Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What are those hand-clapping routines called?

A few months ago, I gave Addie a picture book called, "Miss Lucy had a Baby." The book was an illustrated version of the song we sang as kids, the one we accompanied with a complicated hand-clapping routine with a friend. What on earth did we call those routines? Patty-cakes? I have no idea, but you know what I'm talking about.

As with all books, "Miss Lucy" got me thinking... and I went back to the other songs and rhymes we sang as kids. Did any of them have a chance of connecting with kids in this century?

Since I was a city kid, we did a lot of jump rope and those patty-cake (?) games to songs. One of the jump rope songs went like this: A- my name is Alice and my husband's name is Andy. We come from Alabama and we sell apples. B- my name is Barbara and my husband's name is Bob. We come from Brooklyn and we sell bagels. You get the idea. The basics of the song might be fun, but the structure we used was way too rigid for this new generation. So I played around with the structure, my objective being a profile of America that shows our diversity and the many wonderful places and people we have. The resulting picture book out with some beta readers now, and hopefully I'll get some feedback soon. I plan to send it out to an agent in the next couple months.

But I'm faced with a problem. When I write the cover letter to an agent, how do I describe the origin of the story when I don't know what those hand-clapping routines are called?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My energy-expenditure diet

I have quite a bit of energy that I parcel out during the week into my job, my writing, my loved ones, some cooking, my critique group, some more writing, a little housework, teaching Sunday School, church committee work, and - did I mention - my writing. I find that my energy is no longer the boundless wonder it had been in years past. I have just as much drive and ambition, I just don't have the energy to pour into extras.
If I respond to every stimulus that threatens to tax my available energy, I'll be exhausted. Fatigue lowers my ability to focus, and trying to accomplish things while I'm unfocused makes me less efficient. Then I waste even more energy and begin that familiar downward spiral.

So I've learned to guard my energy and only use it for things that matter, things that satisfy me. I consider it my energy-expenditure diet: when faced with the never ending litany of Hollywood/political/wife-cheating/anorexia scandals, I ask myself: is learning more about these people's bad behaviors worth the energy cost? If the answer is no (and it usually is), I turn the TV off, I don't buy those magazines, and I don't give it more than a few moments thought. In the big picture of my life, those people and their problems are nothing to me. They're not entitled to my energy.

That said, I do get passionate about issues, issues involving rights and justice and fair play and freedoms. I just don't put importance on the same things as the media, and apparently, most of America.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Flat Corbett

Last weekend, the Scranton Times-Tribune's Chris Kelly had another great satirical column on our illustrious Governor Tom Corbett. Great stuff, but when I saw this creation, Flat Corbett, I knew I had to share.
The idea stems from that Elementary School project known as Flat Stanley. A paper cut out of "Stanley" is mailed to various parts of the world and is photographed - beside the Eiffel Tower, on the Great Wall of China, you get the idea. Kids learn about world places without ever going there. The idea has grown, and now people photograph themselves with a Flat Stanley when they travel.

Enter Flat Corbett. Folks all around NEPA who dislike some of our governor's lame policies can print out an image of His Flatness. They can then send in photos showing places and people he's affected without ever traveling around to see the damage he's done.

One policy that rubs me raw is his agreement to not tax Marcellus Shale drilling companies. These companies want what we have. Common sense business says 'we're in the driver's seat- hold out for a good deal.' Did Corbett do that? No, he threw open the doors to the state and said "Go forth and drill." Now the road in front of my house has 30 or more of these water trucks twice a day, every day.
It's more like the Jersey Turnpike than rural Pennsylvania. Our roads weren't designed for those kind of loads and now literally the edges of the road are sagging. Come on, Corbett. If these companies drill and dig and tear down forests to lay pipeline,
they ought to pay for the damage they're causing. Since they're making a fortune off our lands' resources, why shouldn't they pay into our financially strapped school systems?

So I printed out my Flat Corbett. It won't be hard to find places to use him.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Virtually isolated

As if email, browsing the web, playing games, and checking Facebook weren't enough, I keep learning about new ways to spend time online. I've joined the social networks on Google+ and Linkedin (never actually go on either), looked at Twitter (too immediate for me), joined Pinterest (might prove worthwhile), and took a look at Prezi and Glogster.

It's pretty obvious what's happening. Our connectivity is great fun, has lots of potential, can even be addicting. But it also can leave us without personal contact - in a very real sense, virtually isolated.

Project ten years into the future - will we have even more ways to connect virtually? Most certainly yes. Will we as a human race be better off because of it? Hmm - I'm less certain.

I'm convinced we need face to face contact with people, real live people with quirks and strengths and smelly feet, in order to learn to care for each other. We need to get out of our home and walk through the woods and climb a hill and find crayfish under rocks in order to care about our earth. When we as a human race are faced with problems that demand ingenuity, perseverance, and collaborative effort - huge problems like rising sea levels, food distribution, water shortages - what experience will our future leaders draw on?

I'd have more faith in someone who spent their youth building a tree house with 3 friends than someone who sat on a chair and played virtual games. And I have no faith in people whose parents kept them from assuming their responsibilities. But maybe I'm just showing my age.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Taking responsibility

How about this story - the captain of this cruise liner LEFT the ship when it ran aground. Isn't a captain supposed to go down with his ship? Did he just panic and go into survival mode? His bosses called him and told him to go back to his ship, there were casualties. His ridiculous response, "How many?"

Even if the crash itself is found to be an accident - maybe an accident happened without anyone being to blame - it's pretty clear this captain didn't take responsibility for protecting the passengers, his crew, or his ship itself once the incident occurred. Now the law has to step in to get him to pay the price. The price will be enormous.

From a young age, we teach our children to take responsibility for their actions. The classic "Who made this mess?" answered by "Not me" and "I don't know" isn't acceptable, and kids figure that out - unless of course, the question isn't asked or the lame answer is accepted without consequence. How did this captain get so far in adult life without figuring that out?

This morning, I watched some highlights (I question the word choice, but oh well) of last night's Republican candidate debate. The men squawked and pointed fingers at everyone but themselves. One "may" disclose his tax return sometime soon but seemed unclear as to why this needed to be done. Another blamed his ad company for the content of his ads, pushing aside accusations of inaccuracies as par for the course. And of course 'the liberals' were blamed for every problem mentioned, just as 'the Republicans' will be blamed when the Democratic debates occur.

Reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson. "Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon, going to the candidate's debate. Laugh about it, shout about it and when you've got to choose, every way you look at it, you lose." Still relevant over 40 years later.

First candidate who says, "Let's accept the fact that we're in a mess. We need to work together and stop blaming each other in order to get out" gets my vote. And if a ship captain says that, I might get on his boat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Raised in a German household, pt. 3

One of the things I learned on this journey of reading, watching documentaries, and listening to survivor interviews was that people who were Jewish were not the only targets of Nazi aggression. Gypsies were also rounded up and sent to work camps or killed, along with political prisoners (anyone who spoke out or acted against the Reich), people who were deaf, homosexual, physically or mentally disabled, or mentally ill. This first happened to German citizens inside their own country, all part of the horrific Nazi push toward 'racial purity.' The violence escalated as the Wehrmacht pushed into other countries - those citizens were considered lesser humans too, just on the basis of nationality. But it all started with that single concept: 'The only people worth anything are the ones just like me.'

Here in 21st century America, we know better. We teach cultural diversity, we practice religious and ethnic tolerance, we have laws that uphold the rights of all people, regardless of persuasion or ability. Right? Not so fast.

This week, I met with a highly educated woman who expressed this concern (paraphrased): "My son rides the school bus with those children in wheelchairs. I don't want him to catch anything from their germs, because their germs are different than his."

I don't want to minimize the experiences of victims of the Nazis by comparing them to a transportation request, but to me, the attitude is all too familiar. Intolerance is intolerance, like the crazy culture of George Orwell's Animal Farm, where one of the laws posted reads: "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

So intolerance and prejudice are alive and well in America. I personally believe that prejudice against the disabled tops the list.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Raised in a German household, pt. 2

So there was pride in our German heritage. Scores of brilliant scientists and classical musicians were German, and the German zest for life and social connection was contagious. We embraced the culture even as we blended it with our own uniquely American experiences.

Sure I'd seen Hogan's Heroes, I'd seen clips of Nazi-era movies, but those weren't real Germans, just some Hollywood studio version, right? Then in a high school Social Studies class, I saw a documentary about the Holocaust. I was stunned. I felt shame, shame to be part of a race of people that could do that to other people. I couldn't bear it. So for years, I didn't give my German heritage more than a passing glance.

Flash forward to my middle-age. I recognize that everyone has darkness in them, it's our choices that matter. So I reopened my exploration of German heritage and begin to read about the Nazi era. I'll be honest, it's been tough - sometimes I have to put the readings aside and saturate myself in uplifting experiences. But I plowed through.

I'm not interested in war. It's disgusting. Man's inhumanity to man continues to horrify me. But I am interested in the era before the war started, between 1933 when the Nazis came into power and 1939 when England and Allies declared war on Germany. What were average-Joe Germans doing then? What did they see? Was there any hint at the fallout ahead?

To be continued...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Raised in a German household

All four of my grandparents emigrated from Prussia and Germany during the 1920's. My parents were born in the US, but in their households, German was spoken at home. The food, music, and even the newspaper on the coffee table were all German, and since the children went to US schools, they became bilingual. No ESL programs, no cultural sensitivity or diversity initiatives. I can't imagine what it was like for them during the WW II years, when as young adults they were literally fighting against their cousins in Germany.

When we were kids, my parents played German music on Sunday afternoons. My father banged at household chores and whistled while the German marches played, and my mother sang along as she cooked Sunday dinner. Once my grandmothers showed up, glasses were raised and the marches changed to beer-drinking songs, and 'ja-hoo!' seemed to end every song.

So the culture of Germany prevailed in our household, but not the language. Judy and I weren't bilingual - our parents and grandmothers only spoke German when they didn't want us to know what was going on. As kids do, we tried to sing along with the German songs anyway. The result? Jibberish that imitated the sounds we heard even though we had no idea what we were saying.

Last night, we celebrated my parents' 60th wedding anniversary with a family dinner at - no surprise here - a German restaurant. Amid the sauerbraten and Spaten, an accordion player entertained the clientele with songs, some American and some very German. Judy and I lifted our glasses and sang Ein Prosit as we had since childhood - even our children (third generation in America) know that one. When the other familiar tunes from our childhood Sundays flew out of the accordion, Judy and I sang our German-jibberish in near hysterics as only second-generation kids can.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I go through life in a semi-oblivious state trying to do the best I can with what I've got, paying more attention to local weather and the price of bananas than to the over-emphasized hype regarding politics, sports, and Kardashians that the media throws at me. So I'm not politically savvy, not by a long shot.

But I've read a good deal of history, and I have a pretty good sense of what our Founding Fathers were trying to do when they set us apart from England and established us as a country. They were all about us being independent. I love that. I get that.

Now no man and no country are complete in and of themselves, so even in an independent state there must be relationships. For a government, that's foreign policy but it's also internal domestic affairs, the government's relationship with its own people. As Americans, we have certain rights guaranteed to us by our Constitution and Bill of Rights and for the most part, I trust that my government understands these rights and continues to uphold them on my behalf.

Now I'm not so sure.

Lena from my Writer's Group blogged about the NDAA. I knew nothing about this new law since, as I said, I'm not politically savvy. Plus, my news sources are the local TV channels and the Scranton Times, not exactly world-class information. When I scouted around about what the NDAA is, here's what I found out.

NY Times article

Forbes article

In a nutshell, our government has authorized the US military to detain a US citizen without charges, even on our own soil. Obama says he will never abuse the power this gives him. God help us all.

Even folks with a strong military background object to the potential for abuse that this law provides.  Two 4-star generals talk about the NDAA

The overall message is clear - we as a country are on the blade of a knife. The NDAA which went into effect while we all celebrated the holidays is terrifying step toward a police state. I'm not exaggerating when I say that these same steps have taken place in other countries - Iraq, and 1930s Germany come to mind immediately.

I'll continue to speak my mind because I couldn't live with myself if I didn't. Somebody watch my back.