Friday, November 25, 2011


A New York Times article said,

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Not my gift

Spontaneity is not my gift,

I like options, so making a decision takes away options, because I've decided on a path. However, in keeping options open, I miss opportunities.

This sounds like a no-brainer when I put it in writing: loosen up and take some risks. I wish it were that easy.

I did, however, do two and a half spontaneous things yesterday and I didn't wake up today feeling like my life is a disaster.

One: I joined the Bowers Museum. I bought and online membership and visited the museum with a friend yesterday afternoon.

Two: I signed up for an online writing course with Gotham Writing Workshop. I'll begin a six-week course starting next Tuesday.

One-half: I have a reservation on hold to go to Paris next month using frequent flyer miles. I was able to get a reservation on non-stop flights at a reasonable mileage rate. I'll also be able to add on a hotel room, using points, just steps from Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées.

This is where the rub is: I haven't made the commitment to take the trip. I have the time, the cost for the flight and hotel will come to $140.00 and points. A more spontaneous person wouldn't have hesitated.

What's the point of this post? Perhaps I'm making a public statement about how small risks loom large when a person (that would be me) is overly cautious. Of course I'll commit to taking this trip. I'll enjoy my week in Paris and everything will go smoothly. Another outcome, hopefully, is that I'll build more trust in the value that spontaneity adds to life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Two articles

Two articles caught my attention this afternoon. The first addresses how Americans do not take vacations. It seems that we work all the time. It was on Why is America the "no vacation nation"? One man speaks about the culture in his office: "The running joke at Brock's company is that a vacation just means you work from somewhere else."

The article points out that this isn't the case in other countries where people actually take vacations and they leave their work behind. One of the findings of a study is that Americans get more satisfaction from work than they do from taking vacations. Yet, doing so, says another study cited in the article, doesn't make our economy more competitive than countries where workers take lots of time off for vacation, such as in Sweden, which mandates that workers take five weeks of vacation each year.

 The second article was also reported on, Little people, lots of pills: Experts debate medicating kids. This article addresses the complicated issue of using behavioral drugs to manage kids. Some of the cases cites speak to severe cases, in which drugs appear to be life-saving. Other cases are about kids with mild behavioral issues. Of course, this is a news article and not a formal study. Yet, it raises awareness of what could be an important issue in our culture.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Does anyone else care about this?

Friends from the UK were in California last week. They connected the 4-day Easter holiday and the Royal Wedding holiday with a few vacation days and took a 10-day spring vacation.

I shared with them my post about ethical eating and lamented how difficult it is to find ethically raised food in the United States. I also complained about the difficulty in knowing how the food I buy is raised. Their comment was, simply, all the beef in the UK is grass-fed. That’s the norm.

I was left trying to figure out how those of us in the United States gave away decisions on how food is raised to corporations and government food programs. It doesn’t make sense to me. It makes even less sense when I think about the health crisis in the United States and health care costs. Isn’t anyone connecting this to how our food is raised?

I went to Henry’s Market yesterday. Henry’s is part of Whole Foods, the “healthy” alternative to the grocery market. Henry’s had one very small section of the meat section with grass-fed beef. And, even at Henry’s, it was difficult figuring out which of the chicken products were free-range raised.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ethical Consumerism: Morality at the market

It may have started when my friend Nicole Leimbach encouraged me to buy cage-free eggs. Prior to that I hadn't thought much about which eggs I purchased.

One thing led to another and I've begun to look more seriously into ethical issues surrounding the foods I buy.

I’m following CNN’s Freedom Project this year, which details modern day slavery, a practice that fuels some food-producing industries. Just before Valentine's Day 60 Minutes ran a segment on unpaid child labor in the production of cocoa, the raw product that goes into making chocolate.

I’m taking more time reading labels at the grocery store in an attempt to understand where the food I buy comes from. However, it’s difficult to get that information. As an example, finding free range meats is almost impossible in most neighborhood grocery stores. And, as a chocolate-lover, it’s hard determining which chocolates are fair trade or ethical trade. I’ve also found that I can’t assume that chains like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods stock products that meet my rising ethical standards.

I’m to the point of using my smart phone to search out information while standing in the grocery store aisles.

I discovered Knowmore.Org while doing a search on Endangered Species chocolate. I noticed that some of their chocolates were Fair Trade certified, and others were not. I wanted to “know more.” Knowmore is a good resource that goes beyond the grocery store and posts on other products as well.

It appears that some grocers use terms “natural” or “vegetarian fed” to describe chickens and beef, but these are not the same terms as free-roaming or grass-fed.

This may seem like a lot to do about nothing to most people. However, it is important to think about actions that affect the ethical treatment of people, animals and the environment.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Feeding the Hungry, Nourishing the Soul

CNN posted a powerful and challenging video that highlights a man who didn't become numb when seeing suffering surrounding him.

Here's a link to the video: Feeding the hungry, nourishing the soul.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Flannery O'Connor: The Life You Save May Be Your Own

I have a lot of “favorite” Flannery O’Connor short stories.

Flannery O’Connor’s short story, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," is included in The Complete Stories
This story is somewhat haunting, possibly because O'Connor freely borrows key images from a number of her other stories. For example, the image of the car as a vehicle of freedom and justification is used in Wise Blood (with its main character Hazel Motes noting that a man with a good car doesn't need salvation); and the notion of Catholicism as a dismissible un-advanced and "old" religion by a character who hasn't the patience to think deeply about spiritual things is used in The Displaced Person and other places. And, as is common, the story includes a widowed woman  with an invalid adult daughter who is unmarried. (It's interesting how often O'Connor uses this image since she was a physically afflicted, unmarried adult daughter living with a widowed mother. It's self-deprecating, perhaps, and brings recognition of her own need for grace to the forefront of her stories.)

I’ll try to explain my on-going response while reading the story. I read the story in two sittings: I started it in the morning and completed it the next evening. This story didn't settle easily with me: it took some thinking before it was "satisfying."

Back to the visceral response: As I began to read the story, I realized that I didn’t know it, which was a nice realization because I’ve re-read so many of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, I can’t remember all that I’ve read. I was pleased that to be reading something new. As I got into it, I wanted the story to get along. I wanted it to make progress. I had the impatience common to her characters. Also, as I read,  I found that I didn’t care for the two main characters, Tom Shiftlet (which appropriately rhymes with Shiftless , and he is a scoundrel) and Lucynell Carter, the widow-mother who owned the place that Shiftlet happened upon.

I didn’t like Shiftlet and I didn’t care for his long-windedness, although that’s a usual characteristic of Flannery O’Connor characters – they cover their brokenness by talking a lot about their all-knowing perspective on the world.

I didn’t like Lucynell Carter because she was scheming and selfish. Clearly she thought highly of herself by giving her daughter the same name, Lucynell Carter.

Sidenote: I think that I wanted the characters to be more humorous. Like the Grandmother in A Good Man Is Hard To Find, I wanted characters that made me laugh. None of the five characters in this story entertained me. I thought that they were uncomfortably odd.

Shiftlet is physically broken. Although he has skills, he is a carpenter and he fixes Lucynell’s car later in the story, he is a one-armed man, who early on in the story stretches out both arms in a way that signals the redemptive nature of where the story is headed: "He swung out both his whole and his short arm up slowly so that they indicated an expanse of sky and his figure formed a crooked cross." But the image is lost on Lucynell and her daughter:
“The old woman watched him with her arms folded across her chest as if she were the owner of the sun, and the daughter watched, her head thrust forward and her fat helpless hands hanging at the wrists.”

The story goes on with Shiftlet making references to deep things that disturb his thinking and that Lucynell thinks are plain foolish. For example, Shiftlet talks about a surgeon in Atlanta who had “taken a knife and cut the human heart” and “studied it like a day-old chicken.” Shiftlet is correct in concluding that the motives of the heart are beyond science. And he makes a reference to European monks who sleep in coffins, a reference O’Connor borrows from a James Joyce story, “The Dead,” but again the reference is lost on Lucynell who responds that “they wasn’t as advanced as we are.”

Later Lucynell has Shiftlet marry her daughter in a civil ceremony. But, although it’s "legal," it’s not satisfying to Shiftlet even though it “satisfies the law” as Lucynell tells him. Shiftlet responds that “it’s the law that doesn’t satisfy” him – which expresses a deeper spiritual need that he is currently not aware of.

There’s so much more to the story that I won’t cover here. Shiftlet immediately abandons his legally new wife in a café called The Hot Spot – where he feels more uncomfortable, and later he picks up a boy (note: good deed to cover up guilt and sin), a hitchhiker, who quickly recognizes Shiftlet as a moral liar and calls Shiftlet’s bluff on his waxing and jumps out of Shiftlet's car in disgust. (Hint: The boy becomes the vehicle of grace in the story.)

I like reading Flannery O'Connor stories because they're like a mirror to the soul. I find it impossible to read these stories and not to think about how authentically or in-authentically the characters live their lives. Thus, these stories prompt me to think about deeper issues in my own life.

I hope that you’ll read this story. If so, let me know how you respond to The Life You Save May Be Your Own.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Just Before Sunset

I thought I'd share a bit of my every day life in southern Orange County, California since I spend quite a bit of time at the beach, particularly at the end of the work day.

This video is in Dana Point, just behind Ocean Institute.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lisa or Eddie

I haven't read Andrew Ferguson's Crazy U, but I did read his article "How to get your kid into the Ivy League," which was published in the March 18, 2011 issue of The Week.

Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College

I read stuff like this all the time because "getting kids into the Ivy League" is what I do for a living. Or, at least that was people think/hope I do.

Actually, I'm a former admissions officer who worked at two hyper-selective and desirable universities. I'll post more on that later.

My take-away from Ferguson's article is at the end when he says that the highly competitive admissions process forces kids to eschew being Lisa Simpson. Rather, in applying to college, applicants become charmers, like the character Eddie Haskell in Leave It to Beaver.

I see it all the time and my heart sinks when a bright student comes into my office to discuss his college essays. He'll read the essay prompt and ask me, "What do they (meaning the college admissions committee) want to hear?"

My response to that question is, "What do you want to tell them?" That question usually draws a blank, hopeless stare from the student because like so many, the student sitting across the desk from me has spent his high school years trying to figure out "what looks good" to colleges. Thus, at the crucial point of applying to college, he has no idea what he thinks about anything.

Yes, there are exceptions. I do have some "Lisa Simpsons" coming in to chat. These are the students who get in to the Ivy League. The "Lisa's" aren't looking over their shoulders attempting to figure out their next move by imitating what others are doing. These students have passions and ideas; they have lively minds and are in possession of intellectual vitality. Not only do they read books and complete assignments and participate in class discussions and do interesting things outside the classroom, thinking about what things means comes naturally to these students.

Therein lies the difference between Lisa Simpson and Eddie Haskell.

A Wise Bicycle is live

  A Wise Bicycle is available on Amazon .