Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wonders all around us

On July 7, 2007, the New Seven Wonders organization, founded to document, maintain, restore and reconstruct world heritage sites, announced the new 7 wonders of the world as chosen by a world-wide internet vote. Although many wrote off the campaign as nothing more then a publicity stunt aimed at making a profit, it did capture the attention of millions, educating the masses on the sites and focusing attention on the need to upkeep these wonders for the enjoyment of future generations. For those who did not pay attention in history class, or were not taught the actual fun and exciting stuff in the world, this contest provided a wonderful background on the nominees and a reminder that the fate of these sites could be subject to the same doom as 6 of the original 7 wonders.

There is actually a history of Seven Wonders lists generated over the centuries. Most people know of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which are based on ancient Greek, Roman and Persian writings and focused primarily on locations around the Mediterranean:

  • Great Pyramid of Giza: Built as the tomb for Fourth dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu and the only ancient wonder still standing.
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Described as multi-leveled gardens reaching 75 feet high, complete with machinery for circulating water and large trees grew on the roof; destroyed in a 1st century BC earthquake.
  • Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: Dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis and burned down by Herostratus to achieve lasting fame.
  • Statue of Zeus at Olympia: Occupied the whole width of the aisle of the temple that was built to house it, and was 40 feet tall and presumed destroyed by fire or earthquake.
  • Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus: 135 feet tall with each of the four sides adorned with sculptures and the origin of today’s word mausoleum. Damaged by an earthquake and eventually disassembled by Crusaders.
  • Colossus of Rhodes: A giant statue of the Greek god Helios roughly 75% the size of the Statue of Liberty; destroyed by an earthquake.
  • Lighthouse of Alexandria: Estimated between 383 to 440 feet, it was among the tallest man-made structures on Earth for many centuries; destroyed by an earthquake.

A lesser known list is the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages, although most of the locations on this list are very well known:

  • Stonehenge: Stonehenge is a circular setting of large standing stones in the UK countryside. Archaeologists believe the standing stones, weighing around 50 tons each, were erected around 2200 BC.
  • Colosseum: Amphitheatre in the center of Rome and completed in 80 AD, it is the largest structure built in the Roman Empire and considered one of the greatest feats of Roman architecture and engineering.
  • Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa: Located in Alexandria, Egypt and consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult, displaying the melding of various cultures with Hellenistic and Imperial Roman influences.
  • Great Wall of China: A series of stone and earthen fortifications in China built and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire.
  • Porcelain Tower of Nanjing: A white porcelain brick tower adored with glaze and stoneware art located on the south bank of the Yangtze in Nanjing, China, it was constructed in the 15th century AD, but was mostly destroyed in 19th century warfare and currently being reconstructed.
  • Hagia Sophia: Formerly a patriarchal basilica, later a mosque and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey, it is considered the ultimate display of Byzantine architecture and served as the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral.
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa: The freestanding bell tower situated behind the cathedral of Pisa, Italy, was intended to stand vertically but began lean almost immediately after construction began due to a poorly laid foundation.

The Seven Modern Wonders of the World as chosen by the American Society of Civil Engineers:

  • Channel Tunnel: Tunnel under the Strait of Dover, between England and France.
  • CN Tower: Tallest structure in the world, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  • Empire State Building: Art Deco skyscraper in New York, NY that stood as the world's tallest building for more than forty years, from its completion in 1931 until the construction of the World Trade Center North Tower.
  • Golden Gate Bridge: The Golden Gate Bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1937, built to withstand the San Francisco Bay area’s seismic activity, and currently the second longest suspension bridge in the United States after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City.
  • Itaipu Dam: Hydroelectric dam on the ParanĂĄ River located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, most known for the agreements that needed to occur between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina for construction to begin.
  • Delta Works: Dams, locks, dikes and surge barriers constructed between 1950 and 1997 in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of land from the sea.
  • Panama Canal: Ship canal that crosses the Isthmus of Panama in Central America, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and considered one of the most difficult engineering projects every undertaken.

There were originally 77 nominees for the New Seven Wonders of the World and the following 21 made the final cut and were the choices available to voters worldwide:

  • The Acropolis in Greece: The temples of the Acropolis are among the most famous architectural landmarks of ancient and modern history with the Parthenon recognized as an international symbol of Greek civilization.
  • The Kremlin/St. Basil's in Russia: Built as a residence for Ivan I, the Kremlin was the official residence of the Czars until the 1917 Russian Revolution and one of the most recognized symbols of Russian architecture.
  • Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany: Constructed after the time when castles were strategically necessary, the castle was built to bring people architectural beauty and art.
  • The Eiffel Tower in France: Steel tower recognized as one of the most popular architectural achievements in the western world and serves as an international symbol of France.
  • The Alhambra in Spain: The structure is renowned for stunning frescoes and interior detail and is one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in the world.
  • The Great Wall of China in China: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.
  • Kiyomizu Temple in Japan: Palaces and temples of Kyoto were the residences of Japan's emperors and shoguns for more than 1,000 years.
  • The Sydney Opera House in Australia: This architectural masterpiece and landmark building put the whole continent of Australia on the world map.
  • Angkor in Cambodia: The most important monument of the south-east Asian Khmer Empire and the world's largest sacred temple.
  • The Taj Mahal in India: Immense mausoleum was built on the orders of Shah Jahan, the fifth Muslim Mogul emperor, to honor the memory of his beloved late wife and regarded as the perfect example of Muslim art in India.
  • Timbuktu in Mali: The crossroads of the four most important caravan paths supplying the Arab world and home to one of the first universities in the history, the Koranic Sankore, where 20,000 students studied.
  • Petra in Jordan: A city with great tunnel constructions and water chambers, a Greco-roman theater; best known for the Palace Tombs of Petra.
  • The Statue of Christ Redeemer in Brazil: One of the world's best-known monuments was designed by Brazilian Heitor da Silva Costa and created by French sculptor Paul Landowski.
  • The Easter Island Statues in Chile: Collection of 82 feet high stone sculptures that still puzzles historians and archaeologists as to its origins.
  • Machu Picchu in Peru: Incan Emperor PachacĂștec built a city in the clouds on the mountain known as Machu Picchu that lies halfway up the Andes Plateau.
  • Chichen Itza in Mexico: The most famous Mayan temple city, its various structures; the pyramid of Kukulkan, the Temple of Chac Mool, the Hall of the Thousand Pillars, and the Playing Field of the Prisoners, can still be seen today.
  • The Statue of Liberty in the U.S.A: Gift from the French government to the United States to honor the ideals of freedom and independence, this huge statue became a symbol of hope and freedom for the people who immigrated to the United States.
  • The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World list above.
  • Hagia Sophia in Turkey: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.
  • The Colosseum in Italy: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.
  • Stonehenge in the United Kingdom: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.

I voted early on in the process and, being a complete history and travel geek, came up with a pseudo-scientific methodology for determining my top 10. First, I referenced the Webster’s definition of the word “wonder;” a cause of astonishment or admiration: MARVEL. Then I looked up “astonishment;” something that astonishes: a cause of amazement or wonder. Then I looked up “amaze;” to fill with wonder: ASTOUND. Then I looked up “astound;” to fill with bewilderment: WONDER. After coming full circle on the word wonder, I pondered when the dictionary started reading more like a Thesaurus and then devised the following methodology for voting:

  • Does the site cause me to “wonder;” having some mystery on the when, where, why and how the site came to being?
  • Was I aware of the site prior to this contest through my studies or my addiction to the travel channel (although I appreciated learning about a few new places)?
  • Does the site have a “Wow” factor?

Using the three questions listed above, I was able to take the list of 21 and eventually narrow it down to my list of 7:

  • Acropolis
  • Chichen Itza
  • Easter Island Statues
  • Great Wall
  • Machu Picchu
  • Pyramids of Giza
  • Stonehenge

And the winners:

  • Great Wall
  • Petra
  • Christ the Redeemer
  • Machu Picchu
  • Chichen Itza
  • Colosseum
  • Taj Mahal
  • Pyramids of Giza

You might notice that there are 8 in the list of winners above. Egypt was outraged at the contest, protesting that the Pyramids are the only wonder in the world and should not be put to a vote; driving the decision to make the Pyramids an honorary wonder and pulling them out of the vote. Since I voted prior to the removal of the Pyramids from the vote, I am declaring that my new 7th would be Angkor using my outlined methodology above, which did not make the final list. Actually, out of my 7, only 3 made the final list of 7; Chichen Itza, the Great Wall and Machu Picchu.

While I am amazed that Stonehenge, the Acropolis, and the Easter Island Statues did not make the list, there is only one that I am truly disappointed in; Christ the Redeemer. Honestly, this is really nothing more then a very big statue and we know who made it; where is the wonder and mystery. The final vote was influenced by a variety of global factors that affected the outcome of the vote, with a major one being the varying level of interest in this contest across the globe. Certain countries, like Brazil and Jordan, aired government sponsored commercials and waived the phone fees for residents voting for their home-country nominees.

The announcement on 07/07/07 caused very little fanfare in the United States; probably because we only had one nominee and frankly, I think we could have done much better then the Statue of Liberty (did anyone even think of Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse?). Now that the verdict is in on the New Seven Wonders of the World, the organization is in the midst of their next vote; The New Seven Wonders of Nature. While the US should fare much better in this global vote, I cannot help but question the reason behind this vote. Declaring the New Seven Wonders was a fun way to bring new attention to world sites and show the need for their historic preservations. It was a means to almost replace the 6 wonders that are no longer part of planet earth. However, there is already a well established list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and we should ensure that their ecological safety is protected for generations to come.

The Seven Natural Wonders of the World:

  • Mount Everest
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Victoria Falls
  • The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro
  • Paricutin Volcano
  • The Northern Lights

Monday, July 30, 2007

Easy to get animal fighting manuals online

Any person, animal lover or not, must be angered and moved to action with the news and images of the dog fighting ring that Quarterback Michael Vick was involved with. Hundreds of thousands of animals are "adopted" every year for the sole purposes of using them to kill other animals or to be killed in the animal fighting industry. Nike’s decision to discontinue their contract with Michael Vick and the NFL’s continued actions against the player show how serious this offense is to their bottom line; they are willing to cut ties with a premium player to save face with the millions of animal supporters outraged by his actions. Surprisingly, there is one major company that has yet to understand the seriousness in supporting animal fighting and refuses to discontinue their role in this horrible industry; amazon.com.

Amazon.com has been asked repeatedly over the course of the past few years to remove the publications supporting the animal fighting industry. Not only have they refused to do so, but they are looking to challenge laws limiting these publications as violations of the first amendment. Exceptions to the first amendment include stipulations against obscenity, to which many would argue that these horrific publications disgusting and obscene. Additionally, exceptions include “speech” that threatens the lives of people. While it is hard for some to embrace the establishment of laws to protect animals from being threatened, there is no argument that animal fighting and the support of these acts hurt humans as well through introducing dangerous animals into our society.

The following letter is one I wrote to the CEO of amazon.com. For those who believe it is morally and ethically unjust to support the sale of these publications aimed at promoting the animal fighting industry can join the letter writing campaign against amazon.com. Either cut and paste the following letter, or write one of your own, and mail it to amazon.com customer service, through the American Humane Society at the following link, or directly to Amazon at 1516 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98101.
Dear Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder & CEO;

Michael Vick’s career as an NFL Quarterback is over due to his involvement in an animal fighting ring. This should be a wake up call to all engaged in the support and promotion of these cruel and horrific acts against animals; the American public is not going to tolerate any person or company associated with torturing animals. The backlash against animal fighting and cruelty is not just directed at those running these fights, it also includes those who sell books and magazines aimed at promoting animal fighting, which includes amazon.com

I was disgusted to discover that amazon.com continues to sell publications that promote and support animal fighting, a practice that not only hurts and kills hundreds of thousands of animals but also puts adults and children at risk of attack through the presence of dangerous animals in our society and the crime that is associated with the industry. Despite repeated pleas from the American Humane Society to stop selling these magazines and books, amazon.com continues to support animal torture by not complying with federal laws banning the sale of these publications.

If a plea by the American Humane Society and threats of lawsuits for violating federal laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of materials aimed at promoting animal fighting is not enough, perhaps it is time for your customers to send an even louder message and stop purchasing from Amazon until these publications are pulled from your virtual shelves. Your online audience is your lifeline, and as this same audience learns of the support you lend to the animal fighting industry by continuing to sell these barbaric publications, your sales will surly start to plummet.

There is no First Amendment right to sell publications promoting and soliciting the purchase of fighting animals and weapons. These publications are as morally reprehensible as child pornography and selling them makes you no better then those actually engaging in torturing these animals. I urge you to not only comply with federal law, but to do the morally and ethically right thing by pulling animal fighting publications from your sales line. The community of animal supporters and the survivors of animal attacks are dedicated to stopping this practice by boycotting amazon.com. Certainly losing sales to this group will hurt your bottom-line much more then pulling animal fighting publications from your virtual shelves.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Quote of the Week on Summer

Ah, summer - what power you have to make us suffer and like it.
-- Russell Baker, American Journalist

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Number 1 Hit Me Hard

My sister recently sent me a website developed solely for the cruel purpose of demonstrating just how old those accessing it are. Do you want to feel old too?

One key to understanding how much the world has changed since your birth and how many years have passed by is learning what song was Billboard’s Number 1 hit on the day you were born.
I made my grand entrance into the world with The Bee Gees “Jive Talkin” playing in the background. How about you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

6 Fetuses is not God’s Choice

Human Interest stories on mothers giving birth to 4, 5, 6 or more babies glamorize medical malpractice as a modern miracle. Media images of tiny little babies born way too early are commonplace as we the public are fed tales of the love and sacrifice these parents make to bring these children into the world. All too often the message must shift from the wonder of birth to the pain and suffering these families experience when their babies are unable to survive outside the womb, or live to face a lifetime of mental and physical issues as a result of their early entrance into the world. While my heart goes out to anyone who experiences the pain of losing a child, I cannot help but question the doctors who push the limits of fertility treatments and the parents whose suffering is a direct result of their choice to move forward with such a risky pregnancy when there is so much that can be done to prevent this kind of tragedy.

The biggest issue I have with parents of high multiple births is the excuse we hear over and over on their decision to move forward with having so many babies. The term “God’s Will” is thrown around as the rationale not to selectively reduce the pregnancy, even when that decision would ultimately give the remaining fetuses a better shot at a normal and healthy life. Any person who finds themselves in the position of making this choice gave up on God’s will the moment they moved forward with fertility treatments. God’s will was not for these individuals to conceive that many babies, God’s will was apparently for them not to conceive at all and they went against that with seeking fertility treatments.

Parents choosing to move forward with these multiple births are often described as selfless in their decision. What is selfless about choosing something so risky that the lives of the babies are instantly at risk? As photos stream of these babies hooked to machines, fighting for their lives, there is little mention as to how much pain they are suffering with every movement and breath. If the babies are able to make it through their first year, when the media fanfare of their birth has subsided, they face a lifetime of medical and mental issues. The “selfless” decision to move forward with a high risk multiple birth is nothing but a selfish act by the parents who cannot make a difficult decision for the good of the babies, a decision to give the children a chance at a healthy life.

With all the human interest around these multiple births, there is a noticeable lack of discussion and debate on the ethics and legality of the matter. Some states have made it a crime to drink during pregnancy, equating fetal alcohol syndrome to fetal abuse. Women who make the decision to smoke or have a drink while pregnant are openly ostracized in public as harming their unborn child. There are hundreds of programs aimed at providing everyone prenatal care to reduce the number of complications and give all children the very best start in life. Noticeably lacking are discussions and debate on the ethics and legality of willingly putting babies in jeopardy by choosing to carry a large number of fetuses.

Our “family focused” culture pushes people to pursue all means possible to conceive, forcing many into choosing fertility treatments without encouraging or accepting other available paths. Our society demeans and discriminates against the childfree, making the decision to pursue a life without parenting challenging beyond even just the sadness of being unable to have children. A variety of factors discourage people from becoming parents through adoption rather then medicine. The bureaucracy and expense make adoption for some impossible. Adoption is not considered or pursued by many due to cultural or religious stigmas that still exist. However, there are many who go forward with dangerous fertility procedures and treatments because they are unwilling to raise a child who is not of their own blood. I fully question whether those who belong to this camp should be raising children at all.

This week, the babies known as the Morrison 6 of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, lost another sibling. Born after only 22 weeks of gestation, only one child remains with the other 5 succumbing to the hardships of being born 4 ½ months premature. While this is a tragedy for the poor children who suffered in pain, and the last child who fighting for his life without his wombmates, I have trouble feeling for any couple who purposely puts the lives of their babies at risk by making the decision to have 6 children. Like many who make the decision to move ahead with the risk, the Morrison’s website explains their decision with the following reason; “We understand that the risk is high, but we also understand that these little ones are much more than six fetuses. Each one of them is a miracle given to us by God.” The 6 “little miracles” were unfortunate victims of a medical mistake, not God. God would never give a woman more fetuses then she could carry, as he did not mean for us to birth litters.

Monday, July 23, 2007

An Actual Useful Survey

After frequently responding to personal surveys via email and myspace, it dawned on me that these personal assessments could actually be tools useful beyond understanding what we are wearing and what is under our beds. We all think we know our friends and family very well, but then something happens that raises question on the closeness of our bonds. Recently, I found myself at the front of the line at a bagel shop with no clue what my sister’s favorite bagel was. I felt horrible; how could I not know whether she liked salt or poppy? To assure that no one goes through the same heart-wrenching moment, the following list of questions are really useful to understanding your friends and family at a time it really counts; when you are out grabbing them something to eat or drink and they didn’t tell you exactly what they wanted. Change this survey up to better serve the restaurants in your area and memorize the answers you get from your friends and family; they will come in handy someday. These are things everyone should know about those they care about...

How do you take your…?

  • Coffee: Large and Black
  • Eggs: Over Easy
  • Bacon: Underdone and fatty
  • Toast: Medium Brown, unbuttered
  • Choice of Breakfast Potato: Hash Browns, Crispy, with cheese and/or onions if available
  • Choice of Breakfast Meat: Sausage Pattie
  • Choice of Breakfast Bread: English Muffin
  • Choice of Dinner Potato: French Fries or Fully Loaded Baked Potato... never the rice.
  • Choice of Vegetable: Anything but Cauliflower
  • Steak: Black and Blue, aka Pittsburgh style, if I can get it… but usually medium rare.
  • Salad: With Spinach Leaves, No Hard Boiled Eggs, No Orange Dressings or Italian
  • Hot Dog: Well done with Ketchup
  • Hamburger: Medium Rare with Ketchup and pickles
  • Pizza: Italian Sausage and Mushrooms or Pepperoni and Mushrooms
  • Buffalo Wings: Spicy Garlic at Buffalo Wild Wings. 3 Mile Island at Hooters. Usually hot unless it is one of those places where the hottest level of wings removes skin from your palate.
  • Bagel: Everything, not toasted, regular cream cheese Hot Pretzel: Salt, no mustard
  • Nachos: Super with Chicken and extra jalapenos, guacamole on the side.

What do you order at...?

  • A Bar: An Irish or Wisconsin Brew
  • A Bar and Grille: Buffalo Wings and an Irish or Wisconsin Brew
  • A Wine Bar: Dry, Spicy Red; prefer Red Zins
  • A Deli: Turkey and Pepperoni on a Kaiser Roll with lettuce, tomato and pickles
  • BBQ Restaurant: ½ Rack of Ribs
  • Chinese Restaurant: House Special Lo Mein
  • Greek Restaurant: Lamb Pizza
  • Indian Restaurant: Water
  • Italian Restaurant: Penne ala Vodka or Eggplant Parmesan
  • Mexican Restaurant: Chicken or Beef Flautas
  • Seafood Restaurant: Grilled or Broiled Scallops or Tuna Steak
  • Sushi Restaurant: Spicy Tuna
  • Thai Restaurant: Shrimp Pad Thai
  • 7-11: Cherry or Grape Slurpee
  • Baskin Robbins: Anything with caramel or coconut
  • Benihana: Scallops Teppanyaki with fried rice
  • Boston Market: ¼ White meat chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and green bean casserole.
  • Burger King: Chicken Tenders
  • Caribou Coffee: Large, Non-Fat Caramel Highrise
  • Carvel Ice Cream: Pistachio with Pineapple
  • Cheesecake Factory: Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake; Grilled Vegetable Sandwich
  • Chick-filet: Never Been
  • Cinnabon: Cinnamon Roll
  • Cold-Stone Creamery: Love It Cake Batter Ice Cream with Caramel, Colored Sprinkles and Yellow Cake in a Chocolate Sprinkle Dipped Waffle Cone
  • DQ: Medium Caramel and Waffle Cone blizzard or Cherry Dipped Cone
  • Dunkin Donuts: Reduced Fat Blueberry muffin or Chocolate Donut and Black Coffee.
  • Hardees or Arby's: Curly Fries
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken: Extra Crispy Chicken Breast and Mashed Potatoes with Gravy.
  • Long John Silver: Fish and Chips
  • McDonalds: Quarter Pounder with Cheese, no mustard
  • Mrs. Fields: Chocolate Chip or M&M Double Doozie
  • Noodles & Company: Asian Salad with grilled Shrimp
  • Panera: Asian Chicken
  • Salad Salad Works: Make Your Own with Spinach, Tomatos, Mushrooms, Broccoli, Cucumber and Croutons with Fat Free Sundried Tomato dressing
  • Starbucks: Venti Sugar Free Caramel Non-Fat Extra Hot Latte
  • Subway: 6 inch Turkey on wheat, no cheese, no sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, banana peppers and pickles.
  • Taco Bell: Bottled Water
  • Wendys: Biggie Fries and a Vanilla Frosty or a Biggie Chili in the winter
  • White Castle: 4 Sliders with Onion Rings and a Vanilla shake (only when drunk)

I'll Never Touch...

  • Veal
  • Cod
  • Curry
  • Anything with Nutri-Sweet (I'm allergic)
  • Bud Products
  • Pink Wine

If you have any more ideas, or would like to share your own useful answers, leave me a comment!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Kitchen Declared a Disaster Area

I have so many memories of the kitchen in my childhood home. The science experiments we conducted on the stove, the time a water fight turned ugly and we shot our mother with the outside garden hose through the window, hiding my sister’s favorite stuffed animal in the oven, exploding things in the microwave, storing snowballs in the freezer so we could have snowball fights in the summer, and the time I had a fight with my sister and she almost broke my neck jamming it between the refrigerator and the back door. The list could go on and on, but there is one common theme to these memories... none of my childhood memories of the kitchen have anything to do with what kitchens are for; cooking, eating or entertaining. This is because this kitchen was poorly designed, horribly maintained by the previous owner and incredibly inadequate for doing anything other then boiling water. With your help, all that can change, read more to find out how…

My childhood kitchen needs a little TLC, the kind that comes from $25,000 and a professional decorator. Here is where your help comes in. Visit my mother’s page on the We network’s “Style Our Space” contest and vote that her kitchen is a total disaster. You can vote her kitchen as a “10” every day so we can see once and for all if my mother is really a bad cook, or if it was just because her kitchen didn’t allow her inner Emeril to shine. Vote early, vote often and spread the word... if this kitchen wins, Mom will cook us all dinner.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Researchers Cook Up Recipe for a Happy Marriage

What makes marriage work? The Pew Research Center, a self-described nonpartisan "fact tank,” surveyed Americans to discover what they thought the answer to this age old question was. Respondents were given a list of 9 things that people find crucial to a successful marriage and asked if they were very important, rather important or not important at all. The latest results of this study had many surprised and concerned over the outcome and the shift in American opinions on marriage since the survey was last conducted in 1990. How could one study cause alarm on the state of marital affairs in the US?

The biggest surprise of the survey was the increased importance expressed on sharing household chores. While “faithfulness” and “a happy sexual relationship” took the number one and two spot in the rankings of what was very important to a successful marriage, the biggest change in the survey was the rise of “sharing household chores” as very important. However, the study report published on the survey results did not dive into the growth in the importance of sharing chores. Rather then focus on the important message this sends on marital partnerships and the increased equality in relationships, the published report honed in on the decreased number of people who rank children as very important to a successful marriage and public concern over the perceived de-linking of marriage and parenthood.

The research center’s analysis on the decline of children being very important to the success of a marriage is debatable and brings into question how nonpartisan the Pew Research Center actually is, especially with the attention received from conservative groups and organizations like the National Marriage Project, whose co-director Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote in her essay "Life Without Children," that "the popular culture is increasingly oriented to fulfilling the X-rated fantasies and desires of adults," "child-rearing values - sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity - seem stale and musty by comparison," and "the cultural devaluation of child rearing is especially harmful in the American context."

The Pew report, “As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact,” poorly interprets a tie to survey results on non-marital child bearing, on successful marriages and the reasons to get married, twisting the results to support the conservative agenda of the National Marriage Project and their discrimination against anyone who does not adhere to their ideals of heterosexual marriages and focus on child-bearing. Removing the conservative spin on the survey yields a different interpretation of the results. A majority of adults actually see believe in marriage before children. The survey also found that nearly 3-to-1 Americans see the main purpose of marriage to find "mutual happiness and fulfillment" rather than "bearing and raising of children” but still place high value on their relationship with children. Essentially, the study and survey results actually support the following:

  • Children are not important to a successful Marriage.
  • Marriage is important for Children.
  • Children are important to People.

The logic applied in the study report incorrectly bridges areas of the survey and gives conservative groups unjustifiable support in their causes. The survey results demonstrate that people still place value on having children; they are just not seen as the center of a successful marriage. Marriage and parenthood are not drifting apart; people are just realizing that defining your marriage through children is not what it takes to be happy and successful, a belief that is central to childfree marriages and those parents who want to maintain a strong relationship even after they are empty-nesters. Our generation is learning from the mistakes of the past; we witnessed first hand what having children to save a marriage, staying married for the sake of the children, deciding to have children when being childfree would be a better personal option and making children the central point in defining a marriage did for past generations. Not only did these actions and attitudes contribute to the level of unhappiness in marriages and the exponential rise of the divorce rate, it also put an unfair burden on children to somehow make their parents marriage work; as if just being a kid is not enough pressure without the added responsibility of being the glue in an adult relationship.

I applaud the public shift in defining marriage as a distinctive and separate connection between people with a purpose other then bearing children and see this change as just what our society needs for stronger, healthier relationships. Let's hope others use the results of the survey more accurately to report on the progress being made in creating equality and stability in marriage through equality and partnership.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quote of the Week

A little something for my cousin Drew. Amazing how Waylon's words come so close to those of William Jennings Bryant...

I mean, I think we're put here on earth to make your own destiny, to begin with. I don't think there's anything you can do this way or that way to change anything.
-- Waylon Jennings

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Just say no to yo-yo

To everyone on the outside looking in, I am the woman who has it all; tall with natural blonde hair, blue eyes, a great smile, clear skin that makes me look about 3 or 4 years younger then I actually am, a happy marriage, a fruitful career, a close relationship with my family, a large number of close friends, a beautiful house in the burbs, a thriving social life and two wonderful dogs who are more entertaining then anything on television. Yet there is one major thing that causes me to forget everything I have going on in my life; my weight. My long history struggling with my weight is a difficult to discuss and even more difficult to combat. Today, I have decided to come out of the pantry, face my issues and do something about it.

No matter what I achieve or what I do, it always comes back to the intense self-loathing I have because I’m fat. Every few years I am able to muster the strength and determination it takes to fight my weight issue; waging a battle against my natural tendency to be heavy and transform my fleshy curves into muscle, eat well, exercise and dedicate my entire being to becoming thinner. For a brief period of time I am happy with my size, but what it takes to accomplish this feat is intense and overwhelming and the happiness is fleeting. The last time I was able to lose a significant amount of weight, I devoted 20 hours a week to the gym, consumed 800 to 1000 calories a day and avoided social situations that would include food or drinks. While attaining happiness with my size, the real me, the one who enjoys long dinners with friends, full-flavored beer and discovering new cuisine, was missing.

It is hard to avoid food without avoiding friends and family. Food cannot be avoided; we must eat to live and cannot give it up cold turkey. Additionally, our society revolves around food. We meet our friends for dinner, we have doughnuts at work meetings, we have picnics, barbeques and birthday cake; every major and most minor events in our lives are marked by some feast. Food cannot be avoided, so “foodaholics” must learn to live with it and actually form a healthy relationship with food. Not to dismiss what it takes to stop drinking, but I always thought alcoholics are lucky; they don’t HAVE to drink in order to survive. They can avoid consuming alcohol and attending situations where alcohol is present; try that with food.

Obsessing over food is time consuming. Women would take over the world if time was spent on other activities then how to get into a smaller dress size. There are many other things in life to spend time obsessing over and so many causes we can devote our time to; imagine what we could accomplish if the same amount of time spent focused on weight issues was shifted to local or global causes.

Realizing the unhappiness in denying myself the finer tastes of life, the time lost with family and friends and the guilt of focusing on my weight rather then the world causes the “lapses;” eating pizza and hot dogs, ordering the fancy coffee with the whipped cream and avoiding the gym for more time to enjoy life. The pendulum swings and the thin person who avoided friends and family because of the fear in being around food is replaced by a fat person who avoids social situations so no one witnesses them consuming a bag of pretzels dunked into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Any Yo-Yo dieter will appreciate the emotional highs and lows that are experienced with the scale; how wonderful it is to be thin but how miserable it is to maintain it. Finding the happy medium, the place where a person is both happy with their size and their life, is a magic place that far too few people ever find. Every weight loss program stresses that diets do not work, that the only thing that works is a lifestyle change. The issue is how easy it is to accept a lifestyle that is conducive to weight loss for a short period of time and how hard it is to change your whole life when the world is not changing around you to allow for the time, energy and support necessary to stay thin.

Through all the times I have lost the same 30 to 60 pounds, I have discovered that losing weight… or maintaining a healthy size, takes just about as much time as having a second job. For those naturally thin, they can’t possibly understand the number of hours a week it takes to lose weight. Not only is there the obvious time commitments that must be allotted to exercise, but planning healthy meals takes longer then throwing non-healthy ones into the microwave. What is easy and saves time is the ability to order take our, grab fast food or pop a pizza into the oven. Much harder is choosing a healthy menu, grocery shopping more frequently to keep fresh produce around and cooking without the aid of rich sauces to add flavor to the blandness that is inherent in healthy cooking. It isn’t a surprise that Emril can make his dishes taste so good. Everything tastes better with butter!

Healthy eating is not only time consuming, it is expensive. The local salad bar has yet to offer a dollar menu. Vegetables are expensive and go bad so quickly that many stop buying them because they perceive them as a waste of money. Check out the advertisements received from grocery stores and notice that the items on sale are usually the unhealthiest things in the store… but who could resist getting 3 gallons of Ice Cream for $1.99? Families on tight budgets are often forced to forego healthy eating so they can just put some food on the table.

Today I embark on my latest journey to lose 30 pounds, one I have started many times before with varying levels of success through crash diets, obsessive calorie counting, pills, exercise bulimia and hypnosis; ultimately resulting in me putting the weight back on. All these changes do not align with work and personal commitments; there is no time to visit the gym 3 hours a day, to weigh every ounce of food I put in my mouth or attend weekly meetings where I talk about my feelings and challenges. I refuse to avoid my friends and family so I can lose a few pounds. Life is too short. Instead of focusing on my weight, I am going to follow a new path and focus on my life. My motivation will come from what my body can do and not what it looks like. My new program will challenge my friends to pick up a basketball rather then a burger and to leave work at a reasonable time to walk the dogs. Inspiration will not be found by fitting in my wedding dress again, but squeezing in an extra lap around the lake; my will to continue pushing myself based upon my desire for a stronger body and not a thinner one. My hope is this new attitude on my body and my life will allow my body to naturally find a size that is healthy and not force it so low that it shuts down or so high that it can’t move. Learning to accept that a body’s natural and healthy weight may not be model thin and instead embracing the power and beauty that is being strong and happy. This could be the magic equation we all need to overcome the yo-yo and find happiness with our bodies and our lives at the same time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

You oughta know my opinion

Word has gotten out to Gallup, Harris, Roper, Marlin and every other company on the planet that conducts polls and surveys; I am a willing participant. Whether it is by mail, email or telephone, survey companies find me and I answer them, no matter what the question, regardless of the cause. While the normal response for most is “I’m not interested” or a simple hang up, I actually take the time not because I have it, not because I am all that interested in spending 10 minutes on the phone talking about my shopping habits, or what I listen to on the radio. I take the time because someone in generation X has to, otherwise we won’t have any say in the world.

My decision to begin answering all telemarketers revolves around simple statistics. Generation X, to which I solidly belong to the tail end of, is the smallest generation in the United States. Roughly defined as those born between 1965 and 1977 (although some go as early as 1958 and as late as 1981), Generation Xers are those sandwiched between the Baby Boomers of 1946 - 1964 and Generation Y, also known as the Millennials of 1978 - 1994. Everyone knows the tremendous number of people in the Baby Boomer generation, hence the name. With size comes attention and every company devotes time, energy and money to determining how to gain the interest and wallets of the Baby Boomers. What many do not know is Generation Y is more then 3 times the size of Generation X, almost the same size as the Baby Boomers, making them the next market that companies will target, bypassing Gen Xers all together and muffling our voice on everything from entertainment to clothing to cars. A larger market is more appealing to companies and marketers have already begun to sidestep the needs of Generation X to reach for the Millenials, willing to give up the 30 to 42 year olds, historically a major focus of advertisers, to begin tapping into the next generation.

Other factors go into companies overlooking Generation X. Looking at the patterns over the past 40 years, Gen Xers have lived through some major recessions, the dot-com bust and could remember their parents dealing with the gas shortage and double digit home interest rates. Marketers see this generation as being skeptical to mass marketing and more frugal with their spending due to fear of losing their incomes and other economic worries. Generation X was marked as such because no one knew how to define them; the “latch-key kids” embraced their independence and rapid changes in technology and culture made differences between the early part of the generation and the latter part vast; factors that make it difficult to place a solid classification on the entire demographic. Advertisers and product developers are also dealing with a major shift in the demographic that was unforeseen when members were in their 20s. Dubbed “the slacker” generation for years, no one saw the sudden rise of power and salaries Generation X experienced due the abundance of technical jobs, or the effect low interest rates and other societal factors like September 11 had on the generation “settling down.” Essentially, Generation X went from grunge to 3 car garages overnight and no one in Hollywood or Madison Avenue had time to react to the change. Rather then focus on figuring out what happened and how to re-market, the decision has almost universally been made to just skip to the next set of shoppers, those who embrace consumerism, have been shielded from their parents’ money issues and are more likely to follow what their friends are doing.

Although there is plenty more things to do with my time, I will continue to answer surveys to ensure someone is speaking up for what is set up to be the forgotten generation. We might be a small generation, but if we raise our voices and opinions like fellow Gen Xer Alanis Morissette, we will still be heard.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Survey of the Week

1. Have you ever been searched by the cops?
No, but I walked the line in a harem girl outfit on Halloween with a rented minivan filled with a cowgirl, a cow, 2 baseball players, a witch and little red riding hood (and I was the designated driver).
2. Do you have any weird sleeping habits?
I sleep with my eyes open so no one can sneak up on me.
3. When was the last time you've been swimming in a lake?
Last summer, although I waded in up to my knees with the dogs last weekend.
4. Would you rather sleep with someone, or alone?
Alone (no offense hubby, but I like to sleep corner to corner. )
5. Whats hurting you right now?
My self-esteem, but I'll get it back soon.
6. Do you consider yourself creative?
The better question is do you consider me creative?
7. Do you think O.J. killed his wife?
8. Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears?
I think Christina Aguilera is more talented, but Britney is fun to watch in that train wreck sorta way.
9. Do you stay friends with your ex's?
At least acquaintances for a few.
10. Do you know how to play poker?
I pretend.
11. Have you ever been awake for 48 hours straight?
12. What's your favorite commercial?
I love the Vegas Commercials... what happens in Vegas, stays, right?
13. What type of food do you eat the most?
Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup, Quaker Granola bars, Microwaved popcorn.
14. When was the last time you had a lot of fun?
Last Saturday at the Prince concert
15. Have you ever had a Choco Taco?
Only tacos I eat.
16. The Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankee?
I was born wearing Yankee pinstripes.
17. What kind of underwear do you have on?
Orange Boyshorts
18. How often do you remember your dreams?
I really only remember the nightmares because they wake me up.
19. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
I can't remember, but last time I laughed so hard I peed a little was visiting my sisters in NY a few weeks ago.
20. what is your biggest fear?
Losing my husband, or sisters, or mother, or best friend, or dogs...
21. What's the one thing on your mind right now?
I'm currently in a career "woe is me" phase.
22. Ever been in love?
Yes, still am
23. Do you put salt on a turkey dinner?
Yes, and I put salt on my salt .
24. Do you always wear your seat belt?
Yes, even to back my car out the driveway .
25. What cell service do you use?
Sprint, they are all evil though.
26. Do you like bananas?
Yes, with ice cream and hot fudge and whipped cream and cherries...
27. Have you ever almost gotten into a car accident?
Yes, people aim at me.
28. What do you wear to bed?
pajamas, especially ones from Sleepyheads .
29. Been caught stealing?
Not that I know of .
30. Do you know how to play pool?
I'm better at Marco Polo.
31.Do you like scary movies?
No, if it's not a romantic comedy, chances are I don't like/watch it.
32. Do you truly love someone?
Yes, with every ounce of me.
33. Bluegrass or rap?
Gansta rap
34. If you could sleep with one famous person, who would it be?
George Clooney (although Sting is tempting with that tantric stuff).
36. What food do you find disgusting?
37. Could you change something about yourself?
I could stand to lose 30 pounds, but what I wish I could change is caring that I should lose 30 pounds.
38. Did you ever play, "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours"?
No, i just always showed mine, I'm a bit of a show off like that.
39. If you could have one thing right now, What would it be?
A full body massage with a seaweed wrap. I need some serious pampering.
40. Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
41. Have you ever sung in front of the mirror?
Yes, and I routinely talk to the mirror to get ready for bad meetings
42. Last person who slept in your bed?
Technically, Luna, she thinks she is human...

Friday, July 13, 2007

I can see clearly now my vanity is gone

It was only a matter of time before my eyes inevitably went out on me. For some reason, I thought the process might be a bit more gradual and I could get used to the idea of wearing glasses before actually having to do so. By gradual, I mean about 10 to 20 years because technically, I have several pairs of glasses from my once every 2 years visit to the Optometrist living in the drawer of things I never use. Yesterday, giving up on the thought that my vision would pop back to pre-computer days where I could see the bottom line of an eye chart, I foraged through the drawer and pulled out a very nice pair of black framed glasses, circa 2004. Putting them on my face, I suddenly forgot what they were for. Was I short-sighted or near-sighted? Why did I need these anyway?

After a period of time, I remembered why these particular pair of glasses were purchased; PowerPoint projections in meetings. So, today begins my first day of wearing glasses. It is amazing how clear and crisp street signs were on my drive to work this morning, and how green the trees were. Dry Erase marker comes jumping off the whiteboard without even the littlest squint. It is like a whole new world, one that is bright and sharp; a world where people comment on how much I look like a librarian, not a sexy librarian, just a librarian. No offense to the librarians, but you need to launch a new marketing campaign to eliminate the stereotype; and these glasses are going back in the drawer.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Top 10 things I love about the Twin Cities

It is important to enjoy where you live and choose a location for reason other then a job or relationship. Admittedly, it took me a while to warm up (excuse the pun) to what Minnesota had to offer after relocating here from New York. After 7 years, I have found things I ♥ about living here (although I do miss my family tons):

Accessibility: People from California always comment on how they can go to the beach during the day and the mountains that same night. People from New York can go to the shore during the day, a Broadway show at night and then dance until dawn. What no one ever says is just how infrequently anyone ever does those things because they are traffic, time or cost prohibitive. The Twins Cities have so much going for it; major sports teams, music venues, more theatre seats per capita then any other city then New York, world-renown museums, highly rated restaurants, lakes, creeks, rivers and parks. What sets the cities apart from other places is not just how much there is to do, but how accessible it is. We have season tickets to the Vikings and the theatre. We see at least 5 Twins games a year and have been to a Twins post-season game with each playoff year. We get our vegetables, plants and flowers from a farmer’s market. I can take a bike path to work and go inline skating or walk the dogs around a lake a few times a week. Not only can all this fun happen it does happen. Ask a New Yorker when the last time they could get tickets to a playoff game or where they are on the list for season tickets.

The other side of Europe: Growing up in a section of Long Island dominated by Southern Europeans, the restaurants and culture were heavily Italian and Portuguese influenced. Moving to Minnesota exposed me to food, events and celebrations inspire by Northern and Eastern Europe. I feel like I’m now discovering the other side of my genealogy, visiting Gastov’s for German music and dancing, the Black Forest Inn for the best German food I have ever tasted and Kramarczuk’s Eastern European deli for pirogues and kolachi. We light Swedish Christmas trees and celebrate Oktoberfest. Prosit!

This is where all the size 12’s are: We have all heard that the average size for a woman in the United States is a size 12, which means that there are women bigger then that as well. One other side product in growing up amongst Southern Europeans is their propensity to be small and petite, especially in their youth. After spending most of my life ashamed of my curves, surrounded by a sea of size 0’s and 2’s who barely broke 5 feet tall, I am now encircled with a society of taller, curvier women. There are more clothes in longs. There are more size 10 shoes on the shelves. There are fewer people giving you evil stares when consuming a hamburger. Finally, I can fully embrace my connection to Mae West and her following quote; “cultivate your curves - they may be dangerous but they won't be avoided.”

Fall: Minnesota’s fall foliage rivals any in New England and the season seems to last forever. The colors are vibrant, the smells intoxicating and the air invigorating. There is nothing I like to do more in the fall then take a drive down to the Fireside Orchard, aka Apples Cider Cheese Fudge, for a walk through the orchard, hot apple cider and the best caramel covered apples made anywhere. A walk or drive anywhere will reveal trees colorfully reflecting their leaves in any one of the 10,000 (or so) lakes. It is just too bad this beautiful season is ruined by the next one.

Lakes: Although I still miss the pounding sounds of the ocean growing up close to Long Island’s Jones Beach, the sheer number of lakes gives locals an unlimited number of options for how to enjoy them. Our dogs Luna and Solei routinely visit Lake Calhoun and Shady Oak Lake for refreshing dips in the water. We enjoy relaxing at a bar or boating with friends on Lake Minnetonka. And once a year, I enjoy roughly 2 hours of time on the mother of all lakes, Lake Superior, as I participate in the Northshore Inline Marathon.

The Job Market: 18 companies on the Fortune 500 list call the Twin Cities their home; Target, UnitedHealth Group, Best Buy, St. Paul Travelers, 3M, SuperValu, US BanCorp, Northwest Airlines, CHS, General Mills, Medtronic, Xcel Energy, Land O’Lakes, Thrivent Financial, CH Robinson Worldwide, Nash Finch, Ecolab and Mosaic. This puts the area fourth in the list of Fortune 500 cities behind New York, Chicago and Houston. Minnesota also has the lowest rate of unemployment among major metropolitan areas in the United States. Not bad for those of us who have to work for a living.

“Life in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul offers an exceptional balance of educational and cultural advantages coupled with easy access to rural and natural areas. The Twin Cities has consistently ranked among the top five Best Places to Live by Money Magazine among 300 American cities. The Twin Cities consistently receive high marks for the local economy, public education, health care, the arts, and progressive government. It also has been ranked as having the sixth highest standard of living and sixth lowest cost of living among major U.S. metropolitan areas. A 2004 University of Wisconsin survey ranked Minneapolis as America's most literate city; in 2003, Cranium ranked Minneapolis as America's most fun city…”
From the University of Minnesota “Life in the Twin Cities”

My home is my castle: 3200 square feet on .4 acres adjacent to protected land, 5.1 miles from my office and 12 minutes from downtown. Although housing is much more expensive then those outside the area would think, I would need to win the lottery to get anywhere near a house like this in my hometown of Carle Place, NY. Even with all the money in the world I couldn’t find a beautiful house in a quaint, wooded neighborhood minutes from downtown anywhere else; it just does not exist.

The Minnesota State Fair: Also known as “The Great Minnesota Get-together,” this fair is recognized as the largest and most well attended state fair. Those from outside Minnesota probably question whether their state actually holds a fair, displaying how most fairs are ramping or shutting down to do poor attendance. The state fair is engrained in the culture and a real testament to the pride residents have for their home state. For many, this is a family tradition, and every generation passes down the fun of eating fried meats on a stick, attending concerts of aging has-beens, riding on questionably safe amusement rides, visiting a 4-H barn and running into half the people you went to grammar school with. This might sound miserable to those who have never attended, but take it from this city girl, it is a whole lot of fun to witness this much Americana.

Dog Friendly: While I hear Colorado is the most Dog Friendly state in the union, I cannot complain too much about the level of recreation locations and amenities available for my pooches. Our dogs have acres and acres of fenced play area available to them in the number of dog parks we have around us. Bodies of water for them to splash and swim are numerous, although I do await a ticket for letting my vicious schnoodles offleash in some human lakes. We also have their favorite store, Lulu and Luigi’s, catering to their fine palates with special treats. We have yet to attend, but look forward to spoiling our dogs and ourselves with swanky beverages at the Millennium Hotel’s “Yappy Hour.” All the stores, services and amenities available to our puppies could be found in their favorite magazine, TC Dogs, a free monthly publication dedicated to their needs.

Hotties: If you have a thing for the All-American look; tall, blonde, wholesome “boy/girl next door,” then this is your place. My mother told me from the time I was young that “If you want to find a tall, blonde hair, blue eyed Lutheran boy, you have to go to Minnesota.” What she did not know is not only were they good looking and Lutheran, they were also pretty smart, highly educated and well read; a huge plus in my book! She misses me a lot, but I did exactly what she told me to do; I found the tall, blonde, blue eyed boy from Minnesota and I married him.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quote of the Week

Women are like tea bags; put them in hot water and they get stronger.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How I Snagged my Husband

It is amazing that any friendship or relationship can stand the test of time. If anyone tells you they are the same person they were 10 years ago, they lie like a rug. There are so many facets to our personalities that grow, and sometimes contract, as we trudge through this thing called life. Lifelong friendships are hard to come by, and an enduring relationship nearly impossible to maintain. Finding someone who stands the test of time is truly special and unique. It requires bonds that are formed not on a single feature, a finite event, or shared experience but on a foundation of flexibility, love, respect and understanding. There is someone out there for everyone, but how can you find them?

Someone once told me the Prince Charming was not going to knock on my door while I was home washing my hair. Although this advice did not align with “The Rules: Time Tested Methods for Catching Mr. Right,” it did fit my personality more. Not one to play hard to get, I decided to take the Prince Charming advice and apply the same tenacious techniques to dating that I did to the rest of my life. If I wanted something bad enough; a grade in school, a position on the student counsel, a job or a phone number, I would just go out and get it, all while being myself.

It worked. Today marks the tenth anniversary of the day I met my husband. It often amazes me how much we have changed since that life altering meeting at a shady bar in Naperville, Illinois. We were two "kids", straight out of college, both far from home and trying to make the transition from campus to career. I was a New Yorker pursuing her ultimate dream of moving to the DC area, he a boy from southern Minnesota starting his life in the Twin Cities. We were both in Chicago attending training to become IT consultants. The cards were stacked against us; we were geographically and culturally incompatible, but somehow, we still connected.

The most valuable lessons I learned in the last ten years are to open my heart and my mind to new people, to take a chance on something crazy and to be myself. Be brave and approach that person who catches your attention in a bar, restaurant, airplane, bus, etc. Give that person who is brave enough to approach you a chance. Step outside your comfort zone and go out on a date with someone who is not your usual type to see if you click. Most important, be yourself, otherwise your date is falling in love with the wrong person. The worst thing that can happen is rejection or a couple of bad dates. The best thing that can happen is finding that perfect match. Had I followed my mind, I would have never talked to my husband 10 years ago, and if we did happen to meet we would have never spoken again after we each left Chicago for home. Without a few crazy and brave moments July 10, 1997, I would have missed out on the incredible experiences we shared, the new friends I made and spending the rest of my life with someone I’m insane about and who loves me for me. If that doesn’t speak volumes for how important it is to take a chance in life, to go outside your comfort zone and to make your own destiny, I don’t know what would.

I can’t believe it has been a decade, it really does seem like yesterday. We dispelled the myths that you can't find love in a bar and long distance never lasts. Happy Anniversary “the husband.” I'm looking forward to many more.

Monday, July 09, 2007

How to be a good (pet) parent

One of the best compliments any parent can receive is directed at how well behaved their child is and this is true whether your children are human or canine. I am often complemented on how well behaved my two dogs, Luna and Solei, are and like any good parent am proud of them and acutely aware of how much work it takes to receive those compliments. While I will be the first to admit they have some interesting quirks, for the most part they are very good animals. Coming from a long line of animal lovers and owners, it has been a lifelong journey of reading and hands on learning to develop my methods for training animals. While I cannot claim to have the widespread success of Cesar Milan, better known as the Dog Whisperer, the following simple guidelines are what I use to raise happy, healthy and well-behaved dogs and many parents will recognize it is many of the same methods used for raising children.

Establish who is boss: Like children need to respect their parents and adults, dogs need to understand who to take their direction from. Dogs are pack animals, and they need you to establish the order of the pack or they will do it for you. The owner must show they are the leader of the pack, otherwise your animal will exert their dominance, display aggressive behavior and not take direction. Everyn human member of the family, including children, must show they are ahead of the animals in the pack. The only humans who are not ahead of their pack are those trying to break into your home. There are many ways to establish your position in the pack, but I find the most successful way for most animals is through control of the food; if you control when they eat, you are the leader. Free-feeding a dog, that is having a dish out at all times, is the worst thing to do in establishing yourself as the pack leader. The owner must manage the food, allowing their dog to eat only after they demonstrate a positive behavior and looking to you on when it is okay to take food. This same control can be applied in a variety of ways, and your dog should always take your lead; looking to your when it is okay to chase a squirrel, go through a door, say hello to a stranger, etc., etc. etc.

Supply a healthy diet: Loading children with nothing but junk food leads to a variety of issues, many which are behavioral. Poor diet is linked with hyperactivity, bad manners, reduced cognitive skills, slowed growth and overall meltdowns. This is also true for animals. When a dog’s nutritional needs are not met, they are more likely to display inappropriate behaviors and act out much like a child would. They need food that is high in protein, amino acids and fat with a balanced amount of carbs. Dogs with allergies and sensitive stomachs often need food that contains lamb and rice, rather then the preferred chicken protein, for digestive reasons. Food should not contain unhealthy fillers or by-products and if you can afford it, be made of human grade food to avoid any of the nasty recall issues experienced by the pet food industry and the poor owners who lost their pets to tainted food. We use Flint River Ranch DryWater, Nugget and Trout and Potato dog foods.

Exercise: We have a mantra in our house; “A tired puppy is a good puppy.” It is important for dogs to have plenty of exercise to spend their energy in a positive manner. When dogs have energy that is not worked off through exercise, they are likely to expend their energy doing naughty and destructive things like chewing on furniture or soiling the carpet. Additionally, weight issues are hard on the bodies and joints of our four-legged friends. Chances are if your dog is fat then you are not getting enough exercise either.

Perform Mind Games: Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise to strengthen a dog’s performance. Get toys which force them to think like puzzle toys and kongs.

Teach them tricks, words and actions that give them something to focus on that is positive and not naughty. Do not underestimate what your dog is capable of learning. Push their mental boundaries and see what amazing things they can learn.

Teach them good social skills: As soon as your vet gives the okay to bring your puppy out and about, do it. Make sure your dog is exposed to adults, children, dogs, cats and anything and anyone else you can get them around. Bring them to a puppy class. Ensuring your dog is well socialized will cut down on their nervousness, aggressiveness and outbursts as well as challenge their minds.

Understand the breed: Know what breed you have, even if it is mixed, and understand what makes that breed tick. Working dogs, like the German Sheppard, need a job to do. Poodles need a place to swim. Labs need something to hunt and catch. Do research to understand what your breed needs to thrive and figure out ways to make it happen.

Provide consistency: A bad behavior is always bad and a good one is always good. Dogs do not work with gray areas and owners need provide their animals with consistent training. Do not laugh or inadvertently reward a behavior you do not want your animal to repeat no matter how cute or funny it is. Praise when appropriate, but do not over praise. Feed them the same time everyday so they understand a schedule. It is actually much like having a job. If your duties and expectations are well outlined you are more likely to succeed at work and the same goes for your animals. They want to know their expectations so they can meet them and make you happy.

Reward Positive Behaviors: It is easy to focus on bad behaviors and punish those, however, that should not be the only focus of animal’s training. Good behaviors need to be rewarded more frequently then bad behavior is punished. This includes praising your animal for doing what many would be considered nothing. Sitting nicely, being quiet, sleeping calmly and going potty outside are just a few examples of positive training moments when a “good quiet” or “good potty” will reinforce the positive behavior. Ultimately, your dog wants nothing more then to make you happy, so show them what makes you happy and give them love and affection for doing it.

Test their learnings: Denis Waitley said “the greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” It is important with pets to give them the opportunity to use what they learn to ensure the lesson is a lasting one. Give them an opportunity to mess up; leave a shoe you don’t care about out, leave them home alone a little too long or let them outside unfenced and watch how far they go. Give them the independence to see how responsible they have become. This is the only way to ensure your dogs are learning and behaving in a non-controlled environment and give you the opportunity to hear “your dog is so well behaved” from friends and strangers.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Quote of the Week

This seems very appropriate for our post 9-11 world. Perhaps our leaders should crack open their history books and read the words of their forefathers...

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin 1759

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Curing the Violence Epidemic

The recent tragedy of Jessi Davis, a pregnant Ohio woman murdered at her home in front of her toddler son, allegedly at the hands of the father of her unborn child, is just the newest case in a string over the past decade. The Laci Peterson case was the most sensationalized case of maternal homicide and was front page news for over a year. The case led to the prosecution of her husband, Scott Peterson, for the first-degree murder of her and their unborn son, Connor. Unfortunately, this is just one case among many. It is easy to overlook the overwhelming numbers of families affected by maternal homicide when viewing each as an isolated event. We as a society need to wake up recognize that maternal homicide is growing and ask ourselves the following questions; why is murder the leading cause of death for pregnant women and what can we do to stop that alarming trend?

The first problem in addressing the issue of maternal homicide is the number of groups that claim it is not a public concern. These groups argue that the media has sensationalized the issue of maternal homicide and the American public has developed added sensitivity to the issue, making it bigger then it really is. Whether or not the number of incidents is growing or if we are just more apt to hear about them with our constant stream of news, it is hard to argue with the research on the topic. Murder is the leading cause of death among pregnant women. 3 in 100,000 pregnancies will end in murder. As many as 320,000 pregnant American women are physically abused by their partner each year.

If crimes against pregnant women just appear to be on the rise due to coverage, then think about all violence against women that is not covered by the media. Perhaps the focus on maternal homicides is making the issue appear larger, which does raise a question on the value of a woman’s life while not carrying a child, but it is at least serving as a catalyst to bring attention to the broader issue of abusive relationships. The statistics are staggering; about 33% of female homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner and 25% of American women will be physically abused by an intimate partner or former partner in their lifetime. Women are increasingly victims at the hands of their partners and we must come together to resolve the growing violence against women.

States and the federal government have passed numerous laws tackling the issue of violence against pregnant women. The Unborn Victim of Violence Act of 2004 makes the death or injury to a child in the womb a separate offense from the crime against the mother. While enacted with the best intentions, this law focuses on punishing the perpetrator and does nothing to combat the issues before women become victims. Focusing on the root causes of violence will save not only mothers and their unborn children, but hundreds of thousands of other women who are victimized by their partners.

In order to stop the pattern of violence against women it is important that each and every person take action. As overwhelming as the problem is, there are things we can do, as individuals and as a society, to stop the abuse epidemic.

Admit there is a problem: Too many people have their heads buried in the sand when it comes to the issue of violence against women. Admitting women are subject to violence by men is not implicating every man of being violent, it is acknowledging there are some who are making the whole look bad. Even harder then admitting a societal problem is admitting if there are any issues closer to home. If you know someone who is potentially a victim of an abusive relationship then help them get out. It’s not “airing their dirty laundry” or “butting in,” it is saving a life.

Understand that abuse is not always physical: Women need to understand the stages of abuse and recognize if their significant other is abusive. This might sound easy, but domestic violence can involve behavior that causes psychological harm, used to maintain power and control over a woman, and can often go unrecognized before it is too late. Abuse does not need to be physical, and ultimately, physical abusers often begin with emotional abuse before turning physical. Many sociologists and psychologists believe the changes in family dynamics caused by a pregnancy can trigger physical abuse and there are signs, however benign, of issues. The US Department of Health and Human Services encourages women and their families to understand the sign of an abusive relationship before it becomes violent.

Treat violence against women as a public health issue: The government, non-profits and private organizations contribute millions of dollars to the research and treatment of diseases with one major reason being the cost associated with treating diseases. The health-related cost of rape, physical assault, stalking and homicide against women exceeds $5.8 billion each year. If we focused funds towards combating this issue, we would save women’s lives and reduce the nation’s healthcare spend.

Stop blaming the victim: The auto-response for many regarding attacks on women is “what did she do?” Victims are blamed for dressing provocatively, for being in the wrong place, for “not knowing her place” and also for “asking for it.” There is no excuse for violence against women and the worst excuse is trying to blame the victim. Stop the excuses on why women are targets and start focusing the blame on those committing the crime.

Focus on Men’s Culture: From a young age, boys are permitted to be more aggressive and violent, and the phrase “boys will be boys” is used to write off these tendencies. Violence and tempers are fueled by television, movies and video games depicting violence against women, with the most used example being Grand Theft Auto. Men who are macho with violent behavior are revered by the entertainment industries and, all too often, their parents. I have written on the difficulty of raising sons, as there is a fine line on how to raise a strong son or a violent man. Boys are taught to fight, to be strong, to be a man… unfortunately, many boys become men who use these lessons to victimize women. Keep your ears and eyes open to the kind of sexist and violent messages the people in your lives are getting and do what you can create less violent surroundings. Encourage healthy competition and teach boys to respect all people, including women. There are plenty books on the topic of raising sons in our violent culture. Read them, even if you don’t have children of your own but have them in your life.

Support the Cause: Give your money, time, attention and efforts to organizations that help women recover from abusive situations and teach men to be less violent. Look into local shelters that need clothes, food and volunteers. Men should support the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end men's violence against women, as a personal pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.

Embrace Equality: Millions of women throughout the world are subject to discrimination and attacks against them because they are female. Everyone can combat inequality through actions, both big and small. Support and pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Enforce the Equal Pay Act to close the wage gap between men and women. Encourage women to major in math and science. Ensure sons are doing the dishes as much as daughters. Allow women to become priests. Give women control of their bodies and their destinies. Until we eliminate laws, customs, traditions and religious practices that create double standards and discriminate against women, society will continue to perceive women as less worthy then men and will be subject to abuse and violence.

With action, we all could do something to create a world where women can be truly independent without fear of doing everyday things like walking to their car at night, run in an empty park, engage in romantic relationships or have a child with a person they trust and respect. The benefits of curing the epidemic of violence against women will reach everyone, regardless of age, race, religion or gender; a less violent society is better for everyone.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independent Thought

As we in the United States celebrate our independence and the birth of our nation, let us remember the words that began it all, appreciate the power of the message and ask ourselves why our leaders today are unable to capture the hearts and minds of our country through their writing and speeches. We as a nation are not developing leaders but followers who believe they know how to lead. We no longer teach our youth to think and debate through classes on rhetoric and oratory, but to memorize text books and only give answers that are predetermined as correct. Only a society that allows people to think and openly debate their thoughts can produce leaders like the man who wrote our Declaration of Independence.

...We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness...
- - Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What kind of ice cream am I?

Just in case anyone ever asks "If you were ice cream, what flavor would you be?"

You Are A Pistachio Ice Cream Girl

Funky. Surprising. Wild.

Monday, July 02, 2007

BBQ Standard Operating Procedure

A little summer humor to kick off Independence Week...

We are about to enter the summer and BBQ season. Therefore it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity, as it's the only type of cooking a 'real' man will do, probably because there is an element of danger involved.

When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

  1. The woman buys the food.
  2. The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.
  3. The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill - beer in hand.
  5. The woman goes inside to organize the plates and cutlery.
  6. The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is burning. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he deals with the situation.
  8. The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.
  9. After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes.
  10. Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for making dinner.
  11. The man asks the woman how she enjoyed "her night off." And, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there's just no pleasing some women....