Monday, January 19, 2015

Blood Pact

Lately I’ve been thinking about giving back.  As a Girl Scout and a teaching assistant for the Head Start program, I have seen how impactful it can be to fulfill the needs of others.  When nothing is expected in return, the gift becomes more precious.
One of the more precious things I have been fortunate enough to be able to give is my blood.  I don’t know any real vampires, per se, but I am a fan of the Red Cross.  I try to donate twice a year, but that doesn't always happen.  It seems like a nice amount, but I could technically give much more often!  This year I have challenged myself for a New Year’s Resolution to give blood three times before the year is out.

If you are eligible to give and don’t do it, I would encourage you to consider it.  It is a small sacrifice that can really make that life or death difference.  I know families who have been touched by this living gift, including my own father, who needed blood products during his heart valve replacement surgery.  I started giving to honor a boy from our 4-H who unexpectedly had a heart attack at school due to a congenital condition.  The drive happened while he was in the hospital as a way to sort of contribute and replenish the supply that he was  having to use.  While he unfortunately did not make it, I attend biannual blood drives in his honor, as do many others who were touched by his luminescent presence.  Honor a life that has been impacted.  Show your gratitude that you have not had to tap that supply.  Go for the free snack and the possibility of a t-shirt.  Just give.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Moving to the Country

                When I was a kid, my dad brought my brother and I a pair of young chickens that lived in a refrigerator box in the house.  Mine was a cockerel named Bandit, so called because of the time he escaped at dinner and stole a noodle off of my dad’s plate.  I was scared of what my dad might say or do to the ill-mannered bird, but my dad just laughed.  When the chickens were old enough to move out to the farm with my grandmother, I didn’t really get to visit.  During a sudden storm, they and some other birds froze in the cedar tree by the house.
                After my grandmother died, my parents bought the farm so it would stay in the family.  Although we had a home in our small town, we stayed at the farm.  Being in middle school, I found the opportunity exciting, as did my friends who visited for sleepovers.  We had a bigger garden than was previously possible.  We ordered some chickens through the mail and had rabbits.  We even tried raising cows, although that proved too expensive and heart wrenching an endeavor.  My brother and I learned to drive the small Ford tractor.  We could fish whenever we wanted.  When the pond flooded, we tried to keep minnows from going over the hill.  It was so different than life before that.
                Eventually we returned to our primary residence.  I was glad to have all of the comforts of home.  I no longer worried about coyotes or the idiot who shot out our car window one night as we slept, oblivious.  While we still had the farm animals, they were less of a hassle now that we had to drive to take care of them at fixed intervals.  I was free from the gaze of the Pamela doll my brother and I were convinced was possessed.  I had a chance of passing as more normal amongst my peers.
                Still, I sort of missed it.  When I was upset at the farm, I could always go out to the barn and hold an understanding bunny or chicken until I felt somewhat better.  Instead, I would turn the rock music up a bit louder and let my rage consume me.  I could not walk up on the hill where countless animals, including 500-pound hogs from my dad’s youth, were buried.  If a pet died in the city, it was still generally taken to the farm for burial.  Now that I live in a godforsaken trailer park, I still utilize the informal cemetery land as needed for cats and guinea pigs so they will be together in the afterlife.  I miss the space and privacy that came from neighbors who could not see my every move.
                This year is the big year.  I am in the process of tying up some loose ends and taking on the family farm with my husband and daughters.  There are four chickens left, and we will buy more when the barn is more secure against predators.  Last night I purchased two lionhead rabbits from a 4-H acquaintance, which we may breed one time in the future.  I am going through everything I own to downsize to make such a move easier, sifting through the history of the past six years.  My Pinterest and Facebook feeds are filled with homesteading hints that I hope will be put to good use.  The plans get more ambitious daily, although I know it will not be easy, even if we start small.

                It will not be an easy move, however.  We have to unload the undesirable trailer, hopefully to one of the Hispanic neighbors who love to tear them down to the bare studs and remake them.  The farm will need some updates, like a heater, water heater, and so on.  The tractor has four tires that will need to be fixed or replaced.  It is a tall order, but we are excited to know how much more freedom and space we will have.  Hopefully the road to the countryside is not too bumpy.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bad Buzz and the Bestsellers They Create

Is this book better than sex?

I often wonder how bad books can generate so much buzz and positive reviews.  It almost seems as if the disenfranchised of the world got suckered into a lame read one time too many and created a conspiracy to crow about the merits of intellectual garbage while most of the truly great work of our time sleeps undisturbed as a means of passing on the whammy.  After a time, it becomes accepted that the more eyeball bleeding and brain hemorrhaging it induces, the more it must be proselytized as the next great thing.

This bad buzz can be found everywhere:  commercials, dust jackets overflowing with sparkling reviews from the otherwise admirable, bookstore displays, internet sights, pop culture references.  Anthony Bourdain did this, touting this cooking memoir as the greatest thing since sliced bread when it was actually a disjointed stinker, thus breaking my fan-girl heart as I recalled all of the fondness I had amassed for him watching him on television.  Worst of all, these books can be proscribed by friends and family, who have also heard about the book.  Maybe they’ve read it, maybe not.  Either way, they have good things to say.  During the few times I have elected not to control my penchant for negative gossip-mongering, I find myself chided for my unkindness.  If the friend in question has not read the book, she inevitably knows someone who has who really enjoyed it…even if that person would rather keep this information a secret. 

Such has been the case with Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.  I know of someone who bashes the series publicly, especially when it comes to her mother.  Her mother would not forbid her to read it, as these are grown women who do not even share the same roof.  Rather, she thinks her daughter to intelligent for the drivel.  The daughter, meanwhile, insists that the series is quite good and continues to work her way through it.  I have also heard of an upstanding elderly man who enjoys bodice-rippers as a means of making up for his lack of physical capability for such actions by settling for temporal seductions.  He was apparently somewhat ashamed to admit that he loved this title as well because he is afraid of what people may think of him.  My own husband has been reading the first book now and again.  This is the man I married for his massive brain and nerdy physique.  Perhaps a bit ridiculous is the fact that I was upset he would pay full price for his copy, as I was convinced he would hate it and that it must surely be beneath him on some rudimentary level.  He says the writing is not too disappointing, and he has even learned a few words from the small amount he has covered thus far.  I may eventually sneak a peek at his copy, but I doubt I will be converted.  In all actuality, I will probably never even look beyond the back cover because there are so many other books I can’t wait to devour.

I suppose bad is in the eye of the reviewer.  I cast my own stones and laurels regularly on the website, where I give my honest opinions without worry of how they may be perceived by others.  I may very well tell how a story has changed my life, but I do not promise it will change the lives of others, as that is a very risky guarantee.  If someone has something to say about my review, I welcome any academic-flavored discourse this may generate.  After submitting my review, I look at what others have said, hitting “like” on posts I agree with.  Perhaps I comment now and then about my own experience with a text that the review stirs up within me.  If the reviewer is worlds apart opinion-wise, I see what he or she has to say and move on.  Once I have read the text, it lives inside me, good or bad.  I only wish others were more forthcoming with the natures of their literary occupants.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Author:  Richard Bach

Sad and hopeful at the same time, this is a bittersweet read. My teacher read this aloud to us in elementary school, and I've loved it ever since. Nice name for the seagull too.  This is a good book to read with your children to teach them about life, death, and the flight in between.

Overall Rating:  5 of 5 Stars

Monday, January 14, 2013

Movie Review: Big Miracle

           Today I watched Big Miracle with my six-year-old daughter.  Based on a true story, this movie deals with the plight of a family of whales who become trapped under the ice during their migration and documents the surprising efforts of caring people to free them.  I must say, this movie does live up to its name, which is saying a lot considering how much I rolled my eyes seeing the title and sugary feel-good ads that swamped TV during its original theater run.  Still, it deals with whales and stars the lovely and talented Drew Barrymore, and it was rated a tame PG, so I felt like it would be a good choice.

I feel like this would be an appropriate time to mention that I have seen and did not enjoy March of the Penguins, which many would probably categorize this film with.  I enjoy Morgan Freeman and respect his body of work, but that film was a bit too sad for me.  Seeing the little egg touch the ice and immediately freeze, killing the chick inside was quite traumatic for me for some reason.  Seeing their pain made me feel for the birds and to respect them more, but the movie was not what I would deem feel-good family fare.  I had watched it alone and afterwards decided against letting my girls watch it.  When my older daughter did watch it with my mother, she said she enjoyed it, which did not smooth my hackles over the issue that so many younger children watch it, perhaps without parental guidance or to take the time to discuss the bigger issues portrayed.  I hate to go off on a tangent, but I do feel that grouping these two movies together may not be the best, most informed idea.

Watching this movie with my daughter was fun, mostly because we had so much to discuss.  I feel like there would be even more to discuss if I could watch it with my older daughter sometime.  There seemed to be an understanding about the different factions working together for a common cause, like the Greenpeace people, oil magnates, reporters who may be out for nothing more than the next big story, native peoples, and even home audiences who only saw what was transmitted through their televisions and newspapers.  This is very useful for dealing with issues such as point of view or cultural ideas, especially since there was a conscious effort not be too preachy on any front.  Since the story is mainly set in Alaska, there are economic issues, such as how expensive it can be to live in Alaska, where so much must be imported.  The little aside about the availability of avocados for the Mexican restaurant Amigos was really neat and trumped the supply and demand examples set by the preciousness of new music, batteries, and even hotel rooms or, comically, cardboard for the reporters to stand on.  Like many people, I do not really know much about Alaska, although several of my classmates and old summer camp chums have made their homes there.  Since I have suffered from arthritis since high school and am cold-natured, this was probably the closest I would like to get to actually visiting.

I also enjoyed how the filmmakers made time to work in other mini-lessons, such as differences between these grey whales and the typical bowfins that would normally be found there and why those whales would probably not have had such an issue.  Biology and science can be tough to teach, although they are literally all around us.  I think there could be many things that could come from this, such as making a whale puppet together or even playing together in the tub or a pool (when it gets warmer, of course!).  My daughter found it most interesting that whales breathe air because they are mammals.  This was a bit surprising, since I thought she already knew, which made this movie even more valuable to me.  After a quick primer from me about aquatic mammals, she decided to name a couple more, which made me happy.  I’m thinking of peppering in more mini-lessons in our daily life to see what comes from it.

Perhaps the saddest part was watching the deterioration of the baby calf.  I expected my daughter to be sad, but she seemed to deal with it quite well, highlighting a difference between my daughters.  I felt a twinge of tears threatening to trickle, but I have seen my older daughter cry during movies over less.  This made me even happier when, at the end of the movie, she clapped along with the actors as the whales made their triumphant escape.  It was great that the end credits showcased original footage from the original event to see how the events actually played out and who these people really were. 

Perhaps the biggest payoff from watching this movie with my daughter was when she curled up on me and told me to warm her up because I was her mommy polar bear.  Soooo sweet!

Overall, this was a really good family movie.  The acting was solid, and the pace was appropriate.  I hope that it continues to be popular for years to come.

Overall Rating:  5 of 5 Stars

Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

As another year draws to a close, the time has come for New Year’s resolutions.  Usually this process takes on some great sense of archaic tradition, the sense of being chained to my cosmic promises, weighing the guilt potential should I fail.  This generally causes the decision process to stretch days into the new year, which I am sure can be considered cheating.  Other years, I try to follow the supposed “rules” and think something up at midnight.  I watched my husband start compiling his list last night.  It would be really interesting to know which is the original procedure for making these promises to myself, but I suppose I will never know.

This year I had intended to lose fifteen pounds.  I thought it was a nice goal, and a bit more ambitious than if I had set out to lose ten pounds.  Things seemed to be on track.  I lost ten pounds, some in chunks during allergy season or over the summer when I felt like it was too warm to eat much.  I used the website to track calories by logging what I ate and how I exercised, watching the progress of my efforts pan out on a chart.  The problem was that I was unaware that the scale I was using was nine pounds lighter than it should have been.  After I confirmed this discrepancy, I was thrown off, to say the least.  I stopped looking at the site, disgusted by how inaccurate my little fish ticker was.  I purchased a digital scale at a church yard sale and confirmed that I had lost less than I thought, compounded by the disappointment that I had no way of knowing where I had even started.  I lost my focus and have probably gained some weight since then.

The bright spot in this story is that 2012 is at its close.  I want a do-over for my goal.  This year I want to look at my scale more often, rethink behaviors that I know are destructive, and take more of an interest in my health, both mental and physical.  I would like to lose fifteen pounds this year, but I would love to be better.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gratitudes Journal

As I was flipping through the November 2012 issue of better Homes and Gardens, I came across a really sweet Thanksgiving gift idea:  gratitude journals.  The idea is to give each guest a blank journal with the word “Gratitudes” written on an illustrated card and affixed to the cover using photo corners.  There is even a template for the cards, which can be downloaded at and printed off, although you could easily create your own.  The gift can be dressed up or down by your choice of journals, which can be high-end, Dollar Tree finds, or even something you create yourself if you are truly ambitious.  If I were to give these as gifts, I would possibly stamp some of the pages or include some scrapbooking goodies.  I found the following link provides a lovely, ambitious idea of how far you can run with one of these journals:

            This is more than some hokey little party favor.  Thankfulness is an idea that should stretch beyond the holiday season.  Also, just taking the time to record little things that we are grateful for can be a therapeutic exercise.  Personally speaking, I suffer from bipolar disorder.  Sometimes it can be difficult to see the silver lining and recall things to be happy about.  I think that by creating and filling in something like this gratitude journal, I would have something to look back on during a rough patch.  Keeping the journal can also be a nice family activity.  A little time can be set aside each evening in which everyone can sit together or off on their own and record what they are grateful for, making sure to date each entry.  As time goes by, it would be nice to see what they have written, thus turning a simply blank book into a keepsake.
            I challenge you to think today about what makes you happy.  What makes life worthwhile?  What makes you fortunate?  Record it—or not—and try to make someone else feel these things in some small way.  Happy Thanksgiving.