Let’s dwell on the positive

The continuous griping that seems to make up our lives sometimes overwhelms the positive things in life.

Everything and everyone seems angry these days. Radio and TV personalities spend each day complaining to their listeners. Commercials are mean-spirited.  Television shows are cruel and unfunny, or built upon humiliation or the gore of crime.

I wonder how much we tend to forget the good things.

For example, I love living in a “small” town. When I visit the stores, offices, and local library in my area, I feel welcomed by the friendly faces around me.

For years, the same ladies have taken my utility payments or answered my questions when I’ve visited city and county offices.  They take the time to be helpful whether in person or over the phone.

I love the fact that our small towns abound with churches. We have the freedom to worship as we see fit and we have plenty of churches around to prove it. Drive through the main streets of towns and you may hear the chiming of church bells or a carillon playing hymns.  I appreciate the fact that our local school district allows start-up churches to meet in its halls.

I love to interact with the ladies at my local library.

Most smile and chat with my daughter and me. I’ve seen them be helpful and patient with those who come to the front desk and ask questions. The library has also been supportive of my daughter’s Brownie troop and other Girl Scout troops.  I like that community response.

I once stood sighing in front of the paperback racks at the library. The librarian returning books to the stacks came over and with a few questions, recommended four or five authors I had never read and opened a new arena of fiction to me.

Each time I saw the Playscape playground at the former library, I appreciated the fact that volunteers took their time and energy to build the playground for the community.  I found it a peaceful place, perhaps because it was built with love and appreciation.

I enjoy the parks in the metroplex. I haven’t gotten to all of them, but I have visited a number of them on pleasant, sunny days. I’m grateful to the cities that maintain these parks for their residents; particularly those that provide playground equipment and safe play areas for families.

I appreciate the fire, emergency, and police personnel in our local towns. A firefighter once took his time – in full smoke-eating regalia – to visit my daughter’s class and explain safety to the kids. I was lucky enough to have a policeman stop during a drive by one day and talk to my toddler, explain that he was there to protect citizens and that she shouldn’t be afraid of police officers. My local police officers have responded to my concerns with great seriousness and gentleness, even the day I accidentally set off our house alarm and couldn’t shut it off.

Now my small town is in a battle with a bog-box superstore, and those opposing it’s proposed location (not the store itself, just its location) have bonded together and I’ve made even more local friends.  Our city leaders are talking to citizens and listening.

We sometimes forget that those we see every day or every month need positive feedback when a job is well done. I just want to say thank you for all you do.

Leave a Comment

Filed under family, health

Dolphin Connection loses advocate

I was doing some research and learned that Dolphin Connection founder Erv Strong passed away in January 2013.  We really enjoyed the trips we took with him, and would return every couple years to Ingleside, Texas to visit the dolphins.  Here is a column I wrote in August 2004 about Erv and his love of dolphins.

==========================================

Erv Strong reaches over the side of his boat and dunks his hand in the water. “C’mere, you li’l rat,” he calls as he splashes his fingers in the water.

His passengers gasp as the grinning dolphin glides along the boat. “They love toes,” Erv tells his audience. “Go ahead, kids, stick your feet in the water.”  The three youngsters join the captain at the side of the boat, stretching their feet toward the dolphin, hoping against hope that the dolphin will choose their toes for investigation.

Alas, on this hot afternoon in August, the 250+ dolphins in Corpus Christi Bay have more pressing engagements than checking out visitors’ toes. Still, politeness in dolphin society requires each pod to send at least one greeter to the boat and occasionally one of the pod matriarchs themselves swim up to the boat.

For 22 years, Erv and Sonja Strong have been interacting with the dolphins in Corpus Christi Bay from their base of operations in Ingleside Cove. They manage Dolphin Connection (www.dolphinconnectiontexas.com), a two-person “dolphins in the wild” business seeking to educate the public about the nature and intelligence of dolphins.

The Strongs take visitors on a personal, one-hour tour to meet and greet dolphins in the bay. They’ve identified over 150 dolphins and named more than 85. Dolphins approach the boat as it passes through their pods and playgrounds, whistling and greeting the captain.  Visitors gleefully watch the dolphins surf the wake of the boat as it moves from group to group.

The boats are small, limited to about ten or twelve persons. Children wear life vests (although the bay is no more than three feet deep, with a hard, sandy bottom) and are encouraged to drag a hand or foot in the water.

“The dolphins won’t bite you,” Erv tells the kids, “but they will take your fingers or toes in their mouths and run their tongues over you to ‘know’ you. Don’t jerk your foot away, though.  That’s considered rude.”  A look of sheer delight passes over my daughter’s face at the possibility of being “tasted” by the dolphins.

During the hour-long tour, the Strongs relay many dolphin facts to their awed passengers. Erv tells his group that children are encouraged to return to school and write papers and essays about dolphins, then send a copy of their essays to a special website address that he provides at the end of the tour. Each June the Strongs provide cash awards to the students with the best essays. Over $12,000 is awarded for the hundreds and hundreds of essays they review.

If there is one message the Strongs aim to impart, it’s that dolphins deserve to be observed in the wild, not in chlorinated tanks.  Even those dolphins that can’t be released should be kept in protected, confined sanctuaries as close to their natural habitat as possible.

We trudge to our car after a wonderful hour in which even adults have been reduced to child-like awe. My daughter emphatically states, as she buckles her seatbelt, “When we get home, I’m writing to [theme park] and telling them they need to release their dolphins.”

Erv Strong has converted one more child.

dolphincon

2 Comments

Filed under education, writing

We just can’t spell anymore

Have you heard of the mystery shopper?  It’s persons hired in retail and service industries to shop at stores, bars and restaurants, real estate firms and other service industries. The shopper fills out a report on the quality of the product or service being observed.

Well forget mystery shoppers. I think businesses need to hire mystery proofreaders, and I’m ready to start the service bureau!

I cannot believe that businesses pay for the shoddy copywriting, printing or sign-making that passes as acceptable in today’s society.  I don’t get it.  Does no one else see the errors?  Is the business owner too cheap to correct his or her copy or signs? Are sign-makers or printers offering to make good on errors they created?

Here are some examples I’ve seen in the last few years:

  • A national sandwich company once touted the kick-off of a new marketing campaign with a framed, autographed poster of the spokesmen.  The copy refers to “Heman and Sherman” when it should read “Herman and Sherman.”  I point out the error to the counterman.  His reply?  “Wow, no one’s noticed that before.”
  • A professionally painted retail sign promotes the opening of stores in a newly built strip center.  It reads “Comming Soon.”
  • A local newsletter kicked off its inaugural publication with typos on nearly every page and misspelled the name of a local church for two issues in a row.  I wonder if the church even recognized it was being billed as Resurrerection.
  • I saw a pet store outdoor sign advertising “Hampsters for sale.”  I wonder if they were anything like hamsters.

The most blatantly poor piece of marketing literature that I’ve ever seen [and frightening, if it turns out to have been professionally produced] came from a fireworks retailer a couple Christmases ago.  The four-color, eight-page tabloid was filled with misspelled words and incorrect grammar on every page. I think I counted 47 typographical or grammatical errors in the copy. The piece was also filled with copyright violations that, if directed to the attention of the copyright owners, would have netted the owner a very big lawsuit.  I hope this business owner tried to save money by having a relative create the publicity piece, and didn’t pay persons passing themselves off as marketing professionals…

So what is the real issue with business marketing material? Are we releasing really stupid people into the workforce, or are businesses too busy or too cheap to offer quality control? Many printers will not take responsibility for misspelled or incorrect words in ads and this puts the burden on  the business owner to make sure the copy is correct.

Addendum: you would think, with all the publicity about Trayvon Martin, one could spell his name correctly.  But this past weekend I saw a poster advocating “Justice for Trayon.”

trayon

 

I shake my head.

Leave a Comment

Filed under education, writing

The Joy of Peace and Calming (or)

How the Three Bear family got one night of rest

My family of the three bears (Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Miss Crankypants Teen Bear) live fairly stressful lives. With the stress of our economy and lifestyle —  job requirements, keeping a home business healthy, teen dating, extended family demands that keep us sleepless at night, and two demanding cublets (puppies) — a full night’s sleep is a rare commodity in our household.

So the other night I hung out with some friends who, like me, use Essential Oils, and I found out that Peace and Calming oil can be used on pets. I’ve been a big believer in aromatherapy for the past twenty years, and just recently started using essential oils.  I announced, upon returning home, that I was going to experiment that night … to the derision of Papa Bear, who said aromatherapy wouldn’t work on animals.

About 11:30 p.m., Papa Bear wakes up from his brief nap to find out that Teen Bear has not returned home from her date. I am sitting up, waiting for her. Like all grizzlies woken from their naps, Papa Bear starts roaring and fumbling for his cell phone.

Feeling_Grizzly-1600x1200

When Teen Bear strolls in the door, he roars some more. Teen Bear starts growling, too, but ends up crying, and we are now on the rollercoaster of emotional distress! Meanwhile, the ever energetic Chihuahua climbs into my lap and lies there shaking, while the room swirls with emotion.

After things calm down and tissue boxes are produced and used, I announce that everyone is getting dosed with a drop of Peace and Calming, and some with possibly two or three drops! I put a drop on my finger and rub paw pads of the ever energetic Chihuahua and the yapping Miss Muppet, who is not yapping now, but hiding from all the emotion. The teen immediately sticks her feet in my lap for her dose, but the tired, drooping Grizzly Bear shrugs me off. I get my Frankincense oil and tell the teen I’m going to rub it on the back of her neck and after an initial protest, she pulls up her hair. Grizzly Bear shrugs me off again, but I manage to run my fingers across the back of his neck, too. He says he doesn’t like the smell of the oil but the teen – wonder of wonders! – says she does.

Meanwhile the ever energetic Chihuahua – about five minutes had passed since I rubbed her paw – gives two big yawns and makes three turns to curl up and sleep. Miss Muppet is sleepy, too, and when placed into her kennel, never makes a whimper or yap the rest of the night.

I didn’t dose my feet but cupped my hand over my nose and inhaled the aroma.  I  got about 6 hours of sleep as compared to the 2 or 3 I was getting from previous nights. Papa Bear let Miss Muppet out of her kennel about 5:30 a.m. and commented how she had never barked at all (she usually starts yapping about 3:30 or 4 and I have to get up and scold her or give up and stay up the rest of the morning).

The ever energetic Chihuahua did not get up until 6:30 a.m. She normally starts whimpering or scratching on our door about 4 a.m.

The teen bear … meh. She doesn’t know if she slept well or not. The fact that she doesn’t remember tossing and turning through the night bodes well, though. Now to find that bottle of Joy and slip it into her foot massage routine…

1 Comment

Filed under family, health

Stuck with family

I try to be a tolerant and loving person, but some of my extended family just yank my strings.  I’m ready to cut those cords permanently, but a little part of me thinks there may some day be redemption with these relatives.

The Three Bear family (Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Miss Crankypants Teen Bear) have some relatives that believe society owes them an existence.  Thank goodness for welfare and charities because the Bear family — supporting these relatives — would be even poorer than we currently are (rich in family, friends, and faith … poor in pennies after the bills are paid).

We get the regular phone calls asking for money, co-signatures, bill payments and car repairs. Papa Bear almost always says no (it’s his side of the clan). Woe the Bear family if Mama Bear picks up the phone, because she usually looks at Papa Bear with pleading eyes and says “We have to help them.”  (But no more, you’ll read the story in just a minute.)

That happened this winter, when one of the clan called crying and whining, asking for money to reconnect her utilities so her toddler cub would have some heat.  Silly me! All I could think of was that poor cub shivering in the cold.  I never thought to ask how they had money for tattoos and smokes (you figure it out!) but not enough to pay the utility bill.

Then there’s the member who always needs emergency money wired to her, always for an emergency, always for a good cause (like groceries or a bus ticket).  Do you know how much the fees are for these wires?

Well, I returned home from errands the other day, to see several calls and voice mails from one of the clan.  Uh-oh.  Repeat calls are never a good sign.  I listen to the messages in rising panic, and phone Papa Bear.  The clan member is babbling something about her mother being dead and calling her brother, and it’s not a joke.

Papa Bear is worried.  The previous night Sister Bear told of being harassed by four teens while she was riding her bike home from work. The punks were throwing things at her and calling her names and saying things about needing to avenge a certain teen that’s been in the news. Papa Bear was concerned that somebody may have taken a step too far in the harassment.

I spend the time waiting for news; shaking, crying, and praying. I can’t eat my lunch now, because my stomach is in acid-y turmoil.  I’m shaking so badly, I’m dropping things on the floor.  I’m selfish, I admit it.  I’m thinking about how this is going to affect Papa Bear and supporting him in his grief. I’m wondering how we’re going to pay for the funeral services.

An hour later, I get the word that everything is OK.  Papa Bear’s been in communication with Sister Bear.  I take it upon myself to call the clan member who was worried, and BOY! do I get an earful.

Turns out she was really calling because someone texted her the message “Your mother is dead.”  A few minutes later another text comes in, “Really, she’s dead.”  Clan member gets on the phone to her half-brother (who her mother is living with) and eventually gets in touch with him. He denies sending the message.  He then tells her the text message was sent by her own mother, presumably as a joke.  Clan member says I misunderstood the voice mail she left. Her intent was to alert Papa Bear to the text message and get him to growl at the rest of the clan for tasteless jokes.

A mother sends a text message to her own daughter, saying she’s dead?

I’m done with this clan.  Done, I tell you. No mas.

Leave a Comment

Filed under family

There she is, my little girl

I’ve been going through my old newspaper columns.  Here is one from July 2005.

====================================================

There she is, my little girl, ponytail flopping … whirling and twirling, kicking out, hands flying.

But she’s not in dance class. She’s not in gymnastics. She’s not cheerleading.

She’s learning martial arts. We want her to be able to disable an attacker and run away from him or her.  And she’s not alone in her class…her best friend is taking classes with her.  

I sit in the parents’ room, and watch the white-belted (beginner) children bow in and out of the training room.  This  karate studio doesn’t participate in martial arts competitions; these classes are truly self-defense. The children are instructed in moves designed to disable an attacker.

“Someone grabs you from behind in a bear hug,” calls out Simu, the black-belted wife of the studio’s owner.  “What do you do?”  And the children lash out with pointed elbows and hand chops and kicks.

My daughter’s favorite exercise is called “dark alley.” Half of the class role-play attackers, the others are defenders. The lights are turned down in the room and attackers padded with shields rush the student “walking” down the dark alley.

I don’t consider myself a “Pollyanna.” But I’m sad that I consider it imperative to train my child to defend herself against attackers.

My husband says to me, “Don’t you wish you had this chance to learn when you were younger?”   I think back to my college days, when a rapist was terrorizing the campus, and the town police and women’s groups rushed to set up self-defense classes.

I remember my own version of “dark alley” – those years of walking dark, empty streets to my car parked in the blocks-away lots.  The few men in the company I worked for had company-paid parking spots in the building’s garage (they were important brokers.) Most of the women in the company were secretaries and accounting clerks. We had to pay for our own parking, so most of us tried to save money by choosing the cheaper lots five or six blocks away. 

By the time we left the building during the winter months, it was dark, and the lots empty.  There were nights I walked pepper spray in hand, praying that the man crossing the street behind me didn’t have evil intentions or that my car, sitting lonely in the lot, wasn’t disabled.

I don’t want my daughter to live in a state of fear. I want her to know that she’s empowered to defend herself…but not to become a bully.  Simu reiterates this message constantly.  She reminds the children of their responsibilities to not initiate fights.

At home, we try to lighten the atmosphere with silly references to SpongeBob and Disney’s Mulan. My daughter comes home with a new belt, and my husband bows to her.

“Young Mulan,” he tells her, in the voice of Mulan’s father, “you have honored the family.”

My daughter beams with delight, and bows back.

Leave a Comment

Filed under family

My thumb is brown, not green

Here is another column, this one from June 2005.  I’ve actually had some success since this was first published.  Some day I’ll get a post written on my successful butterfly gardening.

====================================================

I really admire homeowners that are good at landscaping and gardening. But my thumb is brown, not green.

Oh, I try.  I really do.  We were lucky to inherit a beautiful rose garden from the former owners of one house.  I worked the garden, pruning and feeding the roses. In those pre-Internet days I hung out at the library and bookstores and around the local nurseries trying to glean information on raising roses.

Darn that Black Spot. After all that special food and loving pruning, who knew a fungus could destroy everything?

The previous owner of our current house apparently was quite a horticulturist.  Empty gardens and beds surrounded the house…empty because previous tenants had allowed everything to die out during the summer droughts.

This time I used the word “xeriscape” in my advice searches and planned to fill the beds with plants that didn’t require a lot of pampering. I found a couple clerks at the local nurseries who provided good advice (and had an absolutely awful experience with a nursery promoting its “experts” who come design your gardens). I’m continuing to educate myself on what appeals to butterflies and hummingbirds, and hope to see some around our yard someday.

The previous owner also left an extensive vegetable garden plot, so one spring my daughter and I planned a nice summer vegetable garden. Sadly, our plans always seem to correspond with the summers we have water rationing.  That year we plucked sweet, cherry-size tomatoes off our Beefmaster and Big Boy tomato plants!

Worried about the influx of insects I was seeing everywhere in the garden, I decided to purchase ladybugs from a local nursery. We released the ladybugs, which enthusiastically descended into the garden.  Apparently word of the bugs also spread to the local purple martin apartments and soon swallows, martins and other birds were visiting the household ladybug smorgasbord.  Of the 500 ladybugs we supposedly released, about 5 were still around the next day.

Later in the summer, some of the melon vines produced lots of blossoms. We actually had a beautiful cannon-ball-sized cantaloupe nestled among the vines. I watered it regularly and waited for the opportune moment to pick that little beauty.  The whole family was anticipating that first bite of our home-grown cantaloupe, when I went to the garden to pick it.  It was gone!  Plucked gently from its stem! Nowhere in the garden or yard!

Something with “hands” stole our melon from the garden. For a long time I figured it must have been a raccoon raiding the garden, but this winter I noticed the local squirrels were pretty capable with their “hands,” so maybe a squirrel plucked that fragrant, ripe melon and took it home for a family treat.

Recently my dad, who has a great green thumb when it comes to raising vegetables, offered to foster some tomato plants for me.  I heard my husband whisper to my dad, as they traveled out of earshot, “It’s probably just as well that you raise them for her. For anything that goes into the back yard, it’s pretty much a death sentence.”

Leave a Comment

Filed under family, writing

Mother’s Day 2013

I loved Erma Bombeck’s columns and through all the years, I’ve remembered this post.  How ironic that it, too, was published on May 12.  This is for my mom and aunts, all the moms I know, and the girls I know hoping to be moms.

The following column was Erma Bombeck’s Mother’s Day column for May 12, 1974.


When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into his sixth day of “overtime” when an angel appeared and said, “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And the Lord said, “Have you read the specs on this order?

  • She has to be completely washable, but not plastic;
  • Have 180 movable parts… all replaceable;
  • Run on black coffee and leftovers;
  • Have a lap that disappears when she stands up;
  • A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair;
  • And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said, “Six pairs of hands… no way.”

“It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

“That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel.

The Lord nodded. “One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ’What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, ’I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

“Lord,” said the angel, touching His sleeve gently, “Go to bed. Tomorrow…”

“I can’t,” said the Lord, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick… can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger… and can get a nine-year-old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

“But she’s tough!” said the Lord excitedly. “You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

“Can it think?”

“Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. “There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You You were trying to push too much into this model.”

“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “It’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

“You are a genius,” said the angel.

The Lord looked somber. “I didn’t put it there,” He said.

Leave a Comment

Filed under writing