Wednesday, December 18, 2013

About the War on Christmas...

                                                 A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965

  I could not have been more fortunate to have experienced an early childhood Christmas in the 1960's.

                                The King Family Christmas specials were a beloved tradition
                                               on TV every year during the 1960's

 "Pure joy" are the words that spring to mind when I recall the pristine beauty and all encompassing Christmas spirit that enveloped the lives of all the children in my Orange County neighborhood during those days.

                                               Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, 1964

     As hard as it is to conceive now, we actually sang Christmas carols in our public schools back in those days. Even traditionally sacred songs such as Silent Night and The First Noel were a part of the curriculum.

  Although I'm a progressive, I've found myself occasionally nodding in agreement in recent years when the Fox News types complain about the politically correct "War on Christmas."

                      "Defending Christmas" is a popular topic every December for Bill O'Reilly.

   Truth be told, I really miss those old days sometimes. The Christmas season, to my innocent, sparkling eyes back then, was so pure and beautiful.

  And yet...and really looking at this issue, I must use my head as well as my heart.

 Despite the fact that we had no snow, growing up in Orange County during the 1960's
was a very, very, very, very white existence. I didn't even see my first African-American human being in person until I was almost 10. He was a friend of our fathers who came to visit. His skin was very, very dark. I was curious to see what his skin felt like, so I asked him if I could touch his arm. He kindly agreed.

 There were very few immigrants in Orange County back then from Asia or the Middle East, and only a tiny sprinkling of Jews. We were white, white, whitey white, Christian white.

 America in 2013, needless to say, is a very different place than in the 1960's.  Now, you can argue about the topic of immigration and how we got to be the way we are, but the fact is that the Christian white extreme majority that we enjoyed in the 1960's is pretty much gone.

 Fox News likes to complain about how our government and schools have pretty much drained the original Christmas message out of any annual celebrations. But the "Happy Holidays" thing started with businesses, not with government.

 Businesses realized that if you want to attract ALL customers during the holidays, and not just white Christian ones, you'd best cast a wide net.

  Christmas purists might cringe at this very politically correct holiday card which some businesses send out. But if you think about it, if you have customers of every race and religion, a card like this is probably a pretty smart business model.

 Fox News, ground zero of the "War on Christmas" creed, got busted recently. You see, Fox News IS, of course, first and foremost a BUSINESS. With employees that they presumably appreciate and would like to keep.

         A Fox News employee inadvertently admitted on the air that the Fox and Friends Christmas Party was actually a HOLIDAY party, as the graphic above shows. Whoopsie.

    You see, Fox News is in the middle of New York City, and without doubt several of their employees are Jewish, etc.  The slip-up above shows how political correctness regarding Christmas in America started in, and mostly thrives in -- the business community. With good reason. It's just good business.

   Now the War on Christmas has spread to schools and governments, and to a certain extent, I agree with and understand the political correct movement.

      Is it really morally right to have a monument to Christian Bible verses in front of a government building that is supposed to represent all of us, of every religious (or non-religious) background equally?

  So, here we are, in 2013.  Bill O'Reilly not withstanding, Christmas seems to be thriving. It's alive and well. And of course, noone is stopping us from going Full Nativity Scene in our homes and churches. We are free to celebrate in whatever way we choose amongst our family and friends.

               ..and that means ANY way we want. This probably wouldn't be MY choice,
                   but America still is a free country! And if it makes my gay friends happy,
                                                        then who am I to argue?

As with most controversial issues, in my opinion the middle way is the best.

 I don't think City Hall needs to have a Nativity scene splayed on the grass.

 But I do wish public schools could feel free to lead their children in a beautiful Christmas carol like "Silent Night" that encompasses our best traditions and encourages feelings of togetherness, peacefulness and awe.

 Who could have a problem with that?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving: Learning To Live Together

                                            Green Valley Lake Family Thanksgiving, 2005

    Thanksgiving is about family, and learning to live together and accept each other. This is a lifelong process, that changes and morphs as the shape and look of our family and friends evolve.

                                                                Thanksgiving 1995

Our family has evolved and changed a bit since the photos above were taken. We'd best do our darndest to roll with the changes, even if we mourn the old days.

   2013 was our first holiday back in SoCal after 2 years at sea. Family and friends lovingly adopted and cared for our two cats, Buddy and Smudge, while we were away.

             The first cat we reclaimed upon our return was Buddy.  As this photo shows, he's been absolutely basking in the singular love and attention that he receives from Dad since we've been back. He's grown a bit spoiled.

                                             This would not last long.

        Over Thanksgiving we helped my Mom move out of her charming little cottage and into my sister JoAnna's home.  Mom has been caring for Smudge during our travels, so it was time to bring him on home as well.

                                                 Mom and her adorable Tustin cottage

                                           My husband Chris, the handyman of the family,
                                             helped Mom with all of the moving logistics

     Smudge has grown accustomed to life in Mom's cottage. He kind of freaked out when he peered out the window and saw us carrying the kitty moving box.

        Upon returning home to Green Valley Lake, we were very curious to see how these two brothers responded to the sight of each other after 3 years apart. They had lived happily together for 9 years prior to our travels. What would happen?  We opened the cat box and watched as Buddy tentatively approached...

                                                         Oh, dear. I was afraid of that...

     We endured two sleepless nights of aggressive feline hissing, growling and crying...but I knew that eventually they would both realize that they are brothers. They are sort of stuck with each other. Like a human family, they did not choose each other, but if they want to be relatively happy they'd best come to accept each other.

     They're not exactly cuddling and playing with each other yet, but the hissing has stopped, and they now sleep on the same bed. Family...what are you gonna do?

                                                Other images from Thanksgiving 2013:



                                      So, another Thanksgiving comes and goes. Life goes on.

         Nothing else to do but break out the Christmas decorations...the biggest holiday of all is just around the corner...take a deep breath and dive in!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What's Your Mind/Body/Spirit Score?

                                              Happiness: what is it, and how do I find it?

 I've posted often on the science of happiness. I know what you're thinking, scoffers, but believe me, the science of happiness is real -- and it's spectacular. ;-)

 We've all heard that life as we know it is made up of the mind, the body and the spirit. As I understand it,  our aim should be to nurture each one of these aspects -- and then, if we're lucky, we experience moments when they flow together in perfect balance --  one elegant organism of life.

                                     OK, we know about the mind, body and spirit. Now what?

       I love to analyze things and to come up with guidelines to help me attain any goals I might have. In thinking about the mind/body/spirit thing, one day it dawned on me: what if I figured out a scientific way to analyze and calculate where I am on the mind/body/spirit continuum?

     The next step I took was to see that every action I take on any given day affects either the mind, the body or the spirit positively or negatively. Many actions affect more than one of the three. But every action we takes affects our mind/body/spirit in some way.

   So I started looking at very general and obvious actions.

                                         Let's take something obviously good, like running.

    As every runner knows, running clears the mind, strengthens the body and makes your soul soar.

   So, if we applied a score for running as an activity, it would be +1 for the mind, +1 for the body and +1 for the spirit. That's 3 points total.

   Now, let's look at something negative, like smoking. Smoking is -1 for the body, and I suppose neutral for the mind and spirit. So that's a total of -1.

   There are lots of things that are good for either the mind, body and spirit. Any physical or mental activity gives you a +1 in that area.

       So OK, OK, I guess I have to admit that even a video game like Candy Crush Saga is good for the mind (well, it's good for the brain, anyway), as experts agree that video games can and do prevent Alzheimer's disease.  So you can give yourself a +1 there. But I might argue that excessive video game playing would give you a -1 for the soul...(there's a healthy debate to be had there, I'm sure). It's also neutral for the body. So adding up the total of the three, it adds up to a "neutral."

   And if you eat a dozen donuts in one sitting, I think we can all agree that would be bad for the mind, body and spirit. That's a -3.

Donuts = BAD. (This is not a comment on Chris Christie, by the way. I put in "eating donuts" on the Google search engine and he popped up, I swear.)

Even something passive like watching TV gets a score. If I watch an astronomy documentary on the Science Channel, that definitely gives me a +1 in the "mind" department (but I suppose it's neutral in the body and spirit categories -- unless, that is, I'm eating a dozen donuts while I'm watching).

On the rare occasion that I indulge in a Real Housewives or Kardashians program, I'd give that a "neutral" in the mind department (watching these shows may not be GOOD for your brain, but science has yet to prove that they literally fry your neurons). However, it might be a -1 in the spirit department, as increasingly I'm finding watching the behavior of these women upsetting and even a bit depressing.

Kardashians = BAD for the spirit

If you're a parent, obviously just spending time reading a book to your child gives you a big +2 points (one for mind, one for spirit).

Reading to your kids: it's a no-brainer!

And of course, for Chris and I, playing music is another big +2 point activity (1+ mind, 1+ spirit).

Music: it's a 1-2 punch!

The point of this whole exercise for me was to make me aware of the affect my daily activities have on my body, mind and spirit. Obviously if you add up all of the activities of the day, you would hope to be in the mostly positive column. If you're way in the negative, then some soul searching might be indicated.

Mostly, it's about thinking about what we're doing. Being present. Accountable. Life is short...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Post-Halloween question: What really scares us?

                           I spent the Halloween holiday down in the heart of south
                          Orange County with my baby sister JoAnna and her family.

                                          South OC is especially beautiful this time of year

                                   Running our pre-Halloween errands, JoAnna took me to
                                  her favorite juicer hang-out. Holy crap, these green drinks
                                 were big!  The last time I had wheat grass was before we left
                                 on our trip, and those were shots. Well, I guess like everything
                                   else in this country, these green drinks are now super-sized!
                                                               Anyway, it was delicious!

                     We passed this guy during our errands -- presumably he's from "The Matrix"

                                            I liked this kid's Hulk costume. He's so strong
                                              he can lift an automobile with no problem.

                                 Back at my sister's place in Mission Viejo, we began to prepare
                               for the big night as the sun slowly set. I brought down my happy
                                  little Jack-O-Lantern all the way from Green Valley Lake.

                              These were the Jack-o-Lanterns that Chris and I carved only
                              24 hours earlier up in Green Valley Lake. That's what's so
                great about Southern California: from the snow to the beach in only 2 hours.

                                        My niece Paige and her friends dressed as the girls in
                                                    ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars."

                                                    Here's the real thing. Not bad, girls!

         Even though my sister lives in an affluent area, we were stunned to find out that most of the local kids blew off Mission Viejo for trick or treating and drove to nearby Nellie Gale -- an even more prosperous area where, the rumor was, they gave out FULL SIZE Snickers Bars!

                       In fairness, Nellie Gale also goes all out in decorating their gated
                      homes (as in the one above)...and I guess gated mansions are a bit
                                           more "Haunted Mansion"-esque...

                                      We did, of course, get a few trick or treaters back
                                 in Mission Viejo.  I loved this kids zipper face. Scary!

                        To kill time while waiting for the scant trick or treaters,
                                we watched "When Animals Attack" on The
                       Travel Channel, which is pretty darn scary and therefore
                                   appropriate for Halloween night viewing.



                     Yes. WAY scarrier than anything Freddie Kruger can dish out.

                        Which leads us to a sort of scary event that occurred Halloween
                       night: when opening the door to give out treats, what we thought
                        was a pretty big bird flew into the house and began darting about
                                           and dive-bombing us. Was it a bat?

                             Looking up at the strange creature that invaded our home
                             and afixed itself to the ceiling on Halloween night. NOTE:
                             My friend Maria pointed out the floating orbs in the upper
                             third of the photo. Turns out many people consider these
                            "benevolent spirits" which are inadvertently captured in
                              digital photographs. Others say they are bits of dust, etc.,
                                    which are magnified by the flash. Hmmmmm.
                            I will say that my sister JoAnna's house is spotless and there
                            is little or no dust in the place. And it certainly wasn't raining
                            INSIDE. So, these orbs fall under the category of "things that
                                                 make you go "hmmmmmm."

                           Anyway, back to the scary creature that entered the house.
                          It seemed to be about the size of a small bird but it definitely
                                            looked like an INSECT. A BIG insect.

              This baby had a wing span of about 3-5 inches, and a thick (gross) body

                                 It's called a Hummingbird Moth. Yep, it's about the size
                                    of a large hummingbird, but it's 1,000 times creepier.

              Which begs the question: why, exactly, are we so freaked out by a
              gigantic moth inside our homes -- while a hummingbird trapped
                  in our living quarters would merely be a whimsical adventure?
                  After all, we know intrinsically that neither a moth or a
                                   hummingbird will hurt us physically.

                              Well, to dig deeper into the origin of our fears,
                               first let's look at the face of a hummingbird:

                           Awwwwww. So pretty and sweet. And so colorful and sparkly, too!

                                            Now, let's check out the face of a moth up close:


                    So, I guess it boils down to this: we fear what is very different from us.

                      Anyway, we lured the flying Sherman Tank outside, which was a
                       Halloween adventure in itself -- we had to turn off every light in the
                      house, then open the front door and turn on the porchlight -- which
                         eventually led our flying horror out the front door to find another
                                           family to terrorize on Halloween night.

                           We slept peacefully, knowing that we had freed the house
                        of all flying creatures of horror. The next morning, I was quite
                       impressed with the thrift of my neice Paige, who had drained
                                  every last millimeter of toothpaste out of the tube:

                                                               Well done!   :-)

                                                 Hanging out with Paige...

                                                          ...and my sister JoJo...

                                                                  ...and their lab Riley

                                  We said our goodbyes and I headed north towards
                                                LA to visit another neice Ashley.

                                        Remember how blue the sky was in that first
                                        photo I showed of South Orange County?

                              I took this photo driving north on the 405 towards LA.
                            See that brown line on the horizon? That's the smog of LA.
                     Seriously. It's getting worse and worse again. Now THAT is scary!

                               I arrived at Ashley's apartment in Huntington Beach.
                                      She proudly displays this paint-by-number
                                                 she did on her living room wall.

                 Ashley is Aspergerian, and like many Aspergerians, she's really into
                       collecting things -- especially things related to fantasy,
                                             Disney characters or Anime.

                                      This is just part of her collection of Disney pins,
                                            which she proudly displays on the wall.

                                         This Anime poster graces the wall of her bathroom

                          Over the years I've worried about Ashley's obsession with fantasy...
                           but lately, I'm throttling back on that concern. It's a scary world out
                          there. Things are uncertain. I'm beginning to understand why Ashley
                                            (and countless others) gains such comfort in
                                                     happy things and happy places.


                                             I took Ashley out to lunch in her costume of the
                                                     cute little cowgirl in "Toy Story."

                                She was especially proud of her braid and bow -- just like the movie!

                                                 Well done, Ashley. Well done.   :-)