Saturday, December 31, 2011

New beginnings

New starts come more than once a year

Still punctuating Craig’s mostly-packed-away room are little remnants of his past life: his iPod and guitar pick, his weight set and Arnold Schwarzenegger bodybuilding encyclopedia, one of his beloved Harry Potter books and a Stephen King novel. All those things—music, exercise, and pleasure reading—were such a big part of his life as a teenager but now have very little place in his rigorous missionary schedule in Argentina. 

Now, his workouts last about the same amount of time he used to spend just warming up for a water polo game. Now, his music searches consist of thumbing through the church hymnal for songs to play on the piano--quite a contrast to the habits of the boy turned eclectic-music-enthusiast who discovered new songs and artists online almost daily.

Friday, December 30, 2011

It's soup season

The virtues of soup are endless

I’m not the carnivore type who has to sink my teeth into meat to be satisfied. In fact, except for a good Perry barbecue now and then and an occasional pot roast, I could live on soup almost all year. (No kidding. I’ve even ordered soup in Reno, Nevada during the summer.) 

Fortunately for me, it’s soup season, and I don’t have to make any apologies for either preparing or requesting soup often. Better yet, at this time of year, others are thinking like me. The other night, for example, I was busy upstairs when Ken called me down to dinner. He’d fixed grilled cheese sandwiches and soup (tomato basil bisque, to be exact). That the soup came from a can didn’t matter in the least; it was positively delicious and exactly what I wanted on a cold, dark night.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Is Santa Claus really all that?

Santa Claus has always been such a conflicting figure

When Bryan, our eldest, was six years old, he lamented, “Dad, I’ve been scared of Santa for four years. Now, this year, I’m not scared, and I don’t know what to ask for.” Fine time for a brain freeze! After all, he knew this was THE guy holding the key to his childhood happiness.

Truth be told, Santa Claus, is a very conflicting figure. On the one hand, we teach children to beware of strangers, yet we fully expect them to feel comfortable cozying up to this white-haired man they see only once a year and divulging their secret wishes. Moreover, we insist they help document their great pleasure in this encounter by smiling for the camera. Talk about cognitive dissonance! No wonder so many children cry during the obligatory photo shoot with Santa. They’re terrified!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Who makes you laugh the most?

Grant still can make me laugh my head off

I know I shouldn’t have laughed, but I couldn’t help myself. Immediately after she led the group in singing a reverent song, a woman at church walked down the aisle and slugged her husband as she passed by. Obviously, something was understood between them. From my point of view, the irony was enough to have me laughing throughout the prayer that followed.

Laughing, even at the most inappropriate times, can feel so good. It cleanses the soul. It makes us feel alive. That's why, consciously or subconsciously, we continually seek out people who make us laugh, and we look for moments to make others laugh.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The case of the burnt cookie and a season of loss

Domestic disasters can throw off the elderly as never before

This morning Mom wanted a little treat after breakfast—a woman after my own heart. So, she put a frozen cookie in the microwave and accidentally programmed in one-too-many digits. From upstairs, I smelled something burning but thought it was just toast, which would have been a pretty normal mistake. 

When I investigated, however, I found Mom very upset and apologetic. She was so sorry for having burned the cookie and the plastic food protector and for having filled the house with a terrible smell. But she was far more upset that she’d made such a “dumb mistake,” as she put it. The poor thing was literally in tears and couldn't stop emotionally flogging herself.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing and getting it right

In my early school years, I wrote and edited all my papers with a pen

Wouldn’t our English teachers be so proud of us? They used to have to assign us to write. Now, we write blogs, send Tweets and emails, comment on Facebook, and even self publish—all of our own volition. What's come over us? 

Many of the long-standing barriers to writing are no longer relevant. Digital devices, together with social media channels, eliminate most excuses for not being able to ever publish your writing, and those same technologies have crumbled the walls of self-consciousness once so common among reticent writers, making “having our say” almost irresistible at times. In fact, a rare few contract “hypergraphia,” an overpowering desire to write.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween party pooper

My last-minute nerd costume

Some things about Halloween I love. Having candy galore is always fun, and caramel apples are delicious. The costume thing, though, has never been my favorite part of the holiday.

Some people can’t wait to dress up. In fact, I have friends who plan their Halloween costumes literally weeks in advance. This enthusiasm always surprises me since the costume tradition in my family of origin differed so widely. Right before going out to trick-or-treat, we'd race up to the attic, rummage through an old trunk overflowing with random costume pieces, grab something that fit, and dash out the door with our friends to get a haul. In my mind, a costume was just a means to an end.

Friday, October 7, 2011

You can't hurry love

Mom’s well-earned wrinkles and gray hair belie the busy, vibrant life she once lived raising 13 children. Even in her day, she was an anomaly. Having such a large family today is virtually unheard of. “How did she do it?” I’m always asked.

First of all, she and Dad made up their minds early to have a big family. In fact, they planned to have 17 children (12 sons and 5 daughters). When they ended up with only 7 boys and 6 girls, they joked about falling short. 

Dad had just one older brother and a twin who died when they were about seven months old, so he felt he missed out on the fun that comes from being part of a big family. Consequently, he always wanted to have his own big family. Fortunately for him, Mom was a willing partner who was also extremely organized, smart, and capable.

Friday, September 30, 2011


It was our last son’s last Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, and my husband and I were not heartbroken to see the end of that era. Mark, on the other hand, along with the other little Scouts who had carved, sanded, and painted their rectangular blocks of pinewood, arrived at the race just as excited, proud, and hopeful as the rest of our boys once did. Much to his dismay, however, when he placed his car on the official scale, it weighed too much. Our family huddled. We decided the only thing to be done at that point was to shave off chunks of wood from his handiwork, one cruel slice at a time. Watching his car being whittled down, Mark simply said, resignedly, “I should have just made a motorcycle.” We all laughed at his good humor and good nature. He was neither overwhelmed by disappointment nor overcome by failure. For better or worse, this was simply a creative experience.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Watermelon: the perfect gift

I'm convinced watermelon was the forbidden fruit

Twice in my life, I’ve been given a whole watermelon for my birthday. One year, when I was a young teenager, my mom said, with a twinkle in her eye, “Go up to your room. Your birthday present is on your bed.” And there sat a green watermelon with a big, red bow tied around it. Because it was all mine, I was allowed to eat the heart right out of it—guilt free.

This year my friend Judy planned months ahead to give me a birthday watermelon. She planted a watermelon patch and gave me occasional updates on her fruits' progress. She’d heard me say many times how much I loved watermelon and was convinced it was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden—irresistibly delicious! What I didn’t know, in this age of engineered fruits and vegetables, is that the seeded variety is so much sweeter and so much juicier than the seedless type I’d become accustomed to.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm just not that cute anymore

These days, bloggers have so many options to help their sites look cute

I keep finding very cute-looking blogs designed with curlicues and spiffy buttons and whoknowswhatall. My blog, as you can see, is just not that cute. It’s . . . well, utilitarian. I mean, it gets the job done, but it lacks the fun and foo-foo young’uns these days seem to pull off with ease. I got to hand it to them, though. Their blogs are delightful and they’re designed to last.

That permanence is more than I can say for some of the very cute food items people keep trying to teach me to make. Not long ago, I was in a class where we learned to make not one but three types of adorable little cupcakes—all with a summer theme: fireworks, a campfire, and a bear chillin’ in water on a swimming ring. I actually loved putting them together and using the decorations and frosting someone else had bought and prepared, then bringing them home to show them off to my family. I knew darn well those were cute cupcakes, but the edible kind of cute just isn’t very appreciated around here. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’m just not that cute anymore.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Time is worth more than money

Choosing to spend time with a child is a lasting gift to both the child and parent

I’m sure mine was a familiar scene: I sat in the doctor’s office waiting and waiting and waiting. In the meantime, I had to fill out the new-patient paperwork, which made me agree to pay $50 for any missed appointment or for neglecting to cancel an appointment 24 hours in advance. The irony is hard to miss. Apparently, the doctor’s time is worth much more than mine is. If I had known I was going to have to wait an hour and 15 minutes before being seen, I would have added my own little clause to that document: I will agree to pay you according to your terms if you will agree to pay me for my time waiting more than 15 minutes for you.

He’s a really nice guy, this doctor. But business is business, and for him time is money. Has he ever wondered what time is for the rest of us? Time is one of the few things we each have, but it’s both limited and uncertain. In other words, at least in this life, we’re all going to run out of time sooner or later, and for some “sooner” comes unexpectedly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Just 3 reasons I love my kids to swim

Just Three
Even though I grew up in Southern California, I was not a strong swimmer. Ironically, I took my only formal swim lessons in a little Idaho town where I was staying with my dairy-farm cousins one summer. Other than those lessons, I learned to swim by being tossed in our next-door-neighbors’ pool and dog-paddling my way through childhood. 

Swimming took on new meaning 12 years ago when my own children started swimming competitively for the Mission Valley Barracudas. Tomorrow they will, once again, participate in the East Bay Swim League Championships. Today, along with all the other 1200 swimmers, they’ll go to the Olympic-size pool at Chabot College to get used to the deep water, high blocks, and multiple lane lines. Today is also my first time not going with them to the day-before warm-ups. Yep, they’re growing up, and I kind of miss being part of the excitement and pre-meet buzz.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Paying it forward

My two sad sisters
“I have a flat tire!” my sister wailed, flailing her arms as she ran toward my car. She was trying to wave us down before we drove out of the parking lot. My sisters and I had intentionally tried to avoid the snarly L.A. traffic by staying at Santa Monica Beach until evening. Now, after a full day of activity with more than a dozen tired and hungry teenage nieces and nephews, our trip home would be further delayed. However, instead of complaining, the four strapping young boys in my car immediately started taking on the problem as their own. “I’m a Boy Scout!” and “We know what to do,” and “We’ve got this, guys!” they shouted. I pulled over, the doors flew open, and out jumped our ad hoc repair crew.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just 3 ways I want to be like Mom

Just Three

She’s indecisive; I’m decisive. She’s a worrier; I’m not. She’s compassionate; I’m not that either, unfortunately. But she is my mom. And even though we’ve always been different in many ways, I hope to become like her in all the good ways. Here are just three:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Identity crisis

Mark with his birthday waffles and ice cream
For a few minutes, his name was Travis. You would think, after waiting three and a half years for our fifth child to join us, we could have come up with the right name for him. But when he arrived, his identity and name remained a mystery. 

It didn’t take long, though, to figure out this baby boy was not Travis at all. He was Mark. In naming all the others, I let Ken have the final say, but this time I insisted our boy take his name, “Kenneth,” at least as his middle name. After all, I’d borne the man four sons and, by gosh, one of them was going to carry his father’s first name.

Today Mark Kenneth is 14 years old and is, coincidentally, much like his father. Yet, although we've known him a decade and a half and feel certain we got the name right, we’re still figuring out who he is. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just 3 obsolete words deserving a comeback

Just Three

The other day I came across a very fun article suggesting 20 obsolete English words that deserve a comeback. To be sure, those words were outdated, but they were fun to say aloud and interesting to learn about. Here’s my vote for just three:
  1. Brabble: (verb) – “To quarrel about trifles; esp. to quarrel noisily, brawl, squabble” – Now, where was this word all those years when I needed it? “Stop brabbling about which Marvel Comics superhero is the coolest!” I don’t know about you, but we have more brabbling at our house than I’d like to admit. So, even though it’s a “dead” word, I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to help this one resurrect. As a bonus, you can also use “brabble” as a noun. What a great word to dish out right in the midst of some stupid debate—I mean brabble.
  2. Deliciate: (verb intr.) – “To take one’s pleasure, enjoy oneself, revel, luxuriate” Much like the word “delicious,” this one seems as if it should apply mostly to eating. Happily, though, its meaning is much broader. It also helps describe the behavior of the Epicureans in my life. You know, the ones who not only like peeled grapes but find them even more enjoyable while reclining in their the silk pajamas with Bach symphonies playing in the background. 
  3. Kench: (verb intr.) – “To laugh loudly” Here’s a great verb to describe being hit by one of those hearty, unexpected guffaws that can both surprise and embarrass but ultimately delight you. Phone calls with a certain friend are sure to make me kench, and I always feel better after talking to her.
And the runner-up is Freck  (verb intr.) – “To move swiftly or nimbly” To think, I’ve been frecking all my life and never knew it!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hitting singles

Singles and home runs both get us around the bases

Years ago someone asked the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony how many hours the orchestra had to rehearse for a performance. We all waited for his concise answer, anticipating a specific number. “Well, there’s the short answer and the long answer,” he said. “Together, we rehearse about 10 hours, but these musicians have been practicing for years and years, developing their talents.” In other words, they had to hit lots of “singles” before being part of any “home-run performance.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just 3 ways to beat the laundry blues

Just Three

Just like the poor, laundry will always be with us. To avoid getting overwhelmed by this seemingly endless task, here are just three ideas:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Introducing . . . the interrobang

The interrobang is not easily found on a keyboard

I love words, I love punctuation, and I love writing. Putting the right words with the right punctuation to send just the right message in just the right way feels like a getting a hole-in-one, a bullseye, or a slam-dunk. (OK, I admit I'm too short to have ever made a slam dunk, but I bet it feels great.)

Anyway, I recently learned about a sweet little punctuation mark that has somehow eluded me all these many years. Introducing my new friend, the interrobang! (Go ahead. Say it aloud. You know you want to. Saying it is almost as fun as using it.) You may think this strange-looking animal is new; however, truth be told, it’s been around since I was born in 1962.  Developed by Martin Speckter, the interrobang was created to help add clout to advertising text. But, for some reason, it never quite caught on.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Just 3 tips for mealtime madness

Just Three

Studies have long touted the benefits of families eating together, especially the undeniable superior academic performance of children who eat at least four meals a week with their parents. I wonder, though, if all the glowing statistics still bear out if mealtime is chaotic and—dare I admit?—contentious. In a house with lots of boys, we often resort to showing off muscles or quoting lines from favorite movies during meals. At other times, Scout humor and similar inane banter are enough entertainment around our table. Still, it’s good to have a few strategies to improve that daily family time. Here are just three:

Friday, June 3, 2011

We are all "Gideons"

This plaque, a gift, reminds me of God's gifts

Sitting in our garden window is a plaque from my sister that says, “Faith is not just hoping miracles will happen but recognizing when they do.” Many times God gives us too much to handle alone. This, however, is by design—divine design—to allow for miracles and to keep us from becoming prideful. 

I think of Gideon whose army was reduced from 32,000 to a mere 300 men. God deliberately set Gideon against great odds so he would acknowledge that the miraculous victory came by God’s hand and not by his own. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Just 3 tips for getting kids to help

Just Three

OK, I admit it. Lately, I’ve let my mothering skills get a little rusty. Not surprisingly, my once-clever job charts no longer fly with my three teenage boys. But even though they’re almost grown, there's still work to do, and I’ve somehow forgotten strategies for getting them to help. Here are just three that I now remember being effective with kids of almost all ages:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Packin' a stink

Optimism seems to be the twin sister of gratitude

I go to the gym most days and see people stretching and exercising just about every muscle, but the one muscle I don’t ever see exercised is the tongue. Of course, how would I know? But this I do know: whether it’s complaining or criticizing, arguing or gossiping, far too often people allow themselves to “go packin’ a stink,” as my daughter likes to say.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just 3 tricks to help boys love reading

Just Three

And now for something practical. I recently spoke to a group of women about children’s books and reading. With four boys, I’ve had to learn a few tricks to help them learn to love reading. Here are just three:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Something to cheer about

The Apollo 13 Crew, returning worn but victorious

“We missed the moon,” said Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell when he realized a mechanical breakdown necessitated a change in flight plans. 

I recently re-watched the Hollywood version of this real-life drama and was, once again, amazed by the incredible obstacles the crew had to overcome just to return to Earth, having circled but never having stepped on the moon. Even though they did, indeed, have to abort their mission to the moon, the astronauts still captured all of America’s attention and imagination. Gripped by hope and fear, people watched and waited and wondered. Then, after many nail-biting close calls, the men miraculously came back alive and well, and the country let out a collective sigh of relief. People cheered. People cried. People hugged. Then they cheered some more.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Counting on change

The view of Fremont's hills from my kitchen window

Some things you can just count on: October 31 will always be Halloween; December 25 will always mean it's Christmas day; and January 1 will forever be the start of a new year. And May 17 in Fremont, California, always marks the end of green hills.

No matter how lush they are throughout the spring, our signature green hills always turn utterly, completely, and unmistakably wheat-brown by May 17—up until this year, anyway. It’s such a random date that I never would have remembered except that it was the birthday of our long-ago friend and realtor Sterling Nicolaysen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


The Perry Children, Easter 1999

“Do you miss having little kids?”
 asked a friend asked recently as she hoisted her youngest child from hip to hip. We became friends when she was a freshly minted attorney. She was a professional, and I was a stay-at-home mom in the throes of raising five children, from toddlers to teenagers. She had since quit her job, moved away, and begun raising her own family that included three redheaded boys, four years old and under. Now I was the one able to focus on a conversation without the distraction of little ones, and she was seeking some perspective and maybe even validation for her new stage of life.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Preparing for the Easter feast

We should prepare for the Easter feast externally and internally

This week our children’s swim coach died unexpectedly. Only 28 years old, Joe had just coached a girls’ water polo team the night before his sudden death. He was known for his radiant smile, his teddy-bear hugs, and his belief in every swimmer. We all recognized his distinct-sounding voice heard 'round the pool. Because he coached so many teams in our community, his influence has been felt far and wide as shock and sadness have rippled throughout our town.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tanner Manor: “The House that Built Me”

Tanner Manor as I remember it

It’s almost too big, too grand a topic to tackle. Much like structure itself, the story of Tanner Manor, my childhood home, sometimes looms larger than life. For years, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude of that place and articulate the role it played in shaping my life.

Though just another house in town, our home was commonly known and referred to as “Tanner Manor” by friends and strangers alike. Perched atop a hill on nearly an acre of land at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and Buena Vista Street in South Pasadena, California, the almost-9000-square-foot edifice still stands as an icon, I’m told. Schoolmates I haven’t seen in years, including people I didn’t even know well, now connect with me on Facebook and mention my home by its nickname.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Giving hope

Whether hidden or seen, the need for hope is universal

A few years ago my daughter gave me this painting by Liz Lemon Swindle that depicts Peter and John on Easter morning running to Jesus’ tomb. It is simply entitled Hope. Without the title, it’s hard to know that hope is the subject the artist is trying to convey. Similarly, many competent people are desperately looking for hope, but because they seem so put together, we are often unaware of their need.

Hope comes in many forms. Sometimes it takes just a few words from someone else to give hope. Such was the case for me 30 years ago.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The death of bookstores

So many books, so little time

Now where am I going to hang out? 

Within weeks of each other, the only two full-blown, legitimate bookstores in town decided to close their doors. It’s true. Bricks-and-mortar bookstores are becoming extinct. Even in a place like the Bay Area that boasts having the highest number of college graduates in the U.S. per capita, we somehow can’t manage to merit having a real bookstore anywhere close by. Once a comfortable, interesting place to browse on a Friday night date, a rainy Saturday afternoon, or a family night out, these bookstores are being swept up into cyberspace with all the other retailers who believe they can establish a comparable virtual connection to their customers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring cleaning is here, like it or not

Cleanliness is next to godliness

On the first day of spring, our family started cleaning in earnest then purging fiercely. But our annual cleaning began unwittingly. 

For three days, we’ve been trying to find my son’s passport, but to no avail. We’ve looked everywhere! With fear, worry, and anxiety, we've attacked room after room. Every couch, closet, file, cupboard, drawer—every nook and cranny—has been ransacked and turned inside out. 

The passport is gone. Vanished. And with no good explanation, either.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Silver spoons and rubber scrapers

Mom got the mileage (and more) out of her rubber scrapers
Some kids are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but I was raised on a rubber scraper (or “spatula,” as it is commonly known). I was born the twelfth of thirteen children, so my mom’s job of feeding her big brood was ever with her. No sooner would she finish cooking and serving and cleaning up after one meal than it was time to start in on another.

We were not wealthy, but Mom was a fabulous cook, homemaker, and manager, and she made sure we ate well and had enough. By the time I came along, she made the daily, gargantuan task of feeding us look pretty easy, but it was no small feat.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Time in a bottle

Mousse is time-in-a-bottle

Twenty minutes a day. That’s the average time a woman spends doing her hair
every day! That adds up to almost two and a half hours a week and more than five full days a year. So, what the heck are we doing, ladies? Instead of gettin’ pretty, we could be reading, writing, chatting, running, playing, watching T.V., working, or any number of other things—We could be doing the things men who simply shower and shave have time to do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's not all smiles on Southwest

Happiness really is a choice

My friend Kellie Graham responded to my “Got happiness?” blog with the following true story of her experience on a Southwest flight: 

“I thought you might appreciate this experience that I had with Southwest, and I think it ties right in with your blog. 

“I flew Southwest LAX to SLC just after flying from Australia to LAX. I only had an 90 minutes between flights (not enough time). I was flying home for some sad family things. I also just so happened to be in my first trimester of pregnancy and feeling quite sick, running on virtually no sleep, and needing food. I was running the whole way to make it, and my name was being called to the gate. 

“I was the last person on the plane. I apologized profusely to the attendants and plopped down in the first seat I saw and clicked my belt. I quickly grabbed my food and water from my pack and began to frantically eat. The lady sitting next to me, who happened to be a [Mormon] Relief Society President in California quickly turned in to me and started fussing and mothering. Ironically, she was headed to Utah to take care of pregnant/sick daughter. 

“There were two flight attendants, one male and one female. Every time the female attendant went past me, she sharply told me to make some corrective action: put on your belt (it was on), tighten your belt, move your bag, move the strap on your bag, etc. I felt so bad each time. I quickly did what she asked all the while consuming my food, which is all I cared about. Every time the male attendant went past, he made some joke or did something silly. (He could have been your friend.) He even tried to steal my food, which would have been a mistake.

“My new friend sitting next to me made the comment that it was the strangest behavior. Both were singling me out but in different ways. One was probably agitated at me for various reasons and likely had all kinds of petty judgments and notions about me; the other recognized that I was obviously having a difficult time and was trying to brighten my day, even though I may have inconvenienced his. I am sure it would be super annoying to wait on a passenger, but they both made choices on how to react to a situation.”

Got happiness? It’s your choice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Got happiness?

Happiness can be serious business

Recently, I flew on Southwest Airlines, the happy company that knows how to make a profit while having fun. Their latest in-flight magazine Spirit featured, fittingly, the topic of “Happiness.”

“What’s there to know about happiness?” you ask. First of all, having it isn’t “a simple matter of yes or no,” according to the article’s author Taffy (now, there’s a happy name) Brodesser-Akner. Instead, we’re supposed to find, choose, and create happiness. 

It turns out stuffy institutions like Harvard University are taking this happiness thing quite seriously. In fact, the most popular class offered at the Harvard Business School is a semester-long study in happiness. Course instructor Professor Tal Ben-Shahar speaks of universally human experiences, saying, “There are two kinds of people who don’t experience painful emotions . . . psychopaths and the dead.” OK, then. Is this supposed to comfort us? I guess his "insight" means that, when we don’t feel happiness but are still living and breathing, we should at least be glad we're still standing on two feet.

Anyone who has flown on Southwest knows that each flight is meant to be just a little bit fun or at least a little bit funny. The company itself is serious about not take itself too seriously, hiring people willing to promote its happiness brand. Many years ago, when the airlines first got off the ground (haha), an acquaintance of mine worked as one of its flight attendants. His eccentric, out-of-bounds sort of personality fit right in with this culture of happiness. For him, every flight became a personal challenge to make people smile, and he went to great lengths to do so. Although I never saw him perform live, I was told he could put on quite a show. For example, instead of describing emergency procedures, he would dramatize in-flight accidents, turning the dull and routine into something hilariously entertaining. Passengers guffawed through the usually boring safety protocol spiel as they watched him frantically blow air into the red tube of the yellow safety vest, plop himself down on the floor of the aisle, and pretend to madly row himself to safety. Southwest hasn’t earned those smiles for nothing.

A different article in the same company magazine suggests a few “Pleasure Principles” to live by. Most people have figured these out: show children you’re happy, get along with your co-parent, act kindly, and eat your meals with other people. The best tips, though, are the last two, both based on research:

  1. The quickest happiness booster is exercise, and when we can make that happiness last longer if we are part of a team.
  2. The best predictor of happiness is the quantity and quality of a person’s social ties.
Both tips made me think of my mother who is 90 years old. She exercises every day, and, when it comes to friends, she definitely has the quantity thing down. With just her huge posterity alone (about 250 of us), she stays socially active and involved in many people’s lives. And, even though many of her peers have died, she still manages to connect with friends from years past. Just the other day she had lunch with a friend from high school, and they talked for hours. More recently, she went to a funeral of a long-time church friend and reconnected with all kinds of people who remembered her fondly. (Funerals, it turns out, are big social events for Mom.)

The last part of the article talked about possessions people felt brought them joy. Allowed to only select one object, they chose things as simple as a garden vegetable or a cowboy hat; others decided on less unusual treasures such as a family memory album or a pet. Personally, probably because I grew up poor but happy, I'm inclined to agree with the oft-repeated platitude, “Money can’t buy you happiness.” But I couldn't help but think of how much I love my tech gadgets. For me, it would be a toss-up between my MacBook and my iPod. 

What’s makes you happy? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Paint, pie crust, and parentage

The pie-crust gene skipped me

I’m dreading it, again. Another paint job looms in our near future. We’re remodeling our bathroom, which is awesome, but now we have to repaint. Unfortunately, after being a homeowner for almost 25 years, my painting skills are still dreadful. Oh, I’ve learned a few tricks (only get the bottom half of the brush wet, tape the edges first, and always use a dropcloth—no matter what). But I’m still messy. Very messy.

I think it’s genetic. My husband lovingly attributes my speedy way of doing things to my "Tanner zest.” No matter how hard I try to be neat when I paint, I still splash and splatter, drip and drop. Every paint job is an exercise in being patient with myself and forgiving my mistakes. 

I wish genes would work in my favor. Evidently, some of the good ones skipped a generation. At least they skipped over me. Making pie crusts, for example, is an art my mother perfected early in life. She could whip out a pie crust in nothing flat. In fact, because she was so speedy, making the filling for her signature lemon cream pies slightly annoyed her. Standing still at the stove was torture to her, so she usually roped one of us kids into stir-stir-stirring until the filling got thick. 

Mom pie-crust tricks were no secret. "Use very cold water," she'd say, "then add it slowly, stir with a fork. Most importantly, don’t handle the dough too much!" 

I’ve tried and tried to follow her instructions and replicate Mom’s flaky crusts. You would think all those years of my hanging around her kitchen would count for something! But even private tutoring from my expert baker friend using her failproof crust recipe hasn't helped me overcome my bad genes. 

Alas, my pie crusts are still tough. I can’t make them look deceptively delicious either because I’ve never been able to master that pinching-and-crimping thing around the crust’s edges that seasoned cooks seem to do with ease.

So, I’m resigned to eating store-bought pies. I mean, who needs delicious homemade pies anyway? And painting? Well, there’s always someone willing to put on a second coat, right? 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

No excuse for ignorance

My children face virtually no roadblocks to being educated

Pop, my husband’s now-deceased grandfather, did not even finish second grade. Instead, at age nine, he was given his own team of horses and expected to plow the fields, literally becoming one of the family’s breadwinners before he had lived even one decade.

In the end, Pop lived almost eight decades, and during that time the world changed dramatically. 

Always thirsty for knowledge, he read everything he could get his hands on. But, a century ago, access to print materials was very expensive and extremely limited in Eastern Oklahoma, and iPods and online courses had not yet been imagined. Such was the fate of many hard-working Americans just a couple of generations ago. Fortunately for Pop, however, he came across a magazine advertisement for a “correspondence course” in radio technology. Enrolling in that class marked the official beginning of his adult education, providing him with know-how and skills to become a much-sought-offer radio and television repairman.

My own grandfather, also an intelligent, self-educated man, touted the virtue of education incessantly: “Get an education and be your own boss” was his oft-repeated paternal advice to his two sons. Both went on to become doctors of sorts.

Today my children stand on the shoulders of their great grandfathers and grandfathers who, through determination and sacrifice, scraped together an education for themselves. To those men, the chance to learn was important enough to give up time, money, and convenience. 

With three children already enrolled in college (and the last two making plans to attend), I am relieved and pleased that all of them consider learning opportunities vital to a bright future. In contrast to their grandfathers, however, they face virtually no roadblocks to getting an education. In fact, they would be hard-pressed to not be learning something all the time.

We live in a time when information is everywhere, and we can usually get it when, where, and how we want it. Case in point: almost everyone in the U.S. owns a cell phone (90% of Americans) and has access to the Internet (100% of schools were connected by 2005). This phenomenon is due largely to Moore’s law, which states transistor density doubles every couple of years. Consequently, information and its delivery mechanisms are available exponentially—and at decreasing costs. It turns out Moore was right, and his calculation has proven itself over and over again—not just during the one decade he predicted it would but over almost five decades—and is expected to continue for yet another decade.

Without question, we are all swimming in a sea of knowledge and could easily feel overwhelmed by this data deluge. Fortunately, however, working in tandem with this information explosion are multiple outlets for collaborating. Think about Facebook, Twitter, and Digg; consider StumbleUpon and LinkedIn. Many still regard these social media platforms as extraneous and peripheral, but they are becoming increasingly mainstream and even essential to those trying to stay abreast of trends and working to make contributions to all disciplines. Young people understand this. Just ask a teenager what his first step is when doing a school project. I guarantee it won’t be “I go to the library.” Instead, he'll first connect with others, usually online. 

Today, rather than gathering and carrying knowledge alone, we can quickly find others who know what we need to know, giving new meaning to the phrase, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Nowadays, we all stand on each others’ shoulders to learn. Meanwhile, we should be shouldering our own portion of the responsibility by being informed. We have no excuse for ignorance.