June is National I-Can’t-Handle-It-All! Month

A favorite device of freelance writers and bloggers looking for something to write about is to check calendars for awareness causes of the month.

June 2013 calendarI’ve done that in the past, writing about National Parks Month (August), and I’m sure I’ll do it again as I stretch the bounds of relevancy to fill cyberspace with my blog posts.

But I won’t do it for the month of June. No way. June is asking too much of me.

I’ve decided I don’t even like June anymore. June is not only extremely demanding but kind of a hypocrite.

June is like that toxic friend I should’ve parted ways with long ago.

Just look at this list of awareness causes I’ve compiled (i.e. copied and pasted) for the month of June:

  • Adopt A Shelter Cat Month
  • ALS Awareness Month
  • Audio Book Month
  • Cancer From The Sun Month
  • Celibacy Awareness Month
  • Child Vision Awareness Month
  • Children’s Awareness Month
  • Effective Communications Month
  • Entrepreneurs Do It Yourself Marketing Month
  • Fireworks Safety Month
  • Great Outdoors Month
  • Home Safety Month
  • International Childhood Cancer Campaign Month
  • International Men’s Month
  • Lane Courtesy Month
  • National Accordion Awareness Month
  • National Aphasia Awareness Month
  • National Bathroom Reading Month
  • National Candy Month
  • National Caribbean-American Heritage Month
  • National Dairy Alternative Month
  • National Dairy Month
  • National Family Month
  • National Flag Month
  • National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month
  • National LGBT Pride Month
  • National Hunger Awareness Month
  • National Iced Tea Month
  • National Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month
  • National Papaya Month (also in September)
  • National Rivers Month
  • National Rose Month
  • National Safety Month
  • National Seafood Month
  • National Smile Month (From May 18 to June 17)
  • National Soul Food Month
  • National Steakhouse Month
  • National Student Safety Month
  • National Tire Safety Month
  • Perennial Gardening Month
  • Pharmacists Declare War on Alcoholism Month
  • Potty Training Awareness Month
  • Professional Wellness Month
  • Rebuild Your Life Month
  • Sports America Kids Month
  • Turkey Lover’s Month
  • Vision Research Month
  • World Infertility Month

[sources: http://womeninbusiness.about.com/od/diversityeventcalendars/a/nat-month-june.htm; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_commemorative_months; http://www.epromos.com/education/calendars/]

Come on, June! Which it is? Do I enjoy my dairy this month, or my dairy alternative? If I participate in the great outdoors, aren’t I also risking cancer from the sun?

steak and seafood dinnerHow can you expect me to think about hunger when you also want me to be aware of steakhouses and candy, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and papaya, and seafood, and soul food, AND loving turkey?

Speaking of loving, how can I be aware of celibacy while also focusing my awareness on children and family? And world infertility? And on INTERNATIONAL MEN?


I love international men, June. Just ask my friends.

Here’s the thing. If you’re so hung up on “effective communications,” why do you insist on throwing this giant list of tasks and issues and food groups at me, at once?

That is not effective communications, June.

Even worse, you only give me 30 days to pay attention to all of it. You should also be National Overwhelming Month, because that’s what I’m feeling right now!

And what’s with the bathroom fetish? Shining a bright light on bathroom reading and potty training is gross.

Bacon the catOh and thanks for reminding me that I’m allergic to cats, which I love. I’d adopt a shelter cat if I could.

On top of all that, you expect me to smile? That takes some nerve, June. Especially when National Smile Month is from May 20 to June 20 – what is that? I call BS, June, because those dates don’t even constitute a calendar month!

God, you exhaust me. Every time we get together, I end up feeling this way. And all of the downer stuff you want me to dwell on, every year. It never changes.

Your obsession with safety, and diseases and debilitating conditions… Don’t get me wrong, June, I’m very sympathetic to these things. Bad stuff can happen to any of us at any time.

It’s just that one minute you’re up and the next minute you’re down. I never know what I’ll get from you, June. I’m tired of the drama.

So you know what? I think you and I need to go our separate ways. We just don’t work anymore.

My mother won’t like it, since her birthday is in the middle of you. I’ll still visit her and bring her a gift, I’ll just ignore you. Because, June, you don’t really deserve my kind regard and understanding anymore.

I’m moving on.

Jersey ShoreI’m going to skip you and go straight to July. Now that is one happy, grounded month that knows what it wants – long, hot days when people have cookouts, celebrate the 4th, and go to the beach.

It will be my favorite month from now on.

At least until the day I look up July’s list of awareness causes.


6 Things to Remember on Memorial Day

Memorial Day has got to be the most schizophrenic, mixed-message holiday in America.

319px-Summerfest_2008_fireworks_7096Most people will focus on the holiday parts of the holiday: enjoying a three-day weekend, fireworks, barbecue, the start of summer… fun!

Many will travel. This year, AAA predicts that 34.8 million people will travel farther than 50 miles from home over the holiday weekend.

Many will shop. Countless retailers offer holiday sales, and like other major holidays (talking about you, Halloween and Christmas!), Memorial Day sales start ever earlier, this year as early as March.

There’s a lot to look forward to.

But it’s a holiday originally conceived to remember.

According to this 2009 CNN article: “Federal Memorial Day, established in 1888, allowed Civil War veterans, many of whom were drawing a government paycheck, to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day’s pay.”

Here are six more things to remember about Memorial Day.

1) Memorial Day’s origins are rooted in the devastation of the Civil War.

Battle_of_GettysburgThe Civil War was our bloodiest war, with approximately 620,000 soldiers killed either in battle or of disease – equal to about one in four soldiers or 2% of the population.

Communities were forced to confront death like never before. As many as two dozen different cities and towns claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day beginning in the mid-1860s.

But it was Waterloo, NY, that earned Congress’s official designation as Memorial Day’s birthplace. Waterloo began its annual day of remembrance on May 5, 1866, when businesses closed and the graves of dead soldiers were decorated.

2) For years, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day, in recognition of the custom of decorating soldiers’ graves.

Civil War gravesDecoration Day was declared on May 30, 1868 by General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former soldiers and sailors. The terms Decoration Day and Memorial Day were interchanged for years as a remembrance for Civil War dead.

After the United States was drawn into World War I, what became known more often as Memorial Day was broadened to include Americans killed in service to country in all of our nation’s wars.

Federal law finally declared “Memorial Day” the official name of the holiday in 1967.

3) Decorating military graves remains important today. 

Here in northern Virginia, on every Thursday before Memorial Day, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment of the Army place American flags at each of the over 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Throughout the weekend, members of the regiment even patrol around the clock to make sure every flag stays aloft.

Thousands gather at the cemetery on Monday to watch the President or Vice President make remarks and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

4) There is a moment of silence at 3pm local time on Memorial Day.

moment of silenceA law was passed in 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance Act, to reinforce the meaning of Memorial Day. The law asks Americans to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.'”

5) We are still at war.

Americans are still sacrificing their lives in Afghanistan and elsewhere as we continue to fight the global war on terror. The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan will officially end, however, in late 2014. Also, President Obama gave a significant speech yesterday arguing for an end to perpetual war in the post-9/11 era. You can read the full text of the speech here, or a good nonpartisan analysis here.

6) Veterans and military families need help.

Those Americans who survive war too often struggle disproportionately when they come home. Nearly one in seven homeless adults were veterans as of December 2011. 12.5% of veterans aged 18-34 were living in poverty in 2010, and the unemployment rate of veterans aged 18-24 still stands at over 20%.

disabled veterans playing basketballOn this Memorial Day, consider donating to non-profits that support veterans and their families, or, you can send a simple note of remembrance or thanks. Here are just three of the many well-governed non-profits helping veterans:

Operation Homefront – Focused on military families, its website features a “Current Needs” tab that lists specific needs for specific veterans; all cases are verified to ensure legitimacy.

Joining Forces – An initiative of First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, its website offers a clearinghouse of resources for veterans and their families. Its “Get Involved” link can help you find ways to help locally.

The National Gold Star Family Registry – Through this website, you can honor a “fallen hero” without spending a dime. It contains a registry of names of all who died in service to the country since the beginning of WWII. Just register and search the directory.

Have fun on Memorial Day, but also remember what it’s for.

A Sting-Ray Bike Was a Ticket to Cool

This past week, my early-childhood glory days came flooding back to mind at the news that the inventor of the Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle, Al Fritz, had died.

1967_schwinn_16--Sting-Ray bannerThe precursor of the BMX bike, the Schwinn Sting-Ray was built from 1963 to 1981 and was America’s most popular bike. When Al Fritz rose to become Schwinn’s research and development director in the early 1960s, he looked for fresh ideas in bicycle design. He heard about a southern California fad of tricking out old 20-inch-frame bikes with high “ape hanger” handlebars and banana seats to look like customized Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Fritz was inspired. He pushed through a line of novel-looking bicycles that offered those same features and other accessories like whitewall tires, neon colors, and hot-rod looking stick shifts.

Sting-Rays became known as the “Corvette of bicycles” which, at the time, meant it was the ultimate ticket to Cool.

1967_schwinn_slik_chik_fairlady catalogMy parents gave me a Sting-Ray bike in the late 60s. It was the best thing I ever owned as a kid.

Here’s why:

  • It was new – Not to sound ungrateful to my loving and generous parents but, because I was the youngest of eight kids I grew up using mostly hand-me-downs. Lots of them – clothes, toys, Catholic school uniforms so worn the fabric was almost transparent. So when my parents bought me a new, “Sky Blue” Schwinn Sting-Ray bike, it was incredible because it was mine.
  • It was hip – Being new was reason enough for me to love my bike. But it was also hip (when hip was cool, when hip and cool meant good things). My Sting-Ray was actually the girls version called Fair Lady. It came with a white wicker basket trimmed in plastic flower appliqués, which sounds tacky but wasn’t then. Remember, wicker was also very hip in the 1960s, and plastics were the latest greatest thing, calling to mind the scene from the 1967 movie, The Graduate. My bike had all the hot new stuff.

  • It was popular – Every kid in America wanted a Sting-Ray bike, and many parents were happy to oblige – Schwinn sold almost two million Sting-Rays between 1963 and 1968. At one point, Sting-Ray bikes and knock-offs sold by competitors cornered 60% of the bicycle market. Those were the good old days when kids had more time and terrain to ride bikes.
  • Schwinn_Sting-Ray adIt was the ultimate training bike – I found my athleticism on my Sting-Ray. With its fat tires and low frame, I could pop wheelies and jump curbs. I could ride anywhere, on the street or in the nearby woods. I spent loads of time riding with my sisters and friends on the dirt trails that we cut in the woods; the trails featured steep slopes and natural ramps that allowed us to catch some air and clear streams. We were BMXers before BMX. It was freedom and adrenaline wrapped in kid fearlessness. Heaven.
  • It was righteous rebellion masquerading as mainstream – The Sting-Ray’s design allowed us to ride like rebels. Its revolutionary style, with the famous banana saddle and high handlebars, was taken from the early counter-culture. The Sting-Ray allowed us to look like rebels, too. We were easy riders like Easy Rider. Any dweeby kid in a small town could become a bad-ass with a Sting-Ray.

  • It symbolized a changing America – I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the popularity of the Sting-Ray bike signaled the cultural upheaval that would convulse the country by the late 1960s. The hippie subculture, Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam War protests were driven by rising youth movements that would erupt at once, changing the nation forever. To quote graphic designer, Robert L. Peters: “Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.”

Who knew that a cool kids bike would point the way?



My Rant About Spring and Selfish Wildlife

320px-Hatchling_birds_in_nest_with_eggsI know what you’re thinking: One, how could I – how could anyone – complain about spring? It’s like saying you don’t like flowers, or sunshine, or life.

Two, how could I complain about wildlife? I live in the city, although there are plenty of wild animals around, if you look.

Most of the year they’re fine. But in spring, the wildlife around here just bugs me. It’s that time of year when animals are all reproductive and emo and in your face with their needs. They’re selfish.

These are my main complaints about wildlife in spring:

Bird Gangs

Many_black_birds_on_telephone_wireThe birds on my street tick me off every spring. 

I couldn’t tell you which kind, because most of the year they’re quiet and furtive and I don’t even see them. But in spring, neighborhood birds turn hyperactive and form gangs that wake me up every morning at 4am with their infernal screeching.

These birds don’t herald a spring morning by chirping sweetly.

They scream.

I like to open my bedroom window at night to enjoy the springtime air. But that also means I have to put up with these feathered-dinosaur brutes on my block. They make such a racket that I have to get up and close my window to go back to sleep. I even run a gray-noise machine in my room to counteract city noises. But I still hear the birds.

I think they know it and they don’t care.

Trashy Bird Squatters

My beef with birds doesn’t end with noise. Every spring, birds take over my small back yard and trash it. Black birds, cardinals, sparrows, and mourning doves – they spend most of their time waging turf battles for nesting spots in my dense evergreen tree.

cardinal fighting wrenI always secretly route for the cardinals – yes, because they’re pretty and because I’m shallow – and I’m glad they won their nesting spot again this year (cardinals bring it!). But in all of the tussling, my slate patio underneath the tree gets pelted with a compound of pine sap and bird poop that maybe NASA engineers could remove but I can’t.

The bird poop problem hasn’t stopped there. Lately, some bird has made a perch of the rear-view mirror of my car, which is parked in a space behind my yard in the alley.

“Perch” is a polite word for it. I’ve walked out to find my car’s mirror caked in bird trots. The offending bird somehow projectile-poops across the car door, too, blanketing it with white rivulets of filth. This is wrong.

I spotted the perpetrator one day, a dove I think. I scared it away but by then it had already imprinted on my car: car = crapper. I reminded myself that, as a superior species, I had the capacity to thwart the bird.

I started tying plastic grocery store bags around both rear-view mirrors, to create a slippery surface that the bird wouldn’t want to land on. Like so:

Prius with bags






It’s working. But the irony is not lost on me that I’m protecting my environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius hybrid with disposable plastic bags.

Obnoxious Duck Families

These scofflaws are the most irresponsible breeders on the planet. Come spring, mother hens lurch in front of heavy traffic to jaywalk all over the DC metro area, leading their jerky ducklings into mayhem without a care.

ducklings-following-mother-mLook, I’ll always stop for a duck family; if necessary, I’ll even get out of my car and be their crossing guard. What chaps me is that the ducks know this and never show us commuters any consideration.

God forbid these vagrants use pedestrian walkways and signals, or listen to traffic reports and adjust their route. No. They’ll waddle across the busiest traffic arteries with their fuzz-ball babies tottering behind, wreaking havoc.

Like one morning last spring, as I drove to the mega-congested Mark Center in Alexandria during rush hour. I watched a black SUV five cars in front of me skid to the right as the rest of us slammed on our brakes. Sure enough, in-between the cars halted at odd angles ahead, I glimpsed a brood crossing six lanes of Seminary Road.

Duck families are coercive and I resent it.

Baby Animals

They’re the worst! Fuzzy, tiny, squeaky, helpless. One will appear to you one spring day under a bush, alone, just off the sidewalk as you’re rushing to catch the Metro. It twitches and bleats.

You squee and bend down for a closer look. You steady yourself as all of your emotional armor built up over a lifetime crumbles. But you don’t know how to help the baby, so you walk away distraught.

Baby animals are sneaky and manipulative.

But if the squirrel in my backyard ever produced one of these:


Baby Squirrel








It would be game over.

I’d probably tear out half of my shrubs to build a hutch for the mother and baby squirrel. Every day I’d leave them water and a bowl of shelled organic nuts from Trader Joe’s. No acorns for my darling.

party toothpicksI’d use my hand spade to bury some of the fancy nuts myself, so the little one would learn her life skills. But I’d mark the buried spots with party toothpicks so my precious charge could find the nuts easily.

I’d spoil my baby squirrel rotten.

Then in the evening, I’d watch the squirrel hutch from the shadows of my upstairs window. Blowing my hay-fevered nose until it bled, I’d weep tears of joy mixed with shame and tinged with fears for my sanity.

And you wonder why I’m not all woo-woo about spring?


[When you’re not annoyed by selfish wildlife in spring, consider donating to a local wildlife charity that helps sick and injured animals recover and return to their habitat. Find a group near you at: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/]



What My Elderly Mother Is Teaching Me About Evolution

First of all, my 91-year-old mother would be very unhappy to know that I wrote a blog post about her (if she knew what a blog post was). She is a private, proud woman of an era when news of one’s personal business didn’t extend much beyond chatter at church and the general store.

301px-Origin_of_SpeciesSecond, my mother would be equally unhappy to know that I’m associating her with the theory of evolution. At one time maybe, in her youth, she may have accepted Charles Darwin’s discovery of natural selection without feeling that it threatened her Catholic faith and spiritual outlook on life. But not in her old age. Only God and His mysterious ways matter to her now, and that’s fine.

My mother is more than entitled, at this stage of her life, to do/think/say just about anything she wants. I say “just” because Mom can still be imperious and peppery and she still scares me. As a mother of eight, grandmother of eleven and great grandmother of six (soon, seven), she’s had to lay down the law many times, and rightfully so. But she’s slowing down more and deserves a free pass.

Since May is the 50th anniversary of Older Americans Month, and Mother’s Day is approaching, there’s something I need to tell my mother next time I see her – that she is still teaching me important lessons about life.

That would please and surprise my mom, and I’m a dope for not telling her by now. I just visited her this past weekend in Pennsylvania. She still lives in the house where I grew up, and has excellent 24/7 care from a core group of caregivers with whom she’s formed a trusted and loving bond.

Although Mom is very fortunate to have the resources and support structure to stay at home, her big old brick colonial-style house grows larger and more obstructive as her frail body shrinks and loses mobility. Just days before my visit, my older siblings, who still live in the area, had ramps installed in her house. The ramps were placed over three sets of small steps that my mother can no longer negotiate on her feet.

So the past week has been stressful for her. Mom is rapidly transitioning from a walker to a wheelchair, and is doing so with a level of dignity and grace that I don’t possess. Darwin might nod knowingly when I say I have some of my mother’s traits but I lack others of hers I wish I had, including her emotional strength.

Darwin didn’t know anything about genetics or DNA, but his genius was in understanding the function of inheritance and its role in natural selection as the modification of inherited traits over long periods of time. As Darwin put it, natural selection preserves or creates “favoured races in the struggle for life.”

OAM Logo -- thumbnailWhat my elderly mother is teaching me about evolution, in particular, is how it affects memory as we age: As Mom’s short-term memory falters, more of her long-term memory emerges. And its vast store of wisdom and family stories is something I’ve neglected for too long.

Mom frequently frets about the loss of her short-term memory – she’ll pause in the middle of a sentence and sigh as she searches her mind for a forgotten name or date. “Damn, what’s the word…” she’ll say. Then she’ll apologize and look distressed, which makes my heart ache.

I always try to assure her that it’s no big deal to forget names and other short-term stuff. She knows how lucky she is to have as sound a mind as she does, with no signs of senility or Alzheimer’s disease unlike several of her friends both alive and dead. Still, it’s hard for her, knowing how much we have to repeat things to her lately.

Evolutionary biologists see short-term memory and its limited capacity as a survival mechanism that allows us to pay attention to a relatively small number of immediate concerns (predators approaching, where to seek refuge) so that we can make rapid decisions effectively.

301px-Mothers'_Day_Cake_cropIt makes sense to me, therefore, that short-term memory generally fades in the elderly, especially in those who are less active or retired. They are no longer looked to as often to make quick and important decisions, and that’s as it should be, because – hopefully – their welfare is ensured by loved ones and/or the community. They’ve earned their rest and our enduring respect.

So as my mother’s short-term memory weakens, I find her plumbing her long-term memory more which, by contrast, is very good. The farther back she goes, it seems – 50 to 60 or more years ago – the more vivid the memories.

Ask my mom about her first date with my late father – in 1948 – and she can tell you what day of the week it was (a Monday), what my dad wore (a bulky green tweed suit that his mother had bought him in New York), what kind of car he drove (a red Ford convertible) and how long it took him to call my mom after the date (a week and a half, because Dad drove to Virginia to break up with another girl before continuing to date my mom). My parents were married less than a year later.

Ask my mother where she went to dinner with my siblings a day or two prior, and she may not remember.

Colorful_spring_gardenI enjoy Mom’s old stories even when they jar, when she drops the long-gone into conversations of the here and now. In a phone call a couple of weeks ago, I told her how my one sister gave me a good idea for a baby gift for my niece Beth’s new baby. And Mom said, “oh yes, that’s the same kind of gift I gave to Bill and Nelly when they had their baby.”

“Who?” I ask.

My mom’s older cousin, Bill, and his wife, Nelly, when they had had a baby over 60 years ago. I said I don’t remember them.

“Oh heavens, Dear, that’s right,” Mom said, “they both died long before you were born.”

(Mom still talks like the 1930s and ’40s Hollywood screen actresses she watches in movies on TCM, her favorite cable TV channel.)

Later on, Mom told me more about her cousin, Bill, what a hard life he’d lived and how his parents – my mom’s Aunt Ann – had lost everything during the Depression. They split up the children to go live with different relatives who could take them in (Bill and his sister went to live with my mom and her parents). I knew none of that. My mother has seen so much in her life, and I’m ashamed of how little of her past I know.

What Mom is teaching me about evolution is that long-term memory endures in our elders, and for a reason – to pass on wisdom and lessons learned, to tell of calamities survived and endured. And, to recall milestone moments of a life well-lived, of what that individual valued and cherished.

In other words, Mom’s long-term memory is a treasure trove that I need to honor  — and mine – more often. It’s about time.