STRESS: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

April 28, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

 

Every job has its busy season. For accountants, it is tax season. For retail, it is the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For stay-at-home moms who volunteer at their children’s schools, the two busy seasons are Christmas and the spring, which is right now.

What’s so crazy about the spring? There is so much to get done before the end of the school year and there is no time to do it. It’s an impossible balancing act between trying to manage end-of-the year teacher gifts, Staff Appreciation Week, year-end parties, graduations, and the final art projects of the year in the spare minutes not taken up by baseball (a time-sucking beast all its own), lacrosse, basketball, and attending all the year-end parties and Volunteer Teas. My To Do List is long and June 18 is approaching must too fast. In other words, I am currently a stress ball.

Stress is not good for your body. There have been many scientific studies that have shown this, but rather than burden you with facts, I’ll share the Seven Anecdotal Dwarfs of Stress as I have experienced them:

Cranky

Impatience

Drive By (as in I’m so distracted by my To Do list that I drive right by the baseball field where I’m supposed to pick up my son)

Poor Eating Choices

Nightlife (and not in a good way)

Cold Sore (never a popular dwarf)

Neglect (as in letting go of laundry, grocery shopping, and a clean house)

Nothing on that list is good, but I would argue that stress can be a good thing in small doses, because when I am stressed, I get things done.

It’s true. With a good dose of my sympathetic nervous system hormones and ½ bottle of 5-Hour Energy (my new BFF: thank you Carrie!), I can accomplish anything. In fact, when I am in this state, I add things to my list because I know they will get done in my stress-frenzy. This particular spring, I have added a bathroom remodel (which will consist of me sharing a bathroom with my three sons: yikes!) and a thorough spring-cleaning. Why? Because it will get done!

My stress period takes its toll, but it is finite. Come June 19, my entire To Do List will be complete. I will revert back to my normal, relaxed state in a mere 51 days, and I will have 2 graduates, a new bathroom, a de-cluttered home, and another successful year of teaching Explore Art to show for it. That will be worth a celebration…in the form of a nice, long nap.

 

 

 

LABELS

April 24, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Book Reviews

In a weird coincidence, I recently read two novels in a row that had teenage homosexual boys as the protagonists. I heard about Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet E. Cameron on Melanie Cole’s blog, and I had the pleasure of taking a workshop from Bill Konigsberg at a writer’s conference, and since he was funny, I thought his book Openly Straight might be too. (It was.)

For Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World’s Stephan Shulevitz, the end of the world comes when he realizes he has fallen in love with his best (straight) friend. After years of pretending to be straight, this novel is his journey out of the closet and into being who he really is.

Rafe, from Openly Straight, is openly gay and has been for as long as he can remember. When he is accepted into an all boys’ high school back east, he realizes his chance to be known as something other than “the gay kid” has come. This novel is his journey back into the closet so he can be who he really is.

Wait. What?

This is the essential question that both novels address: what is it that defines who we are?

Sexual orientation is a part of it, of course, but it is not the only part. Great damage is done when you have to hide your sexuality, and great damage can also be done when you are labeled as “homosexual” and then dismissed because someone thinks they have everything about you already figured out.

Labels are limiting, even when they fit. I am a stay-at-home mom and could not be more proud of it, and yet I have had people use that label to stick me in a box, refusing to believe that there could be anything else of value to know about me.

Rafe struggles with this too. In his hometown, he was the “gay” kid. In his new school, he is the “soccer jock.” In reality he is both, but no one seems capable of believing two such contradictory labels can co-exist in one person.

As limiting as labels are, they might be preferable to not having a label. In Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, there is a period of time where Stephen is adrift. His “straight” label is slipping, but he’s not quite ready to slide into the “gay” label. He has no identity to grab onto, and he deals with it in typical teenage boy fashion: by drinking, smoking pot, and throwing up…a lot.

I know I am guilty of labeling people. There have been times when I think I have someone pegged, only to discover that there is a another aspect to that person that I never even knew. But did I try to look for more, or did I stop searching as soon I stuck my label on them?

For me, the take home message from these two books is that who you are transcends labels. People are not simple; we are complex creatures with lots of moving parts like personality, moods, interests, desires, and talents. We are kind people who can be cruel in certain situations and health conscious people who occasionally like to binge on chocolate cake. We are homosexual males who are tremendous athletes and heterosexual males who like to sew. We are quiet librarians who rock out on the electric guitar on the weekends and long-haired rockers who like to read.

We are so much more than any single label can encompass, and I am going to do my best to remember that myself.

 

EASTER CANDY IS THE BOMB AND I THINK I JUST EXPLODED

April 21, 2014 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

Many of our American holidays involve candy, and rightly so. Candy is good! Halloween is the King Holiday when it comes to candy. All the usual candy culprits are in bite-sized form, making it easy for you to convince yourself that even though you ate 50 pieces of candy, it still doesn’t add up to an entire candy bar.

Valentine’s Day, while reputed to be about love, is really the candy companies’ excellent marketing strategy to have a giant heart-shaped box of chocolate-filled morsels of delight signify everlasting love. It works: I know I feel loved after eating a bunch of chocolate…right before I start feeling sick to my stomach.

But the best candy of all is Easter candy. Behold, the Queen of seasonal Easter candy: the Cadbury egg:

 

There have been some hot debates on my local radio station about which is better, the Cadbury egg or the marshmallow peep. Seriously? How is that even a contest? I don’t like Peeps, probably because I’m not a huge fan of marshmallow. They are made of sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin. In other words, they are a bland vehicle for a sugar high.

I love the entire Cadbury egg line.

 

These are filled with white chocolate and they are divine.

A hollow egg filled with Cadbury mini eggs. (I use the term “filled” loosely. This is a perfect example of truth in advertising. The picture on the box shows four mini Cadbury eggs, and the inside of my sons’ eggs had exactly four mini Cadbury eggs inside. If you ask me, that leaves an awful lot of empty hollow space that could have been used, say, by being slightly more generous with the mini Cadbury eggs.)

They are made with milk chocolate, sugar, and corn syrup, and I can attest to the fact that milk chocolate tastes worlds better than gelatin.

Jelly beans I can live without, but these Hershey chocolate eggs in a candy-coated shell are to die for.

I can eat an entire bag of these all by myself. It’s sad, really. But they are so good!

Whoppers’ Robin Eggs and Hershey’s Solid Chocolate Eggs are classics.

 

People celebrate Easter in different ways, but I spent Easter at my local Safeway buying discounted Easter candy to stash away for emergency purposes. And I will have to stash it away because after all the Easter candy I’ve been “sampling” all week, I’m going to need to go on a cleanse.

I hope you all feel as satisfied/vaguely ill as I do after indulging in all the fabulous Easter candy!

13 REASONS WHY: A BOOK REVIEW

April 17, 2014 in Book Reviews

From a reading standpoint, I love Young Adult novels. The teenage years are ripe with angst, raging hormones, rash decisions, and under age drinking, which makes for great conflict and drama. It is an interesting time of simplicity (they have no jobs or children or income taxes to be responsible for) and complexity (it really is daunting trying to figure out if the senior boy who pays no attention to you likes you or not).

From a writing standpoint, I love reading novels with different formats. Mark Haddon’s The Red House is written from eight different viewpoints. The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot is told entirely through emails, and Isaac Asimov wrote a novel (Murder at the ABA) where the narrator and another character get into arguments about the accuracy of the narrator’s storytelling in hilarious footnotes.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a YA novel told in a unique format, and I ate it up.

Clay Jensen has just received a mysterious package in the mail. Inside he finds a series of seven numbered cassette tapes (love the vintage throwback!) and a letter instructing him to listen to all of the tapes or suffer the consequences, for there is a second set of tapes waiting to be released to the public if he does not comply. Each side of each tape (except the seventh, which is only one side) is dedicated to revealing the wrongs committed by 13 different people, including a teacher, toward fellow student Hannah Baker. These are no ordinary wrongs: these are the 13 reasons that ultimately led Hannah to commit suicide.

The novel is written from the first person point of view of Clay Jensen and through Hannah Baker’s voice on the tapes, and these voices flip-flop paragraph by paragraph. Having Hannah’s voice in italics helps keep who is doing the talking clear, which is important because the voices are constantly alternating.

Just as in high school, there are characters who are kind and those who will use anyone to get what they want. There are some who wish they could have moved past their own insecurities to reach out to another and some who care so little about other people that they end up doing some rather nasty things. There are cliques and ostracizations, harried teachers that miss important opportunities to intervene, and even Hannah, bogged down in an inability to change her reputation and a losing battle to belong, made some poor choices before she died.

I love that Hannah was not perfect. Just like everyone else, she struggled to discover who she was and where she fit in, and the decisions she made were questionable at times. She was a normal, flawed teenage girl, except now she’s dead.

There are great lessons to be found here.  The damage that can be inflicted in seemingly “harmless” high school antics is demonstrated, like “The List” where the fact that Hannah earns “Best Ass” has consequences. (Although it’s hard to tell which is worse: being on “The List” or not being on it.)  The difficulty of not belonging or having a friend you can count on is poignantly told, and the signs of her impending suicide could be helpful to all of us in spotting someone who might be in trouble.

I loved every sentence of this novel. I hope a lot of high schoolers read it, both to see how their behavior has consequences they may not even realize, and to learn what signs should trigger a warning to get help for a friend.

 

 

 

 

 

SEATTLE VS TURKS & CAICOS

April 15, 2014 in Random Thoughts

Ease in Understanding What I Am Saying

Seattle: Despite being over 3200 miles away, the Turks Islanders have heard of Seattle. Not once did I have to clarify which country or state I was from; simply saying Seattle was enough.

Turks & Caicos:

USA Citizen: Where are you going/did you go on vacation?

ME: Turks & Caicos.

USA Citizen: Turksin— What?

ME: (slowly) Turks…and…Caicos.

USA Citizen: (perplexed) I’ve never heard of it. Is it in Mexico?

ME: It’s in the British West Indies, not far from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

USA Citizen: Oh?

ME: It’s in the Carribean.

USA Citizen: Oh! Now I get it. Tur— What was it called again?

Winner: Seattle.

Ease in Understanding What The Natives Are Saying

Seattle: They speak English and so do I.

Turks & Caicos: They speak English too, but some Islanders have such thick accents that it is hard to understand what they’re saying. It’s not so bad when you’re in a shop or a restaurant, but when you are in the ER and a bit stressed out and the intake nurse is asking if your son something-something-fluorimase, it can be a bit disconcerting. (No worries, mon. Said son is perfectly fine.)

Winner: Seattle.

Control of My Hair

Seattle: The constant moisture in the air (in the form of rain) makes my fine hair with a hint of curl frizz wildly out of control.

Turks & Caicos: The constant moisture in the air (in the form of humidity) makes my fine hair with a hint of curl frizz wildly out of control.

Winner: Tie.

The Ocean Water

Seattle: Dark blue and always freezing cold, even in the summer. If you do go in, you can’t see anything because the water is so murky.

Turks & Caicos: About 50 different shades of brilliant turquoise nestled against the deep blue of the sea further out from shore…and it’s warm! The water is so clear it’s like swimming in a pool.

Winner: Turks & Caicos

The Weather in the Spring

Seattle: Cold and rainy, with some wind and hail thrown in to shake things up a bit.

Turks & Caicos: Hot every single day.

Winner: Turks & Caicos

Alcoholic Beverages

Seattle: Local wineries abound, so the wine selection is as varied as it is delicious.

Turks & Caicos: Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Rum Punch, Pain Killers, and about 50 other dangerous yet delicious cocktails made with rum are available.

Looks innocent, but it is not.

Winner: I like both, so…Tie!

Seafood (Disclaimer: I don’t like seafood.)

Seattle: Salmon is king. I’m not a fan of salmon because it tastes so (gag) fishy.

Turks & Caicos: Conch is king. Conch (pronounced “conk” on the island) is a sea snail that has no taste whatsoever. At last! A seafood that doesn’t taste like seafood!

Winner: Turks & Caicos

Transportation to Restaurants for Dinner 

Seattle: Driving in a car in rush hour traffic.

Turks & Caicos: A beautiful barefoot stroll along the beach at sunset.

Winner: Turks & Caicos

Cost of Living

Seattle: A box of cereal costs under $4.00.

Turks & Caicos: A box of cereal costs $8.10, and that’s not including tourism tax, which they add on to everything. Even if you are not a tourist, grocery shopping is expensive. One of our taxi drivers does his bulk shopping at Sam’s Club in Florida. He purchases space on a pallet to have his items brought back on a ship, pays the hefty Turks & Caicos Import Tax, and it is still cheaper than shopping on the island.

Winner: Seattle.

Income Tax

Seattle: Must pay income tax.

Turks & Caicos: They do not pay income tax…at all.

Winner: Turks & Caicos (Happy Tax Day!)

Grand Champion: Us!

 Thanks for a great vacation Luisa & Jesse!

HOW LONG IS ONE MINUTE?

April 7, 2014 in Random Thoughts

 

Photo by Robbert van der Steeg

On Friday mornings I take an exercise class called Cardio Strength. It is a circuit class, which means after a group warm-up, everyone finds a station and we rotate through each station two, three, or four times, depending on how many stations there are. Typically, each station consists of three exercises that we do for one minute each, for there is an old adage in the gym culture that says “You can do anything for a minute.”

A minute is only 60 seconds long, but after participating in this class, I can tell you two things:

1) Not all minutes are created equal.

2) There are some things I can’t do even for one short minute…although I’m working on it!

I’m a cardio girl, so doing cardio for a minute is doable, although not even all cardio minutes are created equal. I can jump rope for a minute with no problem, but box jumps (jumping onto a knee-high bench over and over again) are hard work.

The minutes involving leg strength fly by, but the minutes involving my poor, weak upper body drag on, second by tortuous second. A minute of push-ups or plank break downs or the evil torture of pike-ups on a fitness ball lasts a hell of a lot longer than a minute of squats, even with a weighted bar on my shoulders.

But it’s not just exercise where a minute stops following the logic of time. Ask any American Idol, Chopped, or other reality show contestant. When Ryan Seacrest or Ted Allen is getting ready to announce who is going home, it takes forever. The camera is on Ryan Seacrest as he says something like “The one who is leaving our stage forever is…” Then they pan to one contestant for about ten seconds, then to the other, then back to Ryan, then to the contestant’s family members in the audience, then to the judges, then back to Ryan…my God. That is one evil minute for those young kids trying to make their dreams come true.

The last minute of any March Madness basketball game is never 60 seconds long. It can easily go on for ten minutes with all the fouls and time outs and plays under official review. The “Just a minute!” cry of a harried mom trying to have an adult conversation with a friend is never only a minute, a fact kids learn early. When a mom yells for her kids to come running, and they shout back “I’ll be there in one minute!”,  she might as well sneak off for a “one minute” spa pedicure.

Minutes can just as easily whip past you much quicker than 60 seconds, like when you’re late. In that case, each minute lasts roughly 12.5 seconds.

In my crazy life where I have no control over the passage of time, I like the fact that my exercise class is reminding me of how long one minute actually is. In one minute, there is plenty of time to look each of my sons in the eye, tell them I love them, wish them a good day, and demand that they throw their stinky socks into the washing machine on their way out the door. One minute is enough time to send a pick-me-up text to a good friend or thank someone for helping me out. Taking one minute to sit down, breathe, and stare out the window is a slice of heaven, and someday, if I keep working hard, one minute of push-ups from my toes will happen.

I hope you take one minute for yourself today and every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUILTY PLEASURES, PART 2: INTELLIGENCE

April 3, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

 

Read Part 1 here.

Ok, I am just going to come out and say it: I have a crush on Josh Holloway.

If you know me, this is not news. I’ve raved about Lost’s Sawyer for years. The bad boy with a heart of gold buried somewhere deep inside, a pair of irresistible dimples, and a penchant for coming up with clever nicknames for his cohorts, like “Doc” and “Freckles”: what’s not to love?

So when I heard he was headlining a new TV show called Intelligence, I raced right over to CBS and prepared to be enthralled.

Gabriel Vaughn, played by Josh Holloway, is an ex-Delta Force operative who volunteered to have a super-computer microchip implanted in his brain, allowing him access to the global information grid. (As a non-tech-savvy layperson, I have no idea what that means, but it plays out in scenarios like Gabriel unlocking hotel doors with his mind.) He currently works for U.S. Cyber Command in an effort to stop bad guys while being protected 24/7 by his own Secret Service agent Riley Neal.

This show has its share of flaws. Some of the things Gabriel can do stretch the limits of plausibility (although as a non-tech-savvy layperson, I readily admit this flaw could be mine). The dialogue is often clunky. Marg Helgenberger, terrific in CSI, looks like she’s trying to play the director of U.S. Cyber Command Lillian Strand as an ice-cold, strong as steel, ballsy woman, but instead it comes across as stiff and distant. Meghan Ory, playing Gabriel’s protector, looks to be eighteen years old and has perfected the arched-eyebrow facial expression to convey any number of her inner feelings, such as “Ok, bad guy, you are annoying me now. Don’t you know I have cheerleading practice in an hour? Quit stalling and answer my question.”

But I love this show anyway! Here’s why:

Josh Holloway

His hair is shorter, but the dimples are still out in force and there’s enough of the “Sawyer” swagger left that I can almost convince myself I’m watching Lost again. As a main character, he has a lot of screen time, and an hour spent watching Holloway is a pretty damn good hour. Looks aside, I do see a lot of potential with this character. Right now, he’s basically a walking computer, but I think Gabriel is smarter than the writers are giving him credit for. I would love to see him using his own mind instead of relying so heavily on the chip. Perhaps he gets a virus that shuts down the computer in his brain and he has to solve a complicated crime on his own without (gasp) internet access?

John Billingsley and P.J. Byrne

The creators of the show hit the jackpot with these two characters: a father-son team of uber-smart scientists that work in U.S. Cyber Command. John Billingsley is Dr. Cassidy, the neuroscientist responsible for the computer chip that now resides in Gabriel’s brain. In many ways, he regards Gabriel as his own son, setting up a realistic jealousy issue with his biological son Nelson, played by P.J. Byrne. Dr. Cassidy and Nelson bicker, they get the best lines, and no matter what, they have each other’s backs.

Of all the actors, these two are the ones that actually get to show their emotions, resulting in moments of poignancy and humor.  That may be the biggest problem with the show: except for these two, everyone is in an emotional lockdown. There has been a lot said during the show about the fact that Gabriel is a human being, not just a computer. If that’s true, then let him be human. Show his flaws and insecurities. Show him making a mistake and dealing with the consequences. Mess him up a little and let him show that he is, indeed, human.

That goes for Riley too. She’s a Secret Service agent, so we know she’s tough. But where is she vulnerable?

The season finale just aired, and I hope it gets picked up for a second season. There is a lot of potential here for a great show. I hope they take advantage of it if given the chance.