Friday, January 31, 2014

Please Leave The Laundry In The Hamper ...

FDR had a mistress named Daisy. We learned all about her and their "friendship" in the 2012 movie Hyde Park. Kennedy had Marilyn ... and others if all these biographies have an ounce of truth to them. 

Despite their "personal stuff," the New Deal was signed. Heck, FDR nearly achieved 4 full terms in the Oval Office -- even with Daisy, polio, leg-braces and a wheelchair. And, under Kennedy's guidance, civil rights and public service took center stage, the peace corps was formed, and the challenge he set to place a man on the moon was achieved by his legacy.

The fact is FDR and Kennedy had dirty laundry. It was hidden from public view but it was still there ... a wave running underneath their political careers. Strangely though, at that time no one felt the necessity to drag it from the hamper and wave that dirty laundry around. The Press and the Public left them to lead the country. And their leadership capabilities were not called into question hourly in newspapers, on the evening news radio or on television.  Or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. 

No one cared what they did in private as long as they did their job.

Somewhere in time, though, the tables turned. Why is that? Was it that we didn't know in "olden days" or that we weren't that concerned? And -- bigger question -- were we truly missing something in the "not knowing?" Are we better off plagued by a dizzying amount of information acquired through prying eyes, aggressive gossip and the rampant display of dirty laundry?

In the early 1900s, investigative journalism was born. It was called "muck-racking." The term is a reference to John Bunyan's classic novel Pilgrim's Progress -- the man with the muck rake rejected salvation to focus on filth. It was exciting ... prying into the hampers of the rich, famous, well-regarded elite. And it only seems to be growing worse .... 

Nowadays, the world is less forgiving of imperfection, indiscretion or weakness. If there is a tiny bit of dirt in your hamper ... well, the public "needs to know." We have somehow become less willing to look away or turn the other cheek. There is an expectation that our stars and leaders be without flaw ... unblemished by mistakes, poor choices or scandal. Unrealistic a bit. But because the information is out there privacy is a concept of the past. We have access to everything ... so blinding spotlights are shown into dusty corners and under beds. Judgement and intolerance runs the show. The media airs dirty laundry like never before. And we lap it up like kittens drinking creme. Who cares who it hurts. Who cares what is true or not true. Who cares if careers are ruined and reputations destroyed.

Tiger Woods had some issues a few years ago. And it hit the front page with frenzy. He was condemned for many reasons. After all, he was a role model to many and "let people down." Question ... did his personal, private stuff make his golfing talent any less outstanding? He didn't ask to be a role model. The public and the press made him one. He just wanted to play golf -- something he does pretty damn well. At no time did he assert his perfection. He just played golf. But sponsors dropped him and the public condemned him. It has taken a few years to shake that off. 

CIA Director David Patreaus resigned after his "indiscretion" hit the news. Patreaus began his career with incredible and noteworthy success. He not only graduated from West Point but completed Ranger School in a grueling nine weeks, winning top honors. He studied at Fort Leavenworth, winning honors there as well as at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs where he earned a master's degree and then a doctorate degree in international relations. He left academia to return to the military, handpicked by George W. Bush to lead the American Military surge into Iraq. A noteworthy career that included extensive academic honors and numerous military achievements was ripped to shreds when it was discovered he had an affair. 

But ... the public needs to know. What happens in the bedroom or the closet or out of the spotlight influences ability to do a job well.

It does??? Huh. Well then, can ya tell me how the New Deal made it thru if FDR's personal stuff kept him from doing his job? Can you truly say to me that the Peace Corps and the way Kennedy inspired our country was a fluke .... that his "rapport" with a Hollywood Starlett impaired his ability to do the job to which he was elected.

Um. I think not.

There is a very old saying ... so old, it can be found in Chapter 7 of the book of Matthew in the Bible. It  begins with Verse 1: "Judge not, that you not be judged." And it continues on with a question -- a very simple question: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?"

The public has become obsessed with digging into and judging the laundry of others. The "speck of sawdust" in their brothers' -- and sisters' -- eye. The dramatic increase in judgement and intolerance ... in getting the dirt on everyone and everything ... has commandeered the airwaves and the social media sites, overshadowing the idea of "live and let live." Do you recognize a morbid sense of curiosity in our society? Of the need to know?

Please tell me why it is necessary to describe every risque action Miley Cyrus chooses to take in excessive detail? What is the big deal? She's a musician ... If you like her tunes, just enjoy her music and let her make her own choices on living her life.

Please inform me why I need to hear about Justin Bieber's arrest when he egged his neighbor's house? I don't care ... do you? Really??? 

Jennifer Lawrence struggled with stress as a result of a bit of over-commitment. She fell climbing the stairs to accept her Oscar. Does that make Hunger Games or Silver Linings Playbook or any of her other films less amazing?

Please help me to understand why as a society we are so intensely driven to uncover and shine a blaring spotlight on the sins and mistakes of others. Why do we decide to discredit them for their uniqueness, their choices and their imperfections? Who are we to set rules for others and to brazenly abuse them for being "human?"

Forgive me, but I don't care who Kennedy or FDR slept with. They were brilliant leaders, each in his own right. I didn't care what crazy outfit Madonna wore when I was growing up. I don't care what Miley Cyrus "tweets." And I certainly don't need to know about the latest teen idol's fall from grace. I don't concern myself with Brad-jolina's numerous pre-marital adoptions or how it affected poor (really?) Jennifer Anistan. I don't care about any of the Kardashians. And I find myself ashamed that my country's citizens can so easily condemn and fling brutal, inflammatory remarks at our leaders -- and any "friend" who might have a differing view.

We sit in judgment ... we discredit. We are intolerant of differences or anything that challenges the fabric of our limited viewpoint. 

But that's just it .... our viewpoint is limited. Few of us live in a Glass House -- I know I don't and I have yet to meet anyone out there without some dust or a skeleton in their closet. We are far from perfect. Each of us carries a plank in our own eye. But our obsession with pointing fingers at the "speck of sawdust" in someone else's eye truly horrifies me. 

This trend as Americans .... as human beings ... and the rampant expansion in our judgmental attitudes and intolerance seems to be yeast in one seriously huge rising loaf of bread. 

There's another verse in the Bible. It's in John 8, verse 7 ... "Let ye without sin cast the first stone."

Put down the stone, leave the laundry in the hamper, and perhaps spend a bit of time nurturing a key principle on which our country was founded: Tolerance.

                                                                                                                              -- Jenni

Monday, January 27, 2014

Honor Thy Mother

It's a sunny Zero degrees outside ... probably colder with wind chill ... and sparkly white snow abounds. Nine years ago today, it was quite different. Not as cold, not as snowy, but memorable in its own way. As Sherlock Holmes would say, nine years ago A Game was Afoot.

It's inevitable. I'm a sentimental creature that enjoys reflecting. And this day always begins with me smiling as I roll out of bed and remember what occurred nine years ago this very day. It began like most days ... me rising to go workout at 5:47 a.m.. But the workout was different. It was pre-natal yoga. And, unlike today when I successfully got out of bed at 5:47 a.m. and did indeed complete a Barre3 Ballet Boot Camp challenge, the workout didn't get done.

See, nine years ago today, my daughter was born. And like most mothers will tell you when they are about to go into labor, they know that something is "different." Couldn't tell you exactly what it is. But it is something. And I knew that morning ...

Now, I won't go into all the details of labor etc. But, anyone who has gone through it knows it ain't easy. I didn't have it too bad ... pre-natal yoga prepared me both mentally and physically. But ...

So anyway, as I smile and think about this amazing now Nine year old girl (well, Technically she's not nine till 10:25 tonight), I think back on her arrival. The experience. The drama. The pain. The joy. The exhaustive exhilaration. The sense of accomplishment and awe as I first held her in my arms. And I not only celebrate HER but I honor myself as well since I brought her into this world. 

Moms are amazing creatures. Our children wouldn't be here if women weren't willing to undergo serious physical wear and tear, sacrificing their bodies for the sake of another human life. No offense guys, but your contribution during the nine months of gestation -- though initially dramatic, enjoyed and appreciated -- was kinda limited. Oh, you accept the blunt of female hormones flying your way along with emotional outbursts and the 3am demands for Taco Bell, that is true. And I commend you for your patience. 

HOWEVER, it is the woman whose body morphs into a new design. The woman who finally enjoys a new buxom silhouette, only to have to share the cleavage as a menu item and watch it disappear to a size smaller afterward. It is the woman who endures morning sickness and the pain (and yes, it is painful) of delivery. It is the woman who brings forth the new life and feels that little essence every minute of the nine months .... 

It is the woman who has to buy a new wardrobe of fairly expensive clothing that she only wears for a brief period of time. The woman who has to get back in shape after baby -- and gets asked if she's lost the baby fat yet. It is the woman who endures the regular pats on the tummy and queries about names and when are you due. It is the woman who goes to the doctor and climbs on that scale -- probably the most a terrifying thing short of labor -- to see and hear how much weight she's gained. It is the woman who is poked and prodded and tested. It is the woman who gives up alcohol and caffeine. The woman who struggles with sleep just when she needs it most! And though our men support us, they just can never truly understand what is going on since they won't ever undergo such a metamorphosis.

Pretty amazing, when you think of it. All the things a Mother does during "The Before." The "After" is shared of course. But the joy of a dual-existence "under one roof" cannot be fully understood if you haven't been there. It's amazing. And special. Scary and extraordinary. 

So, here's a thought ... When your birthday arrives, take a moment and honor your mother for all these reasons and more. Your birthday was one of her greatest accomplishments. You were connected to her physically for nine months. And a mother's love continues to connect you to her for always.

Happy Birthday to my little girl ... and Bravo, well-done to me too.

                                                                                                                               -- Jenni

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Savor The Now

Every January, I launch the planning for my daughter's birthday party. Now mind you, when I organized her very first friend party event, I had no idea that I would be doing it every single year going forward. I didn't have parties every year growing up -- still don't. Nor did my son. But my daughter looks forward to her birthday party event more than anything else all year long. No destination party for her though. She wants me to plan them and host them in our home.

So I do.

For her 4th birthday, we gathered with a Fairy Circle and fairy dust ... For her 5th, we held the Ballet event where the girls learned a special dance ... The 6th was a Princess Party where each girl dressed in her favorite princess finery, played Princess Twister and was crowned with her own exclusive Princess Name ... The 7th was a Little Girl Night Out Pajama Party where handprints were painted on pillowcases while the 8th was a Lalaloopsy Doll event which of course included a tea table and a gift for each doll that attended.

So every January, my daughter and I come up with a new theme based on her current likes and interests. We then brainstorm crafts and games, projects and cupcake designs, invitation ideas and gifts for all the attendees. I make lists ... I shop and cut and decorate ... I browse Etsy and JoAnns and Michaels. And at the end of each party, I vow that NEXT TIME we will go somewhere or NEXT YEAR we won't hold a party ... 

But then comes January once again ... The festive Christmas season is behind me and there is less to look forward to. And despite last year's commentary and vows to discontinue this event, I've discovered that not only do I enjoy this party ... I kinda need this party. It gives me something to get excited about on days when it's cold, grey, snowy, and dark way too early. It's really such a simple thing and it makes others so happy.

I love the looks on the girls faces as they discover what my daughter and I have in store for them during those special hours. I love the joy in my daughter's eyes as we work together to create gifts for her friends and select the crafts and treats. 

I don't spend a lot. But I give a lot. And in the simplicity of the sparkle in each girls' eyes -- and the excitement of my soon-to-be 9 year old -- brings me a gift with a value that cannot be quantified. It reminds me how important "the now" is. It reminds me not to waste a second of it.

It's not about the gifts (Oh, those are nice and my daughter enjoys them, don't get me wrong.) But it's actually more about spending a unique time with the friends most dear to her. It's about telling them how special they are because only a limited number are invited. Her birthday is about savoring the now and enjoying the moments as they arise. Simple pleasures. The ones overlooked so quickly in our busy, results-driven lives. Little girls seem to know how important stuff like that truly is.

As grown ups, we've grown accustomed to the fact that life has its disappointments. You put yourself out there every day. You win sometimes and you ... don't win other times. Your faith gets shaken in those moments where life doesn't go the way you hoped. Perhaps you question your next steps and flounder a bit.  Perhaps you struggle with a not-so-great job or health issues. Moments are filled with dark and light ... as grown ups, we see that all to clearly. We choose how to respond. We bounce ... we fall ... we laugh ... we cry. Life is far from uncomplicated.

But in the eyes of a child, life is simple. There is still magic. There is still a Tooth Fairy who is also a Pen Pal and Santa Clause who responds so lovingly to wishes of the heart.  There is a doorway to Oz, if only they can find it, and a path into Wonderland through a looking glass or rabbit hole. 

So every January as I plan this party, my daughter's joy and imagination add glitter and sparkles to a heart chipped or bruised by my day-to-day "stuff" and challenges along the way. I discover an extra spring in my step and a rush of adrenalin as I contemplate where I'm going to move everything when six little girls take over my sun-room with their sleeping bags. I grin as I cut construction paper to craft snowflakes and whip up the blue frosting for cupcakes.

This year, the theme is a Frozen Slumber-bration. And my daughter and I have some very creative surprises for our .... er, um .... HER guests. And though it is always a lot of work, it gives a lot of joy to her.... to her guests .... and to me.

Planning her party I savor every single moment. I celebrate the Now. She'll be 9 this year. These times are fleeting and precious. So no matter what I say at 10pm this Friday night, I'm pretty sure I'll be planning a 10th birthday event next year. And smiling all the way.

                                                                                                                             -- Jenni

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Save the Shop Around The Corner

Do you remember the 1998 film You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Not only did this film focus on the rising popularity of email, inspired by that classic phrase from AOL, but it focused on the demise of a small family-owned bookstore.

Meg Ryan owned the store, inherited from her mother. And Tom Hanks owned the big chain bookstore coming to town that would prompt the closing of her sentimental home for many, many years. A not-so far-fetched tale for our time, the film is actually a remake from a 1940s hit starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. It also resulted in a 1949 film musical, starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, called In The Good Old Summertime and served as the inspiration for the 1963 (revived 1993) Broadway Musical She Loves Me.

Spoiler Alert ...  At the conclusion The Shop Around The Corner closes.

Well, Royal Oak has its own Shop Around The Corner. A bookstore in fact. But instead of its status as small family owned shop, it is a chain store location ... the last remaining brick-and-mortar chain bookstore in the USA. Its name is known: Barnes & Noble.

Our city government will tell us that our local Barnes & Noble's time is up. In fact, at the December 17, 2013  Royal Oak City Commission Meeting, City Manager Don Johnson and Director of Planning Tim Thwing both stated that it was very clear downtown Royal Oak's Barnes and Nobles days were numbered. City Commissioner Mike Fournier added that the closing was inevitable. 

Who among us has a crystal ball to predict the demise of a business established in 1886? Who among us truly wants to condemn to death the last remaining large-scale bookstore in America? And do we want the foothold of Royal Oak's retail business -- the only chain store in our community -- to disappear in a cloud of smoke?  What happens to the families who shop there and then dine out downtown? What happens to the additional business our community receives from consumers who travel to Royal Oak for the purposes of shopping in an actual book STORE? If they buy on-line, they aren't eating out downtown after they wrap up their holiday shopping.  

Yesterday, I went to Barnes & Noble. I'm a bit of a Meg Ryan since when it comes to Barnes & Noble, I tend to wax a bit sentimental. But since it's a large chain store, I guess I'm a blend with the Tom Hanks character. See, I go to B & N often. I go alone and spend hours there checking out the latest releases and reading. I meet friends for coffee or lunch. And, I take my kids there. We read ... we browse books ... we buy books. My kids' love of reading is a direct result of having a "local bookstore." My 14 year old son discovered Dan Brown's Lost Symbol -- a book he can't put down -- browsing shelves. (A teenager wanting to read is a beautiful thing!)  On a rainy day if I ask my kids where they want to go, nine out of ten times they want to go to B & N. So, when I was there yesterday, I looked around. Imagine finding that I wasn't alone. In fact, the store was packed and there was a line 10 deep at the register. All these people in line buying books.

But still we are told ... Bookstores are a thing of the past.

I wonder ... are bookstores truly on the way out or are we forcing them out? I enjoy shopping on-line as much as the next person. But I shudder to think of on-line shopping as my only option. I like to touch a book ... to pick it up and look at it before buying it. And if what "they" say is true, might it be possible that we are condemning Barnes & Noble, and other retail locations like it, because of projections and heresy? 

Do you find yourself avoiding places said to be "things of the past" or "operating on borrowed time" or "closing stores regularly?" Does your trust waver when you hear "abysmal holiday sales" or "declining profits" when checking on-line articles? 

Well, I've browsed those articles and discovered the title doesn't tell the whole story ... the facts are slightly less succinct.

Instead of listening to the rumors, I did some homework. I read the reports published after Barnes & Noble announced its year end numbers. In all actuality, according to a January 9 article published by, excluding devices and accessories in its Nook business, B & N's comparable-store sales declined only .2% in the nine weeks that ended December 28. This indicates Barnes & Noble Inc's mainstay retail business showed signs of stabilizing during the holiday period, renewing the belief on Wall Street that the bookseller's stores remain a viable business. In fact, shares rose 7.7% in late trading after the January 9 year-end report was published. Source: NY Times January 9, 2014.

But still we are told ... Bookstores are a thing of the past. 

Barnes & Nobles 673 brick-and-mortar stores experienced a decrease in sales, yes. However, that decrease was only 6.6% compared with the same period in the previous year. This still creates sales of $1.1 billion that makes the CEO Michael Huseby "very happy" with the company's performance in retail bookstores. 

See, publishers depend on Barnes & Noble for display space which results in casual browsing and the potential for planned and spontaneous purchases. Yes, Barnes & Noble DID close some stores. They may close more, according to their own statement. HOWEVER, the key reason the media and on-line reports reflect B & N as "struggling" have truly nothing to do with books ... and everything to do with e-readers, e-books and tablets. In 2013, B & N spent less time on its electronic division. This reflects a trend, noted in, that "the rate of growth of e-books has shown signs of abating after years of torrid growth." While this eases the pressure on book store chains like B & N, it affects year-end sales as the e-book and e-reader business are so heavily focused upon. 

Yet, between January and October, sales of hardcover adult books in the United States rose 7.6%, while e-book sales grew only 2.2% over that period. Source: Associate of American Publishers. Perhaps, as Janney Capital Markets analyst David Strassser wrote recently, "digital book sales are plateauing." And that is a positive for the brick and mortar establishments like Barnes & Noble, on 500 S. Main Street in Royal Oak. In a year without releases of popular new series like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games ... or Fifty Shade of Grey which took the market by storm, book sales can slow down. But, that doesn't indicate they are "on the way out."

Still we are told ... Bookstores are a thing of the past.

Okay, the fact is that revenue for Nook business, including e-readers and tablets as well as digital books fell. That can be attributed to the reality that Barnes & Noble did not release a new tablet for the 2013 holiday season, as it did in years past. Instead, it sold books. Something it continues to do extremely well. And though it is sad to think that electronic devices are necessary to keep bookstores relevant, it is a fact that Barnes & Nobles is analyzing and addressing under its new management. 

HOWEVER, the retail stores did extremely well with only minute decrease in actual book sales, stated John Tinker, analyst with the Maxim Group. His words: "It confirms there is still a very strong retail business."

As for me and my kids, we like books. We buy books. We shop for books. I have a Nook too and I buy e-books as well. But we like having a local bookstore.  From the lines and number of people at Barnes & Noble these days, it's pretty fair to say a lot of other people like books and bookstores too.

Abraham Lincoln stated: "My best friend is one who will give me a book I have not read." I have to agree. So let's Save the Shop Around The Corner and make sure there is a brick and mortar store where that book can be found...                                    
                                                                                                                                            -- Jenni


Thursday, January 2, 2014

The White Shirt

Yesterday afternoon I sat in the space I happily term "my room." Though my children and husband do share it, I have claimed it. It holds an oak desk featuring items I treasure and my computer, along with a Queen Anne style chair that was my one special request when my grandmother passed. She received it from her father on her wedding day. It has been recovered once since I adopted it. My room also features some Paris Hat boxes which hold books I plan to read and yarn with patterns I plan to finish. Works in process or to be started. There is a blanket and journals where I pour my words, ideas, thoughts and hopes. Beside my chair is a small table -- an altar if you will -- where sits the study book of 2014, a pencil and pen, a Victorian style lamp and a card given to me by a dear friend ... It says one word, PEACE. Oh, and right now, my room features our Christmas Tree, covered in white lights and ornaments that tell quite a story.

As I sat in my chair in my room, I watched 2014 begin quietly, with lovely white flakes of snow dancing from the sky to cover my tiny backyard. My room has 14 windows so I had a terrific, unimpaired view of the heavens sending us a clean white slate to begin a new year. The snow fell quietly, without ceremony. It doesn't need to draw attention to itself like the rain does, all dramatic with heavy drops and featuring lightning and thunder. Not snow. It falls with unique iridescent fractals -- you know no two flakes are identical -- and blankets the ground silently. White. Pure.

I didn't play music or watch DVDs. I read  -- one fiction (a du Maurier classic for January) and one non-fiction book helped my literary focus expand for the new year -- and wrote my One Thing for 2014. I'd received an email challenge to create one specific idea or thought or area to focus on in the new year ... not a list of resolutions. But One Thing. So, as I gazed at the silence and enjoyed the quiet of my little space, I contemplated my "one thing" and found myself captivated by the white all around me.

See, I love to wear white. I have some beautiful white sweaters, white sparkly tops and white lace tops. I pair them with jeans or something black.  Once in a while I pair the white with creme, which is fun. As much as I enjoy pinks and bright colors, I am a big fan of white, especially -- for some reason -- in the winter.

With all the sweaters and dressy tops, I only have one white button down shirt. It requires ironing -- something I am woefully disinterested in doing. The only purpose for the iron in my opinion is its ability to steam my knitting projects. So, I launder my white button down shirt and let someone else maintain its crispness and nice pressed lines. Because I like it that way ... crisp, clean, pristine.

But my white shirt never stays crisp and neat. It gets wrinkled. I've spilled coffee on it. Just because I'm wearing white, I'm not necessarily stain-proof. The white shirt doesn't make me any less messy.  In fact, I find when I wear the white shirt that I choose to wear a black tank or t-shirt underneath it. The black offsets the pure white which never ends up remaining so pure white, crisp or perfect. My shirt is a little like me ... messy yet simple and stylish. Fitted nicely. Elegant and slightly complicated to maintain too. I have to admit it doesn't shimmer in whiteness. It's crumpled a bit. 

And as I gazed out at the snow yesterday, I knew that underneath that blanket of fluffy whiteness lay dirt and dead grass. That the snow had its own "black t-shirt" below the surface. Leaves and the dead plants that I neglected to pull from the front garden this fall could be found there. And though the snow looked so ideal and lovely at the moment when it fell, snow-plows and cars would add streaks of gray, turning up the dirt, slush, grass and gravel as they dig under the white to make way for workday traffic.

No matter how pure and white the snow appears, there are layers underneath that we don't see right off. We'd rather not. We like the iridescenceWe don't like messy. We like the pretty snow and then when it turns not-so-pretty we turn on it. We want it to go away. Or we just ignore it, no longer appreciating any of its former beauty or current style.We like things neat. Clean. Ordered. Predictable. White.

But, whether it's snow or my white shirt, things aren't that way all the time. Things get messy. But in their messiness, we can choose to see them for the beauty and unpredictability and imperfect charm that they still hold. These items can still Shine in their own way. They can still appeal to us ... they can still have a kind of beauty.

So as I sat in my room, I chose my one thing for 2014. I made my "resolutions" and set my face to the east. And no matter what comes my way, I will not give into the melodrama of the dirt and slush or the dead weight of gravel and dormant grass. I will not judge it. I will not hold onto it. For like the snow, it will melt away and move along if I only allow it to be. So my one thing for 2014 ... well, that's MY one thing. Up to you to reflect and choose your own now without hints from me.

So now that I've chosen my ONE Thing ... Mr de Mille ... I'm ready for my close-up and my spotlight. Just give me my chance to Shine and stand back. There's enough room in my light for you, if you choose to join me. It's time to truly see the wonder all around us ... charming and lovely with its own unique personality undeterred by change ... Iridescent in surprises. Never dull. But sometimes messy ...

What about you? It's your turn. What's your One Thing for 2014? 
                                                                                                                            -- Jenni