Monday, January 27, 2014

If I Had My Life To Live Over

Walden Pond (Concord, Massachusetts)

It's good to be reminded by someone who's lived a long life that our lives are finite. Yesterdays should stay where we've left them and tomorrows need not consume us with worry. What's important is what we choose to do in the here and now. Be in the moment. Enjoy family and friends. Make memories.

We read this poem in one of my classes last summer and it's stuck with me.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

TED Talk: The Danger of A Single Story By Chimamanda Adichie

This TEDTalk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie has surfaced three times since I started school. The first time I came across it was while doing research, the second time it was shared by the administrators at my internship and the third it was shown in my Multicultural Counseling class. That it's surfaced three times in as many years is a sign that I should share it with you, too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Story of Solomon Northrop, TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

Solomon Northrop's memoir TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is heartbreaking. The fact that his story is based on real life events makes it all the more difficult to read. The abuse he endures in the South after being kidnapped from the North is dehumanizing and will shock any rational reader's sense of justice.

Anyone who's read Emma Donohue's ROOM will know what I mean when I say that the last act of the book evokes similar feelings of desperation. The reader knows that he's rescued from the beginning, but it's the unpredictable and cruel nature of his last owner, Epps, that stresses the reader. Anything could happen.

I saw the Steve McQueen's film adaptation over the weekend. It's unlike any other movie I've ever seen about slavery in that it doesn't "make-nice" on the topic to make it more palatable for the mainstream. It's unflinchingly honest and well-done, albeit, tough to watch at times and is true to the memoir in its depiction of events and description characters

There's nothing romantic about the institution of slavery as some of our citizens would have us think. It's not something to be "gotten over," either.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It Snowed Again

"Expect a dusting," the weatherman, said.

Instead, snow dropped from the sky in heavy chunks.

"I'm going to make a snowman," my son said.

So, he did.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Electra Woman And Dyna Girl

Left to our own devices as youngsters, my two sisters and I managed to get ourselves into a lot of trouble. We may not have gotten along very well, but when it came to being traviesas, boy, you'd have thought we were the best of friends. Summers were especially difficult for us, having to spend all that time together, but we always found ways to make the time pass quickly. How? We'd dedicate ourselves to scheming over what prank to concoct next.

Our targets were the unsuspecting passersby. You see, we lived on a busy residential street that saw a lot of foot traffic. Some were neighbors, or an occasional tamalera or paletero, but mostly day laborers who lived in boarding housing along our street. We were equal opportunity pranksters, young, imaginative and in need of entertainment from behind our sheer curtains.

I've shared the intro to a show that my sisters and I drew inspiration from when we role-played. When I think back to those sweltering summers in the seventies, I can't help but smile remembering our antics and those of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

I shared the clip with my Minecraft-playing eleven-year-old son. Wish I'd snapped a picture of the expression he wore when he asked, "You watched that?"

How times have changed.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

School Lunch Policy Goes Awry

Source: USDAgov

I consider myself fortunate to have stumbled upon a School Guidance Counseling program that places a heavy emphasis on social justice, doing what's in the best interest of the child, while maintaining confidentiality. A semester of ethics illustrated how difficult that charge is when so many constituencies are involved: the student, peers, parents, administrators, teachers and outside agencies. It may seem an impossible task, but when the physical and mental well-being of a child take precedent, the best course of action does reveal itself.

School Principal Gets Fired When School Lunch Policy Goes Awry

What sensibilities should we expect of our educators? I use "educator" broadly because in an education setting, educators include everyone from the school bus monitor to the janitor. Shouldn't we expect ten times more from our teachers and administrators? I read an article in the Huffington Post recently about a principal who'd lost her job after a nine-year tenure because she'd opposed a school lunch policy that humiliated children whose lunch accounts no longer had a balance, or were close to zero.

Is It Ever Okay to Humiliate a Child?

What kindness or empathy does a school show to children whose hands are "stamped" red in front of their peers? A great lesson in The Scarlett Letter! Children living in poverty, or other challenging situations such as homelessness, endure enough pain in their lives without having to be publicly shamed. This case really is not complicated and the answer seems obvious. Deal directly with the parents and not the children. The question I ask is simple: How is this policy in the best interest of the child (never mind maintain confidentiality)?

I'd encourage the educators who defended their decision to enforce this policy to revisit their own school's website, where it states under one of its Points of Pride "A caring school environment where every student is known and valued."

Just some food for thought.

Source: Flickr/Tim Lauer

Are you all familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and how each stage relates to human development? Yes, I know. It's pretty basic stuff, Human Development 101, but here you go.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Source: Wikimedia/FactoryJoe

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hen Lays First Egg! Who's The Mama?

Hen lays first egg.

Let me start out by saying I owe my hens an apology. "Girls, sorry for complaining about you in my Spanish Friday post last week. I feel bad. I do. Truth is I was getting a little restless. Seven months and no huevos! I wondered if I'd ended up with two sterile hens.

Usually, when I pop open the chicken coop door, both Samantha and Pearl are climbing all over each other to get down the ramp. I followed the same routine this a.m. Trudged out back through the basement slider, heard the Girls clucking their greeting as I approached, lifted the coop door's latch with a finger, but instead of seeing one of the Girls pop out, something rolled down the ramp. FAST.

Guess what it was?

Our first egg!

Baby Mama

You would've thought I'd laid the egg, I was so happy, running around, looking for the iPhone and camera to memorialize the occasion. There was one small problem, though. I didn't know which of the two hens to congratulate for the egg.

That was until I visited My Pet Chicken to do a little research ...

Pearl scrutinizes egg.

Pearl is a White Leghorn, which means she'll be laying big white eggs. She's just growing out of her pullet (teenage hen) stage, so I don't know why I even thought the egg could be hers. Kind of looks like she didn't know what to make of the big brown egg.

Oh, happy days. :-)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Are You Too Optimistic For Your Own Good?

THE OPTIMISM BIAS: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by neuroscientist Tali Sharot is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I read last year. She got me thinking a little more about how our minds work.

Are you too optimistic for your own good? Or are one of those glass-is-half-empty type of individuals who has difficulty being positive about anything? Personally, I've always viewed life through a lens of optimism, even when circumstances didn't warrant it.

The good news is that we benefit in several different ways from having an optimistic outlook on our lives. The bad news is that not having at least one foot firmly set in reality can leave us exposed to all types of ruin: financial, health, emotional, etc.
Did you know that 80% of the population has an optimism bias and the other 20% who don't are mildly depressed?

Interesting Findings:

  • We tend to underestimate the negative and overestimate the positive?
  • Although we're optimistic about ourselves, we're pessimistic about others (surprise, surprise).
  • We overestimate everything about ourselves (from how interesting we are to how modest).

Do you see a beautiful, young woman or old lady?
Not So Surprising:

  • The higher our expectations, the happier we are!
  • We're happiest when in anticipation of something -- anticipation enhances our well-being.
  • Optimism makes us want to try harder. Yes.
  • People who are mildly depressed have been found to have a pessimistic outlook; they don't expect much from the future.

Moving forward, I'll continue to be my optimistic self. My health, happiness and dreams for the future expect it of me. What I won't do is ignore cues to change course when needed. It's the wise thing to do.

How would you describe your outlook on life?

Do you wish you could change it?

"The idea behind the self-fulfilling prophecy is that it is not a forecast of a future, but a cause of the event." - Tali Sharot

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Public Speaking: Picture Them Naked They Say

Public speaking. What's the first thought that comes to mind when you read those two words? Does it inspire confidence? Or does it make you want to crawl into a hole and die? I'm not trying to be dramatic, here, but the latter is what most of the population experiences when faced with having to intelligently string words together in front of a crowd. And if you consider what public speaking really is, communication, it seems absurd that a skill we've developed since our first year of life, should trigger our body's fight or flight response.

What is the fight or flight response? It's our body's physical reaction to a perceived threat. The threat could be physical, like a lion, or it could be mental, like stepping outside the house. The fight or flight response has been critical to our survival as a species. Imagine. Without it, humans might've never survived past the neanderthal stage!

But why should we have such a severe emotional and physical response to a non-life-threatening activity, such as public speaking? The response stems from maladaptive thoughts that prevent us from being our best, whether it be at home, at school, or in our careers.

The first step to self-improvement is to become aware of our self-defeating thoughts and stop them before they stop us.

What I've learned the last few years from peers and friends is that no matter how at ease they appear in front of a crowd, public speaking does not come naturally to many of them. They still get nervous before an event, but instead of running to hide, they channel their nervous energy into their presentation, taking the focus off themselves and putting it instead into their message.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel at #Latism13. It was the biggest mountain I'd ever had to climb. Having a week's notice and knowing I'd be amongst a group of people that I admire put a little extra pressure on me. What helped me succeed, I believe, is that I only cared about two things, the panelists and what they had to share, and that the audience learn something. My focus was not on me but on them. I'm sure it also helped that I locked myself in every bathroom I could find at the Waldorf Astoria to practice. Taking a tour of the conference room as soon as I get in there (pictured above), I'm sure helped, too! I also had a great coach who held my hand every step of the way.

Much of what I did to prepare you can find on this list taken directly from the Toastmasters International website. Click the link to read them in detail.
  1. Know your material.
  2. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  3. Know the audience.
  4. Know the room.
  5. Relax.
  6. Visualize yourself giving your speech.
  7. Realize that people want you to succeed.
  8. Don't apologize.
  9. Concentrate on the message, not the medium.
  10. Gain experience.
Are any of you members of Toastmasters? Have you considered joining? I'm thinking of joining my local chapter this month, because I know that every little bit of exposure helps. I'm ready. I've had enough of letting fear get in the way of my goals.

What has your experience been with public speaking?

Do you have any public speaking tips you'd like to share? 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Mis Gallinas No Ponen Huevos

Mis gallinas, Samantha y Perla, todavía no ponen huevos. Casi no han salido de su gallinera desde que comenzó a nevar. Normalmente, cuando salgo a abrirles la puerta, se tumban, caminando una arriba de la otra para tomar un trago de agua. ¿Sabían que la gallinas regulan su temperatura tomando agua? Es por esa razón que tengo que tener mucho cuidado que no se les congele el agua. Ha! Con temperaturas bajo de 20-30 grados, prevenirlo no es fácil.

Aquí en Boston estamos en lo peor del inviero y dicen que viene otra tormenta. Yay. Ojalá que pronto pase el frio por que ya me anda! Quiero que mis gallinas pongan huevos pronto.

Compartiré una foto del primer huevo!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What Books Will You Read In 2014?

Have you set a reading goal for 2014? In previous years, I've attempted to read a book a week, something that would probably be more achievable if I weren't in school. I'm not complaining, though. Although I've never met my reading goal, except for a book or two, I've been pleased with my choices.

If you follow me on Goodreads, you've probably noticed that most of my ratings are 4 or 5 stars. I know some might be annoyed by that. What can I say? I enjoy most of what I read. If a book touches me personally, teaches me something, or makes me laugh, it's almost certain I'll give it a high rating.

So, rather than set a number goal for 2014, I'm picking several titles from those scattered about my home. These are books that have traveled from room-to-room without being read, for no good reason. I need to read them!

Aside from these, we'll see what piques my interest.

Here's my short list.