Saturday, December 24, 2011

Love you, my Mom. Merry Christmas.

I think it’s fair to say that there is some part of me that never quite detached from my mother. That’s not to say I didn’t leave home in my early twenties; marry a few years later, have children of my own and lead a life that included a mostly healthy relationship with her and with my Dad. I did. What I mean by not detaching is that I’ve never lost sight of the fact that no matter what I had weighing me down or causing my anxiety, I could tell my Mom and she would listen. No question.

I’m positive that over my half century + in her life, I haven’t been all that she hoped for in one way or another. Couple of highlights: The day I told her that my boyfriend and I were quite committed to each other and no, I wasn’t still a virgin – that must have kept her up for many a night, and worn out a rosary along the way. The day I told her I wasn’t going to be married in ‘The Church,’ also not a celebratory moment in her life, I’m sure. Announcements like these distressed her, and she shared that emotion honestly but kindly. But I never felt any coldness or withdrawal from her when I let her down in some way. And after my own twenty-plus years of motherhood, I call that miraculous. Because honest emotion without judgment has to be the hardest thing ever with children, right? Loving them unconditionally sure; but not holding any resentment or sadness or even anger about what they’ve done or not done; about choices they’ve made in their own lives? I know that’s hard for me.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve sobbed on the phone or in her kitchen, dumping many of my life’s challenges into her always accessible lap. I wasn’t quite looking for answers or advice, although she often offered insight I valued. No, somewhere along the line I’ve discovered that I did it for one reason: To hear her tell me, “It will work out.” The days I would cry about some situation with one or more of my sons and she would say, “I have faith in him. I do. Everything will all be okay.”

As much as we’d all like to believe in nothing but happy endings, things that trouble me may or may not “work out” as she always claims they will. But it’s her certainty and her faith that inspire me. I feel certainty about almost nothing these days but I am just a little suspicious of anyone who exists in a relative sea of calm. That is; toward anyone – except my Mom.

If I wanted to take a more cynical approach to her attitude, I could call it her view through “rose-colored glasses” or quite frankly, her inexplicably and relentlessly positive point of view, when almost none of the facts would seem to offer her reasons for good cheer. I could say that choosing to believe in one good scrap of promise when the reality of a situation is telling you something quite the opposite gets you nowhere.

Or does it? Here’s what I do know – and part of me will always have a girlhood point of view on this, that can’t be helped: She married a complex but loving man with his own personal sadness and demons to fight, and never, ever gave up on the good person he was born to be. She saw the loving man he truly was despite the many aspects of his young life that were a challenge as he grew to adulthood and found his way into the world. During the worst periods of my dad’s alcoholism, she was the one steady, reliable force in our home daily; the parent my sisters and brother and I knew we could rely on for everything, everyday.

My sister and I talked recently about the response many reasonable, intelligent people would understandably have to discovering and then enduring life with an alcoholic spouse who had yet to reach sobriety. Anger, resentment, fear, withdrawal, bitterness, unfairness, anxiety, sadness, and abandonment come to mind. Add children into the marriage and quadruple all those reactions.
We felt none of them from my mother; a testament to the strong woman she is. I expect she spent many an evening crying to her own mom who, according to the stories I heard, listened but then reminded her of my dad’s many good qualities, of the man my grandmother knew was buried inside him, trapped under decades of abuse of one kind or another. She reminded my mom that her love and support was absolutely required if anything positive was to come about. [After my dad died, I learned only a few of the sad stories about his childhood and young adulthood and knowing only a few is quite enough, thank you.]

I started this post a few days ago and my idea here was this: My Mom read every single word I ever wrote, and cut my columns out of the newspaper for almost ten years, saving them in an album. When the column ended, she lamented her “unwired” condition and as a result, couldn’t read my blog posts or online pieces easily. My goal with this piece was to help her understand how much her life and outlook has influenced me and given me a perspective I know I wouldn’t have had otherwise on many, many things. My plan was to read it to her, or at least print it out and share it that way.

When she learned of her cancer just two months ago, and the bleak prognosis, she broke down quietly with me and said, “Renee, I’m not ready.” We held each other and I just cried along with her because if I spoke it would have been to say. “I’m not either Mom. Don’t leave me.”

But because she was who she was, her next thought was, “What’s next? What do we do now?” And she moved on. To new specialists, a new hospitals and the procedures and a surgery that would arrest her condition.

Except it didn’t. And for the past five days, she has been in an intensive care unit, with no fewer than seven machines doing something for her. The yellow, blue, red, and turquoise lines that march across those screens look not unlike the rollercoaster I’m on inside.

She’s stable.
She’s slightly, just slightly in the littlest way improved.
We can’t expect much at this point.
She’s very, very sick.
She’s hanging in there.
She’s holding her own.
You need to be patient.
Let her know you’re supporting her.
Be positive.

We’ve heard these and more like it with all the best intentions from the medical people we talk with every day. All of them are some code for this: God knows. Truly: God knows what will happen here.

I’m tired of doctors asking me what I want to “do.” I want to talk to my Mom again. I want to hear her voice. I want to look at her, have her look at me – really see me – and smile at her. I want her to be comfortable. I want to tell her just one more time: I love you, and have her hear me.

I want her to be here. For a little while longer.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saint Monica would be weeping all over again. And I wouldn't blame her.

Let’s start today’s incrankulous thoughts with some context, shall we?

From Santa
1769: Father Juan Crespi -- a Franciscan in Gaspar de Portola’s expedition party -- inspired by a free-flowing natural spring names the area after Saint Monica, who wept for her wayward son.
“The city of Santa Monica's story began when a Franciscan monk, inspired by the region's natural springs, named the area after Saint Monica. The rest, as they say, is history, and a rich history at that.” Ho Nguyen - Santa Monica Historical Society

From The Catholic Encyclopedia and, and I’m absolutely paraphrasing here; the prose the sites offer is much more complete and sober. But this is a blog, after all:

Turns out, St. Monica (b. 333) was a never-say-die kind of woman. The kind who refused to give up, no matter the circumstances. She and her husband, Patricius, had two sons, Navigius and Augustine, and a daughter, Perpetua. Old Pat, he was a pagan, an explosive man who wasn’t a complete joy let’s just say. Oh, he also despised Christians. As a bonus for Monica, her mother-in-law was not unlike her son in temperament. For thirty years, (that’s three zero) Monica lived with this tyrant/husband, always praying for his conversion.

Her example and piety finally prevailed. Patricius eventually converted to the faith, then up and died a year later.

Monica, not unlike other widows, said, “Never again” regarding marriage and moved in with her son Augustine in Italy. Now Augustine, being extremely bright and a young man of a certain age, had abandoned the faith of his youth and “subscribed to Manichaeism.” (Nope, of course I didn't know what that was either. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Manichaeism is a religion founded by the Persian Mani in the latter half of the third century. It purported to be the true synthesis of all the religious systems then known, and actually consisted of Zoroastrian Dualism, Babylonian folklore, Buddhist ethics, and some small and superficial additions of Christian elements. The theory of two eternal principles, good and evil is predominant and gives color to the whole. Manichæism is classified as a form of religious Dualism.)

So there was Monica. Devout, but sadly tormented. First by a husband who treated her like crap for thirty years before he turned over a new leaf, largely as a result of her never losing faith in him and the man he could become. Then by a son who turned to the new age religion of the day while away at school, and eventually moved in with his mistress, disappointing her in a different way.

Like any mother would, she tried to find help for him. When the Bishop himself intervened but struck out, he basically told Monica, “Sorry, he’s pretty stubborn. You better just keep praying.” More on the record, he encouraged her by saying something like, “It is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.” Much more poetic, right?

So she did. She prayed and never gave up, and just seventeen short years later, it paid off. Augustine was baptized at the age of 28, and went on to become a priest.
When Monica died at the age of 56, Augustine had returned to the faith and her daughter had become a nun. (No word on Navigius. He may have been the boring but faithful son who never got headlines.)

Why this walk down St. Monica lane today? Because of the story in the news about the atheist group in Santa Monica that has prevailed this year and gained exposure for their philosophy this Winter Solstice Season in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park. Through a city lottery, they earned 18 of the 21 plots available to city groups for seasonal displays. The remaining three spots contain one Jewish display and two Christian ones.

Truthfully, none of this makes sense to me because it would appear that for at least 45 weeks a year, the Jewish and Christian groups in and around Santa Monica don’t angle for space to display scenes or symbols of their beliefs. The idea of offering space to them at this time of year makes sense to me but I’m not an atheist. In fact, I’m even going to allow that if I were, it might bug me to see enormous displays of something I believed to be fantasy on public display.

But here’s the part of the story that made me insane. According to Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation, “[Christmas displays are] littering – literally littering – these spaces…[and are a] territorial attempt by Christians to impose their beliefs in this season. That creates an atmosphere of intimidation. Christians are the insiders, and everyone else is an outsider.”

Well…yeah. If you’re not a Christian, Christmas decorations and celebrations are irrelevant, and yes, possibly offensive, to you as an observer, although ‘imposing beliefs’ sounds a bit much to me.

In fact, it’s possible the displays feel not unlike the billboard from that feature images of Poseidon, Jesus, and Santa Claus and labels them all as mythical figures. Wouldn't the same standards apply here? One could say “it is a territorial attempt by atheists to impose their beliefs in this season. That creates an atmosphere of intimidation. Atheists are the insiders, and everyone else is an outsider.” The billboard might very well offend Christians, or followers of ancient Greek religion for that matter.

We could go back and forth all day here so I'll move onto this: The other insane moment in the article I read was courtesy of Santa Monica atheist, Damon Vix. He remarked that the display “defines Santa Monica as a Christian city, and I feel excluded by that.” That’s unfortunate but at least his feelings are confined to the Christmas season.

Or are they? If he wants to feel excluded 52-weeks a year, I would respectfully direct Mr. Vix to, where he can stop on the history page. The city itself welcomes visitors to the site with references to a Franciscan monk and a Christian saint. Maybe the local atheists should leave the Hanukkah display and Christmas tableau alone and contact the city webmaster if they have a problem with the town, its tolerance of religion and its presence in their lives. I think their concerns go back almost 250 years.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I made it. So why do I feel this way?

I've been neglectful of my running tally and the ongoing virtual journey to Toronto. The good news is it wasn’t for lack of progress. Quite the opposite. In fact, Thanksgiving Day turned out to be auspicious. It was the day I reached my goal: 450 miles on the record this year, which places me somewhere north of Ontario, Canada. That means I made it. I did it. With my usual clarity and forethought, I based this whole program on exactly nothing and completed the journey one month earlier than I had planned.

The numbers look something like this (so far):
Average mileage per month: 42.5
Average mileage per run: just under 3 miles
Average number of days run / month: slightly more than 15

I found myself looking at the number at the end of November and thinking: well, I can’t stop now, right? I can run about 49 miles in December and hit 500, right? Right? I had logged that many miles (and more) in a month already. I could do it again, this time for the big payoff; the ‘extra’ mileage I never imagined I’d be able to claim.

Well, I might. But I might not. The month started off slowly and I have another 30 miles to go before the ball drops in Times Square again. Sure, I could do it. Sure I could.

The good news is I can always fall back on my “go to” movies to make the time pass more comfortably on the treadmill. For the record, these movies make my all-time, top eleven, always watchable, always distracting list. That means I’ll stop on them, knowing them well enough to not need every word; knowing they will engage me to the point where I can disengage from the numbers that are moving way, WAY too slowly on the mileage tracker or the timer, depending on how I’m running that night:

11 The Hangover

10 The Break Up

9 Leap Year

8 Tropic Thunder

7 The Muse

6 Rudy

5 Wedding Crashers

4 Along Came Polly

3 Forgetting Sarah Marshall

2 The Princess Bride

1 Groundhog Day

Three Vince Vaughn and two Jennifer Aniston? Why not – never said I was looking for deep while I run. I can barely manage it when I’m sitting still.

The thing is: I should be celebrating this accomplishment with a little more enthusiasm than I feel right now, shouldn’t I? Maybe it’s because my right knee is starting to ache a tiny little bit. (It does, really.) Maybe it’s because I wish it all felt more effortless than it did a year ago. (It doesn’t. Really.) I think it may be because I want to feel like a runner and I don’t. I’m not even sure what that means. Or maybe – and this is closer to my typical truth about lots and lots of things in life – actually accomplishing something might just mean it couldn’t have been that hard. More positively stated, I could say that my passion lies in the journey, not in the arrival.

The support I've felt – from personal friends and blog friends - all year long has inspired me to keep it up; to keep moving; to keep believing this is not at all insane. I can’t explain the kindness of so many, who wanted to help me succeed and meet my goals. Thank you doesn’t begin to cover it but thank you. You were my virtual pace group, keeping me on the road and focused.

So here I sit, or run, as the case may be, just about 31 miles away from hitting a total of 500 for the year. I have about 15 days to do it but let’s face it: they’re in the second half of December, when I just happen to have a couple of (dozen) other things to do. So I’ll aim for a nice round 475. That’s only six more miles. And then 480. And then, well, who can’t find time for 20 miles? Honestly, who? Me, probably, but you can see where this kind of thinking has gotten me: Just 468 miles from Allentown in eleven short months.

Who would’ve believed it? Certainly not I.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kind and generous doesn't do this reunion justice. But it's a start.

The only thing more surprising than having a 35th High School reunion – that feels like it can’t be true, but it is – was learning that not only did our class have a “theme song,” apparently we sang it at graduation. No memory of that. Zip. It was the almost inevitable “You’ve Got a Friend,” a title that will always aggravate the English major in me.

But my legendary, terrible memory skills aside - and they were in full view last night as I said at least a dozen times to various friends, “Sorry, I have no memory of that. Nope, don’t remember that either. What? We did that? We went where? How can you remember that?” - seeing everyone last night was a gift. These friendships, formed so many years ago when we had our entire lives filled with dreams, when we were facing decades of discovery about just who we would become, felt renewed, fresh and alive, even as we’ve all indisputably entered what I’ve heard someone call the youth of old age. Yes, we’re all 50 + but we’re also the ‘kids’ in AARP.

Seeing someone after thirty-five years: how do you even begin that conversation? First, you get past that nano-second in your brain going, “Name? NAME? NAME!! Oh – got it…Hi!!! How are you? Whew.” (Maybe that was just me because everyone else knew everyone else immediately. See the notes about memory or lack thereof above.) But back to the conversation. Sure, a glass of wine helps, just as it helps with many things in life. And in a way, I felt very humbled and blessed to have many old friends already feel a connection because of my writing over the years. We inevitably caught up on kids, marriage(s), jobs, and life. I loved hearing about the paths we’ve taken, and meeting their partners, who, like my own, played heroic and indefatigable “good sport” roles by patiently meeting dozens of people and then nodding, smiling and saying where they were from or what they did for a living dozens of times as well.

But what I really wanted to say was something like this: ‘Remember us? Remember when we were 17? Remember what we thought was important or life-altering back then? We’re different now but then again, maybe we’re not…in a good way. Maybe we’re still almost exactly who we used to be in the hundreds of small ways that really matter, and despite everything that’s different about us and who we've become, we can still share a hug and a kiss, a smile, a kind word.’

I didn’t, of course.

Seeing old classmates, vibrant, fun, accomplished and caring people, was a moment of restoration for me. These last few months, which have been some of the most challenging in my life, took a back seat to the realization that friendships from our youth may grow hazy but they never quite leave our consciousness. They make up huge parts of the ‘glory days’ Springsteen sings so energetically about in his song. They’re part of us - of who we turned out to be. It’s impossible to know whom we would have become without the people who sat right beside us, everyday in our classes, our clubs, our activities, some of whom we’ve known almost our entire lives. Yes, decades have passed and yes, we’ve long since ‘grown up.’ But some part of us still imagines each other as we were, standing on the brink of our lives; waiting to join the adults and really begin our lives.

And thirty-five years ago, not one of us could have predicted what that would mean. The intervening years may have seen some of us grow wealthy or fulfilled by a career. They have included heartache and pain as a result of lost marriages, long walks down Green Day's boulevard of broken dreams or challenging circumstances of many kinds. We’ve lost spouses, parents, siblings, and children. We’ve lost some classmates. But for those of us who gathered for the evening, we rediscovered this one true thing: we're here; and we’re all better people for having known each other. I believe that now, maybe more than I ever could have imagined in 1976.

So like everyone there, I shared my story and listened and just loved the moment. The unassailable fact is that we will always have our history as classmates. We can live six blocks from our childhood homes or across the world, and we’ll always be part of that group of people who formed a little community for that particular moment in time.

I joined the circle of my classmates, holding hands and singing along with James to close out the evening. But as the song played on, I sang more softly and just looked at the group, thinking: this is one of those images that will linger; the legendary tie that binds. But not a heavy, cumbersome chain; more like a strong silky thread that connects us; loose and flexible but unbreakable.

I’m not a poet but Natalie Merchant is and the lyrics of Kind and Generous seem more than appropriate here. To the Class of ’76, I thank you for who you were then, who you are now, and for sharing the ride.

Kind and Generous

You've been so kind and generous
I don't know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I'm in debt to you
For your selflessness, my admiration
And for everything you've done

You know I'm bound...I'm bound to thank you for it

You've been so kind and generous
I don't know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I'm in debt to you
And I never could have come this far without you
So for everything you've done

You know I'm bound...I'm bound to thank you for it

I want to thank you for so many gifts you gave with love and tenderness
I want to thank you

I want to thank you for your generosity
The love and the honesty that you gave me

I want to thank you; show my gratitude
My love and my respect for you; I want to thank you

I want to...
Thank you

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Appropo of nothing: one women's perspective on men.

I was looking for an old email and came across this one instead. It started out as an internet note that was passed from person to person for fun - you remember those days; in the time before everyone posted everything that crossed our path or our minds on Facebook or sent tweets every nineteen minutes?

So without much further ado, and with great affection for the many wonderful men I know and love, while you're feeling properly grateful for those you love, here's a little perspective on why men and women might not ever quite sync up. And why that's mostly funny, not fatal.

Note: The list is the original email list; my comments on the list are in italics below each item.

Here are the rules from the male side. Please note: these are all numbered "1" ON PURPOSE!

# 1. Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down. We need it up, you need it down. You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.
Maybe that's because you'd feel pretty uncomfortable trying to....oh , never mind.

# 1. Sometimes we are not thinking about you. Live with it.
OK, that makes sense. But I guess most of us would like to believe you'd be thinking about us at least twice a year, say - on our birthday or anniversary without us hitting you over the head???? See # 1 below.

# 1. Sunday = sports. It's like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.
Fine by me. What day of the week is our day? I forget.

# 1. Shopping is NOT a sport. And no, we are never going to think of it that way.
Except when we're shopping for electronics.

# 1. Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! Strong hints do not work! Obvious hints do not work! Just say it! We'll get it for you, but just LET US KNOW WHAT YOU WANT!!!
We want men who ignore these rules.

# 1. We don't remember dates. Mark birthdays and anniversaries on the calendar. Remind us frequently beforehand.
We don't remember the last time we put oil in the car, or when your next dentist appointment is, or what time the cable guy is supposed to come, or when the permission slip and field trip money is due, or when the dog needs to go to the vet. I guess we should write it down. Please remind us frequently.

# 1. Most guys own three pairs of shoes. What makes you think we'd be any good at choosing which pair, out of thirty, would look good with your dress?
Just trying to please the one we love.

# 1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question. Please pick one.
Please see the question #1 below about being fat. The answer is NO. Use it please.

# 1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.
And apparently, they're also to help us find something to do on Sundays.

# 1. A headache that lasts for seventeen months is a problem. See a doctor.
A cold is not necessarily life threatening. Take a Tylenol.

# 1. Let us know about that funny noise in your car engine as soon as you hear it.
And put that new roll on as soon as the old one is empty.

# 1. Anything we said six months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact, all comments become null and void after seven days.
Except the wedding vows, right?????

# 1. If you won't dress like the Victoria's Secret girls, don't expect us act like soap opera guys.
We might if we got the right answer to the next question.

# 1. If you think you're fat, you probably are. Don't ask us. We refuse to answer, but still love you.
See above re yes and no questions.

# 1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways, and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one.
We did, too.

# 1. Whenever possible, please say whatever you have to say during commercials.
Got it. It would probably be something like: I'm leaving to go shopping with my girlfriends and talk about our relationship, get some sympathy and celebrate my birthday. And by the way, the car is smoking a little bit every time I hit the brakes and your mom’s birthday is on Tuesday.

# 1. Christopher Columbus did not need directions, and neither do we.
Yeah, but he was on his way to India for God's sake!! He ended up somewhere else as I recall.

# 1. The relationship is never going to be like it was the first two months we were going out. Get over it. And quit whining to your girlfriends.
You don't have to tell me! I live here, remember? Besides, didn’t you just tell me that's what my girlfr….forget it.

# 1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what Mauve is.
And we have no idea what "special teams" do and why if they're on every football team on the planet they're so freakin' special to begin with.

# 1. If it itches, it will be scratched. We do that.
Except on Sunday, right??

# 1. We are not mind readers and we never will be. Our lack of mind-reading ability is not proof of how little we care about you.
How come everybody knows what Lee Corso is thinking?

# 1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine. Really, you look fine!!
Change "fine" to "beautiful" and you've got a deal.

# 1. NASCAR is as exciting for us as handbags are for you.
Handbags??? Try SHOES.

# 1. I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape
Me too.

# 1. Thank you for reading this. Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight, but did you know we really don't mind that? It's like camping.
We don't mind, either. We get the remote in the bedroom.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Just say no, thank you. And send Kim down the street to the next house.

An Open Letter to every book publisher on the planet:

Please, for the love of everything we hold sacred, take a breath. I guarantee you – absolutely guarantee you – that if none of you choose to publish Kim Kardashian’s soon to be shopped around tell-all about her 72 days of wedding hell, you won’t receive nor read even one letter, email, tweet, fax, facebook post, text or voice mail from the book-buying public, demanding that you give poor Kim the platform she needs to tell her story.

To publishers who have all the money and confidence in the world that book will rack up record-breaking sales, please put the money to better use. Take the advance you were going to pay Ms. Kardashian to bear her wounded soul to the world and donate it to women’s shelters, reforestation efforts or your favorite rehab center. It may do some actual good and reach people or causes that need financial support.

To the editors who have held meetings since Wednesday about how to approach Kim’s very busy agent and put together the best deal for everyone: please stop right now. Promise yourself that if anyone in your entire building is still talking about Kim and the seemingly inconsequential Kris in two weeks, you’ll make that phone call and begin negotiations. Wait – make that one week.

To marketing teams who apparently have pictures of endcaps, table displays and book signings that are all but scheduled dancing in their heads, stop being so lazy. Commit to marketing good but unknown writers who have an actual voice and talent. Use all your efforts and good old-fashioned sell-in skills (remember those?) to help them find the readers they deserve.

I don’t expect this will make one bit of difference to anyone who makes these decisions. Times are hard and easy money is easy money. But what I will never understand is how the same publishing industry that participates in the erudite National Book Awards annually and nominates mostly obscure, literary writers for lofty awards and virtually dismisses “popular” fiction as too base and tawdry for consideration, could also be the same publishers who compete for a book from the likes of Kim or any number of “famous for being famous” people like her. It makes no sense. Who are you?

Once again, the genius of Ricky Gervais / Andy Millman on “Extras” rings true. To update his final episode, brilliant observation slightly, I have to agree: “The Victorian freak show never went away. But now it’s called Kim Kardashian or Lindsay Lohan or Snooki or Chaz.”

God help us, we’re still lining up for tickets. The question is: do we blame the ticket seller or ourselves?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why no! You won't be surprised to hear my costume isn't ready.

I just read a study that reports the following:

Top 5 US Holidays according to a survey of American men and women:

1. Christmas
2. Thanksgiving
3. Well, let's hold on this one for a moment...
4. Independence Day
5. Easter

Number Three is the tricky one here; that's where the survey takes a bit of a turn. In fact, depending on who is answering, the list changes from group to group.

For a few groups (Echo Boomers, age 18 - 34; Generation X, age 35 - 46 and women), HALLOWEEN ranks third.

For Baby Boomers (47 - 65), Matures (66 +) and men, INDEPENDENCE DAY comes in third.

Let's translate, shall we?

Women are fans of gifts (giving and receiving), food (preparing and eating) and candy + costumes.

Men appear to be fans of gifts (giving and receiving), food (preparing and eating) and food + fire.

I guess many women feel this way: if I get to buy and eat candy and dress like a slutty nurse or a witch while I do, well, that works for me. Personally, I can't quite relate because while I am an enormous fan of candy of almost any kind, dressing up for Halloween never did much for me. In fact, regular readers of my now departed newspaper column will remember that every single year, I was always the mother who was stunned year after year when the end of October arrived and it was Halloween again. Not only was I the one who bought the boys' costumes from catalogs, I paid FedEx for overnight delivery.

Thankfully, they had their dad. He could somehow coordinate three reasonably good costumes for them out of nothing in a matter of hours; I'm not kidding. Give him an old coat, a tennis racquet and a hardhat and he'd turn random accessories into costumes that were somehow pretty good. God knows how he did it.

Back to the survey: It's not that women don't like celebrating Fourth of July; we do. It's just fifth in a list of five. You'll note it comes in after another religious-with-heavy-candy-overtones-holiday: Easter.

Number 5 for men? New Year's Eve.

Personal sidebar: Yet another holiday that never did much for me. Over-rated; too many expectations. When I was younger and single, I either worried about the date I had or the date I didn't have. When I was younger and in love, I appreciated the sure-thing-of-it all. When I married and realized I'd never have to think about New Year's Eve in a certain way again, I was relieved. These days, the holiday arrives and it's become the perfect opportunity for me to brood about the year that has passed and the year to come.

Many men - not all certainly - may like Thanksgiving and New Year's because of the football games that take place on those holidays. That means food, drink and sports. Some might call it the trifecta of a perfect day. (I wouldn't, but some might.)

Maybe men also think this on December 31: festive party + drinks = maybe I'll get lucky. With my wife. Maybe.

You know what women are thinking? Only about six weeks until another national holiday built around candy.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

G'night everybody! Tip your waiters and waitresses!!!

Sometimes it takes one comment from one reader to remind me that it’s not all a drag. That not everything is as bleak as I might imagine it is, and that’s on my good days. Thank you, c.c.!

Coincidentally, I just finished a book called Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates, by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. Now, before everyone gets worked up, I fully admit I’m not nearly smart enough to understand at least two-thirds of this book but in terms of philosophy, debating philosophers and trying to figure out why we’re on this planet, it’s about as close as I’ll ever get.

And in that spirit, I share the following with you. Made me smile and once again, reminded me that a little perspective and a good dose of humor can really help smooth out a path that feels a little rocky these days. Enjoy.

So Heidegger and a hippo stroll up to the Pearly Gates and St. Peter says, “Listen, we’ve only got room for one more today. So whoever of the two of you gives me the best answer to the question, ‘what is the meaning of life,’ gets to come in.”
And Heidegger says, “To think Being itself explicitly requires disregarding Being to the extent that it is only grounded and interpreted in terms of beings and for beings as their ground, as in all metaphyics.”

But before the hippo can grunt one word, Saint Peter says to him, “Today’s your lucky day, Hippy!”

Monday, October 03, 2011

Grimsby Ontario feels anything but grim.

I made it I made it I made it I made it. On screen anyway.

I've "arrived" in Canada and am now near a town called Grimsby, Ontario. As of September 30, I'm in pretty good shape to complete my virtual run from Pennsylvania to Canada, which may put me significantly ahead of my goal of running 450 miles this year. If I keep up my pace, I'll complete about 500 miles for the year. In fact, September was my best month ever. I ran about fifty miles, and on several days ran longer distances than I had run previously.

For those who need the numbers (AKA Capricorns):
375 down
75 more to go
3 months to do it...
which means...
25 miles a month
or about 6.25 miles a week
or about 1.5 miles / run, 4 times a week

Since my monthly goal at the outset was 37.5 miles, you can see where I may, in fact, overshoot Toronto.

No, I have no explanation for that.

No, I would have never anticipated that come the beginning of October, I would still find myself on track to reach my goal. The fact is I can’t quite believe I’ve been running every week for about a year and half now.

As I think about this, it occurs to me that I can’t remember the last long term commitment I made to anything. That’s kind of troubling. I’ve made plenty of false starts and plenty of resolutions about doing something differently, trying something new, or even believing in something more fervently than I ever had before. All resolutions that meant something to me and flickered brightly for a short time and then burned out.

So what's that about? When I find myself in this kind of mood I think about the speech Andy Millman (the character Ricky Gervais brilliantly embodied in his show, Extras) gave when he described his lack of initiative or dedication on camera: “I would have loved to have been a doctor. Too hard. Didn’t want to put the work in. I’d have loved to have been a war hero. I’m too scared. So I go [referring to his career as an entertainer]: ‘Oh, it’s what I do.’ ”

I’m not saying I wanted a medical or military career and that I am sorely disappointed in myself. It’s more about the frustration I often feel about trying to be ...hmmmm...more than I really am? Or maybe a better version of myself? In my head, I’m always open to new ideas and new experiences; open to the ways I can explore what's possible and where that might take me. But in reality: not so much.

I'm going to stick with my "professional" life for now and list a couple of the plans I make in my head regularly to give you a sense of my immobility.

Today is always the day I’m going to register that amazing domain name for the website I thought about starting something like nine years ago. Which means that by now it should probably be an app, not a website. Which would mean so much more to me if I ever used any apps.

It’s the day I’m going to begin writing the business plan for the Shoe-of-the-Month Club (and idea I had circa 1995) that it's now too late to do: Kim or Khloe or some other Kardashian attached her name to the idea already and it's up and running.

It’s the week I’m going to start submitting weekly columns to the websites who have published my work. (Immediately following this resolution, while staring at a blank screen, I begin to wonder how in the world I wrote and submitted weekly newspaper columns for something like eight or nine years.)

It’s the week I’m going to find a new agent and figure out how to refresh the well-received but unpublished book that sits on top of the trunk in my bedroom. (Summary of every rejection letter my now retired agent shared with me: "Love this!! Love the writing, love the voice. Who is she?? Does she have a show on NPR, CNN, MSNBC, a national column, a reality show appearance or a syndicated deal??") Note to self: find a place for that manuscript and put it away.

Oh wait, no, it’s the day I’m going to figure out that “i-universe” thing and self-publish the book.

And one more, semi-professionally related:
It’s the day I’m absolutely going to call my old therapist and beg him to see me. (Luckily, this would be an easy appointment for him. As you’ve already no doubt concluded, not much has changed since the last time we spoke.)

I’m ignoring the list of the day-to-day projects large and small I seem to think I’ll begin any minute now, but don’t. In reality, describing myself as someone who is ‘risk averse’ is like calling Tiger Woods someone who flirts a lot. The positive spin is to imagine that I’m basically “content.” Another word that springs to mind: lazy. And yet another: fearful. God knows.

I envy – okay, I admit it – I envy the energy and activity I see so many people exhibiting in so many parts of their lives. Friends who are discovering their Act 2, or even Act 3 in some cases; trying something kind of scary but rewarding. They believe in something I would quietly see as “impossible” and then they make it possible, and positive.

How does everyone else do this? How do you ignore the small but relentless voice inside that says with enormous conviction, "You can't do this," without succumbing to the b-s voice that cheers and screams, "You're awesome! You can do anything you want!!!" Is there a middle ground, where realism meets creativity?

Maybe all of this reinvention and resolve to drive ourselves to the next level of success is a technology-driven phenomenon. As I've said before, we're way beyond Thoreau at this point: we're living lives of strident desperation. We seem to want to be seen, heard, and adored by everyone. Our parents seemed to live satisfying lives. They were mostly content to be the co-stars of their own stories; to be part of an ensemble cast in the local theater company. These days, many of us want to be the star on a worldwide tour.

As Andy Millman put it, "The Victorian freak show never went away. But now it's called Big Brother or American Idol...." This may be one of those "careful what you wish for" moments.

All this to say, my partial paralysis in so many parts of my life is probably the only reason I’ve refused to give up on my annual resolution. I've stated my intentions and am determined to see it through. Given my history, it’s a minor miracle that I actually started the run and it's even more astounding that I’m still on it. I’m proud of my tenacity. I’m almost to the point where even I believe I’m going to make it and feel proud of taking on the challenge and meeting it.

Now I just need to figure out how to translate that into the rest of my life, without entering the freak show.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking for "the one?" Or just a date? Your calendar is your friend.

From the studies I’ve come across that give me pause, I relate the following for your consideration:

According to a study from researchers at the University of Toronto and Tufts University, there is something to be said for the fertility cycle a woman experiences on a monthly basis and her ability to perceive a likely mate. Not unlike my most recent post, the idea that we’re wired somewhat similarly to animals is not lost on me. Here’s the story:

Three different kinds of experiments were conducted. In the first, forty women were shown individual photographs of eighty men. The pictures showed men of similar attractiveness, all with similar emotional expressions. The only question the women had to answer – based on intuition and perception alone - was to identify the sexual orientation of each man. (Half of the subjects in the photos were self-identified gay men; the other half were straight.) The results: women who were nearest to their peak ovulation time could more accurately assess each man’s sexual orientation.

Next up: this time, women viewed individual photographs of two hundred women, half of whom self-identified as lesbians; the other half as straight. Surprise! (Or not.) There was no relationship found between a woman’s fertility cycle and her ability to identify the sexual orientation of the women in the photos.

Finally, forty women were again asked to view photos of men and identify the subject’s sexual orientation. This time, half of the women read a story that described a romantic encounter and the other half did not. Priming the pump, so to speak, seemed to help. Turns out the women who read the story could more accurately identify the gay men and straight men in the images.

So what have we learned? That biology – in straight women anyway - is formidable and undeniable. And that a good romance story is not to be taken lightly. I wish the researchers had conducted the same three tests with lesbians viewing all the images. I wonder if the results would change or if biology – irrespective of sexual orientation – would result in more accurate assessments of men at least, by every woman at a certain point in her fertility cycle.

I love this kind of stuff. Science has given us thermometers and ovulation kits that will help us conceive a child. Science has helped sell millions of boxer shorts to men who want to keep the boys cool on a daily basis while trying to father a child. It has developed early pregnancy tests that will help us start tracking a pregnancy from Day 9.

But who could have imagined this? Something as natural as a released or about to be released egg could help women identify a potentially willing candidate for fatherhood from an array of photographs. Conversely, it also somehow helps women determine which men would be disinclined to show any interest in her fertile state. And, not for nothing, turns out to be absolutely inconsequential when viewing women and trying to identify sexual orientation.

Let’s sum up – I’ve said this before and I stand by it. Women just aren’t that complicated. When we’re ready to conceive a child, biology can help us identify a likely partner which is kind of awesome. It can help us dismiss those men who are disinterested in our sexual selves, which - let's face it - can save us a lot of heartache in the long run.

And maybe best of all: it proves that a sister is a sister is a sister. : )

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Men will be women. Kinda sorta. : (

As regular readers of this blog know – go ahead, raise your hands, all nineteen of you!! – I tend to collect bits of information I come across in my everyday reading, scanning, stumbling across kind of way (in other words, random facts) with the goal being that they will somehow coalesce into some reasonable commentary or response that feels somewhat cogent and thought-provoking. I don’t promise this will be one of those times but here we go.

In May, I read the summary of a study about the “precarious” status of manhood today. Researchers at the University of South Florida found out the following: It’s important to men that they look like and are perceived as men by everyone around them. And the more they care about this, the more horrible they’ll feel when they’re perceived otherwise.

Psychologists Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph A. Vandello conducted research that included the following: One group of men was “forced” to exhibit a feminine behavior; one group was not. The task at hand: Braids. The “feminine” group was forced to braid hair; the other more gender-neutral group braided rope. Fine. Lovely.

When the tasks were completed the two groups were given a choice of what to do next: hit a punching bag or do a puzzle. You know what’s coming, right? The results were tabulated in a few ways. The hair-braiders “overwhelmingly chose the punching bag.” Even better, when all the men (both hair and rope-braiders) had to punch the bag, the hair-braiders hit it harder. Finally, when everyone had to braid hair but not everyone got to punch the bag, the ones who didn’t get the chance “evinced more anxiety on a subsequent test.”

Fascinating. Why the activity of braiding hair meant that men chose to not only hit a punching bag to validate their testosterone, but hit it even harder than others when they did so is mystifying to me.

The authors’ conclusion? “Aggression is a manhood-restoring tactic.” Which seems to beg the question: is participation in “feminine” activities a manhood-robbing tactic?

In fact, further research indicated that gender is not biologically based, but more of a social circumstance. Men can “lose” their manhood by social transgressions. Women lose their womanhood by menopause.

You know what I mean. Think about it. How about the man couch? Or the man chairs?? The ones outside dressing rooms in department stores where men sit and look appropriately bored and uncomfortable and out of place while shopping with their wives or girlfriends? The one where the looks on their faces says:
“Idon’twanttobehere -
Ican’tstandbeinghere –
Shemademebehere - IfitwereuptomeI’dbeplayingrugbyorfootballorpokeranddrinkingjackandcoke - No,Ididn’twanttoholdherpursebutshemademedothat,too.”

Those seats are like fabric-covered estrogen drips.

Other tests and measurement tools used by the researchers concluded that the harshest critics of men were other men, not women. In other words, women don’t care how often you braid your daughter’s hair: you’re still a man. And a helpful one at that. Men – not so much.

In fact, turns out that being around his daughter – or his son for that matter – makes a man just a little more feminine. It’s true. A Northwestern University study, co-authored by Professor Chrisopher W. Kuzawa and doctoral candidate Lee Gettler (along with several other contributors) concluded that fatherhood lowers a man’s testosterone levels. Put another way: proving you can be a dad makes you more of a mom. Weird, right?

I’ll pause here so everyone can take a breath.

We can thank nature for this. In other species – maybe in humans, too - the male needs testosterone in huge quantities to compete with the other males for a mate. The winner gets the female, then they mate, then they have offspring. Following that blessed event, what the researchers call the “mating related” activities – it’s been too long; I can’t even remember what these are in men - may conflict with being responsible for the brand new litter, so the testosterone level of the new animal dad drops.

I get it. This happens in the animal kingdom, not during happy hour at Dave and Buster’s. In the immortal words of Joseph (not John) Merrick and Jerry Seinfeld: I am NOT an animal!! Since men don’t have to smash into each other with their horns, or drive off competitors for a female’s affection with aggression using paws and jaws – not overtly anyway - here’s a question for human males: do testosterone levels drop because men become fathers or do men become fathers because they have low testosterone levels to begin with?

The former. The same study showed that men who had higher levels of testosterone were more likely to become fathers, but like physics tells us: for every action there is an equal reaction, or something like that. Once these guys are dads, their testosterone drops – by a lot. And even more if they are really involved dads.

That’s super, right? “Nope. Not changing the baby, honey. It makes me feel too weird.” Good lord – just what women need. A husband who feels like his manhood gets threatened by a newborn’s diaper.

And just to make the whole situation more acute, the biggest drop in testosterone is right after the newborn baby comes home with the parents. Sure, the drop is temporary but everything makes more sense now. How many new moms have ever had the feeling that they have two new babies at home? The researchers state that men are preoccupied with the “many emotional, psychological, and physical adjustments” that come with being a parent. Unfortunately, women don’t have that kind of time. We're preoccupied with wondering if we’ll pee just a teeny little bit every time we sneeze for the rest of our lives. Oh, and caring for a newborn.

The silver lining? (Yes, guys, there is one.) A lower testosterone level means you’re better protected against chronic diseases as you age. So the good news is you’ll live longer. The bad news is you may feel like your grandmother while you do.

In conclusion, ...I know – you’re confused. “How can she reach a conclusion without really saying anything yet?” It’s a gift, what can I tell you. I turn to someone much more eloquent than I; someone who knows whereof he speaks: Adam Carolla. In his hilarious book, In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks, he writes:

“It used to be that a fella would at least have the dignity that when he was driving with the missus and the car wouldn’t start, even though he didn’t know what the f--- to look for, he’d say, “Pop the hood.” He’d stand there and stare at the engine for a while, set his cigarette on top of the air cleaner, and yell, “Try it now.” Of course the engine wouldn’t start, but at least he looked like a man. Now the guy says, ‘Call Triple-A. I don’t want to get my cuticles dirty.”

“It’s the same thing with fighting. Guys used to have stories where they said, “This SOB spilled a drink on my old lady [Renee aside – old lady is annoying but sadly accurate and the thing is, you know the guy who said it meant it with great affection somehow] at the bar, so I got in his face and said, “ ‘If you’re looking for trouble, you found it. You’re in for a world of hurt.’ ” Now dudes tell stories that go, “I honked at a guy and he got out of his car so I called 911. But I got a busy signal, so I locked myself in and hit the OnStar button.”

I guess what I’m wondering is this: if it’s true that testosterone drops when a man becomes a father…if it’s true that doing something that feels and looks “feminine” makes men want to hit a punching bag…where does that leave us? Doesn’t this prove that it’s both biological or societal? Maybe men are much more sensitive than any of us ever imagined and women are much tougher and less prone to psychological influences than any of us ever imagined. Maybe we’re all just ‘evolving’ into gender- neutral versions of humanity.


PS Thanks for visiting and if you enjoyed this post, and felt a moment of connection, you can read more like it by "following" the blog (upper right) or joining me on Facebook here. If you didn't enjoy it, and felt I needed a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, you can do the same and continue to shake your head in disbelief. : )

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The surprising aftermath: comfort

I can't quite think about this day yet - and as much as part of me wanted to watch and remember the events of ten years ago, another part of me didn't. Not sure how many other people felt that way.

Ten years ago, they were 10, 10 and 11. Old enough to be aware, ask perplexing questions, witness our own confusion and retain the memories of a country in shock. And now at 20, 20 and 21, they have virtually grown up recognizing and living with the reality of a world of terrorist activity.

As I cherish and recognize the amazing young men my sons have grown into, I recall this piece they inspired, written in November, 2001. I hope it offers a moment of comfort.

Thank you, boys.

Over the past few weeks, a time that will be forever mourned in our nation and around the world, you’ve taught me that innocence still exists, that understanding and compassion do not come with an age requirement and that life does indeed go on.

This year, on a Thanksgiving that will take on a very different tone across the country, I’m especially grateful for you, my sons. You held my hand, rubbed my arm, or simply inched a little closer on the sofa, not completely understanding the depth of my sadness on September 11 and the days that followed. You served as silent witnesses to my own pain and confusion.

But somehow you knew that touch was a good thing, that closeness would matter. You felt my tears as I hugged you a little more tightly than I had the days before, and you offered 10- and 10- and 11-year-old comfort. You couldn’t know how many nights following September 11 I looked in on you as you slept, silently thanking God for the miracle of you.

Through you, I can still see hope where grownups feel despair. A promise of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, while the world swirls in seemingly endless threats and anxiety. I sense innocence and uncertainty about what happened and what’s to come; surprisingly mixed with an unceasingly kid-like attitude of frivolity and optimism. Is it possible to remind someone of the future? That’s what you do everyday.

When you’re my age, will you talk about this event with your own children and add: “I have a clear memory of your grandmother crying, watching TV and trying to explain it to me.”

Will you remember your teachers, quietly gathering in the hallways of school, trying so desperately not to betray their horror and anxiety to their students? Will you tell the story of one teacher, returning to the classroom with her eyes red, looking at her class and saying, “Do you all know how much you mean to me?”

Will you forever hold the mental image of your father and me, leaning on each other in church on Sunday, September 16, as we ended Mass with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner?”

Through the endless, hysterical quotes you throw at each other from your many “Calvin and Hobbes” books, your enthusiasm for football and basketball practices for the Christmas concert coming up, the almost-every-Saturday morning “can we ride our bikes to…?” questions, and your restless anticipation of the Harry Potter movie and the half-dread you feel in case it’s not quite “right,” you remind me that the world goes on and we will somehow help each other through.

You helped me understand that sometimes “Shrek,” not CNN, is what we need to get through the evening.

The good stuff has not disappeared. Thank you, boys, for helping me appreciate that "stuff" for the gift it truly is. Babies are born and new parents praise their miracles. Young couples marry and celebrate with family and friends. And sometimes, just sometimes, you have glorious fall Sunday afternoon come along for the perfect flag football game.

When you confronted me with the “What happened today?” question on September 11, I had no ready answer. I’m not sure who did. But maybe I do now.

What happened was this: September 11 gave me the chance to tell you again how much I love you. How thankful I am to have you in my life. How simply by being here, you’ve helped restore my perspective and my priorities, and have reminded me each day about what matters.

Monday, September 05, 2011

I'm shuffling off something alright, although I don't think it's to Buffalo.

Nothing like Buffalo, New York as the summer begins to wind down. Just 324 miles later, I’m virtually in Buffalo, with Canada so close I can almost touch it.

The bad news: my August was off just a bit – missed my minimum but about 1/10th of a mile. I hadn’t missed a minimum since being sidelined in April with my bad sciatic nerve.

The good news: I ran a week of August in the heat at the shore, and wasn’t quite able to track my mileage as carefully as I usually do. When that’s the case, I estimate down. So maybe I really did hit my minimum but who knows.

I still had my 26-mile cushion to see me through. So by the numbers, for anyone keeping track.

Through August:
326 miles in

124 to go

4 months to do it

That’s only 31 miles a month – which is considerably lower than my stated monthly goal of 37.5

Or 7.75 miles a week

Or just under 2 miles, four times a week

You know what that means. One of two things will happen:
Come December 31, I’ll have overshot Toronto by about 30 miles and end up in someplace called Barrie, Ontario; or have taken it easy, not unlike the hare in the fable, and after all this time, missed my number completely.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to ask the obvious question: why? What does this all say about me or my life at this time? Why, after more than half a century on the planet, and more than thirty of them as a full-fledged adult who is wholly responsible for her choices, did I choose this particular challenge at this particular time?

I think I alluded to this is a previous post but I keep coming back to it: control, and the inevitable flip side – lack of control. Because the further I run, and the longer I keep at it, the more I realize that the neat little columns of numbers in the little grid, with the monthly totals and the boxes that highlight the miles ahead or miles behind and those indicating miles logged vs. miles to go may all be perfectly calculated, clear and unambiguous. Don’t get me wrong. There’s some comfort and sense of accomplishment in the measureable, the indisputable nature of numbers. But understand this much as well: they’re perfectly meaningless.

But even at that, they are also one other thing: perfectly and completely within my control. No one else runs them, no one else logs them and no one else adds them up each month. And all of that has to count for something, right?

Wrong. Today’s lesson, one that took only eight short months to learn: Control is an illusion. Chaos is reality. This seems to be a very big deal for me these days.

Let me back up a little bit here. (I know I’m going off track here but so be it. I never promised a strict narrative.)

My sons are young adults. Their paths into adulthood are divergent and at this point, anyway, appear not quite as clear cut as some others have taken. And – utter honesty here – not as clear cut as I would like them to be. I suppose that had to be okay with me – has to be – because I can’t control that kind of thing.

The phrase “waiting to exhale” comes to mind. Is that something all parents do at least once in a while? And then when you let it all out, is it nothing more than a respite until you have to take the next deep breath and hope for the best?

We’ve all heard about the legendary roads not taken. I’m here to tell you that we seem to be on nothing BUT the roads not taken these days in my house, and no one is more surprised than I. It feels like I keep pointing down a familiar path, saying, “This way! I’m sure this is the way!! Follow me!” Two of my sons peer down it and understand why I like it. They consider the route then shake their heads and say, “Nah…I’m going this way instead. I’ll be okay.”

The confounding thing is: they could be right. They really could be and I try to remind myself about that maybe thirty or ninety times a day. I could be wrong and if I am, I wonder: What happened to my certainty? I was always a Point A to Point B person. What I was certain I could control all these years was myself. That choosing X + Y + Z for my life, then adding in some A, B and C would land me here: in a place of love and logic; where things (and people, yes, even people with all their quirks and personalities and peculiarities) moved along in a mostly predictable way to a mostly predictable outcome.

You remember today’s lesson, right – about control? Yup – it’s an illusion.

I spent the better part of two decades as a parent modeling and demonstrating the kinds of actions, behavior and beliefs I held dear. What kinds of things? Same as most people I would think; maybe more than some; less than others. Like what? Well, it was important that our family found time to connect each day over dinner and for many, many years we did just that. Even throughout high school, through the activities and obligations that pulled us in different directions, we fit in many family dinners. And when we had the time, we often found ourselves lingering for hours at the table. We attended church together, and then discussed the sermon on the way home.

We created traditions large and small together. We read books, played music, traveled. We cheered every soccer, basketball, football and baseball season. Holidays included large and mostly intact extended families. We took in zoos and museums and amusement parks; we attended concerts and plays and ballgames and festivals. As they grew older, they picked up some of my habits: like flipping to the last page of The New Yorker each week to check out the cartoon, and later, read the caption contest each week. I made them read Catcher in the Rye. They loved it on their own.

Me: Do me one favor. Do not marry a woman who doesn’t love Catcher in the Rye.
Son: Why?
Me: Please trust me. Just don’t.

In living every day, I thought I shared what I value (working hard to do your best) and what I didn’t (tattoos). At different points along the way with my children, at various age-appropriate and situation-appropriate times, I shared selected stories of struggle and sadness from my own childhood. I talked of my own family life as a girl and as a young woman, to help my sons understand a little more about who I was and why I believed certain things. [It wasn’t all a complete downer. I thought I used my own stories judiciously to illustrate some choices, some circumstances and some lessons that could perhaps be passed along and learned by my children, without them having to endure the pain.]

Turns out, none of that seems to matter. Lessons without pain may just be another illusion.

At this point, it feels like I should take a cue from Margo Channing and buckle my seatbelt for the bumpy night ahead. And I have to ask, as I lurch along with the ups and downs: what do you do when your view of “the future” veers out of your control? Maybe you realize, slowly and wincing with no little pain that much of it wasn’t in your control from the start.

And that staying on the road together, with its bumps, holes, hills, ditches and sharp turns, is really what matters. Staying on the road. I have to believe it smooths out; that at some point it has to come out somewhere, and you’ll all be okay when it does.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Way to go! We knew you could do it!! You're on your way!!!! [Insert generic, ultimately meaningless platitude here!!!!!]

The older I get, the more I respect my parents and people of their generation who seemed to not only have common sense; they used it daily. Which is why they never ever had to come across something like this. My ff (facebook friend) Debbie mentioned something on her wall today that mystified me so of course I had to hop on line this evening to look around.

I’m sorry to tell you that there was an assortment of cards with this message. Who could have imagined this? Honestly, the only correct inside message on this card should read: "… and congratulations on learning to read as a toddler!"

I have questions. Of course I have questions. Who sends these? Grandparents or aunts and uncles who are insane? Condescending "friends" from the moms club who just can’t help themselves? The local furniture store soliciting business for families in the youth bed market? Nannies who are tired of changing diapers?

Well, if you’re like me, you immediately start to list other occasions that have belied any card-giving status. Until now, that is. But before we go there, let me also tell you that an enormous selection of cards already exists for the following occasions:

Getting your braces on

Getting your braces off

Getting your contacts

Getting your first period

Getting your ears pierced

Earning a first chair position

Becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister, Aunt or Uncle

Congrats on your recital

I could go on, but I won’t. Greeting Card Universe (“any card imaginable”) offers 1,083 congratulations cards, fifteen in potty-training alone. (Fifteen. Fifteen messages about peeing and pooping on a potty chair. People have spent less time thinking about the text in eulogies or wedding vows.) Far be it from me to intrude on their already fertile field of greetings.

But let’s try to inaugurate a few more, shall we?

You lost your first tooth! Grammy and Grandpa are so proud of you!!! (Wait a minute. Just checked. These cards exist.)

Let’s try again:

No training wheels? WOW!!

What a big girl you are! You feel asleep all by yourself five nights in a row!!

Awesome!! You’ve eaten all your vegetables!!

Thanks for biking to practice once a week! So proud of your carbon-footprint awareness!!!!

Good job! Your geography diorama is amazing!!!

Congrats to our Science Fair participant!!

All our best wishes to the Chess Club second alternate!!!

But why limit this to the joys of early childhood and school highlights. Surely there are lifelong moments that don’t get their due as we linger in the card aisle. How about these:

Way to go! Heard you purchased your burial plot!

Congratulations on finding that loose change in the sofa!

Great news! You read nine complete New Yorker's this year!

Wow! Super pedicure!

World's Best Junk Drawer Organizer!!! Way to go!!

To my dearest friend: I could barely tell about your Botox. Nice!!

And my favorite:

So happy for you! You’ve had your last period!!!

Once again, I'm falling back on my fallback. There are two kinds of people in the world: people who buy "we're so happy for you and your potty" cards and people who are endlessly amused by people who buy "we're so happy for you and your potty" cards.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If only there were an escape from this. (Read on. See what I did there?)

You can’t make this up.

Well, you could but no one would believe you. This, I promise you, is entirely true.

As I drove home from work today, I thought: “Wow! I guess I don’t remember falling down and hitting my head very, very hard during the earthquake this afternoon. Because there is no way what I’m hearing on the radio could be true.” Through the magic of technology and satellite radio, I pulled over, replayed it a few times, and jotted down every word.

You may recall the song, Escape, the inexplicable number one pop hit from Rupert Holmes that told the lovely little story of an adorable couple who were bored and unhappy together. The man discovers a classified ad – for the twentieth century – from a woman looking for love; a woman who sounds like she just may be the answer to his dreary, mundane relationship. He writes his own horrifying little response to her and suggests they meet in a bar where – surprise!!!!! – he encounters his wife instead. And no, it doesn’t turn ugly and accusatory. Instead, they’re equally amused by each other’s deception and rediscover that they simply love each other to pieces. (Please. I just read the lyrics again and it’s even more horrible than I remember. Detested it in 1979 and I detest it still.)

In a moment of marketing genius, I have to admit this: Ashley could not have chosen a more appropriate tune than Escape to deliver its singular message of cheating, deception and the right approach to attracting someone other than your spouse. It’s the perfect subconscious musical cue to forty, fifty and sixty-somethings, committed to having an affair. So without further ado, I give you: the new Ashley jingle, sung (sort of) to the tune of “Escape.”

My wife’s on Ashley Madison, looking hot as hell.

And I would totally hit that, if I didn’t know her so well.

My wife’s on Ashley Madison, I guess it’s something she needs to do.

I’d be a lot more bothered, if I weren’t there, too.

“ ______.”

To quote a favorite colleague: Christ on a bike.

If you’ve read this blog even occasionally in the past, you may recall how I feel about and her detractors. If you want to catch up, try this and this.

All that said, and all those prior posts notwithstanding, I’m kind of stunned by this jingle. Let’s review, shall we?

Leaving aside the fact that a man finds his wife’s profile on a website dedicated to matching up one cheating spouse with someone else also in a committed relationship, and his first reaction is that she looks “hot as hell”…

Leaving aside his charming expression of his own attraction to her – “I would totally hit that” - before he disparages her personality…

Leaving aside the fact that after finding her profile and then dismissing her, his only additional reaction is little more than a virtual shrug: “I guess it’s something she needs to do.”…

Leaving aside the idea that he isn’t going to cast the first stone since he is also featured there…

I am almost speechless that the text includes the correct use of the subjunctive mood: “…if I weren’t there, too.” You just don’t find that construction very often in advertising.

You also rarely find this: a promise you can take to the bank. Ashley Madison doesn’t quibble: Where affairs are guaranteed. Finally. A company with some integrity.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I keep telling myself that more than halfway counts as almost there. Right?

Fully seven months into the year, I haven’t yet given up on the run. (For first-time readers, I’ve committed to making a virtual run from my home in Pennsylvania to Toronto, Canada, a total of about 450 miles, this calendar year.) I’m on track to make it to my destination – sort of – by the end of December. In fact, I’ll probably overshoot it to some degree. All of this defies any rational explanation since my running history up until about a year ago was non-existent and my form, style and ability as a runner are not only severely limited, they too, are basically non-existent.

So where am I? As of the end of July, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of Smith’s Corner, NY, approximately 288 miles from home. In case you haven’t been there, Smith’s Corner is near Griffith Corners, NY. It’s also just more than eight miles from Frink’s Corner, NY. And, why yes, it’s just about ten miles from Plants Corner, NY. What exactly makes up all these corners and what they’re on the corner of is beyond me but they sound charming, don’t they? Wasn’t the name of the place in ‘Our Town’ a corner??? Grover’s Corner, maybe? I love the Americana, the small town charm, the Andy-of- Mayberry of it all.

I also learned that there are no less than seven mobile home parks in the area. I’m not sure if these corners and the nearly housing developments are related.

All I can say for myself is that I really can’t give it up now and I don’t think I will. I’m more than halfway in every way!!! Only five months left to the end of the year with only 161 miles left to go. That sounds so reasonable. Although even imagining that sounds like a reasonable distance and a reasonable amount of time still sounds unreasonable to (non-runner) me.

I’ve tried to figure out why this seems to be the time of my life when I’ve finally committed to running for fitness and health. The expected answers don’t quite get to the truth of the matter. Sure, I want a healthier cholesterol level and a reasonable blood pressure reading. I want to avoid the diabetes that my mother encountered in her fifties and has lived with for the past thirty years. I want to lose some weight (always.) But none of those goals or reasons are particularly new.

No, the more the miles add up, the more I realize the purpose for this year’s run. Although to be honest, the purpose behind it is an illusion, really: An illusion of control. More and more, it feels like there is so little I can control in my life. Even more disturbing: could I ever? Was it all an illusion?

But this is true: I do control the numbers I put on my running log. I control the intensity of the run. To a large degree, I control the frequency and the distance of each run. I say “to a large degree” because even when I say I’m going to quit, I never do; and I almost always make the minimum I’ve set for myself for that day. I’m largely in control of my own mind as I rack up the miles and stay committed to this number and virtual trip.

And thank God for it. Control over my running feels like all I have these days.

More on this – on a related but different topic – to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On kites, kids and college: Hold on. Let go. The perfect combination.

For every parent packing up their own personal BBBBB (Best Buy / Bed Bath Beyond) for a son or daughter about to move out and begin a college career: hang in there. You did your best - most of the time anyway - and now you need to step away.

What follows is a piece that may speak to you. It's been a few years since I published it but maybe it will give you a little something to think about as you make the transition. So if I could offer a word or two, it would be these: Hold tight. Let go.


For many years, one of our annual summer vacation rituals was kite-flying on the beach. We’d arrive just as dusk was on its way out and nightfall on its way in. For years, we guided the kites our boys held in anticipation of the perfect breeze. Some nights, we found that perfect combination of air, string and nylon that resulted in soaring specks of color in the night sky. Other times, we couldn’t seem to catch the wind, or we pulled too tightly on the string and crashed the kites into the sand, or we somehow lost the string altogether and watched our kites drift away and out of reach.

We still carry on that ritual, mostly for my niece who is younger than her cousins and enjoys our mini-kite festival every year. (Lately, my boys, their dad and their uncles toss around a football while my sister and I wrestle the kites into the air.) The thing is, even when we’re successful, and one or more of our kites have reached a high point, we turn to each other and ask: now what? Hold that thought.

Last week, we moved our oldest child into college. Because I can’t seem to relax about managing all the details about situations like this, I spent a lot of time leading up to moving day checking off lists and times and logistics about the process. I spent almost no time checking on myself and the new place I would move into once our son left home.

So we packed and then unpacked. Plugged in and wired up everything, made a bed, hung up clothes and found a new place for the bits and pieces of his life that he carried with him. We met the young man - the stranger - who would share the dorm room and possibly share a lifelong friendship with him. We met his parents, too, and tried to answer, in a matter of twenty minutes, these questions: who they were, what they believed, how they raised their son and whether or not they were people of character and principles. (I told you I couldn’t relax about stuff like this.) Thankfully, my first impressions told me the following: friendly, approachable, bright people, who held the same values in terms of education and love of the arts. They raised a polite young man, who was clearly dedicated to his studies, and they were committed to supporting him to help him succeed.

As the moving in ended and the moving on began, my son and I hugged goodbye – and spent an extra couple of seconds hanging on while we did. Then, just eighteen and half years after he arrived, my oldest son walked away in one direction and I in another.

A few months ago, I received an email from a friend who read a column I wrote about my children growing up. In it, Joanne artfully expressed the challenge we all face in raising our children. She reminded me that raising children is kind of like flying a kite: hold on too tightly, and a kite doesn’t get very far. Give it too much slack too soon, before the wind has really caught hold and it can move freely without danger, and it comes crashing to the ground. But when you can find that perfect ratio of give and take while holding the string that connects you and the kite, it soars almost effortlessly into the sky.

I experienced the “too much slack vs. too tight” ratio last week during the move into college. In fact, it almost felt like I dropped the string. I gave my son a generous amount of freedom. He was ready for it; it was the right time to set him on his own path. He took off; maybe with a bit of shakiness at first, but he’s soaring now.

The kite is airborne. Which brings the inevitable question: now what? I don’t have that answer yet. Maybe we just enjoy the flight. We watch the kite flutter, and even dive a bit from time to time. We help it move ever higher, and keep letting that string out even more, more than I would have ever believed would be possible. We watch it climb and dance and create its own path as it crosses the universe – and are amazed.

But we never quite let it go.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A pantyliner just for you. And you. And you.

Before I get into my latest incrankulous marketing moment, let’s get a brief refresher on 21st century western civilization. Specifically, we have the following television programs assaulting us on a regular basis, in the name of entertainment:

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Real Housewives of Everywhere You Can Think Of

Holly’s World

My Super Sweet Sixteen

Teen Mom

16 and Pregnant

Jersey Shore


Bad Girls Club

The Girls Next Door

If I wanted to label these very generously, I could put them all in the “isn’t giving everyone a chance to express themselves a wonderful thing?” bucket. I could put them in the enlightened and forgiving “no barriers, no rules, no judgments” bucket. Or I could add them to the “Lighten up, Francis” bucket.

On the other hand, I could use my fallback, overused phrase that too often captures my feelings: we’re doomed.

If you aren’t familiar with most of these shows, congratulations and hope you’re enjoying C-SPAN, Rick Steves and the Nat Geo channel. I’ll admit I’ve never watched a single episode of any of these programs but I know enough about them to know they’re base and juvenile. They’re mindless distractions full of caricatures masquerading as real people.

But that’s not really what this post is about. I’ve listed some of cable’s most offensive, lurid, unprincipled (and most popular!!) shows to put some context around a recent marketing program from Kotex. It's built around something called U by Kotex Tween line, products that are no doubt an attempt to encourage proper spelling among adolescent girls. Kidding. The pads and liners are designed to fit a young girl’s smaller shape comfortably. Got it. As a woman who remembers the “belt” required in the old days (How hideous and dark-ages were they?), I applaud the good sense that resulted in these products. Unfortunately, the good sense may end there.

The pads also include “tween-inspired” designs and the package has glitter on it. I don’t know what tween inspired designs are. Perhaps they’ve added a silhouette of Justin Bieber to the pad itself. Or a shimmering Edward Cullen. Turns out they’re colorful hearts and flowers and swirls. I’ve always believed that getting your period isn’t exactly a designer moment and not one bit of glitter will make it more festive. But I’m not in marketing at Kotex and maybe this initiative will add more fun to the entire experience, at least for tweens.

Brief aside 1: I want Kotex to introduce “woman-of-a-certain-age” inspired designs on pantyliners. (They can skip the package glitter.) I’m thinking a Colin Firth / Hugh Jackman / Josh Holloway / Hugh Grant / Brad Pitt combo pack would do it.

Brief aside 2: And as long as they’re adding a design, they can add a little microchip, similar to the kind that get embedded in greeting cards these days. You can imagine this, right? Believe me, there were times in my life where I would have celebrated the arrival of my period by opening up a pad that played “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Right? You would have, too, admit it.

Back to Kotex and their tween products. Here’s the part of the marketing story that really startled me. Keeping in mind the list of programs that introduced this post, programs that reach everyone who has basic cable or a satellite dish, you may be surprised to learn the following statistics, courtesy of the Kotex research:

One in three young girls has no idea what’s happening when she gets her first period. One in three. Has NO IDEA. Disturbing.

Four out of five Moms feel “only somewhat or not at all” prepared to talk to their daughter about her changing body. Four out of five. That’s 80%. “Only somewhat.” Or “NOT AT ALL.”

What? How is this possible? I can’t figure out what’s so complex or confounding about being “prepared” to talk with your daughter. How could it be that when we had exactly twelve channels on our television sets and no Google, no “Real World” and no daycare centers in the local high schools, our mothers found a way to inform themselves – and us - about our changing bodies? They handed over that belt, that enormous pad, designed very specifically to fit every woman on the planet, and then explained that we were growing up. I don’t think my mother felt over-prepared or under-prepared to discuss this rite of passage with her three daughters. As I remember it, she was calm, pragmatic and factual. Very little drama, with just the right amount of “you’re growing up!!” emotion on her part.

I can only assume that about 30% of the tween girls who watch “16 and Pregnant” don’t learn one thing about menstruation and conception and pregnancy. Isn’t there at least one moment in every episode where the young mother explains the failure of her birth control, the absence of her period and the confirmation of her pregnancy? Certainly this chain of events would prompt a question or two from the audience. Then again, maybe that explains “16 and Pregnant.” Maybe no one is asking, nor answering, questions.

In typical 21st century fashion, Kotex has turned to the web to refresh their message and help inform and yes, empower, mom to “pick her day to talk to her daughter about her first period.” God forbid moms didn’t feel empowered to do so. The press release I read included this nugget: “…Kimberly Clark believes informing moms and tweens on the topic is the right thing to do because so many are unprepared for menstruation and reaching tweens at this age can mean building strong relationships for life.”

Translation: “We want young girls to use Kotex products from day one so they use them for the next forty years.” Fair enough. Product loyalty is key and every marketer wants a customer for life. But the part about “so many” being unprepared is confusing. Then again, their research and statistics seem to indicate everyone is confused: the girls, one third of whom are uninformed at best and terrified at worst when they get their first period; and their moms, 80% of whom are “somewhat” or “not at all” prepared to discuss menstruation with their daughters.

The only good news I found in this story was that no experts or advisors used the phrase “teachable moment.”

I can only wonder if Trojan has been watching this product launch with interest. What’s next? Condoms with "ink" on them? Condoms covered with team logos? I can’t wait to read about that campaign.

Oh, and P.S. Kotex just wrapped up a “design your own pad” contest. More on this in another post. Honestly, it’s just too nonsensical to add this discussion.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Six months in. Six to go.

This post is overdue and apologies to anyone who may have wondered about my whereabouts. (Thanks to those who sent a note! Very kind of you.)

No, I haven’t given up on the run, and no one is more surprised than I. In fact, I found myself more than on track as I hit the six-month mark. We’ll see what the next six months bring in terms of time, health and stamina.

I’m somewhere near Dansville, NY, which as far as I can tell from Google, is the nation’s number one spot near something else. And if I were more of an “outdoor” girl, I’d be delighted to find myself living there on a year round basis. From the town’s Chamber of Commerce, I learned the following (bold my own):

Just five minutes south of the Village is Stony Brook State Park with 130 trailer and tent sites. Letchworth State Park—the “Grand Canyon of the East”—with its breathtaking waterfalls, can be found 15 minutes to the west. Dansville also has three other major campgrounds in the immediate area.

Fishing, boating and hunting, and snowmobiling are in ample supply in the surrounding hillsides and nearby lakes and streams. Swain and Bristol ski & snowboard centers are both within 30 minutes of Dansville offering ample winter recreational activities.

Dansville is surrounded by fertile farmland, rolling wooded hillsides, lakes, streams and is adjacent to the southern part of Livingston County. With a population of around 6,000 Dansville offers small town charm, yet is near some of New York State's largest cities. [Rochester - 45 miles north; Buffalo - 65 miles to the northwest, Corning - 60 miles to the south. Let’s face it, when you’re in upstate NY, an hour plus drive to somewhere else is around the corner.]

Located near the scenic Finger Lakes, Dansville offers numerous attractions year round. Nearby are Letchworth (The Grand Canyon of the East) and Stony Brook State Parks, SUNY-Geneseo, SUNY Alfred, Alfred University, Wineries and Ski resorts.

Brief aside: Just as when I "ran" near Clark's Summit, PA, my past beckons. I had clients near Alfred, NY about twenty three years ago and drove here to see them and spent time in the area. I remember stopping into a drugstore / coffee shop at the time. [In the dark ages, there were no Starbucks in every hamlet in America and almost every store or restaurant was by default, "local."] There were coffee cups of all kinds hanging on hooks behind the counter and I asked about them. The woman there told me her customers - the people in the town - just leave their own mugs in the restaurant so when they come in, they each use their own over and over again. Makes everything easier on everyone. The staff knows everyone by name and by coffee mug. I kind of love that. [If anyone knows if this place is still around, in or near Alfred, NY, I'd love to hear about it.]

So here it is by the numbers as of July 1:

239+ miles complete

210+ to go to reach

Goal: 450(ish) from Allentown to Toronto(ish).

I’m ahead of my pace by about 14 miles, which I still can’t quite explain. And July has started out strong. If my back, knees and hips hold out, I’ll be in good shape to finish on time and reach my numbers.

And what have I learned? That I’m not a “natural” runner. Every mile, while not torturous, isn’t entirely enjoyable. Shouldn't it get easier? Or more fun? (I'm really asking. If anyone has any wisdom here, I'd appreciate hearing it.) My timing has picked up and I’m mostly back to my regular pace – running 3.25 miles in about 34 minutes. At my age, and given my lifelong history of non-athletic pursuits, I think that's respectable. Reminded myself this month a few times that running with music results in a longer and faster run. Added The Princess Bride and Toy Story 3 to my TV running playlist. Acknowledged once again the relentlessly sentimental Irish genes in me (thank you, Dad) when I teared up at the end of The Natural and Everybody’s Fine, after catching only the last fifteen or twenty minutes of each.

And on that note, I think I’m being too hard on Dansville. The town hosts the New York State Festival of Balloons every fall, which sounds lovely. It may even have a coffee shop with mugs for everyone in town.

I should have run slower.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Well, I know I'll feel safer in the air, now.

“We are conducting a top to bottom review of the way we operate our air traffic control system. We are all responsible and accountable for safety–from senior FAA leadership to the controller in the tower. Employees at the FAA work diligently every day to run the safest air transportation system in the world. But I will continue to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure we concentrate on keeping the traveling public safe.” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, April 16, 2011

“…the agency and the controllers association said they are also working on developing new work schedule "principles" aimed at reducing fatigue. They said those principles will be ready in 14 months if not sooner…”
USA Today, July 1, 2011

Clearly, this is getting top priority in terms of research and a plan of action.

In a display of uncommon common sense rarely found in a government agency, the FAA has gone on record with some new rules: air traffic controllers may now listen to music and read "appropriate" materials in order to remain awake and alert during their shifts.

Let’s face it. We have nothing but government agencies in DC. If I had to fix the “sleeping on the job” problems in control towers from coast to coast, I’d turn to at least one of them for some help. Why not try?

From the ‘Glass Is Half-Full’ department: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will fund a multi-million dollar study to conduct preliminary, exploratory research to begin to get a rudimentary understanding of the sleep / wake cycles of air traffic controllers. Since they appear to be the only adults in America able to sleep easily and soundly without medical assistance, mimicking the conditions found in air traffic control towers in bedrooms across the country may bring an end to insomnia, or at least teach the rest of us how to grab a nap anytime, anywhere. The researchers expect to publish an abstract of the study sometime in the fall of 2019.

From ‘The Answer Is Right Under Your Nose’ department: The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will sponsor a photo contest, where controller’s can post creative, hilarious images of co-workers asleep on the job. Citizens can vote on their favorites on the NEA / ATC fan page on Facebook. Prizes include a year’s supply of Perfect Liquid Protein, plus two gadgets that may help keep the winner alert and responsive: Light Relief Light Therapy and the Sunlight 365, all courtesy of, coincidentally enough, Skymall. The runner-up gets a choice between a packable walking stick and a genuine Handmade Irish Shillelagh, both perfect for awakening a dozing colleague.

From the ‘Turning Lemons Into Lemonade’ department: To keep people awake and alert, and to add some “fun” to the job, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will sponsor 24/7 Texas Hold’em Tournament, open only to FAA ATC employees. Players log in and then ante up at the beginning of each shift. If and when an aircraft demands their attention, they sit out a hand or two. Winnings get deposited into PayPal accounts and five percent of each evening’s proceeds will be paid toward reducing the deficit. A CBO spokesperson claims this alone will get the budget into the black in about eleven weeks.

Finally, from the ‘Silver Lining’ department
: the White House has expanded its “Let’s Move” initiative into control towers from coast to coast. Controllers can now use a Sit-N Stroll Deluxe, a Spring Flex UB and an ePulse Heart Rate Monitor band to make sure no one overdoes it while they log miles on a stepper and build upper body strength, all while never leaving their desks.

The FAA itself continues to address the problem in that special way only a government agency can: by throwing more money and people at the problem. Now we have two people doing the job of one by adding more personnel to the towers where controllers have fallen asleep. This not only creates more wakefulness, it creates more jobs.

If only the private sector would follow suit – and hire two people to do a one-person job - we’d have everyone back to work in no time.