Random Neural Firings

the inner workings of a restless creative brain

On 9/11- Stop Telling Me Not to Forget

September11

Of course we remember. Today and every day. Our country experienced a kind of collective PTSD. We struggled then – and now – for words, the appropriate response, how to tell our children, how to understand the unimaginable, the unbelievable, the unconscionable. It wasn’t just one day. It was that day and every day since then.

I appreciate the images on my Facebook feed. I do not appreciate the admonition to “Never forget.” As if we could.

But I hope my son can grow up in a country that is not under a cloud of fear. Do you remember bomb drills at school? I do – hiding, crouching under desks. Doorways marked “bomb shelter” (very scary signs). We lived with the constant fear of a nuclear bomb. God, what was that movie that came out in the 80’s that scared all my classmates to death? Was it “The Day After”?

The fear we have now is more dispersed. It could happen anywhere. A mall. A movie theater. A marathon. At an elementary school. The bad guys could be terrorists from abroad or home grown. We are suspicious, on alert. We see soldiers on a flight and we exhale, certain that our flight will be safe at least from bad guys on a plane.

Remember what Mister Rogers said about bad guys? To look for the helpers. I want to focus on them.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

So today, I am going to try to relax. Exhale. Salute the helpers. Let go of Fear. Hug people. Look the scary people in the eye and smile. I will not remember what they did. I will remember how we responded. How we tried, how we stumbled. How we got up.

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The Holidays are Over-Commercialized. No They’re Not.

November28

Everybody says the holidays are over-commercialized. We buy too much stuff people don’t want or need. Our kids have ten times more toys and crap than we had. I really don’t need another scarf or pair of gloves.

And while it’s popular to say these things – and I agree in principle – I think we’re forgetting what is at the heart of all that gift giving: the desire to give. I want to know my in-laws better so I can surprise them with a gift that will make them smile and warm their hearts and remind them of their Atlanta relatives. I love my niece and nephews and want to express that with something that makes them smile. My son’s grandparents want to get something for my son that he will love, not because they are competitive gift-givers, but because they love my son. Gift-giving is one way we express our love for others.

Now, perhaps it would be better if we gave gifts all year round, or whenever we saw something that reminded us of someone we love. And many people do that. But we have this one time a year (and birthdays) where we all stop and think of others – quite a bit actually. What is my mother-in-law’s favorite color? Does she have everything she needs for her kitchen? Would she like some art for her renovated bathroom? Now, multiply that by all my family members and close friends and I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking of people I love.

I don’t see how that’s so bad.

p.s. – I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t do a myriad of other things to show people we love them, such as spending time with them, writing notes, cooking for them, etc. Just that gift-giving is one way we express our love.

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Black Friday Deals

November22

Let the shopping begin! According to Gallup, Americans are planning to spend more on Christmas gifts this year than last (and much more than they planned to spend in 2008-2009). I don’t care how much I’m spending, I like to get a deal. Great deals abound online; Amazon’s been running Black Friday deals all week. I’ll be tweeting out deals as I see them and posting links on my Facebook page so check in with me at either place for up-to-the-minute specials.

For those of you braving the mall traffic, or standing in line at Best Buy, first of all, my lazy hat’s off to you. I prefer to click my way to great savings. But while you’re mentally debating whether or not that ginormous flat screen TV is really a good deal, whip out your phone, scan the barcode and find out if it’s being sold for less somewhere else.

You’ll need an app, of course. There are dozens, but here are the ones I use most often:

1) ShopSavvy – scan the item’s bar code and it will return prices for both local stores and online

2)  Amazon’s App – this app has a feature that allows you to scan a barcode and it will tell you the price on Amazon. You can add the product to your wish list, or buy it from your phone. And if you can’t find the barcode, or the store has it covered with their own price sticker (which happens more often than I like!), you can take a photo of the product and Amazon will use an image search to match the product. It’s pretty slick. Android version here.

And before you head out, you might want to plan your trip using BlackFriday by DealNews. The app is chock full of ads (including some “leaked” ads) and has comparison shopping tools. (You can also visit the DealNews website which is a great resource for the best deals, by product or store.)

All right, so while you’re out and about, I’ll be chasing my toddler and some good deals from my laptop. Or my iPad. Or my phone. DO NOT LET ME BUY A KINDLE FIRE or anything else that connects to the Internet. Happy Shopping!

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for up-to-the-minute sales. Follow me on Pinterest for unique gift ideas.

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Santa Photo Tips

November17

Santa photo tips

This was our first time getting a picture with Santa. Standing in line, my son was nervous (he tells me he’s “tired” and wants to go to sleep – as if!) and other kids were crying that were ahead of us. But once he got on Santa’s lap, he was fine, chatting away. I don’t think he really understands who or what Santa is just yet. At any rate, I’m THRILLED with how the photo turned out!

Of course, being the former TV director that I am, I did a few things ahead of time to maximize our chances of getting a good shot. Here are some tips I learned from my kids TV days – and a few I probably just made up.

OUTFIT
Santa’s always in red so don’t dress your children in solid red unless you want them to blend in. I know you spent a lot of money on that dress so if you want it to show up, pick a different color. Speaking of colors, generally speaking, all white can freak the camera lens out a little bit and your little one might look all washed out (or if you’re dark skinned, the camera might have trouble with the stark contrast). But – if your Santa has on a lot of white around his face, as this one does, then they have probably already lit the shot correctly for that. An all-white (or mostly white, just to be safe) dress could be very cute and complimentary to Santa’s outfit in that case.

Don’t be afraid to choose a fun outfit, or one that has sentimental meaning for you. If your son is wearing his favorite race car shirt, he just might be more comfortable, and you’ll have that special memory of the time he lived in that shirt. We were the only ones in line in pajamas, but all the moms around me told me they loved that idea.

PRACTICE
Practice some facial expressions ahead of time. We do this naturally around here anyhow, as a game: Show me your happy face! Let’s all do sad faces! Angry face! The expression we used for this photo was his “surprised” face. (His on-demand happy face/smile looks forced right now.)

SANTA EXPOSURE
In addition to talking up the fact that hey, we’re going to go see Santa this week, I also pulled up photos of kids sitting on Santa’s lap to show my son. I felt that way he could better understand what it meant to “go see Santa.”

FAVORITE TOY/LOVEY
Just like any other time, let them take their lovey or a favorite toy. You can’t see it very well but Santa is holding one of my son’s stealth fighter jets in his hands.

Best of luck with your Santa shots. We got ours done early but that’s cuz this particular Santa at this particular Mall has, like, a 10-year waiting list, and we were lucky to get a reservation. I wasn’t able to get one last year.

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What am I missing on Facebook?

July13

I love Facebook. It’s allowed me to reconnect with my best friend from high school (hi ya’, Mel!) and get to know some other women I didn’t know so well but am growing to know better and love. There’s a group of us that keep a group chat going, sharing our joys and sorrows. Literally. It’s been years since I’ve had a group of girls I could open up to so candidly. We all just vomit out whatever’s on our minds and the other four rush in to share their similar experiences. It’s amazing and has been a great sanity booster.

I don’t know who started it, but one day our conversation went from gossiping about people who annoy us to a deeply personal topic: depression. One after another, we all weighed in with our struggles with depression over the years. I had no idea. Cuz you know, on Facebook, we all celebrate our lives. Our status updates read like a Leave it to Beaver episode: “My kid got straight A’s!; My husband is so sweet and just cooked this great meal; My baby’s growing up!; Going to the beach next week!” Once in a while we’ll post that we’re tired, or overworked, but it’s still garden-variety “regular” life.

Reading about my girlfriends’ experiences was a like taking a bucket of cold water to the face. If the five of us have ALL suffered with depression – and we all come from different backgrounds – I wonder what is lying beneath the surface of the rest of my friends? You know, the ones I don’t have time to talk to any more? I’ve been so grateful for Facebook giving me an easy way to stay in touch with so many people, but I have to wonder: what am I missing? How are their lives, really? Are they OK?

I’m not suggesting we all start sharing our pain and discomfort on Facebook. But what I’m learning is that it is VERY helpful to have a group of people you CAN be open and honest with. Whether in real life or online. I used to have that but marriage and motherhood . . . well, you know the rest.

p.s. – the photo is from my 40th birthday when I celebrated in Florida with some girlfriends. Among other beautiful rituals, they each gave me rocks they decorated with wishes for my life. The rocks and the blue ceramic bowl pictured above sit on my shelves in the living room now as a reminder of the loving power of girlfriends.

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The Opposite of Lent

July1

I watched this 3 minute video, featuring Matt Cutts, on TED Talks today. The speaker’s premise is simple: try something new for 30 days. It’s like the opposite of Lent. Instead of STOPPING a behavior, try STARTING one. Instead of giving up sugar, try adding a serving of vegetables. 30 days is just long enough to make a habit of something, too.  Mr. Cutts  started small and found that as he completed each 30 day challenge successfully, he grew in confidence and took on bigger challenges.

I watched the video and immediately thought of what I want to do for the next 30 days: watch a video on TED each morning. I mean, seriously, I always put off watching because I think I don’t have time when, duh, they’re never longer than 6 minutes and I can surely find 5 minutes or so to watch smart, inspiring people impart wisdom. It’ll be a GREAT way to start my work day, get me thinking and motivated. And surely something I would look forward to doing for the month of July.

If you aren’t familiar with TED, get thee over there right away! Famous people and some who aren’t famous but should be, all videotaped giving short, interesting mini-lectures.

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Bye Bye Food Pyramid, Hello Plate

June2

The First Lady, along with the Agriculture Secretary and Surgeon General, has unveiled a new icon in the campaign to teach Americans healthy eating habits. As a marketer, I have to say I find this much easier to use than the old pyramid. And as a mom of a son with the remnants of a feeding disorder, I am doubly appreciative. As we were working with our son to get him to eat table foods, I was confused about portion sizes. Since my son wouldn’t eat, period, and had to be trained to eat what we gave him, I was concerned about over-feeding or under-feeding him.

I knew that a serving of protein is generally smaller than most of us think: about the size of the palm of your hand. But the size of the palm of my son’s hand? I asked the doctor and he affirmed that to be true even with my 2 year old. This little compartment plate from Dr. Sears was very helpful. Each compartment has a picture of the type of food to put in there, so it’s a useful guide, similar to the plate icon above, but scaled for 1-2 year olds.

 

As my son’s ability to eat table food grew, I started giving him some control over his choices. I notice that I always start with the protein. “Do you want chicken or fish?” Given that half his plate should be vegetables and fruit, I should probably start by asking “Do you want broccoli or carrots?” He’ll probably answer: “chocolate.” Smart kid.

Speaking of chocolate, does that count in the dairy circle above? And how come french fries aren’t a food group? Don’t you think they should be?

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Promise or a Threat? I’m Going to Write Once a Day for the Next 30 Days

May31

I’m participating in a blogosphere writing challenge: for the next 30 days (starting today), I will be responding to a provocative question/prompt. It’s all part of a celebration of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s book “Self-Reliance,” which I’m not sure I’ve even read. I’m not doing this because I’m a big Emerson fan – although I suppose I’ll have to download some of his stuff to the Kindle now – I’m doing this because my friend, Alicia (here’s her blog), tagged me in a Facebook post, which is our generation’s version of a dare. And I’m never one to let a good dare go unchallenged . . .

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This Hurt My Eyes

March29

On my way to dinner last night with some girlfriends, we spotted this car. In case you can’t read the bumper sticker, it says:

Travel to Exotic Places
Meet New People
KILL THEM

And he has a vanity license plate that reads: “3 Dead.”

We. Were. Stunned.

I cannot imagine the hell our soldiers go through in combat so I am trying not to be judgmental. But most of the soldiers I’ve met generally don’t brag about killing people. In fact, many are troubled by the notion, and wrestle with that.

I still can’t believe ANYONE would put this on their car.

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The Old Spice Guy

July21

That Old Spice Guy was on Ellen and I’m sorry, but he is just TOO funny and cute. I love the ads; one of the few TV commercials to break out of the clutter in recent history. Also one of the few spots that my hubby and I don’t fast forward through.

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We’re this close!

June10

This close to closing, that is. Tomorrow is the Big Day. We were supposed to close a few weeks ago but the bank we were working with was not answering our simple questions so we started the process all over again with another bank. Our builder kindly let us go ahead and move in. So we’re in the house but it won’t be officially ours until tomorrow.

This is my first time owning a home. Chris bought our last house before we had even met. I bopped around the country so much with jobs that I never felt settled in any one place long enough to buy. So tomorrow will be my first time experiencing the sign-your-life-away phenomenon that my friends have told me about. I hope it goes smoothly. And I hope my husband took the whole day off because maybe we could go to a matinee movie or a nice lunch after the closing to celebrate.

It’s funny, as we’re getting paperwork together for the bank and are in the midst of the mortgage process, I am reading “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis, which is all about the mortgage meltdown, credit default swaps and CDOs (which sadly, I have forgotten what that stands for). It’s a compelling book (he wrote “The Blind Side”) that absolutely reads like fiction – not just because what happened is UNBELIEVABLE but also because Lewis is a gifted writer. I’m about 39% done (haha – joke for you Kindle people) and so far, I’d recommend it without hesitation. I was afraid it was going to be one of those books I “needed” to read and would be a slog, but I promise you, the author breathes so much life into his characters (er, real people) and explains the technical stuff really well that it is practically a page-turner.

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BP Epic Signage FAIL

June8

Have you seen these pictures making their way around the Internets? 😉

Yeah, I know it’s childish of me to pile on but this is the kind of thing that spreads faster than strep. The days of protecting your image and brand are OVER. Not just for BP, but for all of us who own a business. You can’t protect it; you have to sit up, take your lumps like a man (pardon the sexism), own what you did if you screwed up, do everything you can to make it right. Don’t take shortcuts or b.s. your customer (I’m talking to you, Toyota and you, Sigg, and you, BP) because we’re onto you and we will tell all our friends who will tell their friends and so on and so on and so on.

And you will live in infamy forever.

I still have businesses tell me they don’t want a Facebook page or a blog because they’re afraid they’ll get negative comments. Seriously? That’s what you’re worried about? The COMMENTS? How about the actual issues your customers have? Address them. And you know what? When you address them forthrightly in a public forum, most people will forgive you and even reward you for doing the right thing.

Having said that, I think it’s too late for BP. What do you think? Any shot of damage control here or are they done?

(Cross posted over at my business blog, New Thought Marketing)

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Have you Read Roger Ebert Lately?

March4

Roger Ebert doesn’t miss eating. He says, “I began to replace what I had lost with what I remembered,” and tells stories of root beer with his dad, favorite diners and tuna melts. His blog is a revelation.

Also, read this profile of him on Esquire that’s burning up the blogs. Beautiful. Touching, but not in a way that will make you cry. I wouldn’t do that to you (at least not without warning you first!).

Speaking of warning you: I warned you this blog was random-y. It’s about to become more so.

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Depression, Me and the New York Times

October6

There’s a lot of press about postpartum depression. I mean, who hasn’t heard of Brooke Shields squaring off against Tom Cruise over it? I was prepared for postpartum depression. I’d struggled with depression before, mostly in my 20’s, but some in my 30’s, and knew that put me at a higher risk.

What I didn’t know is that you can also get depression DURING pregnancy — perinatal depression, it’s often called. I got it, big time, along with a big wallop of anxiety. So bad I had to see a psychiatrist and was treated for it with medication. Of course, this made me feel guilty and like I was going to hurt my baby. The doctor explained that the risks with the medication weren’t known, but they did know the damage that depression and anxiety could do to a developing fetus. Small comfort, right?

I took the meds and cried. My husband was wonderfully supportive. By mid second trimester, the hormones that were causing those problems went away, I guess, and I felt better. Just like the psychiatrist predicted. But the fact that I had depression during pregnancy put me at an even higher risk for postpartum so we were vigilant, watching for signs. Fortunately, I dodged that bullet.

I felt like such a bad pregnant woman. I hated being pregnant. I felt sick: you name it and I got it. I even got RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) in pregnancy. The physical problems on top of the depression made for a pretty unhappy time. I remember crying on the couch and feeling soooo guilty that I wasn’t feeling happy. Everyone’s happy when they’re pregnant, right?

I knew I had depression and I knew it was triggered by something in my chemical stew. I’d been pregnant twice before (miscarriages); one pregnancy made it to 11 weeks and I didn’t have anywhere near this kind of anxiety. So the minute I sorted out that this wasn’t “normal” pregnancy hormone stuff, I marched my butt to my Ob and said “help.”

My son was born completely happy and healthy. I was thrilled and am thrilled every single day. He is such a delight. I can barely remember what it was like when I was pregnant to curl up on the couch and not want to read or watch TV or eat.

The New York Times has a piece out today about this and interviewed me for it. It really was hard to remember, even though it wasn’t that long ago. It’s like once the happy hormones kicked in, I developed amnesia about how awful it all was. I would not wish that on anyone. I agreed to be interviewed and photographed for the piece because I hope if you’re struggling, you’ll speak up, too. There is help. You will get through it and you will get better.

Now, for a funny story. Sort of. In my 7th month, I was getting my teeth cleaned. The hygienist told me she knew another woman named “Sherean.” “Really,” I asked, “is she Persian, too, like me?” The hygienist told me that her friend had died. “I’m so sorry,” I said and then I just had to ask how she died. “Postpartum depression after her third child.” Huh? You don’t DIE from postpartum, I said. “Suicide,” she said.

Thank goodness this was later in my pregnancy when I was over the perinatal depression but I was still paranoid I’d get postpartum. I laughed about it — how could you not — but it is a serious condition. Get help if you need it.

And don’t ever go to my dental hygienist.

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