For Flying Servants Only.......
 Non Fiction!


Below is work of a realistic nature.  Essays, Articles, and biographies penned by Kristin Battestella.
 


About Kristin
Read a mini autobiography from Kristin!
 

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 I Think, Therefore I Review
Commentaries on genre books, film, and television by Kristin 
 

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Read Kristin's humorous newsletter and hockey articles of old!
 
 
 

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The following essays were written by Kristin for publication in The Reminder Newspaper in 2006. 
The texts here are the original versions, and do not have the final edits seen in The Reminder Publications.



December 20:
Holiday Lawn Displays Disturb Me
 

ĎTis  the season for folks here and everywhere to light up their houses and lawns for the holidays.  Perhaps disturb is too strong a word. Rooftop Santas, lit reindeer, huge snowmen-these displays do not so much annoy me, they confuse me.  It's Christmas time, and I enjoyed looking for lighted houses.  We used to drive around when I was a kid and look for decorations.  On my regular commute to Bridgeton I've been looking for early displays, but I've been thus far disappointed.  Where all the Nativities?

Sure, it's a bit early as I write this, and I'm not going to see everything  while I'm driving, but so far, I've seen three manger displays.  None at any churches, one hidden on the side of a house, another I'm not sure what it really was because it was so small.  The lone Nativity display down my street is hidden behind some Santa sleigh, and it took some slow driving to see it. People canít be getting much bang for their buck with these inflatable displays. In my travels I've seen at least a dozen brought down by these severe winds. It's like that icicle lighting craze that everyone went through.  Year round you still see them hanging there, useless.

All right, enough talk, I decided to do.  I was going to buy a Nativity to display in front of my home.  I was utterly peeved when I tried my last resort: Wal-Mart.  They had Three Wise Men, but no Jesus, Mary, or Joseph.  I found that a tad too ignorant.  Have we become so secular  and PC that we can only allude to where the Kings are going?  Target?  Nope.  Lowes offered some hideous newfangled hologram set that was out of my price range.  Even online, I found little merchants offering outdoor nativities.  Amazon offered patterns where one could cut out your own olive wood display, but who has the time?  Fingerhut has a handsome Holy Family Iíd love to have, but $150 plus shipping.  Who has the money?  Finally I ducked into the Bridgeton Wal-Mart.  Hidden behind an inflatable merry-go-round was the ugliest plastic poorest attempt at the Holy Family I've ever seen.  Hardly worth the 50 bucks.

Even radio stations are battling it out by airing Christmas music marathons.  News channels bring stories of display and music protests, but I turn my radio up on Sundays while I collect firewood.  How could anyone be bothered by secular tunes like Santa Baby and the ever popular Jingle Bells?  As sad as I've been at the lack of Christ and Christmas, I weep more for the Jewish faith.  Pray tell where a young Jewish couple can buy a menorah?  In my shopping quest, Iíve see no small Hanukkah display.  No end cap of blue-and-white, no lighted Star of David.  No, wait.  I saw a Star of David mug at the Dollar Store.  Unfortunately, I also plead my ignorance of Kwanzaa.  There are no black, green, and red African pride displays to be had.  It is disturbing.  It's a crying shame.

Is no one else upset at our countryís increasing lack of religious respect?  Several months back, I asked if any of my coworkers were Jewish or Muslim, because Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan were fast approaching.  No one thought anyone was Jewish, and no one knew what Ramadan was.  Each may think their faith is getting the shaft, but Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa have all fallen prey to Santa, reindeer, snowmen, and Martha Stewart's god-awful hot pink and ridiculous decorations.  Shopping, money, and commercial creations are more important to us than our religion. Our history. Our people.  How did this happen?

Ignorance.  Quite simply, I think we stopped knowing each other and who we are.  Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings have become the safe or polite things to say.  But by golly, the majority of our nation is Christian.  No one should be offended at our expression of Merry Christmas.  Especially on December 24th or 25th.  Likewise, this year Hanukkah begins December 16th.  That day, we should meet and greet everyone was a Shalom, whether you are Jewish or speaking to a Jew or not.  You could be at the store and say Happy Hanukkah to the cashier when you check out.  Isn't showing respect for yourself, any religion, and other people more important than a credit card swipe?  Have we no understanding barter or trade beyond the almighty dollar? Freedom of Religion means respecting what other people believe in, not destroying the traditions of others so no one can celebrate anything but chaching.

When I worked retail I would count how many customers dared to tell me Merry Christmas.  I refuse to say Happy Holidays.  Sometimes we can't be all-encompassing or all-inclusive without forgetting ourselves.  Sure it's supposed to be about giving, peace on earth, and good will toward men, but a person's religious observance is also very personal.  It doesn't take much time and no money to give someone religious suspect.  So you say Merry Christmas to a stranger, and he or she politely says they are Jewish.  So?  You say Happy Hanukkah instead.  Ask if it theyíve been to Israel?  Does she speak Hebrew or Yiddish?  Before you know it youíve made a new friend.  It's a heck of a lot cheaper than a life-sized inflated reindeer-it's priceless.
 


November 29:
Christmas Comes Too Early For Retailers
 

Before Halloween even arrived stores and newspapers were full of Christmas displays, advertisements, and articles about the health of retail pre Black Friday.  Way pre.  In recent years, stores have tried to capitalize by moving the holiday push earlier.  The theory that shoppers will buy early and at full price for fear of losing a prize closer to

December 25th is now popular and commonplace.  Its capitalism at its best, right?
Christmas is the most obvious example, but commercial infiltration has touched all gift giving holidays.  Calendars are littered with useless best friend's brother's girlfriend days, and holidays like Valentine's Day only exist to serve marketing purposes. It is ironic that in an increasingly politically correct world-folks are urged to avoid Merry Christmas and use Happy Holidays- retailers push the idea of Christmas gift giving and rooftops Santa displays as early as October 25.

Formerly the official start of the holiday shopping season, people have been trampled and fights have broken out in the quest for a super Black Friday special.  How low have we gone when shootings at Wal-Mart aren't enough to deter holiday spending?  Heck deter, this violence is caused by the impossible shopping pressure we place upon ourselves.

Our current government wants us to spend spend spend our hard earned dollars to help the US economy.  I'm sure that's a good thing for those that can afford to help scratch the national debtís surface, but what about the poor, average American Joe canít afford to buy his kids that expense toy?  A toy lining shelves for over two solid months.  This is why people often find the holidays the most depressing time of year.  More suicides occur around the holidays than any other time.  Just think about it.  Even noble citizens who pay their taxes and abide by our laws would rather give to their children-our future-than our government.  It's Wall Street all over again.  The holiday ideal Americans show the world-not Christ, Jewish perseverance, or African celebration-let's back up and take a moment to remember Thanksgiving!  No wonder US ideas are meeting increasing resistance worldwide.  Forget US hypocrisy-our holiday philosophy: Greed is good.  How did we come to these two months of agony, stress and despair of staring at the physical manifestation of the fallen American dream?

Has anybody ever really tried the homemade gifts approach?  Every idealistic kid thinks that idea sucks, and forget the reality of only one gift per person under the tree.  I speak mainly of Christmas, but the religious observances arenít even the main issue.  We live in a society that thrives by making money off the less fortunate in our country.  A big retailer skimping on sales and pushing minimum wagers to buy buy buy-who does that benefit? Boycotting Target and other big chains because they refuse Salvation Army bell ringers doesn't solve anything.  Angel Trees and charitable offerings are fine during the holidays-but what happens to the homeless, the hungry, and the children of ignorance and want the rest of the year?

The rich really are getting richer and the poor (formerly known as the middle class) are getting poor.  Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years-commercial holiday or religious observance-what happened to morality and compassion?  These ideals know no religious, color, or creed divide.  Why do we?
Whatever you do this holiday season, try not to give in to Caesar.  Shop if you must, but be sure to remind your friends and family what it's all about.  Meaning isn't necessarily money.  Do yourselves a favor, sleep in on Black Friday.
 


October 25:
Exposing Mercury And Other Scandals
 

 Iíve written a lot of things for The Reminder.  Local, national, international-even TV.  Never however, have we discussed so thoroughly a local scandal from my Franklin Township abode.

 You know something must be news when little old Franklinville makes national papers and media headlines.  I actually met three locals on an international writing board by discussing this drama online.  Iím sure youíve heard the story, but to put it simply, someone turned an abandoned thermometer factory into a school.  Thermometers as in mercury; Mercury as in harmful to humans.  This deduction was somehow never deduced by anyone until last month!

 Not only was the now infamous Kiddie Kollage site removed from the Department of Environmental Protectionís list of harmful places, but the realtor who sold the property claimed no knowledge of the buildingís history-even though his offices are next to the school in question.

 A condemned building or bad plumbing, unfortunately Iím sure shady realty is done all the time.  Not that I agree with that, but faulty wiring can be replaced for the right price.  Potential damage from mercury poisoning cannot be fixed and will cause the families and employees tainted thousands of dollars in treatment. And oh yes, several children are infected with unhealthy amounts of mercury.  For the rest of their lives, most of the children who attended the daycare will need yearly checkups looking for the side effects of Mercury.

This is beyond writing on your hand with pen or swallowing erasers.  I donít mean to be so heavy handed, but well I do.  Action must be taken, and it should be swift.  Special Meetings at the Franklin Community Center have been packed with concerned parents and rightfully so.  There should be fines and penalties against the realtor who knowingly sold a tainted property to a daycare without warning them of the buildingís history.  Anything remotely like a slap on the wrist is inexcusable.  Someone-either those at fault or a charitable organization-should provide any and all medical care needed, and a new realtor or the Township itself should offer the Kiddie Kollage a new location at a very affordable price.  If the proprietors of the school are found at fault, then their licensing or certifications should be revoked.

But of course, more schools and buildings in Franklin Township were found on tainted property.  Parents and residents want answers, and the Franklin Township website has even added a page with the latest details regarding all these infamous locations.

What amuses me most about these contaminations is that no one discovered it sooner.  The Kiddie Kollage had been operating for several years at its now fenced off location- how did no one discover the wool when the property was sold?  Permits, grants, paperwork and red tape allowed mercury to slip through the cracks? Ignore the iffy realty implications for a moment and ask yourself- is this how we educate our children?  Franklin Township has fine schools, but taxes have increased every year.  Where is the extra money going?  To additional red tape?  Our little corner of Gloucester is currently just fine.  Iím not saying there are other suspicious deals, but if more scandals were to come to light, Franklin Township would take a turn for the worse.  Who would move here, buy, and build with the prospect of tainted property, defamation, and scandal?  Those Ďidealsí only appeal to bad suits and other Enron type carpet baggers.  Do we want that set in our communities?

 If the old thermometer factory was converted to another business this snafu might never have come to light, or if it did it wouldnít be perceived so badly.  If one must make naughty ideals, why does it have to be with a school?  Why are our children the continuous victims of our violence, scandals, and ruin?  How can they overcome our stupidity with brain damage do to mercury poisoning?

 Iíve noticed in my essays I ask a lot of questions, and more and more I donít have the answers.  Thereís the adage of not bringing up a problem unless you have a solution, but at this point I wonder if the proper questions are even being asked.  The questions Iíve asked need to be raised, but how did it fall to me to ask them?  This I can answer.  We average Joes and Susie Qs can do something about anything if we put our minds to it.

I would hope it is not too late for the Kiddie Kollage to redeem itself.  For yourselves, there is still hope and lessons to be learned.  I should hope the real estate industry will step up to the plate as well.  In an industry that is so up and down (Iím not up to date on the current health of realty), but you would think if they want to be on the up and up, realtors should run legitimate dealings.  Anyone dealing with the infamous Kiddie Kollage realtor might enter with a grain of salt, and that is quite sad when you think about.

These ills are fixable.  Do your research, and by all means keep an eye on your kids.  If they turn grey, somethingís wrong.  If you donít do anything about it, well then that would be a scandal.
 
 


September 13:
Action is a Beautiful Thing!
 

 I was on the news.  For one fleeting millisecond behind a sign, but I was there-right next to the camera.  I was fortunate enough to attend the Rally For A Better New Jersey on June 15 in Trenton.  Ask me the names of the speakers-I couldnít tell you (well, two I can!)  The statistics and issues they talked about-I don't know the specific details.  I base my perceptions on what I see.
The last time I was in Trenton was a very long time ago.  I was fascinated by the gold capped government building.  Not because it was gold, but because slums lined the street before it.  Nowhere else have I seen the disparity of our state so well defined.  Even in Camden only a fence separates the revitalized part of the city from the nation's most dangerous town.  In Trenton there is no veil separating our golden hall from the poor.  There they sit in plain view of each other, but both are either unable or unwilling to break their silent inaction.

At the rally, two images reiterated my initial visit to Trenton.  After the rally, we found a homeless man on the grass beside the free water stand.  His bottle of Poland Spring was empty beside him, and several people checked to see if he was dead.  Fortunately, the man was only sleeping.  Even though it was 80°, the hope of the rally, the soft green bed of grass, and that free bottle of water made that manís day.  He was asleep with a smile on his face.
 Naturally, the flipside was represented.  Outside my bus window I spotted an Exxon charging three dollars per gallon for regular gas.  Of course, that's nothing new now, but I don't think I have to say anything else about that.  Weíve all felt the pain at the pump at some point in recent years.

The rally of course was excellent.  There were 2,000 people there, and the speakers spoke of preventable ills in New Jersey such as hunger and homelessness. The need for health care for children and assistance for seniors was also brought to light.  I went because I've seen these evils with my own eyes.  I've worked retail and seen people put clothes back because they didn't have enough money for their kidsí needs.  I've worked in senior facilities where I found folks sharp as a whip who couldn't finish their years in their own homes because they couldn't afford it.  I knew a woman at church who died of cancer-because her insurance said she reached her maximum funding and she couldn't afford her own treatment.  Shall I continue?  For every good anecdote I can share I have two bad instances it seems the people in charge would rather not hear.

All right, my new obsession is The Lord of the Rings, but Frodo has taught me a lot of things.  Not only can someone small-like us-make a big impact, but the smallest person can make the biggest impact.  Not because self-sacrifice makes one look good, but because it's the right thing to do.  This year and a half I've been writing for The Reminder, I haven't asked anyone to go on a quest that would claim anyoneís life-hardly! Do you think Iím famous because you see my picture in the paper every month?  Hardly. I canít pay my bills like most residents of Cumberland County.  However, I know the pit in my stomach when I wished I had money to give to those who couldn't buy; if everyone contributed their smallest, change can still calm.  Oh for my Sam Cooke 45s!

Write, blog, photograph-the possibilities for this generation are endless.  Petition, donate, educate, be heard, make a difference!


August 30:
Lack of Reading Unacceptable
 

 So Iíve been writing about books a lot, and part of me wonders if it is a bad thing? Our area isnít a literature hotbed, but honestly, the idea of reading a book is on the decline everywhere.  Why?

 Publisherís Weekly posted the results of a study they conducted with Scholastic regarding children and reading.  Between the ages of 8 and 15, the frequency of books read drops 30%, and almost half of teens ages 15 to17 read less than 3 books a month. Experts theorized that a lack of quality fiction for young adults contributes to the problem, but lack of adult support plays a considerable part.  How can any adult not want a child to educated him or herself?  I paint a frightening picture with these statistics.  Are grandparents not reading bedtime stories to their grandbabies?  Teachers arenít acting out plays in class?  Moms and Dads donít give their books to their children and say ďThis was my favorite when I was your age?Ē

 Even Pulitzer winning Harper Lee-of To Kill A Mockingbird Fame of course-wrote a letter to O Magazine expressing her discontent over modern reading treads.  Lee is unhappy with the advent of the e-book, but surely advances in technology, media, and entertainment arenít the only things stopping kids from reading.  Sports, arts, travel, experiencing life-these are acceptable diversions.  Video games, television, and fast food, however, are dominating our youthís landscape.

 To each his own of course, but this lack of education, reading, and writing skills shows.  American test scores are falling compared to other countries.  The spread between rising college and university costs and the people that can afford them is growing.  Without proper reading; writing; or speaking skills; job opportunities dwindle, money goes away, and the downward spiral continues.  Reading is the fastest way to knowledge.  So why then are the people that are supposed to care about children-their parents-not sharing this power?

 Adults need not feel uncomfortable if they arenít readers.  Some people just donít like books. Scholasticís study claims only 21% of adults are frequent readers themselves.  It is important, however-no essential- for parents to open the door for the next generation.  Itís summer, nowís the time for kidís to learn to read a book because they want to, not because itís a school assignment.  Some of the worst books I ever read where required school reading.  Parents and educators walk the fine line between inspiring a love of books and forcing information on a child.

 Hereís a few suggestions to jump start your familyís journey on the literature super highway:

-Make it interactive.  My nieces like to stand up and read silly poetry or act out stories as I read aloud.  Use props, make reading more active and fun for the entire family.

-Payment Plan.  I wouldnít go so far as bribing, but setting up an reward program for every book read is another way to enticing your budding reader.  $1 for every book read.  If they read a book a week, little Billy can have his favorite meal on Sundays.  Make the connection between knowledge and rewards.  Not only is the book a rewarding experience, but the benefits outlast the read.

-Use Alternatives.  If your kids are really turned off by books, try materials where they donít know they are reading.  Comic books are becoming tougher to find, but classics like Superman and X-Men still exist-and they tie into a movie or two.  Give your sportster the whole newspaper instead of the scores, or give him a sports book.  Even if your child is a little behind in his reading, donít be afraid to start with smaller books or fewer words or even large print books to help growing eyes.

-Artwork it.  Donít be afraid to develop other talents if they present themselves.  If your child wants to write a summary of what theyíve read, let them do so, then encourage them to make up their own story.  If Billy wants to draw pictures about the story, let your Picasso grow.
 Reading is just the diving board from which we only have to jump.  Literature can inspire you, your children, your entire family to new worlds, both real and creative.  Take the plunge, the bottom is endless!

For more literature news, visit Publishersweekly.com
 
 



 

June 21:
On Atticus, Jesus, and Frodo
 

      Last month a BBC poll from Britainís top librarians presented an intriguing debate.  According to the statistics, audiences favorite books are the following:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
The Bible
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.

      To Kill a Mockingbird.  The Bible, The Lord of The Rings.  Although my Father disagrees with The Bible being second, I find these results fascinating.  Besides, Iíve read all three and he hasnít.

      Racial injustice in the south; the most published religious book ever, and an evil wizard destroying Middle-Earth with powerful jewelry.  At first glance, the three titles presented have nothing in common, but I implore you to look deeper.  Many universal themes and elements unite these three masterpieces.

      Despite its fantastical elements (Maybe people ignore it because itís deemed fantasy), The Lord of the Rings has many human threads that have continued to make the hefty book popular.  I just read it for the first time this year.  Itís not only good versus evil, The Lord of the Rings offers hope, friendship, and strength in all shapes and sizes for audiences both young and old.  The ring represents the penne ultimate evil power yet it is bound by its so small gold confines.  Frodo is also small-a hobbit caught in a big manís world-yet his strength cannot be measured by his small stature.  Tolkienís massive work tells readers that big or small and good or evil , anyone who rises to the challenge will determine his own fate.

      Lord of the Rings almost has a David and Goliath feel, which of course leads to Number Two on the list-The Bible.  I donít think I need to go into much detail here.  Everyone has at least some vague idea of both the Old and New Testaments and what they teach.  God helps the faithful, valiant, loyal, and true.  Jesus gives hope to the meek where there is none.  Like The Lord of the Rings, many sections of The Bible are very dark and dense-full of wrath and doom.  In the end of course, evil falls and justice and peace prevail.

      Although similar to its pollmates in its moral tones, To Kill a Mockingbird was also voted the Number One Unhappy Ending in a separate BBC poll.  Even if it is sacrilegious to place another book above The Bible, I can see how To Kill  a Mockingbird reached Number One.  For decades social change has been on the rise, and for the Boomer generation To Kill a Mockingbird must have been a whirlwind.  An unapologetic exposure of racial injustice thrust right into the segregated mid century American society.  Books that give birth to radical social change only come along once in a blue moon.

      Even the American Film Institute named Gregoryís Peckís Oscar winning 1962 film portrayal of Atticus Finch as their Number One Great American Hero.   Harper Leeís tale of white lawyer Atticus Finch defending an innocent black Tom Robinson in 1930s Alabama continues to open our eyes to a world weíd like to think we arenít part of, but of course, not enough change has come.

     I donít understand how todayís youth can use the N word-affixed with an Ďaí on the end instead of an Ďerí.  My instant thought is always, ďHave they not read To Kill a Mockingbird?Ē My honey-by some error in his high school required reading-has never read the Harper Lee classic.  I tried to explain it, but what makes it over the top is the ending.  Now, you canít give away the ending, can you?

     For three books that seem so different on the surface, The Lord of the Rings, The Bible, and To Kill a Mockingbird all present both the characteristics of how we should be and also how not to be.  Gollum succumbs to the ring, but Boromir redeems himself.  All can be redeemed by obeying God in their own way, and Atticus gives us hope that he made the word one step closer to a better place for his children.

      To Kill A Mockingbird is the only book I had to read for school that I actually liked-now thatís saying something.  If I had to pick three books to take if I was stranded islandÖbut more likely if I had to recommend three books every person should read once in his lifetime, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bible, and The Lord of the Rings are tough to beat.  Impossible, Frodo!



 

May 18:
Publishing Industry Slap on Wrist Unacceptable

 So I fancy myself a writer, and like many other writers and authors, I am all but outraged over the recent snafus in the big publishing houses.  First, the industry was sent reeling by the James Frey scandal.  The memoir A Million Little Pieces was in fact a million little tales of fiction expertly twisted by Frey, but also woefully unchecked by Random House and book club praiser Oprah.  (You can read two explanation and apology statements from Frey at www.randomhouse.com.)

When composing anything in writing, there are rules of which to adhere.  Number one is never underestimate your audience and number two is to not disappoint your audience, for they are very fickle.  Not only did Frey flat out cheat his audience, but the bookselling implications are immense.  Memoirs were the biggest book trend, but now, how can anyone read a memoir without wondering how much is actually fiction?

Is there no sanctity in books anymore?  Itís deplorable enough when an author betrays his readers.  Bad publicity is good publicity they say.  Now mega merger big powerhouse publishers are almost expected to be corrupt and poorly orchestrated.  It is more unusual, yet perhaps more horrible, when plagiarism makes it to the publishing world.  Little, Brown, and Co. signed unknown Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan  to an unheard of 2 book deal with a $500,000 advance.  The book  How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life even earned a movie deal worth a hefty sum.  After an exposure in the Harvard Paper, Opal has been pulled do to the plagiarism of not one, or even two, but now three books.

High school, college, expulsion, unfortunately plagiarism is nothing new.  This young generation even has website scams that buy and sell term papers.  Rarely, however, does a book go this far this fast for this kind of money before the fake is discovered. Although Iíve seen little television media coverage of this scandal, big newspapers are running their displeasure daily. I belong to many online writing groups, boards, and clubs.  Some are for newbies, and others carry big name professionals, but all agree it is a sad day when thereís nothing sacred between two supposedly professional authors.

Naturally blame needs to fall and the proper place is on the publishing industry itself.  Unless its Stephen King or Danielle Steele, Big New York publishing houses canít seem to make money unless its with a controversy.  They inflate a book to rival Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code, but when the book crumbles before audiences, houses like Warner or Random House take the money and run with weak explanations and light slaps on the wrist.

Everyone wants to a write a book at some point in their lives-admit it. With the advent of e-publishing and online publishers, the possibilities for scams and rip offs is 2 to 1.  In a time where knowledge, information, and entertainment are unlimited, can it really be that the simple task of reading a book canít be trusted?  How do we explain to our children why a book is being pulled from the shelves or why extra notes explaining the difference between fiction and nonfiction are added to subsequent editions?  When a plagiarized book makes it to stores for sale-written by a Harvard student no less- what message does that send to young artistic talents?  That itís okay to cheat?  Talent is better bought than nurtured?  Donít we get enough of this from pro athletes?

Shame on the book industry.  Despite the decline in sales do to other media, the power of the written word is still a might to be reckoned with.  To manipulate the trust, education, and experience of any reader at any age is simply unacceptable.
 


April 12 :
Spring Cleaning State of Mind
 

With the unusual forecast of snow flurries on the first day of spring, it's easy to lose track of time. Winter Blues, work ho-hum is over, and now it's time for your perennial spring cleaning-of mind and body that is.

After all the shenanigans of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, Wednesday March 1 hailed the beginning of Lent for many Christians. To some it is a time of repentance, and many give up something seemingly naughty.  No chocolate, putting change in a jar if you swear, etc.. To others the 40 days before Easter is a time of opportunity and renewal. Families take on new books, projects, volunteer, or exercise.

I've had a few people asked me, ĒWhat the heck is Lent?Ē Or ĒWhat are you giving up soda/sugar/carbs for?Ē My heart sinks a little every time I hear such questions. Lent may be a Christian observance, but striving to make oneself better should be a universal concept.

There is no excuse for laziness and greed or any other of the quote Seven Deadly Sins. It is sad that we've come to a point in our society where the accumulation of wealth and expensive things are valued more highly than the pursuit of knowledge, education, arts, humanities, or in internal fulfillment.

The adage says that you are closest to perfection not when you have anything to add, but when you have nothing left to take away. It might be tough to take up baseball, if it snows, but families should use natures spring rebirth as a renewal for themselves. Here's a list of ideas to jumpstart your freedom from the mundane.

-Religious observances. If you're interested in churchgoing events there is an abundance.  Bible studies, Eastern egg hunts, bazaars, services, the list goes on. Passover is an excellent time to get in touch with Jewish history and customs.

-Spring cleaning. Sure, it's not new, but a good housecleaning can be very therapeutic. Gently worn items can be donated, rooms can be painted. Young and healthy folks help out elderly neighbors, too.

-Read a book. It may sound like a simple lost art, but reading a good book can be exactly the kind of escapism you need. Read a new how-to or nonfiction book to educate and inspire yourself.

-Exercise. Sign up at the gym, Buy a yoga video, join the YMCA. It will be nice outside, get out from behind the computer and do something. Today work can come with you if you need be-cell phones, laptops, PDAs. You can take time for you. Itís not about size and shape, now's the perfect time stretcher limbs, get the juices flowing, and make sure everything still works!

-Find a hobby.  I've got too many to count, but taking on a new project or art might be the best thing you can do.  Kids and friends can partake in building model ships, learning new computer programs, or posing for your attempt at painting portraits.

 The point of spring is for nature to bloom, so why can't you?  Refresh and reinvigorate yourself today!
 


March 22nd:
Our Wacky White House

     A lot of tidbits from Washington have come out in recent weeks, and all are irresistible to everyone, from late night comedians to the water cooler at the office.  All the plain folk in America are asking why our Vice President is shooting people and our President is selling our ports to the bad guys.

     VP Dick Cheneyís snafu of shooting his lawyer during a hunting escapade in Texas is almost unbelievable.  He has heart conditions up to wazoo and never seems to be healthy enough to participate in the running of the country, yet he is out there chasing quail. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The unusual media coverage and delayed explanation from Cheney has not helped his image.

     One thing I definitely dislike about politicians and government paperwork is the technical mumbo jumbo they get you into. I am a kid from New Jersey, I donít do technical mumbo jumbo, and most folks would agree the double talk on this ports sale seems fishy. Iím sure if we watched the news or read the details in the papers, weíd known more about the ins and outs of the deal, but the plain English is scary enough. Our President is selling 6 of our ports to the United Arab Emirates?  What is wrong with this picture?

     Sure Iím young and an idealist, but in the United States you donít expect to see secret sales going on behind closed White House doors. Are we that far gone from the definition of democracy? The delays and changes and further wheels and deals and cancellations on this port sale further signify the shannigans were bad to begin with.

     Most of us are not as eloquent as Mr. Bush, so when we hear ports and Arabs in the same sentence, unfortunately weíre going to get worried. The UAE is not the most reputable Arab nation. Even if we selling our ports to semi-friendly countries like Jordan or Saudi Arabia or even stalwart Israel, it would still raise more than a few eyebrows. The irony is the ports being sold were already operated by a British company. Not that the British operations were a well known fact, but I do feel a little uncomfortable with even the British running our ports.  Nothing against them, our finest allies, but are there no American companies-no American workers- that can handle our shipping business?

     Itís not terrorism, its not racism or a religious issue. Fifty years ago if someone was selling ships or equipment in secret to the Soviets they would have been declared ex-patriots and deported or worse. Today of course we know that McCarthy and his extreme skepticism was wrong, but do we really want to have a similar hysteria sweep through the nation? It could happen if  the sale were to go through and Americans lost their jobs. We are already fighting global terrorism, we donít need any more disgruntled homegrown terrorists.

    Luckily my predictions of doom seem to be adverted with the halt of the sale.  Maybe there is something left in democracy. Enough people made enough noise.  Corzine took the voice of Jersey folk to the White House, and changes were made. I continue to encourage Americans to use their voices, through letter to Congress, petitions, and the like.  We can make a difference in how this country is run even if Cheney is too busy hunting lawyers.
 


February 22nd:
Are The Olympics Passé?

Ah, world peace, friendly support, the torch!  It's time for the XX Winter Olympics, in case you didn't know.  I had to explain to my family about the alternating format between summer and winter, yet the best debate of this year's Games seems to be ďIs it Turin or Torino?Ē

Sure, everyone will tune i to the Games once they're on TV, if only to watch figure skaters crash and burn or crazy skiing slips and slides.  Freestyle Skiing belongs in the X Games, and why is curling considered a sport?  It's rocks on ice, people!

My passion of course is ice hockey.  Although I reveled in the women's game finally joining the Olympics in 1998, only insiders can appreciate the differences from the men's game.  As excited as I am to have pro hockey back, I don't think NHLers belong in the Olympic Games.  Besides the NHL's trouble of shutting down for two weeks, holding mini training camps for non-Olympians, then restarting the extended season-professionals in the Olympics represents everything that's wrong with the Games.

The Greatest Athlete of the First Half of The 20th Century was Jim Thorpe, and his Olympic medals were stripped and taken away from him because he briefly played semipro baseball. Yet recent basketball Dream Teams have failed miserably. I abhor hypocrisy. Can you even name the city where the 2004 Summer Games was held? It was Sydney, wasnít it?

 In today's fickle sports world, the pros have been added to the Olympics for what?  Money?  Ratings?  Certainly not sportsmanship or amateur competition. Remember Mike Eruzione? We can't have any Miracles On Ice-unknown college kids overcoming insurmountable odds to achieve their dreams-because NHL greats like Chris Chelios, Joe Sakic, and Jaromir Jagr are taking their place.

How is this right?  Are we so in the moment that we are willing to cut our sports growth off at the knees?  Women's ice hockey, other obscure winter sports-luge, bobsledding-this is the height of their athletesí careers.  Yet these Ďlesserí athletes go unnoticed when the pros come along.  And you know what the really sad part is?  Powerhouses like the US still lose to unknowns with unpronouncable names from far off places.

Can the Olympics return to the glory of amateur sport?  It would be nearly impossible.  Again the morality of sports falls on the fans, parents, and young athletes.  If you tune in to Torino this year, remind your children and young sportsters that goodwill in sports isnít about money, status, or world power, whatever game you play-even curling!

You can follow the USAís menís and womenís ice hockey teams by going to www.usahockey.com.  Visit www.olympic.org for a complete schedule and history of the Winter Games.
 



 

February 1st:
Pump and Postal Price Gauging Wonít Stop.

    Just on the chance things might have changed at the gas station, Iíll be safe and say gas is still over two dollars. Iím sure that if you're like me and still mail in your car insurance bill, you'll notice stamps have gone up to 39 cents.  Joy. Gas and stamps have gone up in price for different reasons, yet both represent the sorry state of commerce and our wallets.

    Even though the holiday travel rush is over gas prices are still climbing. Ah, supply and demand. The necessary demand for gasoline means the price will continue to rise indefinitely. The powers that be will never lower the price of something was such an unprecedented moneymaking demand.

    Stamps, however, are another story. Sure it's only two cents, but the price of stamps has gone up several times in recent years. Even in my short time, I remember 29 cent stamps! The public understands the need for stampsí rising cost-the U.S. Postal Service needs to make money since more people have turned to e-mail correspondence and payments. Unless I have supply and demand wrong, shouldnít the U.S. Postal Service lower the price of stamps to attract people back to using conventional mail?

     Even stamp collecting has become a thing of the past. I've gotten Prince William stamps from a friend in England, but are the fancy, commemorative à la Elvis stamps even profitable? ĎSnail mailí and e-mail both have technical difficulties, but with online ease and no hassles, regular mail could soon become a thing of the past. Am I the only one who cannot forget the Anthrax scare? Who else got a postcard from the regional office in Bellmawr telling patrons to wear gloves when getting the mail? It was the likes of science fiction!  If we need postal employees in biohazard suits, why can't we make clean and cheap automobiles?

    Smelling gasoline destroys brain cells, yet we still fill Ďer up. The strikes against the pumps and the post office do add up-in our wallets. Those folks with SUVs or older emission cars can do little but grin and bear the costs. Single day boycotts, carpooling, or other alternative transportations only make a small dent-if any. Consumers are forced to cut back elsewhere-especially when it comes to home heating costs. My family has returned to using our fireplace. How can further destruction of Mother Nature be our only option? Iíd like to suggest a solution, but the idealist in me succumbs. The everyman cannot win.

  Most people in Empowerment Zoneland don't have deep pockets. It may be an obvious choice, but people shouldn't have to choose between buying a book of stamps to pay bills or filling their car with gas. Are we on the brink of The Road Warrior and Mad Max ? Is Mel Gibsonís apocalyptic dust bowl quest for oil our future?  Only time-and money-will tell.


January 18:
Thrift is In!

      When I first started  shopping for records at Ďjunk shopsí there were few and far between. There have always been high priced quality antique dealers in our historic areas, but very few stores offered quality second hand merchandise for the masses. Wow that has sure changed.

      In the Vineland and Millville area alone new stores have sprung up in recent years. Besides the stalwarts of Goodwill and The Salvation Army, retro shoppers can now hunt at The Vine, sponsored by the Nazarene church of Vineland, or Twice Loved Treasures, a thrift shop run by Hospice.  Harvard Street also boasts A Company Of Angels, a non-profit shop for house wares, furniture, and more.

      Why the growing popularity of thrift shops? Since The Thrift Village in Glassboro expanded, not once but twice Iíve been refused entry.  Theyíve run out of parking spaces.  Parking is also trouble for the Goodwill center in Millville, and is it me, or has Goodwill developed into a chain store? They are everywhere.  Glassboro, Hammonton, and Pleasantville Goodwill stores await your next antiquing road trip.

      Although retro, old is new, finding and making your own treasures, these ideas ebb and flow-and happen to be in right now-there is a more serious, longer lasting appeal of second hand stores. Low income families need them. For every rich family in the luxury sections of Vineland, we have a dozen struggling families in the city. In an empowerment zone where the majority of the people work for minimum wage and earn $13,000 a year or less, discount second hand merchandise is a necessity.

      So I encourage shoppers to think thrift .  Not only can you buy, but most organizations accept donations or have credit programs and discounts for students or seniors.  Volunteering one day a week at a thrift shop is also a great way to help others.  If you are going on a junk shop hunt, do remember the following:

ē Come early and prepared.  Merchandise is usually one of a kind, so grab it quick.   If you want to buy larger items like furniture, come with enough cash and an accommodating vehicle.  You may also be able to barter the price or make arrangements to return.
ē Dress appropriately.  Some thrift stores have outdoor areas and flea markets, or can be quite dusty and dirty.  Donít wear your best if you intend to get down and dirty with musty books and records.  Layer if itís cold, and remember water, hats or sunscreen if you are making a hot day of it.
ē Monitor your children.  Several higher end antique dealers donít want children in their stores at all, but most request you keep your children with you at all times.  A few stores have kid safe zones, but keep in mind if a store has a Ďyou break it you bought ití policy.
ē Buy clothing carefully.  Look for un-repairable stains or holes, and know your sizes.  Not all thrift shops have fitting rooms.  Look for a piece in good condition, with solid lines and stitching.  The same applies for house wares and furniture, look for good bones.

     Why put more green in Wal-Martís pockets when there is a perfectly good thrift option?  There are many hidden treasures in a thrift store.  Quality merchandise, giving back to your community, and helping the less fortunate around you.  This is why Thrift is In!
 
 
 


 
 
 
 
 


The following essays were written by Kristin for publication in The Reminder Newspaper in 2005. 
The texts here are the original versions, and do not have the final edits seen in The Reminder Publications.



December 21:
Bah Humbug!
 

     Allow me to present a book review, a small one of a small book.  87 pages Iíve taken time out of my busy holiday schedule for every year since 2000: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

     Call me many things, but never predictable.  Despite all the excellent film portrayals- Bill Murrayís Scrooged included- one has not truly experienced Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim, and the ominous Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come until you have read the book.
Even if you are not a Dickens fan or donít have the Department 56 Dickensí Village light up houses like I do, Carol defines everything the holidays are about.  Despite his future success, Dickens often wrote about life in debtors prison and his 1843 portrayal is spot on in relation to todayís over zealous commercial shopping season and bottom line obsessions.  And Scrooge? He will never become cliché, no matter how many performances glorify him or send him up.  Why?  Because at some point, everyone has had a little bit of Ebenezer in them, regretted the fact, and redeemed themselves.

     We all know the story of Scroogeís ghostly visitors who show him the true meaning of Christmas.  In fact, A Christmas Carol was name one of the Top 100 horror stories of all time.  Carolís past memories of happy childhoods gone by and its bittersweet memories of those enjoying life around you are sappy enough to make even Scrooge warm, but the gothic and frightening images of Arrogance, Want, and The Future yet undetermined can indeed scare anyone back to goodness.  Yet I still recommend this as a family read this holiday season.

     As deep and mature as Dickensí Tale is, children gathered around the fire each reading a stave might be the best gift you give them this season.  Potter reading children will take the good versus evil story at its basic value.  Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim had no material things of value to begin with, and less than that in the futureís horrible vision, yet the family is grateful.  Youíre never too old for a lesson in gratitude, redemption, and awareness of the world around you.

     Reading A Christmas Carol this holiday will remind you and yours of all the good things about the Season.  The things that can be bought, or even seen.  Enjoy!

You can read A Christmas Carol  and more about Charles Dickens online at http://www.literature.org/authors/dickens-charles
 


December 14:
Weymouth Road Rage Must Stop.
 

    Weymouth Road is an important highway for area residents.  Known by many names and numbers from Cowtown to The Black Horse Pike, speedy drivers are abusing Route 690, and those with the address of Weymouth-Malaga Road are not happy. Not knowing the speed limit is hardly the problem.  Buena Vista and Hamilton Townships have adequately posted the 45 and 50 miles per hour speed zones.  But are you meant to go 10 below or 10 above?  Anyone going below 50 is quickly facing exhaust, and if you're going 59, you can see the eye color of the driver behind you.

     So far, police have done little to curb the speeding on Weymouth Road.  Occasionally, a car is parked near the Black Horse Pike, but usually police cars are within the traffic trying to keep up.  Buena Vista Township is trying to crack down on speed freaks going 60 or better in its residential 45 mph speed zone.  Many unhappy residents are insisting the township take action from Route 54 to the Hamilton Township line.  Hamilton Township, however, may have the bigger problem.  Not only is the speed limit 50, but passing opportunities are many.

     Buena is suggesting removing the passing zones in its stretch altogether.  I myself drive Weymouth road on a regular basis, and the street lines are quite faded.  Repainting clear, distinct lines would be a plus. While driving through Hamilton Township, I've seen many an angry hot rod pass, not one or two, but up to 10 cars at a time.  As much as I would love to give license plate numbers, ethics withhold me.  The same vehicles time and again only come into the proper lane if there is an oncoming car.  Speed is of no matter.  I experimented and went over 60, but was still passed.

     Maybe it's the appeal of the open road or just road rage taking over from a long day's work, but if drivers know they can't zoom into or through Hamilton they will be less likely to speed in Buena.  What can we do?  It may or may not be a wise idea to add a third passing lane in less populated areas.  I myself cannot abide big trucks with perilous equipment hanging off and bits of everything hitting my windshield.  Many cars pass commercial trucks and vehicles regardless of speed.  Again it may not be wise to upset commerce, but perhaps a size or weight restriction should limit trucks on Weymouth.  Hamilton has several odd fingered road crossings that are prime locations for stop signs.  Speed mongers wonít be able to disregard an intersection and pass if they know there is a big red octagon ahead.

     Both Buena Vista and Hamilton Township need to work together and crackdown on road rage run amok on Weymouth Road.  Most of the crazy driving is not done by Porsches and Corvettes, but regular Hondas, Toyotas, and minivans!  Changing or painting the passing lanes and road lines; adding a stop sign or two; and monitoring the highway better are not only cost-effective, but necessary.  Residents of Weymouth-Malaga Road should not have to wait for an accident or death before action is taken.

To voice your opinion, visit buenavistatownship.org or townshipofhamilton.com.
 


November 9:
Veterans Day Needs Some Love
 

   This fall some schools have off for Veterans Day. The fact that this year,  Veterans Day happens to fall with the NJEA Convention and in-service giving students time off is pure coincidence Iím sure. Did you know National Veteranís Week is November 6th thru the 12th? Me neither.

    Why is it the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month gets no respect? Bless Memorial Day and its honoring of our fallen heroes, but itís more important to the  X/Y Generation as the unofficial start of summer. Armed Forces Day? I love it and itís recent surge to bring honor to our entire military. So why is it the veterans who have the no small task of coming back from service and reintegrating into society get no attention unless school technicalities or voting days fall within November 11thís reach?

   I always took off for Veterans Day when I was in high school. I made sure to make some noise about my small protest, even asking teachers for work I might miss. Some were angry and claimed I had no right to cut on Veterans Day.  I told them it is a national holiday, my father is a veteran, and I dang well could.

   Iíd like to know if the dayís prior incarnation as Armistice Day was treated so harshly? Is the poor attitude towards veterans due to the fact that now we are coming into aging Vietnam and Gulf War veterans, as opposed to Korean, World War I and World War II veterans that have passed on to Memorial Day? Iíve yet to meet an elder person who will question a poppy or reading of In Flanders Field, yet if you wear a flag on your lapel in November, Iíve had people ask me what itís for.

   With the increasing number of servicemen and women our country is creating, the lack of love for Veterans Day cannot continue. Not only am I a huge proponent of writing, but also of volunteering. Everyone knows a veteran and will have military service effect their lives at some point in some way, so thereís no time like the present to do something about it. Letter campaigns to politicians about bigger and better 11/11 ceremonies and educations or donations to current troops are a great way to educate your kids about the unique relationship between civilians and our military protectors both past and present. Right here in Vineland charitable organizations and volunteers can do hands on work at the Veteranís Memorial Home.

   Yes, yes I know, ĎHow many charitable things is Kristin going to ask us to do?!í you say. These things take time and money I know.  But itís more important people know gratitude.  The Governmentís Veteran Affairs page (http://www1.va.gov/opa/vetsday/) proclaims, ďThe restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.Ē

  So if you do one thing this Veterans Day, let it be to tell a Veteran thank you. Thanks, Dad!
 


October 26:
Why Do We Love Halloween?

   Children of the night! Things that go bump in the night! Candyman, Candyman, Candyman!  It is silly things like these and more that have littered the end of October for decades.  What was once the religious holiday of All Saintís Day today is nothing more than low budget films with teen sex, gore, and Paris Hilton.

   Why then do we love Halloween so much?  Even during the rest of the year, fans crave Stephen King and Anne Rice; petitions online still beg for the return of Angel; and the fashion magazines have hailed black is the new black.  Perhaps the bigger question is this: Why is such an upstanding country and people obsessed with all things frightening?

   I am no psychologist, but Iím sure there are some Freudian theories on Ďthe communal experiences of everyone screaming in a theater at the same timeí or having íthe thrills and adrenaline rush without real painí may have some truth.  I think we just like fantasy.
 Even though anybody who was anybody cringed at the words ĎDungeons and Dragonsí when I was a kid, The Lord of The Rings has had mucho success in recent years.  And how many committees made up of educators and angry parents have been created to spread the word on how evil Harry Potter really is?

   We like all things scary because they walk the fine line between escapism and true self.  Is there such a thing as magic? Black magic? Voodoo? To some, yes.  Are there serial killers the likes of the fictional Hannibal Lector? Yes.  Even todayís popular mainstream shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, CSI, and Prison Break tackle the issues of societyís underbelly.  Real life horrors that need to be brought to light- in a shocking yet FCC safe way.

  Of course, questions do come to mind.  Are children becoming desensitized to sex and violence because it is so common place in the media?  Do we need to ban Halloween, strike A Nightmare on Elm Street  from all film libraries?  I donít think so.  Some parents donít celebrate Halloween and donít allow their children to watch sensitive material.  Some may disagree, but I praise a parent for taking action and showing interest in their kids.  They seem to be a dying breed with busy single parent or working households making an absent parent commonplace.

   My eight year old niece recently wrote a vampire story, complete with garlic, drinking blood, and sunlight saving the day.  My parents jokingly blamed me for the inspiration.  It seemed my nieces and I watched Dark Shadows one too many times.   Is she too young to be thinking such things? Maybe.  Is she too young to be creative and develop her imagination? No.  When it comes to all thinks spooky, parents need to decide how far their childís imagination can go.  Is it better to keep ghosts and goblins in the realm of fantasy?  When should you be concerned that little Billy is painting his room red and calling it blood?   Just like parents will inspect candy before their kids can eat it,  Mom and Dad should keep an eye on what scares and inspires Junior.

  Horror, gore, murder, and mayhem will always be popular in art, movies, television, and books as long as people have something to be afraid of.   Whether that fear is real or imagined or trick instead of treat, I leave up to you.

   Just remember to keep your real life spooks separate from whatís on TV.  No going to a cemetery at midnight on Halloween this year!


October 5:
Was Katrina Our Second 9/11?
 

 3,000 Louisiana National Guardsmen were sent home from Iraq not to assist in hurricane relief, but because an estimated 80% of these soldiers are victims of Katrina.  What does that say about America?  What do we look like to the rest of the world when the people who graciously risked their lives in service to our country are called home to equal desolation, death, and destruction?  A year in Iraq and what do these soldiers get in return?  Their homes are gone, regular jobs and securities lost, even loved ones killed.  I've seen the international newspapers at Borders.  Sure there are other things going on in the world, but Hurricane Katrina was second page news in all but one Italian newspaper.  I don't know which is worse; how bad America looks, or that the rest of the world seemingly doesn't care.

 All the news and media juggernauts feared a second attack like September 11th and have questioned if color codes are the answer to preventing terrorism and catastrophic destruction.
All the news and media juggernauts feared what would happen if a tsunami hit the United States.  Infrastructure lost; death tolls in the double-digit thousands; the plagues and illness developing in dirty water; starvation; the smell.

Katrina was both.

 Whether it was natural or man-made Hurricane Katrina was everything Americans in the post-9/11 world feared.  Death; destruction; loss; social and political damage; the booming gas prices.  We knew Hurricane Katrina was coming.  We were unprepared, and there was nothing we could do to stop her.

 Bureaucratic heads are rolling, including FEMA director Michael Brown's resignation.  A Newsweek poll showed a 38% approval/62% disapproval of President Bush.  Again I ask, what must the rest of the world be thinking?  What must terrorists be thinking?
 Everyone is focusing on New Orleans.  The flooding and destruction of nearly 80% of the Big Easy would not have happened had the levees been reinforced and not broken.  Katrina has been our wake-up call (Not that we needed another one.)  While we were snoozing our enemies just got some pretty good ideas about where to hit us next.  The Hoover Dam?  The Lincoln Tunnel? Some nameless city teetering helplessly on the Mississippi River?

 Like they say in sci-fi, the little green men don't land on the White House lawn-they come in the back door.  Right now our back door is wide open, and I find myself ashamed, disgusted, and weeping at this fact.  I don't think the correlation between Katrina and 9/11 is the timing.  Both events rippled through our country from top to bottom.  Where are we as a country when the victims of this hurricane were already below the poverty threshold and celebrities use charity telethons to say our president didn't help because the victims were black?

 With the tsunami and now this hurricane, I tried briefly to think positively. The people affected weren't having the best life as it were, and now that bad life was washed away.  In the tsunami case, the people the world had forgotten can begin anew.  The world is a big place, people can slip through the cracks.  That is why we are supposedly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia-to help the people society left behind.  In the back of our minds, we know disenfranchise people exist in the US.  Homelessness we can see in its worst way in darling Camden.  Even the homeless within our areaís midst are not at the forefront of our mind.  I lose my optimism when I realized Katrina's victims are the people America had forgotten.

 I'd like to think they can begin anew.  Thousands of people now have something they never had before: opportunity.  However, more and more America's strife is reminding me of Rome.  Rome, ironically, is popular on TV again.  All roads led to Rome as the world looks to us now.  Maybe people will tune in to The History Channel and learn Rome was not destroyed by outside barbarians, but by internal corruption.  With the thousands, maybe millions, of displaced Katrina victims, we're just now witnessing what Romeís homeless rates were like.

 Are we destined to be destroyed from within rather than by our enemies?  As evidenced by our lack of preparedness on 9/11 and with Hurricane Katrina,  I am left with one thought: those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.


September 14:
The Ambiguity of Charity

 Today Iíd like to talk about  the ambiguity of charity.  July 2nd Bob Geldof's ambitious Live 8 united nations around the globe, including several million in Philadelphia.  No money was requested, and celebrities worked for free- sans $12,000 gift baskets.  Live 8ís goal was to raise awareness of the plights in Africa and to get the big eight world powers to get their butts in gear about it.  Not to sound callous, but why are we interested in Africa?  Is it really for the starving children or wanton diseases run rampant?  Or is it the continentís untapped wealth of oil and gold?

 Why do we turn away from our own local destruction, sneak it under the rug?  Philly is not always the best place to be.  Mayor Street has faced questions of corruption himself.  Yet  on that sunny Live 8 Saturday Philly was the picture of Brotherly Love, and Street claim to have written his bicycle on the promenade!

 How can we take on the ambitious tasks of forgiving African debts, creating solid infrastructure, building economy, creating a middle-class, and weeding corruption and dictatorship from 50 warring nations when New Jersey cannot solve its own problems with the US's most dangerous city, Camden?

 Bless Live 8 and its quest to open our eyes and make people aware of the world's problems.  But the media and celebrity bandwagon trying to heal the world often blinds us of the problems in front of our own noses.  Big names and pictures move us to do something, like last winter's tsunami outcry.  I myself supported tsunami charities, but now reports are coming out about aide never reaching the South Pacific.  The charity organizations on the ground have become more interested in petty turf wars than helping those in need.  I find myself asking, ďWhat was accomplished?"

 Several months ago, our local  Post offices united in a Mail Carriers Food Drive.  I kept the brochure on my refrigerator for two weeks so as not to forget.  I even got up early on a Saturday to insure my goods were at my mailbox before my postman.  Imagine my horror when only two other houses on my block had goods beside their mailboxes.  I'm for charity of the senses.  When you can go to where the charity is needed, or physically send supplies, or build with your own hands.  People pinching money is one thing.  Money is tight, sure, but not putting a pack of Ramen Noodles in your mailbox is inexcusable.

 Right here in Vineland we deal with a fritzy economy, the erosion of the middle class, warring infrastructure, displacement and homelessness.  If we wonít help each other, what hope is there for the world?  It would take a whole nother essay for me to properly express my anger, shock, and disappointment in our governmentís failure and utterly pathetic delays in aiding Hurricane Katrina's victims in their most desperate hour.  If every person in Vineland put a pack of noodles in their mailbox, how many people in the Gulf could we feed?

 What is one to do then?  Take action!  Pick the cause closest to your heart and stick to it.  Everyone has their hands out, and before you know it everyone is in over their heads. I know you canít do it all.  Research a respectable organization, sponsor a child, or pick a time of year to donate.  Pick a local organization and volunteer once a year.  The Vineland United Methodist Church holds a soup kitchen year-round, or take your gentle spring cleaning leftovers to Salvation Army or Goodwill.  Encourage your children to get involved.  Support school drives and take your kids to community benefits, such as a walk-a-thon.  These little things can fit into any busy family schedule, and the rewards on both sides are paramount.  Again I say we must teach our children that  there are more important things than money.  It doesn't have to be the Holidays to give, and it is truely better than receiving.


August 10:
Big Brother Reads What You Read?

 My sister used to make fun of me because I said librarians are the most powerful people in the world.  A librarian knows everything youíve read, your deepest interests and your darkest secrets.  Unfortunately, the government agrees with me.
 Imagine my curiosity when Book TV on C-SPAN aired a June 15 debate by the House of Representatives arguing an amendment to the Patriot Act section 215, allowing the government to observe library circulations, records, book store sales, and their pertaining web site libraries-without reason or probable cause.

 Naturally if this amendment would indeed be used to track terrorists and their heinous plots, I wholeheartedly would agree.  However, who decides who is a terrorist?  What type of subject matter, books, or web sites need terror flags?  If a student does a book report on Orwellís 1984 would that send red lights to Washington?

 The perspectives on this topic are many, including if youíre doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.  But if this amendment is passed, then what would follow?  The regulation of the Internet?  Books being banned and slowly disappearing?  Magazine and newspaper censorship?  This very article being stricken?
 What makes America so great is our freedom.  The First Amendment of our Constitution has stood for over 200 years.  Todayís circumstances should not be able to alter our strive for penne ultimate freedom of mind, body, religion, and voice.

 At what point would monitoring turn into censorship, then control?  More people are reading and publishing books than ever before.  Why would we try and take away knowledge-both good and bad-from our children?
 Have we learned nothing from our history?  How is our governmentís trying to control our societyís literature in order to thwart terrorism any different from Nazi Germanyís book burnings and Jewish scapegoats?  We can make the world a safer place without forgetting our Constitution.

 I have been thinking of writing about voting and people using their rights for some time.  Instead of checking up on what people read and enforcing the ďBig Brother is watching youĒ effect, we should be educating the next generation on right and wrong, doing the right thing, and speaking up about what you believe in.

 Recently the House delayed the reconsideration of this part of the Patriot Act for another 10 years, but President Bush and his administration continue to support this act.  Republicans themselves are displeased with the Presidentís stance, and critics and the public are voicing their unhappiness as well.  There is, however, something we can do about this.  Use your First Amendment rights.  Research and write to your local congressmen, senators, and other politicians.  Ask your local bookstore how they feel, perhaps theyíd be interested in posting a petition,  or organize a meeting at your local library.  Remember, we have the right to peaceably assemble.  Better yet, read The Crisis by Thomas Pain.  We should all brush up on the American Revolution.


July 20:
Could you boycott Baseball?

 I decided long before the Congressional Hearings that I would boycott Baseball this summer.  Maybe Iím not as into sports as I used to be, but I though I could walk away from the MLB again.  (Remember the 94 strike anyone?)  I am however having a tough time sticking to my personal disenchantment.  How could a sport chock full of so much bad be everywhere and still be so popular?

 Putting all the money, cheatings, egos, and attitudes aside,  my main reason for trying to boycott baseball is steroids.  How many parents have tried so long and hard to teach their children honor and self-respect and positive work ethics only to be shot down by blown up heroes on TV? Anyone who has an old McGuire or Bonds baseball card can tell you they are inflated, to say the least. How can we talk about winning and going for the record books when we can never really know for sure how many new records are tainted by steroids?   There is a hundred years of good baseball history, but steroids have forever marred the modern game.  We as fans, parents, and consumers have the power to restore baseball to its original glory.  Fans who fill the seats and watch on TV give players the riches they need to spread drugs and owners look the other way when winning teams fill their pockets.  When we pack seats and cut into newscasts to watch hard earned records fall via clear creams, we are telling the baseball powers that be that itís okay to win at all costs.  Why should baseball fix what isnít broken for them?  A few players will get slaps on the wrists for steroids, yet Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned for life and Roger Maris record stood only with an asterisk. Go figure.

 I know its easy to sit back and be an arm chair critic, but I keep thinking of what I would do if I found out my child was using steroids to get ahead in a sport.  By watching baseball, going to game, buying its merchandise, and raising its TV ratings are we condoning steroid use?  Are we telling our kids its okay to cheat, do what you have to do to get big numbers, wins, and money?  How can we admit that steroids equal success, and thatís itís no big deal?

 Why is there such a low price on sportsmanship? Baseball is only a game.  Itís not a business  when parents take their kids to Little League.  I like baseball, sure, but a young athleteís knowing the difference between right and wrong  is more important to me.  Fans see the big hits and wins, but wide eyed teenagers trying to get scholarships fail to see the mind and mood changes that steroids can bring.  Altered hormones, personality changes, depression and suicide.  Can we tell children thatís okay? Of course not.  Not only are steroids illegal, but pro baseball players are allowed to be above the law.  Would we pay to see our kids rob a bank?  Of course not you say! But you would pay to see a ballgame.  Nowadays I have to ask myself, what is the difference?

 So even though the Yankees resigned my beloved Tino Martinez,  I must change the channel.  I refuse to condone steroids as a good thing.   This spring, turn off the television and go out for a catch instead.  Tell your children money and wins arenít everything,  and that success canít be found in a pill.  Maybe low ratings and empty seats will lure owners and players to take its fansí integrity more seriously.   Who is with me?!


March 16:
Internet Safety A Must

 If youíre my age or maybe a little bit older, you may remember a time when the computer was not the central nerve of anyoneís household.   The Generation X and Y twenty somethings that pushed our current computer technologies into the mainstream are now having to deal with the consequences-our kids are online.

 My seven year old niece is currently obsessed with all things on the Information Super Highway. Instant messages, games, all those cute icons that jump up and down. How young is too young for a child to be online?  No matter how mature your child may be, how sure you are in a secure chat between another school friend, how sure you are that websiteís game is not too violent, The following fact remains: there are predators who seek out and exploit children sneaking in a chat or game when their parents arenít looking.

 As the psychology goes, you forbid someone from something, they only want it more and will seek it out with renewed vigor.  Parents canít be online with their kids at all times, but they should indeed utilize common sense and built in precautions if traveling virtually is a must for their child.  Many internet service providers have blockers or restriction packages.  Block unfriendly websites, names, or keywords.  Looking into this is a must.

 Indeed let your child use the computer, but for education purposes only.  Games and chit chat can be had with age.  Encourage the encyclopedia for homework, art programs for inspiration, and music and photos for creativity.  Try creating a reward system.  Your child typed his or her report on the computer, reward them with a thinking game such as chess or solitaire.

 Parents should also begin building a previewed website portfolio.  Sit down with your significant others or other parental figures and search for safe and positive websites.  Once youíve declared the site acceptable for your childís likes and limitations, create a favorites folder where only the kid friendly sites will be stored.  Be sure and set aside a time where the family can enjoy these websites together.

 Limiting times on the computer is also a must.  Be sure all your childís responsibilities are met before they get to the computer.  Chores, homework, practice must be completed before  computer time arrives.  Parents with younger children should keep the computer in a family central area, not in a back office or guest room where kids can sneak online at odd hours of the night.  Just like the TV, adults are usually online later.

 There are ways to check your computer to see who was on when, and check the messenger history to see if any handles you donít recognized tried to contact your child. Unfortunately idealism and the benefits of technology are not always found on the computer.  If you find someone has contacted your child with offensive material, contact your service about what authorities to contact.
 We canít keep technology away from our children forever, but instilling respect, proper computer etiquette, and caution is a must for this next generation who canít live without computers.


February 9:
Appalled By Local Animal Violence

 It used to be that some horrible SPCA shakedown was only seen on the likes of television.  Some shocking news story in the big cities or an orchestrated event on Animal Planet.  I have to wonder, is anyone else sickened when these headlines top our local newspapers?
 Animal cruelty has gone from being absurd and in just to being apparently the popular and hip thing to do.  How sickening.  I was not surprise to find a teenager behind the Cumberland Mallís first bout with Seagull Massacres.  Was it a dare? A substance induced notion? The cause is not the point.  What is the point is that this stupidity is contagious. Where is the mind of someone who imitates running down seagulls?

 Let us not forget the reports of two young girls bludgeoning kittens and giving them mock burial ceremonies in shallow graves. I canít explain how our youth have come to this.  Have we no quality books, television, games, sports to entertain them? Do we have such a low quality of life community that children have to destroy animals to get attention?  These are ills that unfortunately can only be healed by family time and good fortune.

 However, the community can do something.  Be animal friendly and use some good old fashion common sense if you are giving away or selling animals, or if you witness something suspicious.
 

  •  If a child or young adult, or a group of them, is  inquiring about your free cat or dog, ask for some information.  Get a phone number to contact a parent, or a physical address in case the number is bogus.  Insist on a parentís presence and assurance the animal has found a responsible home.
  •  Keep your animals well taken care of in their own right, but also make sure your fences and access to your animals are secure.  If youíve had unusual visits or turned down any kids asking about pets, be sure to keep tabs on your animals.  If one little kitty ends up missing and you donít think it just wandered off, donít hesitate in calling your local authorities.
  •  If you live in an area with a lot of animals and know of someone near by who is giving them less than stellar care, or if youíve witnessed  ďchildís playĒ with any animals, make the call.


 There is a happier way to save animals, of course.  If you are able to support a four legged family member, do so.  Teach your child the proper way to respect and be responsible for an animal.  Be sure and choose an animal that fits your lifestyle.  Outdoor dog if you fear for your furniture or an inside cat if you have a mature minded tween.   Incorporate your new pet with the family.  Go online and read up together, watch Lassie together, or get out that old frisbee. The American SPCAís site http://www.aspca.org/ is a great place to start researching how you can educate your child on proper animal etiquette.  Saving the life of an animal doesnít have to be expensive and can be rewarding to you and your family.

 


 
 
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