Happy Birthday, USA!

Today is my country’s 245th birthday. As we celebrate with parades, parties, and fireworks, I continue to believe that many have forgotten both the struggles we have had to face as a country to be in this place and the many reasons we have to celebrate our birthday.

This year has been similar to the last in terms of struggling with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the numerous political battles that we see around us. The politics make me sad. Some of the polls that we see indicate that the country is divided and that many are uncertain about the future, both for themselves and the country in which we live.

My response is that more than ever before, we must work together instead of fighting with each other. Our priorities must be to educate our children, feed our hungry, reduce the violence that is rampant in our cities and towns, and put aside our political parties for the sake of the greater good.

But it is not my job to lecture or warn my fellow citizens. I feel more strongly than ever before that it is time for unity, celebration, and patriotism. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are all Americans who must continue to fight for the liberty that drove our revolution and Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Happy Birthday, USA! We are grateful for the privilege of living here and I am one who will fight in any way I can to preserve all that is good about this wonderful country. Freedom isn’t free and in honor of the many thousands who have died to protect that freedom, I thank you and the rest of my fellow Americans who do everything possible to continue making this the most wonderful, rich, and prosperous country on earth. Shalom.

Let it rain

What is it about the rain falling that I find so relaxing and sustaining? Maybe it’s because the rain follows many days of 90+ degree days that are wholly unenjoyable. Maybe it’s a form of punctuation to a writing milestone in my book that I reached early in the day. Or maybe it’s the combination of cleansing, revitalizing, and purifying that is a result of the rain.

Although it doesn’t rain very often in this state, I never complain about more than 300 days of sunshine per year. It makes perfect sense that I shouldn’t or don’t want to complain about the rain. The garden likes it although the birds appear to go elsewhere when the skies are dark, gloomy, and wet. If I had the ability to smell my surroundings, I suspect that I would smell cleansing and freshness, but I can only try to remember.

All of this is to say that I am grateful for any day that I can get out of bed, put both feet on the ground, and move around without assistance. This has been a year of loss for me, making my continued survival more blessed than many others.

And so, I will inhale the rain, anticipate upcoming numerous days of sunshine, and continue my gratitude for good health and that of my loved ones. It will be sunny again tomorrow, a reality that will be good for my plants, birds, and me. In the meantime, we desperately needed the rain and it will deter any fires that may have wanted to start. Maybe it’s about taking the good with the bad. Whatever it is, everything is right and poised for nurturance of all that the rain and sunshine may touch. Shalom.

Tastes

Because I am an author with two books in print and two in progress, I frequently wonder what factors contribute to a book’s popularity with the general public. While I would like to believe that it’s the quality of writing and masterful choices of words, I’m beginning to believe that these are the exception rather than the rule.

If you are Stephen King or John Grisham, you will automatically sell millions of books to your loyal followers. I remind myself occasionally that King’s first book was rejected by many publishers before it was finally accepted. Most likely, readers of books such as these appreciate the styles, subject matter, and genres of the authors they buy.

But what about the rest of the reading population, other than the groupies? In many cases, it’s strictly subject matter that drives book purchases. Sometimes the subjects are self-help or fitness. In others, it’s mysteries. Others may prefer historical fiction or biographies. For as many readers as there are, we have that many preferences.

With that established, I hurry to mention that my books were not written with the goal of commercial success. If you wonder why that’s true, either you don’t know me or you are unfamiliar with my work and I can explain it here.

Someone whom I love and respect pointed out that fewer than 1% of authors attain recognition, commercial success, or best seller status. The true purpose of writing can and must be the cathartic process of filling empty screens with words and characters. Doing so becomes the act of sharing a message of some sort with those willing to receive it.

It makes sense that well-known authors probably have similar objectives. Monetary gain may play into the decisions to publish more books. Again, it will depend on the author and his or her financial status and goals.

As always, I can speak only for myself. If any of my books became best sellers, I suspect that I would be happy. Because of my motives to educate and inform, I would be gratified that many chose to read my words. More importantly, I would be fulfilled that numerous readers were either interested in learning the lessons of my life or the realities of the Holocaust.

To return to my initial premise, there is no accurate single reason why people select and read books. At least three more are in my plans and I hope with all of my being that I will have the wisdom and divine guidance to complete them.

My most critical message is to continue reading and learning. As Hillel (renowned Jewish religious leader and scholar) once said, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.” Shalom.

Healthy food for thought

Make a list of the concepts or entities in which you believe with the most passion. From here, that list begins with family, God, America, and education. After that, without elaborating on respect, kindness, and honesty, I must include long term care and life insurance.

No, this is not a thinly disguised sales pitch. In addition to the fact that I can’t or speak with most of you, selling insurance to anyone outside of New Mexico is impossible for me. But I can and will use this medium to mention the critical importance of life insurance.

Along the way, I’ve heard every possible excuse for avoiding the purchase of life insurance. I’m too young. It’s too expensive. I don’t have anyone in my life whom I want to make rich. Every one of these and most of the others are invalid.

Not all insurance is expensive. The younger you are when you invest in it, the lower the premium. As you get older, there are more and more possibilities for medical exclusions. And as for not having anyone to benefit, will that always be the case? Do you want your parents, children, other relatives, or friends to assume responsibility for your untimely death and burial?

There are very few situations where young people (under 45) are uninsurable. Numerous flavors of life insurance are available from which you can choose. If you want plain, uncomplicated term insurance, that’s the least expensive and easiest to do. But if you would prefer to direct money to a life insurance contract with cash value, that’s likely to be a more sound investment than many that are out there.

Life insurance doesn’t protect you in any way (unless you have a long term care benefit attached to it). Your death is certain and inevitable. But why impose hardships on those who survive you? In some cases, they will suffer from the loss of your paycheck. In other cases, they will need to find the money to memorialize and bury you.

You have my word that this purchase will be the most thoughtful and appreciated action you will ever take. Do this while you can and someone, someday, will be very glad that you did. Shalom.

Say you’re sorry

One of the expressions that I teach our children from the time that they are very young is “I’m sorry.” When one child hurts another in the classroom or on the playground, we gently remind the offender to say that he or she is sorry.

Unfortunately, I believe that like so many expressions that we use multiple times a day, the true sentiment of “I’m sorry is often absent. This occurred to me recently when my husband reported back pain, to which I replied, “I’m sorry your back hurts.”

Very often, when I express my sorrow for someone’s pain, I am told something like, “It’s not your fault that my back hurts. Why should you be sorry?” Does that mean we need some form of culpability in order to feel sorrow? I don’t think so.

One of the clearest memories I have of my mom is that she was always sorry if I was in pain for any reason. Of course, I never told her that it was her fault that I hurt. Instead, I just accepted it as an illustration of compassion and love. It clearly made an important, lasting impression. My earnest hope is that I extended the same sentiment with my own kids when they experienced loss or pain. I believe that I did.

And so I do everything in my power as an educator to teach the concept of compassion. It’s one thing to deliver a rushed “I’m sorry” to a classmate who just crashed and burned on the cement. It’s quite another to look that child in the eye and communicate, “I sincerely feel sad that you are in pain. I hope that you heal quickly.”

As adults, we similarly have the same range of emotional expression. When you lose a loved one, be certain that I understand the profundity of your pain. I will do anything and everything to support you. Shalom.

Magic

Do our definitions of words such as magic and magical change as we get older and more mature? Or has the world become more magical as civilization progresses, sometimes evolving? Having spent some time on the concept of magic, I think that it’s a little of both.

As children, magic was usually associated with card tricks, rabbits in and out of hats, and disappearing acts. It’s probably safe to say that we generally observed magic from a distance, with clear definitions of what constituted magic.

At this stage of life, I am beginning to widen that definition as I make numerous observations of the world in which I live. Yes, we still have the David Copperfield version of magic, as well as magicians who occasionally compete on America’s Got Talent. But there is also a vast quantity of magic that surrounds and astounds me.

To begin, I think that children are magical. They are all conceived in essentially the same way. From there, they all emerge as unique as blades of grass or springtime raindrops. Youngsters think about as much or as little as they choose, as often as possible. Sometimes they emulate parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and siblings. Very often, they don’t.

Many of the scenes I witness in nature are absolutely magical. One day I stroked the muzzle of a very pregnant pony. An hour after I left her, she gave birth to an active, curious, and perfectly designed mule, later to be named Moscow. Truly, this is an example of nature’s magic – creation and curiosity.

Sitting in the back yard, I can almost see our bushes grow. We cut them back to very short limbs and within weeks, the limbs are over my head, lush and green. Grapevines demonstrate the same magic. One day they produce clusters of tiny flowers and soon they magically boast hundreds of grape clusters.

If you are inclined to redefine my magic as acts of nature, help yourself. What nature does to vines, trees, ponies, grapes, and the ever-changing nearby mountains is always a source of wonder to me. Maybe it’s merely my sense of awe at the miracles within the world that occur entirely without and in many cases in spite of the intervention of man. Shalom.

Only 1%

One of the most unfortunate products of social media is the sudden prevalence of countless ridiculous competitions. It’s easy enough to move past or ignore them. But I continue to wonder about their purpose.

Here are some examples. Give yourself $10 for every offensive or illegal action you have committed. If you’ve had a DUI, streaked, egged and TP’ed someone’s home, or stolen something, you can add another $10 for each of these accomplishments. What’s the point? Do I want to appear more evil than you?

Some of them indicate that if you can’t find a word or phrase, you have the mind of a 98 year old. Which 98 year old is that? How is this measured? The other one is the dare to find a word or name that begins and ends with particular letters. The enticement is that only 1% of the population can do this.

To begin, it’s never difficult to come up with two or ten words with these letters. And what is the population to which you are referring? Is it a bee colony or cage of gerbils?

I’m guessing that some people find it gratifying or entertaining to be part of an elite group. Or maybe it’s just a way to spend time. This phenomenon may be another consequence of the pandemic, where people had nothing but time to spend online. To me, the whole idea is dumb. Why do we need to compete over inane or absurd contests?

Show pictures of your parents or grandparents, past or present. Display photos of your kids and grandkids. Post videos of people being kind to one another. Or celebrate anniversaries of important events or accomplishments.

Being able to read words backwards neither pays my bills nor makes me a better person. It seems that I’ll have to treat social media as I do the endless pharmaceutical television commercials for conditions I am not likely to experience. It’s simply something else I can’t fix so I’ll continue to search for the good in any media I experience. Shalom.

Tail wagging the dog

Every now and then, I wonder how many of my actions are the direct result of the actions of others. Someone cuts you off on the road. Does that impact the way you drive or do you ignore it and proceed? As a writer, someone insults your work. Does that cause you to respond accordingly or do raise the price of what you’ve done?

Some of this is obvious. We all heard the warning from our parents – if everyone jumped off a certain cliff, does that mean it’s okay or smart for you to do the same? But I would suggest that we need to be cognizant of how we are impacted by the words or deeds or others and make certain that our own actions are consistent with who we are.

Here’s a good example. Some days, a classroom is full of rambunctious kids. I’m confident in saying that it’s not because of me or my teaching methods. Certain kids simply act out more than others and a large percentage of it is copying behavior of classmates.

What is the right response? I can’t yell or single out one or two kids to put them on time out. Responding in anger or frustration just can’t happen, particularly because there are students who  didn’t act poorly and shouldn’t suffer for the behavior of others.

And so, the good teacher remains calm, walks up to the offenders, quietly suggests that they return to their seats, and congratulates the non-participants for their decisions not to get involved in poor behavior. In most cases, the class returns to normal and the offenders are clear that they are rewarded for good decisions, not bad ones.

Retaliation is never acceptable. You took my parking space so I’m going to bust out your windows. In addition to that being a criminal act, it simply doesn’t make sense. My preference is to respond to unkindness with kindness.

Whenever possible, I will smile at a driver who chooses to snarl at me for whatever reason. I’ll do the same to someone who barges ahead of me to get a seat in a restaurant. Surprisingly, the lack of nastiness on my part is gratifying and satisfying – dispensing ugly behavior never feels good. Shalom.

Shucks, shavings, and shingles

Watching television recently, I couldn’t help but notice how much time has changed the language that we now find acceptable in our standard programming. Whether it was in the fifties or sixties, I clearly remember there being a huge outcry about a television program that included the words “hell” or “damn” in their scripts. It was felt by many, many people that these words were unacceptable.

Now I hear words on television network programs that would have shocked these folks out of their underwear (can we appropriately say underwear?). Without articulating all of the words I hear, they include the b word, the p word, the s-o-b expression, and everything in between.

Before you think about calling me a prude or a stuffed shirt, I have been known to use a variety of bad words in my life although rarely, if ever, in front of children. My mother died when I was fourteen but as hard as I try, I can never remember her using one obscenity. In those cases, where she might have been angry or frustrated, she chose the words “shingles” or “shavings” in lieu of a word that she found unladylike.

Likewise, I don’t remember hearing my dad use obscenity except for one f-bomb when he was having trouble tying a tie. My best guess is that it was thought to be unseemly or inappropriate for children to hear adults use bad words. And so, he was usually faithful to that philosophy.

It’s easy to reach conclusions, correct or incorrect, about what the inclusion of bad words in our lives suggests about the society as a whole. Yes, we appear to be more liberal. Television has succumbed to the habits of the world that it represents. We have become more inclusive in terms of the language that we find suitable. Or maybe the watchers of television just don’t have the standards in terms of the morality of language that they used to have.

At this point, I am beginning to miss a more stringent set of rules with regard to the words we use. Our language has so many wonderful words that sound better and function just as well. My only option now is to lead by example, darn it. Shalom.

Curiosity

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  Albert Einstein

Observing a student asking questions is the best and most obvious method to determine a child’s curiosity. Presenting information in a classroom, we can always see who’s interested, whose mind has wandered, and which young person is seeking more enlightenment. At the end of any lesson, I ask if there are any questions. It’s always the brightest and most curious who will want to know more.

One of the realities of the classroom is that lessons are often quite structured and linear. That doesn’t mean that neither the teacher nor the student is without an occasion to elaborate. Here’s how that looks (or should look).

We are discussing dinosaurs. There is a substantial amount of factual information about dinosaurs, when they lived, where they lived, what they ate, etc. But because most children are fascinated by their ancient predecessors, it’s a perfect chance to promote curiosity.

How about creating a class dinosaur? We can build it, color it, name it, and make it a permanent resident of this room. Or you can each create your own personal dinosaur. We’ll get all of the materials needed to make it exactly what you want. While we’re at it, let’s give him or her some special powers. Can we teach your dinosaur to clean your room? Or can we have her help Mom with the dishes? What color(s) should the dinosaur be? What kind of skin? Because it’s your own special creation, you have no boundaries at all.

It doesn’t need to be dinosaurs. It can be a plant, a platypus, or a playground that we use to generate and amplify curiosity. Without it, we’re all destined to be carbon copies of each other. The curiosity we foster creates new inventions, the best of literature, music, and art. But what’s more important than that, is that our kids need to realize that they have no limits – that their minds are as vast as the universe that they seek to understand. Shalom.