Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Random Act of Evil

When I was about seven years old, I watched an old black-and-white movie called The Bad Seed. It is about a pretty little girl, Rhoda, who is a sociopath. She can be as sweet and smooth as honey but turns into a cold-blooded killer if she doesn’t get what she wants. She kills a classmate who wins the penmanship award that Rhoda wants and kills the gardener because he discovers Rhoda’s secret.

I thought about this movie for years after seeing it. It’s the first time I remember thinking that true evil can exist, no matter the age of the person, and it can be anywhere, even living next door.

Many years have passed since I watched a scary movie or read a horror novel. I’ve seen and heard of more than enough real-life acts of violence, and like most people, I wonder why some people are evil and some aren’t. Can a person be a bad seed? Is it the nature/nurture thing? How can someone not have a sense of right and wrong or not feel guilt and remorse?

A few years ago, I taught a young man who was on a fast-track to prison. I knew it when he was in the ninth grade. He wasn’t like the kid who is naughty in school but has some redeeming qualities. This boy was cruel to classmates, disrespectful to teachers and cheated on everything. His home life wasn’t great – parents divorced, overindulgent dad, absent mom, raised by elderly grandparents – but his life was typical of many others. At age 16, this young man was expelled from school for drugs. When he was 18, he committed a felony and served five years in prison. He was out of prison for only a few months when, during a planned robbery, he brutally murdered two young men and their dog.

What makes a person like my former student commit such evil acts? Sometimes villains commit terrible deeds because of mental illness or acts of passion. Addiction also causes people to become totally opposite of the person he/she once was. But are we just giving evil a way out, an excuse that it’s ok for this person to display violent behavior because he is schizophrenic, on drugs or angry?

Does the evil-doer ever consider the effect on the victim? I don’t think he thinks about anything except himself and his wants. After a random act of violence occurs, the lives of the victims and their families are changed forever. Anger and disbelief take the place of the feelings of safety and innocence they once had. I’m not sure if I could ever fully recover from an attack on my family or friends.

This post really has no clear point. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how terrible some people are. This week, a person attacked and killed my friend’s mom during a home invasion. This woman was an elementary school music teacher who would have soon retired to enjoy her grandchildren.

I don’t know why some people carry out evil plots. Maybe it is the way the person is born or maybe it’s his environment. I heard once that the genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger. My pastor explained that at these times, the devil takes control. In the age-old fight between evil and good, evil wins during intentional acts of violence.

I wish I had a way to rid the world of evil, but I don’t. There are too many bad seeds scattered all over, and no matter how vigilant we are, evil can find us.


Friday, March 17, 2017

I'm All In!

The older I get, the more I seem to slow down.

I don’t mean the slowdown that comes with age. I mean the leisureliness that allows me to evaluate my life.

In my younger years, I rushed through everything, moving mostly on auto-pilot. While at home, I worried about work and at work, I worried about home. I was anxious about my kids all the time and about my ability, or rather inability, to be a decent mother. My children are grown and happy, my granddaughter is approaching her teens, and I’m not moving at such a hectic pace. I work part time and have my afternoons free to complete tasks or to just sit and think about important issues or useless junk.

I have many conversations with myself – not the crazy kind where I verbally ask and answer my own questions (cue Sally Field in Sybil). I have these internal dialogues going on that I don’t remember having up until about a year ago. I’m a widow and there’s no one at home to listen to me verbalize thoughts, but I also think I’m able to focus more because I have decelerated.

One internal conversation that plays is the “what if” one. What if I don’t lose weight? What if I run out of money? What if my kids don’t succeed? This little two-word phrase can drive a person nuts! Now when I’m having the “what ifs,” I intentionally change my thoughts. Instead, I focus on what I’m getting out of or learning from the experience or the thought. By doing this, I believe I’m becoming a more positive person. I’m not tiptoeing through the tulips, but I’m not drowning in worry or negativity either. Maybe I’ve achieved a small balance in life.

I tend to be more grateful, too, and I divide this gratitude into smaller increments. I focus on today and how my life is at this moment. Mindfulness – being present in the moment – is a big buzz word in psychology now. I know this as a fact because Pinterest has all kinds of boards on how to do it. The key to mindfulness is that your thoughts should not dwell on past mistakes or on worry about the future. All these Pinterest people should realize that mindfulness isn’t a new thing: the Bible has instructed people to do this for centuries.

Frequently throughout the day, I stop to consider how the day is going and how those around me are faring. I say a prayer of gratitude for my blessings because I truly am thankful for all I have right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced a lot of bad events that I’m now very grateful for small, happy moments. If I don’t consciously consider these events, I might jinx the flow of goodness. 

Even with my trying to live in the moment, I still get impatient. I’ve figured out that the impatience comes from this little control problem I have. My chosen career is to blame for a big part of this problem; I must be in control in the classroom or anarchy happens. Often, I want things to happen right now, and I want them to happen my way. This is especially true when I see events happen to my children which make them unhappy or knock them down a notch in their life’s plan. I used to be a huge enabler and fix problems so that my kids didn’t have to do it. Enabling is one of my biggest mistakes in parenting because I didn’t let my kids suffer the consequences of their choices. Now instead of rushing in to fix things, I help them focus on their choices and on what they can learn from the experiences. It’s hard for me to admit, but they are actually doing ok without my attempts at control.

So, cheers to life right now! I can’t change the zillions of bad decisions in my past, bring back people I’d love to have around me or direct the course of the future. I can, however, focus on this moment, and I’m all in.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mentally Strong in 13 Steps

"Good habits are important, but it's often our bad habits that prevent us from reaching our full potential." -- Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

Over the past year, I’ve been working on making myself a better person.

My earlier posts tell my journey to better physical health by following Weight Watchers and exercising. I’m pleased that I’ve been very successful in that area and at age 59, I’m in the best health of my life.

My physical health is easy compared to my mental health. It seems like the more I want to improve my brain, the more it goes to mush. Supposedly, people my age are destined to have a sloppy brain at times, but I’m not ready for my mind to become porridge. Going back to work after a year of retirement forced my brain to get into shape. A teacher must have a pretty sharp brain to keep up with teenagers.

I also decided to focus on a positive attitude. I’ve listened to many podcasts and read several books on this topic. One book that I liked is 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin.

I don’t remember how I found out about this book, whether it was suggested in a magazine or online. However, I’m glad I did find it. I wouldn’t say that it’s a life-changing book for me because I knew about these ways to stay focused on happiness and to stay strong minded. After all, I read Dr. Phil’s books back when he wasn’t so into shocking his audience for ratings (example: "cash me outside how bout dah").

What I like about the book:

1.  It takes a different approach to handling problems. Instead of telling me what I should do to make life better, it tells what I shouldn’t do.

2.  Morin gives examples of everyday people who have come to her for therapy sessions as well as stories of well-known people’s struggles. In Chapter 7 “They Don’t Dwell on the Past,” Morin writes about 55-year-old Gloria whose adult daughter kept moving back home after short-term, failed relationships. Gloria felt guilty because she had not provided a stable childhood for her daughter and was presently allowing her daughter to take advantage of her. Trying to right the past was keeping Gloria from being a good parent in the present.

Morin tells of Milton Hershey’s struggles with his candy career in the chapter “They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over.” After several failed attempts at establishing a candy business, Hershey changed strategies but stayed focused on success and not on his failed attempts. In the end, he owned the world’s biggest chocolate company.

3.  Amy Morin writes of many personal experiences to which I can relate. The introduction describes several heartbreaks she experienced due to deaths in her family. Tragically, Morin’s mother and husband died suddenly within three years of each other. She describes grief as “an emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting process.” Amen to that! When dealing with the impending death of her father-in-law from cancer, Morin came up with her list of 13 Things.

4.  The book doesn’t have to be read in its entirety to get its essence. Each chapter is helpful in its own way. I have re-read the chapters “They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure” and “They Don’t Expect Immediate Results” to keep me focused on my weight-loss journey.

When Amazon came out with Kindle e-reader, I got one. Some may consider it strange that an English teacher would rather have a digital book than the real thing; most bibliophiles want the feel of paper and the smell of a new book. The truth is that I was tired of storing real books. I had shelves and shelves of books I had read or were planning to read, and I was tired of dusting them. The Kindle allowed me to give away my books and get rid of some clutter. I don’t have to dust an e-book. However, some books I buy in hardback format because I want to loan to them to friends. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is such a book.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Oh, What a Night to Shine!

Drew and his best friend Michael dance and hang out with friends at Night to Shine Tallahassee.

My son Drew has always been up for a good time. He loves to eat, dance and hang out with his friends – and believe me, he has LOTS of friends. Recently, he got to dress up and party with many of his friends at the annual TimTebow Foundation’s Night to Shine prom.

Night to Shine is a prom for people 14 and older with special needs. Tebow started Night to Shine three years ago, and this year, 75,000 people with disabilities in 375 locations in 50 states and 11 countries attended.

Local churches hosted and organized the event, and this year, it took 150,000 volunteers to make the night a success. For months leading up to the prom, the church committees collected prom attire and accessories from the community and then hosted a day when prom-goers picked out a dress or tux. They made sure that security and medical care were on hand the night of the prom and that each attendee had a buddy to hang out with during the night. The buddies passed a background check and participated in a training workshop. I sponsored the high school prom once and it was a piece of cake compared to everything that these Night to Shine committees did.

Genesis Church hosted the Night to Shine prom in Tallahassee.

Volunteer buddies wait to cheer prom-goers as they walk the red carpet at Night to Shine Tallahassee.
Everyone enjoyed the karaoke room!

Tim Tebow is quite an interesting young man. His parents were missionaries in the Philippines where Tebow lived during his childhood. He played college football at the University of Florida where he led the team to two national championships. He was awarded the Heisman Trophy, was drafted by the NFL and played a few years. Currently, he is a college football analyst for the SEC Network and playing baseball with the New York Mets organization. 

Tebow established his foundation in 2010 with the “mission to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” In addition to Night to Shine, the foundation aids in adoption of special needs children from 3rd world countries, provides playrooms in pediatric hospitals, and operates a pediatric orthopedic hospital in the Philippines.

Tim Tebow escorts a Night to Shine prom-goer into the event.
“From a very early age, my parents instilled in me the importance of God’s word, the salvation we have in His Son Jesus and the responsibility we have to give back to others. That’s why in 2010, I was so excited to create the Tim Tebow Foundation with a mission to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” – Tim Tebow

Many professional athletes have foundations for charitable causes. Being a cynical person, I always considered them just a tax write-off.  These people are paid exorbitant salaries, and they must find a way to keep the IRS from taking most of the money. However, I was never exposed to one of these foundations directly until Night to Shine. 

This night was so special to so many people, and their memories of the event won’t fade quickly. Drew loves looking at pictures and talking about the great time he had with his friends. My daughter works at an adult day program for many of those who attended the prom. She said that the week after the event, many of the attendees wore their crowns each day. One man couldn’t tell her about the night without crying because he was still so excited.

Each prom-goer received a crown or tiara to wear at Night to Shine prom.

I live in the middle of Florida State University fanatics, and it's hard for many of them to find anything positive to say about the University of Florida. However, one of these die-hard Seminoles who volunteered at Night to Shine said, "I'm certainly not a Gator fan, but Tebow's foundation really does a great job!" My daughter, who is a UF alumna, said that it's because Tebow is part of the "Gator Good." Personally, I believe that his goodness has much more to do with his faith than with being a Gator, but then again, I don't like football.

So thank you Tim Tebow Foundation and all the host churches and volunteers. I’d have to say the Night to Shine was a success!

"I genuinely believe, from the bottom of my heart, that statistics will never motivate you; a specific story will motivate you. If one person realizes that God loves them, that’s enough." - Tim Tebow

Friday, February 10, 2017

I'm Back ... or at Least I'm Trying

haven’t been a good blog-keeper for over a year, having written only five posts since January 2016. My audience tells me they miss reading my thoughts. That previous sentence makes it sound like my audience is in the thousands. That’s hardly true, but I so appreciate anyone who has read in the past.

Why haven’t I been writing? I’ve thought a lot about how to answer this question because I loved writing and sharing with you. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t want to keep up the pace. After a lot of deep thinking, I came up with a few reasons.

The biggest reason is that my whole life has done, as they say in racing circles, a 180. The course I had planned in 2015 – retire, spend time with my husband, family and friends, write – did not go as I thought. I did retire, but when Richard died, I didn’t have the desire to write. He was my muse, my inspiration for this blog and many of the posts. I didn’t have my editor anymore and didn’t feel confident in my thoughts or writing. 

Also, I didn’t have anything I wanted to write about. My world had become so small while caring for Richard, and I didn’t want to let anyone inside. Writing a post about grieving would be too sad, for me and for you. Often, I considered writing about news events but why? The election wore me out, and I stopped watching national news. I, like many people I know, now focus on my small world, accepting that there’s not much I can change about the big picture.

Instead of writing, I became physically active, mainly to become exhausted so I could sleep at night. I worked in my yard, pushing my old-school lawnmower, chopping shrubs and vines and even cutting down trees with an ax. I set a daily goal of reaching at least 10k steps on my Fitbit but also of having at least I hour of active minutes. I walked 1.5 miles every morning and again every evening. 

Along the way, I rejoined Weight Watchers which led to healthy eating. Since March 2016, I have lost 58 pounds. I began working with a personal trainer weekly which helps build muscle and protect my old bones. My appearance has changed so much that people I haven’t seen in a while don’t recognize me. It’s awkward when we meet because we must get the "new" Pam out of the way. Often, someone will say, “Oh, you’re so skinny” which bothers me. Before, did they want to say, “Oh, you’re so fat” when they met me? Body image, especially when you focus on your own body, is difficult.

May 2015 and November 2016

In August 2016, I returned to the school where I had taught prior to retirement to teach part time. I have the best job in the world! For three periods each day, I teach super kids who are taking dual-enrolled English. These kids chose to be in the class and had to jump through several hoops to be allowed in; therefore, they are committed to the work. They are receiving high school as well as six hours of college credit which is sometimes demanding, but I am well pleased with their work ethic.

I love my part-time gig, especially the part about being finished at 11:15 every day. Now, I have time to plan thoroughly and to keep ahead of my grading. I am willing to try new strategies because I’m not stressed of having to plan and grade for two other classes. If you are one of my former students and you thought I was a pretty good teacher then, you should know that you were cheated. I’m 100% better now. I wish every teacher could enjoy teaching part time, but alas, the money isn’t enough. Fortunately, I have my retirement income as well.  

So much about my life has changed over the past year. My wise friend Jo often said, “Something good always comes from change. You just have to wait long enough to see it.” I am grateful every day for all the blessings I receive – good health, financial independence, great working environment, family, etc. I still have those negative pictures of worst-case scenarios that pop up in my head, but I’m working on mindfulness, living in the moment. I’m getting used to the new me by spending time alone, exercising and saying yes to most invitations to events.

Sometimes I want to plan the rest of my life, but if the last year is any indication of how well I plan, it’ll all go "to hell in a handbasket," as my mom always says. I’ll try to write more often because I hate to see the blog go away forever. Why don’t you send me some topics you’d like for me to write about? Obviously, I need ideas.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I Switched -- No Party Affiliation!

I have needed my husband more this past week than probably any time since his death ten months ago. Of course, I miss him every day and several times have caught myself wanting to call him to discuss little and big events.

My need for him recently is because of the Presidential election. He was the political one in the family. He always paid attention to world-wide events and watched both CNN and FOX news so he could form unbiased views. He was a registered voter with no party affiliation. Last fall, when all this Presidential election hoopla began, he didn't have a favorite candidate. This was well before the primaries so he had lots of choices --16 Republican candidates and Bernie was still around to cause a stir in the other group. I remember my husband saying that if Trump succeeded, it would tear the Republican party apart and that Hillary had too much baggage to succeed. Time will tell if his Trump prediction is correct although several times during the campaign, I thought it would happen. He nailed the Hillary prediction, though.

I’m a Democrat. I registered with that party so I could vote in the primaries and have more of a choice in candidates. I have voted in several presidential elections since turning 18 years old. My first Presidential vote was for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Since then, I have voted mainly for Democratic candidates. I align myself with those who want to help education, the middle class and most importantly and selfishly, help the disabled since I have a child with a disability. In my experience, one of the first acts that Republicans take is to cut funds from the disabled and public education. Oh, they usually put the money back eventually after those who need it suffer a little while. To me, the Republicans, especially at the state level, beat up the weak kids first. It’s not that the Democrats are always great with their choices in spending or other issues, but they appear to care about the underdog more. 

After my son was born with Down syndrome, I joined of a new-to-me group -- people who advocate for those who can’t for themselves. I teach in a public high school, and many of the young people I teach also need advocates since their parents may not be present, physically or mentally. In my profession, I’m exposed to all types of people – black, white, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, etc. I see good and bad in all. I tell my students, “I love you all because you are children of the Lord, but there are times when I don’t like you.” My dislike has nothing to do with their sexual identity (which changes daily with teenagers), their religion, or their race. It has to do with behavior and work ethic, but I will go to bat for the worst one of them if I see that he is being wronged.

Both Democrats and Republicans used fear in their recent campaigns – “Is this the man you want to have the nuclear codes?” “Do you want your children hearing this language from your President?” “She is a criminal and will sell out to the highest bidder!”  I admit that I am fearful for the people for whom I advocate. I am afraid that the advances this country has made in acceptance for people with differences from the norm will recede and that the respect that women majorly deserve will lessen. I’m afraid that the illegal immigrant who cleans and cares for a close friend will be shipped back to Mexico and be separated from her American-born children. I have needed my husband to talk with me about all of this and maybe to calm my fears.

Yesterday, I changed my voter information to No Party Affiliation. To me, people assume that if I’m a Democrat, I’m some crazy, tree-hugging liberal or if I’m a Republican, I’m a racist homophobe. I'm fine with giving up my choices in a primary election. In this past election, the two parties made major pushes to sway the independent voters. I want candidates to want and need my vote, not simply expect it because I'm a member of that party. I'm so dissatisfied with both major parties that I'm happy to distance myself from them.

I think my husband would be ok with my decision. I sure would like to talk to him about it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I Have No More Excuses!

About nine weeks ago, I made a life-altering decision.

I joined WeightWatchers.


Actually, this may be the tenth or twelfth time I’ve joined WeightWatchers. My history with this organization is like many people who are unsuccessful:

1.       I stayed for about four weeks. The weight didn’t drop as quickly as I wanted, so I quit.
2.       I didn’t have the extra money to pay the monthly fee, so I quit.
3.       I got too busy at work/home and skipped meetings and then quit.
4.       I could do this myself; I didn’t need them. All I had to do was write down what I ate and weigh myself, so I quit.

Last year, I wrote a post about all of my weight-loss attempts. Some are pretty outrageous, I admit, so I knew what I didn't want to do. If I lost weight quickly, I’d gain it back.

WeightWatchers was my choice.

Several recent events led to my return to WeightWatchers. In January, my husband passed away after a year-long battle with lung cancer. During that year, especially the last few months, I experienced the roughest times I’ve ever known. I was a full-time caregiver to him while managing to take care of my son who has Down syndrome and my 11-year-old granddaughter who lives with me. What little time I scratched out for myself was usually late at night after everyone was in bed. I’d sit in front of the TV, mindlessly watching while consuming empty calories. 

Last fall, my annual blood work showed elevated levels of everything bad. My doctor said she would redo the labs in three months. What she meant was, “You’ve got three months to get your crap together and work on your health.” I knew I had to do something, but I was in a one-day-at-a-time existence, trying to keep everyone’s schedules in sync and putting on that brave face. There was no time for me.

In March, one of my good friends died. He was six years younger than I am and had battled weight issues most of his adult life. He died alone in a hotel room from heart failure. I assume that his yo-yo dieting had a big impact on his heart.

After these two deaths and my doctor's warning, I didn’t even have to stand on the scales to know that I had to make a change for the rest of my life. I was done with thinking I could battle my weight alone and with quick fixes.

I had no more excuses. 

I didn’t have anyone to take care of really. I still had my family living at home, but they were at school/work all day. I didn’t have a job that would take up my time. I justified spending the money on meetings because if I didn’t do something, I would have to buy all new clothes and clothes get more expensive as they get bigger. I'd also have to start spending money on expensive medications.

Besides, I just knew that Oprah wanted me to do it. 

And after eight weeks, I have to say that I’ve been very successful, not just with losing weight, but also with my general health and mental state. Some of the changes I’ve noticed are

1.       I keep track of every crumb that I put in my mouth. With my smart phone, I can easily input everything and can even scan an item to see how many points it is. Then I decide if I want to spend those points on eating it. Is this item worth the sacrifice?
2.       I bought a FitBit, which syncs my fitness to the WeightWatchers app on my phone. I don’t have to figure out Fit Points because the app does it for me.
3.       I walk every day. I hit at least 10,000 steps, not all at one time, but I have at least 45 active moments during the day. That means I’m exerting myself during those minutes.
4.       I broke my sugar addiction. The only sweet items in the house right now are strawberries and pineapple. If I really crave chocolate, I put 1 tsp. of chocolate syrup (1 point) on chopped strawberries (0 points). I’m satisfied. 
5.       My shopping trips to the grocery store have changed. I even enter the store in a different door. I have always entered my store in the door that leads through the pharmacy and then followed the path of up-and-down aisles, putting whatever I thiought I’d like or whatever would please my family in my basket. Now I enter the door that leads to the produce first. I shop for fresh vegetables and fruits and then meats. I look down each aisle to see if there’s something I need, but most often I don’t go down the aisle. I shop in the U pattern, hitting all the outside aisles and leaving the processed/refined products sitting on the shelves.
6.       Every Monday morning at 10:00 a.m., I’m at my WeightWatchers meeting. I’ve met many people and we exchange tips and ideas. The leader is caring and really motivates us by letting us be part of the discussion.
7.       I don’t think about food so much. I used to worry about what I was going to eat for lunch before even finishing breakfast. I think I’m now eating to live instead of living to eat.

In these past weeks, I’ve lost 21.8 pounds and have dropped 2 sizes in pants. I’ve got more weight to lose, but I concentrate on 5 pounds at a time instead of the big goal. I’m seeing my doctor next week, and I’m certain my lab work will show improvement.

I’ve always known what it took to lose weight and get healthy. I just wanted to do it my way – to have my cake and eat it, too. This time, the timing was right and everything just clicked in my brain.

I guess it’s just my time.

I have no more excuses. 
May 2016

May 2015