The Deeper Business of Being Beautiful Inside

4 Mar

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.11.10 PMIn a moving speech given prior to her Oscar win for supporting actress, Lupita Nyong’o encouraged women to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

It’s a simple but difficult proposition.

In the same Oscar ceremony where Nyong’o won her award, 81-year-old actress Kim Novak also appeared–noticeably and disturbingly altered by plastic surgery.

What a contrast. I was named after Kim Novak, so I’ve always paid attention to her over the years. It’s sad that she felt she had to go to such lengths.

Why can’t an 81-year-old woman look 81? Grandmas rock. I always thought my grandmothers and older aunties were cool, even if they wore funny teased-up hairdos and cat-eye glasses with rhinestones. They made excellent peanut butter cookies, smoked Salem cigarettes, and ate Chinese food. Their skin was soft and pale–protected from the sun because it was a sign of poverty to have so much color on your face. By night, they wore Pond’s cold cream, and by day they wore little to no makeup. Well, maybe a little bit of lipstick.

It was a shock to see Novak’s face, but why? There’s an expectation that women will look young for as long as we can. With many women my age, it starts off with Botox or collagen injections. Mouths go from normal-looking to Joker-esque. Courteney Cox, Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz, et al. And it just gets stranger-looking from there. Joan Rivers and Madonna–why? Looking one’s age is better than looking like someone else–or like a puffed-up doll.

I read today that Kim Novak was criticized from a young age and began altering her look long before preparing for last night’s Oscars. Even during the era of Bell, Book, and Candle and Vertigo? What a shame.

I remember when I was a teenager looking at myself in the mirror and not liking what I saw. At the time, I pretty much felt like an ugly duckling and looked nothing like Kim Novak in the movies. I don’t think I started liking what I saw until I was in my late 30s. I regret not appreciating even little things about myself, inside and out, much earlier.

Now, it’s fine. I am content with what I see and who I am. There are scars, lines, and wrinkles on my face. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. I have light skin, freckles, a noticeable nose, larger than I would like pores, and a stripe of silver hair in my center part. I procrastinate and indulge my children more than I should. So what?

If I saw something different, it would be a lesser version of me. Why go to all the trouble of changing what it took so long to earn? I don’t want to go back to my 20s or look like I could be 20. Why not go forward?

A natural face at any age is more beautiful than plastic. And Nyong’o is right: it’s inner beauty that makes for happiness. We need more Betty White than Kim Novak.

Influenza Wang-Dang-Doodle

18 Dec

This week I’ve had the flu, and it’s given me new perspective on living without it.

Currently on Day#5 of a Super-Fun Flu Saga, I cannot remember being this immobilized since I was sick as a child. It’s brought back some memories. I was sick with strep throat and other childhood variety ailments more than once during the week before Christmas.

Unfortunately for my parents, I was a sleepwalker when feverish. My routine included wandering around the house like a zombie at the height of my fever (usually 2-4 am) and waking up Mom in my delirium, saying overly creative things. It freaked her out, so she tapped me (gently) on my cheeks to get my attention and wake me up.

Good thing I don’t do that anymore.

Here are some of the unique benefits to having the flu as an adult:

  1. Koko Taylor Voice. Either I have no voice at all, or I sound like the now-deceased blues singer Koko Taylor. She has taken up residence in my vocal cords and is experiencing new life every time I open my mouth. While I appreciate the concept of temporarily channeling the elderly African American “Queen of the Blues,” I would like for her to move on to another host right about now. I’m tired of pitching a wang-dang-doodle, all night long or for any other imaginable length of time.
  2. Going back to old-school food basics. Green or chamomile tea with lemon, OJ or Emergen-C, oatmeal, chicken broth, crackers, ice-cold water with lemon and 2 ibuprofen, cough syrup, REPEAT. This is my routine. These are the only things that taste good. I will probably not eat any of the foods again for quite some time after this is said and done. And while I do clearly have the flu, by God I sure won’t be getting scurvy anytime soon. I’m going through two lemons per day on this diet. And I have lost weight but would not recommend the approach to anyone.
  3. Plenty of time for TV-watching, random videos, and reading. I don’t tend to watch much TV, so the allure is not there, but I have been sucked into the same “dog and cat video vortex” that seems to grab my daughter at least 99 times per day. Titles like “Watch boxer and kitten play together” and “See boxers getting into mischief” have enticed me more than I’d like to admit. And while I have enjoyed reading more of James Herriot’s stories about being a young vet in the English countryside, I can only do this for so long. It’s maddening to be so bored but to have little energy to do anything else. Despite my husband’s warnings of “Don’t you dare do any work today,” I have snuck in a fair amount of it because it keeps me from feeling so idle.
  4. New use for exercise wear and off-season clothes. It’s not very comfortable sleeping with a fever. People tend to think that sick folks get a lot of rest, but the rest is not restful, and it’s not what I would call “a good night’s sleep.” Body aches make me toss and turn, and the coughing fits wake me in the middle of the night. Probably worse is having a dream that I’ve been caught in a warm rainstorm and am for some reason laying in the puddles–except the rainstorm is from my fever and the puddles are my bed. That’s where wicking exercise-wear and summertime tank tops and shorts come in. Normally at this time of year I’m cold, but not so thanks to high body temps brought on by the flu. I’ve been riding at 100 for the past few days, and it dropped to 99.5 this morning. So we are making progress.

I’m really going to be thankful when everything is back to normal, without the flu wang-dang-doodle. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate my husband’s patience and caregiving.

And one final note: Please, people…get your flu shots. It’s so worth it. I didn’t get mine, which I greatly regret.

Memories of the Hawaiian Room and Outer Space

23 Nov
Image courtesy of bulldogz at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of bulldogz at freedigitalphotos.net

My uncle Barney Barnes just passed away. He was 82 years old, extremely intelligent, and a unique individual. I know that his widow and my Dad’s eldest sister, Aunt June, misses him greatly, as does my cousin Greg Ratcliff, who was greatly inspired by Barney in scientific ways.

I did not know Uncle Barney all that well into his later years, which I regret. But I do have vivid memories of time spent with him and my dad’s eldest sister, my Aunt June, when I was young. Here are some of them:

THE HAWAIIAN ROOM

When it came to visiting relatives’ houses, Aunt June and Uncle Barney’s mid-century modern home in east Columbus, Ohio was hands-down THE BEST. I’m confident that my brother Kirk and many cousins would agree.

June and Barney did not have any kids, so they were extraordinarily patient with their many nieces and nephews, but the key attraction in visiting them was their back room. One step down from the kitchen, this room was decorated entirely in a Hawaiian theme: tiki hut bar, palm tree, waterfall, and a lot of plants. I don’t remember whether or not the plants were real, but the palm tree was not. It didn’t matter.

For a young child, this room was 100% fascination and playground for me and my cousins. We served each other “drinks” from the tiki hut, rearranged the water flow in the waterfall (which I don’t think we were supposed to do), and pretended to be in, of course, Hawaii. I wish I could see that room today, but the house was sold long ago.

PROFESSIONAL ROLE MODELS

Both June and Barney were professionals–rare role models for me as a youngster.  They worked in engineering at North American Aviation/Rockwell International, and June went on to pursue a creative career as a photographer (my brother and I appeared as child models in many Christian Sunday school collateral).

Uncle Barney, notably, designed many missiles for Rockwell and then Boeing. I remember going to company parties at the Rockwell Park and receiving models of the Space Shuttle that they helped to architect. This was exciting–to have a relative playing a role in the company making the next generation of space exploration in the 1970s and 1980s. It made an early impression on me seeing my uncle’s use of his mind to create things, and this exposure in part inspired my desire  go to college and have a professional career. Uncle Barney was curious–and I absorbed a small part of his considerable spark.

THE INTERNET

In 1990, I went to Atlanta to visit Aunt June and Uncle Barney when I was a senior in college. They relocated there in the early 1980s when Rockwell was bought by Boeing. I remember sitting with Uncle Barney at his desk while he showed me a unique new thing: the Internet.

Barney demonstrated how he and his defense contractor colleagues shared “instantaneous”  messages through this new technology. It took longer to push things through the tubes then, but this was my very first look at the Internet, introduced by my technologically advanced Uncle Barney. I thought it was pretty cool, and since then I’ve sent and received about a million emails.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Barney. Your star is still shining brightly in our memories.

American Education: Being Number 1

31 Aug
Image

Image courtesy of Photokanok / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As millions of American schoolchildren head back to class, they carry on their shoulders a heavy weight–and they don’t even know it.

Despite our collective and constant sense of being “Number 1″ in every way, America is far from it in education. Both anecdotal and quantifiable evidence tell us this: America has fallen behind our worldwide peers in the race to be the best and the brightest.

It’s not a big leap to look at this reality and see how it impacts us from an economic and political perspective. This should be a wake up call for American parents and students. Here’s a story about jobs being off-shored because American workers were not skilled enough to fill them–a sad testament to our reality.

We are no longer the “smartest” country in the world. Not only that—we’re often not in the top 20. According to one of the most widely respected comparisons provided through PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment), we are 31st in math, 23rd in science, and 17th in reading. We may feel like Number 1, but we are not. (For a deeper look at 2009 PISA scores for reading, math, and science across all countries, see here.)

Here’s an important question: How badly do Americans want to be (and not just have the illusion of being) Number 1?

From my own experience, not badly enough. American students have sadly become smart enough to get by. I did it myself in high school, I have seen one of my children trying to do this (and not get away with it because my husband and I won’t let it pass), and I know that it happens for friends and other family members’ kids.

Teaching graduate-level classes at The Ohio State University, I work with students who operate at a high level of personal expectation and performance. Their dedication is infectious across the board. But this week I had separate conversations with three mainland Chinese students in my classes that really left an impression on me. Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, these students bring a work ethic and desire to succeed that American students don’t always have. They are hungry to learn.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that my American students are not hungry to learn. On the contrary, I’ve been lucky to work with highly motivated individuals. But across the general middle school, high school, and college-aged population of American students and parents, I do believe there is an element of taking education and achievement for granted. There’s a spirit of “We’ve always done well, so we always will.” This is dangerous thinking.

I don’t think that we want this badly enough–and we often don’t know what it will take to get back to being Number 1. For middle-class families, we are satisfied to get by, meanwhile spending more time on legitimate but less impactful leisure interests like sports and video games. For poor families, who have far less time to provide support to children’s education, we lower our educational expectations and provide little or no support to neutralize the effects of poverty. And for the “1%”–there’s little incentive since success can be purchased rather than earned through hard work.

Although this information is not new, too many American parents and students refuse to believe it. Or do anything about it. What will it take for us to be Number 1 again? The big shift is to make educational excellence a personal, family, and community priority. Here are some steps to get there:

  1. Set high expectations and hold ourselves to them. For example, I have one child who works hard for As–and earns them. I have another child that doesn’t work hard for As. I push each of them differently. The first needs support and encouragement to build confidence. And the second needs a cattle prod to go beyond “good enough”–and also build self-discipline for future performance.
  2. Pay attention to the new Common Core State Standards and support our students and schools to exceed them. The standards describe what students need to know and be able to do based on not random desires but the needs of businesses–our kids’ future employers. Their development and implementation has spanned the Bush and Obama administrations. The standards are about American economic livelihood–not politics. Don’t get sucked into extremist rhetoric that politicizes these common-sense expectations that will build our children’s and nation’s futures.
  3. Follow through on the promises we make to the next generation. This means doing what it takes educationally to compete in a global economy where the game has clearly changed. Being educated is not elitist. It is not uncool. It is above all a practical necessity in today’s world. As parents, at a minimum we need to push our students to study things we never had to–because this is what will get them to OUR standard of living–and then they must go beyond because this is what it will take to get us to Number 1 again.

What’s the lesson? Here’s a quote from The Economist that speaks volumes:

A big message is that national culture matters more than the structure of an education system. So the main lesson for policymakers may be to put education at the forefront of the story a nation tells about itself. Countries which do that with conviction and consistency can leapfrog the complacent. Outcomes can change rapidly: many students in the Asian “super league” countries have grandparents who are barely literate. Israel has also leapt up in maths and reading. Rankings and data do not tell the whole story. But they provide a useful spur.

When the Tween Has Outgrown the Teen (and everyone else)

24 Aug
Boy giant and his big sister

Boy giant and his big sister

We are now a household with a 12-year-old who is larger than the rest of us. No one else is bothered by it, but his 16-year-old sister is not in favor of this new development.

“Why couldn’t he just stay small?” she complains. “I liked him better when he was little and had those cute cheeks.” When he was a baby, she called him “Pillow Cheeks Cheeto Face.” I’m not sure why she added the “Cheeto Face” part, but it was his nickname for a long time.

Now, the cheeks are all but gone, having been stretched into a much longer, more grown-up-looking mug. He bears an alarmingly close resemblance to my dad circa his HS senior photo, including the super-sized eyebrows to match. And all of a sudden he has very particular fashion choices, only wanting to buy A&F jeans and athletic wear from a ridiculously expensive place called CHAMPS. He has entire color-coordinated ensembles by the famous designer Kobe Bryant in color-blocked schemes alarmingly reminiscent of the 90s men’s fashion that I have already once lived through.

Every time I come back from even an overnight trip he looks different. His legs are long and knobby-kneed, he wears a men’s size 11 shoe, and he’s in men’s medium shirts and young men’s jeans. There is a hint of facial hair. The doctor tells us that he will likely be 6 foot 5–a regular Jolly Green Giant compared to the rest of us. Good thing he plays basketball.

Curious onlookers have started asking: “Where does that height come from?” True enough, the gene for height clearly did not manifest for either of the boy’s parents. But our families both have it. My maternal grandmother’s father and her husband’s father were German (one of them living in Columbus’ German Village). For this reason, my mother is taller than my father, and my brother is 6 foot 5. My husband’s mother’s family is from Denmark and Poland three generations ago, with the result for his generation being that two of his sisters are taller than him.

This family history is a source of great disappointment to my 16-year-old girl, who bemoans her “fun size.” She complains, “Mom, it’s not fair. I’m not even as tall as you.” True, she is only 5 foot 2, but she won out in other ways as a result of heredity.

The lottery of genes has winners in different ways with both of them. In my daughter’s favor are a natural toughness and no-nonsense attitude, which serve her well in keeping her brother in his place. She hits hard, and my son knows it, so it’s quite amusing to see how she coerces him into doing what she wants. Even without the height. She can be very intimidating.

Often, my son will play the “I’m still the baby card,” and ask her to get him a glass of “ice-cold water.” This is pretty ridiculous coming from such a large person, as well as a 12-year-old, and she understandably laughs and tells him to “go get it yourself, dumbo.” At other times, she manipulates him by not letting him eat–an artful use of the carrot approach that works quite well with him at this stage (and probably for another 10 years at least). “No, you can’t have the donuts. I have them locked in the car,” she declares. Pretty good, especially when she hides the keys from him.

Ahhh, siblings. It’s fun as a parent to sit back and watch them work out their differences, being themselves, and growing up together–even if “up” no longer means height for the one.

The Unlikely Boxer

11 Aug
Image

Image courtesy of John Kasawa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Three weeks ago, I tried a boxing class with my daughter at Title Boxing Club. My motivation was this:

Curiosity and FREE CLASS!

Long story short:

  1. I felt like I was going to die at least 10 times during this first session. Not just out of breath dying–I mean actually losing consciousness, possibly for an extended period of time. KO style, without anyone actually being there to knock me out.
  2. I found it strangely therapeutic to focus on the technique of straight punches, upper cuts, jabs, and hooks.
  3. After the class I signed us up for monthly membership because we felt so good.
  4. And now we are going 3x per week. This is the minimum as prescribed by my husband, who knows my history with exercise and doubts that this time will be any different. So far, he is wrong. So there.

Admittedly, I’m not the last person in the world you’d expect to be interested. While in grad school, I was very involved in a Tae Kwon Do club, but I never kept up with it after I graduated. The thrill only lasts so long. I get bored. But the difference with this boxing thing is that every class is taught by someone else–people with exotic names like Mondo, Seamus, and Adli–and it seems that even with the same instructor every class is somewhat different.

So it’s keeping my interest for the moment. Is it a coincidence that I have been less angry lately? Probably not. As my boss, who also has been doing these classes, pointed out: “It’s bad-a$$.”

It is safe to say that I’m not a motivated exercise type of person. It all sounds good in concept, but my general preference is to sit this one (and every other one) out. This year, I signed up as a Virtual Rider for Pelotonia–a perfect solution for my laid-back (lazy?) personality type.

So far, the boxing is well beyond virtual for me. We did a kickboxing class with an instructor named Reggie a couple of days ago, and it took me back to my Tae Kwon Do days. I can actually feel muscles in my legs again for the first time in years. The full-body and combined cardio/strengthening benefits also came back to me. It felt good to explain to my daughter proper kicking techniques….which I do remember.

And another first for me: Reggie had us doing sit-ups, while holding weight balls. I actually did 50 sit-ups. This is not something that I would ever do on my own. In fact, I can say with complete assurance that it’s the first time I’ve EVER done 50 sit-ups,  let alone while holding a weight, so thanks to Reggie for making all of us push through.

Added bonus to all of this: I get to spend some quality time with my teenage daughter, who’s also enjoying the experience and doesn’t seem to be too embarrassed by me so far. We laugh together, at our own lameness and at the other “boxers” who get overly pumped up and make funny noises while they do their thing.

I’m no Rocky, but I’m ready for the next round!

French Lesson

10 Aug
Image

Image courtesy of num_skyman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I sit here on the back porch on a beautiful morning, enjoying my tankard of strong coffee and yogurt with fruit and granola, I’m appreciating the simpler things in life. Less is more in most cases, especially when it comes to food.

Some of this I learned while living with a family in southwestern France as an au pair, back in the Pleistocene Age (1989). Here’s why my breakfast made me think of this:

Plain yogurt is better than any other yogurt. Why?

There are no extra ingredients.

It is tart, has a lovely texture, and 100% real. The flavor is even better if left to sit close to room temperature. (Most Americans find this gross, but in France it is quite normal.)

Mountain High, Fage, or Stonyfield are my personal preferences. We buy the giant containers and use them up. Because it’s an Ohio company and because the milk is extraordinary, I want to also try Snowville Creamery’s plain yogurt.

And forget the 0% fat. For a dessert yogurt or a special treat, go for full fat…it’s the good kind so nothing to feel bad about. And for everyday use, 2% is fine unless you really need to shed pounds.

I always substitute plain yogurt for anytime sour cream is required (with burritos or tacos, gazpacho, baked potatoes). The flavor is better, and you get more goodness out of the experience because of the live and active cultures, or probiotics.

Especially interesting to point out that I learned this NOT while in the notoriously liberal Paris, but while living in an area of France well-known for its political, cultural, and culinary traditionalism. The family I lived with supported Jean-Marie Le Pen, an ultra-conservative politician whose daughter is following in his footsteps. (Note that I did not share the family’s positive opinion of Le Pen!)

My family in France earned their living through veal farming (the famous black and white “Limousin” cows named for the region) and a small factory that made animal food. But unlike many American farmers, they did not support the use of small pens or antibiotics. They never used them and would not consider it because they found both practices fundamentally wrong, in keeping with their traditional views on farming practice and healthy eating. I received regular lectures from my family about the negatives of antibiotics and why eating such tainted meat was unthinkable “en France.”

So that’s my take on being simple, brought to you by my breakfast and my memories of simple living in France.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers