effort to apologize like that. I have both given and received the 'oh my god, I'm so sorry hand wave,' which does a lot to diffuse a situation as well. However, her in person apology really touched me. I reassured her she need not worry, that no one got hurt, and everything was fine. When I pulled away I had a smile on my face.

I don't live in a large neighborhood, but large enough that the other driver was not someone I knew, but now I kind of wish I did. She was sweet and caring, the kind of pleasant neighbor anyone would desire. I'll keep my eye out for her now. I feel a batch of Christmas cookies coming on (giving, not receiving)!

Next time you think you may have offended or upset someone, whether you know them or not, remember the power of an apology. Maybe you will even make a new friend.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

I came across an interesting online article today, which got me buzzing. It was posted on, which appears to be a blog site that has become quite successful. The "About" section only describes the site as:  "Home of Shiny Happy Ladies" with about a dozen editors/writers/contributors to its credit. As a fellow blogger, if I can be called that, and one who certainly has an opinion, I applaud their platform of speaking out. However, I must take issue with the article that brought this group to my attention, as I think it went a bit too far, and is not much above the behavior it was scorning.

The article in question is in response to "hate tweets" in the aftermath of our most recent election. I can not agree more with the author that the hate messages being spread on Twitter are offensive and unnecessary. However, the author went after teens, and teens only. Had she gone after adults I wouldn't be writing this post. Kids are still learning and when they make mistakes, it is our responsibility as parents, educators, mentors, etc., to help them learn from those mistakes, not ridicule them.

Granted, the teens posted in a public forum, and without anonymity, but the article draws specific attention to only a handful of kids, naming names, identifying schools, and trying to determine what discipline their schools did or did not take. Being minors does not excuse these individuals for what they said, but I disagree with the method used to call them to the carpet. Was it responsible? Was it appropriate? Do two wrongs make a right?

I'm fine with the kids being held accountable for their posts, but privately, not publicly. I worry that this article will cause these kids trouble beyond what they deserve, and it appears in some cases it has already done so. In this day and age of our insatiable desire for simple sound-bytes, a person's entire character is often judged based on merely one thoughtless statement made in the heat of the moment.

These are likely good kids who thought they were being grown-up, or possibly even funny. Hopefully they have learned that while we have the right to free speech in this country, it should be used responsibly and respectfully. If you have something to say, if you have an opinion, a belief, something worth sharing, by all means do so, but don't spew hate and ugliness, it doesn't accomplish anything more than starting a nasty argument, even if you just thought your were being smart, clever or funny. And to Jezebel, you also need to think before you post.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Country Divided? Really? Are We So Different?

I was planning on avoiding the election results in my blog today, but I find no matter what topic I consider writing about, I keep drifting back to the inevitable. Whether our candidates or propositions won or lost, I think we all find ourselves thinking about what the future holds and whether we are on the brink of success or disaster. One sentiment that has been repeated by so many in recent days is that we are a country divided to a degree never seen before in our history. I don't think that is entirely true. 

If you look back over the history of our elections, there have been a lot of very close presidential races, and controversy is by no means a modern invention. Did you know that JFK, one of our most revered presidents of all time, won the popular vote by just 112,827 votes (49.7% to 49.6%)?  He carried only 22 states, while his opponent, none other than Richard Nixon, carried 26 states. It doesn't get much closer, or more divided, than that. JFK was a great man and the entire nation mourned, together, at his loss.

One thing I do believe is true is that our representatives need to get back to the business of running this country. Obama has another four years to do what he set out to do, and I honestly hope he makes some inroads. As I posted on Facebook last night, I let loose a diatribe of my frustration at all of Washington, and not just one candidate vs. another. The condition we find ourselves in is greater than just one man:
"There better be some change this time, and I mean positive change. There better be jobs. There better be energy independence. There better be a balanced budget. There better be responsible spending. There better be bi-partisan efforts in Congress. There better be improved foreign policy. He promised us 4 years ago things would be better. Are things better? He is promising again things will be better. Things better be better. This country cannot continue on the path it is on and expect things magically will be better. Somebody has to do the right thing and make them better. Oh yeah, and we better get our debt under control too."
As we all noticed, and expected, there was a great deal of political commentary on FB today, both positive and negative. I do not believe there is any value to the negative other than to make oneself feel better by having a good 'yell' or 'cry' similar to the kind when we are just down right angry at the universe. Fine, have your fit, and then let's move on. As a follow-up comment on my post I felt the need to further clarify my position:
"The mess we are in, I agree, is no more Obama's fault, than it is Bush's, than it is Clinton's, than it is all those who came before. Fingers can be pointed at both parties and fairly so, both parties have made their mistakes, and none are free of some of the blame - it rests on the shoulders of ALL. No matter who sits in that office, no matter who sits in Congress - we simply cannot spend more than we earn. And we cannot continue to raise taxes. We need to close tax loopholes and improve collections. I truly do not believe it is a matter of not having enough money to properly run this country, it is a matter of what we spend that money on. I also believe that until Congress, particularly career politicians - which is most of them, are subject to the same programs the rest of us are, that nothing meaningful will ever happen. They aren't hurting, so what's the big deal? They receive automatic pay raises, have a sweet pension deal, earn nearly 3x the average median income, work about half the year, and enjoy quite a few other perks as well. If they can line their pockets and those of their cronies with tax payers dollars and continue to get away with it, nothing will change - at least not for the better."
Even as troubled as our country seems at times, seemingly wobbling under it's own weight and obesity, I can't imagine a better place to live that affords the human spirit more opportunity and more freedom. Just last week a 15 year old Pakistani girl was killed by her own parents when they threw acid on her because she looked at a boy... because - she - looked - at - a  - boy!!!  O M G !!!  Yea, I'm good here living in this country, thanks, where I can spout off about my government and not have to look over my shoulder in fear. And if I'm riled up enough, I can always run for office. I have that right and that freedom. Not too bad!

Let's work together and move forward. I think if we look close enough we will realize we really aren't as divided as we may think.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Friends - New Perspectives

We recently had the wonderful opportunity to host a home visit for three journalists visiting from Africa. They were among 16 that were invited to the United States through the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. The professional objectives of the program were to provide the visitors with a better understanding of a free and independent press, First Amendment protections, responsible and ethical investigative journalism, and the evolving role and impact of technology and social media in journalism.

In addition to these objectives, our guests toured several major American cities including New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas and some others before wrapping up their tour in St. Louis. During their stay in St. Louis, one of the scheduled activities was to spend an evening enjoying a typical American family dinner. That's where we came in to the picture. We invited another family to join us as well and we all had a wonderful time making new friends and seeing the world from a different perspective.

Our friends picked up our three guests and an interpreter from their hotel in downtown St. Louis, while we put the finishing touches on the meal. We decided nothing was more American than a good old backyard BBQ. We served up a batch of burgers and chicken, grilled fresh zucchini and eggplant, and whipped up some creamy potato salad. We served our famous "colossal fruit salad" along with ice cream cones for dessert. The food was delicious and the company was delightful. What a wonderful evening!

Our guests were:

   • Mr. Terver Akase - Nigeria
         Reporter/Correspondent for Radio Nigeria, Rivers State
   • Mr. Aboubacar Dembz Cissokho - Senegal
         Reporter, Senegalese Press Agency
   • Mr. Mohamed Abdelaziz Mustafa Mohamed - Sudan
         Head, Political Division, Alsudani Newspaper
   • Ms. Monia Chehata - Virginia Falls, VA
        Consecutive Interpreter (originally from Tunisia)

Admittedly we were a bit nervous before their arrival. We weren't certain what to expect. What would they be like? What would they think of our home, our family, our country, our beliefs, our culture, and... the food (c'mon, every 'chef'' is paranoid, right)? How well did they speak English? Would it be awkward to have an interpreter? The moment they arrived and we welcomed them into our home, all those concerns melted away. They could not have been more gracious nor more charming. The evening, a Wednesday night and a school night, absolutely flew by in the blink of an eye.

We spent the early part of the evening in the living room discussing mainly geography, pulling out the old globe from the 1960s, allowing each of our guests to point out where they live and the routes they each traveled to arrive in the U.S. You'd be amazed at how little has changed in Africa, given how much turmoil there has been in the past 50+ years. More so it was place names rather than boundaries that changed, especially in the lower half of the continent as many of these countries claimed their independence from their European colonizers in the 60s and 70s. We also quickly became aware of how much more they know about our country than we do theirs. But, to be fair, Africa is the second largest continent after Asia and is home to 54 different countries. It's not a topic we spend much time on in our schools, but with the U.S. being a world leader, it's not surprising that other countries include our history and our politics in their curriculum. Still makes one feel ignorant - even if I can name all 54 countries and their capitals.

 Aboubacar Cissokho - Senegal;
Monia Chehata - Intpreter; 
During dinner, conversation turned away from geography and toward personal experiences as well as their impressions of America and Americans and our impressions of Africa and Africans. The thoughts, ideas and feelings exchanged were of the kind that remind us how small the world truly is. I learned so much more than I expected in the short time we had together. Our new friends are not very different from us at all. They love their families, their friends, their homes, their communities and their countries. They too hope for peace and understanding from and for everyone. As journalists, they believe in honest and truthful reporting, both the good and the bad. They were keen to point out that the majority of the news about Africa reported in the U.S. media is of the negative variety related to the troubles there and rarely, if ever, about the positives, of which they believe there are plenty. It's hard, if not impossible, to argue a fair point, but I'll save a rant about our media for another time.

Monia, the interpreter, had as much to share as our African visitors. Originally from Tunisia, and now an American citizen, she added tremendously to the experience. Later in the evening she shared with us that she could have had the night off as Aboubacar spoke fluent English, however, after reviewing the host family bios and noting that our children were about the same age as hers, she very much wanted to be part of the night. We were all equally glad she had. We look forward to the chance to participate in this program again in the future, and we would encourage others to do the same if the opportunity were ever to present itself. 

سلام   ← Arabic for PEACE

Aboubacar Cissokho - Senegal; Terver Akase - Nigeria; Mohamed Mohamed - Sudan; We were so busy visiting that we didn't even think about a group picture until the last hurried moment - I wish we had Mohamed up front so you could have seen him in his traditional dress, very cool indeed! Also, no time to use the self-timer, so Monia took the picture, instead of being in it.