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Learn, Adapt, Repeat

IMG_1252There is a phenomenon occurring in this country in the form of two candidates: Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders. They are calling for a revolution. Many people are jumping on board the train without any real idea where they’re going or where they’ll end up. The Trump camp wants to “make America great again” by basically dragging us back in the past. The Sanders camp wants to push us forward into the unknown. Both candidates have very different messages. Nonetheless, their platforms or sound bytes are igniting an America that has long sat indifferent and unmoved.

I hope a lot of people will read on and hear what I have to say. I’m not going to intentionally bash either candidate– but I do hope you’ll consider some of what I’m hoping to express.

What are the driving motivations and emotions behind all this hysteria in this election cycle?

People are frustrated and angry. People don’t trust the government or the people running it. People are searching– but for what?

Hope and change.

Recognize the irony here? This was President Obama’s campaign platform. Most everyone weighing in will say that he has failed, at least on some level. The Republicans, besides being against the Affordable Care Act, will say that Obama has led the economy off the deep end– even though the numbers prove that it (the economy) is in much better shape than it was when he took office in 2008. The Democrats will say that his policies and contributions have not gone far enough. The obvious fact, that both sides will agree on, is that he has been unable to unite the parties and inspire them to work together. The underlying fact– Congress is not doing it’s job and merely electing a new President is not likely to change that.

 

“…. and to the Republic for which it stands….”

At this point, I need to remind everyone that America is a Republic, not a Democracy.  What does that mean? In a Democracy, citizens directly vote on laws. In a Republic, as in the United States, we elect representatives to pass laws for us.

With the exception of often highly scrutinized Executive Orders, the President can’t actually make laws or enforce policy. Congress does that…. or at least that is what we elect them to do. If they fail and we continue to re-elect them? Isn’t it our own fault?

Our Constitution wisely established three separate (but equal) branches of government to protect and represent all of us: Executive, Legislative and Judicial.

So why does it appear that the American people ignore all but the Presidential race when it comes to voicing their expectations? Why do Americans hold the President accountable but not the equally powerful representatives they elect?

Going to the Dogs

Okay, now bear with me here….

I just finished a class in Dog Emotion and Cognition. The parallels in understanding human development and interactions are uncanny. Cognition is made up of multiple levels including: memorization, understanding and application. These are affected by experience, environment and genetics among other things. No two dogs, even of the same breed, have the exact same cognitive abilities. So in order to train a dog or change it’s behavior you have to first understand how the dog thinks and processes things. Once you understand, you can adapt your training method to achieve the desired result. If you are only partially successful, you may have to start back at the beginning and try a slightly different approach.

Learn. Adapt. Repeat.

Learning and behavior in people can be looked at in the same way. Every person is different in how they learn, process and experience things. The nationwide failure of our education system is that we’ve developed a strict style of learning that does not nurture or support people in their individual, cognitive strengths. No person is unable to learn. They may just need to be taught differently. When a teacher is given the latitude to explore and find a student’s strengths– only then can they effectively teach.

Learn. Adapt. Repeat.

How does any of this apply to the election?

 

Political Change

3917_4734461117214_1561357474_nLearn. Whether you are Conservative, Liberal or Progressive you first need to understand what it is that needs to change. Settling on concerns such as better pay, a more stable economy or national security are not enough. You need to understand why and how the current situation exists and have some idea of how to correct it.

Voting for a candidate that makes campaign promises you agree with isn’t enough. People will say anything to get elected. They may even believe what they say. Do they have an actual plan to make it happen? (Trump openly acknowledges he has repeatedly taken advantage of the system he now says he will change. Sanders has been a member of Congress for 23 years and refers to the system as broken but say he will fix it.)

Adapt. Once you are well informed, then you can take action.

Every piece of legislation considered and/or passed, affects or is affected by every other law that already exists; either directly or indirectly.

Change requires action. Some action may correct one problem while creating another. The goal of government is suppose to be to establish and defend a fair, level playing field; giving every American the chance to be successful in their own right.

Repeat. When new problems arise– they need to be corrected. When loopholes are exposed and exploited– they need to be repaired and filled. Sometimes policies and laws should be repealed or re-written instead of piling on new ones to further complicate the process. This isn’t what normally happens. One inadequate law- spawns four more inadequate laws- which spawns twelve more inadequate laws. What’s worse? Many laws are passed and then aren’t enforced. Complicating our legal system only ends up hurting those it is supposed to protect.

Sometimes the political process works and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t get fixed when no one is trying.

 

Evolution is the Revolution

Everything evolves. Nothing stays the same whether we actively seek change or sit by uninvolved and dispassionate.

In order for change to happen– it must happen on every level.

In order for change to happen– It must start at the ground level.

Change starts with you.

If you really want a revolution, you have to be an active part of that revolution. Be informed. Make your voice heard. Your elected officials need to be held accountable.

No candidate will enact change on their own and simply voting is not enough. You have to be an active part of the process. You have to be aggressive and can’t become apathetic. Otherwise, you’re just passing the buck.

VIDEO: Eighteen Days in South East Asia with Mike & Jeff

I finally finished the video montage of our South East Asia trip with Broadway On the High Seas 5 through Playbill Travel in November 2015. You can watch it here but I highly recommend watching it full screen to get the full effect of the incredible scenery.

 

 

 

If you haven’t already read my daily blog posts from the trip and want to know more– start reading my previous posts at the end of October 2015.

I hope you enjoyed it!

24 Hours in Washington D.C.

Last Saturday, Michael and I celebrated my birthday in our nation’s capitol Washington D.C. He surprised me on my actual birthday (in December) with the planned adventure– our primary destination to see a special friend of ours performing there on stage. But how can you go there with a little spare time and not experience some of our nation’s history?

Waiting to board the early flight to Washington D.C. from Chicago.

Waiting to board the early flight to Washington D.C. from Chicago.

I haven’t visited Washington since I was a preteen– having been there at least three times as a kid.  Michael had never been there before.

Washington D.C. has a great public transportation system, taxis are plentiful but it is also a very walkable city. There are a number of mobile apps available to help you navigate the city and plan ahead. The best part? Most everything is free! I did a little research ahead of time hoping to make the most of the few hours we had for sightseeing.

We started the day waking up at 3 AM to get ready and head to the airport. By 11 AM we had checked in at our hotel and were ready to head out to see as much as we had time to see.

IMG_5100Hotel Monaco (Kimpton chain) is a wonderful gem of a hotel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was formerly the General Post Office built in 1839. It’s a quirky, stylish, upscale destination in the heart of the city. Features include nice sized rooms with vaulted ceilings, complimentary coffee in the morning, a wine reception nightly and a 24 hour gym. WiFi requires a surcharge but is free with a Kimpton membership. I’d definitely stay there again.

Street Entrance of Hotel Monaco.

Street Entrance of Hotel Monaco.

 

Our room at the Hotel Monaco.

Our room at the Hotel Monaco.

 

Looking down the corridor at the Hotel Monaco.

Looking down the corridor at the Hotel Monaco.

 

Stairwell in the historic Hotel Monaco, formerly the General Post Office.

Stairwell in the historic Hotel Monaco, formerly the General Post Office.

 

It was a little chilly and heavily overcast– not great for taking pictures– but that wasn’t going to stop us from making the most of this opportunity.

I’d planned out a tentative route, heading first over to the White House and then walking the National Mall. When you look at it on the map, it’s really hard to tell the distance from monument to memorial.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

From my memories as a kid, everything seemed bigger and farther apart. In person, though, you can see that it’s all quite doable.

On our way, we passed may interesting historic buildings including St. Patrick Catholic Church. Founded in 1794, it’s the oldest parish in the city. The Pope was there on his visit in 2015.

Me at the White House.

Me at the White House.

The White House. We opted not to even try to get tickets to tour the inside with our tight schedule. I still really wanted Michael to see it. As we were walking around the inner Ellipse, a police officer told us we’d have to leave temporarily (for a few minutes) because they were securing the area.

So we walked to the middle of the Ellipse (which was open) and took some pictures from there. We could see a motorcade parked but weren’t sure if they were coming or going. I tried to zoom in on the men on the roof who were apparently police security.

 

The White House from the Ellipse.

The White House from the Ellipse.

 

Security on top of the roof of the White House/

Security on top of the roof of the White House.

 

The Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument. The work has been completed to repair structural damage from the 2011 earthquake.  Visitors can now visit the observation deck and museum with a free ticket that can either be obtained first come, first served or ordered in advance (with a service fee) online.

We didn’t tour inside but were content to view it from many different points along the National Mall  while we walked. As a kid back in the 70’s, my family did climb all the way to the top. All 897 steps.

 

National World War II Memorial. Opening in 2004, this was my first visit to this impressive, sprawling site. The memorial is majestic and a beautiful tribute to those that gave their lives and all those that served. This commemorative sight fits in nicely with the surrounding national landmarks.

 

The World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

The World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

 

A view of the WWII Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

A view of the WWII Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

 

The Vietnam War Memorial.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I was really excited to finally visit this memorial. I can clearly remember the drama and press surrounding its design and opening. The wall is engraved, chronologically with the 58,300 names of Americans that gave their lives.

At the entrance to the memorial wall is a bronze statue, The Three Soldiers, which does a beautiful job of capturing raw emotion of wartime.

I have to make a personal comment about the wall itself that I hope won’t offend anyone. I found this- disappointing. I think I echo sentiments expressed by others as well though. First, you can walk right past it and not even see the memorial from the main paths of the National Mall. Second, the reflection of the black polished stone is so severe it is hard to read the etched names. (The stone was selected specifically for its reflective nature.) The reflection creates a nice effect from one standpoint but not if you want to actually read the names of the many fallen soldiers.

In addition, I personally found the design to evoke political feelings that I feel are inappropriate for a memorial. The start of the low wall, growing and rising out of ground; along with the memorial’s placement off the main path brought to mind the controversies of the war. The memorial is almost hidden in the over all landscape, easy to miss or ignore. Not a fitting tribute to the many that gave their lives in service to this country.

 

Reflecting stone at the Vietnam Memorial.

Reflecting stone at the Vietnam Memorial.

 

Child's eyes

The Three Soldiers through a child’s eyes.

 

IMG_5302The Lincoln Memorial. Iconic in so many ways, the Lincoln Memorial is the one national treasure I would hope all Americans would get to experience at least once in their lifetime. I have vivid memories of walking up those steps as a child, walking through those massive columns and staring into the eyes of that great man while he stared back at me. A feeling of awe and pride and patriotism rolled into one.

I felt this again on this visit. Being there, it’s easy to forget all the negative feelings and distrust of our political system that has come to the forefront in recent years. Here there is history, pride and a legacy of hope.

 

The Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial.

 

The iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

The iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

 

Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln.

 

The Korean War Veterans Memorial. My first visit here, approaching from a distance; I could tell I was about to experience something special. Perhaps it’s was the fact that this memorial is so uniquely different from the others. It is both visual and visceral. It’s interesting to note that while much statuary is either found in stone or bronze, the soldiers depicted here are made of stainless steel. A memorial beautifully realized.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

 

IMG_5337Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only American honored with a solo memorial site on the National Mall, who was not one of our presidents. The memorial is positioned in a serene and tranquil spot on the Tidal Basin across the water from the Jefferson Memorial.

The centerpiece is the Stone of Hope, a 30 foot high likeness of this great civil rights leader. It is cut out of the larger Mountain of Despair, creating the entry to the memorial and sits further forward facing the Tidal Basin. Fourteen of MLK’s most famous quotes are engraved on a curved, granite wall. Noticeably missing– his I Have a Dream speech.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

The Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

The Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

Bad weather and a hidden turn led us to skip the longer route and miss the FDR Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial along the Tidal Basin. We’d already done a lot of walking and Michael and I had a few more sights we wanted to see. Our legs were starting to get sore and after hours of exposure to the cold misty day– it looked like the mist might turn to rain.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d wanted to visit here since it opened in 1993. The architecture was beautifully designed and the museum contains many important exhibits telling the story of a dark moment in world history.

Authentic restored bunks from Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Authentic restored bunks from Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

There wasn’t the emotional impact I thought I might experience but I attribute that to the fact that I’d visited Stutthof Concentration Camp in Poland and the Jewish Museum in Berlin two years ago. The twisting and winding Permanent Exhibition, though beautifully displayed, was at times claustrophobic. Rooms filled with things to see and displays to read were sometimes difficult to navigate without a clear path and quite a few visitors crowding the works.

The exhibitions: Victims’ Shoes and the 3-story Tower of Faces are probably the most moving and interesting. There are a number of restored artifacts on display but I was surprised by the large number of items and images that are actually facsimiles and not authentic.

The main thought that kept running through my head as we walked through the museum was: How many lives could America have saved– particularly of children– had our government not refused many Jewish refugees during WWII? Not the same– but similar to the current controversy over the acceptance of Syrian refugees today.

 

The Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

 

The exhibit Victims' Shoes in the United States Holocaust Museum.

My photographic interpretation of the exhibit Victims’ Shoes in the United States Holocaust Museum.

 

Heading back in the direction of our hotel, we had a good view of the United States Capitol, buried in scaffolding while it is undergoing a major renovation.

 

in the distance, the United States Capitol Building under renovation.

in the distance, the United States Capitol Building under renovation.

 

IMG_5406Ford’s Theatre and Petersen House. This was our last stop before dinner and our show. Being off season, we had no trouble getting tickets (required to enter and free) and were able to tour the theater and museum, taking our turn to view the box where Lincoln was assassinated, up close. Across the street we toured Petersen House where Abraham Lincoln died. It has been set up to resemble the time period even though none of the furnishing are original to the house in that period.

 

The Presidential Box inside Ford's Theatre.

The Presidential Box inside Ford’s Theatre.

 

Petersen House where Abraham Lincoln died.

Petersen House where Abraham Lincoln died.

 

Inside the room where Lincoln died.

Inside the room where Lincoln died.

 

We headed back to the hotel to rest up a bit and then over to District Chophouse & Brewery for a wonderful dinner. Luckily, it was only a short walk to the theater as it started to rain.

Kiss Me Kate at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sydney Harman Hall.

Kiss Me Kate at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sydney Harman Hall.

Kiss Me Kate at Shakespeare Theatre Company. It was finally time for the main purpose of our visit: seeing our friend, Christine Sherrill, starring with Douglas Sills in Kiss Me Kate.

 

I loved the show! In addition to the top-notch performances, the production team lovingly delivered this classic Cole Porter musical in a way that made it fresh, funny and exciting.

After the show we went back to the green room to see Christine and meet Douglas. We got a quick backstage tour and then headed to a nearby pub for some great conversation and time to catch up with Christine.

Backstage: Douglas Sills, Michael, Me and Christine Sherrill.

Backstage: Douglas Sills, Michael, Me and Christine Sherrill.

We finally went to bed around 2 AM, got two hours sleep and then were up at 4 to head to the airport for our flight home.

It was pretty incredible birthday celebration not soon to be forgotten.

The Majestic Beauty of the Angkors

Southeast Asia Travel Day Four: Michael and I were both up and wide awake way too early this morning. Not that unusual for me but Michael is usually a good sleeper. Between jet lag and the exciting day ahead, it was difficult to go back to sleep.

Silly Selfies at Ta Prohm.

Silly Selfies at Ta Prohm.

We were the first ones at breakfast and there was an incredible spread. So many choices from traditional breakfast to local cuisine– everything that Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor does is first class.

In regards to this trip, today was probably my most anticipated day. That can be dangerous this early in a long vacation but there are also so many unique and exciting things ahead. As a precaution, I try not to allow my expectations to be too high; just to avoid any chance of disappointment.

Today did not disappoint.

Today was one of those few days in your life you’ll remember forever. A whirlwind of experiences that totally consumes you. Every sense heightened and challenged. Memories indelibly imprinted in your mind.

I have a bit of an obsession with history and what was left behind. I’m not as consumed by the facts as I am the aura of the experience. To put it bluntly: I like old things.

History not only connects us from the past to where we are now; it connects us metaphysically to all the people that came before us. For me, it’s magic. It gives me chills. There’s nothing else like it in the world.

On the Road to… This was our first opportunity to meet some of the people that would be continuing on with the Broadway On the High Seas 5 (BOTHS5) cruise. About 80 of the nearly 300 BOTHS5 participants came to Siem Riep for the 3-day pre-cruise adventure. As we’d find out later, the group was pretty evenly divided between three choices of hotels; then split again into groups of about a dozen for our tour experiences in Siem Riep. This gave us a perfect opportunity to meet new friends, more intimately; prior to the whole group coming together in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in a few days.

On the road in our tuk-tuk.

On the road in our tuk-tuk.

We all boarded tuk-tuks for the short ride to Angkor Wat. What a fun and relaxing way to travel!

Some tuk-tuks are bicycle-driven but most are now powered by motor bikes.

We were all connected to our guide, Jun, by headset so he was able to narrate the sites along the way.

Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat. Depending on the source, Angkor Wat is frequently called the unofficial 8th wonder of the world. It’s often on lists of must see places in your lifetime. I think all the Angkor temples (as a group) should be included.

Bas Reliefs at Angkor Wat.

Bas Reliefs at Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat was built in the early part of the 12th century, over a 30 year period. The workmanship is almost impossible to comprehend. From a distance, it looks like a massive, crumpling stone ruin. As you get closer, the impressive detail begin to be revealed. There are so many elements to be appreciated. The bas reliefs alone contain more than 12,000 square feet of intricate sandstone carvings. What stands out most about Angkor Wat from the other temples is the size. It’s pretty incredible that it has survived the centuries and much of the detail is in such good condition.

 

Inside the heart of Angkor Wat.

Inside the heart of Angkor Wat.

 

Looking up in one of the entries in Angkor Wat.

Looking up in one of the entries in Angkor Wat.

 

One of the statues of Budha.

One of the statues of Budha.

 

Monks can be seen throughout Angkor Wat.

Monks can be seen throughout Angkor Wat.

 

Incredibly detailed exterior walls protect the inner temple.

Incredibly detailed exterior walls protect the inner temple.

 

One of the Angkor Wat towers and balconies.

One of the Angkor Wat towers and balconies.

 

A cemetery at Angkor Wat.

A cemetery at Angkor Wat.

Tomb Raider, Jungle Temple or Ta Prohm? Here is a spot that nearly everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. Most famously recognized from Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm has survived from its origins in the mid 12th century.

The famous Banyan tree root snakes its way through the temple.  There are hundreds of statues in the complex. Ta Prohm is under a long, delicate preservation and restoration process. Primarily, this involves structural strengthening to prevent any further, rapid deterioration.

The famous Banyan root at Ta Prohm.

The famous Banyan root at Ta Prohm.

 

The Banyan tree rising out of the temple.

The Banyan tree rising out of the temple.

 

Deteriorating but naturally beautiful.

Deteriorating but naturally beautiful.

 

Angkor Thom. It means the great city. It is the temple of faces. Each tower has four carved faces so they can be seen from any direction. Angkor Thom was the final capital of Khmer Empire. The city was surrounded by a wall with  causeways lined with 54 statues on each side leading to the entry towers. Inside the ruins is the magnificent Bayon Temple… a sight to behold.

 

The causeway and entryway to Angkor Thom.

The causeway and entryway to Angkor Thom.

 

Statues lining the causeway.

Statues lining the causeway.

 

The Bayon Temple of Angkor Thom.

The Bayon Temple of Angkor Thom.

 

Looking down in the maze of pathways at Angkor Thom.

Looking down in the maze of pathways at Angkor Thom.

 

Four faces surround every tower.

Four faces surround every tower.

 

I took nearly 800 photos today. In an effort to try and keep up with posting here, I’m only sharing a few now. Later I’ll do a couple photo essay posts with many more pictures of the Angkor temples. This was such an incredible experience.

The Disturbing Truth About Social Media

header-bad-reviewsThe ugly truth is that social media is becoming less about engaging and connecting- enriching our lives; and more about attacking and spreading untruths.

Do you think before you post? We’ve all been guilty at one time or another of sharing a post or link without investigating it first: Like the reoccurring Facebook privacy-protection posts. Hopefully, we can all learn that its better to check it out first before we spread false alarm to our friends.

There’s a lot of anger and hate online. Lately, I’ve witnessed a lot of business owners using their personal accounts to attack and smear their competition. They post negative and misleading comments and reviews– even though they’ve never used their competition’s services.

Can you defend your posts on hot button topics? Are you willing to?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… what do they mean to you? Do you primarily rely on them to keep in touch with others? Make new connections? Do you believe everything you read?

What is social media?

Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

Social Networking: the creation and maintenance of personal and business relationships especially online

GEJs-aide-Mrs-Sarah-Pane-cautions-on-use-of-social-mediaDo you use social media the same way today as you did, say, two years ago? I keep asking myself how long social media will remain the phenomenon it has been or whether its popularity is starting to die off. Many of my friends barely even post anymore. A number of them have begun deleting their accounts. With all the negativity, it’s no wonder why.

Bullying Online. There is a frightening trend of hateful and often unfactual content online. More and more people attacking others for their personal opinions, calling names and even harassing individuals and businesses without cause.

I find myself getting more and more worked up over the insensitive and hateful nature of so much that is being posted through social media– particularly Facebook. Anonymity of online identities versus face to face confrontations is allowing brazen cowards to spew hate and bully other people for having opinions.

People that attack others online– and there are a lot of them– aren’t doing anything more than showing their ignorance.

Agree to Disagree? What happened to free speech and open debate? I just had someone delete my (polite) comments after they posted some derogatory comments about a political figure. They didn’t represent all the facts. My comments were not disrespectful or aimed at the poster– I just wanted to clarify and perhaps shed some light and encourage them to look at the situation in a different way. They really couldn’t disagree with my comments because I was stating fact- not merely taking a position. Instead of challenging, discussing or debating the issue; they just deleted my comments and added even more hateful (unsupported) comments of their own.

In another recent exchange, I had what I thought was a wonderful debate with this same individual over an entirely different issue. See the mixed signals here?

If social media ceases to be an open platform for the exchange of thoughts and ideas- what is the point? If you post something, do you really expect everyone to agree with you? If everyone does agree with you, what was the point of posting it to begin with?

Fact is Fact. This is true. BUT anyone can spin a situation to make the actual facts support their position. You also have to remember- everything that is stated as fact– isn’t. I have a general rule that if something doesn’t make sense, or I want to back up a position; I try to find a minimum of 5 agreeing sources before I’ll accept it as probable truth. This often means I have to search beyond the media-bias reporting from agenda-based websites that will regurgitate the same thing from another similar site, without researching its authenticity. Is it a fact, is it a commentary, or is it a lie?

Social Connection. Life isn’t always exciting. Sharing what some may consider ‘mundane’ things is perfectly fine with me. The idea is staying connected.

You want to get your opinion across– that’s understandable. Do you know when enough is enough or when your simply beating a dead horse?

In my world of social media, I’ve started unfollowing people that post the same negative content over and over. I don’t do it just because I may disagree with them. If that’s all they post and they never share anything of personal interest to me or about their own lives; then they are just clogging up my news feed. If unfollowing them doesn’t do the trick, then I delete them all together. I won’t tolerate unfounded hate and ignorance as anyone’s only form of communication.

The positive influences of social media are being overshadowed. The potential for good is being diminished.

In terms of longevity, social media is still quite new. It’s still evolving. Unfortunately, that evolution is taking a dark turn where hate can be expected and ‘fact’ cannot be relied on.

deleteIt’s time we bring back accountability and respect to all of our interactions. Especially online. If we want to stay connected to one another through social media we need to practice kindness and tolerance. The alternative is only a click away.

Good Dog, Bad Day

There are still more good days than bad. There are even some real great days– but nothing makes me sad like when Cash is having a bad day.

IMG_1367At 12 and 1/2, Cash is still mighty healthy for a Boxer, his age. Of course, he’s not as active as he once was- he’s slimmed down and sleeps more than he’s awake. Yet, true to the breed, he still has those ‘puppy moments’ that never cease to make me smile.

Some days his legs don’t work so good. When Belle, our 1 year old Boxer, is overly playful; I sometimes have to play go-between. Even when Cash is in the mood to play, it’s still really easy for Belle to knock him on his butt. I don’t know what’s going through his head but he seems surprised, even a little embarrassed when it happens.

Sunday, 10/11/15 – Today was a good day. Yesterday felt like a really bad one. Cash had four pretty severe attacks of “reverse-sneezing” that I witnessed. There may have been more. At least I know now what it is. Knowing it’s not life-threatening doesn’t make the experience any easier. Especially when he’s gasping for breath, looking in your eyes. It’s heart-wrenching.

Just Breathe. A reverse sneeze isn’t actually that at all. I’m not sure how that term came about; but I can assure you that if you haven’t experienced it, witnessing it is far worse than is sounds. The medical term is paroxysmal respiration. When this happens, it is your dog trying to rapidly pull air into his nose. It sounds like something might be caught in his nose or throat and he’ll usually extend his neck and all his focus goes into trying to breath.

In everything I’ve read, doctors aren’t sure what the root cause is; but they suspect it could be allergy related and there is no treatment. These attacks also cause no ill or long term effects. Most often they can be brought on by stress or excitement or can happen when eating or drinking. These episodes can last from a few seconds up to a minute. Dogs act perfectly normal before and after it occurs.

The first couple times Cash had one of these attacks, I was afraid I was on the verge of losing him. It literally sounds like he’s choking or being strangled; wheezing and gasping for air.

I learned the best thing you can do is to keep your dog calm and gently rub his throat or briefly cover his nose to encourage him to swallow. This helps open the air passage and allows normal breathing to return.

IMG_0200Tired Legs. A couple weeks ago, while Belle and Dudley were away on a play day, Cash was having a weaker moment. I could see his legs were a little more stiff than usual but he was still managing to get around just fine. We went out side for awhile and when it came time to go back in, he just froze on the steps. Legs trembling, he stood there staring at me– waiting. So I scooped him up, all 80 plus pounds of him and carried him inside; for which he seemed grateful. A couple hours later, he was doing the stairs again like a champ.

I don’t pretend or assume I know what he’s feeling and I try not to act overly concerned– but I am. It’s funny, sometimes– trying to hide your feelings from your dog. But he knows. Most people don’t realize just how synced their pets are to their emotions.

Just like with people, there are good days and bad days. Aging is difficult for us all. The most important thing is to cherish every moment.

Wednesday, 10/14/15 – 4 am- Three days have gone by without another serious attack. For that I’m grateful. Hoping today will be another good day. My boy deserves it.

 

The Post I Wasn’t Going To Write

IMG_0290I wasn’t going to write a September 11th blog post today. I’ve written several already, along with posts on the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. No, today, after changing my Facebook cover photo, posting my favorite Memorial picture on Instagram and watching  the coverage in New York and Washington; I had intended to remember privately.

I also wasn’t going to write about something else (directly connected) that has really bothered me for quite some time.

Such is life– things changed. So here I sit and write.

In the past, most of my posts have been structured with a specific point. This one is going to be a little more free-thought.

A few hours ago I was scrolling through Facebook and saw I was tagged in a post from a former student, then a post from another student and one from a teacher-friend. Plans changed.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 12.35.45 PMWhen I was working at Bartlett High School, I wrote a play called, September’s Heroes; an ensemble, multimedia production; performed in honor of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I’ve been stalling getting it published because I felt it still needed some work. In any case, had things gone the way I planned, September’s Heroes should have been on stage tonight. (I’ll get back to that later.)

Three Posts On Facebook. Natalie is an incredibly gifted young actress currently studying theatre at the University of Miami. I had the privilege of working with her and she was one of the key ensemble members in the cast of September’s Heroes. This morning, Natalie posted this:

“On September 11th, 2011, I walked off the Bartlett High School stage with tears in my eyes because I was so moved by the story of “September’s Heroes” that I had just shared with the audience. This was the first time I had reacted so viscerally to a piece of theatre. Each year I grieve for the souls we lost in 9/11 — each soul that didn’t get to finish their story. I am proud to be a theatre maker. And proud to be an American.”

Then I found a post by another student in that production that moved me for similar reasons. Ken wrote:

“It’s necessary to remember 9/11 as an important part of our history. To readily mourn the innocent lives lost that day and the graphic images captured of the tower collapsing.

However, its just as important to acknowledge the level of Islamaphobia that followed 9/11 that continues to haunt muslim folks, south asian folks, and everyone ‘mistaken’ as such still today .

Both the pain of those that lost loved ones on 9/11 as well as the families that continue to feel endangered today matter.

Acknowledging the former without recognizing the latter is being downright selective of the kind “American” history you want to remember.”

Ken- September's HeroesIn September’s Heroes, Ken had a monologue we referred to as “Hate” calling attention to the rise in fear and open racism that was a by-product of the 9/11 attacks. Now, Ken is becoming a voice– an activist; speaking out for minority rights. He current studies African & African American Studies at the University of Minnesota.

The third Facebook post by Charlie, a teacher-friend that I know from past theatrical productions wrote:

“9-11 isn’t even a memory to those I now teach. It is something they (may) have heard about…wow. As Ferris said, life moves pretty fast.”

Three different people. Three different posts. All three, unknowingly giving me a kick in the butt to do something I’ve put off for too long. Publishing September’s Heroes.

How Today Was Supposed To Happen. In June 2014, I started the process of securing space from the City of Elgin to produce a season of five shows, two weeks each at the Elgin Art Showcase. September’s Heroes was to be one of those shows. It should have– it would have been on stage tonight if it hadn’t been for the irresponsible actions of a city employee.

From the time I began the process, I dealt with three different people responsible for booking the space. The first left (who kept putting me off, delaying the process), the second was filling in (and tried valiantly to be accommodating with my requests) and then there was the third: the newly hired coordinator for the space. She flat out told me I couldn’t have the dates because she wanted them, even though they had already been promised to me.

I need to back up and say that I had also applied for this coordinator position. I had more than enough qualifications and experience, I’m an Elgin resident but I didn’t even get an interview. I was later told (by an insider) that the person they hired had already been tapped for the job, before the opening had even been posted. On top if that, she doesn’t live in Elgin (city officials claim to favor residents first) and she already holds a conflicting position, managing another space downtown. Strangely, her space is constantly active, while the Art Space sits empty.

Of the ten weeks I wanted, there has only been one, two-hour event in the space during the entire list of dates I had requested. It was nearly the end of last October before I was given contractual dates. At this point, it was already too late to successfully publicize the first two shows. I planned to release all but the last two bookings but when I discussed this (through email) with the new coordinator, she told me I couldn’t have the September dates, she was using them for her event. So I cancelled them all.

It turns out, IF they are using the space, it’s not on the city calendar AND the event (which is happening) isn’t until next week. My production of September’s Heroes could have gone on. At no point was I ever contacted and told that I could, in fact, have those original dates I had requested.

Yes, I’m bitter about this. I’m bitter about not being given consideration for the job and more so for having dates I had been given– in writing, taken away from me and then not used. The city pays a lot of money to subsidize this space and due to poor management– it sits empty. Yet another example of Elgin’s waste of taxpayer’s money.

Moving On and Being Inspired. So September’s Heroes is not on stage tonight but that’s not the end of it. Thanks to the inspiration of friends, I’m working on a new edit of my script to publish. Hopefully it will see productions for next year’s fifteenth anniversary.

Theatre moves, educates and inspires people. There is a whole new generation of children in school that weren’t even born when the terrorists attacked. They need to know the story. They need to hear about the heroes and the innocent people that lost their lives that day.

One Last Story. I want to end with this. I may have shared it before but if I have, it bares repeating. One of the people that ‘liked’ one of the Facebook posts this morning, is the mother of another one of the young actors that was in September’s Heroes in 2011. I didn’t really know him very well (at the time) besides the fact that he was talented and very polite. During the rehearsals, I got the feeling he was having a little trouble connecting to the material.

In January 2013, I chaperoned a student trip to New York and he was also on the trip. Besides seeing Broadway shows, we toured a little bit of the city and visited the National September 11th Memorial. We stood at the two pools that form the footprint of where the World Trade Center once towered over lower Manhattan. It was there that I saw this strong young man, emotional, as it all became real for him. It was a touching moment. An important moment that I’ll never forget.

It reminds me constantly of the power of theatre… the importance of history… and the necessity of telling and retelling the story.

It’s our duty to share, remember and #neverforget.

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Harvesting Paradise: My Two Favorite books of 2015

I don’t make it a habit to review a lot of books for my blog. When I do, there has to be something truly special about them than make me feel compelled to share. I am by no means what I would consider a professional book critic. I just love to read. Growing up, we didn’t live in traditional neighborhoods where we had access to a lot of friends. Quite often, books were our only friends, especially during the summer. My sister and I would beg our parents to take us to the library. Both of us often checked out the maximum of twenty books at a time, only to have read them all in a few short days and then we’d be begging to go back for more. This pattern went on into high school, when suddenly school and social lives had us putting books on the back burner.

At some unfortunate point later in life, I nearly stopped reading (for pleasure) altogether. Occasionally, I’d find myself in the mood again, or I’d have that vacation book to read on the plane or by the pool; but for the most part, I’d stopped reading altogether.

I’d always meant to start reading again, finish a book or two; and then find life as an easy excuse not to continue.

Earlier this year, I found myself out of excuses and accepted a challenge on the Goodreads website, committing myself to read twenty books this year. I believe that was back in March. Here it is now, August, and I’ve just finished reading my sixtieth book with no signs of stopping.

A good book takes you on a journey, unlocks your imagination and can empower your passion and desires.

I just finished reading the second of my two favorite books this year. Shortly after I started, I knew I wanted to review these two books together because they both had so much in common. In both cases the authors were young men… searching. Both searching for paradise of sorts; one in the form of the perfect pizza slice and the other in a deserted island. As a result, both happily found much more than either had bargained for.

HarvestSlice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza by Colin Atrophy Hagendorf

Simon & Schuster, Publisher

Pub Date Aug,11 2015

ISBN: 9781476705880

Available in Hardcover, Kindle, Audible & Audio CD Formats

New York and Pizza. Two things very dear to my heart. That’s all it took to draw me into this book. I try not to have too many expectations when I start reading but I’ll say I fully expected this to be more of a run down on pizza in NYC– more review based. Pleasantly, I discovered I was wrong. Slice Harvester is so much more. It’s part memoir, part history, part pizza critic…. mostly it’s a completely honest telling of one man’s unique journey to find his true self in one of the most amazing cities in the world.

While there are some short, mostly amusing tidbits of Hagendorf’s pizza reviews in the book, that’s only part of the whole. You can read all his critiques in their original blog form on his Slice Harvester site. I ended up spending hours there reading, after I finished this book– comparing opinions on places I’ve already tried and making notes on pizza I have to try on my next visit to New York.

This book isn’t a cheese slice– it’s an everything-and-more slice. All the ingredients are here in perfect amounts for a beautifully balanced, delicious read. I absolutely love this book.

Description from the Publisher:

Over the course of two years, a twenty-something punk rocker eats a cheese slice from every pizzeria in New York City, gets sober, falls in love, and starts a blog that captures headlines around the world—he is the Slice Harvester, and this is his story.

Since its arrival on US shores in 1905, pizza has risen from an obscure ethnic food to an iconic symbol of American culture. It has visited us in our dorm rooms and apartments, sometimes before we’d even unpacked or painted. It has nourished us during our jobs, consoled us during break-ups, and celebrated our triumphs right alongside us.

In August 2009, Colin Hagendorf set out to review every regular slice of pizza in Manhattan, and his blog, Slice Harvester, was born. Two years and nearly 400 slices later, he’d been featured in TheWall Street Journal, the Daily News (New York), and on radio shows all over the country. Suddenly, this self-proclaimed punk who was barely making a living doing burrito delivery and selling handmade zines had a following. But at the same time Colin was stepping up his game for the masses (grabbing slices with Phoebe Cates and her teenage daughter, reviewing kosher pizza so you don’t have to), his personal life was falling apart.

A problem drinker and chronic bad boyfriend, he started out using the blog as a way to escape—the hangovers, the midnight arguments, the hangovers again—until finally realizing that by taking steps to reach a goal day by day, he’d actually put himself in a place to finally take control of his life for good.

paradiseA Beginner’s Guide To Paradise: 9 Steps To Giving Up Everything by Alex Sheshunoff

Pub Date Sept 1, 2015

PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL/Signet Romance, DAW

ISBN: 9780451475862

Available in Hardcover, Kindle

Pacific Paradise. This book sparked my interest because Michael and I are visiting the Pacific region later this year. I thought this book might give me some insight, or at least a point of reference on our trip.

Who hasn’t dreamed of giving up everything to live on a deserted island at some point in their life? Many of us long for, if not only the idea of Paradise.

As Alex Sheshunoff discovered and shares in his book, the search for Paradise may just turn out to be something entirely different than you’d expect. You may end up with much more than you bargained for; good and bad.

I loved so many aspects of this book. Like Hagendorf, Sheshunoff tells the story of his personal journey, honestly and unashamed. He also shares much of the history and traditions of the islands, taking readers on a full descriptive and visual journey in counterpoint to his personal one. It’s a beautiful story of life, love and exotic locales. In the end, he discovers that true paradise is in the heart.

Description from the Publisher:

So You Too Can:

– Move to a South Pacific Island
– Wear a Loincloth
– Read a Hundred Books
– Diaper a Baby Monkey
– Build a Bungalow

And Maybe, Just Maybe, Fall in Love! *

* Individual results may vary.

The true story of how a quarter-life crisis led to adventure, freedom, and love on a tiny island in the Pacific.

From the author of a lot of emails and several Facebook posts comes A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise, a laugh-out-loud, true story that will answer your most pressing escape-from-it-all questions, including:

1. How much, per pound, should you expect to pay a priest to fly you to the outer islands of Yap?
2. Classic slumber party stumper: If you could have just one movie on a remote Pacific island, what would it definitely not be?
3. How do you blend fruity drinks without a blender?
4. Is a free, one-hour class from Home Depot on “Flowerbox Construction” sufficient training to build a house?

From Robinson Crusoe to Survivor, Gilligan’s Island to The Beach, people have fantasized about living on a remote tropical island. But when facing a quarter-life crisis, plucky desk slave Alex Sheshunoff actually did it.

While out in Paradise, he learned a lot. About how to make big choices and big changes. About the less-than-idyllic parts of paradise. About tying a loincloth without exposing the tender bits. Now, Alex shares his incredible story and pretty-hard-won wisdom in a book that will surprise you, make you laugh, take you to such unforgettable islands as Yap and Pig, and perhaps inspire your own move to an island with only two letters in its name.

Answers: 1) $1.14 2) Gas Attack Training Made Simple 3) Crimp a fork in half and insert middle into power drill 4) No.

 Harvesting Paradise. It was a complete coincidence that I read these two books so close together. Both reaffirm the life journeys we all make– our passion and desire to find happiness and paradise; whether  it be on a deserted island or in an urban jungle. Paradise is within all of our reach. We can search the world and never find it. Harvesting the best of life and finding our own personal paradise can’t begin until we start the very personal journey of exploring within. Both of these authors found it, so can we.
I was very fortunate to receive advanced reading copies of both of these wonderful books from the publishers through NetGalley.

Afternoon At The Fen

IMG_0386Thursday was sunny and hot. It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon, visiting the Bluff Spring Fen.  I was treated to a nice breeze blowing through the fields and the sky provided a spectacular cloud show.

IMG_0332A fen is defined as a type of wetland. This 160 acre, mineral-rich, spring fed fen is part of a larger 225 acre nature preserve managed by the Forest Preserve Districts of Kane and Cook Counties and the City of Elgin.

Nature preserves have a higher degree of protections and regulations than parks and forest preserves. There are no picnic tables or shelters. It is not a playground.  No cycling, dogs or horseback riding are allowed. With extremely narrow paths and an occasional footbridge, it is the perfect place for a tranquil walk and to view rare and protected plants and wildlife.

Here are a sampling of the photos I took on my first visit.

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I look forward to visiting again and capturing the change of seasons in the months to come.

The Children’s Train

In August 2013, I visited Berlin and the Museum Stutthof (Stutthof Concentration Camp) near Gdansk in Poland. For me, it was an emotional journey in remembrance of horrible atrocities that occurred in the world, long before I was born. As I started reading the novel, The Children’s Train, I had images come to life, enhanced by places I had visited. I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took, along with my review of Jana Zinser’s captivating new book.

The train gate at Museum Stutthof, Poland, August 2013.

The train gate at Museum Stutthof, Poland, where prisoners where brought into the camp. August 2013.

It has been estimated that from 1938 to 1940, the Kindertransport spared the lives of 10,000 children from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis. Most of those children, from infant to age 17, were the only members of their families to survive the brutality of World War II. Parents desperate to protect their children, handed them over to strangers to be boarded on trains that would take them to safety.

cover69421-mediumThis is the beginning premise of Jana Zinser’s fictional, The Children’s Train, A Novel to be released by BQB Publishing on October 26, 2015.

Zinser has written a heart-wrenching, epic story that follows lives of several children that survived  (as well as the fates of their families); from the beginning occupation through the end of the war.

Zinser takes readers from escape of occupied territories, into hiding, to safety, the concentration camps; and then back undercover behind enemy lines.

Here’s the description from the publisher:

In November 1938 on The Night of the Broken Glass, the Jewish people of Germany are terrified as Hitler’s men shatter their store windows, steal and destroy their belongings, and arrest many Jewish fathers and brothers. Parents fear for their own lives but their focus is on protecting their children. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized and parents scramble to get places on the trains for their young family members, worried about what the future will hold. Soon, trains filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chug over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom. But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter’s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician’s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping. When the Coventry farm is bombed and Nazis have reached England, Peter feels he has nothing left. He decides it’s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

It’s a story of fear, torture, loss, hope, freedom, survival and most important of all– it’s a story of heroism of epic proportions.

A freight car like those used to transport 80-100 prisoners to the concentration camps.

A freight car like those used to transport 80-100 prisoners, per car, to the concentration camps. (At Museum Stutthof.)

As someone that has had an ongoing interest in Holocaust studies and education, what I really like about The Children’s Train is that this novel gives the reader an in depth look; both in varying viewpoints and through a broad scope of experiences, making it a perfect introductory-look into the history of the Holocaust. It is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. After reading, you not only have a better picture of the many devastating situations endured by Holocaust victims and survivors; you also have a clearer understanding of Nazi and German (not mutually inclusive) people’s positions and actions. Yes, some believed in Hitler’s plan of hate. Others acted based on financial reasoning and many more out of fear.

The subject matter may be a little heavy for young readers but I’d certainly recommend it for high school through adults. Zinser tells the story simply, without over-dramatizing or trying to be graphically-shocking. By the very nature of the events, even through the author’s delicate handling, it might be too overwhelming for younger children.

The young lives of Peter, Eva and all the others will tug at your heart and inspire you. You’ll discover hope in humanity though quiet, unassuming acts of courage and heroism; and mourn the lives of those that were lost.

Though 10,000 children may have been spared by the Kindertransport; 6 million Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis — many of them children. This is their unforgettable story.

Children not lucky enough to escape on the Kindertransport, were forced into concentration camps like Stutthof, where many of them died. (At Museum Stutthof, August 2013.)

Children not lucky enough to escape on the Kindertransport, were forced into concentration camps like Stutthof, where many of them died. (At Museum Stutthof, August 2013.)

I received an ARC of The Children’s Train, A Novel through NetGalley.