Friday, September 30, 2011

Finding Meaning in Muppets--celebrating Jim Henson

I grew up loving The Muppets, so I was really excited to hear about The Green Album that recently came out by various artists like OK GO, My Morning Jacket, and Weezer, singing famous Muppet songs.  Today I saw this great article (with GREAT videos) by another Muppet fan, Lynne Soraya.  The Muppets did more than just entertain Lynne, they gave her solace from the confusing messages of today's world.  The creator of The Muppets, Jim Henson,'s 75th birthday would have been September 24th, and I cherish these words he left with us: 

'Please watch out for each other,' he says. 'Love everyone and forgive everyone, including yourself. Forgive your anger. Forgive your guilt. Your shame. Your sadness. Embrace and open up your love, your joy, your truth, and most especially your heart.'

To read the full article, click here

Finding Meaning in Muppets

Emotional needs, special interests, adaptation (and Muppets, too)!
In a recent postElaine Hall, the founder of The Miracle Project, wrote about special interests inautism. In it, she wrote about the importance of working with a child's special interests and how these interests may lead to employment in adulthood. I think she's very much on target, but I've learned that a special interest can have deeply positive effects in a person's life, even if it doesn't lead to acareer. Take one of my early special interests - the work of Jim Henson.
Awhile back, while wiling away a Saturday afternoon on YouTube. I came across some clips fromJim Henson's memorial service. As I watched, I was overcome with powerful memories and emotions - especially when viewing a segment called "Jim's Favorite Songs". It started with typical Muppet-type silliness, shocking me into laughter - but somewhere in the midst of it, my emotions swung to the opposite extreme. By the end of the final song, "Just One Person," I was a blubbering mess.
It was a song that always touched me particularly, since Bernadette Peters first performed it on the Muppet Show. I had it on vinyl and I remember listening to it  over and over and over again. When the record warped, I became so upset that my father went to great lengths to figure out how to fix it - a "don't try this at home" operation that, as I remember, involved two panes of glass, a couple of lengths of corrugated, and an oven set on low. Fortunately, it worked.

Watching as these words, so meaningful to me as a young person, were being sung in tribute to Jim, by the very people who DID believe in him, and who worked alongside him to help him achieve his dreams, touched me deeply. At the end of it, I found a touch of my old fixation, coming back. I chastened myself for it. "I'm a grown woman!" I kept thinking, "I've got to shake this."
After catching myself humming the song, yet again, almost two weeks later, I began to wonder - is there something more to this? There were some powerful emotions going on here, but what were they, and why were they there?
Around this time, I stumbled across an article that brought it all together for me. It described the results of a study, which examined the values and themes in popular TV from 1967 through 2007. According to the article, "Researchers found the old shows exalted benevolence, self-acceptance, community and tradition, while modern shows stress fame as the No. 1 value."
Interesting. It got me thinking...was there a connection here?
Over the years, I'd taken a lot of flack for my Muppet obsession. I was seized by Sesame Street, and just wouldn't let go. I bored my peers to death with stories of Bert and Ernie. I was teased, "You're a baby! You're too OLD to like Sesame Street." Then my focus moved to The Muppet Show, slightly more socially acceptable - but still not cutting edge enough for some of my peers.
My peers were into things that were more in line with what the study showed as more popular in "modern" times. They were focusing on fame, dressing up like celebrities - immersing themselves in the glamour of Hollywood and pop music. These were things that only made me feel bad. I didn't see myself becoming famous, and the girly stuff, well, I always felt I struggled with that.
What did I need? Well, I was prone to sadness and discouragement. I struggled to fit in. I'd get down on myself. There were times that my "differentness" got the better of me - and when the dark side of mypersonality came out, that was when I sought out the Muppets. It was an adaptation - an attempt to emotionally "self-correct."
Someone not well versed in subtlety, I needed clear, positive messages to counteract my negative internal ones. In these shows, they weren't hard to find. They came directly, when celebrities like Diana Ross sang:
"You can be what you want to be, learn what you want to learn. Believe in yourself, just believe in yourself. You can try what you need to try. No-one should question why. Believe in yourself, just believe in yourself. Folks might say you're different, that you've gone and lost your senses, but the world is yours to walk in. Go ahead and leap the fences."

And they came via example, when Kermit the Frog got self-reflective orGonzo got down on himself for being different. They'd sing about their sadness, about what they wished they could be...but in the end, they'd always find their way back to self-acceptance.

The world of the Muppets was a world where everyone was welcome - no matter your ethnicity, or background, personality, abilities, or even your species. I needed to believe in a world like that. They made me laugh, they made me cry and they made me smile when smiling was sometimes hard.
My parents indulged my interest in the Muppets. Not particularly big on conformance themselves, they reasoned that as long as it wasn't hurting anyone and it made me happy, then it made them happy. In an effort to connect with me, my father even learned to mimic Kermit's signature "Yaaaaay!" Whenever he wanted to get me pumped up about something, he used his Kermit impression to do it. It worked.

What I learned was far deeper than a career. I learned about living life. About resilience. About coping with pain and sadness, and coming out the other side. All that is represented well in the words of Richard Hunt's eulogy for Jim:

"It's important that we all stop giving ourselves such a hard time. We've got to remind ourselves, and push ourselves, to let go - there's not much we can do except to be, and in being, become aware. See what's going on around you all the time, and allow it to happen: all the sadness, all the joy. And that's why Jim's last words are most important: 'Please watch out for each other,' he says. 'Love everyone and forgive everyone, including yourself. Forgive your anger. Forgive your guilt. Your shame. Your sadness. Embrace and open up your love, your joy, your truth, and most especially your heart.'"
This past week, September 24, would have marked Jim Henson's 75th birthday. He died too young, but his legacy still lives on. It's there in the lives he touched, and the people he inspired. Like me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Biking in Good Company

Found this post on StumbleUpon and thought it was great!  See what many communities are doing to make their roads safer for walking and biking.  With the expansion of TRAX in the Salt Lake And Utah Valleys, wouldn't it be great to have safe and expansive walking and biking paths?  

This post is in partnership with the CLIF Bar 2-Mile Challenge

Spend some time cycling and passion has a tendency to take over. Sometimes that passion is all about the benefits of cycling. Other times it spurs the need to participate in cycling events or to lend a voice to issues that impact cycling, like safe streets and bike paths. Don't believe us? Check out some of these awesome national and state organizations created by ordinary bike enthusiasts just like you who are making a difference in the world.
Chicago cyclists will want to check into Active Transportation Allianceprograms. “We host events like Bike the Drive with tours of the city, pointing out history, parks and architecture along the routes,” says Director of Marketing, Ethan Spotts. “We also push for new facilities and infrastructure on the streets – bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, safer intersections – that get more people biking and walking.” Additionally, ATA fights for (and helps pass) legislation such as Must Stop for Pedestrians. They’re currently doing a big push against distracted driving.
Those needing that extra nudge off the couch and onto a bike need merely listen to Allison Mannos, Urban Strategy Director of Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, speak about cycling’s benefits. “Not only does cycling make you feel better and whole as a person, but you start to see your community more closely,” she says. The organization develops campaigns, programs, resources and events to support bicycling-related advocacy, education, outreach and fun all around Los Angeles County.
In Northern California, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition members have several goals they’re striving towards, including an annual Bike to School Day “Our action plan is to literally connect the city with 100 miles of bikeways,” says Executive Director Leah Shauhm. Events include. Says Shahum, “Our mission is to make sure bicycling is inviting and safe for people of all ages and skill levels.”
Education, outreach and advocacy play a big role in Seattle’s Bicycle Alliance of Washington. Their programs are for all-ages. “In elementary schools we promote safe cycling routes to school and teach the parents of students how to encourage their kids to ride safely,” says Josh Miller, Program Manager for BAW’s Go By Bike Program. “At several universities we’re helping them develop bicycle curricula in their physical education and health programs.” BAW also gets involved with legislation like the Vulnerable User Bill, which increases disciplinary actions for drivers who injure or kill cyclists and pedestrians.
Climate Ride hosts two annual events: a charitable five-day rides from New York City to Washington, DC and another ride from Sacramento to San Francisco. Funds raised support sustainable solutions and environmental causes. “Our participants get to enjoy scenic bicycle rides that celebrate the best of America that you can see on two wheels,” says Climate Ride co-founder and director, Caeli Quinn. “They also have the opportunity to hear important perspectives from respected thought leaders. All of this contributes to an extraordinary event - action, learning and life-changing experiences—all on a gorgeous bike trip.”
As a national, state and local advocacy organization since 1880, theLeague of American Bicyclists has initiated several key programs including the Bicycle Friendly America Program, which promotes bicycle-friendly state, community and business programs. Additionally, they sponsor bicycle and safety education Smart Cycling programs and National Bike Month.
There’s pride in Keith Laughlin’s voice when he speaks about how Rails to Trails Conservancy has converted unused railroad corridors into trails. “When we started [25 years ago] there were only a couple of hundred miles of rail trail, now there are 20,000,” says the RTC president. “It’s amazing to see that what started out as a good idea has become a national movement and it was all done by working with people at local levels.” RTC’s goal for 2020 – that 90% of Americans are living within three miles of a trail system so they can build cycling into their daily lives.
Read more about urban biking in our GOOD Guide to Biking for the Planet.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Strength of the Human Spirit

Found this on the Entertainment Weekly Blog and was inspired as well!  We truly don't know our own strength until we have no choice but to find it.  

Diane Sawyer's Jaycee Dugard interview: A lesson in the strength of the human spirit

When I was a child, my mom told me the story of Jaycee Dugard, the little girl who’d been kidnapped in 1991 on her way to school, as a cautionary tale. And all these years later, following her shocking reappearance in 2009, her story still resonates with me — and many others, I imagine. But now, her story is the ultimate tale of survival.
In her interview with Diane Sawyer that aired last night, the  kidnap-victim-turned-prisoner shocked me with her poise and ability to speak about her harrowing experience. Judging from the interview, I got the impression Sawyer was equally impressed by the composed and well-adjusted woman she was interviewing.
As Dugard detailed everything from her kidnapping to her rescue, she was the picture of strength. She talked about how she stayed one with the world, the secret journal she kept, and the way she tried to make a life for her two daughters despite horrific circumstances.
Prior to watching, I was sure I’d cry through the entire thing. But I didn’t. I found myself simply inspired. Inspired because this woman, who was once, to me, a lesson about the dangers of the world, had turned into a lesson in the strength of the human spirit.
Did you watch last night, PopWatchers? If not, you can watch below.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Watermelon Basil Feta Salad

I found this recipe in my Glamour magazine and decided to try it for a family dinner last week.  It was a hit!  Even the teenagers loved it.  To my surprise the entire bowl was eaten up.  Even I was surprised just how much I loved it!
Chop a quarter of a watermelon, rind and seeds removed, into 1-inch cubes.
Combine the watermelon with 1/2 cup chopped red onions, 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, and 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves.
Dress with balsamic vinaigrette (I used just balsamic vinegar)
Voila!  Serves 8 (I doubled the recipe and it was delicious!)

Pole Dancing for Jesus

Courtesy of the Huffington Post, this will either be the best thing or the worst thing you see all day.  Personally, I think this guy just needs a more fitting costume, a better set and he could be a star! It's like he's killing two birds with one stone--working out his physical AND spiritual self at the same time!  What do you think? 

Pole Dancing For Jesus (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post      First Posted: 9/14/11 04:29 PM ET Updated: 9/14/11 04:31 PM ET
Of all the phenomenons to center around pole dancing, Jesus and gospel music certainly aren't what you'd expect.
But from churches in Texas, to YouTube user MrPhatLips, it seems to be catching on.
Watch as he pole dances to one of his "favorite" gospel songs.

While it's not sexually explicit dancing, it's still stirring up controversy.
Whatever your feelings on the spiritual sensation, the dancer leaves the internet with a positive goodbye.
"I hope you enjoy it and find some comfort in the songs meaning even if you aren't spiritual. :) Bless you and thanks for watching."


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We Need a Dog Over Here!--The Rescue Dogs of 9/11

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since the tragedy of 9/11.  As we take a moment to remember these events, I found this article fascinating and heartwarming, as it details the involvement of rescue dogs at the World Trade Center wreckage and the bond between dogs and humans.  We all need someone to be close to, especially during times of tragedy, and sometimes animals help us  through the grieving process.  Any of you who have animals know the truth of tha!t

The Canine-Human Bond: The Rescue Dogs of 9/11

"We Need a Dog Over Here!"
This post is a response to Remembering the Unacknowledged Victims of the 9/11 Attacksby Toni Bernhard, J.D.
It was about ten minutes before 9 A.M. I was sitting in the kitchen of my apartment on Second Avenue and 69th Street -- finishing my breakfast and watching the local morning news -- when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. My Dalmatian Freddie was sound asleep.
Mike Sheehan, an old-style political reporter for Fox 5 New York, was stationed downtown, covering the mayoral election being held that Tuesday. Suddenly a loud explosion came from behind Sheehan.
The cameraman quickly panned over to the World Trade Center, partially visible in the background. After a few tense moments, Sheehan, who didn't know what had caused the explosion, but who was clearly shaken by it, threw it back to the newsroom.
After a break, the Fox 5 anchors came back with the news: a commuter jet had apparently "lost its bearing," and accidentally crashed into one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.
My first thought was that it hadn't been an accident, that the same terrorists who'd tried to blow up the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in 1992 were back.
I took Freddie out to meet some of his doggie pals for our morning play session, and when I got a few blocks away, I noticed that the traffic on Second Avenue had jammed to a standstill. Police sirens were useless at getting the cars moving, so the cops were driving up on the sidewalks.
"Wow," I thought. "They must be taking this pretty seriously."
Then I learned from a passerby that the other tower had now been hit, and not by commuter jets but by big commercial airliners, and that the Pentagon had also been hit by a jetliner. Whoa...
I took the dogs to the park, and as we played my mind went back to the morning's events. I figured that a couple of the floors of the World Trade Center might've been damaged, and that some people in those offices may have been injured, but that it would all be cleaned up pretty quickly.
On the way back I saw dozens of people gathering around a nail salon, with a television mounted on the back wall. The images on the screen showed the slow-motion collapse of one of the towers. My knees buckled, and I finally felt the seriousness of what had happened.
Like most of us, I was glued to the TV for the rest of the day. Finally, at about 6 in the evening, I took Freddie out for his evening walk.
We saw two long, very long lines of people -- many of them covered in a coating of gray dust -- walking almost single file, plodding along, all headed uptown. The city's subway trains and buses were out of service; so were the taxi-cabs. These poor souls had had to walk all the way from the lowest reaches of Manhattan to the Upper East Side, Harlem, and beyond. They seemed to either be in shock, or just dead tired, or both.
That's my personal recollection of 9/11/2001.
Then came the rescue efforts, the media coverage, endless footage of the dust clouds, fiery slo-mo plane crashes, the constant news reports, etc.
About three weeks later, most of the 350+ search-and-rescue dogs who'd been working at Ground Zero were sent home. As one press release put it: "The mettle shown by these dogs and their human halves has affected the world in a way that should not be underestimated.'"
My area of expertise is solving behavioral problems in pet dogs. So I have no first-hand knowledge of the hard work and sacrifice those dogs put in at Ground Zero. But here are some heartfelt comments made by some of the people who did work with those amazing animals. [1]
"There is nothing that can replace the precision of a dog's nose -- andabsolutely nothing that can replace the steadfast nature of a dog's heart."-- Bob Sessions, FEMA rescue worker

Dog and Rescue Worker (Wearing Mask)

"The site is very difficult for the dogs. They're crawling on their bellies and squeezing through things. It's incredible to watch." -- Sharon Gattas, Riverside Urban Search and Rescue
"They will search endlessly for that scent until they are called off." -- Lori Mohr, National Disaster Search Dog Foundation
"All they really want to do is work hard and love you. How can that not raise the human spirit in us all?" -- Gerald Lauber, Suffolk County SPCA

Rescue Dog Being Sent Out On an Assignment
"Some rescue workers couldn't take it anymore. They asked to play fetch with Thunder. But then they'd sneak off in a corner to just be with Thunder, or maybe to talk with him." -- Bob Sessions, FEMA
"They may not cry to their fellow firemen or police, but somehow they open up to the dogs." -- Laura LoPresti, Monroe, MO

John Patrick and "Guese" take a minute to reflect.

"These dogs have been trained to pick up on people they perceive as being in a state of trauma. So they've been visiting a lot of firemen, police, and cleanup detail." -- Anonymous

"He kind of withdrew from everything," said Mike Owens, Southwestern Ohio K-9 Search and Rescue, speaking about his partner Whorf (below)."There was so much death there, it was emotional for the dogs."

Mike Owens & His Dog Whorf

"Whorf" located the bodies of two missing firefighters on the first day. Overwhelmed, he lay down and curled up on the spot. He began shedding profusely, quit eating and refused to play with other dogs.
"Morale is important... So we set up a scenario that the dog can win at. We used a New York firefighter. He hid amongst a little bit of rubble, and we sent her on a search. She finds the firefighter. He plays with her real good. She's real happy, and she's ready to go to work again." -- Mark Bogush
"The dog seeks a live person in hopes the survivor will play with him. If he's not finding a live person, there is no one to play with. So when I get home at night, I send my 12-year-old son to hide in the woods. Then Jax finds him and they play tug of war with a towel." -- Tom Fahy

"He was a great, big guy, and he was just bawling. He was crying like a baby. He couldn't talk, but he mouthed the words: 'Thank you,' and 'thank the dog.'" -- Louis Wardoup, volunteer, describing how his dog Insee unearthed the hand of a firefighter buried under the rubble.
"One of the things, the handler told us, that really yanked on his emotions was the gift he and his dog Ranger received from a child. The gift was a small ziplock bag with two dog biscuits and two Hershey kisses inside, with a note printed by the child that said, 'Lassie would be so proud of you.'" -- Terri Crisp, Director, Emergency Animal Rescue Service
New Yorkers felt an emotional bond with one another after the attacks. In fact, all Americans, and even people from countries around the world felt that connection. "We are all New Yorkers now" was a phrase often heard.
Many people were also traumatized by these events. Some sought counseling, others turned to drugs and alcohol or began overindulging in "comfort foods." As Laura LoPresti, one of the people quoted above says, "Just petting a dog provides comfort to those who need it."
Not surprisingly, dog ownership began to increase in the years following 9/11, so much so that some in the industry have called it an "explosion." That's because dogs may not know much about international politics or man's inhumanity to man. But they do know how to guard us, protect us, make us smile, and comfort us with their presence and their wagging tails.
"We need a dog over here!" -- call for help often heard at the WTC site.
Ten years later and some of us still need a dog over here.