Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Not a year in review, but a look forward

As much as I enjoy reading retrospectives of a year gone by, I'm not much for writing them myself. I prefer to think ahead to the upcoming year when I can write some resolutions, map out some ideas, and keep striving for that "someday," even if my idea of "someday" changes.

I also like resolutions because I like lists. Oh the joys of lists! I have somewhere to keep track of things and can keep a visual track of my progress. In honor of my love for list-making, here's my list of resolutions for 2010.
  1. Write more/become a better writer.
    Each year I like to focus on a particular hobby. In 2009, I wanted to spend more time scrapbooking; the result was a beautiful gift for my brother and new sister-in-law that captured every moment of their new marriage from proposal through honeymoon. For 2010 I vow to work on my writing. Practice makes perfect and though I love writing, I don't do it enough. This year's goal? Post to IT&O at least once a week. I can do it! Give me some topic ideas in the comments...

    I'd also like to take up journaling again. I like having a written record of my life to look back on and I like writing things down, but I just don't do it. I'd like to make journal writing a regular habit this year.

  2. Pay attention to the positive.
    For the past few year's I've kept a Good Thing of the Day book. Everyday I take a minute to jot down something that was good about the day. Some days it's amazing: "Chris and Jenni get married!" "Saw the opening night performance of Mamma Mia and met two cast members outside the theatre!" Some days more mundane: "Turkey club from Doyle's for lunch." "Hung out with Penelope." And some days a real stretch: "Went to bed early," "Didn't have to work late." The point, is to pay attention to the little things that make life worth living. It's important to me to remember why I love dogs wearing argyle sweaters or how much I enjoy seeing the Boston skyline as I drive into work each day. Those little things remind me not to dwell on the gloomy things in life.

  3. Get healthier.
    I always resolve to get healthier and this year is no different. It's an ongoing battle and one that everyone can relate to; I know it's on millions of people's lists of resolutions! Getting healthier doesn't have to be just about losing weight though. It can be about learning to like new foods (in 2009 I got over my dislike of bananas!), drinking more water, going to bed early, walking around the block every day... I hope to continue making little steps that will improve my well-being and not worry about the slip-ups like downing some soda or skipping the gym now and again.

  4. Do things for me.
    I want to travel this year, take some classes, learn new things, taste great foods, sing at the top of my lungs. I resolve to remember that life is short and that the list of things to do "someday" ought to start today.
And so I say goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010. This year, as always, I resolve to make this year the best yet. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Girls gone wild: How you can help rescue our teenage girls

The presence of girls in the U.S. juvenile justice system is on the rise, even though the nation’s juvenile crime has decreased overall in the last two decades. While the rate of delinquency dropped 29% for males between 1985 and 2002, the rate of delinquency for females rose a whopping 92%.

Such a rate of female delinquency is shocking and diversionary programming must be implemented immediately in order to reverse the trend. In response to this crisis, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing in October entitled “Girls in the Juvenile Justice System: Strategies to Help Girls Achieve Their Full Potential.”

Dr. C. Jackie Jackson, Ph.D., executive director of Girls Inc. of the Greater Peninsula, addressed the Subcommittee. Throughout her speech, she underscored the need for juvenile diversionary programs, particularly for girls.

According to Jackson, “primary prevention is the most cost-effective way to address the problem of juvenile crime among girls.” In addition to providing a safe place to go after school, programs like Girls Inc. provide programs that focus on life and social skills, financial and media literacy, empowerment and self-esteem, academics, and wholesome fun. When adolescents participate in after-school programming, they are participating in positive activities and avoiding the peak times for juvenile crime, juvenile drug and alcohol use, and teenage sexual activity.

Diversionary programs like Girls Inc. are critical in ensuring that girls have an opportunity to avoid the juvenile justice system. Such programs are a cost-saving measure, investing in girls’ development instead of paying their way through the juvenile justice system. Jackson reports that nationwide estimates for housing one adolescent in a juvenile detention center range from $32,000 – $65,000 per year. In contrast, a year’s worth of programming at Girls Inc. (including both after school and summer programs) costs less than $2,000.

Though the return on investment of these preventative programs seems obvious, Girls Inc. and thousands of other juvenile diversion programs across the nation find themselves struggling for funding. Many adolescents participating in these programs come from low-income families and cannot afford to pay for services. It is crucial that both Congress and the community rally to support juvenile diversion programs that help children access education and keep them from winding up in the criminal justice system. It is especially critical to meet the needs of teenage girls who often find themselves lost in a juvenile justice system designed for teenage boys.

What can you do to help? Get vocal! Support your local juvenile diversionary programs by calling on your elected officials to fully fund essential programs and volunteer or donate when you can. You can find a list of representatives that make up the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, by visiting its webpage. To learn more about Girls Inc. and its programming, visit www.girlsinc.org.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some people just have a laundry list of issues...

Add this one to the list of things people argue about when they have too much time on their hands.

Perkasie, a small town in Pennsylvania, is home to less than 10,000 residents including Carin Froehlich. Yahoo! News reported today that Froehlich has had to fight for her right to hang laundry outdoors.

Neighbors have complained that they don't want to see Froehlich's laundry outside because makes the neighborhood “look like trailer trash.” A town official has even gone so far to call Froehlich to ask her to stop drying her clothes outdoors.


Froehlich argues that it's an American right to dry clothes outdoors, wryly noting that if her husband has a right to bear arms, she has a right to hang laundry. Besides, Froehlich, like many others who hang laundry outdoors, talks about the savings, since line-drying clothes lowers the family's electric bill.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that there is a non-profit organization dedicated to making air-drying laundry an “acceptable and desirable” practice. Project Laundry List doesn't merely believe that that Americans have a right to line-dry their laundry, but also touts the environmental benefits of line-drying and cold-water washing.

According to Project Laundry List's sample letters to elected officials, “clothes dryers use an estimated 6 to 10 % of residential electricity use. The average family can save over $85/year by using a clothesline instead of a dryer.”

The take of this Inner Thoughts & Outbursts writer? Hanging clothes outdoors makes sense. There's no reason people shouldn't be allowed to hang their clothes (even their undies!) to line-dry instead of using a dryer. While I personally prefer my dryer (I have allergies that make line-drying more of a hassle than a help), I certainly appreciate the environmental benefits of line-drying. Of course, the bottom line isn't that line-drying saves people money or that it's good for the environment; the bottom line is that people should butt out of their neighbors' business! Clean laundry blowing in the breeze is a nod to a bygone era, not a malicious eyesore. This writer says, “get over it!”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Teen rehabilitation: The bleak "status" update

Most teens know what a status update is (think Facebook or Twitter), but what constitutes a status offense?


A status offense is an act that is unlawful for juveniles, though it would be legal for adults. Common status offenses include running away from home, truancy, and alcohol possession by minors. Regulating these behaviors in children is regarded as a way of preventing future crime. Unfortunately, the juvenile justice system often produces repeat offenders, since its focus is not solely rehabilitative.

Though federal guidelines discourage the incarceration of status offenders (hoping, instead, to focus on community-based programming), between five and six percent of juveniles currently serving time are locked up due to status offenses. What’s worse, young people who are chronically truant can be confined with juveniles incarcerated for serious violent crime. Rehabilitative forms of justice should be available for everyone; it is clear, however, that the needs of teens with truancy issues are very different from the needs of juveniles convicted of sexual assault or murder.

Status offenders should be placed in residential rehabilitation programs, not detention centers.
Teens with substance abuse issues need treatment facilities with regular access to counseling, education, and groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Those who are truant or runaways need a social worker or child advocate that can provide ongoing access to counseling and alternatives to school or home that will benefit both the child and the community.

Juveniles require follow-up support.
It’s not enough to ensure that a child goes through treatment. Juvenile offenders require follow-up support including ongoing access to counseling and a court-appointed adult serving as an advisor and case manager after the teen has been released from treatment. Without this level of support, juveniles are likely to offend again.

Treatment options and follow-up support must include families.
The Policymaker’s Guide to Effective Juvenile Justice Programs illustrates the link between ineffective parenting and juvenile crime. By educating family members and involving them in treatment plans, juvenile justice professionals are helping family members “buy in” to the treatment plan. If a parent isn’t willing or able to participate, someone else — a relative, teacher, or other trusted adult — should step in to support the juvenile.

Juveniles who make mistakes need coaching and support, not punishment. By putting children through appropriate treatment instead of locking them away in detention centers, we are investing in the future of our communities. Each dollar spent on prevention and rehabilitation saves money further down the road. Status offenders who are given help to overcome the obstacles in their lives are unlikely to become repeat offenders who enter the adult justice system, saving thousands of dollars that would be spent on adult courts, incarceration, and parole.

Only when we as much about status offenses as we do status updates, will we be able to enact change. Wouldn’t you rather your tax dollars went to rehabilitating youth than paying to house adult inmates? If officials are truly concerned about the cost of the justice system they should invest in rehabilitative programming that has a proven return on investment, instead of sticking to the status quo.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'Tis the season: the best toys to buy for young children

Being in the toy business (at my day job I build playrooms for children living in homeless shelters) I often get asked for advice. What's the hottest toy this season? What would make the perfect gift? Which toys are worth the money?

While my specialty is toys for early childhood (infants through six-year-olds), this advice applies to toys and games for all ages.

Rule number 1: Ignore the "it" toy of the moment.
Next year (or next month) it won't matter if little Susie has the newest Zhu Zhu Hamster, because it will be forgotten or broken. Focus, instead, on toys that will keep your child stimulated and are constructed to last longer than a season.

Rule number 2: Know your audience.
A budding baker would prefer a set of toy pots and pans to a trendy toy that doesn't grab his or her interest. If you're not close to the child, you can still choose a "classic" gift like wooden blocks or hand puppets that will make an impact.

Rule number 3: Follow your heart.
Choose a toy that you loved as a child or one that catches your eye and it's bound to be special. You don't have to spend the morning after Thanksgiving bundled up outside Toys "R" Us waiting to buy The Next Big Thing. Follow your heart when choosing and you'll be successful.



Here are some of my favorite toys and brands of toys. These are IT&O-tested and kid-approved; they are sturdy, tons of fun, and in many cases educational. Some are even sustainably-made and good for the earth. Read on, toy buyers!

Melissa & Doug

Melissa & Doug started out in the garage at Doug's parents' house and has grown into one of the most successful toy companies around. Their products are high-quality, featuring many well-constructed wooden toys. In times when children are inundated with cheap plastic toys, the feeling of warm, solid wood is a comforting alternative. Some of my favorite products by Melissa & Doug? Puppets, puzzles, and wooden toys.




Green Toys

Green Toys says that they believe that "the world would be a much better place if everyone said 'please' and 'thank you', cell phones didn’t ring during movies, and all toys were fun, safe, and made from environmentally friendly materials. Since it’s probably no use holding our breath for those first two, we’re concentrating on the toys."

Made from recycled plastic and other environmentally-friendly materials, Green Toys are classic toys that are great for kids and great for the planet. I'm personally a big fan of the tea set (since in addition to it being planet-friendly, it's one of the few tea sets around that isn't plastered with images of Disney princesses or glitter), but all of the company's toys are wonderful, durable, and more pleasant than stuff made from cheap, destructible plastic.



Cranium

If you're looking for high-quality games, look no further than Cranium, the makers of super-popular games for everyone from preschoolers to adults. The games are silly, lots of fun, and allow people of different ages and abilities to play the same game without anyone feeling as though he or she is too advanced or too far behind. These games are guaranteed to bring you a lot of joy and laughter. (Classic Cranium is my favorite Cranium game for adults!)



Crayola

Please do me a favor and don't buy Rose Art crayons and supplies for your kids! It pains me to see kids scribbling around with cheap, waxy crayons, when Crayola crayons are so durable and inexpensive in their own right. Stick with the classics here. My favorite? A big box of crayons in many colors.



Buying toys that are well-constructed will serve the children in your life better than plastic pieces of junk that will be forgotten in a few days. Feel free to share your own toy recommendations in the comments!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Common sense overrules suspension of six-year-old

In a rare win for common sense, first grader Zachary Christie's suspension was lifted yesterday following a meeting of the school board.

It's about time that common sense won out over zero-tolerance policies that make zero sense. The Christina School District, where Zachary is a student, has dealt with similar cases, including the expulsion of a young girl last year after her grandmother sent her to school with a birthday cake and a knife with which to cut it. (She was, coincidentally, not reprimanded until after the teacher used the knife to cut the cake.) After the girl's case, a state law gave school districts flexibility on punishments that included possible expulsion (the girl's expulsion was eventually overturned), but failed to affect cases that led to suspensions instead of expulsions. Thankfully, Yahoo! News reports that the district may be working on more changes to the school's code of conduct.

I'm in good company on my quest for common sense. Yahoo! News reports that Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services agrees with my sentiments. "When that common sense is missing, it sends a message of inconsistency to students, which actually creates a less safe environment," said Trump. "People have to understand that assessing on a case-by-case basis doesn't automatically equate to being soft or unsafe."

Today's score?
Common sense = 1
Ridiculousness = 0

Monday, October 12, 2009

Six-year-old suspended for eating with camping utensil at school

I used to teach at a high school with high rates of teenage pregnancy, drop-outs, and general misbehavior. The administration tried a variety of tactics to keep kids on the straight-and-narrow, including the introduction of ID badges, police officers in the hallways, and a number of other interventions. The school also had a very strict policy regarding threats to students or the school. A frustrated student muttering, Gosh, this is so boring I could kill myself, led to an automatic removal from class accompanied by a psych evaluation.

If a psych evaluation seems harsh, consider the "zero-tolerance" policies adopted at many schools across the nation. On Sunday, the New York Times reported that six-year-old Zachary Christie was suspended for bringing a Cub Scout camping utensil to school because the tool contained a fork, spoon, and a knife; the knife violated the school's zero-tolerance policy on weapons. In addition to the suspension, Zachary (who takes school so seriously that he often wears a suit and tie to his first grade classroom) faces 45 days in a reform school.


Watch the video here.

The New York Times reports that school officials argue that it is difficult for schools "to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students." I disagree.

While basic policies must remain in place to keep children safe, basic common sense must take precedence when dealing with young children. Has anyone considered the harm being done to poor Zachary, who is without the benefit of formal education or social interactions with his peers for 45 days? Has it occurred to anyone that the children in his classroom might benefit from a lesson and an explanation, rather than seeing a well-behaved classmate suddenly removed from school? Did anyone think that young Zachary might be so excited about Cub Scouts that he just wanted to share his enthusiasm with friends? Be sensible! The poor child is six years old and hasn't shown any disciplinary problems. Treat him with respect and make sure that the punishment fits the crime (if indeed bringing a Cub Scout tool to school can be called a "crime").

There's no denying that some children bring weapons to school with the intention of causing trouble. There's also no denying that we all want to protect our children from violence and that we must be vigilant to ensure that no one slips through the cracks. Zachary, however, slipped through the cracks of common sense when school officials thought it appropriate to suspend a six-year-old for bringing his camping utensil to school. Perhaps next time the school will follow the Cub Scout Law of the Pack, and "give goodwill" to children who obviously meant no harm.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sports for the soul

I love a news story that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Bonus points if it has to do with underdogs or kids doing amazing things.

Remember the story a few years back about the autistic boy who was allowed to play in the last game of the season and ended up scoring several points, including a just-before-the-buzzer three pointer? (Here's the video, if you need a refresher.)



Back then, the story made me teary. I was so glad that this kid got his chance to shine, doing something he loved so much. Everyone was genuinely excited to see Jason McElwain not only play the sport he loved, but succeed at it too. The community rallied around him and celebrated his achievements.

Today, I stumbled across a similar story. This one didn't make the mainstream media -- I found it on a website that covers Kansas City sports -- but the sentiment is every bit as heartwarming.

Matt Ziesel is a fifteen-year-old freshman at St. Joseph Benson High School. He is also five feet, three inches, 110 pounds, and (as of last week) had yet to play in a real game. But at last Monday's game, with the opposing team up 46-0, the Benson High coach, Dan McCamy, called a time out and sent Ziesel into the game.

KansasCity.com reports that Coach McCamy went over and spoke with the opposing team's coach, saying “I’ve got a special situation. I know you guys want to get a shutout. Most teams would want a shutout, but in this situation I want to know if maybe you can let one of my guys run in for a touchdown.”

The opposing team cooperated, allowing Ziesel to run 60 yards for a touchdown, but keeping pace with him the whole run so as to make the moment feel as realistic as possible. As a result, Ziesel was able to score his first touchdown, and two communities were able to share in the joy of seeing a boy accomplish his dreams.

Sports, like many organized activities, offer kids the chance to participate in something that makes them part of a team, makes them feel included. I'm a big fan of anyone who includes children with special needs in their activities. It may not always be easy, but it's always worth it. Just ask Matt or the basketball player if it was worth it. I'm sure they'd say it was.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rules for the gym: friendly guidelines for the etiquette-impaired

In an effort to be generally healthier, I've been heading to the gym. It's working out (hee hee) okay and I find that even if I don't fully love going, I certainly don't hate it either. There are, however, a few things I encounter at the gym that make me cringe. Parting with my hard-earned cash and dragging my keister to the gym in the wee-hours of the morning are tough, but sometimes, dealing with the fellow members is tougher.

Here are my top three rules for the gym:
  1. Wear appropriate attire.
    Sweatpants, shorts, and tee shirts are all acceptable items of clothing at the gym.

    Wearing Spandex bike shorts sans underpants is unacceptable. Same goes for nothing but a sports bra on top (save it for Sweatin' to the Oldies at home) or men's short-shorts that would qualify as dubious even on basketball players in the '70s. No one wants to see your jiggly, dimpled butt, bouncing around on an elliptical for half an hour.

    While I'm at it, wearing too much clothing is just as bad as not wearing enough. A pair of jeans and a long-sleeved fleece pull-over do not an appropriate gym outfit make. Riding an exercise bike in such gear is unacceptable, as it makes me worry that you'll will pass out from heat exhaustion, or I'll pass out from nervousness that you'll pass out.

  2. Keep quiet.
    Although it's somewhat annoying, feel free to exhale sharply when exerting yourself; breathing is important! You can even listen to your iPod (at an acceptable decibel level), or chat with a nearby friend.

    Grunting, however, is not allowed. Neither is singing along to the Ruff Ryders' Anthem so loudly that I can't hear myself think. I also don't care much for your TMI conversation with anyone who will listen. I don't even like to be at the gym at 6:45 a.m., so the less I have to listen to your grunting, groaning, singing and over-sharing, the better.

  3. Work out alone.
    Sure, you can bring a buddy or a significant other, but nothing's worse than being surrounded by the varsity cheerleading squad. Similarly, leave the damn Blackberry at home! For the love of God, no one needs to hear a one-sided conversation about your latest visit to the gynecologist, your recent mole biopsy, or your drunken regrets. I also don't want to worry about your falling off the treadmill in a texting frenzy; think of the paperwork! You can handle being "alone" in a crowded gym for an hour; the Blackberry can wait.
By following these simple rules, you'll save hundreds of fellow gym-members from the anxiety induced by bouncing butts, off-key singing, and your beeping Blackberry. Many thanks in advance for your cooperation in following these rules!

Faithful readers, what would you add? What are your gym pet peeves?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Music so bad it's good

I once worked with a guy who was very knowledgeable about music. He was in a band, reviewed new albums as a freelancer, and knew more about bands than anyone else I hung out with. And although he loved all kinds of music, he was especially big into folk music and artsy stuff.

And the ringtone on his cellphone was Milkshake.

Seriously.

When I heard I asked him about the ringtone and he extolled its virtues I figured, it's official: everyone has some guilty pleasure music.

I'm willing to bet that I have more than most people, and I am equally eager to admit that I love my guilty pleasure music unabashedly. I'll listen to it in my car with the windows down and the volume cranked. I'll listen at work, in the shower, at a party, or while doing chores. It's music so bad it's good.

Do I have a go-to tongue-in-cheek rap song from the '90s? Yup. Highly embarrassing Spice Girls CDs and '80s movie soundtracks? Uh-huh. Several burned CDs with inappropriate music from Eminem and 50 Cent? Sure do. Songs sung by cartoon characters? Definitely. But doesn't everyone?

While you think about your own list, I give you this, for your viewing pleasure:


Enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Madam Librarian

Lately I can hear the sirens' song, and it's about books. The tune is forever in the back of my head, tempting me to read in much of my spare time and making me long for a job in which I'd be surrounded by writing.

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. My parents tell me I learned to read before I was three years old and I never stopped. Many days of my childhood were spent flipping through my books, my brother's books, my parents' books, library books... I spent dinners sneaking glances at novels and magazines, while my parents scolded me: No reading at the table!

As I got older, I read even more. In middle school we were required to read at least eight novels each year during our "silent reading" period; we then had to take tests to "prove" that we had read them. Some kids never finished. Most kids read eight to twelve books. I read 140.

Shortly thereafter, I got my first summer job as a librarian's assistant at the Carnegie Library in my hometown. Each day I'd get there early (some days before the other librarians), eager to get started. My working hours were filled with checking out and shelving books, updating the card catalog (which was still made up of cards and in triplicate, since our library had other branches) by pulling out the cards of books we no longer carried and replacing them with new cards. I spent my Friday mornings helping with the children's story hour, my afternoons helping patrons, and much of my time feeling blessed that I was fortunate enough to score the perfect summer employment.

The best part about working at the library was access to all the books. I read dozens of books that summer. I read lots of young adult fiction, worked my way through law novels of all stripes, and even managed to read all 1,000+ pages of Gone with the Wind, which smelled musty and had thin pages like a bible and felt weighty and substantial in my hands. During lunchtime, most of the librarians would go home to eat and I would stay at the library, sitting outside in the warm sun with my back pressed against the hot brick or snuggled inside on cloudy days, wedged underneath the giant moose head on the wall or tucked back in the stacks sitting on a footstool, my book in my lap and a sandwich in my hand.

While all this may seem to make me a bit of a nerd, I always maintained a social life and other interests. I don't suffer from the debilitating shyness that is sometimes linked with being bookish, and though I often prefer to get lost in a book, I enjoy parties and get-togethers a great deal.

I've always pondered what it would be like to be a librarian. Lately (since I'm finding less and less satisfaction with my work), I've been considering this whole librarian thing a bit more seriously. And when I read (in the New York Times, no less!) that being a librarian is suddenly cool, I began to think that maybe a career change is in order. After all, there's nothing I love more than a cardigan and a good book!

Good books aside, becoming a librarian will require more school. I'm not sure if I'm ready for more school. While I love to learn, I don't love being broke or being overbooked. Life as an undergraduate is relatively simple; you take out some loans, focus on nothing but school and extracurriculars, and spend your summers living at home, rent free. Graduate school is another animal entirely; you have to hold down a full-time job, take out even more astronomical loans, and pay for your own rent and groceries.

I haven't yet decided if I'm up for the challenge of library school, but it's certainly always nagging in the back of my mind. For now, I'll continue working my way through mystery series, memoirs, and non-fiction and will pepper my life with young adult novels (which I still love wholeheartedly). Maybe I can volunteer at my local library (which, alas, is not the library of my youth and does not feature a giant moose head on the wall) and live vicariously through a friend who just started library school.

And at the very least, I can keep reading. In fact, I think I might start right now...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Too cool for school? President Obama's plan to address students

Yahoo! News reported today that President Obama's national address to the students of America is under fire by conservatives who believe that the president is promoting a leftist agenda. The article goes as far to say that some conservatives are "calling the speech an excuse to brainwash American children."

At noon on September 8, the address will be broadcast live on the White House website and C-SPAN. According to the press release, President Obama intends to speak directly to students about succeeding in school. He will challenge them to "work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning."

Image courtesy of AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.

Oh no! The President of the United States of America (elected by a solid 53% of the population) is encouraging children to embrace education? What's next? Socialism? The brainwashing, good-for-nothing monster shouldn't be allowed near our children!

Seriously though, sparking a national conversation about education is exactly what this country needs, and America's young people could use a little encouragement to take their education seriously. Our nation's children are far from mindless. It is highly unlikely that President Obama (or any U.S. President, for that matter) would be able to "brainwash" any students or even sway them to unwillingly support a "leftist" agenda.

Just moments ago, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, "I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school. I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

My point exactly. Our children need encouragement to pursue an education, and they need to hear about the importance of education from a variety of sources, including parents, friends, teachers, and people in positions of authority. In addition, since many of our nation's failing students are from low-income or minority communities, hearing from successful men of color does nothing but good, in my opinion.

I even think that this speech is an opportunity to teach children critical thinking skills. If a teacher or parent doesn't agree with what President Obama says in the address, why not ask the students questions that require critical thinking skills? Why do you agree or disagree with the President? What improvements would you make to the education system as it is now? What is the most important factor contributing to your success in school? What is the hardest obstacle getting in the way of your education? Failing to allow our children to develop critical thinking skills is failing as parents and teachers.

We need to expose our kids to healthy, appropriate situations in which they will have the opportunity to think for themselves. We need to stop being a country full of helicopter parents and politicians who enjoy nothing more than standing on soapboxes. What we need, is to stop and listen to the President on Tuesday at noontime. Give the man a chance to say what he has to say; then, form your opinions and find a young person with whom to talk about your reactions.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bigger sizes not bringing in bigger bucks: why the sale of plus-size clothes is down

Last week the Associated Press ran a story about a slow-down in the sale of plus-size clothes. The article discusses market researcher's ideas as to why sales have slowed; overall, I find their theories unlikely and misguided. Among the theories? Retailers don't want to send out "the wrong image" by marketing to plus-size shoppers, plus-size shoppers prefer to shop online, and plus-size women have been hit harder than average-size women by cuts in pay.

Oh please.

Being a plus-size woman, I have a few of my own theories on why plus-size clothing sales may be down. The number one reason in my book? They were too expensive to begin with! Retailers like Lane Bryant, The Avenue, and Torrid cater to plus-size women, offer fashions exclusively to those size 14+, and have used their niche to charge high prices for plus-size clothes. Given that many stores do not offer attractive options for plus-size ladies, many women were forced to shop at these stores and pay the exorbitant prices. In this economy, however, people can't afford $98 blouses, $188 jeans, or $70 "casual" dresses.

I believe that women are finally cluing in that they shouldn't have to pay super-high prices for clothes simply because they're overweight. As the argument goes, it's more material, but it's not so much more that a size 1X sweater should cost $20 more than a size XL sweater! And women shouldn't have to pay for the "convenience" of shopping in stores that cater to carrying their sizes.

I buy most of my clothes at Kohl's, a department store that has a reasonable selection of plus-size clothes that are both trendy and classic and of good quality. The clothes I buy there are nearly always on sale and those that aren't I buy with coupons. It's more economically sensible than spending two- or three-times as much at a specialty store, and I leave with great clothes. Plus, since Kohl's is a department store, I can also pick up new towels, a toaster oven, or some makeup while I'm there; it's one-stop shopping.

The AP reports that other department stores are getting in on the action, and I see it as a step in the right direction. With more than half of American women wearing plus-sizes, featuring plus-size fashion in most department stores makes simple financial sense. Plus, long-gone are the days of mumus and sack-like garments made to conceal the body. Plus-size women want fashionable outfits just like average-size women. Stores like Bloomingdales, JCPenney, and Macy's all offer plus-size lines, which the AP reports is good for business.

I'm perhaps most excited by the prospect of stores like Forever 21 (a clothing retailer aimed at teenagers) creating plus-size lines. Teenagers and young people need fashionable options that fit their bodies and lifestyles, regardless of their size. It's hard enough to be a plus-size woman; I think it's even harder to be a plus-size teenager, dealing with all the other perils of adolescence. Why trendy retailers haven't thought to reach out to plus-size teenagers before this is beyond me. Teenagers have always had more disposable income than adults and they spend most of their money on clothes. In tough times, more retailers would benefit from marketing to young people, who are more likely than adults to keep spending.

Readers, what do you think? Why is the plus-size clothing market dropping even faster than women's apparel overall? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Juvenile justice system in the news

The past month has been a busy one for the juvenile justice system in the United States. CNN reported that teen offenders in Missouri are "finding a future" through a juvenile justice program that focuses on therapy and education, while the New York Times reported that mentally ill juveniles are straining the system. In either case, it's a good sign that people are talking about the juvenile justice system, which is far from perfect -- and in some cases, far from functional.

In Missouri, teen offenders are housed in dormitory-like buildings that provide colorful, comfortable accommodations. Teens go through therapy and are given the opportunity to go to school and receive job training. Juvenile offenders are also assigned case workers and work closely in small groups, learning about self-control, teamwork, and other skills necessary to become productive members of society. Even violent offenders are given the chance to work toward rehabilitation in small groups, though they live in gated facilities.


While the federal rates of suicide and recidivism in youth offenders remain relatively high, officials in Missouri note that no juvenile offenders have committed suicide while in the program (which began in the 1970s) and only about 9 percent of juveniles in Missouri are back in trouble within three years of release. The low rate of recidivism, in turn, saves the state's justice system billions of dollars by lowering the number of repeat offenders and cutting down on the costs of building and maintaining more prisons.

Many of the young people who go through the Missouri system eventually go on to college and become productive members of their communities. CNN reported that one girl, who was incarcerated in 2005 for alcohol abuse and behavioral problems, said that she had always wanted to go to college, but didn't think it could actually happen. This year, she's graduating from college and applying to law school.

More states should follow the Missouri model for juvenile offenders, ensuring that youth get the attention and education they need to become productive members of society. It is a stark contrast with the Ohio system mentioned in the New York Times article. The system in question houses a juvenile population that includes many teens with mental illness. Nationwide, nearly two-thirds of juvenile inmates are dealing with psychiatric disorders. Housing juveniles with mental illness in correctional facilities fails to address the issue at hand, which is getting the youth access to medication, therapy, and other tools that will allow them to manage their illnesses and work their way toward becoming reintegrating into their communities.

The article in the New York Times also reports that juvenile correctional facilities are the usually the only option for teenagers who deal with serious mental illness and criminal records. Once they arrive, teenagers are usually kept on strong psychotropic drugs and receive limited access to therapists and behavior modification programs. The article also mentions that in 2001 over 9,000 families relinquished custody of their mentally ill children to the juvenile justice system so that the youth could get access to mental health services.

It is irresponsible not to allow children and teenagers access to the appropriate resources in any case, but it ought to be criminal to ignore the needs of the mentally ill. If we don't allow mentally ill teenagers some control over their bodies and minds through medication and therapy, how do we expect them to navigate the world in a safe and appropriate way? What do we expect mentally ill teenagers to learn in correctional facilities? By simply locking them up and throwing away the proverbial key, we're only teaching them that no one is looking out for their best interests, so they'll have to fend for themselves.

My hope is that more states will begin to follow the Missouri model. It's appropriate, intelligent, and ultimately better for society if we prepare juvenile offenders for a life outside prison walls. Prepared teens are functional teens, and functional teens become functional adults who stay out of the prison system. The investment with teenagers up front will pay for itself a dozen times over in the end; we just need to be willing to make the investment now to reap the rewards in the future.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Don't judge a book by its cover


This evening, I joined a book club.

Since I'm a list-making kind of girl I weighed the pros and cons carefully before signing up.



Pros:
  • The club is in town (and within reasonable walking distance).
  • Tonight was the club's first meeting (thereby nullifying the awkwardness of being a newcomer).
  • The club is for 20- and 30-somethings (that's me!).
  • The club focuses -- obviously -- on books (which I love!).
Cons:
  • Book club people can be nerdy (which I am, but with admirable social skills).
  • Book clubs sometimes read pretentious stuff (when I'm busy re-reading Harriet the Spy).
  • Book clubs can involve investing in books (which was only temporarily a con, since I figured I could beat everyone to the library and grab a free copy!).
So, with free library books overruling having to buy books, the pros definitely won, and I went to the meeting.

When I arrived I was mildly horrified when it was announced that most members wanted to read historical fiction. Historical fiction? No, thank you. In metered doses, perhaps, but not taking over my life. The proposed books were Sula, The Sound and the Fury, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, and The Good Earth. I don't even know that they were all "historical," unless you count being written awhile back "history." I wasn't terribly interested in any of them, though I thought I'd give Sula or The Good Earth a go if I had to.

Then, a savior! An attractive, fit, tattooed guy walked in and approached our table. He looked more likely to be heading for the gym, a bar, or something else manly and cool than to be seeking out our book club. Our club was decidedly not manly or cool. We had but one man among us and the rest of us were women -- a few of us polished and tidy, a few others sloppily dressed, none of us downright cool.

Once he joined us, I thought Tattoo Guy would be an ally. Here's a guy, I thought, that will enjoy a good crime novel or something funny like one of A.J. Jacobs's books. I am not alone! We can sway the populace!

I was sadly mistaken. It turns out that Tattoo Guy reads about history almost exclusively. He's also the type to read several books at once (as am I), but since they sounded like big, scary, involved books, I gave him more credit for reading half a dozen at a time. Do not judge a book by its cover! I thought lamely, no pun (originally) intended.

In the end, we decided on The Most Famous Man in America (though how famous can the man be if I've never even heard of him?) and I, peer pressured by my new-found nerd friends, will be reading something that I find mind-numbingly dull. Tattoo Guy will probably be quite pleased. I've read a few pages thus far and it's going to be a long journey for me. One that traipses through quite a bit of boredom, but leads to what Calvin's dad (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) would call "character building."

If nothing else, I hope that the book club finds me some new friends or acquaintances, if not (at least this month) new favorite books. As I walked to the library to borrow a copy of this month's book, I spoke with another attendee, Linda, who was very friendly and not overly nerdy. She seems pleasant and I can imagine being friends with her. Since Tattoo Guy didn't work out as an ally, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that maybe Linda will have a secret infatuation with Helen Fielding or Susan Jane Gilman and will second my nomination for something a little frivolous the next time around. At the very least, perhaps we'll read the biography of someone I've heard of.

Here's to hoping!


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vacation, all I ever wanted...

I love to travel.

I like to pack up and get away for awhile. It's the feeling of "away" that I enjoy the most. I'm just as happy to explore a new city as I am on Space Mountain or tucked into a comfy hotel bed reading a book. That's why, even in this rough economy, I am reluctant to give up on the idea of a "vacation" in favor of a "staycation".

Cartoon by Jeff Stahler.

I'm a pretty frugal person by nature. I shop with coupons. I don't have any credit card debt. I recycle plastic sandwich baggies by using them for a week at a time. The most expensive thing in my closet is a pair of $150 shoes that I bought on clearance for less than ten bucks. So when I talk about splurging on vacation, I know that some people think it's odd. It goes against my instincts just a little bit, but...

Ultimately the urge to get away, to go on vacation, to see or do something different, wins. The angel on one shoulder waives a deposit slip and extols the virtues of saving, while the devil in a Hawaiian shirt dangles a passport in my face and whispers in my ear that you only live once. So the devil wins and I grab my suitcase and head off.

Bon voyage!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happiness is

... a capella shows.
... antique postcards.
... birds at a feeder.
... board game marathons.
... dairy-free ice cream.
... dogs in argyle sweaters.
... finding the right vintage postcard.
... a fireplace and a good book.
... fleece blankets.
... freshly-baked brownies with crunchy edges.
... fresh-blooming lilacs.
... fuzzy friends.
... gerbera daisies in full-bloom.
... getting a manicure.
... giving people presents.
... goofy office supplies.
... good jazz.
... having your birthday remembered.
... kicking butt at Texas Hold 'Em.
... making cupcakes.
... musicals.
... nachos for dinner.
... photo booths.
... the smell of leather baseball gloves.
... sourdough toast with butter.
... sunshine.
... Tchaikovsky.
... trivia games.
... used books and used bookstores.
... vacation time.
... warm summer rainstorms.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Maybe not Martha

I am not what you might call a "domestic goddess."

I'm hopelessly cluttered, I don't bake from scratch, I can't use my sewing machine for more than a day (and only after someone has threaded the machine for me), and I don't think I've ever washed a window in my life. My house is more shabby than it is shabby chic, and most of my appliances and furniture are hand-me-downs or relics found on Craigslist.

This, however, does not mean that I don't aspire to be at least somewhat domestic. (Or perhaps, more amusingly, somewhat of a goddess.) I have dreams of baking my own bread, owning a brand new sectional couch, sewing adorable curtains and bed skirts, and keeping everything in its place a la Clean Sweep.

I can see it now: It's the weekend and I'm in the kitchen happily baking fresh bread for the days ahead. While it's in the oven I'll sit on my comfy sofa reading a book. (Note: I am not covered in flour.) When the bread has finished baking I set it out to cool and I go downstairs to my craft space, which is not only perfectly organized and labeled, but displaying my artsy fortitude, with home-sewn pillows propped up on a nearby couch and crocheted scarves folded delicately into hand-painted gift packages. I then spend the afternoon hand-making all of this year's Christmas cards and embroidering gifts for my loved ones.

Then reality hits and I remember that attempting that very same weekend would result in my staining my blouse with smudges of butter on the sleeves. While trying to figure out how to clean the grease from my shirt, I'd forget about the bread in the oven, charring it to a dark black mess and forcing the opening of all kitchen windows and doors (regardless of the weather). In any downtime I'd be shuffling piles of shopping fliers and half-finished "to-do" lists so that I could sit on my hand-me-down couch with the uncomfortable springs and the ill-fitting slipcover. My craft table would be piled high with half-finished projects like the curtain I started to sew but had to stop since I ran out of thread and can't reset the bobbin without assistance. My Christmas cards would be from the Dollar Tree, and I would have written in them and addressed them, but run out of stamps, thereby not tossing them into a mailbox until February.

My lack of domestic dexterity isn't completely troubling. I'm grateful that I don't live in an era that requires me to be a perfectly-coiffed housewife with dinner on the table at five and homemade pies adorning the counter tops. And I don't mind trying and failing all that much. I'm happy to work on my sewing one bobbin at a time, buy my bread from the bakery in town, and make my cakes from a boxed mix. Sometimes I wish I had fabulously coordinated furniture with adorable curtains, but for now my eclectic mix will work (supplemented by occasional splurges on rugs that don't feel like sandpaper and tablecloths that make me feel like a grown up).

Besides, I have to keep busy. What would happen to the self-help and craft sections of the library if I stopped checking out books with titles like Messies Anonymous and Easy Sewing Projects? Who would support the local economy by buying bread from the mom and pop place? What would Duncan Hines do if I stopped buying its boxed cake mixes in bulk? And who the heck would come pick up my crappy couch if I got a new one?

Ahh... to be a domestic goddess. For now, I suppose I'll settle for something less... something more like domestic apprentice. I'll tinker with my sewing machine in an attempt to finish those curtains until I remember that I can buy a set for $6 at the Christmas Tree Shops and I'll try to make all my own Christmas presents until I realize that I have a big family and a half dozen friends and it would be easier to shop online. I'll keep buying storage bins and labels and will attempt to find all of my possessions a designated place in my home. I'll even try my hand at baking from scratch and force the trials on my colleagues at work. Wish me luck!



Thursday, July 23, 2009

Teaching old dogs new tricks: inmates train service dogs

What makes people do the things they do? What makes some people commit crimes, while others walk a straight and narrow path? How can we reform former law-breakers into law-abiding members of society?

To find the answers to my questions, I studied criminal justice and psychology in college. I was interested in the "human condition" and I wanted to find out as much as I could about what makes people behave a certain way. I focused a great deal on juveniles as well, trying to figure out what it takes to keep young people out of the criminal justice system and what could be done to help them find a place back in the community if they had already been part of the system.

Fast forward to a few things that I've learned:
  1. Children do not misbehave, they make mistakes.
    When very young children act out they need something (such as attention) that they can't ask for outright. When adolescents act out, they're also seeking attention or gratification that they can't find elsewhere. Even if they "know better" they're still just kids without fully-formed brains; adolescents do not have very good impulse control and need to be taught how to deal with their feelings and needs in a productive way.

  2. Nothing good can come from locking folks up and "throwing away the key."
    Very few offenders in the grand scheme find themselves behind bars forever. Because of this, our communities need to find a way to rehabilitate inmates so that they can rejoin society and become functional members of their communities. Teaching inmates about self-esteem along with technical skills will produce people who are ready to become part of the outside world again. Without this support and rehabilitation, many former inmates fall back into old patterns and wind up within the prison system once again.

  3. People are inherently good.
    There are plenty of people in this world that don't get along with one another, but all of them have some good somewhere. Many inmates are poor and are dealing with mental illness or addiction. By bringing out the good in them, finding them the proper treatment for whatever illness or addiction they are battling, we can also showcase the good in people, allowing inmates to reintegrate into society after they've served their time.
It is obvious that I am a firm believer in a rehabilitative form of justice. I believe that inmates should have access to counseling services, education, and spiritual guidance. I also believe that there are many programs (or potential programs) that can benefit both inmate and society. One such program that I've been seeing more and more of lately is Puppies Behind Bars (and similar programs).

Puppies Behind Bars.
Photo courtesy of Radhika Chalasani/Redux.


Puppies Behind Bars is the brainchild of Gloria Gilbert Stoga. After adopting a Labrador Retriever who was trained as a guide dog but discharged from the program for medical reasons, Stoga began researching the process of training a guide dog. It commonly costs $25,000 to train one dog, who then goes on to be a service animal for a blind, deaf, or physically handicapped owner or assists law enforcement as a drug- or explosives-sniffing dog. When a friend of Stoga's commented that prisoners might make good dog trainers, and idea was born.

Puppies Behind Bars operates in a handful of prisons across the country. Dogs have been trained by both men and women inmates, and there are successful programs for juvenile offenders as well. Puppies live in cells with their trainers and receive weekend furloughs to outside homes to experience life outside prison walls (to get used to traffic, doorbells, telephones, elevators, and the like). Trainers attend weekly classes and train their dogs in obedience as well as the special skills required to be a guide dog or law enforcement dog.

I support the programming of Puppies Behind Bars one hundred percent. Research shows that dogs have a calming, positive affect on people (inmates included). It also shows that the inmate trainers who work with these dogs finish the program with higher self esteem, more compassion for other people, better impulse control, and a drop in selfishness. They've also learned valuable skills that can help them when they reintegrate into society. These inmates can find work with animals, or -- with their new-found patience -- can train for other types of work.

In addition to benefits for the inmates, training dogs behind bars has advantages for the dogs and the community as well. For starters, the dogs involved in the program find themselves with devoted care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Prisoners do not have demands on their time the way those outside the system do. Even the most devoted dog trainers in the "outside" world have the distractions of spouses, cell phones, children, dentist appointments, and the like. In prison, dogs have access to their trainers -- and undivided attention -- 24 hours a day. The community benefits as well, since training a dog through a program like Puppies Behind Bars costs less than it does in the "real" world. More dogs can be trained less expensively, which means that more service animals are out in the community, assisting people who need them.

For more information on Puppies Behind Bars, you may visit them online at: http://www.puppiesbehindbars.com/index.asp

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A time to weep and a time to laugh

Today I had both the honor and misfortune to attend the wake of a good friend's grandmother. It was an honor because I love my friend dearly, and her Nana -- though I never met her -- sounded like a wonderful person. She sounded a lot like my Grandma Welcome, to be honest -- a woman I loved and respected more than anyone else I have had the privilege of knowing. It was my misfortune, of course, because death is never easy and it is harder still to find the right words, to say the right things.

For all of my wishing that I have the right words to say when necessary, my track record is pretty poor. At the memorial service for a high school friend's father I blurted out "I'm happy to be here!" when my friend's mother thanked me for coming. And when I heard on Monday that someone's beloved Nana had died all I could manage was a hollow-sounding "I'm so sorry."

Of course, the people dealing with loss don't know what to say either. The mother of my high school friend smiled and nodded, as though she was happy that I was happy. My friend today laughed nervously and smiled a lot to keep from crying. What does it say about our society that we can't just cry together and let the sadness out? From whom are we hiding our true feelings? For whom are we trying to be brave?

The facade of bravery always surfaces after a death, trying to shimmer its way past the sorrow. Sometimes it is self-inflicted, other times it is pushed on the grieving by uncomfortable -- if not well-meaning -- friends and family members. But the cascade of well-intentioned she's-in-a-better-place-nows, at-least-it-wasn't-unexpecteds, and cheer-ups that inevitably follow a loved one's passing, are inappropriate. Perhaps more so than even my nervous and foolish I'm glad to be here! These overly optimistic fronts of bravery do not allow the grieving to actually grieve.

I think finding a way to let people mourn is what perplexes people the most when attempting to comfort someone. Maybe it's a soothing nature of our own, since we don't want to see friends suffer, but I suspect that it's more likely our own vulnerabilities that make us nervous and uncomfortable. It’s hard to watch a person grieving, and it’s harder still to be the person who can come right out and say "If you need a place to cry until your mascara runs, come find me!" Or, conversely, "If you're tired of being miserable and need a giggling spell, come find me!" Or, finally, "If you want someone to simply listen to how great a person your lost loved-one was, come find me."

In the end, I want to say all those things. After all, how often do we hear the words of Ecclesiastes at a funeral? For everything there is a season... a time to weep and a time to laugh... I don't have all the answers, but I want my friends and family to know that I'm there when they need me. I'll bring the tissues or the Chris Rock DVD or the scrapbooking supplies and we can wade through the grief until it’s gone, or (at the very least) until it’s more manageable.

In the meantime, I'll try to keep my bumbling comments to myself. I'll make sure that my friends and family know that I love them and that I'm not so much happy to be there as I am happy to be there for them. If I have done my best I will count it as a success, because surely, it is not what we say so much as what we do, that makes a difference in comforting our loved ones during a time of loss.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Denied a diploma for blowing a kiss?

Earlier this month the ABC-affiliate from Portland, Maine reported that high school student Justin Denney was denied his diploma after "misbehaving" during his graduation ceremony. Denney's misbehavior? Blowing his family a kiss and bowing on stage.

The "proud gestures" were enough for superintendent Suzanne Lukas to deny Denney his diploma, saying that the boy's actions violated a code of conduct signed by the graduating students. After a public uproar over the situation, the school board met to discuss the decision. It is reported that the school board supported the superintendent's actions, though they did mail Denney his diploma.

According to ABC, Denney and his family have asked for an apology and for the superintendent to step down, but the superintendent defends her actions and states that "this is a closed issue" as far as she is concerned.



Having watched video of the graduation in question (not the video above), I understand why school officials instituted a policy to maintain order during the graduation ceremony. Students were batting around beach balls and acting up during various points during the ceremony, which was obviously distracting to families, as well as the students who were not participating in the shenanigans. School officials said that graduations had been quite rowdy in the past, which is why strict standards were implemented.

What concerns me is the obvious difference between disrespectful teenagers bashing each other with beach balls, and a student blowing his family a kiss after four years of hard work. Denney wasn't showboating. He didn't yell and do cartwheels on the stage; he merely showed excitement at his accomplishment. He wasn't misbehaving, he was being a kid!

The fact that a superintendent and school board would stand behind their misguided decision to deny a student his diploma is even more appalling. An apology is certainly called for. Denney was denied the opportunity to graduate with his class -- he'll never again have the opportunity to relive that moment. In addition, Superintendent Lukas was completely out of line. If she was worried about misbehavior, she should have paid more attention to the catcalls and beach balls in the audience and less attention to a student celebrating his achievement.

I was initially shocked when I heard this story, but the shock quickly wore off, since I hear stories like this far too often. We live in a society of excess. On one hand there are children being allowed to throw beach balls to interrupt a graduation ceremony, and on the other there are school officials punishing a minor offender (if it can be classified as offensive at all). Children shouldn't be allowed to throw beach balls during graduation, but who's to blame for that? Where are the parents teaching manners about social decorum? Where are the teachers who tell the kids how proud they are and explain how to act during the ceremony? Perhaps if we taught our children about socially-acceptable displays of exuberance and affection, we wouldn't be dealing with overly-excitable kids and an overly-uptight superintendent, with one boy singled out as an scapegoat.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A day in the life (someday)

I wake up at 8 a.m., well-rested after a good night’s sleep. I put on my slippers, plod out to the kitchen and warm up the pan on the stove, preparing my customary egg breakfast. While it’s cooking, I feed the pets, tidy up from the night before and get ready to start my day.


I eat my breakfast of eggs (with spinach and cheese this morning) at the kitchen table in front of the sun-filled windows. I read the local paper, spending the most time on local news, the comics, and letters to the editor. I also fiddle around with the Sudoku puzzle and half-heartedly attempt the Jumble before I get moving on to more important things.


After breakfast, I hop into the shower, dress, and boot up my computer. It’s a slow-beast of a thing, so while the computer is waking up from a night off, I gather my research materials and prepare myself for a day’s work. I’m halfway through a book about party planning that I am reviewing for the Examiner. Maybe I’ll read another chapter today and make a few more notes for my review. I also have a stack of research on contracts, which is serving as the basis for both my 20-page final project at Northeastern University and an upcoming Examiner series. The last two stacks include materials that cover some teen health information for my gig as a teen advice expert and a pile of multi-colored Post-its with column ideas for Inner Thoughts and Outbursts.


I start with an article for a wedding blog about what to wear to a summer wedding. When it’s completed, I read a few chapters of the party planning book, make some cursory notes on the pages sticking out of my contracts research, and take a break to start some laundry. I hate doing laundry – the sorting of whites and lights and darks and delicates – but it’s a necessary chore and a good, quick break to clear my head of the cobwebs that get in the way of concise writing.


Downstairs in the basement, I throw in a load of towels and am temporarily distracted by my crafting supplies. Hmmm… I think. I wonder if I’ll have time to work on some scrapbooking today? Maybe make some cards… I’m often momentarily distracted by the hobbies I love but don’t have time for. I’m happy, however, to be working from home, so I trudge back upstairs and write for another hour.


At half-past noon I take a break for lunch. I bake a piece of trout with some asparagus and eat it in front of the television, alternating between the mid-day news and shows on TLC. The decorating, makeover, and medical mystery shows that cycle on the channel are enough to distract me from the formulaic and alarmist news that I can only stomach in short bursts, so I don’t mind my guilty pleasure of eating in front of the TV.


Feeling relaxed after my TLC-fix I pile my dishes into the dishwasher and head back to my desk to write for an hour. It’s just enough time to let my stomach settle before I go to the gym. It’s about a five minute drive and I feel guilty driving instead of walking, but I’d have to cross a six-lane highway – something that doesn’t seem like an incredibly good idea. Instead, I drive, park, and spend an hour or so kicking my own butt with the free weights and a treadmill. Some days my trainer meets me here, but he’s usually here later in the evening and I like the way the gym is half-empty at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I don’t feel like such a spectacle when I lunge across the gym floor mid-day as when the gym is packed at 6 p.m. and I feel like all eyes are on me.


The gym break is good for my body and good for my mind. I get back to work and spend the rest of the afternoon compiling research, reading all the online news I can handle, paying bills, and responding to e-mails and phone calls. I wrap things up for the most part, but know that I’ll be poking around with a particularly tough-to-write article later tonight.


Once my boyfriend gets home from work we have dinner, go for a walk around the neighborhood and settle into our evenings. He putters around in the garden, watering bushes, picking tomatoes, and pulling stray weeds. I sneak down to my neglected craft table and work on a few scrapbook pages. I keep the TV on in the background, a crime show soundtrack keeping me company.


That night, content from a productive day, I cuddle up in my bed with my laptop and chat with friends online. I do poke around the tough-to-write article for a few moments, but leave it for the morning when I have fresh ideas and inspiration. Then, computer off, I snuggle in with a Lisa Scottoline novel and read a few chapters before setting my alarm to get up and do everything all over again the next day.


Life is good.