Thursday, June 14, 2012

Isn't that Special?

I am a fan of the Sunday Morning Show on CBS.  I grab my cup of coffee, the Boston Globe Magazine and watch the program with Bill...and I often learn something new.  Sometimes we have lively discussions about the segments...and I love the closing piece about wildlife in America...ah.

A while back, Simon Baker, the actor who stars in The Mentalist, was being interviewed about living and working in the USA...he hails from Australia...and he shared why he loved being here.  He alluded that deep down, he loves the way Americans share enthusiasm and willingness to offer support, acknowledgment, kudos...whatever you want to call it...for example, here in the US if you score well on an exam, get a new job,create something worthwhile,many a  folk will say, "Good for you!", and mean it, sincerely.  In his homeland, down under, if the same said successes occurred, you are more likely to get, "Of course you don't let it swell your head."

America is the land of hope...the land of opportunity...this ability to look on the bright side is, in my humble opinion, what makes us American.  When presented with a challenge, we rarely say it cannot be done...we band together and find a solution...we help friends and neighbors, strangers here and abroad.  It is what we do.  It makes us special. 

My husband and I are well travelled and we have noted that abroad,  American optimism is often looked upon as arrogance, self-serving and even weak.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard..."so sorry, it cannot be done..." while living in France or visiting many a European nation...I'd own a house on Lake Como.  And the funny thing is when we Americans, would say...yes it can...see, if we do this together, or you do that, I'll do this,  and so on and so on...we would get one of three looks...a head, shaking "no"and  a face emblazoned with a smug, all knowing smile, implying "silly Americans"...a blank stare, with raised eyebrows...implying "foolish Americans"...or the scowl below one arched eyebrow and hands waving back and forth emphatically implying, "Go away, you stupid Americans!"
The trick is to keep at the problem...get the job done...and surprise!!, when the solution is found, the problem solved, the work done...we are all one big happy world wide family...and we say, "Good job!".

I love this Can Do attitude in America.  It is special!

So recently, there has been a lot of hub-bub about a Wellesley High School commencement speech.  The teacher, giving the speech, talked about a lot of things...and he said to the graduates..."You are not special."   Guess what...all heck broke loose!  Of course they are special...and of course he thinks they are...but I understood his message to be that in most cases, everyone is special to someone...that is a commonality...and if it is common, can it be all that "special'?

More importantly, I think he was saying, it doesn't matter if your parents or teachers think you are special...of course they should...but it is more important that you make your life matter...that you and you alone discover what is special about you, your life, the promise of your future...and no matter what you do, where you go, who you encounter...make the most of it for yourself...not to please anyone...not to impress anyone...not to "win"...but to live a life that you consider well lived...and if you please, impress or irk is a bonus.

Back to Simon Baker's observation...Americans are good at seeing the good stuff...we just need to be more careful not to expect a reward for doing what is good and right. It is our spirit, nature and desire to make the world a better place that makes America special.

To all the recent wishes for a life filled with opportunity and challenges.  Do not be prideful; let your parents/families/friends be proud of you.  Keep your expectations prepared to work hard...nothing "handed" to you will mean more than the first paycheck you earn.

Go out and be special...for so doing, I am sure people will note not that you are special, but the qualities that make you good, kind, respectful, honest, loving, trustworthy...and much more...but it will be in the doing that we see your unique nature...not in the telling.

God Bless the Class of 2012 and God Bless the USA.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Treats and Prizes

Recently, there has been a LOT of talk about government involvement in our day to day choices.  The topic du jour on talk radio and a few TV shows stems from NYC Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to ban sugary  fountain beverages larger than 16 more Big Gulps...Slurpees are demoted to just a slurp...have it your way at Burger King...nope...too much added sugar for the Big Apple.

Believe me, I get it.  I was at the movies Saturday night and saw way too many "Tweens" with ginormous Icees in one hand, poised to wash down the refillable bucket of salty, butter flavored oil soaked popcorn in the other.  There was many a brain freeze during that feature, for sure...Not the choice I ever made for my children nor myself, but these kids and or their parents chose to pay a premium for that junk.  Here's hoping that such purchases are a special treat and not a habit.  But, when the theater disapproves of you bringing in your own snacks, and fails to stock the advertised, healthy snack pack...yes there is such a thing...air popped popcorn chips, fruit and granola bars, fruit chews made from fruit juice and bottled water...what can one do?  Well, for my part, I don't eat at the movies.  I am there to watch a movie, not mindlessly snack...but  I digress.

For those of you who grew up back before microwaves became common, do you remember ever drinking "tonic"at supper?  Soda, tonic, pop...whatever you called was a special treat reserved for birthday parties and holidays...milk and water...that is what growing bodies drank at meal time...with a glass of juice thrown in at breakfast for good measure.  Tea and iced tea were acceptable in my home, once I entered my teens and hot tea was what you drank when you didn't feel well or needed to warm up. 

When my children were small, they were accustomed to the notion of treats and prizes.  Treats were "goodies" that appeared in Christmas stockings and Easter baskets...a bag of chips, a bottle of Very Fine Grape juice for Carrie, Apple juice for Em...maybe some marshmallow Peeps...prizes were little gifts, usually books, puzzles or games, that rewarded good report cards, vaccination day at the doctor's office, or recognition of meeting a challenge...but these were rare and special!  To this day, I will send a care package off to Em at college with love and loads of practical things, but there is also one treat and one prize...something special.

Back to the olden days...remember when dessert was also reserved for special times...going out to eat, birthdays or celebrations?...We only got doughnuts on Easter morning, or when my grandparents came for a visit...cake was for cream was a weekend treat from time to time, but during the week, you ate your supper and if you were still hungry, you could have some fruit. There was no such thing as "if you eat your peas, you can have dessert" just ate your peas.

Snacks were not commonplace either.  One ate  three squares a day and had a little something to tide you over after school...cookies and milk, apples and peanut butter, carrot and celery sticks, or maybe half a sandwich...especially when school lunch was served at 10:30 or 11:am, and dinner was at 6pm!  But we didn't have junk was too expensive and it really served no nutritional purpose...then something happened in the late 60's and early 70's...the Radar-range...or as we now now it, the microwave...the invention that would modernize the kitchen, free time for the working mother...and introduce a whole generation to processed foods.

Want a snack?  Toss in a bag of Orville's popping corn and voila, hot buttery popcorn...loaded with salt, trans fats and Lord knows what else in the line of preservatives, additives and chemicals. HOw many times did you eat a whole bag of microwave popcorn by yourself, when the bag was meant to serve four or five people?  We now know that most microwave popcorn, is pretty bad for you...unless you make up your own in a brown paper bag...(you can find the recipe at my other blog, The Cook's Concern).  Before we knew it, kids were eating pizza rolls, bagel bites, mac 'n' cheese, leftovers and so on for a snack...and sitting in front of the TV...being fed images of sugar cereals, soda, fruit flavored candy...super sized this...happy meal that....and gladly, Americans surrendered to the convenience...the novelty...the salt, fat and sugar that triggers the feel good centers in the brain, and we became addicts to junk.

Instead of farmers' markets, supermarkets...mega-markets...warehouse stores...became our food sources...fresh produce and dairy were relegated to the opposite sides of stores, with a vast mine field of overly processed food haunting and taunting children with cartoon characters and bright colors in between...It is no secret we "eat" first with our these marketing techniques were designed to draw in the Sesame Street generation as our economy's earliest consumers...and TV had told working parents that choosy moms choose XYZ, and Kraft Mac and Cheese is the 

Do you think people would have been so enamored with "Happy Meals" and foot long subs, if we called them FAT food instead of fast food? 

Anyway, my point I guess, is, we are having this national argument about too much government in our lives...legislating us from the bedroom to the our cars and yards...but where is the discussion about the usurpation of our lives by a food industry whose primary interest is to create food addicts...and not feed the nation, truly feed...offer sustenance, nutrition...from one of the world's greatest resources of food? Did you know that McDonald's sells different types of burgers around the world?  I mean, in Europe, they sell a smaller, higher quality beef patty, lower in fat and salt, and feed Americans a burger that is 20% larger, poorer quality beef and very high in sodium?  Why?...because we have been programmed to accept low quality in exchange for cheap and fast.  We have been trained to equate fat, salt and sweet with flavor...but in reality, it ruins our taste buds and we don't know what good tastes like.   We need to get our priorities straight.  We need to accept responsibility for our choices...and if business or our government seeks to limit our choices...we need to do something about that too. 

It is appalling to me that one out of four children in the US will go hungry again tonight.  It is astounding that nearly 30 years after the Reagan administration declared ketchup a vegetable, that the government still maintains that premise. Blink and the food pyrmamid becomes inverted, blink again and we have a pie chart (ironic in a stupid kinda way) and now we have a plate with the USDA recommendations for balanced nutrition...but too many, meaningless changes have bred apathy toward the guidelines.

It infuriates me that there are food deserts in our country and that companies like Whole Foods, Wegmans', Trader Joe's...all pretty good retail, food outlets, refuse to establish markets in depressed areas, because they know the demographic can't afford their products and therefore weaken their bottom line.. heaven forbid, you shift the profits to shape a smarter and healthier consumer! It peeves me that local government allows that mentality to succeed...just imagine living in Washington D.C., southwest neighborhood  and having to do your grocery shopping at a gas station because you cannot afford to go to the Giant or Target in the Northwest section of town Adams Morgan or Georgetown, where these markets are located...I am not making this our nation's capitol...this exists...there are families who will have beef jerky for their protein source tonight.

I appreciate Mayor Bloomberg's concern, but I think his solution is silly.  Limiting the size of sugar laden beverages to 16 ounces still feeds the sugar habit...who or what will stop someone from buying three or four cups of the 16 ounce size?  We need to teach people about health and nutrition...and if that means taxing the 42 ounce Big Gulp to pay for the educational programs...fine.  Oh, and how about taxing the profits of the companies producing junk food, to help offset the costs of childhood obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and depression...diseases influenced by these types of foods.  Let's serve our nation's children REAL food in farm to table programs.  Bring back "home economics" and health partnerships between markets with smart business models and a better, wiser, healthier consumer...or if that is too much trouble then leave people alone to make thier own choices, good or bad.

And finally, my fellow Americans...take responsibility for your family's health and nutrition.  Frito-Lay is not twisting your arm to by yet another bag of Doritos.   May I suggest the following?...Learn to feed your family....grow a garden...or support a community garden.  Support stores and restaurants that use local and seasonal products.  Understand portion control.  Visit a farm and taste what food should taste like...reclaim your kitchen...toss the microwave...plan a menu, make a shopping list...learn to live and not just subsist...return to the notion that somethings are treats and prizes,  saved for special occasions.

There is a lesson I learned from my Religious Education, Jesus taught us that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day...if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime (the Alice Anne Corollary... and then he can help feed those who are still learning...)  Makes sense to me.