Imperfect Cycles of Life

Last week I chaperoned my youngest daughter’s third grade field trip to a county-run educational farm. Field trips always offer a rich opportunity to support my kids, observe them among their peers, observe the kids I’m glad are not mine, and even learn a thing or two about the subject matter. This trip was no exception. I learned about sheep docking (ouch!); I learned details about our county recycling program; and I learned how a water expert can study a sample of creepy crawlies from a stream to predict the level of water contamination. But one of the learning stations was about the water cycle, and it offered a bigger life lesson that I suspect the kids didn’t fully appreciate—not yet.

A water conservation expert had set out an activity to teach kids about a different way to look at the water cycle. Just about anyone who’s obtained at least a third grade education could probably recite the typical water cycle, or at least explain it in lay terms. Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, Infiltration. If you are really impressive, you might even come up with additional terms such as Percolation, Surface Runoff, Plant Transpiration, Sublimation, and so forth. But this educator wanted to demonstrate that the water cycle—what you learned in school—is too easy of a picture. It’s too neat and tidy, too perfect, and that’s not actually what happens. A droplet of water doesn’t go from one stage to another in a closed circle, and especially not a stationary circle. She explained that water could stay in one place for a while; it could travel; it could be consumed; it could be interrupted on its journey a hundred times. The water cycle is much less predictable than what they teach in elementary school. It’s more like a messy web than a circular cycle.

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Put the Phone Down and You Will Live

Last night, I took my 14-yr-old daughter and one of her friends to the Eagle Bank Arena in Fairfax for the Why Don’t We concert. Most of you, if you are beyond your teens, are probably unfamiliar with the group, so allow me to educate you. Picture five young guys who sing and dance and wear combinations of bizarre pants and jackets that any normal person would get mocked for wearing, add a poof of curly broccoli hair to one of them, and then picture them jumping off platforms all at the same time (a real crowd pleaser), and there you have it. With the colorful graphics and fun choreography, it was a very enjoyable show.

Girls screaming? Oh my. Some had lost their voices by the end, so let’s hope they don’t have any school presentations today. Eh, giving up your voice for a day is a small sacrifice, an even trade for the chance to contribute to the din of a rock concert using decibels higher than a jack hammer.

Girls crying? Mmmm . . . actually didn’t see, possibly due to our proximity to the stage. My theory is that the closer these fangirls are to these boys, the better the chances of eliciting overwhelming emotions and subsequent tears. My daughter didn’t cry, but she was also distraught about this fact, as if her devotion to DANIEL had been compromised. No worries, she plans to meet this group in person someday, and she has no doubt she’ll be crying the entire time. Won’t they be impressed?

Overpriced merch? Why, yes, but my daughter saved her birthday money, so I’m out only $50 for the French fries, which were quite tasty. Oh my gosh, I just used the word merch. Help me! Pretty soon I’ll be using words like collab and ‘ship and asking, “What’s the T?”

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We Don’t Make Sense!

I know there are people aiming their tomatoes at me as we speak, but I have a simple question:

Why do 49% of American households purchase a lottery every year*, when the chances of winning the Mega Millions is 1/302 million and Power Ball is 1/292 million . . .

And only 33% of adults age 18-49, 43% of all adults, get the flu shot each year,** when the chances of getting the flu (depending on the year) is 1/20 to 1/5?

Granted, the vaccine doesn’t always work, but according to the CDC***, this year’s vaccine reduced chances by 60%, much better than the 2017/2018 year that was the worst flu season in recent times. Still, 16,000 people have died this year from the flu, many more hospitalized, many more stuck at home, fighting symptoms and feeling miserable.

If half of US households are willing to play the odds game in life, we ought to think about what helps us stay healthy and productive, and play those odds instead.

I know, it’s more fun to play the lottery! It’s so much better and less painful to spend a couple minutes and a couple bucks on a lottery ticket so I can win a chance at a life of luxury and endless vacations, early retirement on a beach and unlimited shopping at Target for the rest of my life. Oh, maybe you would pick a fancier store than Target, but if I won the lottery, I’d buy my own parking space at Target and be perfectly happy.

Alas, I didn’t buy a ticket for the $768 million Power Ball lottery yesterday. I was at work, administering Tamiflu.

What about you, readers? What odds do you like to play?





What is Competition Doing to Us?!?!

Competition is meant to drive people. It helps us find ways to better ourselves, invest in our talents, and seek higher levels of knowledge or skill. We need to keep doing it in order to stay ahead or get the job or land the part or win the race. With the exception of preschoolers, everyone knows they shouldn’t cheat or take shortcuts or pay bribes to get ahead of the competition. Yet, we are inundated with examples of people who took that risk, and then we wonder how many more people are out there cheating and never get caught? Are we only seeing the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to fraud and deception? Have you ever wondered what the tip of an iceberg actually looks like?

My fifteen year old daughter is a freshman in high school. After attending a college-preparation seminar at the school, she decided to start beefing up her resume—legitimately. After all, competition is fierce and colleges are not just looking for grades and test scores; they want more. (They also want all of your parent’s money, but I can’t blog about that without panicking.) Colleges want to see community involvement and shining talent and Olympic endeavors and perhaps a bid for the state legislature. My oldest is not exactly jock material and her political views don’t extend beyond why-teenagers-should-be-allowed-to-go-to-concerts-on-a-school-night, so my daughter joined the Interact Club at school, a community service organization sponsored by the Rotary Club.

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Ouch, Words Stick

Last night at the gymnastics center, I asked my youngest daughter if she ever sees any kids from school at this place. She pointed to a little boy in the ninja class, “There’s Justin,” she said (I changed his name to protect his identity). “I don’t like him.”

When I asked why, she explained, “One time in first grade I asked him for a crayon from the class crayon box and he said no and that he hated me.”

But, I pointed out, that was two years ago.

“I still don’t like him,” she said.

Then I prodded even more, “What if in ten years he wants to be friends, would you forgive him?”

“No, because I don’t like him.”

This was somewhat amusing to me last night because I didn’t like the kid either (well, I could forgive him later, but she asked for a crayon, dude). But then I started to think about things kids said to me growing up that hurt my feelings. And things I said growing up that were stupid or hurtful or didn’t make sense. It’s kind of scary how vivid some of these memories are. And they weren’t even traumatic—they were really just silly, flippant remarks, but they hurt at the time, so they were forever ingrained and preserved into my squishy, complex brain.

I don’t remember the nice things people said, of course. The human brain is like that—negative experiences stand out, and they tend to stick. Our brains are wired that way for survival so we’ll vividly remember our lion encounter instead of a pretty sunset. According to How Stuff Works*, emotional experiences are strengthened by the activation of the amygdala, an almond shaped mass that processes emotions and is linked to memory centers in the brain. Gee, thanks.

If only it could be the other way around, maybe we would be a happier society. Yeah, I remember the time my neighbor waved hello! I forgot that they flipped me off on the highway. I remember the nice gentleman greeting me at Walmart! I forgot about the crabby lady who almost ran my kid over with her scooter. I remember every single good grade in school! The bad ones are just a blur. I remember, “good job!” I forgot, “nice going.”

Alas, I remember things like being called a boy for having a short haircut, being called a Butt Twin, and being told I have disproportionate calves.

So, I have a message to kids—beware. A flippant message could come back and bite you in the butt; a phenomenon called poetic justice. In a few years, I know my daughter will turn out to be a cute little heartbreaker. (Yes, I know, typical parent). But what if this kid comes along in ten years asking for a date? She’ll remember a certain negative experience from first grade even before he opens his mouth. And she will say no. And he will wonder why because his brain has already tucked his words into his brain’s trash bin of meaningless, unemotional occurrences. And if he has the guts to ask why, she will say . . .

I asked for a crayon, dude.

Just a crayon.




The Most Fattening Week of the Year!

Surveys have shown that people, on average, gain five to seven pounds over the winter months.* Many of them, I’m sure, will blame the holidays and Super Bowl Sunday, but for households like mine, we can blame the week before Lent, otherwise known as now. And that’s because of chocolate.

My daughters and I have given up chocolate for Lent every year. So this is the week we have to eat up all the chocolate in the house and get rid of temptation before the 40+ days of Lent. (BTW, if you didn’t know, Lent is 40 days plus Sundays that do not count toward those 40 days.) We do stop short of giving up all sweets, which is probably lame compared to Suzy Catholic Christian who fasts from all sugars. But while Suzy Catholic Christian is a wonderful role model, I would probably come out of a sugarfree Lenten season twitchy and batty and addicted to peanuts, thus stunting my spiritual growth.

My non-Catholic friends and coworkers usually look at me funny or assume a mischievous smile when I decline to partake of chocolate during Lent. But while many non-Catholic people might mistake this for a weight-loss method or superficial check in a box, I have done quite a bit of research on the practice of Lenten fasting and what it means. And I often have to defend the practice with my husband and kids who annually forget why we do it.

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Fooled by a Millionaire Chef


In last October’s edition of Women’s World, Gordon Ramsey, the famous celebrity chef, had a “Pro Secret” recipe for chocolate pudding (with half the calories!). “For a healthy twist on a decadently creamy dessert,” Women’s World claimed, Gordon Ramsey uses avocado for the base.

Instructions: In a processor, puree 2 Avocados, 3 Tbs of honey, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/3 cup of cacao powder. Chill for 1 hour.

Gordon Ramsey stated in his book, Healthy, Lean & Fit, “If you think people will turn their nose up when they hear about the avocado, don’t tell them until they’ve finished it—they’ll never guess!”

Wow! He was right! When I made some of this pudding in my new blender, then offered a spoonful to each of my kids, and then grabbed a pen and paper to write down their reactions, none of them guessed avocado!

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What Everybody Wants

I attend a writer’s club at the local library, and I remembered a question posited by our (now deceased and dearly missed) leader, Raymond Maguire. He once asked, “Do people want to be exceptional or acceptable?” This question led to a variety of answers and small discussion, but not an all-out debate. I remember Raymond had concluded, based on his 80+ years of life experience, that it was to be exceptional—that seeking to be exceptional was an underlying desire of humans, which explained much of human behavior and emotions.

This notion of what humans want (to be known for) came up several times throughout this week, so I decided to see what psychologists have to say about this. I found an interesting (lengthy) article in Psychology Today that explored a variety of theories throughout the ages (think Freud, Erikson, Maslow, etc), but this article boiled everything down, as the title suggests, into “The Two Things We All Want and Need Most” by Noam Shpancer, PhD.*

Shpancer (2018) concluded. “There is, it seems to me, a strong case to be made that all our consequential psychological machinations can be traced back to these two motives, our deepest needs: to belong somewhere and to be someone.”

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