Happy Mother’s Day – A Tribute to My Mom

This year, I celebrate my 24th Mother’s Day without my Mom.  She passed away in January of 1987, and I miss her.  I miss her most on occasions like this, when I celebrate her for what she did best, and never expected to do at all.  She openly doubted whether she served me well, and I emphatically told her I was the luckiest person on earth to have her as a mother.  Without her, I have no idea what my life would have been like, or who I would be today.

You see, I was adopted.  As the story goes, my birth father was killed in the Korean War before I was born, and my birth mother did not get adequate pre-natal care.  I was born by c-section and there were complications resulting in a serious infection.  As she was dying, my birth mother contacted the woman who would become my Mom.  They knew each other.  She told her she could not die in peace unless she knew that my Mom would agree to raise me.

My Mom had some reservations about this.  She was 47 years old, and had only been married to my Dad for 2 years, but already she could see he had a drinking problem.  She did not have any children and at this point in her life, she’d thought she never would.  She talked it over with my Dad, and an attorney, and my birth mother signed the papers before she died.

As a result of my parents’ age, and my Dad’s alcoholism, I grew up an only child.  Although I missed having siblings, I had a wonderful life – despite my Dad’s drinking.  The reason I had such a wonderful life was because I had an extraordinary mother.

Mom was Canadian of British and Prussian extraction – and she carried her “stiff upper lip” everywhere.  She did not tolerate fools, hysteria, or laziness.  When I fell down and scraped my knees and cried, I was told “Now Bonnie, pull yourself together.”  When I didn’t pick up after myself, I was told “Laziness will get you nowhere – discipline yourself.”  When I wasted my time on nonsense or struggled with studies, I was told “There are 3 kinds of people in this world – the ones who talk about things, the ones who talk about people, and the ones who discuss ideas – be an idea person.”

This may sound harsh, but it served me well as an adult, particularly when I had children of my own – more on that below!  And there were very warm moments I remember well.

When I contracted croup, my Mom was the one was sat under a sheet with me getting steam from a humidifier, letting her new perm turn into a ball of frizz.  She fought with our pediatrician until he hospitalized me because she knew I needed to have my tonsils out – and she was right!  I had a series of nasty staph infections and she treated them with home remedies that were more effective than drugs.

No one read stories better than my Mom.  She loved books and taught me to read at age 3.  She read to me and she read with voices, in character.  It was magical.  She taught me life lessons through parables and I remember most of them to this day, in her voice.  Her greatest gift to me has been my love of books and reading.

She was a working mother in an age when that was highly unusual.  She had a man’s job – production manager in a medical advertising agency.  Being one of the Mom’s who car-pooled me and my friends to Brownies or dance lessons or athletic events was just not something she could manage most of the time – but it was a treat when she could.

My Mom also had a powerful sense of right and wrong, and she was a great example of living a righteous life.  She quietly helped people in need – whether she knew them or not –  never drawing attention to her actions.  Every year at tax time, she had a long list of charitable organizations whose missions she believed in and to whom she contributed money.  She would not tolerate unkindness – when I once made fun of a friend because of the way she was holding her knife, my mother kindly showed her the correct way – and later gave me quite a dressing down for my behavior.  To hear “Bonnie, I was very disappointed in you” was so painful to hear I would rather have been spanked!

She was also an activist when something called for action.  One year, our neighborhood had an infestation of caterpillars.  They were killing all the trees.  The only way to save the trees was for every tree to be sprayed.  My mother went door to door (and our neighborhood had 200 homes if it had 10) and got a commitment from every single homeowner that they would contribute to paying a tree surgeon to come in and spray all the trees.  And they did!

My parents commuted to New York City from our home in Westchester County 5 days a week.  The area they lived in was growing and many more people were commuting.  The train station parking lot overflowed into the street.  My parents came home every day to a parking ticket on their windshield.  A lot of other people had them too.  My mother started a petition and got all those drivers being ticketed to sign it, took it to the appropriate people, and got a brand new parking lot built at that train station.  Today, I lovingly refer to it as the Jean Preston Memorial Parking Lot.

When my Dad’s drinking became too much to handle, my parents separated and my mother became a single Mom.  I was only 11, but I was mature and willing to take on added responsibility and we managed quite well.  My Dad was not great at visitation, and I balked several times at spending time with him.  When I expressed a desire not to visit with Dad, she told me “He is your Father, and he is entitled to time with you, and you will spend time with him.”  Despite everything he’d done, mostly to her, her sense of justice would not allow her to curtail his right to spend time with his child.  I disagreed, but I did what she said because I respected her moral authority.

My Mom’s father was a dental surgeon, and she had trained to be a nurse.   I had many illnesses as a child, and my Mom’s knowledge and wisdom was indispensible.  She taught me how to recognize a good doctor, and that came in very handy later when I became a mother myself.

As I became a young adult, I gave my Mom some challenging times.  But regardless of what I did, or didn’t do, my mother was there for me in good times and bad.  We were as close as any mother and daughter.  I knew I was special to her because she never expected to have the experience of motherhood.

But I also knew because of something I overheard one Thanksgiving.

I had an “aunt” – a distant cousin of my Mom’s, but to me she was always Aunt Blanche.  Aunt Blanche was vivacious, glamorous (not beautiful but always made up and always wearing interesting jewelry) and full of life.  She was as gregarious as her husband, my Uncle Gil, was introverted.  They had no children and traveled the world together.  They were a love match and I loved to visit them at their home in Pennsylvania.  But I also loved it when they visited us, because they always had a slide show of their latest trip.  My Aunt Blanche narrated those shows with such detail and enthusiasm; she was like an animated “National Geographic” magazine.

One Thanksgiving, I overheard my Aunt Blanche talking to my Mom.  She said “You know, Jean, if you had never adopted Bonnie, you would be travelling the world with Gil and me.”

I’ve never forgotten my Mother’s response.

“Blanche, Bonnie has taken me places that you will never see.”

I am crying as I write this.  Not just because I know how much my Mother loved me, but because as a Mother myself, I now recognize the truth of this on a whole other level.  For some things, “you’ve just got to be there.”  Motherhood is something that gives you experiences you can’t have any other way – and it doesn’t matter if your child came from your womb or not.

My Mom had a stroke in 2002.  She remained aphasic for the rest of her life, an experience that frustrated her constantly.  We were so close, and I knew her so well, I was often the only person who could understand what she was trying to say.  But her life was never the same after the stroke.

Shortly before her stroke, in a quiet moment, she asked me – in all seriousness – if she had done a good job as a mother.  I was shocked.  But I told her “I have always felt like the luckiest woman on earth because I have the best Mom ever.  I could not have had a better mother.”  She cried.  I could not believe she had such doubts – but it showed me there were cracks in her armor after all.

My first child, my son, was born 7 months before my Mom died.  She was never able to do with him the things I know she looked forward to – especially reading him stories.

But I will never forget her face the first time she saw him.  Her face was beatific as she took him from my arms and walked away with him, just to sit and look at him.  I knew she was seeing me because my son has many of my features.  My Mom was still bossy at age 80, even with impaired speech – admonishing me for using commercial infant formulas (“I made yours from scratch!”) and disposable diapers.  I just smiled at her and let her enjoy herself.

Five months later, cancer -which had visited her once before and cost her a breast -made another appearance and quickly took over inside her body.  At Thanksgiving, I knew something was wrong, but by Christmas, I knew it was serious.  The woman sitting silently in a chair, wrapped in a blanket, was not my Mom – not the Mom who complained all her life about the heat in my Aunt’s house – my Mom was NEVER cold, even at age 80.

Just a month before her 81st birthday, in January of 2007, my Mom passed away.  I saw her 2 hours before she died.  I brought my son so she could see him.  I told her I was fine, all’s well.  I wanted her not to worry about me so she could rest in peace.

She never got to meet her granddaughter.  She never got to see her grandchildren grow up, achieve milestones.  And with each significant step in their lives, I have missed her.  I have missed her wise counsel, her humor (a wicked, British sense of humor) and her incredible strength.  But I am SO lucky that she was able to pass so much of who she was on to me.  It has served me well in my role as a mother.

God knew what he was doing when he arranged things so that Jean Preston would be my Mom.  My daughter was born with a single kidney.  We did not know this until she needed valve reimplantation surgery at age 5.  We thought our troubles were over then.

But we chased migraine headaches for another 6 years before getting a diagnosis of malignant hypertension – something I know would never have happened if my mother had been alive.  She would have called someone in her army of medical professionals and solved the riddle in much less time.

My daughter will take medication for the rest of her life to control chronic hypertension.  There have been many trips to the ER since her initial diagnosis at age 11 – she will turn 21 this year.  Lately she has developed an issue with seizures, and we are in the process of getting tests done for diagnostic purposes.  It’s at times like these when I miss my Mom’s presence the most.  But I am able to navigate these challenges because of the knowledge and resolve she passed on to me.

I regret that my mother did not live long enough for my children to know her.  She would have adored them in the way that only a grandmother can – and they would have learned so much from her.  I have tried to make their lives rich in the way I believe my mother would have done, but honestly, I know I have come up short.

I miss my Mom every day, but I feel her spirit in my moments of joy and sorrow.  And I still feel like the luckiest woman on earth because I had the best mother in the world!

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!  I Love You!

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Balancing Act – New Twitter Account

Just a short note to let my blog readers know that I still have a blog and intend to post regularly.  This past month, I have been exceptionally busy, personally and professionally.  But I see daylight and have found the time to make an important change. 

I now have a new Twitter account and it is associated with this blog.  I will publicize posts to Antipandemonium there and the content will be associated with people and issues I blog about here.  The new Twitter is @Antipandemonium.

For those who enjoy my tweet and posts about “The Vampire Diaries” at BiteOnThis.net, you can continue to follow me on Twitter using @bonniejpreston. 

Thanks for your patience and your continued support.

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A World Out of Balance – Air and Water – World Water Day 3/22/2011

 “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”  ~Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732

Did you know that Tuesday, March 22 is World Water Day?  Were you aware that there is a World Water Day?  Are you curious about why there is a World Water Day?

Our diminishing supply of water is a growing problem world-wide.  Over a billion people lack safe drinking water.

It should come as no surprise that water is a precious commodity in the middle-east, much of which is desert.  But there is clear evidence that the area is running out of water.  And that will lead to a cascade of other problems, not the least of which is civil unrest. 

But if you think this problem is confined to the middle-east, or Africa, or third world countries alone, think again.

We are facing a water shortage of our own right here in the United States, particularly in the American southwest. 

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the lower 48, is currently only 40% full.  The water supplies of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California are threatened as a result. 

In addition to facing a shortage of water due primarily to climate change, we are engaged in activities that are polluting our existing water supplies in the name of “natural gas production”.

The wisdom of this is highly questionable, given the research, which shows the following:

  • Hydraulic fracturing (“hydrofracking”) – one of the methods used in natural gas production – produces waste that contains radioactivity which is hauled to sewage plants not equipped to hand it.
  • The waste winds up in rivers that feed our drinking water supplies.  The waste contains things like corrosive salts, benzene (a known carcinogen) and radium (a radioactive element). 

The New York Times published a great article on this issue in February.  It bears a full reading.  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=2&hp

One of the experts quoted in this article says “We are burning the furniture to heat the house”. 

That is an appropriate description.  Our behavior with respect to our environment has become irrational.

We don’t have to look any further than Japan to see where our arrogance has gotten us.  Rather than taking a long view and developing alternative renewable energy programs, we have witnessed the results of a decision to place a nuclear facility in an earthquake zone subject to tsunamis. 

As I recently stated on Twitter, if you build a nuclear plant to withstand an earthquake magnitude 10, Mother Nature will send you an 11.  If you make it safe from tsunami waves of 20 feet, Mother Nature will be sure you get 30. 

Mother Nature always bats last!  When are we going to take this truth seriously?

The January 2011 Issue of National Geographic highlighted “Population 7 Billion” as its cover story, because this year, the population of this big blue marble that we all live on is going to hit that number.

Even if you have not read this story, it is hard to ignore the effect mankind is having on the environment.  We have been living as if there is no end to finite resources, and no consequences to using them up.  

A figure of 7 billion souls brings with it an increased sense of urgency for solutions to some of our major environmental problems – air and water being just two.  

There are others, but as I indicated in a prior post, air and water fall neatly on the base of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” along with food.  They are basic.  Without air, water and food, mankind no longer exists.

Dr. Charles David Keeling was the first person in the world to develop an accurate technique for measuring carbon dioxide in the air.  A machine to capture these measurements was installed on Mauna Loa in the 1950’s.  At that time, his measurement was 310 parts per million – meaning that every million pints of air contained 310 pints of carbon dioxide.

In 2005, when Dr. Keeling died, that number was 380 parts per million. 

It is expected to pass 400 within 5 years.  Current projections put the number at 560 before the end of the 21st century.  This is double what it was before the Industrial Revolution.

Let me summarize:

  • 1950    310 parts per million
  • 2005   380 parts per million
  • 2100   400 parts per million

We don’t really know exactly what levels like this will do to the earth, but it seems clear that the increased levels have adversely affected our climate.   And this is a threat to human welfare and survival.

What we are risking are melting ice sheets, a rise in sea levels globally, increased droughts, heat waves, flood, storms, depletion of sea life, and extinction of plants and animals.

These things are already occurring but these activities can only intensify if we don’t do something. 

And what is the present U.S. House of Representatives – recently infused with an influx of new blood from the Republican Party – doing in the face of this overwhelming evidence that we are destroying the very environment that has sustained life (all forms of life) on this planet for millennia? 

Gutting the budget and slashing anything that protects the public’s air, water, and food, or supports the efforts of scientists engaged in the study of effects of climate change!

Why? Because we have a “budget crisis”. 

Wake up people!  We have an environmental crisis.  And if we don’t tighten out belts and deal with that problem – right now – we won’t have to worry about a financial crisis. 

Because we won’t be here.

According to the 2009 Pew survey, 35 percent of Republicans say there is no solid evidence of global warming.  And they are engaged in a disinformation campaign to influence the public – a campaign that says environmental scientists are all crackpots!

It appears to be working.  Between 2007 and 2009, the number of Americans who believe in climate change dropped 20%, from 77% to 57%.

Who are you going to believe – a member of Congress, or Dr. Charles David Keeling, a man who spent his entire life studying climate – a man with a professional reputation for meticulous research and documentation?

Many of the politicians in Washington D.C. appear to be behaving as if there are no environmental problems.  Some of them are outright “deniers”. 

But who is going to pay the price for their denial?

The lack of quality in our air is already causing major health problems – anyone with allergies, asthma, COPD or any other respiratory condition is already suffering.  That means more visits to the doctor or the hospital – if you can afford it.

But what about all the people in the United States who are suffering and can’t afford medication?  What is their suffering costing us in terms of productivity?  What is it costing them emotionally and physically?

More importantly – how can a child who is suffering from allergies or asthma be fully present in school every day? 

The evidence that we are killing our planet is striking.  And if we kill our planet, where are we going to live? What will become of our children?  What kind of world will they inherit?

Despite all this bad news, I am hopeful that the climate crisis is the one that will ultimately bring all the people of the earth together with a set of common goals – to create sensible programs that sustain the resources of the planet and promote health and well-being for all its creatures, everywhere. 

I honestly believe we have no other choice.  If we don’t, we won’t be here much longer.

And ultimately, I believe we love our children too much to let that happen. 

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.  ~Native American Proverb

For more information about the impact of our dwindling water supplies and other environmental issues, please visit the links I have posted at http://www.bonniejpreston.com/environment .

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A World Out of Balance – Do We Still Value Our Children?

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

When I read the quotation above, I think perhaps we no longer value our children in the United States.

If you think that is a radical statement, consider the following:

  • Child Poverty – 25% of children in the US are living in poverty

On 3/6/2011, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired a story about homeless children in Florida.  In that show, they reported that poverty among children is expected to reach 25% this year.

Let me say that again.  In this country, 25% of our children will soon be living in poverty.

1 in every 4 children.

That is, by the way, the national average. In some states, it’s already far greater.   Here’s a link – look for yourself.   http://www.eddataexpress.ed.gov/

If you don’t watch 60 Minutes, you may not have heard this.

Why isn’t this NEWS?  Every night? Why are the major networks interviewing the likes of Charlie Sheen when 1 in 4 children in this country is living in poverty?

Why?  Because Charlie Sheen interviews draw a larger audience – and that makes money for the corporations that own our mass media.

Poverty is depressing – and apparently it isn’t compelling enough to capture sufficient viewership to make airing stories about it profitable to network or cable news divisions.

You don’t SUDDENLY have 25% of the population of children enter poverty.  The fact that this is being ignored by the fourth estate makes a statement.

Here’s another indicator that our values are questionable:

  • Health Care – Pediatricians among the 5 lowest paid physicians by specialty

About two years ago, my son was about to graduate from college and he expressed an interest in becoming a physician’s assistant.  I decided to do some research for him and I discovered that among all medical specialties, pediatrics pays among the least.

https://www.aamc.org/students/medstudents/cim/

What pays the most?  PLASTIC SURGERY!

Apparently, we care more about how we look than the health our children.

I am not quite sure why I am surprised by this.  After all, we live in a country, where we have elevated such banalities as a cup of coffee and a bottle of water to the level of status symbols!

So it stands to reason that with each passing year, medical school students seem less interested in specializing in pediatrics.  It won’t pay them enough to pay back the cost of all their student loans.

But it is not just the field of medicine that reflects the low regard in which we hold our children – the future leaders of this country.

  • Education – The Assault on Public School Teachers

There is an assault on public education in this country, and it is aimed at public school teachers.  The purveyors of the latest “magic bullet” to fix the current state of public education are demonizing teachers, measuring them according to the results of incessant, meaningless student tests, and threatening to keep only the teachers who “measure up”.

I don’t believe we have ever treated teachers in this country with the respect that they deserve.  Teachers have the second most challenging job in the world, after parents.  I am 58 years old and I cannot recall a time in my life when the teaching profession was respected as highly as doctor, lawyer, engineer or architect.

We certainly don’t treat them with the esteem they are getting in Finland! http://hechingerreport.org/content/an-interview-with-henna-virkkunen-finlands-minister-of-education_5458/

Teachers are influential and can be inspirational.  The fact that they are currently being vilified should be a wake up call to every citizen in this country who sends their children to public school and every young person who aspires to teach.

And while teachers are under attack in public schools, so are our kids:

  • Marketing and Advertising – Turning Our Children Into Consumers

Our children begin to be trained to be consumers almost from the time they are born.  And while television used to be the source of commercialism most parents were concerned with, kids are now targeted through multiple channels: television, internet, movies, toys, and even in our schools:

Consider the following:

  • A full week of teaching time is lost to Channel One every year; one day per year is lost just to the ads.
  • Companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children, up from the $100 million spent in 1983.
  • Until the age of about 8, children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent and very young children can’t distinguish between commercials and program content.
  • Children ages 2-11 see more than 25,000 advertisements a year on TV alone.

These examples came from Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood’s web site.  Please visit and learn more.  (http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/index.html)

If none of this is sufficient for you begin to question whether or not we value our children as much as we believe, perhaps this will convince you:

  • The Environment – House Passes HR#1 – Cuts Half Percent from Budget, Undoes all Environmental Progress Made in the Past 30 Years

In February, the House passed HR#1 – Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011.

This bill proposed cuts deep into Head Start, WIC and programs for Community Health Centers and public housing.  As many as 5 million children would be affected by these cuts alone.  That will surely contribute to more children sliding into poverty nationally.

Additional cuts would make it nearly impossible for the EPA to function and would  dismantle the Clean Air Act.  It takes aim at other agencies responsible for environmental and food safety

According to the NRDC, the Clean Air Act has yielded $30 in health benefits for every $1 in expenses.  Seems like a good return to me.  But the people paying the $1 apparently don’t see it that way.  Hopefully, none of their children have asthma, or have ever spent time in a hospital because of e coli or salmonella.

So, back to the question of whether or not we value our children:

  • Child Poverty – 1 in 4 children living in poverty, cuts in vital social programs
  • Health Care – Pediatricians among the 5 lowest paid medical specialties
  • Education – Public schools and teachers under attack across the country
  • Marketing and Advertising – The Commercialization of Childhood
  • The Environment – Environmental Safety Regulations and Agencies under attack

Most of these issues have become political – and as such, ideologues on both sides spend too much time fighting and not enough doing the right thing.  Where our children are concerned, we need to get the politics out and take action in the best interest of our kids.

If you don’t like what is happening to the world you live in – the one your children and grandchildren will inherit – then it is time for you to do something about it.  It is time to show our children that we really do value them.

Don’t believe those who say there is nothing you can do.  They are wrong.  You have a voice – start using it.  Here’s how:

Stop supporting low standards in popular culture.  Don’t buy or read People Magazine or any of those other gossip rags.   Don’t watch Charlie Sheen on television or follow him on Twitter!  Do not waste another one of your brain cells on the stupid gossip that is passed off as “entertainment” by the mass media.  They are only selling it because you’re buying it – raise your standards!  Be a better example to your kids!

Visit a neo-natal intensive care unit in a local hospital.  Count your blessings. Then, the next time you take your child to the pediatrician, thank your doctor for helping to keep your child healthy.  I know you appreciate your medical professionals – let them know it!

If you are upset at the assault on your child’s public education, take a stand.  Go to your school board’s public meetings and make your voice heard.  Maintain your composure but make sure to let the people who are spending your hard-earned tax dollars know you expect better results when they spend your money.

Support your public school teachers.  Go to Back-to-School night and make sure to meet the people teaching your children.  I know from personal experience that teachers value engaged parents more than anything.  Show your kids you care – thank a teacher!

When your local, state and federal politicians propose actions on issues, let them know whether you support or oppose them – especially if you oppose them.  These days, it could not be easier to make your voice heard with your elected officials – their phone numbers and email addresses are readily available and should be handy at all times.

Put them in your cell phone!  Follow them on Twitter and kick Kim Kardashian to the curb.

Demonstrate to your children that we all have a voice and we can use it!  Show them that you care about their health, education, and living standards.

Because if you don’t speak up when you have the chance – if you don’t value the freedom you’ve been given enough to use it on a regular basis – that will be the next thing our children lose – their freedom.

That is not a legacy I am willing to leave to mine.

“If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.”  Pearl S. Buck

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Happy Birthday to Me – and Elizabeth Taylor

I intended for this week’s post to be about air and water.  I still intend to post a piece about that, but something else occurred to me this morning.

Today is my 58th birthday – and Liz Taylor’s 79th.

I posted birthday greetings and get well wishes to Ms. Taylor via @DameElizabeth  on Twitter this morning.  She has been in the hospital.  I also asked my Twitter followers to post a Happy Birthday to her, if they are so moved.

And I think they should be.  Why?  Because every actor is a vehicle for story-telling.

Liz Taylor has served story well for most of her life.

She began her career as a child.  If you have never seen “National Velvet”, please do.  It is a classic.  My favorite Liz Taylor film is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  Liz won the Oscar as Best Actress for this film, and I believe she deserved it.

Part of a balanced life is taking the time to relax, and good stories – whether they are presented in print or on film – are a great form of relaxation.  And for getting in touch with your feelings – a good story always makes contact with us on an emotional level.  That’s the reason they stay with us.

Storytelling used to be the way we passed information on through the generations – the oral/aural tradition.  Theater was born out of this.

Then we were blessed with the print medium and got books, newspapers, and magazines.  Eventually, film arrived and story could be told in a visual medium that is very different from theater.

I am thrilled that this year, the Academy Awards telecast falls on my birthday.  I plan to spend this evening watching and rooting for my favorites.

I have watched “the Oscars” every year of my life since I was 10 years old.  Not because I am star-struck, but because I believe in the power of a good story, well told.  And for me, the “Oscars” honors the best of the people in a business that specializes in telling stories well.

My mother knew how to tell a good story.  I can still remember some of them and see my mother’s face and hear her voice and remember how I felt as if it were yesterday and not over 50 years ago.  That is the power of a good story, well-told.

Mom taught me to read at age 4, and she insisted that I read good books – no junk.  I’m talking “classics” here.   In fact, I still have the classic books I received on a regular basis as a child.  “Black Beauty”, “Little Women”, “The Prince and the Pauper”.  Good stories, brilliantly crafted.

Although we had a television, it did not have a central place in our home.  My mother insisted that books were more important.  Her only concession to TV was classic movies.

In my youth in New York, “Picture for a Sunday Afternoon” was a regular weekly show that featured classic films.  After church, we would have an early afternoon Sunday dinner (very formal – good china and silverware) and then relax by watching “The Yearling”, “Pat and Mike” “Wuthering Heights”  “White Heat”.  Each week I was treated to a fine story.  This is where my lifelong love of classic films was born.

These shows introduced me to Jimmy Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Lawrence Olivier, Olivia de Havilland, Gregory Peck, and Elizabeth Taylor, along with many others – far too numerous to mention.

But, again, I was never “star struck”.  I admired – and still admire – actors as instruments of writers who craft good stories.   I have never seen a really fine actor who does not acknowledge that they would have nothing to do without the writer.

As I grew older, I began to develop a great appreciation of the film director as the guardian and champion of the story.   The best directors (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, William Wyler, David Lean, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder) understand how to frame the story and how to get the best performance out of the actors.

If you have ever seen any of the following films, you have experienced the power of story:

The Aviator, The Godfather, ET, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, It’s a Wonderful Life, Double Indemnity.

I am still a voracious reader.  There is always a Nora Roberts book in my eReader, which sits on my nightstand when it’s not in my gym bag!  And I am eagerly waiting the next Jodi Picoult book.

But in an hour or so, I will sit in front of my television and celebrate some of the best of this year’s stories – “Black Swan”, “The King’s Speech”, “The Social Network”, “Inception”, “127 Hours”, “The Fighter”, “The Kids are All Right”.

If you haven’t seen these films, I hope that you will.  They are all good stories, well-told and lovingly crafted by the directors and actors nominated along with them.  I have seen them and I was touched by all of them.

And if you are watching the Academy Awards this evening, I hope you will pay a silent tribute to Elizabeth Taylor and wish her a Happy Birthday!

“Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.”  Jeanne Moreau

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A World Out of Balance – Politics and the Issues of Our Time

Last week, my post was about food, a basic requirement of life.  In the coming weeks, I will address other basics – clean air and water, energy consumption, and climate.  These are fundamental to our ability to sustain life. 

But I felt that this week, I should expand on why I have decided to write about the crises we are facing, rather than about life balance. 

Simply put, if the fundamental elements of our environment (air, water, food) are endangered – and they are –we will not have a world in which it is possible to seek individual or collective balance.

I addressed food last week because as someone interested in promoting health, I have some real concerns about the quality of our food and how it affects our health and our environment.  But that is not the only area in which I have concerns.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I watched a show on the History Channel.  And this show brought many of my concerns together in an interesting way.   Any of these issues, individually, could cause the collapse of civilization.  What is troubling is that at the present time, they are all occurring simultaneously. 

The show was called “Prophets of Doom”.   It was a two-hour show in which 6 men – experts in their fields – spent part of the first hour laying out why they felt their “issue” was the most threatening to civilization. 

In the second hour, these men sat facing each other and discussed these issues as a group.  They all came away with a changed perspective, some hope, and a suggestion for resolution. 

The six men and the 6 threats to mankind they represented are:  John Cronin – fresh water;   Michael Ruppert – Peak Oil (the point at which oil production begins to decline forever);  Nathan Hagens – World Financial Systems (they are in their worst shape in history); James Howard Kunstler – energy shortages; Robert Gleason – Nuclear terrorism; Hugo DeGaris – Artificial Intelligence.

I do not agree with everything that these men have said on their subjects, but I don’t believe that we can deny there are serious issues in the areas of fresh water, oil and energy, financial markets, and terrorism – nuclear and otherwise. 

I am less concerned with AI robots gaining consciousness and eliminating the human race as I believe any of the other issues will take us out long before robots get to us if we do not address them.

And that is my point with this week’s post. 

While the President and Congress debate the budget, and worry about how to bring down the deficit without offending some group of constituents, I am wondering how long we can continue to ignore the obvious.

If we don’t start to address the issues of clean air, clean fresh water, the environment, climate change, energy consumption, and financial markets, we will not be here long enough to distribute and collect the Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other programs we are all so concerned will be cut in the near future.

As pressing as some of our immediate problems are, we cannot keep kicking the can of our long-term issues down the road hoping that “someone else” will solve them for us.  We must address them now or there will be no tomorrow. 

My next several weekly posts, therefore, will be about the issues of clean air, fresh water, and our environment (including energy and climate change).  My intention is to bring attention to the seriousness of each of the issues in these areas, and to urge everyone to get involved in some way to make a difference.

A life of balance must include an element of giving back to one’s community.  I hope you will be inspired to adopt a cause and work for it towards a cleaner, better and safer tomorrow.

“We all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”  John F. Kennedy

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A World Out of Balance – The Issues of Our Time: Food

When was the last time you were hungry?  I mean really hungry, as in starving?

I don’t know anyone who’s ever experienced starvation.  Most of the people I know, myself included, tend to take many things for granted, chief among them our food.  Although I have experienced a time or two when money was tight and the food budget called for things like “Lima Bean & Franks Casserole”, I have never been worried about not having enough food.  Chances are, neither have you.

We live in a country and a time when food is ubiquitous – it’s abundant in many forms (some clearly not good for us) and we don’t think about it much.  That situation may be about to change. 

You have probably followed the news this past week so you know what’s happened in Egypt.  What you may not know is that some of the unrest in Egypt and other poor countries is caused by rising food prices. 

But the rising price of food is not exclusively a problem in poor countries.  It is happening all over the world and it is coming to the United States. 

Why is this trend important?  Because rising food prices can cause civil unrest – even revolution (think France – “let them eat cake”.  I believe Marie Antoinette lost her head over that line.)  It’s not hard to understand why if you know some basic psychology.

Are you familiar with “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”?  If not, you should be (yet another thing they don’t teach in high school and should).  A picture is worth a thousand words.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

Pyramids are best understood from the bottom up.  The base is important.  In fact, it’s foundational – literally.  When you look at the base of the pyramid, you see things that are the foundation of life – breathing (doesn’t get more basic than that – no oxygen, no life), food, water, sleep, excretion, sex, homeostasis.    

If you haven’t taken care of these things, you can’t move up the pyramid. Consider that statement in light of what is directly above the base layer – safety in all its forms. 

What that means is that you will risk the safety of your body, family, job, health, property, your very life in order to satisfy your basic needs.  From another angle, you can say that you can’t really feel safe until you satisfy the basic needs. 

When you threaten a people’s food supply (or any of their basic needs), you create civil unrest.   This has contributed to the situations in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Jordan, etc.  While we can expect higher food prices in the United States, we need not yet worry about shortages.

But there is something else about our food that I believe bears consideration.

What if the food supply, while abundant, is creating disease – diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart-disease, cancer?   

We are the lifestyle-disease capital of the world – and we are exporting these diseases because the corporations that create the “food” that causes these conditions are selling them to other “markets”. 

I am upset about that, and I think everyone should be.  The fact is our government – the one to whom we pay our hard-earned tax dollars – contributes to the quality of our food supply, or the lack of quality. 

For those of you about to raise the argument “But the government doesn’t force you to eat food that’s not good for you” – you are right.  However, government, by its policies, can make it easier for people to have good, wholesome, healthy food available.  In this, our government has failed its citizens.

Last week, the USDA unveiled its new Dietary Guidelines.  While it is a great improvement over what came before, it revealed, yet again, that the government has a conflict – to promote the health of its citizens or support the profit motives of big business.

Big business has been winning for more than half a century. 

Does anyone else see the irony here?  

Our government has provided us with Dietary Guidelines every year since 1980.  Every year since 1980, we have gotten more and more unhealthy, with the trends for obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and many forms of cancer rising each year.

Last year, this same government passed a law called the “Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act”. 

Now they want to protect us?  Where were they when the trends were evident?  It’s not like this information was hidden.  Some of it actually comes from…Government Agencies (the NIH and CDC)!!!

The government has a long history of creating regulations that benefit “Big Agra” and “Big Pharma” more than they benefit us.

And it continues. Just a few weeks ago, the USDA capitulated to Monsanto on the issue of GMOs – that is, genetically modified organisms, specifically alfalfa.  (Yes, that is Monsanto, the chemical company.)  

GMOs are also known as “frankenfood”.   Most other countries will not buy this food from us! But it’s in our grocery stores.

Are you angry yet?  I hope so.  You should be.

The single biggest thing you can do to improve your health, or maintain it if your health is good, is to eat good food.  Care about the quality of food you put in your body – it fuels whatever you do.   

I am not saying that you must never buy anything processed again, or that you should eat only organic (although you should check the sites/blogs listed below for that information on Monsanto and GMOs).  Just move in the direction of quality, whole food, prepared by you!

Don’t let “I don’t have time to cook” stand in your way.  Mark Bittman says if you can cook rice and beans, salads, and stir-fry, then you can eat well forever.  He is right. 

So, how do you know what quality food is and where to get it?

Forget what the government tells you.  The government has been talking out of both sides of its mouth for years.

Don’t trust what you see on TV either.  Chances are it’s a commercial created by the public relations department of a “Big Food” company, or a front-group backed by special interests (just about every food you can think of has a “Council” that publicizes its many benefits – both real and imagined!)

Don’t even trust what you read on a product’s nutrition label at the grocery store.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out!  http://fooducate.com/blog/?s=food+labels 

Trust the people listed below.  I’ve provided links to their web sites/blogs.  You can trust them to tell the truth, backed by education, experience and science, NOT politics, corporations and money.

Mark Bittman:  http://markbittman.com/

Marion Nestle:  http://www.foodpolitics.com/

Michael Pollan:  http://michaelpollan.com/

Michele Simon:  http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/

Paula Crossfield:  http://civileats.com/

Andy Bellati:   http://www.andybellatti.com/

Fooducate:  http://www.fooducate.com/blog/     This is also a terrific iPhone app!

Most of the individuals listed above have written books (in fact, the most well-known books on the subject of food are on Andy Bellatti’s site, as are some terrific movies you should watch!)

There are many other wonderful sites and blogs out there that provide trust-worthy information on food and nutrition.  You can find most of them by reading the information on the sites/blogs listed above.  Birds of a feather…

I know this is a lot of information.  But this is important.  Food is basic.  You owe it to yourself, and the people you care about, to educate yourself and make good food choices.    If enough of us do that, together we can change the direction of food policy, and the types of food available in all areas of this country, and beyond.

And that is well worth doing.

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A World Out of Balance – Announcing a Series about the Issues of Our Time

When I started this blog, I intended to post once a week on something relevant to the four dimensions of our individual lives, with a 5th thrown in regarding our relationships. 

But over the past few months, it has become more and more obvious to me that we have huge issues and neither the government nor business are going to help us.  Besides, they have caused so many of our problems, any solution they offer is highly suspect.

This means we must help ourselves.  Fortunately, in the age of social media and connectivity, this is easier than ever.  As with most things, you need to make a commitment – schedule some time each day or each week and educate yourself. 

Don’t worry – I’m going to help you!  Really.

In order to educate yourself, you need solid information – which many people find hard to come by.  No surprise, when politically backed think-tanks and corporate-funded special interest groups are behind a steady stream of misinformation, it’s hard to know what to believe. 

Mass media isn’t much better.  They are also backed by corporate dollars these days. 

But I have found good information out there about the real problems we are facing as a nation and a world.  I am sharing it with you because I am hoping that those of you who read this will explore what I am offering up, and then (like that old Faberge commercial from the 1970’s) you tell a few friends – and that they will tell a few friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. 

Maybe we can create a critical mass that will move us closer to solutions.  I am hopeful. 

I am much more comfortable as an rabble-rouser than I am as a “sage” offering advice on how to have a balanced life – even if I believe I’ve done a fairly good job of achieving balance in a world out of balance. 

So, the hell with my original idea.  I will still write and post about things that can help you find balance, but I’m also going gather information on critical issues, absorb it, and abstract it in the hope that the knowledge will spread – quickly.

Because for some of the issues we face, we do not have a lot of time to do something.

I’m starting with food – the reason for this choice should be obvious in my upcoming post. 

I will also write about education, the environment, climate change, globalization/sustainability – any critical issue that we face today. 

I do not have solutions to problems in these areas, but there are people who do.  I am hoping to shine more light on them in order to create that critical mass – the one in which the solutions will be found.

I sincerely hope you will join me.

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Kettlebells – Why I Love Them and Why You Should Try Them

If you pay any attention to the weather, then you know that the Dallas area has been in a deep freeze over the past week, along with many parts of the rest of the country.

This is very unusual for us.  When it stays this cold, this long, we have things like Hard Freeze, which means you need to open your cabinets and let water drip from faucets and shower heads in order to prevent the pipes from freezing.  Fun stuff like that

So, during the past week, I was stuck in my house.  I did not leave from Monday evening until Saturday afternoon, when it warmed up enough to clear ice from the streets -ice which had been covered with a 4-5 inch layer of snow.

For someone like me, who enjoys the privilege of a corporate fitness facility and makes it there every weekday morning at about 6:00 AM, not being able to get there might seem like a problem.  But it is no problem for me because I have a nicely stocked home gym.

And just this past week, I added a kettlebell and some kettlebell DVDs to my equipment and DVD collection.  So this week I got to use them for the first time – and I LOVE them.

What is a kettlebell?  Glad you asked.  Although many of them come with the bell encased in a bright plastic coating (different colors depending on the weight of the bell), the basic kettlebell looks like a black cannon ball with a handle.

So – unlike a dumbbell – you can use this thing in many creative ways to combine weight training, cardio, and stretching/flexibility.  The handle is the key to the bells versatility.

The greatest advantage of using a kettlebell is that the exercises engage the entire body, and improve functional fitness – that is, your ability to perform tasks you do every day.

In short – it’s a balanced workout!

The program I’m using is Kettleworkx™ (http://www.kettleworx.com/).   It is well recommended and after using it for a week, I can personally endorse it as a great way to start working with kettlebells.

For people who are not used to working out, the basic 3X a week routine contained in the basic DVDs probably works very well.  Every other day, you do the exercises on one of 3 DVDs – Core, Resistance, and Cardio.  Each routine begins and ends with a warm-up and cool down.  Always warm up and cool down – it’s important for preventing injury.

Although each of these DVDs contains a different emphasis, many of the exercises are the same from one to the other – and the creator of the program, Ryan Shanahan, LOVES squats.  After my first workout (which you will note is called “Core” – so I’m thinking abs), my quadriceps were on fire.

I ordered supplementary DVDs, so on the second day, I thought I’d give my quads a rest and do the “Arms and Shoulders” DVD.  More squats!  Granted, the emphasis is on the upper body, but even the warm-up has squats so get ready for rock hard quads, hamstrings and glutes (which is fine with me!)

The Kettleworkx™ program runs 6 weeks if you follow it exactly.  Each of the basic DVDs has a program that, in this first week, consists of two sets.  No doubt that will increase over the next 6 weeks.

My plan is to do Kettleworkx™ in the morning, first thing, before I leave for the fitness center at work.  Once I am there, I will do walking or running intervals on the treadmill, or some work on the elliptical.

My plan is as follows:  Mon – Core; Tue-Arms and Shoulders; Wed-Resistance; Thu-Butt and Hips; Fri-Cardio; Sat-Chest and Back; Sun-Legs and Thighs.

This is the plan I followed this first week, and my legs are killing me.  But it’s a great all around program, and frankly, I can use a rest from counting reps and sets!  The DVDs take care of that for me.

The recommendation is that most women start with a 5 lb. kettlebell – men with 10 lbs.  However, as with dumbbells, most of us have some body parts that are stronger than others.  Like most women, I have strong legs, but my upper body can’t handle the same level of weight as my lower.  I could easily handle a 10 lb. bell on some exercises, but for others, the 5 lb. bell works well – but I can see this changing quickly.

Rather than buying a bunch of bells at different weights, I intend to do the same thing I did when I purchased my own personal dumbbells – PowerBlocks! (http://www.powerblock.com/)

If you are not familiar with PowerBlocks, allow me to enlighten you.  PowerBlocks makes dumbbells (and, as it turns out, kettlebells) that can take you from 3 to 20 lbs per hand (The Sport 2.4 set – which is what I own) or 5 to 50 lbs. per hand (the Sport 5.0).  There are additional sets, but you get the idea.

Lucky for me, there are two versions of the PowerBlock Kettlebell – the KettleBlock 20 (5, 8, 12, 16 and 20 lb increments) and the KettleBlock 40 (8, 12, 16, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 increments).  http://www.powerblock.com/Kettleblocks.php

The beauty of these bells is that you can adjust from one weight to another very quickly between sets of exercises, so if you are moving from something that challenges your lower body to an upper body exercise, you can lower the weight in seconds and continue.

Obviously, they also take up less space than a range of kettlebells, and in the end, probably cost less than buying multiple bells individually.  But the best part is being able to move to the next challenge without having to go out and buy a bigger bell!  Set yourself up for success and you’re re likely to actually get there.

With that in mind, when I ordered my Kettleworkx™ kit, I requested the Level Two program as well.  That means once I have mastered the Beginner’s Program, I can keep on going to the next level – again, setting myself up for success in advance.

For now, I will stick to my little 5 lb. bell and ask my family to chip in for the PowerBell for my birthday, which is at the end of this month.

Now that I have been through all the workouts included in my new kit, I am already looking forward to my Monday morning workout – Core.   I will let you know at the end of the first 6-8 weeks what kind of progress I’ve made.   In the meantime, if you can find a kettlebell class and give it a try on your own, I can highly recommend it!

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”  John F. Kennedy

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Jack LaLanne – The Epitome of a Balanced Life

“The most important person in the world is you.  You came into this life alone and you’re going to leave it alone.  But in between, make the rest of your life the best of your life.”  Jack LaLanne, Live Young Forever

One of my personal heroes, Jack LaLanne, passed away yesterday.  Frankly, it shocked me.  Jack was one of those people I expected to go on forever!

If you have no idea who I am talking about, Google Jack LaLanne.  Jack was a pioneer of the fitness movement.  He invented many of the machines we see in fitness centers today, including the Smith machine.   He is responsible for Bally’s.   His last contribution to health and fitness was his Juicer!

I am old enough to remember Jack in my living room in the 1950’s, in his jumpsuit and ballet slippers, doing “Jumping Jacks”.  I remember his white German shepherd, Happy.  (Years later, the first dog I ever owned myself was a white German shepherd – inspired by Jack!)

I have always been interested in health and fitness.  The interest eventually developed into a passion.  Jack LaLanne was a trusted source of inspiration, motivation and information.  He was ahead of his time.  Watching him and listening to him, you just knew he was telling you the truth.  He walked his talk, so he was completely credible.

One of the things I always found most fascinating about Jack – and something that many people apparently don’t know – is that Jack didn’t really like to exercise.  He did it because he liked the results.  I have been inspired by this many times – the man many consider the “godfather of the fitness industry” did not like to exercise – but he did it anyway!  In other words, he led by example.  He WAS the Nike slogan before there was one – JUST DO IT!

I prefer to do my exercise first thing in the morning because I know that it will get done – but I don’t always enjoy getting out of my nice, warm bed at 5:15 AM to get dressed and get on the road if I am going to the gym – or getting on the treadmill if I’m doing cardio in my own home.  Staying in bed, especially on cold winter mornings, is mighty tempting.

When I am tempted, Jack is the first person I think about.  His discipline served him well, and I am happy for his example.

I believe that if you want to be successful at something, you should find someone who is already successful at it and just copy them!  Why re-invent the wheel?  I have been copying Jack for years – and I believe I have a reasonable expectation of living a full life well into my 90’s – and perhaps beyond – because I practice the principles that Jack did.  It worked for him!

I am not just copying Jack in terms of getting up to exercise every day.  Exercise is rightly called the true fountain of youth, but if you don’t fuel your body properly, the effort you put into exercise won’t matter.  A car can’t run without gasoline, no matter how well tuned it is.  The body does not run properly without proper fuel.  Jack knew all about that – in fact, that is where his journey started – at a Paul Bragg lecture on nutrition.

You’ve never heard of Paul Bragg?  Check out the condiment section of your grocery store.  I bet you will find Bragg Liquid Aminos All Purpose Seasoning.  Great stuff.  To learn more, please visit http://bragg.com/index.html.

Dr. Bragg was also a pioneer – also ahead of his time.  He was the single biggest influence on the young Jack LaLanne and had it not been for Jack’s mother taking Jack to hear Dr. Bragg speak, the Jack LaLanne we know may never have developed.

While most people might associate Jack with exercise and feats of strength, in his later years he became famous for his Juicer.  Jack well understood the importance of nutrition in living a healthy life.  After all, it was a lecture on nutrition that turned his life around.  Jack understood the synergy of exercise and proper nutrition.

I have stated in this blog that I believe physical health is the foundation of a balanced life – and that it depends upon good nutrition and regular exercise.  But there is more to good health and balanced living than diet and exercise – and Jack knew this too.  He spoke about it and he wrote about it.  He understood the value of a healthy mental attitude, hard work (Jack did not believe in retirement – neither should you!), healthy relationships, and the importance of what some consider the ancillary aspects of fitness, such as stretching, sleep and hydration.

Jack’s last book even included a chapter on healthy habits such as brushing your teeth, bathing regularly, and hair and skin care.  Jack understood balance all right – and he understood balance at the whole person level.  How anyone could fail to be inspired by this man is beyond me.  

Rest in peace, Jack.  Thank you for your example of a life well lived.  I miss you already.

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