WILL OUR LIFE VALUES EVER TURN TOPSY-TURVEY?

            Can a modern American achieve true, long-lasting happiness without using material goods like money and possessions to define success? As a friend of mine from Prague asked, “Why do Americans think they NEED 80 flavors of toothpaste?”

            Or are we all simply fat capitalist pigs as Marx seemed to indicate?

            Not I. I discovered quite by accident that I’m a minimalist. A friend was asking me if I planned to attend a massive jewelry sale sponsored by a group we both belonged to. I envisioned room after room, table after table, of glittering, shiny, baubles designed to spotlight my aging throat and mature figure with their wrinkles, spots and flab, and shuddered. Probably the last activity that attracted me would be tracking down pieces of useless jewelry. And to spend money and time on such a quest? Impossible.

            “No,” I answered. “I’m a minimalist. I don’t need any jewelry.”

            Why the term leaped to my mind, I have no idea. But somehow I must have been absorbing the expression through pop culture because it fit with my existing values and approach to life. Since then I’ve realized that I’m not alone in embracing the attitude. Minimalism has been around in art, music and decorating for decades, to indicate a stripped down, perhaps stark, approach to self-expression, but is more recent as a description of lifestyle. Before the trend, of course, many religions valued it, using “simple” as part of their definition. Simple food, simple clothing, simple belongings. Quakers, the Amish and Mennonites, Buddhists and others set their sights on values instead of money, consumerism, and material status.

            Minimalism as a way of life focuses on living with less. This includes less financial burdens for its practitioners, such as debt and unnecessary expenses. Minimalists, not than I know any except myself, support shedding excess stuff and valuing experiences rather than worldly possessions. It’s a method to rid yourself of life’s excess to focus on intangible valuable qualities to bring happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

            In typical American fashion, people now are rushing to expand on, define, advocate and criticism minimalism. The Los Angeles Times reported the average American household has 300,000 items. (I wonder what they counted as an item? Was a package of toilet paper counted as one or eight? A set of dishes one or 16?) Then someone tossed out one-hundred objects as the ideal amount for a minimalist.

            Funny to me that many articles about minimalism stress how much money you’ll save. Seems contradictory—you want to care less about unessentials like money in order to concentrate on destressing, building relationships, working on your personal interests.

            In the final tally, these points are irrelevant to me. I have a handy reason to avoid wasting my time on shopping and a defensible strategy for cleaning out my closets and cupboards. Would you like some recycled books or one of the six bottles of cologne I received at the holidays?

Guest blog: Author LM Spangler

Guest Blog: Author LM Spangler

(Spangler is an author with my new publisher Totally Entwined)

From a young age, I remember burying my nose in a book,  a love that my mother and father passed onto my brother and myself. From my passion for reading sprang my love of writing. My mind is so often full of story ideas from the wildly paranormal to contemporary. I have notebooks lying about with story outlines and character descriptions. A song or TV show can spark an idea which circles my mind until I put the idea on paper.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with my family, burying my nose in a book, and watching a vast variety of television shows from crime dramas to 1970’s game shows. I even dabble in crafting. My favorite craft would be jewelry making. Nothing like creating wearable art.I’m also a graphic artist. You can see my works of art at www.designsbl.wordpress.com.

I live close to the Maryland border in South Central Pennsylvania. My husband is wonderfully supportive of me in all aspects of my life. I have a son who is currently serving our country in the U.S. Navy. My daughter is still in school. I’m blessed to have the three of them in my life.

Buy Links:

Totally Bound: https://www.totallybound.com/book/follow-your-heart

Books 2 Read Universal Buy link: https://books2read.com/u/m2ryJO

Blurb:

She left love behind, but he followed his heart…and her.

Paige Havalland left her career as an attorney in her father’s law firm and the older man she loved for small lake-town living. She thinks love is something she can never have because of her new career. Then Ben shows up at her bed and breakfast, throwing all her preconceived notions about love and life topsy-turvy.

Benjamin Beckett has a plan for a future in the small town of Riverbend, Pennsylvania. The possibility of a new law office and being with the woman he loves calls him from the hustle and bustle of big city living. He’s sure he can reignite the fiery passion he and Paige shared two years before but convincing her that they can overcome her notions about their relationship will be a different story.

This is Paige’s one shot at true happiness. Will she push Ben away or follow her heart to have the life of her dreams?

Excerpt:

“You can’t leave,” he objected.

I sighed. “Why does it matter so much?”

“You know you mean a lot to me, Paige.” Benjamin ‘Ben’ Beckett ran his hand through his silver-toned hair.

“My body is important to you, nothing more than that. My father left me their old house in Riverbend. I’m going to turn it into a bed and breakfast. This law shit has never been for me, I’m not lawyer material.” I faced the window.

The sun had begun to hide behind the horizon, painting the sky in shades of pink, purple, orange and blue. The end-of-the-workday whiskey I sipped burned a path down my throat into my empty stomach.

Ben grabbed me, spun me around and deposited my ass onto my desk.

“What the ……?” I sputtered.

He pulled my skirt up my thighs and stepped between my legs.

I opened my mouth to object to the rough handling but stopped when our gazes collided. Heat smoldered deep in the depths of his blue eyes. “Look,” I said finally. “We had a lot of fun with each other, a lot of great sex. But you knew that was all it could ever be…just sex.”

Who was I kidding? I’d been head over heels in love with the man for three years, but we could never be more than what we were. I wasn’t lawyer material. I never would be. Staying on with the company after my father had passed wasn’t in the cards and I’d known for the last two and a half years that I wouldn’t stay here.

The blue of his eyes deepened in color, something I couldn’t read reflecting back at me.

“Yes. Come to my place tonight,” I murmured between kisses.

Stepping back, he allowed me to slide off the desk and readjust my skirt.

“See you later,” I said over my shoulder.

Author LM Spangler

 

 

Finally, my rose-colored glasses have vanished

bob dylan small

 

 

Music has a remarkable ability to connect a person to memories and emotions. Hearing tunes probably is good for us. Studies say listening to music engages broad neural networks in the brain. Recently I plugged in a CD (yes, I still listen to those) and popped in a Dylan album. I was immediately plunged into a sentimental voyage back to days when wild parties were fun and people’s politics were more important than the size of their bank accounts.

As the CD rolled on, I first became uneasy, then upset. Instead of a shimmery, warm blanket of nostalgia, anxiety welled up. The words were replete with messages, cautions, insights. The memories they resurrected were of marches, demonstrations, agitated arguments. “The Times They Are A-Changing” was the most poignant to me.

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.

Did Dylan really believe his lyrics? Did I? I certainly claimed I did not; even then I was posing as a cynic. But as I hear the song again, and anguish wells up in me, I realize that I never acknowledged I’d been silently hoping all those years ago the times were changing. Now at the distance of decades, I shake my head at my own naiveté.

If anything, we seem to be regressing to much worse earlier times, in which people felt free to say anything they wanted and threaten anyone who didn’t agree with them. In which leaders bragged for taking advantage of those poorer, weaker, more disadvantaged. A period when evil could be implemented with impunity because it was the law, and no one questioned whether the law was good or bad. Robber baron industrialists were touted as heroes. Native American children were exiled to schools that only taught the white man’s history, and many groups of immigrants or ethnicities could only hope for the lowest, most degrading employment.

I thought about the advances I believed our country was making all that long time ago in the 60s and 70s— reducing discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and income; improving the education and health of the general populace; speaking out loud and clear about malevolent practices as we identified them be those environmental, legal, or social. Many of these were driven by Dylan’s insights and expression.

Nowadays, not only are we not treading water or staying even with social change, we’re sinking swiftly into a morass of inhumanity, ineptitude, and immorality, as children die on our borders, families are ejected from homes and jobs, talented students can’t afford to get advanced education, and the grossest tirades and accusations are leveled irrationally by our leaders.

Dylan may be a musical and literary genius. Makes no difference to the validity of his works. It’s time to return to yesteryear, and strengthen our consciences and wills. It’s past time to crack out these protest songs by Bob Dylan and others once again to inspire, enrage, and toughen our resolve. The least we’re required by good sense and conscience to do is be aware of what we’re losing. Perhaps we can resuscitate our collective integrity, pester ourselves to action. Once we do, I’ll decide if I should hunt down another pair of rose-colored glasses so I finally can convert to a full-fledged optimist.

 

On Being a Redhead or Simply Being With One

I just found out that January 10 is Kiss a Ginger Day. In case you don’t know, a “ginger” is someone with red hair. I have two reasons for being interested: I’m working on a short story about my neighborhood, which has an inordinate percentage of redheaded children, and I have two gorgeous ginger grandsons.

Contrary to the old perception of redheads, which was that they had fiery tempers, bad teeth, and were generally less attractive, I always liked red hair of every shade, from strawberry blonde to deep flaming tresses. My first boyfriend in the sixth grade had red hair, the smartest boy in the class. He also had the traditional less-desirable traits: glasses, lots of freckles, and already a nerd at the age of eleven. I imagine he went on to discover a cure for some dreadful disease or head a space research lab.

The prejudice against redheads is in rapid decline. Where once paintings of shifty, evil Judas Iscariot frequently portrayed him with red hair, now we know redheads have higher pain thresholds (although some websites say the opposite) and can manufacture more of their needed Vitamin D. Where once they were thought to be sneaky, now they’re believed to have stronger sex drives (I guess this wasn’t desirable in days gone by), There used to be a Kick a Ginger Day. No more. If you’re cautious with your kisses, in addition to the January 12 kiss-fest, there’s a separate Hug a Ginger Day on February 22. England, France, Sicily, and Italy have national festivals to celebrate their collections.

If you’re a redhead, or you like redheads, you’re in good company. Julianna Moore, Prince Harry, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Reba McEntire, Sean White, Christina Hendricks, Damian Lewis. My very favorite is actor Colin Firth, who once was rejected for a major role because he was “too ginger.” Since that time he usually has dark hair in his films, edging toward gray nowadays. Speaking of gray, redheads tend to skip that stage, retain their red coloring until they turn white. If you wish you were redheaded, a dye job is easy to come by.

When people see my two redheads, I’ve been congratulated, then told stories about their positive traits—individualism, intelligence. So let’s hear it for the gingers. As a tiny percentage of the world’s population they’ve fascinated and frustrated us, tempted and taunted us. As for me, I’ll give my two gingers a big smacking kiss and hug for being the bright, wonderful people they are.

 

ORDERING FROM THE CHILDREN’S MENU: the brain-body connection

Everyone knows this country has an obesity problem. You don’t need statistics like the survey revealing that rates have increased significantly since 1999–2000, when 13.9% of children and 30.5% of adults were obese. In 2015-16, the survey found 18.5% of children hit the target while 39.6 of adults were obese. Rates differed by ethnicity, too, with whites less susceptible, and the higher-income and better-educated folks also less likely to over-indulge. A friend of mine used to chuckle over the stereotypes running rife at “natural foods” stores like Wild Oats and Sprouts, where skinny white women seemed to hold sway.

Fast food comes in for a hefty amount of criticism for its supposedly unhealthy ingredients and large portions. Servings in these establishments have grown parallel with the average body weight of a person from the 70s to now. People tend to eat the complete meal or serving regardless of feeling full or not. We’ve gotten used to larger portions, and we expect them. Common opinions include “I want my money’s worth,” and “We love coming here because the portion sizes are huge.” Most restaurants serve two to three times more than the healthy portion sizes recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

There’s a simple solution, but one not generally supported by the food service industry. Order from the children’s menu. Most menus have a warning that diners must be under ten or twelve to order from the kids’. A few also allow senior citizens to indulge from the list, but many simply prohibit the practice.

Why? Rather than passing laws to ban “unhealthy” snacks in schools, why not insist that restaurants and places where people buy large helpings of food also offer smaller servings and approve ordering food by size rather than age?

Take a look at the average calorie content for McDonald’s children’s meals. A Hamburger Happy Meal clocks in at 475 calories, a 4 piece Chicken McNuggets® Happy Meal at 405 calories, and a 6 piece Chicken McNuggets® Happy Meal at 495 calories. Over at Olive Garden, eaters can easily keep their caloric intake at about 500 to 750 by selecting from the kids’ choices. These are reasonable amounts for many adults to eat, too.

The restaurant industry is generally not supportive of this move. I’ve landed in several major brouhahas with my determined requests to act childish. Well, if the businesses don’t favor this approach, why not cut the average size of a portion by 50% and reduce the price by only one-third?

I remember a Weight Watchers’ leader years ago telling the audience, “You’re the customer. Ask for what you want or take your business elsewhere.” Sounds like good advice to me.