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I Gave My Kids The Talk Using Puppets

While I used a variety of puppets in my show, these two ladies didn't make the cut!

While I used a variety of puppets in my show, these two ladies, my first puppets, didn’t make the cut!

There has been a lot of breast-beating and angst about how bad 2016 was and many are happy to have it behind them. The beauty of this attitude is that everyone is up for something new in 2017, so I would suggest going to a puppet show.

What comes to mind when you hear the words Puppet Theater? Do you think of kids and Sesame Street? Maybe you’ve seen the movies Magic or Child’s Play and find puppets creepy. Team America: World Police was amazing and funny and may have introduced you to puppet sex. In 2015, I was fortunate enough to see the puppet movie, Anomalisa, after reading a review by Ian Freer. This quote is what hooked me: Anomalisa has more heart, soul and pathos than 99.9 percent of live-action movies. The best hotel-set love story since Lost In Translation.”

Many people view puppets with some trepidation, which make them not open to seeking out contemporary puppet theater. Case in point: I was telling some dear friends at a party last week about a recent puppet show I’d seen and they looked at me like I’d grown a puppet head! This is a shame, especially for those living in the Chicagoland because not only are we home to some great puppet theater companies as described in my 2014 piece, Puppet Shows Art Not Just For Kids, we will be host to the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, which takes place from January 19-29, 2017.

The only way I can describe how amazing contemporary Puppet Theater is this: I never ate salads as a young woman until someone convinced me to try a Caesar Salad at a fancy restaurant in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 80s. It was so delicious that it was literally life changing. A whole new world of food opened up to me during that dinner.

I’m not sure that I ever gave puppets much thought after putting on a performance in my grade school talent show back in the 70s. My brother and I had received marionettes for Christmas. We wrote a puppet show, my dad built a theater on wheels and my older brother drew the backdrops. I don’t remember if it was well received but we never performed again.

Fast-forward forty years and I’m a student at the SAIC. I found myself taking Performance and Puppetry with Blair Thomas. I was attracted to puppets because I love miniatures and unlike drawing or painting, the sky is the limit on materials you can use in building puppets.

In Blair’s class we learned how to make shadow and hand puppets and practiced performing small skits. Our final project was to create a puppet show and perform it in front of an audience, kind of like a puppet slam. My fourteen-puppet, fifteen-minute show was called The Talk. As a mother of teens and preteens I was preoccupied with the lack of guidance on how to give the sex talk to my kids. I polled the twenty somethings in my puppet class and learned that none of them had ever been given the talk by their parents. That was all of the encouragement I needed!

My plan was to give a lighthearted, yet thorough, sex talk during my show. One of the beautiful things about puppetry is that puppets can get away with saying and doing things that a person cannot and once a puppet looks you in the eye, you’re hooked.

So I built puppets of a dating couple, their parents, and the STD Flower. Mr. Hand recited the five criteria a couple needs to meet before entering into a sexual relationship. I made a chorus consisting of the male and female genitalia, a condom and a dental dam.

I practiced in front of a mirror for weeks, memorizing my lines using fourteen different voices. I worked so hard that naturally I expected my family to come see the fruits of my labor. My classmates were somewhat surprised that I planned to bring my children, elementary through high school to the show. Not only was my show a bit racy but so were some of the others.

“They’ve seen you rehearsing your show, right?”
“Well, No. I thought this would be the perfect venue for them to get the talk.”
“Oh, boy.”

Oh boy is right! Fourteen minutes of my puppet show was enough to scar them for life. My daughter attends University of Connecticut, one of only two schools in the United States with a puppetry major.

“Would you consider taking one puppetry class?”
“Mom, I hate puppets. I will never take a class nor go to a puppet show again.”
“Ouch!”

My children don’t seem to remember the beautiful marionette show we took them to see while on vacation in New York, or The Nutcracker performed by the Puppet Co. in Glen Echo, Maryland. They claim to have never seen Sesame Street because we didn’t have a TV during their preschool years.

The bottom line is that seeing your mom perform a show with puppets talking about having sex with each other, along with singing penises and condoms may have been a bit too much. Sadly, I may have ruined them for puppetry forever but thankfully, my husband, who has thicker skin and a shorter memory, is taking me to the puppet festival this month!

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Anyone Can Create A Still-Life Self-Portrait!

After culling a gigantic herd of objects, this is my still-life self-portrait!

After culling a gigantic herd of objects, this is my still-life self-portrait!

I recently taught a self-portrait class to the kids at my studio. I didn’t offer them mirrors because I was hoping to give them the freedom to create themselves without the limitations of looking at their faces. The girls dove in and drew, painted and embellished fun versions themselves but the boys were resistant at first. They eventually settled in and had fun creating themselves as Minecraft blocks and super heroes.

I realized that asking someone to create a self-portrait is a tough request. How do you go about it? I think we are the sum of our life experiences, the things we love, and the places we’ve been. How do you capture that in a drawing or painting? I don’t know that most people can but I do believe that you can reveal your essence in a still-life self-portrait, which is essentially a collection of curated objects.

Still lifes are created when an artist paints, photographs or sculpts a collection of items, and self-portraits are paintings, photos or sculptures created of the artist by the artist. Still-life self-portraits are made when a person compiles things that are meaningful to him to craft a portrait of himself. These arrangements can be photographed or painted and may have a legend included with them. I first fell in love with the notion of the still-life self-portrait when I came across Still Life in The Wall Street Journal’s monthly magazine. The idea is instead of constructing an image of your physical self, you create a vignette of objects in your life that reflect who you are.

Each Still Life showcases a famous person. A couple of months ago, that person was the romance writer, Danielle Steele. She put together a collection of things that she loves, such as her deceased son’s stuffed animals, the typewriter she’s written her novels on, and a portrait painting of herself. I love these because they are beautiful and inviting and I found myself not looking at the separate pieces but at the vignette as a portrait of Ms. Steele.

I figured that I would try to do my own still-life self-portrait. It was not as easy as I thought. While I’ve made clutter portraits of my kids and myself, paring my life down to a few objects was challenging. In order to build a still-life self-portrait, you need to curate your things. I realized that I didn’t want to clutter my portrait while at the same time, I didn’t want to miss anything, plus I wanted the sum of the parts to make a “picture” that was me.

So I began pulling stuff from around the house and piling them on a desk in my living room. It was beginning to look like a junkyard. Things started to get out of hand when I began compiling the cosmetics, creams, and combs that I use to get ready each morning onto the bathroom counter. Kind of like Monet’s Haystack paintings, I realize that I am someone different during each part of the day, a benevolent Sybil. What to do? Do I create a montage of who I am or who I want to be? The best thing to do when confronted with a problem like this is to power through it. So I continued to pull stuff and as things piled up I realized that I wanted my portrait to be more simple and elegant.

What I discovered was that my collection was going in a different direction than I had anticipated. It wasn’t about the things I do or places I’ve been but about the people I love most. There was none of my artwork, or things from my travels, and nothing that indicated that I love writing more than anything else. My treasures were nestled on a silver mirrored desk, a nod to my love of glitz. Above the desk is a big Thomas McKnight lithograph of an artist’s loft, the first piece of art given to me by my mom and the artsy chair, the last, the pink tourmaline given to me by my dad to wear on my wedding day, my favorite photo of my kids, my favorite romance novel, and a hand-built house made by a dear friend. The final piece is a sculpture of a frog prince, given to me by my husband on the birth of our only daughter.

Not only was this a fun and therapeutic process, it also allowed me to create a meaningful vignette in my living room. If you are interested in creating and sharing your own Still-Life Self-Portrait, I’ve created a Still Life Self-Portrait Facebook Page where you can share your photos! If you need more inspiration check out The Annotated Room in The Wall Street Journal and Show Us Your Wall in The New York Times.

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Letting The Random Be Your Guide

Sometimes something as random as a knocked over Christmas tree can lead to a new career.

Sometimes something as random as a knocking over the Christmas tree can lead to a new career.

Imagine you’re an aspiring actor whose working as a mail room clerk to pay your bills. You’re hanging with your family at Christmas and you clumsily knock over the tree, breaking seventy-five years of ornaments. What do you do? After unsuccessfully trying to hunt down replacements, if you’re Christopher Radko, you find a glassblower, design new ornaments from memory, and revolutionize the Christmas ornament business.

Believe it or not, Christopher Radko’s story is not uncommon. Many people change the course of their lives based on a one-off experience or suggestion of a stranger. Take Victor Wong, a video game designer who had a midlife crisis in a hotel room. He found himself revived after sniffing the hotel toiletries. He was so inspired that he became a perfumier and launched the very popular animalistic-scented perfume, Beaver.

Then there’s Tommy Hilfiger, the clothing designer. After seeing the Who playing My Generation at Tanglewood in the 1960s, he was inspired to open a clothing store in New York. Richard Horowitz, a timpanist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra became the maker of bespoke batons after Karl Böhm broke his baton. Mr. Horowitz crafted a new one in the Met’s boiler room and his second career was born.

A number of years ago, I was caravanning with a group of parents to pick up my son from summer camp in Pennsylvania. We stopped for lunch after the pickup and I found myself sitting with one of the dads who I’d never met before. He spent a bit of time talking about the food and the restaurant and his love of pizza, I found myself saying, “You should open a pizza place.” Years later I had learned that he had.

As we all know, it can sometimes be difficult to take our friends’ and loved ones’ suggestions but somehow a stranger’s ideas seem more palatable. A stranger is not invested in our choices, they don’t know what baggage we may be carrying, and they don’t have the concerns of our family members. They may see something in us that we are passionate about or good at and feel compelled to make a suggestion. I do it all the time. I was eating in a local restaurant last weekend and our server was fabulous. She told us she was a student at the local community college.

“What do you think you want to do?”
“Open an animal shelter.”
“Cool, are you taking any animal science classes?”
“No, just business classes; I don’t like blood.”
“You’re one of the best waitresses I’ve ever had. Have you considered hospitality?”
No. I don’t want to be a waitress forever.”
“What about having your own place or working for a corporation?”
“Hmm…That’s an interesting idea.”

People outside our situations can often see them better than us! I am just coming off a fabulous family reunion and I have my buddy, Joanne, to thank for it. A couple of months ago we were discussing our plans for the holidays and I told her that I was unsure of whether to travel to see family or not. She suggested spending Thanksgiving at the beach in New Jersey. My family hadn’t celebrated an off-season holiday at the beach since my Dad’s last Christmas nearly twenty years ago. So I floated the idea to my siblings and was shocked when they all agreed to come. It turned out to be a wonderful holiday, which included some of the kids taking post-Thanksgiving dips in the ocean!

It is not uncommon for me to make life-changing choices in this random manner. Three years ago my entire family vacationed together in Mexico. My sister taught a yoga class every day, while I did an art project. By the end of the week, she said to me, “You need to open a place and teach art.” I was like, “That’s crazy!” I found myself mulling it over for months and discussed it with my husband. He was naturally concerned about the amount of work it would be, the cost, and if I would be available to our kids. A year later, I ran the idea by a stranger who’d order a dog from the same breeder as I had. We were waiting at O’Hare for our puppies to arrive. She was a small business owner and told me to go for it. So I opened Doodle Art & Design and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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For Better Memories, Leave Your Camera Behind

 

My sister-in-law created such a beautiful setting we felt like we were attending a wedding!

My sister-in-law created such a beautiful setting we felt like we were attending a wedding!

My husband and I were walking our dogs a couple of weeks ago when I looked up and saw the supermoon. I had forgotten that it was due to appear, and it stopped me in my tracks. It was big, gilded, and delicious, and I vacillated between wanting to grab it out of the sky, and wanting to run home and grab my camera. Over the next few days I’d spot it, no longer gold but faded to silver, through the trees on my early morning run. I promised myself I’d get my camera as soon as I got home but the sun and my rising kids got in the way. As it waned, still spectacular, so did my chance to capture it.

I take a lot of pictures pretty much on a daily basis. When my kids were little, I missed entire school shows because I was always behind the camera. I look at the world as groups of compositions and am often compelled to photograph what I see. I ask strangers for their iPhones so I can photograph them when I see a great moment. They never say no. So for me, not to photograph the supermoon was odd but may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I now have a picture of it permanently imprinted on my brain, along with the feeling of delight I had when looking at it.

Some say that when you look at a photograph of an event, it changes your actual memory of it, and when you recall an undocumented memory, it changes according to where you are in your life. If you are in a good place you may embellish your recollection in a positive way. I believe that this phenomenon enriches your experience of the occasion. So I’ve been thinking that perhaps not every holiday or milestone needs to be photographed. Since the moon has left with no physical trace in my life, I have found great pleasure in calling up my memory of it. Unlike a photo to be happened upon, I recall it at will. I turn it over in my head, and like a delicious dessert, savor it. I see its sheer size, glowing yellow, as it sits behind the trees. It makes me believe in magic and I don’t think a photo can’t conjure up that same feeling.

I have tens of thousands of photos that I have made over the years. There are so many that I can’t always find a particular one when I need it. I feel like the well-documented times in my life are the times I remember the least. My wedding day is pretty much contained in my album. It’s as if recording an occasion gives us leave to not remember it. My mom didn’t have a photographer at her wedding and I have a strong visual of how it must’ve been from her descriptions. I can see the huge tea roses that she got cheap because they were in their last bloom, the flowing champagne, and her in her tiny, lace wedding dress.

I’ve often feel regret that I didn’t have a way to record every important event in my life. But would I remember them so richly if I had a photo to fall back on? While I took a lot of pictures of my kids, I never got photos of the more mundane aspects of motherhood, like comforting them, reading them the same book twenty-five times in a row, or nursing them. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and she wisely responded, “Some things are just supposed to be experienced in that moment and then never again. The enjoyment is that it is a beautiful and fleeting part of your life.”

So I’m rethinking my relationship to making photographs, especially as I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. I will be with my entire family, something that is rare these last few years. I have brought my camera with me but I’m not sure that I am going to use it.

Afterward: I did end up taking some photos at Thanksgiving; the staged ones of the jumping cousins are keepers but the others are not. It is difficult to capture a dignified photo of your mom, who is well into Alzheimer’s, with her grand kids but it didn’t stop me from trying. I will always remember Thanksgiving 2016 as beautiful and festive, a time of laughter during a post-dinner Family Feud game, and of my mother turning to me after our feast and saying, “Don’t ever change, you make people laugh.”

When Self-Control Won’t Sustain You, Good Habits Will!

The billiards balls are always racked up and ready for me!

The billiards balls are always racked up and ready for me to shoot after my weight-lifting session!

Every morning after my run, I lift weights and then reward myself with a solo game of pool. This combo of activities is based on the habit-forming notion of pairing. Pairing is when you take an activity you love, like watching an indulgent TV show, eating something “bad,” or in my case, playing pool, and couple it with something good for you, such as thirty minutes on the stair climber, a two-mile run to the bakery, or for me, lifting weights. This has become part of my new self-improvement program.

Like many of you, I’ve had some bad habits I’ve wanted to clean up and some good habits I’ve been hoping to adopt. The first on my list is healthy eating and fitness. I’ve always found myself unable to stick with any program. In addition to trying and failing on Atkins, South Beach, Get In Shape for Women, and Weight Watchers, I also failed on my own painful invention, The Tourniquet Diet, which required me to wear a pair of too-small jeans in order to control my eating.

Two years ago, I started working with Amy Cox, of Omstead, a health coach in my town. She has helped me to improve my cooking skills and my family and I eat much better now. One drawback to cooking was that I found myself having a glass of wine or two while making my lovely meals. I also indulged in bread and desserts on weekends. My exercise habits were nearly non-existent now, owing to some injuries and inertia. My goal has always been to lose weight and look better but that has never kept me motivated. I didn’t have the willpower. It never occurred to me that another tactic might do the trick until I discovered Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project.

I was listening to an interview with her where she was discussing the idea that if you put good habits and rules into your life, then you won’t need willpower. I found this intriguing and bought her book, Better Than Before. In it she talks about how to form good habits based on your personality. For example, if you are a night owl, don’t plan on exercising in the morning, instead carve out time in the afternoon or evening. To form good habits you need to know yourself and work with who you are–no personality change required.

Ms. Rubin begins by saying you need to clean up your eating, start exercising, and get adequate sleep before you can move onto forming other habits. Good eating and exercise were my main goals, so I was intrigued by what other habits might follow. After reading it, I immediately emailed her asking if she had a worksheet to go with the book. She didn’t, so I created my own series of four Habits Worksheet based on the ideas in her book.

I figured these would help me to discover my strengths and weaknesses, and give me the data to form an action plan. Armed with my worksheets, I got started. I am a morning person so I enlisted my very reliable and fit husband to help me get up and exercise, which he agreed to do. I cleaned up my diet, not because I want to look better but because my mom has Alzheimer’s disease and I want to take care of my brain. Recent studies show that getting exercise, eating a low-carbohydrate, high fat diet, getting enough sleep, and practicing meditation are the best things for the brain. So where vanity has failed me, my desire to keep my brain healthy has sustained me!

Three and a half months into my new habits regimen, I am eating healthy and exercising every day. While cooking great meals I have my cocktail of mineral water with a garnish instead of a glass of wine. I discovered that I am most productive in the mornings, so I convinced my husband to get up with me at four-thirty a.m. during the week. In return, I cook him a hot, healthy breakfast. I’ve carved out the time to create a bi-weekly newsletter, which has been on my things-to-do list for ten years. My early morning start time has also allowed me to pair walking my elderly dog while having a cup of coffee. It’s a nice way to start the day!

If you’re looking to clean up your life, I highly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s book. If you’d like to get copies of my worksheets inspired by Better than Before, you can find them on my  Habits Pinterest Board!

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Out With A Bang!

butch-cassidyMy dog, Rainbow is fifteen years old, She is still chugging along but her body is breaking down. Since I’m the one who will eventually choose when to put her down, I have set some criteria to guide me. I have a $5,000 limit on medical bills. Anything costing more, I allegedly won’t authorize. Incontinence and an inability to walk unaided are deal breakers. What I didn’t take into account was the cost of various procedures I’ve had done to Rainbow this year. My husband and I have spent nearly $2,000 on her health problems. Do I say no if some $3,000 intervention is required in the coming months or even next year? My family and I grapple with how long we let her live. The good news is that when her time comes, I will be able to choose to put her down in comfort with family around her.

So why on earth, can’t we do the same thing for our human family members, even in right-to-die states? I read a harrowing article recently about a woman with ALS, who chose to die. She found it difficult to find a doctor to guide her and her family through the process. Even though they eventually found one, her death consisted of the family breaking open tablets of meds and making a cement-like cocktail, which she could barely drink. There was no time for songs and prayers, just a desperate race to help her get it down. After she passed, the house was smoky with the powder from the pills. My dog will have a more humane end to her life than this poor woman. Why do I think about this stuff? Because my mom has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past seven years and I can’t help but worry about my own future.

My mother has lived in my brother’s loving home with twenty-four hour care, for the last three years. Thankfully she has the resources to pay for this care, which also makes her living with my brother and his family manageable for them. If I were to end up like my mom, I will not be in the same financial situation and have the kind of care that she enjoys. Many of my friends are dealing with parents with dementia and like me, worry about getting this disease and becoming long-term burdens to their children. Most of them are in their fifties and are beginning to think about downsizing sooner rather than later. Some are not even sure they want to stick around until the end.

One friend’s husband has requested that when he can no longer care for himself he be put in a dinghy and set out to sea. Another has asked me to be her “plug-puller” because she knows her family won’t do it. I cannot imagine myself clutching her living will in one hand and lunging for the plug with the other, while her sobbing family is trying to tackle me before I can do it. One of my kids has asked me to sign a contract saying he can pull the plug in the event I follow in my mother’s footsteps.

All of these scenarios got me fantasizing about starting a business called Out With A Bang! The idea is that terminal people could plan their deaths. Depending on their desires, they could host a big party beforehand, say goodbye, and then die in a preplanned manner. I’ve actually floated this idea to friends and family on both coasts and was surprised that not only was no one horrified; they thought it was an interesting idea.

I was explaining my concept to one of my sister-in-laws whose mother also has Alzheimer’s. When I told her of the various packages I came up with: Swimming with Sharks (no cage), Skydiving (no parachute), or the Thelma & Louise (convertible included), she didn’t like those choices.
“I wouldn’t want to go that way.”
“How about the Sleeping Beauty? We’d have a big party in castle with all your family and friends; You’d be decked out in a beautiful gown. At the end of the celebration, we’d lay you down in a gorgeous bed with beautiful flowers where you’d say your final goodbyes. You’d get a kiss from your prince, take a bite of the poisoned apple, and off you go! It would be Sleeping Beauty in reverse!”
“Ooh, I like that!”

Just in case you’re thinking I’m crazy, I’m not. There are already businesses that offer end-of-life parties and alternative funerals. There have been articles in the news about terminally ill people planning for their deaths by writing last letters to family and friends and drafting their own obituaries. Some cemeteries are now allowing you to be buried with your pets. Betsy Davis, a young ALS sufferer, recently threw her own end-of-life party, no crying allowed! Everyone celebrated, divided up her things, and then she went up the hill and had her last cocktail. If you think about it, we come into the world somewhat unceremoniously, why not leave ceremoniously? Why not go out with a bang?

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Saving The Earth, One Toilet Paper Roll At A Time

 

You don't need a bidet to clean up after using the toilet, just a bottle of water!

You don’t need a bidet to clean up after using the toilet, just a bottle of water! You can buy a fun four pack of Jiffy Butt Cleaner at www.doodleartanddesign.com!

My new motto is “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should!” It has become my guiding principle when making any purchases and has saved me time, money and clutter. I’ve been using it quite successfully in my personal interactions as well.

I have always thought that if something was being sold I had every right to buy and use it. I never thought about the item’s effect on my health, the environment, and others because I assumed that the manufacturers did all of the research and testing to make sure their products are good for our world and us. Clearly I was a bit naive.

As I pass the half-century mark, I’m finally getting a clue. While I’m realizing that some of my family’s purchases were a bit ecologically irresponsible such as a Chevy Suburban to tote our four kids around, a home bigger than we probably need, and lots of food and toys that come in decadent packaging, it was our toilet paper consumption that really hit home.

Around Father’s Day, I was writing about bringing back the handkerchief and my research revealed that Americans not only use too many tissues and paper towels but toilet paper as well. I honestly never thought of these items as coming from trees, so I began my quest to reduce my family’s paper footprint.

Removing paper towels from the kitchen was painless; everyone began using dish towels, and cloth napkins helped cut down on our paper napkin usage. It would turn out that my beloved, squeezably soft Charmin was probably the worst toilet paper we could use. The average American uses 57 sheets of a 325 to 500 sheet roll per day. It takes 15 million trees to make the 36 billion rolls that Americans use each year. We are literally wiping our butts with our forests and then flushing them down the toilet. I decided to keep track of my toilet paper usage to figure out how many trees I was killing.

I don’t have any extraordinary toileting issues so I was horrified when I seemed to be closing in on one a roll a day! I was so appalled that I immediately stopped my experiment. I realized that I was wadding up way too much toilet paper for one visit to the bathroom. In addition to taking care of my personal needs, I was ripping off fresh sheets to wipe off the sink, blow my nose and capture bugs. I immediately switched to a less soft but more ecologically friendly brand and, men cover your eyes, began using my old perineal cleansing bottle. It’s essentially a portable bidet! You can give your bottom a little squirt without having to rub yourself raw with dry paper. I’ve put together a fun package of them which you can purchase online.

After my toilet paper experiment I found myself applying this principle of responsible consumption to my purchases of food, clothes, and household items. If you want to try it, ask yourself:
1. Is this good for me?
2. Is this good for the environment?
3. Is this good for others?

Now that Halloween is just around the corner, let’s apply the principle to the items you might be tempted to purchase in a place like the pop-up shop, Spirit Halloween. Say you’re looking to buy some of those gruesome, bloody Halloween decorations. Ask yourself:

Are they good for you? Clearly, the decorations will give you pleasure, if you are buying them.

Are they good for the environment? No, neither the making of those rubber rats or the disposing of them. But if you use these items year after year and pass them on to your children and grandchildren, than it’s probably okay.

Are they good for others? Probably not. Not only do they scare little kids, there are plenty of people in our communities who have lost loved ones, some violently. I can’t imagine how horrible it is for them to drive around at Halloween and look at these grisly displays.

Lets try this formula with another controversial purchase, bottled water:

Is it good for you? Maybe, it’s convenient and sometimes delicious but where is it sourced? Some say, as much as 40% of bottled water is tap water.

Is it good for the environment? No, the US throws tens of billions of bottles into landfills each year and there is a huge ecological cost to producing new bottles.

Is it good for others? No, especially if you live in a place like Weed, California. A logging company owns the town’s water supply and they sell the water to the Crystal Geyser folks. Crystal Geyser bottles it and sells it to places as far away as Japan. The people in Weed have been told to find a new water source!

As far as the bottled water situation is concerned, I’d add a fourth criterion: Is it silly? Aside from cities like Flint, most of America’s water supply is safe. In a place like Western Springs where I live, with a reverse osmosis system, we literally have bottled water running through our taps. I can’t believe someone hasn’t already started bottling and selling it! I can hear the jingle in my head: Western Springs coming to you Straight from the Prairie State!

No One Should Have To Do Homework!

A typical teen doing his homework.

A typical teen doing his homework.

Can you imagine coming home from a long day at your job and doing two to seven hours more of the same work? That is what many of our kids experience almost every day. Everyone needs a break at the end of the day to relax, replenish and let any new knowledge and experiences percolate through their brains. Homework has caused many squabbles in my home and I would love to see it abolished. My dream situation would look like this after school: kids pleasure reading, playing, working at a job, helping with chores, and enjoying the outside world and then getting ten hours of sleep.

When my oldest was in second grade I made him cry every time I tried to help with math. So I stopped helping and would write at the top of the sheet, “He doesn’t understand this.” We sent our second child off to college exhausted, with circles under her eyes because she gave up sleep to do AP classes, a sport, chores, and her social life. My high school junior has a crazy ass schedule and says he will rest during his gap year between high school and college. Last year my seventh grader’s math teacher asked me to check that his homework was done each night. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I said, “No. I don’t help with or check homework.”

My last child dislikes doing homework so much that he gets up an hour earlier in the morning to do his work so he has his afternoons free. He’s asked me to champion the “No Homework” movement.

“Why don’t you do your work in school and participate in class but don’t do any homework and see what happens.”
But I won’t get into a good college.”
“You’ll be fine. A middle school principal once told me that anything that happens before high school doesn’t matter.”

What do you do when you get home from work? Do you mow the lawn, cook dinner, and walk the dog? Who would do that if you came home and worked until bedtime? I got a taste of what my kids must be experiencing when I opened a brick and mortar art school seven months ago. A few months into it, a friend and fellow business owner asked me how things were going.

“I love what I’m doing but I’m tired and noticed that my endless creative well is not overflowing as usual.”
“You’re experiencing burnout.”
“I am?”

While I’d heard of burnout, I didn’t think I’d been in business long enough to experience it. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. You can get burnout by working long hours. You can prevent burnout by eating right, exercising, relaxing, and getting enough sleep. As soon as I stopped working on my business seven days a week, I relaxed, started doing neglected chores around the house and my creative juices began flowing again.

I owe the chore part of this remedy to a play I recently saw at the Theater of Western Springs called The Clean House. The story is about a very busy couple that hires a housekeeper who doesn’t like to clean. The wife’s sister, who loves to clean, takes over the housekeeper’s job, unbeknownst to her sister. The cleaning sister poses the question, “How will you know if your husband is cheating if you don’t sniff his underwear while doing the laundry?”

Personally, I can usually find problems in the laundry by eyeballing them but she makes a good point. Doing chores keeps you in touch with your home and family. If repairs are need anywhere or to anyone, you’ll know. Children, who are required to do chores, not only learn time management but also understand that they are not the center of the universe. And here is an added bonus: Doing mindless chores give you a chance to think, daydream, and work out problems.

So try skedaddling out of work early, give your kids a homework pass, and do something fun when you get home. I’ll bet you’ll return to work and your kids will return to school the next day with renewed vigor.

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Books Are Life On Steroids!

The 2005 midnight launch of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince at Mendham Books in Mendham, NJ.

The 2005 midnight launch of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince at Mendham Books in Mendham, NJ.

There has been some back and forth in the news on whether parents should bribe their children to read. It’s really a no-brainer. The answer is Yes! While using bribes to control behavior such as, “You get a coke every time you eat your broccoli,” is a bad idea, bribing your kids to take a leap of faith into something you know they’ll love is a great idea! It’s like teaching them to ride a bike. As soon as you let go of the seat and they pedal a few times without falling, they’re hooked!

I’ve bribed my kids to do various and sundry things with spotty success. Bribing for good grades doesn’t usually work. My brother promised a new iPhone to both his son and his son’s teacher if his son got all A’s. Needless to say, neither of them got iPhones at the end of the year. I did bribe one of my kids to get a job and employment gave him rewards far beyond my inducements.

The bribe I’m most proud of was offering each of my children $10 to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When each kid reached third grade, I taped the money to the fridge. I knew that if I could get them to read that first, fabulous book, they wouldn’t be able to stop themselves from reading the next six. Once a kid reads over 3,000 pages, you’re golden!

Reading is many things but most of all fun. Lisa Lucas, the new head of the National Book Foundation has a goal: help people to love reading! I hope she is successful! I believe that if you can match up a person with the right book, magazine or back of a cereal box, you can get them to love reading!

You can tell your kids that reading will help them get better ACT/SAT scores, it will improve their vocabulary, and make them smarter but most of them don’t care about that stuff. Instead why not tell them that reading books lets them escape to new worlds where they can laugh, cry, or get the bejeezus scared out of them? Better yet, why not sit down with a good book yourself and show them how much fun reading is?

One summer, my family spent some time with a friend’s daughter. While she was beautiful and accomplished in her profession, she seemed a bit clueless and boring and I commented on that to my daughter.

Mary Jo responded, “She doesn’t read. People who don’t read tend to be boring.”
Wow! I think I’ll have to take a poll of my boring friends to determine if this is true! So instead of telling your kids they need to read to build their vocabulary and get smart, tell them they might want to read to be interesting and funny but if you are compelled to use the smart card tell them if they read they’ll never have to study for spelling tests. It’s true.

I have been pondering why I love to read more than any other entertainment. I’ll even forgo socializing if a novel is really good. I deduced that books were like screenplays and my brain was a movie theater. I figured this was why I am rarely compelled to see a movie after reading a book.I thought I had proven my theory when I saw Harry Potter and The Life of Pi because the movies were just as I had imagined them. I’ve tried to further prove my theory by trying to be aware of the “movie” aspect of my reading but found that there is no silver screen in my head. So I was back to square one trying to figure out what is happening in my brain that makes reading so pleasurable.

The answer came during a lovely mother-daughter gathering. One young lady mentioned she was reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the eighth book in the series.
“How is it?” I asked?”
“I love it!” Elizabeth replied.
“Is it a normal Harry Potter novel? I thought it was a play.”
“No, it is only dialogue. It is written by JK Rowling and the playwrights.”
“What about the visuals?”
“There are no visual descriptions. I really think the dialogue was the best part of all the Harry Potter novels.”
“Hmmm…I always thought the visuals were important even though I don’t ever remember “seeing” the stuff happen in any book I’ve read. Why do people find reading so pleasurable?”
“Because it allows us to experience the gamut of life experiences at a faster clip than real life. It is very satisfying because your brain doesn’t make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and actually having the experience! It all occurs in the same part of the brain.”
“Wow! That’s why I can read for hours on end! It’s like I’m living it!”

Perhaps you don’t need to bribe your kids to read after all. Just tell them that reading books registers in their brains the same as playing a video game, watching a movie or going outside and living life. Once they start reading, you can be relieved that in addition to building their vocabularies and getting smarter, they will also learn some of life lessons without ever having to leave the comfort of home!

I Returned Nineteen Pairs Of Pants To Kohl’s

033A3601 2A number of years ago I called L.L. Bean to order jeans. The salesperson asked if I would be ordering a size six, eight, ten, twelve or fourteen. Clearly she had looked at my order history but I was surprised that she would risk embarrassing me by pointing out a possible weight problem.

I’d forgotten about this humiliation until last week when I was swapping out all of my plastic hangers for wood. I came across a pair of black jeans with the tags still on. I hesitated to throw them out because they had made the cut two years ago when I was cleaning out my closet. At that time I found nineteen pairs of Lee jeans, shorts, Capri pants and skorts, all hopefully folded in a plastic bin, waiting for my thin self to return. Each pair was an ambitious size, four or six, with their price tags attached. I calculated the value in my head, over $600 worth of clothing.

I’ve only been a size four once, in my twenties, when a romance turned sour. I was a size six briefly after moving to a new state where I had nothing to do but go to the gym. Size eight was reasonable for me as long as I ate only salads. My body seems to really only be able to cope with nothing less than being a size ten.

My daughter, Mary Jo, came into my bedroom and saw the pants and shorts laid across the bed.
“You know, this is not normal?”
“There are plenty of people like me. I have a friend whose husband has a closet full of different-sized suits.”
“With the tags still on?”
“Well, no.”
“Mom, you bought all of these pants when they were too small for you.”

Of course, she was right. I was always trying to get into the next smaller size; when I was a ten I wanted to be an eight and an eight a six, and so on. Those sizes always seemed attainable because someone once told me that there was seven pounds between sizes. At my current size I’d have to lose thirty-five pounds to fit into those pants.

So what do you do in this case? Do you keep the pants or get rid of them? Would they inspire me to lose weight while packed away in a bin on the top shelf of my closet? Even if I did get thin, would I climb up and excitedly take down those nineteen pairs of out-of-style jeans and shorts and start wearing them or would I be treating my thin self to something beautiful at the nearest boutique?

I called my husband and confessed to hoarding unworn, too-small pants. I told him I was too embarrassed to show up at Kohl’s with nineteen old returns.
“Honey, you’re frugal. You love a good deal. Will you try to return them for me? I’ll let you keep the money.”
“No.”

Maybe Mary Jo would return them. I’d let her keep the refund. She said okay. But then I thought, ” What if Kohl’s think she’s a shoplifter and she ends up in cuffs?” Who brings in nineteen pairs of pants to return with no receipts? My mind was awhirl. I looked up Kohl’s return policy and was impressed that they give store credit for returns older than twelve months and without a receipt. Not bad. I kind of wish I didn’t offer this sweet deal to my daughter. With the several hundred-dollar store credit, I could pick up some new pants.

Feeling like a wimp, I figured I’d own up to my problem and return the pants myself. Since Mary Jo had been willing to do this for me and agreed to come with me for moral support, I would give her the store credit. So off we went to Kohl’s. On arrival at the return counter, I immediately start telling the cashier my saga.
“Do you need to hear my story about these pants?”
“Only if you need to tell it.”
I tried to stop myself but the story spilled out.
She began scanning and ringing up my credit. I was shocked to see that almost all of the amounts were in the three and four dollar range. One was $.68. I ended up with a credit of $70.74.
“What will you do with these clothes? Donate them?”
“Nope, we’ll sell them. People will be fighting over them at these prices.”
All I could imagine was my thirty-five pound, lighter self, rebuying my pants in the not-so-distant future. I would rip them out of another customer’s hands.
“I owned these when I was fat! Now they fit! Let me have them!”

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