Friday, February 28, 2014

The Sound of Music

This week marked the passing of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known Holocaust survivor. Earlier this week, at the age of 110, Alice passed away quietly in London, surrounded by family. As her world crashed around her, she watched friends and family, one by one, be taken away, most forever. She loved music and played concertos on her piano until the day they finally came for her and her son, Stephan, age six. But the music didn't end.

They were taken to Theresienstadt, one of the few concentration camps that held a glimmer of hope for its occupants. Since it was on the world’s radar, visited by the Red Cross and featured in propaganda films, the prisoners were allowed freedoms and liberties not known by most victims of Nazi Germany. Here in this camp, prisoners like Alice were allowed to participate in the arts. She continued to play the piano, her music enjoyed by fellow prisoners and guards alike. Theresienstadt saw its share of atrocity, though. Of the 140,000 Jews sent to this camp, over 30,000 did not leave. But Alice did. And her eight-year-old son, Stephan. But the music continued.

At 98, Alice watched another loved one leave. Stephan died in 2001. And Alice played the piano and lived another 13 years. On that day, along with Alice, her music died. 

Alice’s love of music got me thinking about my own. So, today, I share with you my Top Ten Favorite Songs of All Time. This list could change tomorrow. Or later today. But, for now, this is it.

10. Metallica “Enter Sandman”
When James Hetfield hits those immediately-recognizable introductory chords, you can’t stop the beginning nod of a good head banging session.

9. Garth Brooks “That Summer”
Call him a sellout. Call him goofy. But the man can tell a story with a song and this is a great story.

8.  Prince “Little Red Corvette”

7. Three Dog Night “Mama Told Me Not to Come”
Sage advice in the form of a toe-tapper.

6.  Run-DMC “Sucker M.C.’s”

5. John Lennon “Imagine”
Some Christian’s raise their hackles at the line “Imagine there’s no Heaven,” but you’re missing the point if you do. Lennon’s charge to live peacefully is delivered in a pretty melody and it was my Mother’s favorite song. So there.

4. Kenny Rogers “The Gambler”
Garth may have learned a thing or two about telling a story from this guy. I love so many Kenny songs, but this one gives you words to literally live by. And I have.

3.  Aerosmith “Walk This Way”
When Steven Tyler teamed up with Run-DMC, it was pure magic and showed me that, musically, I could have my cake and eat it, too. Why does a song have to be “rap” or “rock?” Why not both? Pure genius.

2. Dr. Dre & Snoop Doggy Dogg “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang”
Dre introduced a barely-known Snoop on this track and it was a good thang.

1. Simon & Garfunkel “The Sound of Silence”

To say the first time I watched The Graduate was an educational experience is an understatement. It’s a great movie and seemingly timeless. Although the fashion has changed and come back in and changed again, the emotions expressed and felt by the characters is so identifiable. The Sound of Silence” closes out the film. Dustin Hoffman is on his way to stop the wedding when his Alfa Romeo dies on the side of the road. Then he runs the rest of the way to the church, screams “Elaine!!!!”, fights off people with a cross, and they jump on a bus. While catching their breath and reeling from what they just did and pondering “what next,” those familiar chords begin to play, along with Simon’s opening words:  Hello, darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again.” Perfection.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Life's Little Moments

This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. 
Psalm 118:24 

Today is Bird’s nine-and-a-half birthday. That means that today marks the time in which she is equidistance from being nine years old and being ten. We are asked occasionally why our family celebrates half birthdays. First, let me correct one misconception – the whole family doesn’t. Just Bird. There comes a time when one stops relishing the passing of time and the addition of candles on the cake. 

But when you’re young, it’s important. It’s a milestone. I remember proudly declaring my exact age when asked. 
“How old are you, honey?” 
“I’m seven…and 2 months!” 

 Here are more reasons we celebrate: 

  • You’re only young once. 
  • Any opportunity for cake should be seized.   
  • This celebration – on February 27 every year – is the hump day of the calendar. Spring is nice. Summer is fun. Fall is delicious. And Thanksgiving and Christmas are wonderful times of the year. Then you are faced with January and February, truly two of the blah-est months there ever were. When March rolls around, you see light at the end of the tunnel. Surely, spring can’t be too far off now. So having something to look forward to at the end of February gives, well, hope. 
  • No one loved birthdays more than my mother. If she delighted in something more than her own birthday, it was her friends’ and family’s special days. Every year when I was young, I was awakened by loud music booming from a record player (yes, vinyl) and seeing my parents parade through the house and around my bed, clapping and singing. If I can impart just a little of this revelry to my daughter, I’ll try my darndest. 
  • I’ve noticed a trend around the actual birthday and Christmas (thanks in large part to the elves who visit us throughout December) of improved behavior and increased helpfulness around the house. Coincidence? So, what’s the harm in planting one more reason to behave throughout the year? 
  • It’s an opportunity to make her feel cherished and loved. 
  • Life. Is. Short. Soak it up. Embrace it. Carpe diem...seize the day!

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow’s a mystery. Today is a gift.                           That’s why they call it the present. 

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
Psalm 100-15

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Touched by an Angel

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Hebrews 13:2
I almost died this morning. Well, that sounds melodramatic now that I’ve written it. I was almost in a wreck this morning on the interstate. In a congested patch of highway I travel each day on the way to work, a car tried to sneak in front of me during a merge.  There wasn’t enough room for them between me and the car ahead of me, so I was forced to maneuver over to accommodate them. The only problem? I knew the lane beside me was also full of bumper-to-bumper traffic so I had nowhere to go. In a split second, I darted over and there was miraculously room for me. My heart skipped a beat as I realized what could have been, yet there we were, all fine, all sipping our coffee and going about our day. As I exited the interstate, I sent up a quiet “thank you” to everyone and anyone involved. God. Jesus. My guardian angel(s). Other random angels I imagine invisibly dotting the landscape, ready to jump in and help.

There’s a lot wrong with the 1998 motion picture City of Angels. Namely, I don’t particularly care for either of the two leading actors, Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. If you’re able to put aside their odd facial mannerisms and non-existent on-screen chemistry, it’s an interesting little story. The gist is that we’re surrounded by invisible, well-intentioned celestial beings. For some reason, in this depiction, they’re all dressed like Columbine shooters. Clad in long, black overcoats, they gather on the beach each morning to watch the sunrise and hear Heavenly music. Then, they go about their day, watching over people in operating rooms, coffee shops, and a public library. It turns into the age-old tale of an angel falling in love with a human and facing the decision of trading his endless, supernatural existence for one of human fragility. What I like about it is the portrayal of us being surrounded by these loving, Heavenly bodyguards.

One was definitely there this morning and I was ever so grateful.

Quotes from City of Angels

Maggie (human, surgeon, played by Meg Ryan): Something happened in my OR. And, I got this-this jolt - I got this feeling that there's something... bigger is out there. There's something bigger than me and bigger than you, and it- Does that sound crazy?

Seth (angel, played by Nicolas Cage, speaking to Maggie, a surgeon): I came to take Mr. Balford... and I saw you. I couldn't take my eyes off you. How you fought for him. And you looked right at me... like I was a man.

Seth: I always asked the dying what they liked best about living. Wrote it down in my book. This is it. This is what I like best.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
                                                                Psalm 91:11

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Method to the Madness

My approach to housework can be described as sporadic. There are times when I get a burst of energy and the gift of a few, unspoiled moments and I clean that place within an inch of its life. As if a Civil War General has just said, "M'am, we have some soldiers in need of an operation...can we trouble you for the use of your kitchen counter?" I will pick up, clean, and disinfect every surface within sight. Then, as is more often the case, I do well to do a quick pass, picking up larger items and kicking the smaller ones under the couch and coffee table.

By no means am I "granola" or a "tree hugger," but I do have pets and children and adults who act like children in my home, and I don't like using too many harsh chemicals around them. Plus, all those chemicals are not a fresh manicure's friend. So, I started using a couple of products from Method. Method prides itself on using naturally-derived, biodegradeable products that smell nice, clean well, and look pretty. They do. I'm not ashamed to leave them sitting out. They're not much more than other cleaning products and you can catch them on sale at Target from time to time.

Here are two of my faves:

This is the dish liquid. It's a pump and works well. It may be all in my head, but I think the pump action saves time instead of having to turn up a bottle and either squeeze or wait for a drop to drip out. Combined with a Scrub Daddy sponge, they knock out a sink full of dishes in no time.

And this is just an all-purpose cleaner. It says you can use it on glass but I felt it left it a little smudgy. It's great for kitchen counters and this cucumber scent will give you Spring Fever and makes the house smell delicious.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spring Cleaning Post #1

It’s that time of year (or at least I want it to be.) I want to hear lawn mowers and smell freshly cut grass. I want to hear baby birds chirping and wonder if I need a light sweater this morning rather than “which heavy coat should I wear today?” With spring, though, comes spring cleaning.

I’ll write a couple of posts on cleaning topics and gauge the interest level. Today, I’ll share some tips and shortcuts I’ve picked up along the way.

The Case of the Clean Ceiling Fan
                Use an old pillow case to clean ceiling fan blades. For each blade, gently slide the blade into the case, then pressing with both hands, on top and on bottom of blade, slide the case along the blade while pulling it back towards you. This removes the majority of the dust, trapping it in the case. Then you can wipe the blade with a wet microfiber towel to remove the rest. The built-up dust can fall and will stain carpets and furniture if it lands on anything cloth.

Take your garbage disposal from “what’s that smell?” to “that smells swell” in no time flat
                Run hot water from your faucet into your sink until it’s gotten as hot as it will get. Turn off. Drop ½ of a lemon, some ice cubes, and some table salt into your disposal. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, then turn disposal on for a few seconds, followed by running with the hot water going. Turn disposal off and allow hot water to run for a couple of seconds more.

Basket Case
                I use an adaption of this tip. An article I read suggested buying cheap laundry baskets, one for each member of the family. As you go around picking up, you simply toss each item into its owner’s basket. Then the basket goes to the appropriate room. My version has a basket for each room.

Shower Power
                It’s not pretty, but I clean the inside of my stand-up shower while I’m in the shower. I keep a scrubby sponge, an old dish brush, and my cleaner (Soft Scrub) in there along with my other products. Once a week, I’ll put a deep conditioner in my hair and then spend a couple of minutes scrubbing down the interior. At the end, my hair is free from split ends and my shower is sparkling.

Be Our Guest
                When I’m cleaning for anticipated company, I hit the areas I know they will surely visit:  the entryway/foyer, the guest bath, and the kitchen. Then, I move out in a radius from there, cleaning as I have time and doing less and less the farther away I get from the entry. Also, I suggest sitting where your guests will sit – the living room couch, a dining room chair. It is here that you will see a spider web on a light fixture or a random sock under a coffee table. See things from their perspective and you’ll clean more for them than yourself.

Bag Lady
               In the home office, bedroom, and bathrooms, I line each waste basket with a plastic grocery bag. Luckily, I almost never remember to take my reuseable bags with me to the grocery so I have a good stash of plastic ones. In addition to putting one in the can, I put a couple extra down in the bottom so when I pull out a full one to throw away, there are extra empty ones awaiting their turn.

Chore Box
               A friend of mine suggested this many moons ago and I’ve had limited success with it. Like a diet, it works best when you do it. Take a recipe card box and fill it with a stack of blank index cards. On each card, write down one household chore:  Run a load of clothes. Empty & reload dishwasher. Dust dining room table. You fill out the cards until you’ve listed everything you do to clean every room in your house. Then each day, you’re supposed to pull a certain number of cards. Something reasonable and feasible. Depending on the involvement of the chores you pull, you may just do one or you might knock out five or six.  Once you’ve done the chore on that card, you move the card to the back of the stack, and pull a new card from the front. The theory is that by the time you make a full circuit, your house is more or less clean. My problem is that a room I’ve just cleaned dirties itself while I’m walking out.

Need more tips? Check back soon. Have a tip? Please do tell!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hey, Wait Up!

While leafing through my child’s social studies text book, preparing for the lesson ahead, I came across this little jewel, and it made me chuckle. 

The caption reads: Immigrant children arriving in the 1930s wave at the Statue of Liberty. 

A couple of things struck me as odd. First, I’m afraid they may be from Germany and Herr Wolf taught them how to wave. Check out the girl on the far right. That is classic SS form there. 

But what truly struck me was the young boy on the far left. While everyone else is looking out and waving at Lady Liberty, Friedrich, we’ll call him, is looking for a piece of gum. And the cold, stark realization sunk in.   I am Friedrich. 

Often suffering from that “day late, dollar short” feeling, I constantly struggle to take two steps: one to catch up and another to, hopefully, get ahead. It’s a work in progress, let’s just say. 

So, on this Friday, I wish you a happy and productive end of your week and that all your steps are ahead.

How the dinosaurs went extinct.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

You Had Me at "Hello"

Here's an interesting article on the power of a simple gesture: saying "hello." 

I'll be the first to admit that I am not a "people person." I'm not particularly shy, by definition, but I suffer from social anxiety. My comfort-level in social circumstances is to fly beneath the radar, being perfectly pleasant but not sitting in anyone's lap. The whole notion of "working a room" is lost on me. It's something, as a professional, that I've had to deal with over the years, usually quite clumsily. I've attended countless business lunches, dinners, and functions where I circled the room for ten minutes, said hello to people I knew, introduced myself to ones I didn't, and then promptly took my place at a safe location -- my assigned seat or perhaps a back corner. 

Part of my reluctance to be a social butterfly is my mid-term memory. If I know your name, I'll say hello by name. "Good morning, Fred. How are you?" But if I don't have that 100% feeling, you may just get a nod and a "hey there." But I will say something. 

At each job I've held, there's always been the requisite grump. You might have encountered this person or may even be this person at your job. You pass them in the hall, you nod and say hello, sometimes even by name, and they may or may not return your nod and they don't say a word. I've always found this behavior curious and wondered what would make someone act this way. I mean, here I am, a self-proclaimed hermit, and I still break out of my proverbial shell enough to say "how do?" But then, guess what? I got to know my last grump and she surprised me. We found ourselves paired up on a project over a period of time and, over the course of that project, I realized she was not grumpy at all. In fact, she was brilliant and funny and shy.

So, today's lesson is to give folks the benefit of the doubt and don't be so quick to judge that book. It's cover may be frosty and not very cuddly, but there could be something spectacular inside.

“I believe every single person deserves to be acknowledged, however small or simple the greeting.” -Howard White, VP for Nike’s Jordan Brand

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

I read this Bible passage with my daughter the other night: 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
Matthew 7:3

Which reminded me of a poem I read a long time ago in school. I tried retelling it from memory and, suffice it to say, she was not impressed. Ah, youth is wasted on the young. 

A portion from Robert Burns' 1786 poem To a Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet, at Church:

O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Days ending in "y"

Today’s To Do List
  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Try to adhere to the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at            all” rule.
  • Floss.
  •  When I get home, hang my clean clothes up and put my dirties in the hamper. (Also do this for ones I wore over past week.)
  • Be grateful for this day and all that it holds.

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 KJV

Monday, February 17, 2014

Show Business

A friend commented how embarrassed she was by how much she enjoyed the movie Frozen. That got me thinking about kids’ movies that I’ve really enjoyed, especially in the ten-ish years I’ve had a child and a valid excuse to go to the theatre to see such a flick. Here’s my list of the children’s movies I’ve most enjoyed over the past ten years. 


It will make you believe again.

The whole Shrek series was groundbreaking, I believe, in all the hidden humor for parents.

If you were a fan of Friends and missed it once it went off the air, you'll enjoy David Scwimmer's performance.
Very Geller-esque.

Emma Thompson does a bang up job.

Kevin James as an adorable bovine. It's talking animals. Just doesn't get much better.

Will Ferrell doesn't do his usual monkeying around as the Man in the Yellow Hat.

I enjoyed the whole Ice Age series.

This year, Open Season, Over the Hedge, and The Wild all came out about the same time and are seemingly about smarter-than-average-bear animals trying to improve their lives. 

It bordered on propaganda at one point but, if you like Seinfeld, you'll like Bee Movie.

Ratatouille was a great underdog film.

Usually film titles with numbers in them (a.k.a. a sequel) are not nearly as good. Shrek 3 is close to tipping over but it's still great writing and execution.

One of my favorite movies of all time. I'm a Steve Carell fan, which helps, but Jim Carrey is lovable and Carol Burnett turns in another villain you'll love to hate.


Great series. Ben Stiller turns his goofy self into a lovable underdog hero.

Johnny Depp at some of his weirdest, wonderfulest.

I enjoyed all of the Narnia films but this one was just pretty to watch.

Again, I'm a Carell fan but he won my heart all over again.

Jack Black finds a character that works with his over-the-top goofiness.

Went into the theatre dreading this one and looking at my watch and was surprised. Sweet story.

I was terrified and saddened when we started watching movies with "real people in them" (rather than strictly animated ones) but was happy that it wasn't too grown up and still preserved the magic of childhood.

One of my favorite series. Next best thing to talking animals? Talking toys.

Another one I went into dreading and was pleasantly surprised. It's another pretty movie and catchy songs that you'll find singing while vacuuming.

I was excited to pass along these childhood friends to the next generation. Hank Azaria as Gargamel is wonderfully wicked. 

OK, maybe I have a thing for Kevin James. But, hey, talking animals.


Another public service announcement wrapped in a movie, but toe-tapping songs and a decent story line keep it moving.

Bum-bum-bum-da-bum...afro circus!

Adam Sandler (and just about any other goofy actor he ever worked with on SNL) finds an outlet and come across as less annoying and more endearing. He's actually fairly genius in this one.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Father Bother

Although I’ll only have one Daddy,

I was blessed to have several Dads growing up and I lost another this week with the passing of Ralph Waite, better known as John Walton, Sr., John-Boy’s father on The Waltons. Here’s a look at my family album:

Mike Brady, architect
Robert Reed, 1932-1992
What I learned from him:  Why perms are never a good idea, how to have a good home/work balance, conflict resolution, how to tell a story while driving home the moral.

Phillip Drummond, millionaire
Conrad Bain, 1923-2013
What I learned from him:  to be color blind, that carrying a briefcase makes you look important, and that an ice cream sundae can fix just about anything.

Heathcliff Huxtable, obstetrician
Bill Cosby, 1937 –
What I learned from him:  that you actually can have too many children, to expect excellence from those around you, to work hard but not forget to have fun.

James Evans, odd jobs
John Amos, 1939 –
What I learned from him:  Frugality, family is the most important thing, work ethic, you don’t have to have a lot of money to have a good time.

Charles Ingalls, farmer, mill worker
Michael Landon, 1936-1991
What I learned from him:  Work ethic, being a good friend and neighbor, helping those around you and doing good deeds comes back to you.

John Walton, lumber mill worker
Ralph Waite, 1928-2014
What I learned from him:  You can have too many children, a love of nature, a willingness to help those in need goes a long way.

Andy Taylor, law enforcement
Andy Griffith, 1926-2012

What I learned from him:  Patience, gentleness, to listen more than you speak, and to never trust Barney with a loaded gun.