Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kid’s Eye View

Five hundred children were packed into the elementary school gymnasium. It was assembly time.

I watched little faces, some edged with pre-teen boredom, others gleaming with unmerited enthusiasm.. Some kids obviously took pride in their appearance, others dressed for comfort. Some were part of a cute little clique, others tended to drift alone. Some friends seemed unusual combinations- the almost 6-foot-tall fifth grader and his buddy, who came up a little higher than his elbow. Another was tall solid girl with long natural wavy hair and glasses, chatting happily with a petite blonde with a ponytail and name brand clothes.

As I scanned the faces, all shapes, colors, and sizes, I wondered what life was like for them. Surely some are happy-go-lucky, enjoying school, and living in a safe, loving home. Others may give that appearance but really struggle with abuse, self-doubt, or poverty.

They each had different reactions to receiving awards. Some were obviously purely excited for the recognition. Others tried to be cool and hide their feelings, especially the boys’ basketball team. Others seemed a little reluctant to be in front of others. The strangest reaction was from the sixth grade student of the month, who walked single-minded to the platform, without so much as a smile. He almost appeared angry. His principal described him as an excellent student and athlete. Was he having a bad day? Did he have a negative relationship with his parents, who had come to share in his award? Was he embarrassed? Did he not respect the award, being the eighth person to receive it?

I’m not sure why, but I felt for those kids. Growing up can be so hard. How many were already dealing with adult issues at home, or trying to face down the bully at school? What kind of issues would they face as they became teenagers? On the other hand, perhaps most of them are in their oblivious child worlds, full of wonder and excitement and the joy of the moment.

As I left the gymnasium, back to the real world of work and relationships, I didn’t look back. Growing up is tough. I wonder when I’ll get there….

Monday, March 30, 2009

Be Yourself

Where can you be yourself?

Is that a silly question? Isn’t it healthy to always be yourself?

At work, I am not myself. I have to wear dress-up clothes and make-up to look professional. I have to say “good morning!” whether I believe it’s a good morning or not. I have to smile and nod even when someone asks me to do something I don’t want to do or don’t feel is my job to do. I have to bite my tongue when someone at the corporate level says or does something utterly ridiculous.

When I say I have to do something, I mean I have to do it in order to keep my job, which happens to be a priority to me at the moment. I do believe everything is a choice in life.

At church, I am more myself. I still try to make myself presentable. I feel I can be more sincere in my greetings, because I care more about the people there. I can be a little more honest about my desire or ability to take on new projects, although I hate to say no to anybody. I do struggle to let people know my true feelings…

At club, I am a little more myself. I can laugh at what I think is funny, even if it’s not “appropriate.” I can laugh at myself too. Even though I don’t know the other members as well as my church folks, they see a side of me others don’t.

At home, I’m pretty much myself. I yell sometimes. I share whatever’s on my mind, even if it’s totally random. I try to take care of my family as best as I can- to listen to and teach my kids.

My friends- I give them what I think they can handle. The closer the friends, the more myself I’ll let hang out.

My point is, everyone needs a place to be themselves- to complain, to share struggles, to ask for help, to laugh at loud… There’s a time and place for holding back, and a time to let it all hang out.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reflections on Depression

I wrote that last poem almost 10 years ago. I had just had a miscarriage, had failed to keep a church ministry alive, and could not find employment in my chosen career field.

I know what depression is. I know what it’s like to feel like there’s no hope, that life hurts too much to continue forward. I know what it’s like thinking that others are better off without you.

I had imagined all the ways to end it, but couldn’t find the strength to go through with it. There was also a spark of something within, probably God’s quiet spirit, that wouldn’t allow me to destroy something that He had created, as miserable and wretched as it seemed.

This all comes back to me as I read about the life a young man who gave up the fight. From everything his co-workers express, he was bright, funny, warm, and kind. I wish I’d known him. I wish somehow some small voice could have let him know how much his life was cherished, how much he was loved and appreciated by everyone around him, before he made that fatal choice.

Depression is a lot like a cloudy day. The light is closed off. It feels oppressive and overwhelming. The darkness gets greater and greater with each negative thought, with each self-doubt, with each “why me?” Then the storm clouds roll in and it’s almost beyond control. Everything seems black. Nothing matters. You do all you can just to subsist, to survive, to make it through one more minute.

Although medication can assist in coming out of a severe depression, ultimately, it is up to the individual to make a choice. You have to decide that you don’t want to be that way, that you don’t want to be miserable. You have to decide to look for the positive, to make goals, and to move toward them. You have to swallow your pride and seek help for your problems. No one expects you to do it alone.

If you are experiencing depression, don’t be ashamed. But don’t stay there. Choose life- the way it was meant to be lived.

Fighting Depression

Cold black hands

Dark, eerie whispers

Surround, Confound

the heart

Seeping through

Cracks

Frustration, Indecision

Confusion… hopelessness

Secret yearnings

for

an

end

Malevolent, distasteful, gruesome

Yet sweet

in thought

No more black, no more night

No more struggle or fight

Or

Change, Hope, Light

A brighter future in sight?

Break free, oh heart

Your time is now

Burst forth, come out

You will beat on

and on.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Heading for…

I finally finished my work at 5:30, an hour and a half later than I had planned to leave the office. I was on my own for dinner. My husband had brilliantly and lovingly offered to take the children to Chuck E. Cheese for the evening.

As I slid into the driver’s seat of my minivan and turned the key in the ignition, I tried to decide what to do. Eating at home would require cooking, and possibly grocery shopping. Wendy’s and Popeye’s were nearby, but a little old hat. By now I was pulling out of the parking lot and heading north.

By the time I reached the end of the T-intersection, I thought maybe a barbecue sandwich at Dairy Queen would be the ticket. I headed east toward downtown.

By the time I came to the first stop sign, I realized I didn’t really want any ice cream. I headed north. Was there an Arby’s on this side of town? No. Too bad. I needed caffeine, and a Jamocha shake would be perfect. Taco Bell always offers cheap, tasty food, and I could get one of those blue Mountain Dews…

I could already tell this meal was not going to be healthy. Why couldn’t I be more like Lisa and like salads? Oops! I came to the last stoplight on the road. I headed west. I really needed to exercise more, too. And it was such a beautiful evening. I guess I didn’t need to be wearing my winter coat after all.

Oops! I should have turned left at that last light. Now I was going to have to make two lefts on a 4-lane road to get to Taco Bell. I looked for my next opportunity to head south. I took a residential road until it ended, and then turned west. I had to turn north to get into the grocery store parking lot, and maneuver my way to the drive-thru.

After a quick look at the menu, I decided on a double decker taco supreme, pintos n beans, and cheesy potatoes. For caffeine, it would be a few doors north to McDonald’s for an iced mocha. Then a north, east, north, east, and ahhhhh home.

It would have taken me a lot less time and energy if I had thought about what I wanted before I left work. I have a bad habit of starting out on a trip before I know where I want to go.

Which brings me to life lesson number 474: You can’t reach your destination if you don’t know where you’re going. Did you ever feel like you’re just wandering in circles (or squares in my case) and not getting anywhere? First you have to decide where it is you really want to go. Then, you can work on how you’re going to get there. GPS (God’s Powerful Spirit) will help you if you follow it’s lead.

As Lao Tzu first said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” What are you waiting for? Take that step!

Rights and Responsibilities

Andrea Tannouri of http://www.twittertango.com/ says, "Take the word victim off of your person—out of your vocabulary. It reeks with the old energy and does not suit your magnificence.”

Now, I’m not sure about old energy or how magnificent I am, but I do agree with trashing the victim mentality. Victimhood results from someone with an overdeveloped sense of rights, and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility.

If I believe I have the right to health, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness, yet don’t take responsibility for making it a reality, I will feel victimized. After all, it’s somebody’s responsibility. Who is letting me down? Who is keeping me from being healthy? Who is mis-managing my money? Who is determining my feelings and not giving me what I want?

The “rights” we receive are privileges granted by God and our country. We don’t automatically have a right to anything, except what is dictated by laws and social rules. We don’t have a right to housing, or employment, or free food. As Americans, we often take such things for granted.

With each right comes responsibility. I have the right to tell you exactly what I think of you, but it may not be the responsible thing to go. It wouldn’t consider your feelings, or the fact that my perceptions may be false. I have a right to pursue happiness, but it’s not guaranteed. I have the responsibility to move in the direction of my dreams.

Responsibility reaches beyond self; victimhood is all about me. A responsible person will do whatever he promises. He will reach out to meet the needs of others when he is able. A responsible person admits when she’s wrong, forgives others, and cleans up her messes.

Refusing to be a victim means being willing to be proactive in life, to always look for a solution to life’s problems. It means never having to depend on others for your outlook on life. “…I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” –William Ernest Henley

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dreamin’

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about jobs and careers. I have come to the conclusion that there is no reason a person shouldn’t go after their dream job.

One of my friends has been going to school for several years to get her Master’s in counseling, while running her own restaurant at the same time. She started to realize about 10 years ago that she wanted to use her listening ear and life experience to help others in need, and after defining her goal, worked steadily toward it.

Another friend would like to be a full-time youth pastor. However, he has to decide whether it’s important enough to him to go back to school. He has been out of work for six months and is trying to figure out how to make a living in the mean time.

A third friend is miserable in his current situation- he has to work late hours, has to choose between pleasing his boss and being civil to his clients, and is constantly hounded to do more. His dream job would be coaching college basketball. While he may not get into the NCAA before he retires, there’s no reason he couldn’t pursue coaching or teaching.

I am convinced that God doesn’t want us to be miserable. Either working in a field that is not a good fit, or working for someone who is not a good fit- can make life incredibly discouraging. God has created each one of us with a plan and for a purpose. Part of the plan may be enduring Dragon Lady for a boss, for a time, but not for life.*

Dream, and dream big. Follow your heart. Set a goal and work out the path to get there. A woman I mentor has her heart set on becoming a Medical Examiner. She’s 26, has 2 kids (and one on the way) and just earned her GED. She’s going to start with an associate degree in Medical Assisting and work her way up from there. That’s courage. That’s believing in yourself. That’s perseverance. That’s my girl!

*I love my boss. (In case anyone from my office reads this).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Teaching Compassion

As a child, I remember fighting with my siblings to get my fair share. In those times, one of my father’s favorite sayings was “It’s not all about you.” While often said with force and intended to end the argument, the underlying message remains. Life is not about self or what you want or what makes you happy. Life is infinitely richer than the narrow framework of self. It involves interacting with and caring for other people.

At the early stages of a child’s life, the parents make a choice to pander to every felt need of that child, or at some point communicate to him that parents are people too. When a toddler is told “no” he begins to realize he is not the center of the universe and is not entitled to have all his desires met. He learns some actions are unsafe and others are not kind.

Compassion is also taught in parental response to their children in times of pain, sadness, or fear. An attentive parent learns to distinguish the types of cries. A child needs to know that her parent accepts her feelings before a solution can be sought. Everyone, even at a young age, wants to be heard, not just fixed. When children experience compassion, they can start to express compassion.

The first time my oldest child put her arm around a friend who had been crying, my heart melted. She had seen the pain in someone else, and wanted to do something about it. It wasn’t something I had taught her the same way I taught colors, letters, or shapes. She learned it by experience and the modeling of others.

Every time a parent responds to a friend in need, collects items for a food or clothing drive, or volunteers his or her time, the children will accept it as appropriate and responsible behavior. The bottom line is to teach children that other people matter. No matter what they look like or how they act, all people matter and deserve to be treated with respect and compassion.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cotton Candy

Ever wonder where cotton candy came from?

Whenever you go to the fair, amusement park, or circus, you’re likely to see food vendors with blue and pink fluffy cotton candy, some in packages as large as a young child. The texture is soft, but sticks to the moisture of your fingers or tongue. In your mouth, it melts down to almost nothing, leaving a pure sweetness behind.

Cotton candy has been around for a long time, although not in its current form. The Iranians created a confection called “Pashmak” from sugar and sesame oil, which was probably the predecessor to our modern day cotton candy. Pashmak means “like wool.”

Recipes for spun sugar are found in European cookbooks back to the mid-eighteenth century. Confectioners would go to great lengths to carefully melt sugar and fling the floss like strands into carefully crafted shapes. They would create spun sugar nests for Easter and sugar webs to decorate desserts.

In 1897 William Morrison and John Wharton patented a candy machine that produced what we know as cotton candy. Thomas Patton used his own patented machine to serve cotton candy at the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1900. Morrison and Wharton sold their candy, which they called fairy floss, at the 1904 World’s Fair for 25 cents a box, the cost of a child’s admission. Josef Lascaux, a dentist, also claims to have created the confection around the same time, but holds no patent.

Gold Medal Products perfected the cotton candy machine in 1949, making it widely available. Even home cotton candy machines can be purchased today. Cotton candy is made by heating granulated sugar and then forcing it through tiny holes by spinning it. Once forced through the holes, the sugar cools when it hits the air and collects on the outside of the container in light, fluffy, strands.

Recently, Dr. John Spector and Leon Bellan have discovered a new use for the fluffy sweet stuff. By pouring a liquid chemical over cotton candy, allowing the liquid to harden, and then washing the sugar away, tiny vessels and passageways remain in the hardened liquid. Cells are placed in these tiny passageways, creating artificial blood vessels. This may become a new method to create new tissues for injured people.

Next time you purchase a package of cotton candy, think about how far it’s come and how far it may still go. Eat it quickly, especially if it’s humid. Share it with someone you love, and make sure you pass it on to the next generation.

Sources: http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.foodtimeline.org; http://www.earthstation9.com; http://www.candyusa.org; http://www.foxnews.com

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Survivor's Guilt

NPR dubbed it Economic Survivor’s Guilt. It’s that deep sense of guilt someone experiences when he or she still has a job, when friends or colleagues do not.

It’s not the same as surviving a major event, like the Holocaust or 9/11. After all, these people are still alive. They’re with us every day. They still shop at the grocery store, attend church, and eat at restaurants. They are caring for their children, playing with their dogs, planning trips.

Yet when I go to work every day, they have nowhere to go. When I expect a deposit into my bank account every two weeks, they’re hoping to hear from the unemployment office. As I juggle the demands of my boss and co-workers and my own agenda, they are scanning the classifieds and online listings for something that fits. When I complain about the hours or the stress or the unreasonable expectations, they are trying to fill their hours with meaningful things, struggling with their own identity. When I am wishing for a way out of the monotony of an 8 hour day, they are longing for the security of a steady income, instead of suppressing the rising anxiety with each week that passes.

True survivor’s guilt can result in major depression. Economic survivor’s guilt is marked by helplessness. How can I still be employed? I feel disloyal for staying with the company when it lets friends go. I feel unfairly favored for the field that I’m working in. I want to help, I want to bring jobs to our area and connect the unemployed around me into jobs that match their passions and skills, but I feel so powerless.

When I talk to them, I want to avoid discussions of work or money. I never know if it’s okay to ask them out for coffee, or lunch, or anything else that requires funds. I’m never sure if asking them about their situation is showing support, or unnecessarily bringing up painful topics. Now, I wonder if discussing my minor mental illness is significant compared to the challenges they face.

To all my unemployed friends- I love you, have faith, and stay strong. May God truly bless you.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Poetry in motion

I came across some really old papers today- like almost 20 years old! I found some poetry I had written about 10 years ago. Here’s a taste… let me know if it leaves you hungry for more, or running for the door (that rhymed!)

Crystal cold
Whispers of breath
ascend to the heavens
Dark fingers of trees
against an awakening sky
Violet mountains of clouds
in the distance
Harsh rasp of a dog’s bark
breaks the silence
Windows dark, streets bare
Rubber against pavement
in a steady rhythm
Her body sings with adrenaline
She is awake- she is alive!
In a world that is cold and dead
A quiet victory

Friday, March 20, 2009

Time Travel

They swam in squiggles and lazy circles- gold, pink, speckled. “That one’s fat!” said my daughter. “Look! There’s more over here!” exclaimed my son, pointing to the far area of the koi pond at the front of the Chinese restaurant.

For just a moment, I lost myself in my children’s world, gazing at the large multi-colored fish as they swam through the clear water, gliding past one another in silence, fins moving gracefully back and forth. “I like the blue speckled one,” I said, pointing.

“What’s a speckle?” asked my daughter. I tried to explain and tried to stay in that world as long as possible, looking almost longingly as the carved Chinese men decorating the bridge across the faux mountain range.

As adults we are so anxious and busy, we rarely take time to notice the small delights around us. Sometimes, we even force our children along when they want to enjoy the journey. There may not even be a reason, except we have a never-ending “to-do” list that has taken top importance in our lives.

I’m going to make an effort to learn from my children. I’m going to walk upon curbs and benches and pretend their balance beams. I’m going to gravitate toward friendly dogs and other children. I’m going to run barefoot on the grass and pick dandelions. I’m going to make up games in the car and laugh at silly jokes. I’m going to walk to the park and not care if it takes all afternoon to get there. When we get there I’m going to swing on the swings, play tag on the slides, and feed the ducks stale bread.

Life can be very stressful, when you really contemplate all that has to be done and the potential obstacles along the way. A mini-vacation, a trip back to childhood, may be just the relief you need.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Have you ever wondered what the difference between peer pressure and accountability is? Lately I’ve been doing things I don’t want to do because someone has strongly encouraged me to. I found out that one of my favorite exercise classes at the Y takes place at the same time as my kids’ gymnastics lessons. It’s an incredibly convenient way to get in a good workout. It doesn’t mean I really want to change into my workout clothes and actually do exercise. However, just because an acquaintance mentioned she saw me at the class before and was looking forward to seeing me last night, I made myself go.

Peer pressure or accountability?

In order for something to be accountability, three requirements must be met. First, there has to be permission granted. If I communicate to you that I’m okay with you reminding me of my exercise plans, you are holding me accountable. If you grab my donut from me just because I said I want to lose some weight, you’d better run.

Secondly, there has to be a relationship. I can’t expect you to know me well enough to hold me accountable if we’re casual friends. When we know each other better, we know what motivates the other. Some people are motivated by attention, others by respect, acceptance, or performance.

Thirdly, the motive for someone mentioning that you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in a week has to be for your benefit. It can’t be to tease you, humiliate you, or try to get you to buy a used treadmill. True accountability partners seek the best for one another, even when it’s not easy to say.

Without these three things, your friends are just trying to pressure you, especially when it’s for their benefit, not yours. Peer pressure can be for good or for evil. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, to really grow, a few accountability partners can really make a difference.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Life

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” - Tony Robbins

When someone as beautiful, talented, and blessed as Natasha Richards passes on, we all pause. Our hearts break for young sons, a devoted husband, and other family and friends. We wonder what plans they had for after their ski trip, for next year, for the future. We wonder about the last mundane conversation with her husband was about before she fell.

It makes me wonder… if I died tomorrow… what would people remember about me? Have I made good with the gift of life given to me? Have I used the talents and knowledge developed in my lifetime for the best use? Have I, as Henry David Thoreau said, “...live[d] deep and suck[ed] out all the marrow of life… live[d] so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life… cut a broad swath and shave[d] close… drive[n] life into a corner, and reduce[d] it to its lowest terms...”?

Life is so precious, and yet so easy to take for granted. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has tried to wish it away, or claimed to hate life. The greatest men and women of history believed that they had been given life for a reason. They followed a calling, an inner passion, a drive, to live life beyond their own circumstances and desires. Whether they did it intentionally or not, they were able to look toward higher principles and the bigger picture than what existed in their own worlds.

What will you do with your life? What will you become? It doesn’t matter if you’re 12 or 82. God’s not finished with you until you take your last breath. And since we don’t know when that will be, we better get started!

Quotes source: http://www.thinkexist.com/

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Green Day

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to give you the words of Kermit the Frog (special thanks to

http://www.guntheranderson.com ):

It’s not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that

It’s not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over ‘cause you’re
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green’s the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean, or important
Like a mountain, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful
And I think it’s what I want to be

Next time you wish you could be smarter, or taller, or more creative, or faster, or stronger… take a lesson from our little green friend. Even when it’s not easy being who you are, the time you take to discover yourself will be rewarded with a fresh appreciation of God’s wisdom and creativity.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.” -e.e. cummings
(http://www.thinkexist.com)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Love my GPS!

Pre-Mapquest, for those of you who don’t remember, finding an unknown address relied on memory, hastily written notes on a napkin or scrap of paper, or a hand-drawn map never made to scale.

With Mapquest, or Google for you non-traditionalists, you could get step by step directions, and an accurate point by point map. With recent upgrades, you can map out up to 10 locations on one trip. You can avoid certain roads if you know they are under construction, or if you don’t like toll roads.

Even with such fantastic technology, it’s still fallible. Mapquest relies on the information that it receives. It doesn’t always know about new roads or closed roads or flooding or changed street names. Sometimes, for one reason or another, it’s just plain wrong.

I think the success people experience in life is decided largely by the set of directions they go by. Some people don’t have any direction. They just wander through life, letting detours and the influence of others determine where they will go. After all, you can’t get directions on Mapquest if you don’t have a destination.

Even with your printed Mapquest directions, you can still get lost. If you miss your turn, you have to try to find your own way back. If you get caught in some cul-de-sac neighborhood like Field Farms Trail in Elkhart, you may never get out! If you can’t find a road listed on your map, or at least a sign leading to one of those roads, you’re toast. You’re best bet is to call or text someone who knows, or *gulp* ask a stranger for directions.

Life can be like that, too. Even with a goal in mind, and clear directions in hand, you never know what might happen on your trip. There’s still a chance you won’t reach your destination in the same way that you planned, or if you’ll reach it in the amount of time you have.

But with a GPS, boy, wherever you are, there you are, and GPS knows it. Mr. GPS can give you turn-by-turn directions from the exact place on the planet that your molecules exist. If you happen to miss a turn, it’ll give you directions from your new location, still guiding you to the final destination.

I have decided that GPS also stands for God’s Powerful Spirit. Just like a GPS, if you take a few wrong turns along the path of life, if someone gave you bad directions, or if you’re just lost, all you have to do is rely on your GPS, and He will go to you, wherever you are, and get you headed in the right direction. Of course, your GPS doesn’t do any good if it’s stuck in the glovebox. Activate GPS in your life and even if you’re not sure of the path, you know you’ll get to where you’re supposed to be. Deep, huh?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chicago Part 2

The Museum of Science and Industry is located at 57th Street and Lakeshore Dr. More information can be obtained at 773-684-9844 or http://www.msichicago.org. This museum makes science fun with interactive exhibits and demonstrations. Exhibits include exploring a trip to the future, the Toymaker 3000, and the Whispering Gallery. Kids can engage in real science experiments, or learn about their world at the Omnimax theater.

The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lakeshore Dr. More information can be obtained at 312-922-9410 or http://www.fieldmuseum.org. This museum explores history, archaeology, and natural science. Exhibits include Sue, the T-rex fossil, DNA exploration, rock and fossil exhibits, learning about mummies, and the history of chocolate. Self-guided tours are available on the website.

Chicago’s Children’s Museum is located at 700 E. Grand Ave. More information can be obtained at 312-527-1000 or http://www.chicagochildrensmuseum.org. Three floors of interactive exhibits include Play it Safe, Dinosaur Expedition, and Treehouse Trails. Thursday evenings offer free admission.

Adler Planetarium is located at 1300 S. Lakeshore Dr. More information can be obtained at 312-922-STAR or http://www.adlerplanetarium.org. The planetarium features scheduled shows from Big Bird to the outer edges of the solar system. Exhibits include a giant telescope, a computer interactive exhibit, and other hands-on activities to explore the galaxy and beyond.

I missed the deadline, so I didn’t even get to submit my article. I forgot to take into account time zones. So, if anyone needs info on 20 kid-friendly places in Chi-town, I’m your woman.

Chicago Part 1

Hey devoted readers!

Have to take a break from new blogs for a couple days… I’m working on a project. Enjoy my article on tourism in Chicago.

As Frank Sinatra sang, “Chicago is my kind of town.” With parks, museums, theaters, and restaurants, Chicago has a lot to offer a vacationing family.

Navy Pier is located at 600 E Grand Ave. More information can be obtained at 800-595-PIER or http://www.navypier.com. It is Chicago’s playground, with a variety of activities and scheduled programs, including Toddlin’ Thursdays for the tiny set and Family Fun Days. Pier Park includes a carousel, a giant ferris wheel, miniature golf, and other activities. Free entertainment is offered year-round, including fireworks displays.

Millennium Park is located at 201 E. Randolph St. More information can be obtained at 317-742-1168 or http://www.millenniumpark.org. This park offers guided nature tours, and is surrounded by unusual architecture and larger than life sculpture, including an interactive fountain. Ice skating is available during winter months, and a variety of live theater and outdoor concerts are available during warmer weather.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is located at 2001 N. Clark St. More information can be obtained at 317-742-2000 or http://www.lpzoo.org. The zoo has a multitude of small and large mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects to explore. There is a Farm-in-the-Zoo, a Nature Boardwalk, and special events throughout the year. The Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo is especially interactive.

That’s all for now!

Friday, March 13, 2009

My new love

So I met tom last week. I met him through a friend of mine. He was like no one I had ever met before. He’s incredibly intelligent. He’s got this great voice, and he knows exactly where he’s going. He’s reliable, and he’s helped me through some sticky situations.

I spent a lot of time with tom last week. He went with me almost everywhere I went. He’s helped me through some sticky situations. I trusted him to help me find my way, and was always there for me. He never lied, but always stayed on the straight and narrow.
I don’t know what my life was like before tom. I was lost, alone, and confused. He became a beacon to me, shining the way through the darkness. This past week has opened my eyes to the possibilities. He made me feel safe, and I knew he wouldn’t let me down.

Now, my relationship with tom has been severed. He was with me while my friend was out of town, but now he’s back with her. What am I going to do without him? I feel like I need him in my life. Maybe I can steal him away from her. It would be wrong, but it would feel so right. Otherwise I will be lost, so lost!

Okay, friends, get your minds out of the gutter. I’m talking about a GPS system, Tomtom. Ha! Had you going, didn’t I?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

With Cheese, Please

So, I’m pulling into the Burger King drive-thru and really wishing that I could have come a half an hour earlier for breakfast. I decide not to get too fancy, so I order a #10 (I think) whatever is a Whopper, Jr. combo meal, with cheese. And onion rings. And a Dr. Pepper.

I realized that the amount I was quoted ($6+) was more than the listed price plus tax, but I was in such a good mood (see previous blog) that I didn’t really care too much. I was also distracted by a family friend whose wife works at BK. He asked me what I was doing there in the drive-thru line. I told him I was hungry. He said I should go to McDonald’s. When I threatened to tattle on him to his wife, he said, “Oh, I bring McDonald’s here all the time.”

So at the window, the very cheerful but slightly confused worker asks me, “Did you order a double cheeseburger?” I hesitated, because I was actually considering the double cheeseburger before I finally decided on the Whopper, Jr. (with cheese). “No, a Whopper Jr.,” I said. “Oh!” she said. “Then it’s $5.55.” I handed her my gold card, and received a drink and a bag of food. And my card back with a receipt.

With a quick “Thank you!” I drove off and toward the infamous bridge under construction. I munched on my onion rings and sipped my Dr. Pepper. About halfway back to work, I pulled out my sandwich. It was a lot bigger and heavier than I expected. It was a Whopper! (With cheese). So I ate and I ate and I ate and I was starting to get full but I couldn’t stop because that would be a waste of food.

It then occurred to me that eating a humungo sandwich when you are full is still wasting food! After all, where’s that food going to go? Either out the end of the digestive system, or into globular fat cells that will settle around my middle. What’s the big deal about throwing away a half sandwich if your body doesn’t need it for fuel?

Needless to say, I finished the whole thing, except a piece of tomato and a bit of lettuce. The spirit is willing… but the body is way weak.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Caught!

I was meandering down a windy street, heading for the BK for an early lunch, when I saw blue and red lights flashing from the other side of the street.

My initial reaction was something like, “Yes! Uh huh! ‘Bout time. You thought you’d get away with it, then blam!”

I was pretty sure the little red sedan had made an illegal right turn in a construction area, and Mr. Policeman was there waiting. Why did I have such a mean-spirited, taunting reaction to the poor gentleman?

This had been a legal right turn, and a shorter way to get to the north side of town, before the city decided to rebuild the 6-lane bridge. According to my 8-yr-old, it’s been at least 3 months. So when that no right turn sign went up, I fumed, but I obeyed. I also watched as others slowed to a near halt trying to make the same illegal turn, backing up traffic in the process.

It’s nice to see justice once in awhile. It’s nice to know that for once, someone blatantly disobeyed the law and had to pay the price. Have you ever worked somewhere where there is favoritism, or where it doesn’t matter whether you take a 10 minute break or a 30 minute break on the clock, because no one is paying attention? You feel foolish for following the rules, because no one else is, and no one in management seems to care.

I read a story this week about a lady who used to work in a factory in China. Like a typical socialist-type factory, everyone was paid the same wage, all the time, no matter what. What happened? People goofed off, showed up late, took long lunches. They took their knitting into the factory because they could. They didn’t bother to follow the rules because there was no incentive for keeping them, and no punishment for breaking them.

That’s why I got so thrilled at the driver’s misfortune. He got what he deserved. Mercy and grace have no meaning without justice. There’s a reason for social order, and it’d be a better world if we all tried to follow the rules (at least most of the time).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stabbed in the Back

Nothing is quite like finding out that another person has been saying things about you that not only are untrue, but are mean-spirited and may cost you your job.

I rarely cry. I guess I want to believe that most people are basically good, that they wouldn’t go out of their way to hurt another person. I don’t know if it was a lack of sleep, or other little stresses, but the thought of someone who can look me in the face one day and tell me how helpful I was to one of her friends, and the next day, throw me to the wolves… set me over. I couldn’t concentrate on work, and I started to feel nauseous.

I went to the bathroom, and the tears started to flow. I prayed for the strength to forgive, to resist giving this person the cold shoulder or telling others what a… kind of person she really is. I did some deep breathing.

I was able to tell my husband about it over lunch, which helped. I try not to let things like this affect me so strongly. My boss says I take things too personally. I can’t help it- and the rain and darkness just seems to match my mood.

I’ll get over it. I always do. And I’ll talk to my boss about it when she’s back in town. I just keep thinking… 275. And tomorrow I get to see my baby girl do her class project. I’m a fortunate person, to have so many good people around me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

True Beauty

I’ve always heard it said, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I always took it as a truism, just like, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” But tonight, I was challenged to think differently.

Still in study of “The Truth Project,” God is the originator of creativity. He bestowed various gifts upon humankind to use for His glory. He gave us a desire to use these gifts- to design, to create, to express truths, to create order out of chaos. That is what work is supposed to be, an expression of who God created you to be.

So if someone creates something, does that make it beautiful? Is it truly a decision of the beholder whether or not something is beautiful?

No. I now believe beauty is a quality in and of itself, like truth, goodness, righteousness, or love. The human body is beautiful, but pornography is ugly. Language is beautiful, but hate is ugly. Music is beautiful, but profanity is ugly.

The beauty we are able to see in other people represents God’s handiwork at its finest. In the movie “Shallow Hal,” Hal is hypnotized to see women for who they are on the inside. What a blessing to be able to see someone through God’s eyes, no matter their height, weight, hair color, skin color, scars, or disabilities.

Beauty is what is true, what is good, what is orderly. It is good to keep these things in mind. As Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Demystifying Yoga

I was there. Yoga was some freaky, Eastern religion-type activity reserved for ninjas and hippies. It was the picture of a woman dressed in white, sitting crosslegged with her fingers forming perfect circles, a serene smile on her face while she says, “Ohmmmmmmmmm.”

I’ve been a member of the Y for several years, but have never stepped foot in a yoga class. I had no desire to. If I wanted to lose weight, I was going to stick to the cardio machines and the weight room. Yoga wasn’t real exercise. Besides, I have the flexibility of a 2x4. The real yoga people would probably laugh at my weak attempts. And I refuse to wear a leotard.

I did buy a DVD on ebay- Yoga Booty Ballet. Those darn infomercials! I don’t think I got through the whole session before I got fed up with “opening your heart to the sun” and other new-agey type talk. Yoga was definitely not for me.

Then I met Ann. Ann has been a family friend for many years, but just started caring for my children a few years ago. Ann is not a hippie, but she’s an artist, and she eats a lot of organic and vegetarian food, and she’s a yoga instructor. Ann would never push anything on anybody, but when another mom, Lisa, and I started talking about how stress was affecting our lives, she suggested yoga. I was interested, but unconvinced.

Months later, when Ann’s next series of classes was due to start, I had conveniently forgotten to sign up. I was so busy that I didn’t want to take one more night out a week for something like yoga. I told Lisa I wasn’t going. She called me 13 minutes before the start of the first class and told me I should come because there was a no-show. I went, reluctant and full of misgivings.

It was a blast. I’m still as flexible as a 2x4, but so are Maribel and Lisa, my two friends. We laugh at each other, in a good-natured way. Some of the poses are really hard, but I’ve never backed down from a challenge. I’m getting more flexible, and really working my muscles, especially my abs. After each workout, I feel like a weight has been lifted. I’ve had more energy and less stress.

So, never say never. Always be willing to try something new. Even yoga!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Playing Dead

It’s Saturday, and I have to go to work. Just a few minutes from home, I see an odd object in the opposite side of the road. It looks like maybe a branch that’s fallen off a nearby tree. I slow as I get closer- as much to see what it is as to comply with the speed limit in a hospital zone.

It’s… an animal, an opossum. It’s perfectly still and upright. If it weren’t for the streak of red down the side of it’s face, I would have guessed it was alive. It’s not moving. It must have been flipped up on it’s haunches when it got hit by a car. I feel sorry for it.

Then, I wondered. How many of us look like we’re upright and alive, but inside, we’re really dead? What does it mean to be truly alive? Is it having a lot of friends? Is it experiencing nature close up? Is it a script: Be born, go to school, get job, get married, have kids, retire, die? Is it the kind of fear experienced on a roller coaster or the happiness of falling in love?

I maintain that life requires growth. When someone seems to be full of life, they seem to be making the most of every opportunity, finding something to enjoy and learn from every step of the way. Someone who’s full of life may be starting college at the age of 60, or making new friends on another military base. When plants cease to grow, they die. Even some of the greatest, biggest trees have been found to be diseased and dead inside.

Live! Grow! Don’t end up in the middle of the road with the appearance of life.

Of course, the animal could have been playing dead… it was a ‘possum after all.

Focus

I heard a great illustration at Youth Convention last year. Jarrod Jones was our speaker and he said, “You shouldn’t make God first in your life.” (http://www.jarrodjones.com).

What? My whole life I had been trying to make God first in my life. When I was 13, at a youth convention far far away, the speaker asked, “What is most important to you?” My answer was “softball.” “As a Christian, Christ should be the most important thing in your life.” That moment changed my life. I had been living what I thought was a Christian life. I didn’t cheat in school. I was nice to most people. I worked hard at volleyball and basketball and track and softball. I attended church and Sunday school and youth group and even volunteered in the nursery. Ever since then I had striven to make God first. And now this speaker is telling me not to do that?

“God should be the focus of your life.” He went on to describe a picture, with a circle labeled “Jesus” as the center. From that circle come rays, like your first drawings of a sun. Each ray represents the other important things in your life- school, work, friends, family, softball. Each aspect of your life is viewed through the lens of Jesus and my relationship with him. How can Jesus use me in this area? How can I bless His name by what I do?

I’ve found myself a little off-center lately. I’ve been so excited about starting a new business, I’ve neglected some more important things. More than anything I want my life to be pleasing to God. I want to be who he created me to be. That is my prayer.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hope or Else!

I was proselytized today. It was a little scary, actually. I was driving back to the office from a Chamber networking event, when my gas light came on. So I dutifully stopped at a gas station at a busy intersection. As I watched the electronic display, the numbers went up, up, up…

A mini-van pulled up, I thought, to the pump on the opposite side. I nicely dressed, middle-aged lady stepped out. Still in networking mode, I flashed a shiny smile and gave a friendly “hello.” I thought maybe she was from the same event.

Then she whipped out a piece of printed paper and told me something about wanting to spread hope in “these times.” She gave me the latest edition of “Watchtower," a publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then she got back into the van (the passenger side, I now realize) and the van drove off back into the street.

It occurred to me that for someone reason these two people spotted me from behind and pulled up into the gas station, just to talk to me. I felt a little vulnerable. Who knows how long they had been following me. Did they see me get lost in that industrial park? And do I look that hopeless and helpless that someone would think, “We gotta save her”?

I don’t know that I’ve ever used that word before, but it definitely feels right in this situation: proselytized.

I pray my witness is a little less scary and in-your-face. I promise never to accost someone at a gas station. Yikes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gotta Have Faith

I was going through my twitterfeed, and two quotes struck me. British prime minister Gordon Brown said in his address to US Congress: "We conquer our fear of the future through our faith in the future." (Reported by NPR's Andrea Seabrook). Author Leonard Sweet said (twittered), "True faith is not our firm hold on certain truths, but trust in God's loving, sure hold on us."

Faith. What is it? Is it looking with blinders on, neither to the right or left, but clinging to what we've always known? Is it boundless hope, caught up in the idea that if we wish hard enough, what we want will come to pass?

As wonderful as Mr. Brown's speech was: "
So we must educate our way out of the downturn, invest and invent our way out of the downturn, and re-tool and re-skill our way out of the downturn;" I don't have faith in the future in itself. I pray that God has mercy on our nation and the nations of the world and allows for a less stressful economic situation for our children. However, I can't even say for sure what the future holds, or even if we as human beings have much of a future. Like a blink of an eye, the end of the world will come "like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

As Mr. Sweet said, it is not even one particular truth or truths that defines faith. Faith is an act of the heart, not an act of the head. Like a child trembling in fear, I rest in the arms of a Father who says, "Daddy's here. I've got you. It's okay. Daddy's here."

Let us not forget, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fountain of Youth

After our Truth Project study group last night, Gary said to me, “I wish I could figure out a way to take all that energy your son has and bottle it up.”

My son is six years old and hops out of bed in the morning and doesn’t stop moving until we strong arm him into bed at night. His blessed kindergarten teacher says he is “kinesthetic.” Even at church he bounds into the fellowship hall, ripping off his coat, making his way to the nearest plaything. I found him after choir practice Sunday morning making hand shadows on the wall. He bounces from Sunday School somewhat like Tigger, bounding after one of his seven cousins.

They say youth is wasted on the young, and I always thought that was lame. I guess I was young then. I guess that’s why The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is such an interesting movie. Imagine having the energy of youth and the experience of age.

I think we can tap into the Fountain of Youth by taking some time to enjoy the things we enjoyed as kids. We have to take time to play, to laugh, to dance, to sing at the top of our lungs. We have to take a moment to just wonder at the magnificence of Creation, from our amazing bodies to the stars that stretch across the night sky.

Who says you can’t go back?

Monday, March 2, 2009

It's a Zoo!

As part of our marriage enrichment Sunday School class, we had to take a personality quiz. My husband and I determined that each family member has a different personality.

My husband is creative, people-oriented, enjoys being the center of attention, and is a lot of fun. His personality is also considered Yellow, Expressive, Inspirational, or an Otter.

My son is relaxed, people-oriented, enjoys acceptance, and is slow to act- especially when getting ready for school! His personality is also considered Green, Amiable, Steady, or a Retriever.

My daughter is adventurous, task-oriented, enjoys being in charge, and has a bulldozer mentality- especially with her little brother! Her personality is also considered Red, Driver, Dominant, or a Lion.

I am creative, analytical, task-oriented, enjoy things done right (okay perfect), and tend to have a melancholy outlook on things (although I love a good laugh). I am also considered Blue, Analytical, Cautious, or a Beaver.

It was actually a huge relief to figure this out. No wonder things are so crazy sometimes! The otter is playing around while the lion is stalking the retriever and the beaver is too busy to notice. Now... if we could only find a zookeeper...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Antidote for Mad Hatter Disease

Did you know where the term "mad as a hatter" came from? Apparently, back in the olden days, hatters would use a mercury compound to make felt hats. Too much mercury exposure led to poisoning. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include delirium, hallucinations, and suicidal tendencies. So, the Mad Hatter in Alice and Wonderland had good reasons for acting a little well, crazy.

My question is, what is poisoning you in your work? I work in an industry where communication is vital. It's not beneficial to hold a grudge and stop talking to someone. Disagreements must be addressed and resolved quickly. In health care, poor communication can mean everything from irritated family members to death.

Forgiveness is the only way to detoxify your system. When you are angry or frustrated with someone, you allow them to control your feelings, sometimes even your life. If you don't let go of your hurt and allow God to heal, your body turns on you. You might get headaches, acid reflux, anxiety attacks... every system can be affected. Your mood can become bitter or depressed... you have to be willing to let go and move on. That doesn't mean the person who hurt you will be your best friend; it just means you'll be a better person.

So, if you don't want to go crazy, don't get poisoned at work!