Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time For New Beginnings

Now is the time to throw out the old and ring in the new. The natural response to the beginning of a New Year is usually optimistic and goal-centered. This is when we do some personal housecleaning, getting excited about resolutions that will make us better parents, better employees, better people, and maybe even thin again.

Innumerable resolutions have been made over the course of history, and I've often wondered where they end up when they aren't kept. Is there a "resolution junkyard" somewhere littered with all those promises we made with zeal and determination on Jan. 1, and forgot by Jan. 10?

The basic problem with me and resolutions is that most of the time I'm just too tough on myself. I've set unattainable goals in a quest for perfection that is simply not in my realm of capabilities. So, in an attempt to defray frustration, I start making minor, reasonable
adjustments to my resolutions ...

Instead of giving up fattening desserts, I'm going to give up caviar and Chateaubriand.

Instead of organizing my office, I'm going to learn to live with my own efficiency plan -- "leave everything where I know I can find it."

Instead of learning to be a gourmet cook, I'll order my take-out food from Chef Tell.

Instead of cutting down on the amount of time I spend reading, I'll take 10 minutes of every hour and walk around the house with my book so I get some exercise.

Instead of trying to be a perfect Mom, I'll just let my kids think what they want of me....

... and the list goes on.

But under the jokes we can make about the annual tradition of New Year's resolutions, there is something good and wholesome about the concept of fresh starts and new beginnings. It fills us with a sense of hopefulness and positive power. We are strong. We're invincible.

Well, maybe that's going too far. . .

But seriously, we all need the renewal of spirit and hope the celebration of the whole holiday season brings us. For Christians it starts with the Advent preparation with its theme of eager anticipation. It's punctuated dramatically with the fulfillment of promises on Christmas Day, giving us new life in the birth of Jesus. And it culminates in the atmosphere of exciting possibilities for growth and change presented to us in the New Year.

Even though I know I'm the world's worst resolution-keeper, each year I always feel energized as I contemplate all that can be accomplished with the time stretching before me. I welcome the opportunity to set new goals, or resurrect old goals with a renewed
conviction that this year I can do better.

So here's to all our resolutions. May none of them end up in the junkyard.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Post Holiday Blues

Apparently a lot of people are in a bit of a funk following the hustle and bustle of Christmas. At least that is what a number of pundits are saying.

I wasn’t feeling particularly blue until I read some recent columns where all the reasons why I should be were pointed out to me. The economy still sucks. Wars rage on. Our political system is in the toilet. Government spending is out of control. The U.S. is declining in power….

Need I go on?

Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer says, “Well, let’s just wait a little minute. The problem is not so much that we are in decline, but that we are in decomposition. The country doesn’t hold together because we don’t hold together; we see everything in terms of only ourselves.

“Every working country needs citizens at certain crucial levels to accept leadership and not parse every demand with the imperial “me”. Otherwise a country becomes ungovernable because no leader can impose decisions.”

If it wouldn’t make it so hard to read, I would put that all in caps and shout it to the nation.

Every problem we face as a nation is related to self -service and greed, and nothing is going to change until enough people start changing. We can’t expect the world around us to cater to our every need and insure that all things will be fair and equal. We have to be mindful of the community, city, state, country, world we live in. What is in the best interests of all mankind?

I would be PC and write ‘humankind’ but being PC is one of our problems. People aren’t listening to what others are saying, they listen to how it is said to make sure nobody is being offended by the wordage and miss the point entirely.

So, what do you think?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After the Fun

In keeping with the Holiday season, here is another excerpt from A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Enjoy.....

The day after Christmas was usually one of the best and one of the worst days of the year for our family. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, I'm not sure it does to me either. But let me try to explain.

It was the best because:

There were now 364 more shopping days until Christmas.

It was the one day of the year when perhaps the kids were just as tired as we were, and they’d sleep off and on all day.

All the build up for the Big Day was finally over, and the noise level in the house had dropped about 20 decibels.

I didn’t have to cook since we had all those leftovers from Christmas dinner. (If we didn't have a big Christmas dinner, I was in trouble on that score.)

The kids would decide they liked each other after all, and we could go the whole day without a fight – maybe.

The kids would invite me to color with them, or play a game, and we could share some really good times together - as long as they let me win now and then.

But every coin has its flip side, and the other side of this day was:

After the glitter and tinsel of Christmas, after the giving and receiving, the celebrating, singing and eating, we could all sit back, unbutton the waistband of our pants and try to decide who would clean up the mess.

Who would get to spend the next four days sorting through the thousand-and-one little pieces of games, toys, and puzzles that in less than one day managed to get tossed together from one end of the house to another?

On Christmas day, nobody seemed to care, but the day after nobody was being nice anymore, and the house was filled with moaning and wailing and the sounds of blood-letting and bones breaking ...

"Find that Stratego piece or I'll break your arm off and beat you over the head with it!"

"I never touched your Stratego game! Mommeee!!"

I guess four days out of my life wasn't too much to ask.

Who would dig through the 22 bags of trash to find the instructions for assembling the model airplane, because, for once in his life, a kid cleaned up after himself and threw them away with the wrapping paper? (Since that same kid would think nothing of digging through the neighbors' trash to see if they threw away anything he could put to good use, maybe I could pawn that job off on him. )

Who would accept the challenge of figuring out what to do with all the unidentifiable things we received as gifts, such as the strange looking thing from Aunt Mildred that could either be a doily or a dishrag.

The gadget from Uncle Willie that favors a Chinese puzzle, but could actually be his eccentric approach to the can opener.

The game that takes an IQ of at least 300 just to open the box.

The funny little knitted things from Aunt Lucy that are either thumb-less mittens or toe warmers.

I could have called them all personally to thank them for the gifts, and hope that somewhere in the conversation they will mention what they are. But that would have taken some of the fun out of lazy summer afternoons when we’d drag this stuff out again and play a new game called “What on Earth is It?”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Wishes

At this time of celebrating winter Holidays, I want to wish everyone the happiest of times with family and friends, and all the best for the New Year. I celebrate Christmas, and our cat, John, has decided he wants to be a Christmas present. Either that, or he is waiting to see what Santa is bringing him.

The following is an excerpt from my new book A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Please accept it as a small gift to you.

The Christmas Season was always a source of great excitement at our house. It was also a time of great panic. Every year I found the Christmas Season closing in fast with me panting to cross the finish line before Santa Claus.

I’d immediately start my “Holiday Hustle” working non-stop for three weeks to get everything done. There were gifts to send out of state, and cards to mail. Since I didn’t start early enough on that task, I had to decide if I would write one let­ter and copy it for all our friends, or try to find the time to write individual letters. This was before the birth of The Holiday Letter, which has now become a standard way for friends to stay in touch. Some people don’t like them, but, you know, if the alternative means not keeping up with friends, I’m all for it.

Maybe instead of getting angry at the stores that were putting out their Christmas stuff before Halloween, I should have taken their reminder seriously. Then I wouldn't have let Thanksgiving slip by without a thought of the next holiday.

My basic problem was, and still is, the fact that I don't get in the Christmas spirit until a couple of weeks before The Day, and then the frantic juggling act begins. If I could just bring myself to think about Christmas in October I wouldn't be faced with the necessity of regimenting my time down to the last second to get everything done -- structure and discipline being the closest thing to medieval torture I can think of.

However, I knew that I must have some structure, so sometimes I made a calendar with Things to Do. Monday was slotted for shopping. No giving in to the urge to sing carols with the kids or start making decorations. Friday was slotted for singing, and decorating would start the following week. Tuesday was the day to finish the Christmas cards. No fair claiming writer's cramp as an excuse to quit for a while and play with the dog.

Wednesday of that week started out easy. That was the day to write my column, and I didn’t have to stress over what I would write about as I had all this great material to work from. But the strangest thing happened as I wrote about all the things I hadn’t done yet. I had to fight the urge to quit working and dash out to the store when I thought of the perfect gift to get Uncle Barney. Not to mention all the other things I’d forgotten on Monday.

While fighting down that urge, another distraction popped up. The Girl Scout caroling party. I still hadn't called the leader to tell her what songs I'd planned for the girls.

Then I remembered someone else I should have mailed a card to.

Then I remembered I was supposed to get soda for a neighborhood holiday party.

I don’t even remember the rest of that week.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Give the Gift of Generosity

Several of my writer friends have shared special holiday essays with me, and here is another one from a regular contributor to Imelda Tatsch is the Program Director at the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center (NETCAC) located in Winnsboro, and her "Caring For Kids" columns also appear in their bi-monthly newsletter. In "Caring for Kids" she offers support, insight, and a touch of humor for parents and grandparents. Enjoy....

Christmas is HERE! We just finished off the last of the turkey leftovers and here we are just days from the big day….Where time goes I do not know, but it sure seems to be going there faster every year.

This year we have rarely heard any good news on television or read anything hopeful in the newspapers. With all that being said, I would expect very little in the way of help for those in need. This is certainly not the case here in Northeast Texas. At least not that I have seen in recent weeks.

If you are a regular reader of these articles, you know that I work at the Child Advocacy Center. Each year we see several hundred children from the eight counties we serve. The children have possibly suffered either severe physical or sexual abuse, or may have witnessed a violent crime. Abuse is no respecter of age, gender, or social class. Many of our families are put in desperate situations due to the obvious interruptions to life when something like abuse takes place. The entire family is affected.

This can take a toll on the finances of an already struggling family. To ease some of this stress during the Christmas season, we offer our Angel Tree Program to the families of children that have been through the center during the year. Families are given the opportunity to place their children on the angel tree and while many decline the offer, many more feel the need to accept. This offer is not limited to only the child or children that come through the center but for their siblings as well. Our angel tree list includes families of one child to often as many as seven or more. This is where my favorite word for the month comes into play…. GENEROSITY!!!!

In a time when we only hear of the negative economic conditions, we have been extremely blessed by an outpouring of love for these children.

We know that the economy has brought several to the edge of desperation. The need is there and just as the need has risen, so have those with the heart of love. They feel such gratefulness for their own blessings that they have shared with generosity beyond measure. Because of this many children will have something for Christmas this year. Those caring for these children; parents’ grand parents or other extended family members are very grateful. They often tell us that without what they receive from the Angel Tree Program the children would have nothing at all. We are forever grateful to all of you who have opened your hearts to our little angels this year.

I realize this space is allotted to me to write something more specific to parenting or raising children. So, this is my two cents worth of advice for this month! If you are so blessed to have your children with you and your family, though you may struggle at times is functioning and remains “intact” then you are greatly blessed. Share that blessing with others and teach your children to be generous. This does not have to cost you a dime. Be GENEROUS with your time, your words of kindness, and a friendly smile. A few years ago someone started a challenge to counter the reports of “random acts of violence” with “random acts of kindness”.

Maybe we can revive this practice.

If children really are our future, what kind of future do we want? They will only know from what we teach them…Their eyes are always on you, so when you think of what kind of person you want your child to be, look in the mirror, do you see that person? Children learn what they live and as you know they don’t always do what you tell them but they will do what you teach them through your actions.


Monday, December 21, 2009

More Holiday Traditions from Mexico

The piece I wrote for Sandra Sookoo's blog the other day prompted some readers to share some of their holiday traditions. My friend, Helen Burlingham, has graciously given me permission to post some of her memories of holiday traditions in Mexico. Enjoy....

One of the Christmas customs in Mexico, which I think originated in Spain and has become modernized, is the Posada. The word "posada" means house or dwelling and the ritual refers to Mary and Josephs request for a dwelling where Mary could give birth to Jesus.

Posadas begin on December 16 and continue right up to Christmas eve. There is a traditional scripted ritual that is followed. There are two teams. One reciting lines that represent the various innkeepers or homes and the other portraying Mary and Joseph.

Within a home, or on the patio of a home, the innkeepers line up and the Mary/Joseph team go from one to the other and ask for shelter. They are refused until the end, when the innkeeper says they can stay in his stable.

After the final shelter is given and the child is born, there is happiness and celebration, usually with a pinata (even for adults) And, food, drink, music and dancing.

In modern times, many Posadas are merely company Christmas parties without the traditional rituals, but in the small towns they are still done with the litanies. I believe people in Mexico still wait until December 16 for the first one to take place.

One year when I taught at Pan-Am University in the Rio Grande Valley, we had a faculty Posada at the home of a Mexican-American Teaching Assistant. The ritual was in Spanish.What I remember most were the pina coladas afterward that got an older faculty wife a little tipsy. She did not know the drink contained alcohol and was just enjoying the sweet taste. Nobody pushed a second drink on her but the snickers were many.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Holiday Traditions

The piece I wrote for Sandra Sookoo's blog the other day prompted some readers to share some of their holiday traditions. One lady, Helen Burlingham, a good friend and fellow writer graciously allowed me to share some of her remembrances here. Enjoy....


I, too, remember different ways to celebrate. Though I was born in Michigan (Saginaw) I grew up in New Jersey but with some of your traditions. My father bought our tree on Christmas eve and as very young children we did not help decorate. In later years my brother and I did help but it was still the night before.

We did not celebrate January 6th the way you described, but when i lived in Mexico as an adult, I discovered it was THE most important day there. In my husband Carlos' home, there was always a skimpy pine cut from a nearby mountain side until later years when they brought nicer ones from Mexico City or his youngest brother went to higher mountain areas to cut a fuller tree. For many years there were no presents until January 6th.

I was the first daughter-in-law, and as each of Carlos' brothers married and began families, we still came together in Tehuantepec for Christmas and Santa Claus did make an appearance on Christmas day. The gifts were placed around the tree in the chapel.

Those were the years that we drove from New Jersey to southern Mexico, with one overnight stop in McAllen, Texas. The car was loaded with gifts for everyone, including the servants of the house. I remember one year we hid a puppy under a pillow as we crossed the border. That dog lived at the family ranch for many years.

Christmas Eve we had a dinner after midnight mass that included turkey and mole. (A chocolate sauce pronounced mo-lay) The first years, the turkeys were very skinny local birds, so we started picking one up when we stopped in McAllen. That way we had one that was really big and full. The year my mother went with us, she made traditional stuffing. She also made a raised dough coffee ring that was a big hit. My sister-in-law, who was only about 12 that year, cut some pieces of the coffee ring and hid them in the old dining room cabinet so she would have some the next day.

As the years marched on, we continued to go to Mexico for Christmas before my mother-in-law died, but we started flying down with fewer gifts to carry as some of the families had other obligations. Even with the introduction of Santa Claus, January 6th was still important in Mexico, but most children received their presents on December 25th.

In Mexico, Christmas time was when village artisans sold the terracotta figures that at one time were the gifts received on January 6th. Some of the gifts were Tops and a toy called a balero, which is a small hollowed out gourd with a handle and a ball on a string that one threw up and caught in the gourd or carved cup. Maybe a small piece of clothing would be included, but no-one expected much even in the families like Carlos' that had more means.

The first Christmases I spent there was in the early 50s so I was able to experience some of the earlier traditions. One of those was a special procession to place the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve. As young children, my daughter, Kim, and her cousin Lucy took turns each year carrying in the baby Jesus to lay in the nacimiento that was set up in the chapel. They were followed by the even younger children, and afterwards horchata and cookies.were served. Horchata is rice ground on a mecate, with sugar, cinnamon, and milk added.

I enjoyed those Holidays in Mexico, and we still try to follow some of the old traditions, but it becomes harder each year.

Helen Burlingham

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blogging at Friend's Blog

Today I have a post up on Sandra Sookoo's blog Believing is Seeing. She is running a special series leading up to Christmas featuring different authors with different stories about the Holidays.

At the blog today I wrote about Christmas traditions and how different they are in different parts of the country. When I moved to Texas from Michigan, I was in for big surprise.

If you have time hop over to her blog and visit often in the next ten days. She has a lot of fun topics lines up.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is this World Coming To?

I was going to try to focus on fun topics for the next week or so leading up to the holidays, but recent news items are just begging for a rant. Actually not a rant, just an expression of dismay and perhaps a discussion about the absurdities of human nature, which is one of the reasons I write this blog. I think we all need to express our frustration with some of mankind or we might explode from trying to hold it all in.

One of the stories I read today was about a south Texas couple who put an aborted 7-month-old fetus in a gift box under a Christmas tree after they were unable to flush the remains down a toilet. The couple has been charged with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. Police believe the woman used pills to induce an abortion last week, then called an ambulance after she began bleeding and told doctors she didn't know where the fetus was.

This is so absurd, I don't even know what to say. What were they thinking? Or were they even thinking?

A story I read yesterday also made me shake my head in disbelief. Apparently some parents in Detroit are so unhappy about the students there doing poorly on standardized tests that they want the teachers and administrators to go to jail.

That's right. Jail.

After release of a report showing fourth and eighth-grade students with the lowest math scores in the nation, Sharlonda Buckman of the Detroit Parent Network is reportedly pushing for prison time and civil lawsuits against teachers and officials in the school district who are not doing enough to educate the city's youth. She is reported to have said that someone needs to go to jail for this and it shouldn't be the kids.

I agree that educators need to be held accountable for their work, but this is a bit extreme, don't you think? Especially since the educator is only one third of a whole that makes for successful learning. The other two-thirds are parents and the student. And they all need to work together in harmony, not be setting up adversarial positions on something so vitally important as education.

And if any authority or court acts on this absurd request, I will really lose all hope in humanity.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Shopping

Here are rules for shopping from my friend, Tracy. Enjoy.....

The Five Christmas shopping ‘Rules of Engagement’

Christmas is creeping up on us again, and that means it’s time to brave the wild indoor shopping centers and outlet malls with the hope of getting some serious Christmas shopping done without being crushed to death in Aisle No. 9 during a Blue Light Special. But do you think I’m worried? Nosirree! I’ve got a plan, and as long as I stick to it, I will not die!

My plan is to do all my shopping on Christmas Eve, hitting the stores with military-like precision: attack, attack, attack, take no prisoners, and don’t charge anything until you see the whites of their eyes. And I believe in “attacking at dawn,” when there’s little resistance because nobody else is stupid enough to get up that early just to go shopping.

Yes, I believe the best time for shopping maneuvers at the local Mega Store is when there are only four people in the building – me, Barbara at the cash register, and the two stock boys in the back who always seem to be asleep. At any other time, those two would follow me around, making me “hit the dirt” every time they lob a bag of potato chips or toilet paper over my head. But, even that’s preferable to being surrounded by a horde of mothers, their screaming children and Zombie-like Husbands.

Beware – Zombie Men are everywhere! They gather at supermarkets and malls this time of year, and, given half a chance, they will suck the life right out of you.

Zombie Men are easy to spot: They hunch over their shopping carts, their eyes downcast in order to avoid eye contact with strangers. Their feet shuffle as they walk, and if you listen closely, you can hear them mumble things like, “Yes dear,” and “Whatever you say, dear,” and “I don’t give a rip, dear,” and “I mean, they look fresh to me, dear.”

Zombie Men used to be regular guys – men who went to the feed store, who tore apart engines for fun, who always had venison in the freezer. But somewhere along the way, they started pushing shopping carts for their wives – wives who are always agitated, jittery, looking for the best bargain, picking up this can of soup, comparing it with that can of soup, finally putting both cans of soup in the cart, telling her Zombie Husband to speed up, slow down, grab that box of cake mix, “No! Not that one! The store brand because it's cheaper.”

“Yes, dear. Whatever you say, dear.”

Sometimes when the Zombie Men accidentally look up, I see in their faces a wish for me to put a bullet right between their eyes, just to end their suffering. But I have to look away. There is nothing I can do for them. When I go shopping, I leave my pistol at home.

So, to make sure that I never have to endure crowds, bargain-hunting wives, yelling children, and Zombie Men, I adhere to the following Five Christmas Shopping “Rules of Engagement.” If you can benefit from it, fine. If not, don’t blame me:

1. Make a list of items you need to procure (military term that means “acquire”). Do not leave your Fort without a list. To do so, and be stuck trying to decide between the George Forman Grill or a baby Rat Terrier, would mean certain “death by indecision.”

2. Before you make your list, scout out (another military term that means “reconnoiter”) what size your honey wears, because to buy a 20 when she really needs a 10 means certain “death by fuming.”

3. With list in hand, attack at dawn, or as soon as the front door is open. If the store is having a “50 Percent Off Everything Starting at Dawn” sale, then Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!.

4. Once safely inside the store, quickly commandeer a cart. If someone else is using it at the time – well, spoils of war. With acquired cart, head to the ADM (Area of Desired Merchandise), probe the area, acquire your target, lock and load your cart, then head to the extraction zone (somewhere around Cashier No. 4) making no contact with the general population.

5. The only time you can breathe a sigh of relief is when you are safely out of the Combat Zone and back at your Fort. Count your acquisitions (a military word for “booty” which is a pirate word for “loot”), then conceal it under the bed or some other safe place that nobody would dare clean for fear of “death by dust.”

And that my friends is the key to safe holiday shopping. I wish you the best of luck. Remember, if you follow the rules, you WILL survive!


Or you can avoid all that entirely and buy a nice book online for a gift. I happen to know someone who could even sign one for the person on your gift list. :-)

Tracy Farr is a teacher living in East Texas who drives a school bus for the fun of it. In his spare time he plays the banjo, but never on Thursdays. You can read more of his stories at

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two More of my Books

I finally got around to adding covers for two of my other books to the side bar here on the blog. Hate to admit out loud that it took me a long time to figure out how to add items. You would think that someone who maintains a huge Web site would find all this other Web stuff a breeze, but each site has its own programming and idiosyncrasies.

Anyway, for those of you who may not be familiar with these other two book, let me give you a quick introduction.

Friends Forever is a young adult novel for middle school readers, that I originally wrote when one of my daughters faced the sudden social changes that happens as kids leave grade school and move on. Friends who used to be friends are often pulled apart.

BLURB: Friendship is a tenuous thing when you are thirteen and everything in your life is changing, especially your best friend. Terrified that she will lose Laura to the influence of Angie who is rich, beautiful, and the most popular girl in school, Debbie Webly will do almost anything to hang on to Laura. When her efforts backfire, Debbie finds out that true friendship is based on much more than looks or popularity.

Play It Again, Sam, is also based on real experience of husbands walking away from long-time marriages out of discontent. It happened to a good friend of mine who allowed me to tell her story.


When her husband comes home from work one day to announce that he’s moving out, Samantha Rutgers thinks it’s a joke. She hopes it’s a joke. But he packs a suitcase and walks out, leaving her in emotional devastation. She thought their marriage was just fine. Their life was just fine. What happened?

After twenty-five years as a corporate wife, raising the children and making a comfortable home for the family, Sam feels ill equipped to build a new life. She also feels ill equipped to face being a single woman in a whole new dating culture.

With the help of long-time friend, Margaret, Sam takes a new path in life. She goes back to college to pursue the art degree she’d put on hold. She gets a job with an advertising firm. And she meets Frank Reynolds who invites her to take that first step into new love.

Click on the covers to read more about the books if you are interested.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thinking About Government

In light of the huge national debate on health care reform, I found a statement by Neal Boorz in his 2008 address to the graduates of Texas A&M University thought provoking. To put it in context, it was the part of his speech where he talked about individual rights as opposed to group rights. He said that Liberals care more about group rights and are driven by a group mentality, and Conservatives think more about the individual rights.

According to his assessment, it is the Liberal mindset that pushes for more government programs and assistance, which is a driving force supporting issues like health care reform.

This is part of what Boorz had to say in that noteworthy speech:

"So, here I am saying negative things to you about government. Well, be clear on this: It is not wrong to distrust government. It is not wrong to fear government. In certain cases it is not even wrong to despise government for government is inherently evil. Yes ... a necessary evil, but dangerous nonetheless... somewhat like a drug. Just as a drug that in the proper dosage can save your life, an overdose of government can be fatal."

As the recent Tea Parties have indicated, more and more people in the United States are feeling the effects of a government overdose, and the powers in Washington have become like some huge monster that is so out of control that nobody can figure out how to rein it in. The deficit is growing by giant steps. Federal interference in states' business is on the increase. "Pork" spending and lobbying is burning up millions of dollars. And politicians are so busy being politicians, they forget the job they were sent to Washington to do.

Insurmountable problems?


Revise the campaign system so there is only six months for campaigning before an election. Period. Get rid of lobbyists and don't allow campaign donations over $1,000 from a business or corporation. Send single issue bills through the House and Senate without any "add ons."

Streamline government. I mean, really streamline the administration of offices and agencies. What jobs are vital for running the country, and what jobs are just there for show? Get rid of the IRS as it now works. The agency costs millions to operate and if the taxation process was simplified we could pare down the deficit in just a few years. Flat tax anyone?

And MOST IMPORTANTLY -- pardon the shout, but you can tell I feel strongly about this -- stop spending more than we have and giving IOU's to the Chinese.

Whew, I'm glad I got that off my chest.

What about you? Any suggestions as to how to unsnarl the horrible mess in Washington? Or do you not think it is a horrible mess? I'm open to opposing opinions. That's what makes for a good discussion.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Man's Brutality Against Man

I just read this brief news item, and I had to pause to take a moment to absorb it all:

Proposed legislation would impose the death penalty for some gay Ugandans, and their family and friends could face up to seven years in jail if they fail to report them to authorities. Even landlords could be imprisoned for renting to homosexuals.

Gay rights activists say the bill, which has prompted growing international opposition, promotes hatred and could set back efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. They believe the bill is part of a continentwide backlash because Africa's gay community is becoming more vocal.

Can you imagine what it must be like for those people living in Uganda? No matter what your personal or moral view on homosexuality is, nobody should have to die because they are gay. And for a government to enact such a law is despicable.

The idealist in me always wishes that we will have no more Holocausts, or Indian Wars, or Crusades, where millions of people were killed because of race or religion, but I guess that is never going to be. Some dark side of humanity seems to raise it's ugly head and bring another atrocity to another group of people.

What do you think? Will the madness ever end?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Remembering Pearl Harbor

I wonder. Is there ever a time when a tragic event stops eliciting strong emotions and becomes just another historical footnote? If so, how long does that take?

It seems to me that the urgency that used to surround remembering Pearl Harbor has eased somewhat in recent years. Perhaps because so many of the people who actually witnessed it area gone and that strong emotional connection is weakening.

In the not too distant future most of the people who were alive when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor will be dead, and then the remembering will be done by people of my age group, who were born just as the war was ending. Pearl Harbor touched us only in the stories told to us by our fathers and our grandfathers, and I'll admit that the story did not affect me as deeply as the memory affected my father and my grandfather.

The full impact of what happened on December 7, 1941 didn't hit me until I visited the memorial in Pearl Harbor when we took a trip to Hawaii. Actually seeing the place, standing where the Arizona still lies beneath the water, and watching people drop flower petals on the water made it real. Even our daughter, yet another generation removed from the reality, was deeply touched. We stood there, arm and arm, and wept.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Third Annual Production of "Scrooge"

This weekend our local production of "Scrooge" opens. In fact, tonight is opening night, and I am thrilled.

Thrilled that the weeks of rehearsals and preparations are over. This year I was assistant director, and play the role of Auntie and the Narrator. My plan was to just play a very small role, but we all know what happens to plans.

Thrilled that we finally get to relax and "play" on the stage. Magic happens when the work is done and we just become the people in this new story.

And doubly thrilled because we are doing an adaptation that I wrote. There is something so exciting about our work coming alive on stage or screen, and I have been really blessed to have an outlet for my work here in East Texas at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts.

Not long after I first moved here, we did a production of my play, "There is a Time", a drama about four women in a cancer support group. It had tender, touching moments, as well as some really funny moments, and death was personified on stage.

I wasn't sure how this East Texas community would take to something like that. They usually prefer the fun shows like "Scrooge" and comedies. But audiences really loved the show, and the players did such an incredible job bringing the story to life.

Opening night, I stood in the back and tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the audience respond to the players and the story. Later, I realized that was the most exciting moment of my professional career.

So, what about you? What has been the most exciting moment of your professional career?

Keep in mind that I am separating personal and professional. For me, they will always be separate as nothing professional will ever touch the awesome feelings I have for my family.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Another Sports Idol Bites the Dust

I kept hoping it wasn't true. Even as the early reports of liaisons between Tiger Woods and "other" women first surfaced last week, I kept wishing it would all turn out to be false. I don't care a whit about golf, but I have always liked and admired Tiger since he blasted onto the Pro Golf scene in 1996 and was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated Magazine.

Tiger seemed to epitomize all that I found noteworthy in a celebrity athlete: integrity, humility, character, loyalty to family, and loyalty to fans. Characteristics that I did not see in other star athletes I refer to as "bad-boy" players.

Today that image crumbled.

Today, Tiger Woods apologized for letting his family down as more women were romantically linked to the married golfer.

In a written statement Woods, 33, said, “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings.”

Sound familiar? Does every man who is caught with his zipper down have the same publicist to write the apology statement?

There are those who will forgive Tiger and support him in his professional and personal life, and on one level that is good. People need forgiveness, and life does need to go on. But we should no longer hold Tiger Woods up as an example for young people to emulate, and he should suffer some serious consequences for his transgressions.

Otherwise, the message is, "Mess up and if you are caught, just apologize nicely and everything will be okay."

I think we need to start sending a different message.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I Love Texas But....

I'll admit I love the great state of Texas. I love the beauty of the varied countryside and the great expanse of sky that hosts the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I love the whole mystique of good guys like Sam Houston and bad guys like Bonnie and Clyde. And I love cowboys and farmers and ranchers who go to town on Saturday morning to have breakfast at the local diner.

But I do not like the absurd Texas Education system.

First off, they have this method of assessing the schools -- Texas Accountability Rating System -- that has less to do with learning than with statistics: How many students have dropped out? How many students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests? How many students are enrolled in AP classes? And one of the most important, how many students are passing?

To deal with that last issue, school districts began forcing teachers to assign a minimum grade to failing students regardless of their classwork and test scores. When the policy was first started, supporters said that it was good for the students. It would give them a better chance of improving the grade by the end of semester and the end of the year. That would in turn improve the self-esteem of the students and create a more successful learning environment.


What it did was help schools meet those statistical requirements.

There was enough protests from teachers, administrators, and parents, that a new state law was recently enacted that prohibits school districts from using this policy. A student is not to be given a grade of 50, if the work only reflects a grade of 30. Makes sense. A realistic grading system teaches students consequences as well as issuing a challenge.

I remember when one of our sons received a less than stellar grade in math the first semester of his senior year. If he did not bring the grade up to passing in the next six weeks, he wouldn't graduate. The teacher did not offer to give him a sympathy grade. My husband and I did not beg the school to bail our son out. We told him he would bring the grade up or else. And he knew what the "or else" would entail.

The latest installment of this silly school saga is that a number of school districts in and around Houston have filed suit challenging this new law. They claim that minimum-grade policies are good for students. "Minimum grading policies ensure that a student still may gain credit for a course as a whole and in turn continue progressing towards graduation...minimum grading policies for report cards are a key tool for keeping students in school."

Statistics anyone?