Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Demand Gun Sense

Americans shouldn’t have to worry about being shot at outdoor concerts, movie theaters, elementary schools, churches and nightclubs. We don’t have to live like this.

Our country is at a defining moment: Do we want to live in a country where the NRA leadership’s “guns everywhere, for anyone, with no questions asked” vision prevails? Where we we are all armed to the teeth in every moment of our daily lives? 

This nation’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than the average of other developed nations. This is a uniquely American crisis.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We must demand action to end gun violence.
To join the movement to end gun violence, please text ACT to 64433. To honor Las Vegas, we must demand that legislators act now.

Friday, August 25, 2017

"I Know What You're Thinking, Mom…"

said my middle son. "Because I'm psychopathic."

Of course he meant telepathic, but it was an excellent mistake that has led to one of those family stories we tell over and over again. It gets a laugh every time.

But sometimes I wonder. Not that he's psychopathic of course, but if he really does have any idea what people are thinking, how they perceive things, what makes people happy or angry, and the consequences of his jokes and antics.


On the first day of fifth grade, his teacher explained he has an auction system that encourages kids to earn points and spend them on small but interesting gifts. This classroom incentive program excited my middle son. He explained it in lengthy detail as we drove around in the minivan doing a few after school errands.  Then he shared this story as told by his teacher:

Once there was a fifth grade girl who really liked lip gloss. A boy in her class knew she planned to get lip gloss at the next auction. He decided to bid on the lip gloss to force her to spend more tickets. The auction started and the girl bid, and the boy bid, their bids going higher and higher. Finally, the boy bid 200 tickets! The girl said she was done, and the boy ended up spending 200 of his tickets and winning lip gloss he didn't want.

"That's what I'm going to!" crowed my middle. "I'm going to find out what people want and then bid on it and force them to lose their tickets!"

"Um, if you do that, don't you think people will get angry at you?" I said. "You're always telling me you want to have more friends. I'm not sure this is the best way."

[insert the sound of air gushing out of a punctured balloon.]

"But that was the fun of it," he insisted.

"What's fun in tricking people out of tickets?" I persisted. "I'm pretty sure your teacher meant that as a cautionary tale, not a suggestion. Maybe you should work with friends to pool your tickets and win cool stuff."

(I can't take credit for this idea. My youngest did this repeatedly in first grade. He always had plenty of tickets thanks to his goody-goody behavior. He'd generously donate 10 tickets to kids who had lost their tickets for bad behavior and didn't have the necessary 100 tickets to eat at the cafe. All they had to do was pick him as their buddy. Quite the schemer.)

I pondered this conversation for the next few days. Why was it so hard for my bright 10 year old to realize it's so not cool to trick people out of tickets? That's a total jerk move. And he's not a jerk, really. He's pretty serious about fairness and treating people with respect. Couldn't he see it from other people's perspective? Was he going to grow up without friends and live in my basement?

Then I came across this article while doing research on another topic (a very annoying thing I notice in Facebook groups that could make a good satirical/venting essay) and thought, "my middle son needs to read this."

The title is "Psychology Tricks You Can Use to Influence People." It's nothing earth-shattering…to me. But maybe he'd get some ideas.

Back in the minivan, I pulled up the article and let him read it. He was silent for awhile. I wondered if he was reading it or just taking selfies.

Then he cried, "THIS IS AMAZING!"

It was like being given an owner's manual for a complex device. His favorite section was the part on asking for ridiculous things, knowing you won't get them, and then following up with a more reasonable request for the thing you actually wanted. I'm not totally confident he understood the difference between mirroring and the copying game, but I fully expect he will employ a few tactics in the future.

Maybe I shouldn't have let him read it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Art of the Road Trip

If you follow the adventures of our family, you know we love a good road trip. Check out our Revolutionary War Road Trip if you have an interest in history. Normally, we do family style road trips, but this August, our kids were on their own adventures on the Eastern Shore, so my husband and I headed out sans enfants.

We saw a lot of artwork on this trip and this post doesn't contain all of it, but it does highlight some thought-provoking pieces that weren't found in museums. These pieces were memorable, they gave me insight into the artist or creator, they offered a lens through which to view the world, they were works of creation and creativity. 

Are they art?

Let's discuss.

Check out these "historical markers" we spotted in Kingston. 

These markers are scattered around the Hudson Valley region. The artist, Norm Magnusson, has really found a way to catch people's attention and present a viewpoint about the world.

Is it art? Is it a stunt?

Many times, historical markers mention an event without placing the people or consequences into context. I like how these markers prod us to face important, current social events. But as a historian, I also like thinking about how certain events were chosen for those traditional markers and what people and events have been left out.

What historical events should be on markers that aren't?

On to the next piece. This is my husband standing on graffiti highway in Centralia, PA. Back in the 1960s, the town council started a fire to clear out an overfull landfill. The fire caught in an coal mine seam and burned underground. No one seemed to have a way to solve it and the town slowly sunk into disaster. The ground opened up and the fire released toxic gases and collapsed into sinkholes. The town was abandoned and this highway cut off from the main route. Now, people come and spray paint the half-mile stretch.

Some of the graffiti was what you'd expect: lots of penises, lots of rude words, lots of poop emojis. There were also flowers, suns, mushrooms, hearts, seahorses, mermaids and skulls. There were some sweet ones of initialed people promising to love one another forever.

There were contemporary pop culture references. Underneath "Summer of 2017" we were reminded "Winter is Coming." A healthy mix of political messages. There were also inspirational messages like "Even flowers that get stepped on bloom again."

New graffiti overlapped old. I could have taken a million photos.

Of course, as we walked and considered the messages left by visitors who had come by before us, we compared their art to the ancient petroglyphs we observed on the Big Island in Hawaii. Were those petroglyphs viewed like this graffiti? Are they both the work of people trying to make their mark, share their message, create something permanent in a world where things are easily swept aside and forgotten?

The other obvious topic we discussed was "What would you create?" I thought of basics, like a shamrock, or the Hogan family crest. We tossed around the idea of creating an elaborate celtic knot, practicing with spray paint at home to get comfortable with the medium.

Probably, we won't come back and spray paint something, but if we did, I might go the more enigmatic route and leave a single, significant word, like...

"If you made something excellent, would someone just come by and spray paint over it?" my husband asked.

"Yes," I said. "People want to make their own mark."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The License Plate Game

We went on a road trip this month and of course we played the license plate game. We used an app that has very basic features. We have a few upgrades we'd like to add if we ever designed one, including adding the plates for Canadian provinces: Je me souviens!

This app includes DC for a possible 51 plates. Our best day was the last, 33 plates spotted on the drive from HoCo to Pittsburgh. What's your best tally?

Monday, July 10, 2017

How Fit Am I

On a Friday afternoon I decided to test my fitness by doing four simple moves suggested by My Fitness Pal. 

Granted, there's all kinds of fitness. Earlier this summer my kids asked a good question about what makes a good runner: a)someone who runs a fast marathon and wins or b)someone who finishes one marathon and can immediately run another.

Both seem pretty badass to me.

I haven't been running a lot lately, instead I've been doing hour long Cardio/HIIT workouts. I like the change of pace (running pun) and I like improving at strength moves. I'm not really a muscular person, so these workouts are a good challenge.

Even though I'm not running, I can't help challenging myself here and there. When we visit Graham Park in Cranberry, I test my ability to do hanging pull-ups (I can do 1), rows of my full bodyweight (I can do 5), and dips (I can't do 1). I hope to get better at those moves as I workout this summer.

How Fit Am I

The four test moves from My Fitness Pal seem to measure strength, flexibility and cardio fitness. They are:

  • Squat
  • Plank
  • Reverse Push-Up
  • Step Ups

**Disclaimer: I decided to do this very spontaneously and didn't bother changing into cool workout gear. 

Here's the model doing the squat. She's supposed to at least get her hips level with knees, heels on floor, torso not past 45 degrees.

That's me doing the squat. I sort of did it, I think. 


Here's the model doing plank, keeping a water bottle level for at least 20 seconds.

My hips look a tad high in this photo. But it's the second plank I did because my helper didn't take a photo the first time. I did keep the water bottle steady for over 30 seconds.

Reverse Push-Up 

This one was too hard for me to do well. I was supposed to start on the ground and push up and keep my hips level.

I struggled. I didn't have the core or arm strength.

Step Test

This one I thought would be up my alley, but I worried since I haven't been running a lot my cardio would be low. The goal was to keep my heart rate between 90-120, and I wound up with 112.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Signs of the Times

If there is a sign near me, I read it. I know not everyone does, but I do. And in the past two months, I have read some really thought-provoking signs. 

I was at the gynecologist for my annual check-up at the end of May and saw this sign in the waiting room. It's 2017, and my doctor's practice is still telling people they can't use their cell phones. OK, what about my smartphone? What if I'm paying bills? Or adding to my grocery list? Must I only do that on paper? 

I used my smartphone to take this photo, but when they called me, I was still able to hear them. Somehow. 

So mildly irritated from their waiting room sign, I head into the patient room and see THIS sign. This burned me up. Since I'm self-employed I wouldn't qualify for either of these, but I was really irked. If I DID need these, I'd need a doctor to complete the forms. And I'd have to pay extra. What the hell. 

Over Memorial Day, I encountered another sign that dented my faith in humanity. We traveled to Virginia for a soccer tournament and in between games treated ourselves to ice cream. There I spotted THIS sign. I knew there was some terrible reason why the ice cream place stopped giving out tasty treats for good grades, and yes, it was because of adults abusing the program, not kids. Thanks, adults. 

Words matter people. Also on that weekend in Virginia, I saw this sign on a walk around the park hosting the soccer tournament. I loved that the park reminded people the park belongs to them. Care for it. Love it.

Just for laughs. This is a funny sign. Even my vegetarian laughed.

I'm not getting religious, but I always wonder about these kinds of signs. Who puts them up? Why? Are they told to do this in their church? Do they make a bunch and drive around and hang them up? This was near the Starbucks in Breezewood.

This was a sign in Hawaii, on the road to Hana, at the ice cream place where I ordered a fresh coconut. The kids got ice cream. But what we didn't see was a sign that said all the ice cream was DAIRY-FREE. Ooops. Not the best under the sun, so the gong was silent.

Also in Hawaii, but on the Big Island. We thought we were driving to the summit of Mauna Kea. Read the red print in shadow: Children under the age of 14 shouldn't go any higher! Also, no cocktails (=no fun).

More signs making me nervous on Mauna Kea. We did not have Four Wheel Drive. 

This is the BEST SIGN ever to read when driving down the side of a massive volcano. Beware of Invisible Cows. Good heavens. 

This sign entertained my middle son for a long time. We spotted it on our last day on the Big Island, enjoying a last meal at the Lava Lava Lounge. The coconut was still and hot, because it was a sunny day. Later that day it rained all over us, probably because Hawaii was sad when we left. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday last week to my middle son. He's now in double digits and as always, is grabbing life by both hands.

His birthday was an incredible experience for him I hope he will always remember.

First, he made his goalkeeper debut and not only kept a clean sheet for the first half, he faced down two PKs and stopped them! He said his hands were shaking in the gloves, but he also said he saw fear in the other kid's eyes.

Then, we challenged ourselves at IQ Escape and saved the world from Contagion!

Next, we brought his friends back to his house for epic games of Capture the Flag and Mystery Infection Tag and Giant Frisbee. Dad grilled and I managed not to mess up the lovely cupcake and cookie tree arranged by my good friend. He received lots of wonderful presents but most of all his hopes for the party were all fulfilled.

On his actual birthday, we visited Peanut Butter Jelly Time for his dinner. We had a lot of fun trying new takes on an old favorite.

He's really growing up. I can see him managing his frustrations and impatience and utilizing his creativity to think about the world around him.