When Problems Seem Insurmountable: #Blogust 2015

I am not sure exactly why my husband and I ended up at the movie Philadelphia in early 1994. As a couple, we have not historically been big on going to movies together. I think it was a night out with a group of friends. Wayne loves Bruce Springsteen (who sang the movie’s theme song) too so maybe that nudged us there.

It was a raw time in our lives, a hauntingly raw time. Wayne’s sister had just died in her sleep at the age of 30, weeks before. I remember sitting by him in the theater wondering what kind of grief reaction the movie’s topic would induce.

Andrew Beckett, the character played by Tom Hanks, was a rising star in a high-profile law firm. As his AIDS diagnosis came to light (as well as his sexual preference), he was released from the firm.

Andrew hired one of the only attorneys who would take his case: Joe Miller, played by Denzel Washington. Joe Miller took on a problem he had no business taking on (from the outer world’s perspective), that of representing Andrew. He didn’t practice the right kind of law. He didn’t drive the right kind of car, live in the right kind of house, or have a diploma from the right kind of school hanging on his wall.

Although I was still in mourning for Wayne’s sister myself, the stronger pull of the film for me was the way it brought back to life all of the conversations I had as a counselor on the Florida AIDS Hotline when it first began (around 1987). Andrew’s struggle to navigate family and society dynamics unearthed the emotions I had felt when someone I loved told me he was gay.

Andrew’s mantra, through all of the doubt pervading his world, was:

EVERY PROBLEM HAS A SOLUTION

Although I have many favorite quotes (some of them listed here), and I love a well turned, elegant phrase, the truth and simplicity of this quote never fails to inspire me to keep trying, to entertain novel solutions to deeply entrenched problems, and to hope for a bright outcome even in times of darkness.

That is how I feel about being a part of Shot at Life. It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues facing children around the world who are dying from vaccine-preventable diseases. It is hard to figure out how to get a vaccine to a child in some remote part of the world – how to physically get the vaccine to that child, how to get his or her mother to trust that the vaccine is something that will benefit their child, how to coordinate multiple moving parts to create a curative whole which will help as many children as possible make it to their fifth birthdays.

But I do believe “every problem has a solution.” I don’t always know what that solution is or how I personally can apply it, but I do know turning my back on this problem is not a solution. That is why I meet with my legislators and their staffs to encourage United States support of global immunization issues; it is why I learn as much as I can, from people who think differently and more creatively than me. It is why I cling tightly to the idea that one person, one idea, one conversation can make a difference.

Won’t you join me in making a difference today?

When Problems Seem Insurmountable: #Blogust 2015

During Shot@Life’s Blogust 2015—a month-long blog relay—some of North America’s most beloved online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions will come together and share inspirational quotes for their children. Every time you comment on this post and other Blogust contributions, or take action using the social media on this website, Shot@Life and the United Nations Foundation pages, one vaccine will be donated to a child around the world (up to 50,000).

When Problems Seem Insurmountable: #Blogust 2015

Remember Who You Are

Today was a first for me: the first time I have heard a Lion King reference used during a homily said by a Catholic priest. As I sat with my cousin, Karen, at St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral in St. Petersburg this morning, Fr. Anthony referenced Simba, Timon, Pumbaa, and Nala during his remarks. He reminded us of the line “remember who you are.”

I had the good fortune to spend the weekend in Tampa and St. Petersburg. As I scrolled through pictures from the weekend, it occurred to me that this trip rather succinctly sums up much of “who I am” (if you put aside the fact that my husband and kids were not along).

READING (no picture for this one …)

My audiobook choice was a horrible choice if I was trying to escape (because it is about a son being the caregiver for his elderly mother). BUT I am thoroughly enjoying Bettyville and am impressed at the author’s ability to interject humor into a situation which (believe me, I know) is often devoid of humor.

FUN WITH WEATHER/NATURE

Isn’t this sunset over Old Tampa Bay glorious?

Sunset

Although my iPhoneography didn’t really do it justice, this rainbow over St. Pete was beautiful!

Rainbow

This morning’s sunrise over Coffee Pot Bayou:

sunrise coffee pot

RUNNING

My friend Diane Berberian and I ran the Lowry Park Zoo Run Run 5K yesterday morning. The course ran through the zoo and along the river. Seriously, running friends are the best!

Diane

FOOD!

Back when I was making my way along the Tallahassee Burger Trail, Diane had said “if you’re ever in St. Pete, I’ll show you a great burger.”  She did! And I enjoyed a Black and Blue Burger from The Burg (and voted for it in the 4th Annual Grand Central District Battle of the Burg(er))! Yummy!

burger

FRIENDS / COWORKERS / FRIENDS

Being part of a virtual team is great because of the flexibility but there are just times when you want to look each other in the eyes! Megan and I have been social media friends for a while, then became coworkers with Weaving Influence when I joined WI in October 2014. She recently moved to Florida (yay!!!!!!). Her husband Frank and I have been Swarm friends for a while, and narrowly missed a Newark Airport meetup in March. And then there’s Blake, who truly fits that “for this child I prayed” verse. I so enjoyed meeting them IRL and face timing Becky (our founder!).

megan

FAMILY

The genesis of this trip was my desire to visit with my Aunt Faye. I was unable to attend the memorial service in June after my Uncle Marvin passed away, so I had promised to spend some time with her this summer. A few logistical hurdles jumped and it all worked out great — I got to enjoy dinner with her, my cousin Kathy, Kathy’s husband Bob, and two other friends (and snap the great sunset picture above).

Faye

Then, rounding out the cousin visit agenda, I went to mass with Karen (Faye’s other daughter) this morning!

Karen

Lastly, I rarely get down to Riverview to visit our family burial plot. I spent a few moments visiting Ann, Chuck, Wayne’s grandparents Stanley and Lottie, his Aunt Susan, and a few other Thomasson relatives.

Chuck

Ann

When I went up for a blessing during Communion today, the deacon’s blessing was “May you have an awesome week.”

Thanks to a weekend characterized by so much of what I love: Books, Friends (and coworkers!), Family, Food, Running, and Nature … count me “grateful” and on target for an “awesome week”!

I hope your week ahead is full of blessings and “awesome” as well!

A “PTBH” at the Epicentre of a Curious Incident

In last week’s post, I shared my thoughts on the decision made by the principal of my son’s high school to revert the schoolwide summer reading assignment from “required” to “optional.” I disagree with this decision.

As the past week has unfolded, and the ripple effects of the decision have expanded internationally, I have seen many reactions, often from people who will never set foot in Leon County, about what this decision means.

Status of the Decision

The decision to reverse the summer reading assignment from “required” to “optional” is apparently going to stand.

Being a “Person to Be Heard”

When I learned there was a meeting of the Leon County School Board scheduled for August 11, I decided to attend. At first, I thought I would just attend and see if the issue came up. As the date approached (and as the public opinions piled up pro and con), I decided I really had to speak about this, if allowed.

I learned that there are two ways to speak before the board. 1) You can arrive at the meeting site prior to the 6:00 meeting time and fill out a PTBH (Persons to be Heard) card and submit it to a staff member or 2) You can call the school board office in advance and provide your information over the phone. I did not learn about the two options until the Monday before the board meeting (because I did not ask earlier…), so I had to go with option #1.  I was told I would be allowed to speak for 3 minutes about the matter I stated on my PTBH card.

Although this is not word-for-word what I said, this is the best recreation I can do and does follow the outline I used Tuesday night:

As a parent who has had at least one child in this school system since 2001, I am glad I attended a meeting (and sorry this was my first). I came away from the discussion with a more comprehensive view of the issue from their angle. Specifically, it was informative to hear the comparisons between this situation and issues of appropriateness of human sexuality curriculum (i.e., (and I am paraphrasing here) “as a teacher I may think [name of student] will benefit from the human sexuality curriculum, but if their parent requests to opt them out, I have to comply with that request.”).

I am grateful to the school board for giving me an opportunity to speak.

Accuracy

While I understand issues like this take on a life (and definition) all their own once they blow up, it has been important to me that the discussion be as accurate as possible, in order to focus on solutions.

This book has not been banned from our school system.

The parent who is quoted in most of the newspaper articles appears to have requested an alternate assignment (rather than requesting the principal revert the assignment to “optional” for the entire school). 

Although there was back and forth about this assignment’s classification as “instructional materials,” at least one school board member has acknowledged that policy was not followed in response to a parent’s concern about the content of the book.

What Really Matters

First and foremost, what matters to me is: a book with clear literary merit, which ostensibly was chosen by English faculty based on that merit, should not have been the subject of one administrator’s ad-hoc action in the face of the concerns of a vocal minority of approximately 20 parents at a school of around 1800.

Secondly, although I disagree with the choice of the parent who publicly stated:

 “I am not interested in having books banned … But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain – I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing and that’s why I was asking for an alternative assignment. I know it’s not realistic to pretend bad words don’t exist, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my daughter knows what is right or wrong…”

…I fully support her choice to request an alternate assignment. The comments to the articles and blog posts I have read about this incident which attack her personally are the saddest to me. And I know this is how the blog world works. I know I, too, have set myself up for being the subject of personal attacks by being so public about this issue. I know if I choose to walk into the territory of public discourse that I must grow a thick skin and cultivate the good sense not to engage with those who just want to pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight.

As I said when I wrote about Drought Shaming, “distrust among neighbors does not build a caring community.” In this case, I would amend that slightly to “animosity among parents does not nurture a caring school.” For all I know, the very parent in question and I may be responsible for jointly helping our students cope with a tragedy, sell concessions to support a school activity together, or (heh …) reshelve books at the media center together. It does neither of us any good to attack each other and it surely does not present a good role model to our children of civil discourse.

(I am also in full support of the school’s faculty and principal, even though there are times such as this when we will disagree.)

Thirdly, although I feel certain the school district does not propose to “ban” or “remove” this book from our library shelves or digital content, I am uneasy at the whiff of the idea that it could ever happen. I really hope my fellow Leon County parents and literature lovers are with me on this one.

Fourthly, here is why it matters to spend three minutes publicly defending one book. It is important to spend three minutes publicly defending one book because, although I believe what I said above in my third point, the erosion of intellectual freedom does not usually start by a flood, it starts by a trickle.

Erosion can begin by saying “you have to register” if you are Jewish.

Erosion can begin by saying “you have to count the soap bubbles” to vote.

Erosion can begin by saying “because you are a female, you have less right to education than a male does.”

It matters to to put one sandbag in place to make it less likely that freedom to think will wash away.

To Learn More

Links to articles and posts about this issue:

Tallahassee Democrat (8/9/15): Dropped Assignment Raises Questions About Book Banning

Los Angeles Times (8/11/15): Parents Object, Florida School Drops ‘Curious Incident’ Novel

National Coalition Against Censorship (8/11/15): “Curious” Censorship in Tallahassee High School

Palm Beach Post (8/12/15): Fla. high school ignites controversy over banned summer reading book

The Guardian (8/12/15): Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Pulled from Children’s Reading List

Paste Magazine (8/12/15): Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Banned for “Swearing” at Florida High School

Tallahassee Democrat (8/13/15): After Book Controversy, LCS Reviews Policies

Time Magazine (8/13/15): The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Pulled from School Reading List

Raw Story (8/13/15): Florida Principal Tries to Quietly Ban Book to Appease Christians, Sets Off Sh*tstorm Instead

Tallahassee Democrat Editorial (8/14/15): Our Opinion: Wrong Lesson Learned

National Post (8/14/15): Mark Haddon’s Beloved The Curious Incident Banned from Florida High School 

Tallahassee Democrat “My View” (8/18/15): Book Controversy Brings Opportunity for Learning

Twitter activity sharing a flier being circulated at Lincoln:

LHS Posting

Tallahassee Democrat “My View” (8/21/15): Problem Was Original Book Assignment, Not Its Removal

Tallahassee Democrat “My View” (8/24/15): A Curious Incident of Censorship

In Closing

A few months ago, I had to do a Toastmasters project called “Speaking Under Fire.” The objective of the speech was “dispel hostility and convince them that your side has some merit.” Our instructions included, “Select a generally unpopular point of view – perhaps one that you also oppose – in order to assure opposition.” The title of my speech was “My Unvaccinated Child is Just Fine Thank You.” Since I am a Shot at Life champion, this choice was definitely a stark contrast to my true beliefs. I pretended I was a pregnant anti-vaxxer speaking to a room full of pediatricians. It was difficult but the process of being in that woman’s shoes informed my approach. It didn’t change my beliefs, but it forced me to try to understand, on a very personal level, what her fears were and how they influenced her beliefs. The most eye-opening component was the understanding that this woman felt the way she did (and bought into misinformation the way she did) out of love for her child. We all want the best for our children.

Honestly, if I tried to do the same with this incident, I would struggle. I do feel strongly that decision which was made was the wrong one, that this book has particular literary value, and that proper procedures should have been followed at the school level.

Were my three PTBH minutes enough to make a difference? I do not immediately know, but my stubborn ounces begged to be heard …

(To One Who Doubts the Worth of
Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything)

You say the Little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.

I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

– bonaro w. overstreet

(But Wait, You Explained “PTBH” But What is the Reference to the Epicentre?)

For all my frustration at people who don’t live here, who have commented on this issue publicly, lumping all Tallahasseeans together, even the one who lumped us all in as “Silly Americans,” I appreciate author Mark Haddon’s tweet (he did the same for another local parent’s blog).

High School Books

Hundreds of commenters in an international audience have opinions. All I know from my little spot at the epicentre is precisely where my “stubborn ounces” are going to go: toward making sure the one student I have responsibility for has unfettered access to books which matter.

High School Books

Darn, My Dog is Dead

At the end of the 2014-15 school year, my son told me that his assigned summer reading was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This book was the summer reading selection for all grades. I ordered it on May 29, and it has been in our home since we received it. I wish my teenager were one of those go-getters who had his summer reading done before the July 4 fireworks, but he doesn’t roll that way.

When “Mandatory” Became “Optional”

On August 4, all families of students received this email from the principal:

School System Literature

My son was jubilant that the mandatory reading had been made optional. I, on the other hand, was not.

Trying to Understand

The day after the email explaining the new status of the summer reading assignment, I sent the principal an email inquiring about the decision. He called me the next morning, August 6 (and I very much appreciate the return call). To paraphrase, he said that upon further reflection, a decision had been made that the book, which contains multiple incidences of the “F-word,” “set the wrong tone, especially for incoming freshmen.” He said approximately 20 parents of incoming freshmen had called or emailed to register their displeasure, and that summer reading should be “fun.” He also said that apparently high schoolers often don’t start their summer reading until the last minute (I guess this was related to the fact that this decision was made once some students started discussing the book with their parents).

In response, I suggested the school could have done a disclaimer at the beginning of the summer and explained from the very beginning “this book has language which some students may find offensive. If they prefer an alternative they can request this through an instructor.”

The Public Discussion

Every Friday, I share what I am reading (paper and audio) on Facebook and Twitter for Friday Reads. This week, I abandoned the audiobook I had been reading (for now) in order to re-read “Incident” and announced that as my Friday Reads selection. It has been so long since I read the book, I felt like I needed to familiarize myself with it again, especially if I am going to be championing it publicly. In that post, I explained that it HAD been a mandatory assignment but had now been made optional.

School System Literature

Today, the Tallahassee Democrat published an article about this issue (read it here).

This Parent’s Opinion

My concerns center mostly around the process surrounding the decision to lift the mandatory requirement for the book. An email from the principal 13 days before school begins, stating “I am lifting the mandatory requirement for this novel” is not the ideal solution. Ideally, back when the decision was initially made about summer reading, the faculty or administration would have familiarized themselves with the book sufficiently to acknowledge that some parents and/or students may be uncomfortable with the language. They could have then developed an alternative book choice with accompanying assignments.

I read in the Tallahassee Democrat article that one parent was alarmed by the “foul language and the religious skepticism. She went on to say “I am not interested in having books banned … But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain – I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing and that’s why I was asking for an alternative assignment. I know it’s not realistic to pretend bad words don’t exist, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my daughter knows what is right or wrong.” While I respect this parent’s opinion, and the choices she makes on behalf of her student, these factors would not cause me to seek an alternate assignment.  

I think it is realistic for a school to consider the frequency of obscenity in a book when making that book its single choice for summer reading for all grades (although I think it is highly likely that the majority of students entering high school are aware that people use this language). From the very beginning, when I started re-reading the book and realized that the first f-words were uttered by a woman who has just discovered that her dog has been murdered and has a garden fork sticking out of its carcass, I thought to myself, “well, I wouldn’t likely say “darn, my dog is dead.” I would be more likely to be overcome with shock and grief and say something relatively out of character. But I will concede there are probably other books that are just as worthy from a literary standpoint which have milder language.

On the issue of religious skepticism, however, the role of literature is to expose us to varying viewpoints. I want my children, who have been raised in a Christian household, to read books about people from all walks of faith, including NO walks of faith.

Since beginning to re-read the book, I have been reminded of its ASSETS in addition to the components which appear to have caused concerns: a reinforcement of prime numbers, explanations of the literary mechanisms of simile and metaphor, and a detailed insight into one person’s experience of the world from the viewpoint of someone with an Aspergers-like condition. These are all things I want my rising junior to learn.

To quote my friend Yolanda, “Literature is meant to make you think.” Thinking is most comprehensively fertilized when seeded with a VARIETY of thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints, not just those with which we concur.

School System Literature

Ultimately, I want my child to be able to analyze literature, learn from it, and discuss it respectfully with those who agree AND those who disagree. As parents, this situation gives us an ideal opportunity to role model HOW to interact with people of diverse opinions. Let’s not blow it.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

By the time I tuned in to this summer’s Tallahassee Burger Trail event, I was behind.

My first official stop on “the trail” was Vertigo Burgers and Fries on July 18. I had until July 31 to fit in as much burgerliciousness as possible. Was I up to the challenge?

Vertigo Burgers and Fries

I mounted the burger trail horse at Vertigo Burgers and Fries for lunch on Saturday, July 18.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

This was my first visit EVER to Vertigo Burger. The Burger Trail special was the Red Hills Burger: A 50/50 mix of in-house ground beef chuck and Bradley’s sausage, Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill cheese, cornmeal fried okra, bacon-braised collard greens, creole rémoulade.

The Standout Feature(s): The sweet potato fries were delicious. I enjoyed my burger (especially the okra!). My friend loved her “Dizzy Duck,” especially the cherry sauce. I loved spending time with a friend I met through the blog, when I wrote this.

The Tin Cow

A friend wanted to talk about some personal challenges, so I figured he could spill his angst while I checked off another Burger Trail stop. That’s how I ended up at The Tin Cow on Friday, July 24.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was “The Classic”: A half pound of Angus on a kaiser bun with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard, and mayo.

The Standout Feature(s): Well, it’s not a “feature,” but anyone who knows our family knows how much time we spent at AJ Sports, which previously inhabited this space. It was so weird to walk into the Tin Cow and be in someone else’s business!  Anyway, I thought this burger got the most points for presentation. So pretty with the ketchup and mustard; someone paid attention to presentation. I just wish a) my friend has less angst (sigh) and b) it had not been lunchtime on a weekday because the spiked shakes (or at least a brandy soaked cherry) sounded so good!

Up in Smoke

The July 31 “end of the trail” was looming closer and closer, so I redoubled my efforts to check off a few more stops. That is how my friend Sandy and I ended up at Up in Smoke on Tuesday, July 28.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the Up in Smoke: a 1/2 pound burger topped with blue cheese crumbles, caramelized onions, crisp bacon, lettuce and tomatoes, topped with onion rings. Served with a side of blue cheese and bacon hand cut fries.

The Standout Feature(s): This burger was REALLY tasty. Something about the sauce just had that “zing.” My friend and I enjoyed chatting with the owner, also. Sandy and I have not had time to sit and chat one on one EVER so this was really a treat!

101

The week of July 26 was Stick a Fork in Cancer week, so my friend Rachel and I killed two birds (cows?) with one stone by visiting 101 for a Burger Trail AND Stick a Fork in Cancer stop!

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the Black Avocado Surf and Turf: This 100% Angus ground beef is made up of black avocado, Cajun aioli, and topped with fresh shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico on a flaky croissant bun!

The Standout Feature(s): I loved the fact that I could check off a Burger Trail stop AND help the American Cancer Society at the same time. The shrimp were definitely a unique addition to my burger. These homemade chips were SO DELICIOUS.

Canopy Road Cafe

Sunset was starting to fall on the Tallahassee Burger Trail as I determined to mooooooove toward fitting in a few more burgers. That is how I found myself at Canopy Road Cafe with my awesome friend Lynne.

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the Breakfast Burger: 8 oz. Black Angus beef covered in melted cheddar, grilled honey ham, pecan smoked bacon and an over easy egg.

The Standout Feature(s): I was leery of the “egg on a burger” idea but I have to admit it was really tasty! And time with a friend I rarely see IRL was a special treat.

Madison Social

In all honesty, I did have a MadSo burger during the Tallahassee Burger Trail summer promotion, but I did not take a picture, so I am not sure it counted! To be sure, I consumed one. more. burger. on Friday night, July 31, at one of my favorite places. I was way over fries by that point, though, hence the green beans!

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

The Burger Trail special was the MadSo Burger: Fried avocado, peppered maple bacon, aged cheddar, Jameson caramelized onion, house aioli, on a brioche bun.

The Standout Feature(s): I am not a HUGE avocado fan, so that was a bit of a “take it or leave it” for me. And by this point I could not look at another fry again. NO MORE FRIES! But I loved the ability to squeeze in one more burger trail stop at a place which has been so good to me and the causes I love, so I made the MadSo burger my finale.

As The Dust From The Trail Settles…

Six (huge) burgers (with fries, usually) in 13 days is definitely out of the norm for me. But I love a good hashtag (#tallyburgertrail) and I love a great way to connect with our fun social media community in Tallahassee.

Next year: an earlier start so I can spread the decadence out a little bit better (and make all the tops)

When it is up to me, I am pretty basic in my burger preferences. Usually by the end of eating one of these special burgers, I had deconstructed it and was consuming the components separately (like the okra at Vertigo – yum!).

I also had read somewhere that restaurants look down on people who order their beef medium well, but I am still sort of squeamish about burgers that are pinkish. I think some of the burgers I had would have been better medium than medium well. Maybe next year I’ll have the guts.

The Burger Trail forced me to organize myself in order to visit establishments I had not made time for previously (like Vertigo).

Most importantly, the Burger Trail forced me to sit down and enjoy time with people for whom I care a great deal. And THAT beefed up my morale considerably. The people in my life are so affirming, it could have been peanut butter and jelly for all I care — the point was spending time with them. It was a bonus that I got to enjoy these delicious creations and support some of Tallahassee’s finest restaurants at the same time!

Cleaning Up The Crumbs of the #TallyBurgerTrail

NOTE: Even though the June 1 – July 31 “window” for winning prizes has ended, the Burger Trail intends to keep serving up the burgers! Check out their website, choose a restaurant, and saddle up for a burger adventure! Tell them The Big Green Pen sent you!

Lessons From Behind The Door

My daughter and I set out to replace a doorknob at her new apartment today. It was my first time ever replacing a doorknob (never too late to learn new things, right?) as well as hers.

Over the course of the past week, she had been beginning the process of replacing the doorknob but had some questions. Since I had planned to visit her today and help with some other tasks, we decided to tackle the doorknob as well. I arrived equipped with all sizes of allen wrenches (because we had figured out that one of the hurdles was those little tiny screws holding the cover plate on).

We set about removing the old doorknob. We were being all methodical about it, laying the pieces out in order as they came off (because I figured that might give us some insight into the process when we needed to install the new doorknob).

We were in the process of unscrewing the long screws which hold the whole mechanism together. One of us held the door; the other loosened the screws. Eventually, the door closed against the pressure of the screws being loosened and components started falling off as the screws were loosened. That didn’t seem like a problem.

……….UNTIL WE REALIZED THAT THOSE PIECES WHICH HAD FALLEN OFF WERE THE HANDLES WHICH WOULD TURN THE MECHANISM WHICH WOULD LET US OUT OF HER ROOM. 

Through a combination of funky creative allen wrench manipulation, prayers, screwdriver wedging actions, more prayers, and willing some law of physics into submission, the door finally opened (hallelujah!). It was time to tackle the new doorknob.

As we tried to make sense of the instructions for the new doorknob, we finally took advantage of the fact that it is 2015 and there are people out there like Leah of See Jane Drill who make videos like How to Install a Doorknob.

Thanks to See Jane Drill, the process went pretty smoothly once we took some deep breaths and followed the steps she gave.

The realization of the day which most spoke to me came when we realized we were trapped in her room. Our choices after that unlocked a few takeaways which could apply to life beyond a DIY task:

  • It is oh-so-easy to inadvertently segregate yourself from most of your options
  • Adversity will bring out your ability to manifest effective options you did not think existed
  • Humor brings much more lightness to an adverse situation than anger would

Lessons From Behind The Door

I guess we could have avoided this whole blogworthy experience by hiring a locksmith, but where’s the learning (or fun) in that? She won’t have to wait until she’s 50 to learn how to install a doorknob and I have to admit being a little proud to have figured it out too.

I am feeling courageous enough to tackle some of See Jane Drill’s 161 other videos.

See Jane Drill’s motto (which gives me flashbacks to Bob the Builder) is You Can Do This!

Mostly, I am proud to be parent to a young adult who is willing to learn alongside her mom, one who knows she can DO THIS! 

Florida State University: How We Get Made

I recently discovered (via Laura) the “A Learning A Day” series. The series delivers concise, insight-filled emails which prompt recipients to think about work/life issues from different and deeper angles.

This recent post, for example, looks at our tendency to think “if only conditions had been perfect.” My runner peers and I undoubtedly think this frequently:

If it had been cooler (hello summer running in Florida!)

If the race course had been flatter

If my shoes had been newer

If I had not had that second glass of wine last night

The list goes on and on

The Learning A Day post ends with this observation:

The only trustworthy indicator of our performance level is our performance on a bad day.

So, if you get that opportunity to perform on your best day with perfect conditions, revel in it. It doesn’t happen often. But, when it does, it is magical.

On the other hand, if you feel most things are going wrong as you enter that important presentation [or insert relevant challenge/assignment here], welcome to life. This is how we get made.

Over the past few weeks, as I have joined my fellow Florida State alumni, fans, and supporters in sharing what I love about FSU via the #somuchmorethanfootball hashtag, I have been thinking more than usual about all of the incredible memories I made at FSU, the memories I still make here, and how to reconcile decades of great experiences with the FSU (and Tallahassee) which distills itself into the sneer I hear in the voices of national news anchors and celebrities (at least I feel like I hear it!).

A Personally Fearless Time

Through an unexpected series of Facebook conversations over the past few days, I ended up telling a Facebook friend a story that in retrospect is so embarrassing but lends itself to my point. When I was a senior at FSU, I wanted to be Homecoming Princess. The process was detailed and arduous: there were interviews to be selected as one of ten candidates, and then of course you had to accrue the most votes to be princess or be in the top five to be on the Court. I studied my FSU history so hard to be prepared for the interview. I made it to candidate level, and I did make it on the Court.

Florida State University: How We Get Made

With my parents after the Homecoming Parade.

Here’s the embarrassing part: I asked people to vote for me. Not just one or two friends. Another candidate and I went to fraternity and sorority houses who did not have candidates and asked them to vote. I did not hesitate to ask complete strangers to vote. In retrospect, of course it was a completely classless thing to do. On the flip side, I treasure the memories of being on the field during homecoming, proud to represent my university. Putting aside the “tactless” part, I remember feeling fearless in my quest. In the times over the ensuing decades when I have failed myself in the area of assertiveness, I remember what it felt like to tell strangers what I wanted, confident that I had a case.

It’s 2015; Time to Make a Different Case

Florida State taught me fearlessness. It also taught me so many things about Strength, Skill, and Character (Vires Artes Mores). It taught me to learn new things, meet new people, pursue new experiences. The background music of my time at Florida State is undeniably punctuated with the FSU Fight Song, The Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold, and the Alma Mater. I have sat through countless football games, long before we were National Champions, in years when the record was most definitely average. Our family has spent more money than the family budget really accommodated to be Seminole Boosters, purchase tickets, and park among the other faithful (although we are not currently Boosters or ticket holders).

For every #somuchmorethanfootball sentiment we share on social media, I do think we are kidding ourselves if we do not think the image of our football team and the actions of a few players disproportionately influence what the rest of the world sees and believes.

We can make every effort to share with the world all of the accolades which lead us to #praisegarnetandgood. But the headlines are not likely to gush about those when they can rant about the bad.

I don’t know the solution. I do know, that just like a family would not turn its back on a child who has gone astray, we owe it to ourselves to own this series of crises and contribute to a solution.

However we choose to react to the current spate of negative publicity, there may be negatives. Loss of revenue, loss of bragging rights, loss of football season habits and rituals built over decades by generations of fans.

This particular time in the public eye is difficult. I choose to think that these imperfect conditions are part of “how we get made,” that with strength, skill, and character, we can return to the “heads held high” we sing about in the Hymn to the Garnet and Gold.

Florida State University: How We Get Made

Where’s the Humor in THAT?

The annual Toastmasters Humorous Speech contest is coming up again. I love competing in these contests; it makes me up my game and try even harder to do my best.

Where's the Humor in THAT?

Since I did not make it past the initial (club) level last year, I am trying to get an earlier start this year, so I can refine my material as well as my delivery.

The problem? I am stuck re: coming up with a topic for my 5-7 minute humorous speech.

Content counts for 55/100 points of the judges’ score. “Content” breaks down to:

Speech Development (Structure, Organization, Support Material) – 15 points

Effectiveness (Achievement of Purpose, Interest, Reception) – 10 points

Speech Value (Ideas, Logic, Original Thought) – 15 points

Audience Response (Attentiveness, Laughter, Interest, Recognition)

What should I talk about in this speech??!!

The winner of our District Humorous Speech contest last year had a great speech that was a play on The Little Blue Pill (it was about a pill that would deal with prolonged sports fixation and it was HILARIOUS).

Having seen one humorous speech contest and watched quite a few winning humorous speeches on YouTube, I know what appeals to me and seems to be part of the winning equation.

Great Content I guess that’s obvious, since it’s leading me to write this post and content counts for more than half of the judging score. Here is a fun speech from “Randy”with relateable content:

A Delivery That Doesn’t Hit You Over The Head Many of the winning humorous speeches I have seen in my relatively brief Toastmasters career have been more subdued than “stand up comic pulling in laugh after laugh” in nature. Rather, they have been well-told stories with a satirical, sardonic, whimsical tone. (Note: this one from Jurgita Pundziute made the cut with me because it’s about a contact center. Those always get me after my years at Healthy Kids.)

On the Other Hand, Humorous Speeches With an Element of Performance Can Rock I started watching this speech from John Zimmer to fit it into the one of the other categories, but decided it deserves its own.

An Element of Surprise Isn’t it nice when you have been listening to a speech, and your mind is just on the verge of wandering (but you have still held on to the main thread) and BAM! the speaker takes your thoughts on a uturn and suddenly you don’t want to be anywhere except IN THAT CAR WITH THAT EXHILARATING SPEAKER?! I didn’t love this speech from Clarence Featherson for the first three minutes but it “got me” by minute 4. Watch it and you’ll see why!

A Confident Presenter One component to all of the effective humorous speeches I have seen is the confidence of the presenter. I think if the speaker’s inner monologue is “oh gosh I hope they get this,” then you’re probably not going to connect with them. Jenny Locklin does a great job of exuding confidence in this speech:

Let’s Talk Topic Ideas

If I am going to draw from speeches I have already given, my favorite is the “Don’t be an Elf on the Shelf Hater” speech which I gave all in “elf persona,” describing why the Elf on the Shelf has been maligned. I had a lot of fun developing and giving that speech.

I have also thought about:

  • ToastMoms: If Abby Lee Miller ran Toastmasters as if it were Dance Moms
  • Keeping Up with the Toastmastians (a takeoff on Keeping Up With the Kardashians)
  • Real Toastmasters of Leon County
  • Match.com and other online relationship services (having helped a friend write his profile recently, I have THOUGHTS on the comic potential of this)
  • Some takeoff on “Mean Tweets” (where celebrities read derogatory sentiments people have tweeted about them – click here to see President Obama’s Mean Tweets Segment)
  • “Ode to Cookie Dough” – about an incident at work where someone was caught scooping dough out of someone else’s container, thinking he was unseen (and the subsequent fallout).
  • There’s probably also plenty of material in fitness and running — I did a speech once about funny running and triathlon signs which was fun to do.
  • There’s probably something about my role as my father-in-law’s caregiver, but I’m not sure I can straddle the humor/stress DMZ line very well right now.
  • The conversation thread that made me laugh the hardest recently was born from my friend Chloe, from Chloe of the Mountain, a labor and delivery nurse, who stated on Facebook: “You are so clever and unique giving your child an unpronounceable, incomprehensible, and unspellable name.” What followed was a hilarious exchange among many women (yes, they were all women, not a guy in the bunch) with naming horror and humor stories.

The challenge with some of these ideas is the general frame of reference of the audience. With the Elf on the Shelf speech, for example, it is possible attendees who don’t have young children or don’t spend time on social media (seeing everyone plot their elf’s “adventures” or snark at how overboard some people go) will need an “elf primer” before getting into the meat of the story. The same goes for something like “ToastMoms” because as much as our family would get pretty much any reference to DanceMoms (like “the pyramid“), there’s a bit of background someone would need to understand it. (In addition, I’m not sure it’s possible to really understand the satirical potential of Dance Moms if you haven’t seen it.)

The challenge with the “baby name” idea is my inability to do it without offending someone — whether it be someone who chose a name some would consider odd but others in their culture would consider precious or whether it be someone who just can’t see the pitfalls of a name choice like La-a (prounounced LaDASHa).

Which leads me back around to:

What should I talk about in this speech??!!

Is there a story I’ve told you, some observation I’ve made, or some experience we’ve shared that could be converted into a winning humorous speech?

Obviously, the lion’s share of the work still remains to be done even after I pick a topic. I have to flesh out the content and figure out the most effective way to present it (and, of course, practice, practice, practice). The other categories of judging are delivery (30%) and language (15% for appropriateness and correctness).

Todd Stocker said, “A speaker should approach his preparation not by what he wants to say, but by what he wants to learn.” I sort of like that twist.

I need to learn how to tickle your funny bone with my words. Want to help?

For reference, this is the speech I competed with last year:

Where's the Humor in THAT?

Going back to the TM Corral and hoping to rustle up some laughs!

Win a $250 Visa Gift Card – (A Baby’s Brilliant Giveaway)

I recently visited a friend’s new two-week old baby. During our conversation, I couldn’t help marveling at the way things have changed for new parents with infants. Need to keep up with their feeding schedule? Just tap “fed” on an app! Want to know when to expect him or her to roll over? Why get up and grab your paper copy of What to Expect When  You’re Expecting when a swipe of the screen will get you there?

Baby’s Brilliant was founded by Ulli Coulter, a busy mother of three, who was finding it more and more difficult to find enriching and educational materials to share with her children. All the existing products had become too complicated, overstimulating them, rather than engaging and educating them. It was time for a fresh new approach, time to go back to the basics, with simpler, more enriching presentations. In addition, she realized that DVDs were awkward to keep up with and maintain, so an app was the way to go!

Baby’s Brilliant has recently made some improvements to the app. As an audiobook reader, I love the fact that English and Spanish audiobooks have been added. It’s never too early to be exposed to fantastic stories!

In addition, Baby’s Brilliant has made the following enhancements:

  • Videos have been redesigned to be more accessible for hearing impaired children
  • Animations are more colorful and appealing to the baby’s eyes
  • There are interactive videos to ask baby to click on animals to listen to their sounds
  • Foreign languages are easier for baby to understand
  • Night lights are better and more soothing for baby

As part of the celebration of the new and improved app, Baby’s Brilliant is giving away two $250 Visa Gift cards! Visit the rafflecopter below to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Win a $150 Visa Gift Card - (A Baby's Brilliant Giveaway)

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

You should never draw conclusions about a book you have not yet read based on the sound bites from morning infotainment shows. If I had relied on morning show blurbs to summarize Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir, I would have thought it was all about wife bonuses. In actuality, “wife bonuses” are mentioned in one paragraph on one page of a 242-page book (page 161 to be exact). (Sparked by the publicity of the “wife bonus” in the book, here is one woman’s version of how this plays out for her.)

I have now read all of the other paragraphs on all of the other 242 pages. I read the book because a friend plans to read it and discuss, so I invited myself along for the discussion and rapidly read the book while on vacation.

I found myself skeptical, entertained, and bereft.

Skeptical

The author presents the book as an academically/sociologically based analysis of life among the female spouses of ultra-wealthy Upper East Side Manhattan men who could claim to be part of the “1%.”

I will be the first to say I have never traveled in the circles of that 1%. My handbags usually come from Target, as opposed to Hermès. In my thirty-four months in New York City, I relied on my feet or mass transit to get me from Point A to Point B rather than car services. I do not doubt the degree of excess the author describes in this book, but I doubt that anyone who is part of that world will ever willingly participate in publicizing the specifics.I am skeptical that the particular excesses the author chose to highlight really represent that world accurately.

I also must mention the discussions of exercise classes at Physique 57 and SoulCycle. The author uses these two examples of cultish “subtribes” to demonstrate how the Primates of Park Avenue subject themselves to “grueling group endurance rites” in order to maintain their appearance. Again, I have never been part of that world but have observed the following in Manhattan:

1) When I took step aerobics there in the early 90s, everything about the classes I participated in was tightly structured. When you walked in, you had to sign up for a spot, and if you were “spot 35,” you didn’t want to wander into spot 36’s bubble. But that comes with the territory of how space is regulated in Manhattan; it is always at a premium and you just learn to deal. It wasn’t that business’s way of being elitist.

2) While I have only taken one SoulCycle class ever, it was on the Upper East Side. It was a great experience, but I have a hard time seeing how the environment I experienced there would ever transmute into one where we participants “hooted like subversive rappers and called one another ‘thug’.” (And it must be noted I was wearing tights from Marshall’s that I had bought on clearance …… at a SoulCycle Class …… on the Upper East Side. Just call me blasphemous :-).

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

That time I wore Marshall’s instead of Lulu to SoulCycle!

My skepticism is bolstered by the fact that the publisher appended future editions of the book following The New York Post’s fact checking (which had at least one inaccuracy of its own) to clarify the fact that some of the memoir’s details and chronologies had been changed (read more about the fact checking and subsequent changes here).

Entertained

Once I shifted the book in my head from “non-fiction” to “possibly revised piece of writing based on the author’s interpretation of events,” I was able to just revel in the New York-ness of it all! New York City is my favorite place, my “happy place,” and the almost-three-years I spent there were life changers in every way. Although the New York City the author described apparently took place in expensive luxury abodes protected by building staff from mortals like the rest of us, I managed to see glimpses of it. I saw the nannies pushing babies/children around in their expensive strollers; I saw the opulent furs and jewelry; I saw hints of a lifestyle worlds apart from my own. Ironically, the building where I rented a room (with my own bathroom, which was a BIG DEAL in late 80s New York City), had a manned elevator, with a staff person who operated the elevator to my apartment on the 17th floor. (That worked out great except for the time I arrived home from a trip, suitcase in hand, to learn that the workers were all on strike. That was a long trip up 17 flights of stairs, suitcase in hand!).

Bereft

NOTE: There is a little bit of a spoiler in the next paragraph. Although the book is not a suspense/mystery, I did not anticipate this part at all, having only heard about the “mommy bonus” prior to reading it.

A critical shift in the author’s relationships with her Upper East Side peers occurred when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 43.

At first, she was going to abort the baby, then she decided she wanted to keep the baby. At around six months of gestation, the fetus developed severe issues that resulted in the author having a surgical procedure to remove it (I assume a D&C type of procedure) and proceeding to grieve the loss of her daughter.

In the course of grieving this loss, she discovered that some of the women who had previously been the most cold and haughty turned out to be warm, supportive, and empathic.

This chapter threw me into so many emotions, many not because of the author but because of the topic. My third and fourth pregnancies ended when the embryos failed to develop, resulting in D&C procedures to end the pregnancies. Future efforts to have a third child ended when my body (surprise!) decided to go into menopause at age 43. Therefore, this is a complex topic for me.

While of course I support a woman’s right to choose, I would be lying if I didn’t share that my absolute first thought was, “but she was so LUCKY to get pregnant at 43,” and to be sad that she was going to end it.

Then I cheered her on as she decided to keep the baby, who she was going to name Daphne, and I grieved with her as she went through the agonizing medical procedures related to the way the pregnancy ended, and the even deeper agony of dealing with her emotions. Having post-pregnancy hormones without the compensating joy of a newborn is like being on an emotional tightwire, for sure. I don’t envy any woman who has to do that.

As she noted, when something like this happens to you, people come out of the woodwork who previously had appeared to have perfect lives. You find allies you would not have anticipated, and you learn to cut others a break. That part of the book I loved.

Final Thoughts

I have such a mixture of emotions/thoughts about this book; some of them don’t fit into the Entertained/Skeptical/Bereft trio:

Here’s the thing: I struggled with the whole premise. The author and her husband wanted to move to the Upper East Side from the Village because they felt so committed to public schooling for their child, who was still an infant, that they “wanted to be in the best school district.” Given that the next chapter was dedicated to her total panic that he wasn’t registered for a prestigious preschool yet, and the reference to the fact that these preschools were critical to getting into the right private schools, I felt disconnect about that from the get-go.

First of all, as a public school product, married to another public school product, who successfully raised one public school graduate who is navigating college successfully and who is quasi-successfully raising a public school eleventh-grader (fingers crossed on that one), there are many more decent public schools in this country than the one in the 10021 zip code. MANY. Then she ends the book by saying (and I am paraphrasing) “well, the boys ended up getting accepted to schools on the Upper West Side so we moved there” which left me wondering “then why the heck did you go through all those contortions (not to mention the outlay of so many millions of dollars and all the emotional trauma of getting “charged” (see page 80) by these ‘primates’)”?

The author writes, “If childhood is unusual here, motherhood is beyond bizarre. I learned firsthand about the “gets” that define life for the privileged and perfect women with children I lived among.”

Although I may crave the occasional splurge and have never had exactly what I dreamed about in the way of wardrobe or ability to travel, I know the “gets” I received from almost three years in NYC had everything to do with what I saw and learned mixing with all kinds of people, in all kinds of places … these “gets” cost no more than the willingness to walk city block after city block or buy a bus or subway token. Something tells me those were the best “gets” of all.

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review

An image from my March 2015 visit to NYC.

Writing a book review was one of the prompt options for this week’s linkup at Mama’s Losin’ It. I’ll be linking up … would you like to join? Here are the other prompts, and the linky will be up early on Thursday, July 9!

1. List 7 things you’d rather be doing this summer.
2. Write a blog post inspired by the word: challenge.
3. Book review!
4. How is Summer Vacation different for your kids than it was for you growing up?
5. Take us somewhere local spot in your city and show us what we’re missing…you’ll be saving us thousands of dollars now that we won’t need to take that trip!

Primates of Park Avenue: A Review