Monday, April 28, 2008

Turning Stalled Trains Into Lemonade

This past Wednesday evening as I was taking one of Christine’s little friends home from church, we got stopped by a train on the track. This is one of the hazards of living in Harrodsburg; we are surrounded by train tracks. We only had about two more miles to go, but we were stuck. Because of the location of the tracks, there was no easy way to get where we were going.

We were stuck in the middle of the road out in the boonies, waiting on a train to clear the track—not to mention the fact we were right next to a hog farm and believe me, the smell was pure country. The band, Simple Plan, was blaring from my CD player and the girls decided to get out of the car and dance. The girls were having a ball. They were racing each other to the train track and then racing back. At one point they actually reached out and touched the still train.

On a whim, I got out of the car to dance, which caused the girls to become hysterical with laughter as they pointed and sniggered in my direction. By this time we had already been waiting 20 minutes and the train was still making no signs of movement. Christine and I decided to make a bet on which way the train would go when it finally started—east or west. Christine bet me one of her guitar picks that the train would head east. I bet her a blizzard from Diary Queen that it would head west.

As it got darker outside, the girls climbed back into the car and started playing hangman. They were playing it orally instead of writing the letters down; I just don’t know how they do that. It is hard for me to understand a word if it is spelled out loud—I have to see it written down.

After 45 minutes of waiting on the train, we were all starting to get bored and my patience was running thin. Then we saw car lights coming up behind us—I put on my emergency flashers because I didn’t want the car to run up on us. As it turned out, the car was my husband—he had gotten worried because Christine as I weren’t home yet and he had come looking for us. How sweet is that? I guess it’s my fault for not carrying a cell phone, but my life runs more smoothly with the least technology I am involved with..

Almost exactly one hour from the time we reached the train track, we got our first positive signs the train was ready to move. We could hear the engine rumble to life down the track as the cars started to vibrate. With a slow jerk of power, the train cars slowly began to move—headed east. I won the bet, so Christine said I could choose which guitar pick I wanted—as long as it wasn’t one of her autographed ones. I decided to let her make the decision.

After driving less than two miles across the tracks, we dropped the friend off at her house and we were finally headed home. I was getting tired and it was getting late. Christine headed to the shower and I plopped down in my chair.

All in all, our little train delay turned into a great bonding experience for me and my daughter. We both got to act silly and it was fun laughing at each other. So the next time life hands you lemons, just smile, do a little dance and think of all the lemonade you can make. Sometimes interruptions in our normal routine are blessings in disguise, so learn to make the most of what life has to offer.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Suicide Rates and the Armed Forces

Last night I saw a news story that floored me and brought me to tears. The Department of Defense released a document stating that between 1995 and 2007, there were almost 2,200 suicides among active duty soliders. There were 188 last year alone. This is staggering!But, according to Dr. Ira Katz, head of mental health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, there is no suicide epidemic in the VA, although he does state that suicide is a major problem. When asked about suicide rates from active duty members and veterans combined, the percentage rate increased dramatically.

In 2005 there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who have served and are now serving in the armed forces. That's 120 each and every week, in just one year! There are also at least 1,000 suicide attempts per month. Currently the suicide rate for military personnel is 7% higher than the rest of the US population.Also, one age group stands out from the others and that is Veterans aged 20 through 24 who have served time during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age.

To make matters worse, another veterans psychiatric unit was closed this week because of lack of funding. We owe it to the men and women who serve us to provide them with proper mental health care when they arrive home.I wrote a letter to the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the governor of KY and my congressmen and representatives. I encourage everyone to do the same. If we can't stop this stupid war, then the least we can do is help the people who have been sent to war.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Taming the Trumpet Vine

It’s that time of year again; time to clean up garden beds and start new gardens. For years I’ve been struggling with what to do about the garden that runs across the front of our home. When we moved in almost 15 years ago, there were four yew shrubs growing across the front, and we allowed them to grow for several years.

At first, we kept the shrubs trimmed back every year to help maintain growth and outline a definite footprint around the garden. After five years of trimming and pruning, we got lazy and decided to allow the shrubs to grow unchecked. Within five more years, we had four unruly monsters fighting for the front of our house. I hated these shrubs! The only thing I liked about the disorderly tangle of branches was the trumpet vine that began to grow up through the middle of one of the shrubs. I enjoyed the orange blooms and the fragrant smell, so I began to allow the trumpet vine to expand. Wrong choice!

After living in our home for about ten years, we decided to totally remove the yews from the front of the house. This was a tedious job that took us several weeks. We started out severely pruning the shrubs back, and then we took the chainsaw to the thick trunks and continued to hack away until the majority of the yew was gone. Digging out the roots proved to be another hard job, so much so, that we left the root on the yew that was on the north end of the house. I’ve spent the past five years covering this stump with shredded leaves, grass clippings and bark mulch. This area will eventually make a wonderful planting hole for a new tree or shrub.

After clearing the front of the house, the garden was bare, except for a few remaining trumpet vines. Because I want to use as many native plants in my gardens as possible, I decided to try and train the trumpet vine to grow where I wanted it to. I envisioned vines covering the front of the house and boasting orange flowers all summer. Well, the vines did grow up the house, but strong winds would pull them loose until the entire area looked like a tangle mess instead of the clinging vines I wanted. Even when I managed to grow the vines up to the roof line, the number of flowers was disappointing; instead of a mass of blooms, I only got a handful of flowers. In the mean time, trumpet vines began to creep all along the ground until they completely engulfed the entire garden.

This year, I have decided to tame the trumpet vine and take back the front of my house. I have started by laying thick pads of newspaper all through the front garden. After covering the area with newspaper, I then covered the paper with a thick layer of shredded bard. When Kentucky Utilities started trimming trees in the fall, we had several truck loads of shredded bark dumped in our yard to use as mulch. I am hoping that the newspaper and a six inch layer of bark will be enough to suffocate the trumpet vine and keep it from re-sprouting.

One thing for sure, my gardens will never be the same because they are always evolving. My goal is for a natural garden, one where wildlife is not afraid and plants are allowed to show their natural forms. A garden that doesn’t show the gardener’s hand is the most precious garden of all. Basically, I'm a lazy gardener; I want a garden that does all the work so I won’t have to!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Indy Racing

Wow - a woman has finally broken the barrier into the world of race car driving. Danica Patrick won the Indy Japan 300 this weekend, the first woman to ever win a major car race. As a woman who loves to drive fast, this is a major accomplishment and I am so excited for her! As they were taking victory pictures of her, I couldn't help but laugh at the size of her trophy - it was almost taller than she was!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Testing the Waters

With the impending change in seasons, I can’t hold back the advances my youngest daughter is making toward adulthood. Christine will be my last chick to leave the nest and I am trying really hard to focus on the positive aspects of her new life instead of the desire to hold her close to home. As parents we hope to send our children out in the world with all the tools they will need to survive. We have nurtured them from birth to the terrible twos, from toddlerhood to tweens, and from teenager to adult and we should be happy with the people we have produced. But inside most parents just want their kids to be healthy and happy and to lead a good life, and to keep them close at heart.

Recently I caught myself watching Christine from afar, trying to picture her out alone in the world. Today, I watched as she determinedly peeled potatoes for supper. For years, I have tried to teach her how to peel potatoes, and I must admit I’m not a very good teacher. I am sure there are cooks out there who will gasp and groan when I say that I hold my potatoes in my hand and peel with a paring knife toward my thumb. This is the way I learned and this is the way I have always done it, so naturally I wasn’t going to be able to teach Christine the right way to peel a potato.

On this particular night, Christine was peeling potatoes with her new potato peeler. After so many failed attempts to peel potatoes with a paring knife, on her weekly shopping trip with her Daddy, she found a vegetable peeler. Now she is contentedly peeling potatoes with speed and I don’t have to worry about her cutting her fingers off. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the young ones don’t have a problem. Christine wanted to improve her skill at peeling potatoes and she kept at it until she got it right. Now, if I could just learn to use the vegetable peeler.

While parents are always trying to teach their children, it is amazing what we can learn from our children. I’ve learned many things from my children over the years. I’m so proud of Christine because for the past two years, she has been walking on a daily basis, drinking water and hardly ever drinking sodas. I want to try to emulate her throughout my life but my laziness and lack of will power seem to always win out. Christine has adapted her lifestyle around what she sees me do. I know I shouldn’t drink Cokes and Christine knows I shouldn’t drink Cokes, the problem is, I seem to be addicted and try as I might, I can’t give the habit up. Christine has seen my struggle and she has chosen to limit her intake of soda and increase her intake of water. In this case, my daughter sets a better example than me.

Christine does her own laundry every week and I am proud of that fact. I know when she goes to college, I won’t have to worry about her wearing dirty clothes. She knows what it takes to keep her clothes clean and she realizes that if she doesn’t keep them clean, she won’t have anything to wear. This practice has evolved as she has grown, starting with helping me do laundry and graduating up to her independent use of the washer and dryer. She knows what detergent to use as well as fabric softeners, temperature settings, and load size. This is one thing she won’t have to learn at college, because she’s already an old pro.

Christine has been cooking for a while now, and she enjoys it. I don’t necessarily enjoy cooking, so it’s great to have your teenager cook supper. Chicken fettuccine alfredo, chicken fried rice, and tacos are three of her favorites. She has made a fine art out of searing cubes of chicken for many of her signature dishes. She loves to cook the chicken, but hates to cut it up – kind of like me with pumpkins, I love to carve them, but I hate to gut them. She cuts chicken breasts into bite-size chunks and them throws them in a pan with a pat of butter or olive oil. She cooks the chicken until the outside cooks to the color of caramel and then she can use it in a variety of dishes.

Christine has been studying for her driver’s license and has signed up for driver’s education in the fall. My baby driving – eeck! – be still my heart. I realize that the sooner she gets behind the wheel and learns, the better off she will be, but I’m not quite ready to let go. I already blame my grey hair on my oldest daughters learning to drive, so you would think I would be ready to teach Christine, but I’m not. With all the dangers on the road, I just don’t want her out there alone, but I know she will eventually have to join the “driving nation”. Driving is a major wing-testing task that teenagers can’t wait to undertake and parents want to delay.

A parent’s job is never done, and I guess that’s a good thing. As much as I hate the thought of Christine leaving home, I know that she has to do this in order to grow up. If I could protect her from all lifes little ups and down, I would, but that is not really possible. All I can do is hope I did a decent job of raising her and that she will be able to take care of herself. She has her visions of the future, and as long as her vision includes me every once in a while, then I will be happy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's Happened Again

Once again, video has surfaced of children beating up children; only today's video hit closer to my home in central Kentucky. The video shows a middle school boy beating the s**t out of another middle school boy. What is it with all the violence? Why don't the children ever learn? And why don't the parents learn how to control out-of-control children?

I will never understand the need for violence in our society. Just because violence is on the television, on the radio, on the internet, and in our books, magazines, and newspapers, doesn't mean we need to emulate what others do.

Parent's, please teach your children how to treat others. If you don't, our society will not survive to see our great grandchildren grown.

The Pope

Well, the Pope is making his first visit to the United States, and who does he get to meet? President Bush! This is not the person I want representing the United States for this rare "Papal visit." Of all the people the Pope could have been introduced to, why on earth did someone think it was a good idea for him to meet the worst sitting President in our history.

Although I am a southern Baptist, I think it is wonderful the Pope has decided to visit our country. Many Catholics find comfort in the concern the Pope shows for our nation. I just hope he gets to meet some "down to earth" people while he is here.

Money Saving Tips

-Cook meals at home instead of eating out. This not only saves money per serving, but it also saves on the gas needed to reach the restaurant.
-Take your lunch to work one more day a week than you do now. Eating out at lunch is fun, so it is hard to eliminate it completely, but taking lunch just one more day a week will keep money in your pocket.
-Plan out a weekly menu. This is the best way to ensure your grocery list is complete, and that you have enough to serve your family dinner for the week.
-Have a budget when you go to the grocery store. Then try your best to stick within that limit. If you don’t know how much you can spend, you’ll certainly spend too much. Keep a running tally as you shop to ensure that you’re within your budget.
-Keep a grocery list on your refrigerator door. Whenever you use an item, write it on the list; then don’t forget to take the list to the store.
-Buy your veggies and fruits from the local farmer’s market. If you are unable to buy fresh, then frozen is the next best thing.
-Don’t waste leftovers. Keep a list on your refrigerator door of what leftovers are in there, so you don’t forget about them. Plan a leftover night or two, so you’re sure to eat them all. Pack them immediately for lunch, so they’re ready to take to work the next morning.
-Get your books from the library. I love books and read every day. While I buy some of the books I read, most come from the library, or from friends. Simply put, it is hard to beat free.
-Get DVDs from the library or rent online. Many libraries now have movies on DVD that can be check out. If you must rent DVDs, an online service like Netflix or Blockbusters will send DVDs to your home with no late return fees.
-Read magazines at the library or online. Too many magazines can cost a fortune, and how many times have you bought a magazine based on the cover and been disappointed by the lack of substance. At the library you can read magazines for free. Also, many magazines how offer their content for free online.
-Subscribe to magazines that are must-reads. If you must have a certain magazine each month, subscribe. Subscriptions offer substantial savings over the cost at the newsstand.
-Never pay checking account fees. I hate bank fees, and with so many free checking account plans available, there’s no reason to pay a fee. And if the bank happens to charge you one, ask them to reverse the fee or take your business to another bank.
-Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). These bulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer. They do take some getting used to, and they won’t work in every fixture, but use them where it makes sense and save energy and money.
-Buy generic over-the-counter medicines. As a retired Registered Nurse, I can tell you these are exactly the same as their branded counterparts and cost less.
These are just a few of the money saving tips for an average family. There are numerous sources on the Internet that can offer even more tips. The main thing is to do what is right for your family.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

All my life I have tried to please people; my parents, my husband, my children, my friends, my employers, everyone except myself. I have always felt guilty doing things for myself; I would much rather help someone than do something to please myself. But as I rapidly approach a half century old, I have come to realize there is something wrong with my logic of doing for others. If I don’t take care of myself, then I may not be around to help when I am needed most.

So for the past year, I have given myself permission to do something just for myself at least once a day. I could help everyone I wanted, but I had to do something just for me. Some of my “guilty pleasures” include:

  • Watching an episode (or two) of Dark Shadows, a soap opera that ran on television from 1966 – 1971. I have the entire collection, including the pre-Barnabas years, and I like to lose myself into lives of the Collins family. (For information, just Google Dark Shadows.)
  • Watching All My Children every afternoon. This is the only current soap opera I keep up with; Erica Kane rules!
  • Reading a book. My current book list includes: The Mulberry Tree by Jude Deveraux, The Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, and the graphic novel Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter #9 by Laurell K. Hamilton and Marvel Comics.
  • Digging in the dirt … I mean, working in the garden. It is almost therapeutic to be in the garden pulling weeds or planting seeds; plus it is great exercise.
  • Writing a short story, a book chapter, or a new column for the paper. I find it easier to unwind at night if I can get all the ideas and thoughts filling my head out onto paper, so this is a nightly ritual.

If I allow myself to indulge in at least one guilty pleasure daily, I find I am better able, and more enthusiastic about doing for everyone else. Of course, it also helps that two of my daughters are already grown and out on their own, but as you all know, a mother’s work is never done.

So the next time you feel like you’ve been run through the wringer, or your get up and go has got up and went, maybe taking thirty minutes out of your day to do something just for yourself will help renew your spirit. You will feel like a better person, a better wife, and a better parent.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I don't know about you guys, but I have a very bad feeling about the summer Olympics in China. With all the backlash against China because of problems with Tibet, the genocide in Darfur, and contaiminated products being shipped all over the world, I am really worried about the United States going to China.

This first indication I had of a problem with the Olympic Games came with the protests surrounding the Olympic torch run. Then you have people all over the world rioting because of China. Put two and two toether and you get - not only four - but a bad taste in your mouth when talking about the Olympics.

When I heard about the protest regarding China and Darfur, I didn't know what the connection was. My hubby Googled China and Darfur, and I was astonished with the results. Did you know that China is supplying guns, ammunition and money to the people responsible for the genocide in Darful? Well, it is true. They are supporting these "terrorists" with supplies so that more innocent people can be slaughtered.

What the United States needs to do is step in with some of the billions being spent on Iraq and help the innocent women and children of Darfur. I'm afraid the Chinese are trying to kill us all, and our government is letting them!

This past year has brought us tainted dog food from China, lead painted toys from China, drug laced toys from China, contaminated people food from China, and just this week, bad heparin (a medication used by thousands of patients every day). Why aren't there more stringent safety checks of all the products coming in from China?

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I feel like China is targeting our young children because of the mass number of lead contaminated proudcts they continue to ship to the United States. What do you think?

Oops ... They Did It Again

Yesterday it was 3rd graders plotting against their elementary school teacher. Today there has been a video released of six 14 year old girls beating up a former friend; this video spread like wildfire on UTube. Today there was also video of a young boy exposed to horrific bullying by other students at his middle school; his parents are filing a lawsuit. This swell of violence caused by children is growing and becoming more prevalent and it seems the video of these "incidents" is everywhere, from the television to the radio to the internet.

This swell of violence reached a crescendo this morning when I saw a cell phone video of a student beating up a teacher. A high school teacher from Baltimore was sitting at her desk, when a female student approached the teacher. Some type of verbal exchange was made and the student moved closer to the teacher and told her she was going to hit her. The teacher replied, "You are in my personal space, please step back." The student repeated her threat and the teacher replied, "If you hit me, I will defend myself."

The student then hit the teacher in the face, knocking the teacher out of her chair. Cell phone images, recorded by another student, show the student sitting on top of the teacher. The student can be seen savagely beating the teacher around the head. The other students watched and cheered the fight on; one student video taped the fight with the cell phone. Only one student went for help.

When the teacher was finally able to escape her attacker, the Principal blamed the teacher! The Principal said the teacher used a "trigger word" when she said, "If you hit me, I will defend myself." What the hell is a trigger word? Are teachers taught what trigger words not to use in class?

This teacher has not been back to work since the attack; she says she is too afraid to return to her old school. And what about the student who assaulted the teacher? No charges were filed, but the student was suspended. Suspended - not expelled! What kind of message is this sending to the other students? And this is not the first time a studen had assaulted a teacher in this particular school.

The problem is there have been no consequences for students who attack a teacher. These children are not being disciplined; their parents are not being held responsible. This has got to change.

Teachers need to be protected from these "rogue" children. If a student harms a teacher, I feel they need to be banned from that school, but this alone will not stop a child who has been raised with violence. The parents need to be charged, or at least held responsible for their underage children. If we don't stop these violent children now, what kind of world will our children inherit in 20 years? I, for one, don't want the leaders of tomorrow coing from a history of vilence and aggression because this will only lead to more villence and aggression - WAR - throughout the world.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Third-Graders and Hatred

Yesterday when I arrived home for lunch, I turned on MSNBC - which is my usual routine- and was shocked by the lead story. A group of nine 3rd graders from an elementary school in Georgia are accused of trying to harm their teacher. Third-graders! We are talking about 8 and 9 year old babies! How do children this young learn about hatred? Unfortunately, in most circumstances, these children learn from their parents. What is the world coming to when you can't feel safe around a group of elementary students? It is not the school's responsibility to teach these children ethics and how to behave. This is what parents are for; we have to teach our children how to behave before we send the out into the big, bad world.

But what happens to the children who do not have responsible parents to teach them right from wrong? More and more children feel like it is okay to lash out at a teacher or other authority figures. I am a 45 year old mother of three girls; ages 15, 24, and 25. My children are not perfect by no means, but at least they know how to behave in public.

When my girls were younger, all I had to do was give them "the look" and they knew they had better behave or else. I am proud of the fact that my children say "please" and "thank you", that they hold doors open for people, or say "excuse me" when they interrupt. This is only basic common manners, but many children today do not understand this concept.

From experience, I know that children learn by what they see, not what they hear. They may listen to everything you tell them, but when it comes to learning, they emulate what they see. So, if a parent is so wrapped up in daily life that they forget basic manner, then the kids will be the same way. If parents solve problems by fighting, complaining and threatening; then the children will do the same thing.

I am saddened by the lack of parental involvement in so called "problem" children. I feel sorry for the teachers who have to deal with these students. Teachers are some of the most under appreciated workers around. Teachers are responsible for teaching our children about the world and how to live in it, but they deserve more respect than they get.

Parents, please watch the anger when talking aroundyour children. Don't let them hear, "I hate this or I hate that." Don't let them see you get in a physical fight. Don't let them hear you threaten to harm another person. Please try to teach your children with love, caring and emphathy for others.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What? No Left Turn Again!

What is it with drivers today? Most don't use turn signals, they stop suddenly in the road with no warning, or they pull out in front of you. Where did the basic common safety rules go? My soon-to-be 16 year old daughter is just learning to drive and my husband and I are more worried about the other driver than we are her. She has osbserved us driving over the years and she knows to use her turn signal EVERY TIME she makes a turn, even if it is just changing lanes. She knows to stop at every stop sign and red light. She knows not to pull out in front of other cars, even if she thinks she can "beat them." My daughter is more aware of traffic and safety rules than most drivers on the road.

When you are out in your huge, gas guzzling SUV, please observe basic traffic rules:
  • Use your turn sign signal every time you make a turn.
  • Stop at all stop signs and red lights.
  • Slow down for yellow lights - yellow mean slow down, not "go really fast."
  • Don't pull out in front of other cars - it won't make your trip any faster.
  • Don't use your cell phone while driving - I don't care if you need to answer the ring or reply to a text - I care about safety on the road.

If parents will train and demonstrate to their children the correct driving skills, we would all be much safer on the highways and byways.