Trudy’s favorite things – “The Boom List”

leanergreener2009 Oprah is always talking about her favorite things on her show, and I don’t have a show, but hey, I do have a blog!

So here’s the first installment in what I hope will be a new feature here, (drum roll please) it’s: “The Boom List”.

I decided to make a bigger effort at reducing my family’s carbon footprint in 2009 and I recently purchased a soda maker from http://www.sodaclubusa.com.

1. THE FOUNTAIN JET HOME SODA MAKER: I first saw these things in Mother Jones magazine. After a little more reading and research online I decided to purchase one and I LOVE IT! Not only do my kids think making soda is incredibly fun, they like the idea of it being planet-friendly. Plus, the soda tastes just as good, if not better, than store-bought and it has contain less sugar, calories, carbohydrates and sodium than grocery store brands. Diet soda club sodas contain no sugar, no aspartame and contain Splenda®. If they ever make some with Stevia instead of Splenda I’d be over the moon! As for the green part, the soda maker requires

No batteries or electricity
– Reduces energy used to manufacture bottles and cans
– Reduces gas and pollution from shipping packaged beverages
– Eliminates pollution from batteries

Also, according to their web page “206 billion liters of bottled water were consumed globally in 2008 (Zenith International Global Bottled Water Report, 2008). The energy required to make water bottles in the US only, is equivalent to 17 million barrels of oil (Container Recycling Institute, 2002). According to the US Recycling Institute, more than 80% of bottles in the US do not get recycled and end up in landfills. Also, an estimated 4.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions were produced in the process of replacing the 134 billion bottles and cans not recycled in 2005.”

They have a feature on their web page where you can calculate “your fizz quotient” – this tells you your “numbers” – data on how exactly you will be helping the environment, your health, your lifestyle and your wallet based on the number of people in your household and information about your drinking and consumer habits. My family of 6, being “heavy sippers” will, in one year, go from using 95 cubic feet of landfill space for soda cans and bottles to virtually nothing, consume 376,603 fewer calories, carry 3,723 less pounds in cans and bottles and save up to $347 on the cost of soft drinks.

Not bad for a product that only cost me $79.99 – I bought the basic “Fountain Stream” – but I’m thinking of upgrading to “The Penguin” – stay tuned . . .

skidless 2. SKIDLESS BY YOGITOES:  This thing is the bomb! It’s a kind of towel for your yoga mat, but the back of it has rubbery, grippy bumps that hold to the mat and voila, it makes your yoga practice skidless – I do hot yoga, which makes a lot of sweat, so this thing absorbs all of that plus it prevents slipping – in a word, awesome! The Skidless is pretty pricey though, I got mine for $50 at a local yoga studio. You can buy them online and they run about $55.

3. SNORG TEES: I have always loved funny T-shirts, the clever ones, the tacky ones, even the ones you make yourself (iron-on T-shirt transfers rock!) and I think I have hit the jackpot with Snorg Tees (http://www.snorgtees.com/index.php). vivalastewart_thumbnailAccording to their web page, the business was started in the spring of 2004 by a group of young folks who decided they weren’t meant for “real jobs.” Five years later their business is booming. They consider their company universal since they shipped their first order to NASA. While the business partners come up with most of the tees, they take suggestions.  I have few ideas they might like! Just last summer I made some tees for my kids to commemorate our first year as puppy owners. The front reads “Olive Fest Survivor 2008” the back: “She put the PU in PUPPY.” I just hit a local craft store for the transfers, bought some tees, printed them off the computer and voila!
cujosm4. THE CUJO: I’m pretty sure I’ve tried every dog leash out there and the “Cujo” is by far my favorite. Made by EZY Dog (http://www.ezydog.com) these 40-inch leashes are made with a stretchy, shock absorbing material similar to a bungee cord and have handles similar but smaller to those used by water skiers! When your walking 92 pounds of Blab around the neighborhood, this thing is a lifesaver, or at least, a shoulder saver. I bought mine for around $25.00 from a local pet shop but you can order them online as well. They make extensions for their leashes too in 24 and 40-inch. I am planning on trying out the extension when I get up my nerve to take the beast rollerblading!
patientdoctorthumb5. 5-SECOND FILMS: One of the creators of 5-Second Films, Michael Rousselet, is a good friend of my nephew’s, so out of curiosity I checked out the site – 5secondfilms.com.
 After a good half hour of these “films” I had made up my mind. Rousselet and his strange film making friends will be wildly famous some day. This site is a bit like You Tube meets SNL, but funnier. The brilliance is in the 5-second limit – if they can’t make you laugh in five seconds then you won’t resent wasting your time on their web page. One of my favorites, outside of the Academy Award spoofs, is “The Catholic Church Rules the Universe.” If you’ve got 5 seconds, it’s worth a click.

Put your money where your mouth isn’t, President Obama

Kolan McConiughey bowls at Colonial Lanes in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Kolan McConiughey bowls at Colonial Lanes in Ann Arbor, Mich.

There is a buzz moving across Holland since President Obama planted his foot squarely in his mouth Thursday while chatting with TV talk show host Jay Leno.

During his interview with Leno, he was asked if they would be removing the bowling alley at the White House (an obvious jab at Obama’s poor bowling skills made infamous during his campaign for president.) Obama said he had actually been practicing and his latest bowling score was 129. He went on to compare his bowling skills to the Special Olympics. Perhaps he was taking a shot at some self-deprecating humor, but it was the short-sighted shot heard round the world – well at least as far as Holland. (See the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE0yAEvVsUo)

Blogs by parents of special needs children were aghast, even Sarah Palin got in her licks. But most media outlets have let him off pretty easy and frankly, (we speak that way in Holland) that sucks.

In Holland, the “R” word is taboo and no one has anything but the utmost respect and awe for the athletes of the Special Olympics – to disparage them in anyway in these here parts, well them there’s fightin’ words Mr. President.

Which leads me to the best news reporting done on this whole heartbreaking incident, and the best headline too:

 Special Olympics bowler to President Obama: Let’s meet in an alley sometime

 Corey Williams, from the Associated Press, interviewed this bowler. His name is Kolan McConiughey, and he is mentally disabled. According to the article, the 35-year-old has an IQ of less than 50 – 100 is considered average. McConiughey lives with his foster care mother in Ann Arbor, MI and has worked at the same grocery store for 16 years as a custodian. He is also one of the nation’s top Special Olympics bowlers with a mean left-handed hook and five perfect games to his credit. When asked about Obama’s bowling skills, McConiughey’s response: “He bowled a 129. I bowl a 300. I could beat that score easily.”

He followed that up with some advice for the President: “I’d tell him to get a new bowling ball, new shoes and bring him down to the lane. Keep his body straight, his arm straight and keep his steps straight. He has to practice every single day.”

The President could certainly learn more than bowling tips from this man, who exemplifies the grace and generosity of a true Hollander.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all there was to the story – human interest fluff. It was wrapped up neatly with the widely reported apology the President made to the chairman of the Special Olympics from Air Force One and a quote from the foster mother brushing off the gaffe as a forgivable mistake.

Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver also felt the apology was sincere: ” He expressed his disappointment, and he apologized in a way that was very moving.”

It was also reported that Shriver wants to have some Special Olympic athletes visit the White House to bowl or play basketball. I expect that will be the next top-loader-spun story and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Kolan McConiughey bowling on Leno sometime soon. For most of the neurotypical and un-physically challenged world, that will be enough, but here in Holland, memories are long.

So, Mr. President, all of Holland will be watching to see you make good on this gaffe by putting your money where your mouth isn’t. Using a phrase everyone in my region of Holland, understands: “perseverate, don’t prevaricate.”

 President Obama could start with some updates at his next state-of-the-union address. While I’m sure the economic crisis consumes most of his time, perhaps his recent gaffe would make a nice segue for the latest news on the Community Choice Act, a bill he co-sponsored with VP Joe Biden and has spoken little of since he said “We can”. This bill, which seeks to expand care services for the disabled, will be a tremendous step on the road to equality the disabled and their families are still traveling. The legislation will give the disabled a choice of living in their community, rather than an institution.

And while he’s addressing that, how about the $10 billion promised to invest in early intervention programs under another bit of pending legislation – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). And, directly from Obama’s early childhood intervention plan, he said he would “support setting a national goal to provide re-screening for all two-year-olds – the age at which some conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, begin to appear.”  There’s been no action on that either.

You see, in Holland, we do have a sense of humor, “early intervention” here is an oxymoron, like “honest politician.”

We are also waiting to see if he will reinstate Executive Order No. 13173 which President Clinton enacted just before he left office. Increasing employment and pay for the disabled is a promise Obama made again and again during his campaign. So, what is the deal with those 100,000 federal jobs for people with disabilities? He said he would issue this executive order early in his first term and designate a senior White House official to assure that all federal departments and agencies meet the mandate. When will we see some action on this?

There are many more promises our president has made to the disabled community that I could list, the Help America Vote Act, increased funding for the National Institute of Health (under funded since 2003) and making the United States a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We will continue to wait patiently for some action here in Holland, waiting is  something Hollanders know intimately – it’s a national past-time here.

  So, can Holland forgive Obama’s heartbreaking comment? To steal a phrase from his playbook, “yes we can”.  But how long will Obama’s Special Olympics blunder be remembered in Holland? I think it will be remembered for a long time to come. I say that because the disabled in America are the caboose of the equality rights train, and their journey to becoming an accepted and respected part of the human spectrum is far from over. Until then, comments like this will continue and they will be easily forgiven with public apologies and photo-ops.

But I hope not. I voted for change.

 

A little Yogi or a Yogi with a crush – too soon to tell!

Can I get off now?
Can I get off now?

Sometimes when I get excited about something on Zach’s behalf I wait for the first shoe to drop. And that’s where I am now – excited, anxious, and scared I’m going to jinx it.

You see I have been taking Zach to a children’s class at my yoga place for the last month and it has been a really lovely experience . . .so far. I am as nervous writing this as I am every time we go there – I wasn’t sure if he would stay in the room, much less participate. But, as I am loathe to say, and helpless to stop myself, “so far, so good.”

I can be a tad superstitious in these situations – when things are going well in our part of Schmolland, I am looking to get schmutzed. I’m like those athletes who won’t wash their uniform during a winning streak, or those players who don’t shave until after the playoffs. Once, during a family dinner outing, Zach accidentally gobbled up an entire calamari appetizer he had mistaken for chicken nuggets. The next day at school he was so remarkably agreeable and his eye contact so impressive that his teacher called us at home. We fed Zach a lot of calamari after that with never quite the same results.

It was the same way with horseback riding therapy. After the first few weeks it was going so well I was ready to buy Zach a horse farm. It’s not that he didn’t get a lot out of it – he did, but it was not the “door opening” kind of experience I had hoped it would be. That’s the thing about hope – it has fangs. It’s best to let it sniff the back of your hand with a closed fist, before you get too close to it.

The yoga place I go to is beautiful – family-owned and very welcoming (www.elementsyogaspa.com). I am always happy to be there and blessed with bliss when I leave. So, naturally I was hoping for Zach to get a little of that experience as well.

The class, “Sweet Beat and Happy Feet” combines yoga, dance, music and Simon Says. It is geared for kids who are “chronologically” much younger than Zach, but developmentally, it’s exactly his speed. (As that cool tortoise says, slow and steady wins the race) While he loves the poses and getting to wear a jingly scarf around his waist for the dance moves, his favorite part seems to be Simon Says. He will even take a turn leading the class but will only whisper to me what he wishes the other children to do. Tonight he “asked” the other kids to be “Darth Vader.” He started them off with dark-side mask breathing noises which evolved into light saber noises and then he tossed in a few movie lines under his breath. I hope this is just him warming up.

For the Z man, this is pretty unusual behavior – this quiet stuff. Typically, Zach is a very noisy boy with no inside voice who likes to repeat a great many things – we used to lovingly call him “echo-centric.” Equally unusual is how cooperative he is when we get there – helping set up the mats and props for the class (he won’t hang his backpack up for me at home!). Zach has also been completely compliant with any work we do in front of the mirrored walls – which is not so unusual since he is his biggest fan. The drawback there is getting Narcissus to break his gaze when changing activities or poses. With some prompting it was a bit better tonight. And he only used the restroom once during this week’s class (he loves public restrooms!).

When we were finished with class and gathering up our mats and shoes I really tried to get him to talk, say thank you, anything, but he wasn’t going for it. Then on the drive home I asked him if he liked going to the class . . .once . . .twice. . . third time’s a charm . . . I eventually got a grumpy “yeeesss”. Then I said, “What do you think of the teacher? Isn’t Amaris nice?” He looked out the window for a couple of beats and turned to me and said “She’s beautiful.”

For the first time in a while, I was the one who was speechless! I don’t know if this means he likes the class or that he’s got a sweet spot for this wonderful woman who has been kind enough to try drawing him out the last few weeks, but I don’t care. That was the most spontaneous thing I’ve heard him utter in months and I even got some nice eye contact.

So, I am adding this to my gratitude journal for today and hoping for some more gentle time with my little yogi tomorrow – and quietly, carefully, fingers crossed, I am keeping my eye on the tiny creaking of the door – perhaps I will get another glimpse inside . . . . and just for the heck of it, I may celebrate our tiny triumph with a little calamari. Stay tuned . . .

Oy vay, solemn meditation cracks me up – no wonder I can’t keep a straight face at funerals

Yogi Ramesh
Yogi Ramesh
I am one of those people who laughs at funerals – well, not at the funeral per say, but during the funeral. Inappropriate laughing has plagued me my entire life – I seem to lack what my 83-year-old mother calls “decorum.”

Recently though, I have come to find out that all of my cracking up may have been keeping me from cracking up – what a relief to know I’ve been keeping myself emotionally healthy all these years without my knowledge.

It started about a month ago when I was experimenting with a new kind of meditation (new to me that is), called Tratak. In Tratak meditation you use steady eye gazing – you sit in front of a candle and focus on the flame, then you close your eyes and concentrate on holding that image of the candle flame in your head. The toughest part ( I thought) was not blinking. You stare until your eyes start to water then you close them again visualizing the object in your mind’s eye. The practice is designed to put the brakes on your wandering mind and focus your attention so that wherever the eyes go, the mind follows.

With your gaze fixed on a single point, your mind is supposed to become “one pointed” as well. My mind isn’t the sharpest, so I was pretty gung-ho to give this a try. I even went shopping for some special candles to fit in this small brass candlestick my husband had gotten me on a trip to Bahrain.

The only candles I could find that would fit my petite candlestick were some leftover Chanukah candles on sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond – 36 candles for $9.99 was too good a deal to pass up. Plus they were all different colors and I thought, ever the multi-tasker, that I could get in some bonus work on my charkas at the same time. You know how well multi-tasking and meditation go together – like beer and chocolate!

So, I set my alarm extra early for my first try at this – I was up at 6 a.m. before the rest of the house was awake. I was so psyched to get started and set myself up on the floor on a comfy pillow with my candle on an ottoman, at eye level, per the Tantrak guidelines I had read. While opening the “Rite Lites” Chanukah box I had a silent chuckle over the irony of placing a candle intended for Jews to celebrate regaining control over Jerusalem into a candlestick that was more than likely made by Muslim hands. But, remembering that these were candles intended for a reflective purpose, I returned soberly to my task and lit the candle.

Now, being a firm believer in not taking myself too seriously at any time (even funerals) I was already quite proud of myself for my decorum – I was hell bent on doing this right. Three minutes into staring at the candle flame I started to feel like I was going cross-eyed. I then began picturing this in my mind’s eye instead and my decorum started to unravel. Instead of finding a sharper focus and a centered inner calm I was seeing images of the wacky-eyed comedian Marty Feldman in my head and wondering if his eyes got that way from meditating. I was laughing out loud now and decided it was time to put the candles away for another day and work on getting my four munchkins off to school. After pairing up socks out of the dryer, finding my eldest son’s misplaced German textbook and retrieving the intact half of a poptart the dog had stolen from my 3-year-old, I was still in a great mood, which was odd. I decided my early morning self-improvement exercise wasn’t a total wash. Just an hour or two later, with the boys out the door and all creatures great and small properly fed and watered, I sat down to the computer. I googled “inner peace” and ” laughing” to see what I would find. And what I found was a whom, rather than a what – Mahatma Anand Guru Yogi Ramesh – The Laughing Yogi. He’s been teaching for more than 40 years and has a temple in Los Angeles, California. His website is http://www.universalyoga.org/.

From that sight I linked to a You Tube clip of him practicing his craft – I was busting a gut before the clip was even finished! The world of Yoga never ceases to delight and amaze me and it gave me “that feeling.” Now, I wouldn’t call it an “aha” feeling exactly, but more of a pinch on the buttocks from the warm hand of synchronicity. I had no idea I could giggle my way to wholeness or guffaw myself to serenity. Just the absurdity of it made me laugh some more!

I proceeded to spend a few mindful hours (not mindless, mind you) web surfing this new territory – the healthy benefits of hilarity and yoga.

I’m still amazed and amused by my discovery! One of the places I bookmarked is the Laughter Yoga International website, http://www.laughteryoga.org/ where I was able to find a bit of history about laughing yoga. An Indian doctor by the name of Dr. Madan Kataria decided back in the 50s to get some students together at a park and test a theory of his he dubbed “laughter theory.” They tried jokes at first and then moved on to chants of HO HO HO and HA HA HA and not surprisingly found that real laughter ensued. He also mixed in a little breathing and stretching.

Now, more than 50 years later, “laughter clubs” are cropping up all over the place . . .well all over California anyhow – none in Virginia. After some more digging though, I came upon the Centre In Favour Of Laughter in Duivendrecht, the Netherlands and found actual instructions on “laughter meditation.”

You can check out the specifics at their website:  http://www.universal-tao.com/article/laughter.html . You’ll have to overlook a lot of the spelling and grammar since the translation into English gets a bit sloppy. 

To get started they recommend 5 minutes of stretching, followed by 5 minutes of laughing (and or crying) and ending with 5 minutes of silence. I decided to modify this by trying it out in the car – seriously! Trying to stretch in the car is a pretty funny task all by itself (my only relevant experience in this arena was in the backseat of cars 😉 ) but you can do some neck and arm stretches. Then just start the HO, HO, HOs – I like to picture myself as a Santa in the off season trying to stay in shape.

Then move into the HA, HA, HAs – after a few stop lights, there will be enough strangers staring at you, and then these HA, HAs should become fairly authentic. I find it helpful to have a three-year-old in the backseat – My little Colin is very supportive of Mommy and will imitate just about anything I do. With his help, he and I are laughing ourselves centered all over town!

I don’t think this meditation was intended for the car, but it’s really working for me. What would really be awesome is if Colin and I could do some of this serious meditation in a convertible – I’m sure it would further our experience and maybe get us pulled over! It makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Where will all this laughing take me? I have no clue, but I am giving it a good try. What the hell? I spend at least 15 minutes in my car every day anyhow, I might as well laugh about it.

It’s been said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step – man doesn’t that sound serious? I’ve decided to begin my journey, with one laugh instead . . . I’m just gonna put one foot in front of the other and imagine giant red clown shoes while I’m at it!!

 

Nurture Your Friendship Garden

Pure Gold!

Pure Gold!

“Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” 

This is a song I remember singing as a Girl Scout and back then I didn’t give it much thought. When your young all you have are new friends.

 But this little ditty has a whole new meaning as you age. At 43, I have lived long enough to make friends, lose friends and keep friends – well, some. I have had a few very good friends that are not a part of my life anymore – ones that I’m sure won’t be a part of my future either. Some folks just aren’t lifelong material and as your garden grows you learn what to weed out and what to cultivate. You can let go while accepting the lessons you learned. Perhaps these are the aluminum friends – shiny and exciting for awhile but they just don’t hold up to the test of time.

The gold ones are a different story. I spent this past weekend with one of my oldie, but goldie friends and am so grateful for her. It’s been 18 years since we parted, although we did keep in touch with yearly Christmas cards and phone calls. I first met Jayne when I was a young newlywed living in Pensacola, Florida, where my husband, Dan, had just started flight school. I was a general assignment reporter at the newspaper there and she was 10 years my senior and my boss. We hit it off immediately and had a fabulous working relationship despite the age difference, or maybe because of it – she has always been like an older sister and mentor to me. The last time we were together we were both crying in the parking lot of the Pensacola News Journal – my Chevy Cavalier packed to the ceiling with my belongings for my move to San Diego, CA where my husband was soon to be stationed. That was March 6, 1991. Eerily enough, when we planned our reunion just a few weeks ago, neither of us suspected we would be meeting again on exactly the same day we had parted.

The date escaped us until we were having coffee Saturday morning – what are the odds? It gave us both goosebumps! Those are the strangest moments – synchronicity, fate, whatever you call it.

With such a monumental amount of catching up to do, the last couple of days were intense and hilarious. I swear I have a conversational hangover this morning. But it was so worth it.

It is a really wonderful thing to reconnect with someone that really gets you, and doubly fun if they are an awesome storyteller like Jayne. She filled me in on her adventures – living in two different cities, job changes and a four-month stay in London. I filled her in on my parenting adventures, life as a Navy spouse and my newest interests and passions. So much of it was bittersweet – more than once I’d wished I’d been better about caring for our friendship as we reconnected. I think too often the day-to-day grind of life – work, running a household, caring for children – is what keeps us from accomplishing the most important task we owe to ourselves. That task is nurturing our human connections – making friends and keeping the old. This was a great lesson for me to relearn – friends are so worth the investment.

And I am resolved to do a better job of taking care of mine. Thanks Jayne for helping me get started!

A quote I went digging for this morning sums it up best: “Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.”
– Kahlil Gibran

So true!