Monday, October 31, 2011

An App for Stress?

This is the low-tech version of the app.
            Feeling stressed? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that.

If you have an iPhone, a Blackberry or an Android, you can download a new app from MyBrainSolutions called MyCalmBeat that will teach you how to reduce stress by slowing your breathing.

            People who meditate regularly instinctively use a slow breathing technique to help them get into a relaxed state. For those of us who do not meditate regularly, the MyCalmBeat app can help us tune into our bodies. Since I only realize that I’ve reached stress tolerance levels when I’m crying in the ladies’ room at work or guillotine-ing someone’s head with my sharp tongue, I would probably find this helpful.

MyCalmBeat comes with a heart monitor that clips to the user’s ear, and a set of animated how-to-breath-your-way-to-reduced-stress instructions.  Using the app just 3 times a week for 10 minutes each is reported to help the user become master of his breathing, which in turn leads to a reduction in stress. Wouldn’t you love to feel that anxiety, nervous tension, and stress melt away with only the effort it takes to breathe? It sounds wonderful. Maybe someone clever will come up with an app that helps you melt pounds the same way.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Grayson High vs. Brookwood High: The Battle of the Videos


            I love to see local high schools competing in friendly rivalries. The class of 2012, born grasping iPhones in their little hands, has used technology to take friendly competition to the Cloud.

Last week, Grayson High School students released a video on YouTube called “Brookwood Where You At?” The video is of professional quality and is clean and funny, unless you happen to be a senior at Brookwood High School this year. Yup, Alex was not amused and neither were his friends.

Brookwood’s response hit YouTube on Wednesday. “Grayson Step Your Game Up” was an instant hit. Fox5 News in Atlanta picked up the story of the rivalry, and a clip of Alex and his friends was on TV all day yesterday. How cool is that?

Friday night lights click on at 8PM tonight. We wait anxiously to see whether Brookwood, last year’s state champs, or Grayson, currently ranked 6th nationally, will win the big game. It’s going to be a nail-biter!

Grayson High School’s “Brookwood Where You At?”

Brookwood High School’s “Grayson Step Your Game Up”

Both videos are for sale on iTunes.
All proceeds will be donated to Relay for Life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Roughing It" at the world's finest hotels

            Camping? You’re kidding, right? My idea of “roughing it” is when the hotel I’m staying in doesn’t leave a mint on my pillow when they do turn-down service. I appreciate the finer things in life, OK?

My favorite hotel is the Lanesborough in London, where each room comes equipped with a personal butler. Walter unpacked and pressed my clothes, ran the water for my bath, and brought me ice and crystal goblets for my Diet Coke. It doesn’t get better than that.

Lest you conclude that I am independently wealthy, I must admit that my mom got a super travel-agent deal that allowed us to stay there on our annual girls’ trip. I’ve been back to London several times since then, and have had to stay in hotels I could actually afford. Needless to say, I have more than a nodding acquaintance with the Holiday Inn chain.

Recently, Affinia hotels decided to offer customers not just good service, but personalized good service.  Every employee has been trained to read body language. Tug at your ear while you’re checking in, and an employee will recognize that gesture as anxiety. He or she will then be able to do whatever is necessary to make you feel comfortable at the hotel. You might be given a fast-track pass to your room, or offered a yoga kit and a therapeutic pillow to help you relax. If you initiate eye contact with an Affinia employee, he or she will view that as an invitation to speak to you. Your service is personalized, custom-made just for you.

            I’d really like to see if this personalized service is all it’s cracked up to be. Will they be able to tell that I'm just not comfortable if there's no mint on the pillow?

            So Mom, how about arranging a trip for us to an Affinia hotel in New York, Chicago, or Washington?

            I’ll start packing.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wreck and the Pit Bull

            “Hey, Wreck. Want to go for a ride in the car?”

            Wreck knows his name now and he recognizes the phrase “ride in the car.” He doesn’t much care where we’re going; for Wreck, the journey is enough.

            We drove up into the North Georgia Mountains yesterday and stopped at Tallulah Gorge State Park. We weren’t going hiking because, well, I don’t hike. I’ll tramp from one end of Manhattan to the other, climb the Great Wall of China, and get lost shopping in Seoul’s twisty little markets, but I don’t hike. Taking in all that nature – the bugs, the dirt, the pollen? That is so not my style.

            But I will go for a walk with Wreck. As a matter of fact, we walk every day. Yes, outside. He likes it, and that’s enough for me.

Are we having fun yet?
            So Chris and Wreck and I got out of the car and “took a walk” through the woods. We scrambled up the mountain and slid back down the rocky slopes. We gawked at the beauty of Tallulah Falls, and took in the gorgeous fall colors of the leaves. I have to admit that it was very pleasant.

            There were some obstacles we had to work around, though. The park was busy and a lot of people had decided to take their own dogs for a walk. Wreck doesn’t like other dogs, to put it mildly.

            Wreck’s dislike of other dogs may be a result of the neglect he suffered for the first year of his life. He was left alone outside, where he had to defend himself against anything that wandered into the yard – dogs, cats, squirrels, possums, hawks, and the like. He grew very fierce.

            It’s hard to picture a 10-pound white poodle as a vicious beast, isn’t it? I swear, the pit bull he went after grinned. What the pit bull didn’t realize was that Wreck actually would have gone for her jugular – or her ankles, anyway – if he hadn’t been firmly attached to a leash.

            Wreck confronts his fears head-on. There’s something to be said for that. But maybe one day, given time and love, he won’t be so afraid any more. That would be nice for Wreck and me, and safer for pit bulls everywhere.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Man Flu: A Horror Story

            Ladies, does your man lie on the sofa and moan pathetically when he’s sick?  Do you dread hearing your sons sneeze or cough because they might be coming down with a cold? Do you immediately try to figure out what you can reschedule at work because you know you’re going to be stuck at home for three days bringing them juice, homemade chicken soup, and Tylenol?

            Women will refuse to go to the doctor until they’re dying (“I have pneumonia? I didn’t feel that bad when I was teaching today.”) Men are much more in touch with the suffering and agony they experience from common cold symptoms ( I…AM…SICK!)

            Dr. Mom really has no choice but to put up with the drama that male illness brings. She starts out sympathetic, but after some time she finds herself wanting to stop his suffering by placing a pillow over his face and pressing down hard. It’s difficult enough to deal with a sick man when you know that he’s really sick, but what do you do when he’s faking it?

            A survey of 2000 women in England indicates that 20% of them believe that there is actually an illness called “Man Flu.” Yes, one in five women believes that this illness, which strikes only during March Madness and Sunday afternoon football games, is a serious medical condition. The only thing a man can do when he has “Man Flu” is to lie on the couch and watch whatever sporting event happens to be on television.

            Now ladies, WAKE UP! You do not have to bring your man a cold beer and a bag of pretzels when he has the “Man Flu.” He is perfectly capable of getting them for himself during a commercial. That’s because he's not really sick!

So the next time you think he’s going to have “Man Flu” – and you can predict outbreaks of this flu by looking at the TV guide – try to get to the couch before him. Flop down, stretch out, and in a weak voice ask him to bring you a beer and some pretzels. Turning the tables on him is a time-honored female strategy that often gets us what we want. He might get the point, and, at the very least, you’ll get a cold brew and a comfortable spot in which to watch the game.

“Man Flu?” Give me a break!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Turtle Bites and Other Common Injuries

            How many of you have had to seek medical treatment for a turtle bite? Don’t be shy. There’s no shame in admitting that you were bitten by a turtle. Hmm, no hands are waving in the air.

Well then, how many of you have had to seek medical treatment because you were struck by a turtle? Now you just look puzzled. You’re trying to figure out exactly how a turtle might strike a person, and how it could possibly deliver such a vicious blow that it would land a person in the hospital. The only thing I can imagine is that the turtle in question had mutated while living in the sewer and now calls himself Leonardo, Rafael, Michelangelo, or Donatello. Those turtles tend to be pretty tough when they get to be teenagers, and they’re experts in the martial arts.
But in the unlikely event that you do happen to get bitten or struck by a turtle and you find yourself in the emergency room, you don’t have to worry about a thing. Starting in October 2013, Obama-care will have you covered. Today, doctors have to make do with a mere 18,000 codes to inform the insurance company of your diagnosis. In 2013, doctors will have 140,000 to choose from! I bet doctors love that. OK, you’re right. I bet doctors hate that.

Anyway, two of the 140,000 codes are “bitten by a turtle” and “struck by a turtle.” No, I’m not making that up. There are also 71 specific codes for injury by bird, depending on the type of injury and the kind of bird you’ve run afowl…excuse me…afoul of. (Do you suppose there’s a code for injury by bad pun? I hope they’ve thought of that one.)

           So are you looking forward to the implementation of Obama-care as much as my doctor and I are? Making a complex system even more outrageously complex is one of the few things the federal government does well. I sure hope I don’t get sick in 2013. Of course, if I get struck by a turtle, that’s a different story.

Monday, October 17, 2011

But I don't want to buy a new car....

            “You’re a strange one, Vicki.”

            “Gee, thanks. What’s so strange about not wanting to buy a new car?”

            “You drive a ‘ghettomobile’ and you’re asking why it’s strange not to want a new car?”

            “I like my van. We’ve spent a lot of time together.”

            “It’s time to let it go.” Chris patted my hand. I would think that he was showing me sympathy, except I knew better. He was on a mission.

            “We can just get it fixed,” I suggested.

            “If you had all the money you’ve spent in the last year getting the van fixed, you could have paid off a new car already. The mechanic wants $1800 to fix this latest problem. Do you really plan to spend that much on a 10-year-old van?”

            I hate it when he uses logic on me when I’m being emotional. I stuck out my tongue at him.

            “Besides, you get like...10 miles per gallon?”

            “No,” I answered forcefully. “I get nearly 15 miles per gallon.”

            He nodded. “I can see why you wouldn’t want to get rid of it, then.”

            Sarcasm now. I rolled my eyes.

            “I suppose you like the mustard yellow liquid that drips onto the passenger seat, too.” He was going for the jugular now. I felt…pain.

            I had to be honest, though. I really did not appreciate the whatever-it-was that was leaking into the passenger side of the van. “Not so much,” I admitted warily.

            “And what are you going to do when your van finally dies and you’re stranded on I85 coming home from work? At night. When it’s dark. And cold. What if I’m out of town and I can’t come get you?”

            I put my hands over my ears and started humming a little tune. “Did you say something?”

            “I worry about you. You need a reliable car, Vic.”

            “I’m fine,” I assured him. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

My 2012 Hyundai Elantra. It sure is small!
            He sighed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Another Freedom Lost to Government Legislation

            California has recently found it necessary to enact legislation to protect its children from skin cancer. You’ll be relieved to know that it is now against the law for people under the age of 18 to use tanning beds. Well, that should solve the problem of skin cancer, right?

             Let’s take a moment to think about this. The assumption made by the California legislature is that tanning beds are a major cause of skin cancer in teens. Is that true?

Now I live on the other side of the country, but I have always had the impression that California is a warm, sunny state. I picture coastal beaches, beautiful green parks, and happy little grape vines soaking up the rays. I would expect that the majority of teens get far more exposure to UV rays while lying on the beach or hanging out with friends in their local parks than they get from the occasional use of a tanning bed.

            I have no doubt that tanning beds aren’t good for anyone. However, is it necessary to enact a law forbidding teens to use them? Isn’t that the job of the parent? And how long is it going to take for the California legislature to enact a law forbidding adults to use them?

            If the California legislature is determined to enact anti-skin-cancer laws that restrict teen and parental freedom of choice, perhaps they should simply pass legislation that mandates the use of sunscreen, hats, and beach cover-ups for all California teens. Wouldn’t you love to see a uniformed police officer pounding the California beach beat asking for proof of sunscreen use from the bikini-clad young ladies sunning themselves on the sand?

            The whole scenario would be funnier if it wasn’t so painfully obvious that the California state government believes that you are incapable of making correct decisions for yourself and for your children. That’s another freedom the government has taken away from you, my Californian friends. How much longer are you going to accept that?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Georgia Public School System Epic Fail

            I live in Georgia and I’m a teacher. I admit to hanging my head in despair when I read the news article in the NY Post about a local robbery. Why did the NY Post report on a robbery in Georgia? Surely New York has enough crime of its own for the Post to write about?

Apparently, the criminals in New York are not as stupid as the criminals here in Georgia. Stephen Daniel, a 21-year-old man, thought it would be a good idea to walk into a convenience store and demand the money from the cash register. He wasn’t armed, but that doesn’t explain why the manager of the store laughed at Mr. Daniel as he emptied the cash into a bag and handed it over.

What Mr. Daniel didn’t realize was that a police officer was standing right behind him during the entire incident. The minute he took the bag with the cash, Mr. Daniel was arrested. He got a free ride in the back of a police car and won the Idiot-of-the-Week award at the same time.

I take this kind of stupidity as a personal insult. You see, Stephen Daniel was no doubt a product of the Georgia public school system. That means I have a string of colleagues who failed to do their jobs properly. Could no one teach this child anything? Darn it, ladies and gentlemen, you’re making us all look bad here.

By the way, a portion of my tax dollars was spent to educate Mr. Daniel. I’d like a refund, please.


Monday, October 10, 2011

The "WC" Rebellion

          In England, it won’t take you long to figure out that the abbreviation “WC” stands for “water closet” which is the British equivalent of the American word “restroom.” You’ll be relieved to know that, in an excruciatingly polite and indirect manner, both of these euphemisms will lead you to the nearest toilet.

            Other European countries have adopted the “WC” abbreviation. You can now pay a visit to a WC in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Holland. However, you’d better learn the word “toiled” if you need a toilet in Wales. Gwynedd, a town in northern Wales, is protesting the English “WC” on their road signs that indicate a nearby toilet facility.

            “But isn’t Wales part of Great Britian?” you ask in a puzzled voice. “Why would the Welsh people object to a “WC” sign?”

            That’s a great question! Well…although Wales is technically part of Great Britain, the Welsh people wouldn’t mind being independent. (Americans so get this.) The use of only the British “WC” on the sign is what the Welsh people find objectionable; the Welsh word “toiled” has been left off. Some Welsh see this as an attempt by the British to deprive them of their linguistic heritage.

            There’s a part of me that sympathizes with the Welsh people. It must be difficult to pass along your cultural legacy and traditional language to the next generation when even the signs for the toilet are only in English.

            On the other hand, it’s a sign for the toilet, for heaven’s sake! Is using the “WC” abbreviation really a devious plot by the English to stamp out the traditional language of Wales? Will history books point to the Welsh “WC” rebellion as the climactic moment that led to Welsh independence? Only time will tell.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How to Solve Problems Like a Klingon

            I think that there is a little bit of Klingon in all of us. I personally blame my inner Klingon for the predilection to champion lost causes to the bitter end, for the inclination to act before thinking, and for the impulse to point my middle finger at another driver on the road. These are definitely Klingon traits.

            I have spent much of my life battling my inner Klingon.  Humans think that shooting the bird at another driver is rude. Unfortunately, that particular impulse surfaces almost every time I get in my minivan. I can’t seem to help myself when a driver pulls out in front of me and then goes 10 miles per hour. Invariably, he/she is on the phone/applying make-up/stirring sweetener into coffee/eating a powdered jelly donut and generally not paying attention to driving. You have to admit that this is annoying. I suppose I’m lucky that the impulse is to hold up my middle finger and not to run the poor driver off the road, bless his heart. That would be a Klingon trait, too.
            But sometimes your inner Klingon can surface to help you. Jonathan Brown has spent the last 50 years trying to overcome dyslexia. It was only when he started learning the Klingon language that he was able to devise a system to help him recognize words. Apparently, you use a different part of the brain when reading Klingon than you do when reading English. How cool is that!

            So ask your inner Klingon for help when you have a perplexing problem. He just might have the answer you seek. Of course, there’s always a chance that his answer will have you flipping off the person in the tailgating car behind you. Klingons make interesting companions.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

That's a tankard made from Oliver Cromwell's horse? You have got to be kidding!

            Like many Americans, I am awed by the age of “stuff” found in other parts of the world. In 3000 B.C.E., the Egyptians left us hieroglyphs and pyramids; in the 5th century B.C.E., the Mayans left us a calendar; in the third century B.C.E., the Chinese left us terracotta warriors. The British have a written land survey from 1066 A.D. that you can still read! That is mind-boggling, don’t you think?

            What amazes me even more than the sheer age of the “stuff” is that somewhere along the line, someone made a conscious decision to save that thing for posterity. Now I’m not talking about buildings, gold jewelry and tax records; everyone knows that it’s a good idea to save those. I question the wisdom of saving what my grandmother would have called “dust catchers.”

            Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Wales in 1653 A.D. when he and his supporters overthrew the monarchy of King Charles I. Now stay with me here; I’m getting to the point. A short while after he became Lord Protector, Cromwell’s favorite war horse died. Poor Blackjack. Instead of giving the fellow a decent burial, Cromwell decided it would be a good idea to make large leather tankards out of Blackjack’s hide. These special tankards were inscribed with the words, “Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Wales, 1653” to commemorate the victory. I believe I speak for us all when I say “yuck!”

            Now the point – yes, I’ve finally gotten there – is that somebody actually saved one of these “Blackjack jugs” for posterity! No, I’m not kidding. Paul Hoare recently showed up at a taping of Antiques Roadshow cradling this precious memento of Cromwell’s victory in his loving arms. It had been in his family since…um…1653. Apparently, not one family member in the last 350 years had the good sense to say, “Get that disgusting thing off of my fireplace mantel. I don’t even want it in the house!”

            I must admit that a tankard made out of Cromwell’s horse does make a good conversation piece. BTW, if you keep something like that for several hundred years, it may become valuable. Antiques Roadshow appraised the tankard at 30,000 pounds (about $45,000) which, in appraiser John Foster’s opinion, is “good beer money.”

            So raise a glass and toast Blackjack…and good taste.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Those who can't, teach? Not so much.

            There comes a moment in every public school teacher’s career when he or she wonders if it’s worth all the hassle. These days, teaching is so much more than imparting content knowledge to students who want to learn. Teachers today are expected to be surrogate parents, entertainers, disciplinarians, motivational speakers, counselors, and – oh yeah – sometimes they get to teach math or geography. When you factor in meeting the requirements for NCLB and Race to the Top, budget cuts that result in furlough days that teachers work anyway, and pay based on how well some thirteen-year-old students did on a multiple choice test they took one day in April, it’s a wonder that there are any teachers left at all!

            I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is impossible to teach reading and writing skills if the students have “other business” that takes precedence over learning. Consider this video that has gone viral on YouTube:

            High school and middle school teachers just frown and nod as they watch this. There is nothing unusual in the situation for them. Every day, thousands of teachers give this exact same speech, and then, in the same breath, proceed to teach biology or history.

            Teaching in a public school? Just another day in paradise….