Thursday, January 27, 2011

1001 Arabian Nights and 1 Presidential Motorcade

On Tuesday night, I took advantage of the mid-week days off and a husband away on business travel by taking my kids to see a production of "The Arabian Nights" at Arena Stage in Washington DC's newly completed Mead Center for American Theater. My husband is not a huge theater fan.  That is to say, it's not his first choice of ways to spend an evening or weekend outing with his family. He is also not a fan of spending the evening home alone without his family (unlike most of us moms who have no problem enjoying a few hours to ourselves, most men, or at least the ones I know, don't like an empty house).

Anyway, when he is out of town, it's not uncommon for me to take the opportunity to catch a show with the kids so as not to impact quality Dad time when he's home. We're lucky here in Annapolis to have not just our local offerings, but also two major cities in close proximity with a wide variety of performing arts venues. We've taken in theater, dance, and concerts before at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, at the National Theater in DC, at Maryland Hall here in Annapolis, and more recently, at our favorite new venue, the Mead Center, just to name a few.

Arena Stage is located at 6th St. SW, just a couple of blocks off the National Mall in view of the Potomac and the Washington Channel that leads into the Tidal Basin. For 60 years, it has been a hub of American theater in the DC area. It has recently been renovated and expanded as part of the effort to revitalize the Southwest Waterfront area of DC, and it's a stunner of modern design and architecture (says this blogger who hasn't the first educated clue about modern architectural design beyond knowing who Frank Gehry is).

The initial plan in the late 90s was to relocate the venue to a new, more thriving, northwest DC location. Instead, the planners opted (with a nudge from Mayor Anthony Williams) to be a part of the effort to resuscitate their neighborhood. They refitted and integrated existing structures and cleverly shaped Arena Stage into a single, vibrant, stylish, focal point known as the Mead Center for American Theater in an area that was once the remains of unrealized 60s and 70s "urban renewal" efforts. It's a truly remarkable building. In the words of the Artistic and Founding Directors:
“Our center will be a home for American Voices in the nation’s capital – a showcase of the broad range of work from the country’s leading and emerging artists; a birthplace for new American work; and a space to engage audiences in the history, breadth and legacy of the American theater.”
– Molly Smith
Artistic Director
Arena Stage
“The building is absolutely stunning. It is a magnificent and important piece of architecture that contributes greatly to the cultural landscape of Washington. It is one the best designed buildings in D.C. in the last decade.”
– Zelda Fichandler
Founding Director
Arena Stage
The Mead Center for American Theater

I would certainly agree. The Center has three unique stages of varying size and format - all relatively small and intimate - the largest of which, the Fichandler, seats 683 people, and the smallest of which, the Kogod Cradle, seats just 200. Two of the theaters were original stages of historic significance which were brilliantly preserved and incorporated into the new facility. The aforementioned Fichandler was the first permanent "in-the-round" theater in the country built in the early 1960s, and the Kreeger, a more traditional fan-style theater which seats 514, was originally built in the early 1970s. The Kogod Cradle is a new addition seating 200 and is something of a small oval cavern that is aptly named. Click on the Arena Stage link to learn more about the venue and what's on stage, now and in the coming months.

The two shows the kids and I have been to see, a reproduction of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic American musical, "Oklahoma", which kicked off the reopening of Arena Stage last year, and now "The Arabian Nights", were both staged in the Fichandler "in-the-round" style theater. We thoroughly enjoyed both of these terrific shows. In each, the effectiveness of the staging and scenery was striking in its simplicity - really convincing settings accomplished with subtle tricks of lighting and a few simple props. The actors and musicians create the rest of the magic.



I highly recommend the experience. One minor caveat about "The Arabian Nights" is that it has some rather bawdy and suggestive material interspersed through the funny and engaging tales. It's narrated by Scheherazade after all. The website indicates that it is recommended for ages 13 and up. I took my 11-year old and didn't find it to be a problem considering what he encounters routinely on primetime TV and the school bus, but this is clearly subjective. If you would be uncomfortable exposing your kids to slightly raunchy humor with the odd suggestive cucumber or a somewhat passionate (but fully clothed!) encounter between lovers, I would heed the recommendation. Scheherazade was spinning tales literally for her life, so they had to be colorful...

So that explains the 1001 Arabian Nights part of my title, but what about the Presidential motorcade? Well, the Mead Center is about a 45 minute drive from Annapolis, but that includes the unpredictable New York Ave. I've driven up and down New York Ave. more times than I care to recall, on one occasion dragging a muffler shaken off by the ever present potholes. I lived in Georgetown when I first moved to the area after college and commuted to my job at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, making my way out of and into the city via New York Ave. each day.

On Tuesday night as we came into DC on New York Ave., I wasn't surprised at the initial slowdown - nothing out of the ordinary - but as we got deeper into the city, traffic got more and more congested and slowed to an effective stop. It was the worst I'd ever seen. I had allowed a little margin in our arrival time, but not much since I expected to be opposing the commute traffic. The minutes ticked away as we crept at a snail's pace through northeast DC (it's really a lot better looking than it was back in the day - fewer hubcaps littering the sides of the road).

As we got closer to the Capitol, with just minutes to go before the 7:30 start of our show, we began to notice a lot of flashing squad car lights and a huge police presence on the streets, and suddenly it dawned on me; this was the night of the President's State of the Union address. D'oh! I hadn't accounted for that in my travel time. I was secretly beginning to doubt that we would get to the theater in any timely manner.

We finally broke through the bottleneck on New York Ave. and turned onto 7th St. NW, with cops by the dozens lining the streets as we approached the Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Then, we heard sirens and saw a fast moving motorcade pass just in front of us along Pennsylvania Ave. headed toward the Capitol - the President himself en route to his address to Congress and the nation. I told the kids to wave to the President. They replied, "The President is making us late for our show."

Well, all's well that ends well. I presume the President got to his gig on time (I missed the address but hear there was a good joke about salmon, and no ruder-than-expected outbursts from that unruly South Carolina contingent). I dropped the kids at the entrance to the Mead Center to find our seats and went to park the car. They were familiar with the place from our recent trip down to see "Oklahoma", so I was confident they could make their way without me, as is often the case these days (sigh). With the number of cops on the street, I deemed a problem in full light of the theater to be unlikely. I parked for free in a lot a block away near the waterfront (it really is very lovely, and both times I've been down there, I've felt altogether safe), made my way to the chic, bright, wavy, front of the Mead Center, climbed the stairs to the Fichandler, and slipped into my seat next to the kids just in time to hear Scheherazade begin her first tale...

Intermission of Arabian Nights listening to musicians

Mead Center between Fichandler and concession bar

Orchestra "barn" for Oklahoma

Fichlander stage for opening scene of Oklahoma
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Murder of Crows!


I awoke this morning to a flurry of activity in my backyard. I looked out the window to see a gathering of crows feeding on something in my grass (I started to say lawn, but despite our best efforts, the grass in our backyard does not constitute a lawn...). I'm not sure what attracted them, but apparently crows will eat anything and everything, so it could have been seeds or bugs (probably the former which might explain our lack of a lawn). There were more when I first woke up, but Laika scattered some of them before I could take a picture.

I've said it before, I'm no naturalist, but I'm fairly certain these were crows. Apparently crows are partially migratory - the ones in colder climates will migrate south for the winter. Here in Maryland, most are probably resident year 'round, but we may get some transients from New York in the cold months. I was just really happy to have an excuse to use the phrase, "murder of crows". Apparently it's been documented since the 15th century although of unknown origin. I find it very poetic and think it really captures the effect of a thick, shadowy, flock. I read somewhere that scientists don't use the term "murder" - that it's more poetic than technical. True perhaps, but how can you resist calling a group of them a "murder"? My poetic side wins out over the scientific in this case.

They are not particularly elegant birds in sound or movement, and many consider them a nuisance to the point that they hunt them en masse (when I was Googling crows, I stumbled onto some unsavory pictures of hundreds of dead crows killed by chest-thumping "hunters"). I've witnessed crows raiding robins' nests during the spring, and spent the better part of a day rescuing a baby robin that a crow dropped on my roof, so I know they are not altogether warm and fuzzy birds, but I always find a "murder" of them in my yard very cool. I also found the video below on YouTube very cool - and lovely.



Another reason I have a particular fondness for crows is because it's the first bird sound that my daughter learned when she was was learning to speak. I have priceless video of her answering the classic questions about the noises animals make. I ask her what the dog says, and she answers, "woof, woof". I ask what the cow says, and she says, "moo, moo". I ask what the bird says, and where I'm expecting, "cheep, cheep" or "tweet, tweet", she cries, "caw, caw"! The crows clearly made an impression on her, too.

Here are a few links that you might find interesting. The first is a site about American crows with lots of great information and some neat videos (including the one above). The second is a link to what The Word Detective has to say about a "Murder of Crows" and other terms for groups of creatures.

www.crows.net

The Word Detective:  Murder of Crows, etc.

It's always fun to review the interesting words that have come to describe groups of animals - a "gaggle of geese", a "cete of badgers", a "knot of toads". The Word Detective explains that we first see the term, "murder of crows" in a 15th century compilation called "The Book of St. Albans," created by Dame Juliana Barnes, prior of a nunnery in England. A more modern discussion of the various collective nouns can be found in James Lipton's (of "Inside the Actor's Studio" fame) 1968 book, "An Exaltation of Larks". It's clear why he chose that one for his title.  It truly makes the heart soar. Visit The Word Detective site to find more interesting terms that have been passed down through the ages or invented more recently (for instance, an "attitude of teenagers" - perfect).

While I thoroughly enjoyed the crows this morning, what I'm really waiting to see when I look out the window is a flock of red-breasted robins. Though some winter here in Maryland, the vast majority typically return in late February through March, and their arrival is one of my most vivid harbingers of spring. They appear by the hundreds with their own riotous sounds, though not as raucous as the crows (riotous - unrestrained, tumultuous; raucous - rough in sound, harsh, strident - I looked up the distinction to be sure I had it right!)

As heartwarming as the arrival of the robins always proves, I think they also deserve a better term than "flock" to describe them as a group. Here are a few suggestions that I think would work nicely:

A "cheer of robins"
A "promise of robins"
A "gaiety of robins"
A "revelry of robins"
A "herald of robins"

Any other suggestions? What harbingers of spring are you awaiting? It's really not that much longer. We're only  a week away from February, and February is when spring starts to come! Caw, caw!

PS - Maybe I have birds on the brain as a result of venturing into the world of Twitter and tweeting.  You can follow Cape Blogger on Twitter now using the link at the top of the blog sidebar (search for CapeBlogger) or "tweet" any given blog post by clicking on the Tweet button below. www.tips-fb.com

Monday, January 24, 2011

Testing New Cape Blogger Twitter Feed

Testing out the new Cape Blogger Twitter Feed.  If you are a tweeter, look for Cape Blogger on Twitter (search for CapeBlogger).  All future posts should result in a tweet, and at the bottom of each blog post, there is a Tweet button if you wish to retweet the post.  I'm new to this, so I really have no idea what I'm saying... www.tips-fb.com

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Public, Private, or Home - Which Education is Best?

Sorry. That was a cheap way to get your attention. I'm not actually going to tell you which is best, and I don't even expect you to really care what I think about the choices, but I heard a story today on NPR that caught MY attention. The segment was of particular interest because a discussion broke out on the CSC Public mailing list/Yahoo Group last week about this subject. Somebody inquired about available resources for homeschoolers, and unsolicited opinions about homeschooling versus public or private schools started flying as everyone retreated to their respective corners and lobbed their best (or worst).

This is one of those subjects where folks immediately get defensive when it comes up. It falls into the same category as stay-at-home versus working Moms or spanking versus not spanking, etc. Anything that challenges our choices as parents will inevitably get us on our soapboxes to justify why we've parented in one way or another. It comes from the right place since the VAST majority of us clearly want to do what's best for our kids, but the guilt and stress associated with that, along with our fragile egos, can bring out the worst in us.

Case in point, you may have heard the recent uproar about the memoir by Yale Law Professor, Amy Chua, entitled, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", in which she describes the incredibly high expectations that Chinese parents, and Chinese mothers in particular, impose on their children, and how she applied this type of upbringing to her own daughters. She attempted to make it clear that she was not necessarily endorsing her methods over another - that she realized it had its drawbacks and that she had made errors - but that this was her unique experience, warts and all. I relate to some of what she describes, for I too battled with my kids on the piano bench to the point of tears and punishment. Although I don't think I ever threatened to burn their stuffed animals or made them stand outside in the cold over it, they did get sent to their rooms on more than one occasion.

The point is, this woman has been bombarded by attacks from parents and professionals from all directions. She has even received death threats and been accused of abuse, simply for recounting her honest experience with child rearing. She has two lovely, fabulously accomplished daughters who by all appearances love and respect their mother and father, and seem to be in no more need of therapy than the rest of us. While the conversation is a useful one, is it really our place to judge so harshly someone that we don't even know? What are we all doing so right that we are in a position to call her out? I'll admit, some of what she subjected her daughters to was harsh, but so does she, and in the process of writing about it, she has gained perspective as a parent.  We should all be so introspective.

Who of us can say for sure what is the right or wrong way? After all, we only have one shot at it, and all we have to go by is what we know from our own upbringing and maybe the latest study, which usually contradicts the ones just before and after it. We can read all the parenting advice manuals that exist, but when push comes to shove, we fall back on our ingrained firsthand experience. Spanking? Reasoning with 2-year olds? Time outs? Chores? Allowances? Hands off? Hands on? Indulgence? High expectations? TV? Video games? Facebook? I've seen success stories and inexplicable underachievement from all fronts. Different kids respond to different stimuli and methods, and there are myriad variables, but in the end, kids fundamentally need to know they are loved and accepted and have some source for developing their senses of confidence and right and wrong. The way to do this varies from kid to kid and parent to parent, household to household, and culture to culture.  The only truly wrong thing we can do is not care.

So, back from my Tiger Mother tangent to schools. When I tuned into NPR on my way to the gym (I ended up losing half my workout time sitting in the parking lot at Big Vanilla listening to the radio), I caught an interview with Chicago parent Jacqueline Edelberg, who along with Susan Kurland, principal of her local public school, authored the book, "How to Walk to School". Ms. Edelberg lived in a part of Chicago with a subpar public school - one that most of us would agree did not provide the kind of educational experience we would want for our kids. The city schools suffered what many of our inner-city or rural or name-your-struggling public schools suffer. Middle class families, unhappy with the quality of their local public schools weakened by inadequate funding or policy, send their students to private school or move to the suburbs or elsewhere, and public schools are left even weaker as the tax base and core student population departs.

Ms. Edelberg is a woman after my own heart, a believer in public education and its importance to the strength of our nation as a whole. She decided rather than abandon her public school, she would enlist the energy and talent of the people in her community in cooperation with the principal of the school to create the environment that she desired for her children's school experience. They improved what they could improve - the appearance, the extracurriculars, parent participation - and provided input with respect to curriculum and nutrition. They solicited the skills of local artists, craftsmen, business people,and parents to make their changes at very little cost. Within less than a year, they saw dramatic improvement in both environment and test scores, and in the next few school years, families who had once opted for private school started sending their kids to the neighborhood public school, and as she says in the interview, all boats were lifted by the rising tide.  Here is the link to the project website and a YouTube video that highlights her neighborhood school:

www.howtowalktoschool.com



This may not be as workable in every situation, but I expect it could be in many - for those with schools just getting by with a base of solid teachers in a community of concerned citizens. Many just need that boost of attention and effort from a few good people (maybe even pain in the tush people - it often takes some of those) to raise the quality of the school to a level that would please just about any of us. Clearly if there are serious safety and security issues in the picture, this becomes less tenable for the typical parent to tackle or accept for their children, and requires a different approach.

I know what an impact an active parent community can have on the quality of a school, because I've witnessed it for myself right here in Cape St. Claire. While Cape Elementary is a very good school with fine teachers, I think most would agree that the quality of our kids' elementary school experience is raised to a whole new plane by the time and effort put in by the PTO and parent volunteers in general. This level of commitment by our community makes it a school that draws great teachers and faculty, and the quality rises even further. Even the very good public schools that I knew growing up in CA did not hold a candle to what my kids have experienced here in the Cape.

For the record, here are just a few of the things parents and volunteers, in cooperation with the faculty, school board, and local business community have contributed to Cape Elementary. The new kindergarten playground equipment? PTO fundraising and planning. Smart board and document camera technology in the classrooms? PTO subsidized. Colorful rugs and bookshelves in kindergarten? PTO. Destination Imagination? Dedicated parents as team managers and PTO sponsorship. Fun Run? PTO. Assemblies, 5th Grade activities, Ice Cream Social, Holiday Shop, Field Day, cafeteria sound system? PTO. The list goes on and on. Parents identify something that could be improved or beneficial and in cooperation with the faculty and staff, make it happen. And the beauty of it is that not only do these parents' children benefit, but the whole student body reaps the reward, and in turn, our community, county, state, and country thrive.

I know it's not all cupcakes and paper roses. Plenty of room remains for improvement, as is always the case. But I consider us tremendously fortunate to have a powerhouse PTO at our disposal with just enough high energy parents to lead the way and enough of us support crew parents to do the legwork. And I don't mean to take away from what our teachers and faculty bring to the success of our schools. They are up to their ears trying to funnel all kinds of knowledge into our kids' ever expanding brains. It isn't that they are coming up short. The needs are just so great and the resources so slim. It takes the backing and support of the  community to turn a good public school into one to be envied and that gives most people little reason to look elsewhere.

This is the gist of what Ms. Edelberg conveys in her story. Rather than turn away from struggling schools, perhaps consider putting the energy that would go into homeschooling or the money that would go into private tuition into elevating the quality of your local public school for everyone. We are much quicker to bemoan the failure of our public schools than to take some of that responsibility on ourselves and help create the setting that we all desire for our kids. Some have more time, energy, and resources, available than others, but all of us can contribute in some way - a couple of hours to lead a book discussion, or a weekend day to spread some mulch or paint a bathroom.

I realize there are individual situations that don't lend themselves to this approach. Perhaps your child has health or emotional or developmental issues requiring special accommodation that just can't be adequately met by the public school system. Maybe you feel strongly about your child receiving religious instruction in a daily educational environment, which is not possible in public schools. Or maybe you grew up attending private school and it's just your preference. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for seeking alternatives.

For me personally, I had the good luck to grow up within a strong CA public school system, and my children have the good fortune to attend terrific MD public schools. There were kids in my graduating class that went to Harvard, Duke, Berkeley, and Stanford. I expect my kids to have everything at their disposal at Broadneck High to take them to any one of those schools or another of their choosing if they work hard enough and are smart enough.

It's hard to say if I would have opted to fight the good fight if circumstances had been different. I know for a fact that homeschooling would not have been an option - either my kids or I would not have survived it, and even with both undergraduate and master's degrees under my belt, I don't consider myself anywhere near qualified to teach them, and ultimately, I want them exposed to a wider range of ideas than just my own (just in case I'm wrong...). As for private school, it's just not part of my life experience. I know people who received a wonderful private school education, and I also know those who pay a lot of money for something that does not seem substantively superior. I guess I couldn't resist getting on the soapbox just a little...

For those like me who believe a healthy, robust, fair, top notch, public school system is critical to the wellbeing, strength, and security of our nation, do what you can to support your local schools and make them strong for everyone. And rather than allowing our insecurities to fuel condemnation of those who choose otherwise, focus instead on making your school the envy of the region. Today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's inauguration when he famously challenged us to "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country". This includes our public schools. We are all going to need to embrace President Kennedy's timeless call in the years ahead if we hope to better our nation instead of waiting around for her to do all the work. She's a little strapped at the moment, and we all need to take up the slack where we can.

OK, I promise to back off on the heavy material once we get out of January!  I didn't mean to take this blog down the path of social issues - at least not in a steady bombardment of consecutive posts. So far this year, I've delivered a stream of consciousness about LBGT tolerance and rights, race relations, and now public education. I swear I will lighten up. I still haven't told you about my Roomba!  Cleaning up the world and making it a better place one dog hair at a time...
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy MLK Jr. Day!

Here in Anne Arundel County, we're in those funky mid-January days where the kids get a seemingly random series of 2-hour early dismissals and full days off - just when we've started to settle back into something of a routine following the holidays. Of course, it's not random at all for the school system. The Broadneck High students take their final exams for the semester this week, and teachers throughout Anne Arundel County use the time off for a combination of closing out the semester and professional development. The upcoming 4-day weekend is a good one to take advantage of some local sightseeing or maybe a skiing daytrip, particularly Tuesday the 25th since neighboring counties don't have that day off, and crowds will be down.

The day off today, however, is not lumped in with the county's administrative days off. It marks our national tribute to the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to our national consciousness and the civil rights movement. It is now a federal holiday that is recognized by all 50 states. I won't name names, but a couple of states dragged their feet until they were shamed into getting on board. Thankfully, I think our country as a whole is past the days of questioning the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s impact on our society. The vast majority of us embrace the day as one to reflect on the progress that has been made with respect to race relations in America and to consider the work that still needs to be done.

Since 1994, the holiday has also become associated with volunteerism. President Clinton signed the bill into law that made MLK Day a National Day of Service. It's something that's on all our minds at the start of a new year, and the Martin Luther King Day of Service gives us an opportunity to act on it. If you're looking for some inspiration or a way to get started, take a look at these websites that provide local volunteer opportunities and organizations that are always looking for able hands:

  • MLKDay.gov - this site allows you to enter your zip code to get a listing of local organizations in need of volunteers.
  • Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County - this site is our local Anne Arundel County volunteer information center. It lists MANY terrific ways to volunteer in the county along with age requirements in case you are looking for opportunities for your kids.
  • Volunteer Match - this one has an option to search for virtual volunteer opportunities - be altruistic in your pajamas!
  • DoSomething.org - here, you can sign up for monthly text message alerts about volunteer opportunities.

If you don't have luck searching with 21409, try 21401. Not everyone got the memo about our zip code change. There is no end to the need, but it takes a little momentum to get out there and help. Many of you have ready access to charitable work through your churches. For the rest of us, we're not off the hook just because we skip the weekly sermon. It's incumbent upon all of us to look outside ourselves in some way that is helpful to our community. We're not always in places in our lives where that's easy or even possible, but when we are, we should. It's the best way to honor those like Dr. King who did/do the heavy lifting.

This August, on the anniversary of the March on Washington, the long awaited memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. will be unveiled on the National Mall near the Tidal Basin. All 1600 metric tons of the statue are there now under a shroud and scaffolding getting their final touches and awaiting the accompanying landscaping that will go in after the thaw. Here is an artist's rendition of how it will look when it's done:


This picture doesn't come close to doing it justice. For a better look at the plans and construction, go to mlkmemorial.org. It's going to be grand. Dr. King's form emerges from a tremendous block of stone called the "Stone of Hope" which has broken free from the "Mountain of Despair", taken from his famous quote, "With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope." I don't think I'll fight the crowds in August to get a first look, but maybe we will take advantage of our "random" days off in January next year to make a pilgrimage to the new memorial. Or better yet, wait a couple of months for the cherry blossoms to do their thing (this year's blooms are not that far away!!!)

Here are a few of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotes. I posted them a year ago on my earliest attempt at a blog. They are still gems, and get more apropos by the day:
  • "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
  • "A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan."
  • "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
  • "Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek."
  • "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
  • "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
  • "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."
  • "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
  • "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."
  • "The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt."
Have a great day off everyone! Don't forget the 2-hour early dismissals the rest of this week and the days off next week. Fingers crossed that the winter weather in the forecast tonight doesn't add on a 2-hour late start tomorrow!

--- Cape Blogger
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Keeping Resolutions

So we're two weeks into the New Year, and I am not yet super-model thin or super-Martha-Stewart organized (I don't know who the latest celebrity organization diva is, but I probably hate her.  I got past my loathing of Martha after she went to prison - gave her some street cred - that and her BFF Snoop Dogg) , and I haven't even put a chink in solving the woes of the world .  I thought by mid-month, I'd be well on my way to having my life and everyone else's in order.  I guess it's going to take a more significant part of 2011 (or maybe my lifetime) to accomplish any or all of those.

I actually have been getting to the gym once a day (trying to hit it at lunchtime when I can find a vacancy on a piece of equipment), and the last of the Christmas cookies have finally been eradicated (my kids were sick of them in their lunches).  And thanks to Rosie the Roomba, the dust and dog hair have been eradicated from my floors (still planning a separate post about my favorite new toy).  So I'm making some progress.  My office, however, is still a nightmare of holiday wrapping paper scraps, items that need to be returned, and a handful of gifts that never made it to their recipients.  There are still two weeks left in the month, so maybe by Groundhog Day, I'll have knocked off 10 lbs. and Martha Stewartized the office.  Or not...

This is the fundamental problem with resolutions.  They don't just happen on their own, and they don't happen at all quickly, and before we've even really started, we're back into our old habits and routines.  My downfall is typically poor planning.  The ideas and intentions flow, but vaporize before I reach the point of action.  Instead of blogging about it, I should probably be making a list or something, but blogging is it's own form of thought gathering for me (or so I tell myself).  It doesn't do much for the action part, I'm sorry to say.

When I was on the treadmill at the gym yesterday (heel continues to improve!), I turned on the TV and stumbled (not literally) onto Charlie Rose interviewing religious historian, Karen Armstrong.  I don't want to know what it says about me that I enjoy the occasional Charlie Rose show, but I was especially caught up by what Ms. Armstrong had to say.  The interview throughly occupied my 45 minutes in the hamster ball.

Karen Armstrong (onetime nun) has written extensively on the history of world religions (predominantly the Abrahamic religions, but also Eastern religions, etc.), and I admire and agree with much of what she has to say on this topic.  Her most recent book is called Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, and I think her thoughts in this book resonate at the start of a new year, particularly following the events of this week in Tucson (which I also learned about on the treadmill, hmmm).  I have not yet read the book, but here are a couple of things she had to say in her conversation with Mr. Rose:

  • On the definition of compassion, "to make place for the other in your mind and heart".  (I love this).
  • That we should not judge quickly just because we feel smart and clever.  Listen and think before lobbing the smart ass comment (I'm paraphrasing), and then don't lob it at all.  Find a more constructive and humble way to contribute.
  • Reject the temptation of clever unkindness and cruelty and be aware of how little we know.
  • The Golden Rule is a really good one.  Always keep it in the forefront.
  • Fundamentalism and radicalism in religion is rooted in fear and ignorance, both at home and abroad.
  • We are addicted to our prejudices and depend too much on our hatred of the things we fear.
  • We get a buzz from our cleverly wounding remarks.  They are poisonous.
  • Be "mindful" - watch the way you behave and speak.  Be aware of it and how it impacts others.
  • Don't be afraid to enter into civil dialogue, and do it with the expectation of being enlightened or changed.  Otherwise there is no point.  You are better for it, not compromised.
  • Commit one kind act a day of any sort.  Once you've mastered that, up the ante until your day is filled with kindnesses.
  • Strive to leave the world marginally better because you have lived in it, and you will have lived a life of value.
Well, that's what I got from it.  The last two items, in particular, are measurable goals (dare I say, resolutions) that I think each of us can set for ourselves if we choose.  Some of the others are harder, but equally, or even more, important.  I think the point is that we need to continually question what we think we know, make ourselves aware of and open to other ways and opinions, let go of our fears and paranoia by listening and learning, and be open to revising our understanding.  This interview, in addition to the President's fine speech, has provided me with some inspiration to deal with the hideous event that opened the year in Tucson and any others to come in 2011.  Let's hope there are finer moments ahead for our country in the new year and resolve to do our part to heal and not wound further.

I'm not sure any of this will help with my fitness or organization, but it might remind me not to roll my eyes at the little lady ahead of me at Graul's writing a check.  And if I might suggest another resolution for all that would make it easier for me to keep mine of being more patient, read what my hero, Einstein, is writing on the chalkboard above (you can click on the picture to enlarge it if you can't read the words - again with the eyes!). 

If you want to watch the interview with Karen Armstrong for yourself (and I recommend it highly, even if it is Charlie Rose!  I won't tell anybody you watched), here is the link to the video:

http://www.charlierose.com/view/content/11407

*  The first half of the interview focuses more on Karen's personal story and then a discussion of the histories, evolution, similarities, and differences of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam which I've always found fascinating, but if you do not, the link below is to the Hulu version of the interview which allows you to skip forward in the video more easily than the one above.  If you join the interview at the 29 minute mark, you will hear more of the discussion on compassion and it's place in the modern world.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/207073/charlie-rose-president-obamas-speech-in-tucson-karen-armstrong
www.tips-fb.com

Friday, January 7, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 - It Gets Better!

Welcome to the new year!  2011 is officially off and running. Somehow 2011 sounds much more futuristic than the first decade of the 2000s - legitimately 21st century.  Something about fewer zeros in the number make me ready to start seeing some Jetson's action (my new Roomba robot vacuum cleaner is VERY Jetson's - my own Rosie!  More about that in a future post).

I'm always in a little bit of a daze when the routine kicks back in after the holidays.  I think most of us feel a mixture of relief that the craziness is over and melancholy to see the  festivity of the holidays behind us with nothing but cold and taxes on the horizon.  The thought that propels us through these short, dark, cheerless, broke, first days of the year is, to borrow a popular phrase from 2010, "It gets better"...

A few months back, I ordered a T-shirt from the "It Gets Better" project.  I was so wowed by the endless stream of heartfelt, sincere, messages from people of ALL walks of life - famous, ordinary, tough, meek, powerful, humble, nerdy, cool - who contributed their accounts or perspectives on the trials and isolation of growing up as a LBGT youth.  The campaign was one of those simple but profound ideas, empowered by social networking and technology, that I believe did and is doing more to advance the rights, respect, and tolerance for the LBGT community than anything I've seen.  Truly remarkable and moving.  That and the fall of Don't Ask Don't Tell were overdue gifts for our LBGT brothers and sisters in the past year.  Still work to do on full civil union/marriage rights for same sex couples (I don't care what you call it...).

Anyway, back in the fall, I decided to show my support through a donation/purchase of a T-shirt from the It Gets Better project website.  The T-shirts were in such demand that I just received mine last week, and it's my new favorite shirt for the new year.  I don't quite have the chest to fill out the web address, but the link is above.


The message is relevant to any crisis that people might be experiencing, or just to the month of January.  No matter how bad it might seem, it does get better.  The seasons are a terrific metaphor for the ups and downs of life.  The key is to keep putting one foot in front of the other through the tough times, safe in the knowledge that you are not alone and something better is in store if you just trudge on.  We all have to know that often it's that miserable stuff that makes us stronger, better people.

So, to start the new year - here, in no particular order, is my list of things that I hope "get better" in 2011:
  • The economy
  • My heel
  • The CSC covenant document
  • Laika's hips
  • Haiti
  • My cooking
  • The Gulf
  • River Bay Roadhouse
  • Congress/government
  • My son's soccer team
  • Pakistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • America
  • The environment
  • The Redskins
  • Lindsay Lohan (just because I'm tired of hearing about her)
  • The Chesapeake
  • Race/Intercultural relations - general intolerance and close-mindedness
  • Airport security/safety
  • School lunches
  • The housing market
  • My organizational skills
  • Kyrie Irving's big toe
  • My memory
  • Superfresh
  • Attention spans/focus
  • The Graul's shopping center intersection
  • Perspective
  • Manners
That's all that comes to mind readily.  How about all of you? What do you wish to "get better" in 2011?  Anything from Cape pet peeves to world peace?  I know I've missed a lot, so help me out.  Wishing you all better days and happiness in 2011!

PS - In the interest of making the Cape Blogger better in 2011, I've increased the font size of the blog posts.  I don't know about you, but I was having trouble reading the small print. Let me know if there are other things I can improve or that bug you about the blog (other than generally hating the content.  It's a blog - I calls them like I sees them). www.tips-fb.com