Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clothes-ing the Door

It wasn't so long ago that "dressing for success" meant having a wardrobe that was never worn outside of the workplace. Things have changed.

A trip back in time takes me to my years as an elementary school teacher. In approximately 1971, a district wide teachers' meeting was called at which it was announced that women teachers would be permitted to wear pantsuits to work! We were wildly excited! It meant that we could stoop, bend and reach in more ease and comfort. Strict guidelines were set: matching pantsuits only, no separates, no capris and certainly no denim. Nevertheless, we were giddy about being comfortable on the job.

Workplace fashion was beginning to evolve.

After teaching, I worked in law firms from the 1970s through the 1990s. My career clothes included suits, tailored jackets and skirts, fully lined and tasteful trousers, blouses, a few cardigan sweater and pumps. Conservative and tasteful were the operative words. I paid a significant amount of money for clothes and routinely supported my local dry cleaner.

The first indication that the world was "relaxing" a bit more was the initiation of "casual Friday." In the early 1990s, a friend at another office announced that Casual Friday had arrived at his company. It was triumphant, the sign of modern thinking and the easing of the staid rules of appearance which had been in place for decades.

Business casual has now found its place and khakis and jackets are a fine compromise, although Brooks Brothers remains the staple in certain careers and locales.

I still flinch when I am greeted by someone with a face filled with piercings, each tiny opening decorated with a small dangling ornament. A few months ago while shopping at a trendy boutique in a large nearby city, a sales clerk wearing a Mohawk and large spacers in his earlobes caught my attention. It must be a generational thing. In such instances, I am struck not by the appearance of the worker, but by the fact that his supervisor/employer allows someone to meet and serve the public while looking like he ran away from the circus.

As Dorothy would say, "I guess I'm not in Kansas anymore."

It's good that our clothing requirements have eased somewhat. How liberating to toss a pair of khakis into the dryer and forego paying the cleaners to do the same thing.  But perhaps the relaxing of workplace requirements has gone about as far as it should. I believe in being comfortable, but it appears that our standards continue to slip.

In January 2012, Caddo Parish Louisiana proposed an ordinance to prohibit locals from wearing pajama pants in public. If that seems a little unnecessary, you might want to look around. Not only have I seen people in pajamas, I have seen people wearing much worse and far less. Casual is one thing. Absurd is another. We need to guard against dropping the bar too low.

Friday, February 24, 2012

On Reaching That Age

This phrase can mean different things to different people. The age when you no longer need to color your hair. You no longer need to converse with hollow co-workers of child-bearing age who love swapping stories about potty training. You no longer need to worry so much about things that don't matter.

Reaching "that age" can be completely liberating.

People talk about becoming mature as a horrible transition. It sounds as though you wake up one morning and are no longer viable or interesting. Indeed, many people I know are no longer viable or interesting, but they are not new to that status. They have not be viable or interesting for most of their lives.

Some folks never mature and that has nothing to do with their chronological age. A friend of mine -- well beyond retirement -- is still looking for a girlfriend with a knock-out figure and dreaming of his next muscle car. Men who believe they are still 16 years old should take a long, careful look in the mirror. They may just have to readjust their thinking.

There are many good things about maturity, things that I don't remember hearing anyone discuss when I was younger. But perhaps it wasn’t in vogue back then to acknowledge the benefits of growing older.  People appeared to be "middle aged" one day and "old" the following.

People aged differently following World War II. Many men had given their youth and vigor to fight the war and returned home older, perhaps injured, certainly care-worn. They had to readjust to civilian life after years of combat. It was a difficult transition and some didn't have an easy time of it.

Women were also different in the 1950s. Many had never worked outside of the home before the war. They raised the children and kept the home fires burning. During the war, many women entered the work place for the first time. Some relished their new independence and stayed on. I had very few childhood friends whose mothers worked but gradually those numbers increased.

I see this period of change for women as a key factor to the evolution of aging. Women were allowed to become more independent, not that they appreciated the benefits at the time. Working exposed them to the world outside of their homes. There were many factors in play at the same time: birth control became more accessible, the economy boomed in the post-war prosperity and consumer goods were easier to manage on two incomes. Women took pride in contributing to the household and traditional roles were loosened.

Women who experienced life outside the box following World War II changed the way the world looked at them in return. These women cared about their own healthcare and took charge of their own lives. They saw things through modern eyes and became more flexible about how and where they lived.

People often remark they had no idea that retirement and aging could be so much fun. It's because retirees in the past often had few years remaining after they stopped working. Medical care and modern technological advances have helped to considerably extend that phase of life.

However, it now up to retirees to find stimulating and entertaining diversions to enrich those additional years.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pet Appreciation

We gain a great deal from our pets.

A glimpse through any pet supply catalogue shows a variety of gizmos for sale, including designer couture, sequined collars, beds and furniture, dishes and automatic watering systems. Available are several things that pets will NOT like - dog booties, nail sheaths for cats to prevent scratching, and toothpaste/toothbrushes. Nevertheless, well-intentioned owners will buy and try them.

Given the unconditional love that owners receive, it's natural that people want to pamper their pets.

Years ago, pets were cared for but not coddled. Many dogs were kept outdoors. In our family, we had cats who were fed well, played with and allowed to sleep in the house. I'm fairly certain we never had their teeth cleaned. There might have been rabies shots but no inoculations were available for feline leukemia or other communicable diseases. Cats were tended, brushed, got flea protection and were spayed or neutered. We loved the heck out of the cats and they were part of the family but that was the extent of options available.

A number of years ago, a boyfriend and I shared ownership of a little dog. When she was just a puppy, my friend tripped over her, breaking one of her little rear legs. She was put in a cast and got around fairly well as it healed. But when the cast was removed, she refused to put her weight on the leg. When the vet examined her, he announced that she needed a "tendon transplant." This was the mid-1970s and a well-known baseball pitcher had sustained a similar injury. The ball player had undergone surgery to reattach a tendon from one portion of his elbow to another. That was the procedure that we had done for our dog. The dog was fine and went on to a full and healthy life. But it was clear then that veterinarian care had evolved significantly.

Today's pets receive annual wellness exams, booster shots, tooth care and see the vet whenever a problem arises. Veterinarian care has become comparable to -- and in some cases exceeding -- human care. More precise care can be provided and pet owners are only too happy to do what is best for our pets.

However, there are different mind-sets among veterinarians just as there are among medical doctors. Pet owners should be aware when they are not getting answers to their questions or guidance regarding certain procedures. If the consumer is unhappy with the treatment, they should not hesitate to get a second opinion, especially if they are concerned about the welfare of their pets.

More people work long days and lived harried lives. Pets welcome us when we come home, wagging their tails and climbing onto our furniture and laps. They ask little except for food and to be petted and loved back.

Pet owners need to pay attention to their pet companions and help care for their needs. They deserve it.

Friday, February 17, 2012


We all tend to spend too much time thinking about things that really either don't amount to much or are things over which we have no control. Worry seems now to be intertwined with our modern culture.

Web media offers stories designed to evoke a response from the reader. Watch for this trend. Next time a "news" story jump-starts your adrenaline, stop and ask yourself whether this is a matter worth pondering or just more filler from the media.

When I was a child, I was the consummate worrier. My family called me their little "worrywart." The tendency for children to worry is not completely bad. It shows a sense of personal responsibility and concern for consequences, the latter trait largely ignored by children today. Worry merely needs to be tamed in children. Fretting too much at any age is like spinning wheels on a car - it gives us something to do without taking us anywhere.

Perhaps one of the goals in life should be knowing what to worry about and when to change our focus to other pursuits. Here are some wise folks expressing the foolishness that is part of worrying:

Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight. (Benjamin Franklin)

People gather bundles of sticks to build bridges they never cross. (Unknown)

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one. (Elbert Hubbard)

People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them. (George Bernard Shaw)

Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face. (Nelson DeMille)

If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you'll die a lot of times. (Dean Smith)

It only seems as if you are doing something when you're worrying. (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. (Swedish Proverb)

As a cure for worrying, work is better than whiskey. (Thomas Edison)

I am reminded of the advice of my neighbor. "Never worry about your heart till it stops beating." (E.B. White)

A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work. (John Lubbock)

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. (Mark Twain)

How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened. (Thomas Jefferson)

Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due. (William Ralph Inge)

Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime and too sleepy to worry at night. (Unknown)

And my personal favorite:
Rule number one is, don't sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it's all small stuff. (Robert Eliot)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Shadow People

Recently I awoke in the middle of the night. The view out my window was forlorn, dark and damp. It suddenly occurred to me that there is an army of "night people" whose jobs require them to work when the rest of us sleep. I call these folks the Shadow People.

There are many Shadow People performing tasks unseen to the rest of us.

Our health and safety depends on Shadow People for 24 hours each day. Firemen work a rotating shift, sleeping and eating at the fire station. There are 911 dispatchers, sheriff's officers and local police available during the night. Hospitals and other medical facilities require night shift workers. Emergencies must be attended. Anyone who has ever spent a night in the hospital is aware that nurses wake sleeping patients for medication and to check vital signs. In addition, hospitals have meals to prepare for the following day and maintenance matters to complete.

Transportation continues all day, every day. If you have flown a red-eye flight, you have seen the flight attendants and crews who help you arrive at your destination no matter what the hour. Airports require baggage handlers and ticket agents as well as cleaners who tend the facility when few are present. Ready to move us around on land are cab and bus drivers who go about hauling passengers to their destinations. Railroad trains run around the clock, requiring crews to perform their jobs. Over the road truckers often drive into and through the night, seeking rest and refreshment at truck stops which stay open to meet their needs.

The majority of radio and television stations are on the air 24 hours a day. Stations have engineering personnel present in the wee hours in case of weather or other unforeseen problems. Many newspapers are printed either late in the evening or during the night so that the latest news can be on our doorstep the following morning.

Any commercial store that is open 24 hours a day -- discount, convenience or drug stores -- require stocking, usually during night hours. Crews have to replace items sold during the busier daytime hours. Bakeries often have to start bread rising or pastries baking as early as 3:00 a.m. How else can those morning donuts be fresh?

In large metropolitan areas, produce vendors converge at distribution points during pre-dawn hours to unload and sell their wares. This includes farm fresh produce, live flowers and, in some areas along the coasts, seafood. Trucks arrive and depart like bees around a hive to move produce for our consumption at home and at restaurants.

Shipment of merchandise continues all night with companies like Fed Ex and UPS receiving and sorting goods for distribution the following day. Postal sorting centers also work during nighttime to organize the tons of incoming mail and speed it along its way.

Anyone who has worked evening hours or "third shift" has likely thought of themselves as being the only person who has had to endure living on a clock different and apart from everyone else. But the truth is there is a legion of Shadow People which stays up all night so the world functions a little smoother during the day.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine's Day

On Valentine's Day, everyone is supposed to pretend that love is ideal, uncompromising and eternal, at least for 24 hours. There is something contrived about Valentine's Day.

It's a shame, too, since Valentine's Day is based on such lovely and well-intentioned themes as love, devotion and sentiment. How can anyone not want to show respect for such noble ideals? Children still exchange paper valentines with their classmates and friends. But adults are expected to participate with flowers, candy or some other token. Sorry men, but it is your responsibility to prevent the woman in your life from feeling slighted when she compares notes with her friends. And she will compare notes.

What are we actually celebrating? That we all own calendars and are aware of the date? That we finally remembered Valentine's Day after watching commercials for the past month hint about upcoming sales and specials?

Inevitably, some local news reporter who is having a "light news day" will appear on the street or at a neighborhood mall and ask some shopper if he/she has bought their Valentine's Day gifts. The interviewee will no doubt look stunned and announce, "Uh, no." They might also elaborate that they have no idea what to get.

Well, if that description fits you, fear not. I have accumulated a list of gift ideas from this week's local newspapers. The list is provided below. (These are actual gift suggestions. I could not/did not make these up!)

Heart-shaped box of candy (various styles and designs with various contents)
Valentine's Day Mylar balloons
Valentine's Day stick balloons
Greeting cards
Flower, strawberry, salad or herb garden grow kits
Assorted candies including heart-shaped pops, jelly pops and chocolate heart pretzels
Candy heart-shaped locket
Valentine's Day sock monkey
Gift bags, pencils, bracelets, assorted plush animals, candles
Heart-shaped sterling silver lockets
Gemstone jewelry hearts including earrings, bracelets and pendants
Valentine's d├ęcor including mugs, picture frames and owls (yes, owls)
Sapphire heart-shaped earrings
Fresh-cut flowers including roses
Live plants including orchids, lilies and miniature roses
Pillow pets
Heart-shaped cakes and cookies
Boxes of loose valentines
Valentine's Day favors including notepads, erasers and stickers
Valentine mailboxes (to decorate yourself)
Lingerie and sleepwear including thongs and boxers
Heart-shaped toss pillow or heart-decorated plush throw
Heart-decorated ribbon and floral arrangements
Valentine's Day apparel including graphic T-shirts and socks
Hair accessories including heart-shaped barrettes
Heart-shaped bake ware and candy molds
Heart-decorated table linens and kitchen towels
Hand-painted wine glasses and champagne flutes
And for those with no imagination, pre-assembled kits including lotion, candy, body paint and underwear.

If anyone you encounter says that they have no ideas for a Valentine's Day gift, you might suggest that they pick up the newspaper or venture off to the mall. There are enough holiday-themed useless items to go around.

For people with some imagination, there are plenty of other things that women enjoy. Try giving her some type of personal indulgence, like a manicure, facial or spa appointment. Many hotels offer overnight or weekend packages with room service and all the trimmings.

But it's a shame that men believe that the best gifts cost money. Few things are as nice as just spending time with someone you care for. In this era of texting and emails, it's nice to have one-on-one conversation. Cook dinner for her and enjoy it quietly (without the kiddies). You don't have to have gourmet skills. If your specialty is spaghetti with bottled sauce, she will likely be thrilled.

It doesn't take a lot to let someone know what they mean to you. Just don't forget to do something.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stop Wasting My Time

I remember how excited our family was in 1954 when we bought our first television. I was very young, but the anticipation tingled throughout the household like an electric current. It was a magical event.

Others over a certain age may also have experienced the exhilaration when television first appeared. There were few channels available then and reception was transmitted through an antennae installed on the roof. Pictures were not always clear as reception was limited by geographical obstacles and distance from the transmitting station. That didn't matter to those of us being allowed entry into the realm of entertainment and expanded knowledge.

Television seemed fairly exotic. We eagerly watched primitive programming, some of which featured soon-to-be famous celebrities like Walter Cronkite and great actors just beginning their life-long trade. Programs were often performed live and stars like Sid Caesar appeared right in our living rooms and transformed our daily lives. We were thrilled and everything was new and fresh.

That was then. This is now.

Network television today is weak and unimaginative. The "Big 3" networks have lost the insight and dominance they originally possessed. Networks that once took a chance with innovative programming appear to be clueless as to why they no longer pull in the ratings. Once giants of the medium, networks now merely cast shadows. Viewers who watched with allegiance and witnessed their decline wonder what happened to allow this slide.

Recent so-called awards shows including the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild confirmed that now the most original programming comes from cable channels like HBO and Showtime. These channels are attracting big-name acting talent, highly successful directors and producers and the results are evident.

A lot has happened in America since the first black and white sets made an appearance in our living rooms. One president was assassinated and another resigned in disgrace. We participated in wars around the world with varying degrees of success. The economy has risen and fallen repeatedly and precipitously. Technology has become a major factor in everyday life. But the television networks, which once had the power and know-how to reshape entertainment, have dropped the ball.

Newton Minow, who served as the head of the Federal Communications Commission under President Kennedy, was a very wise man. Over 50 years ago, Minow made a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in which he made some very wise observations including: "When television is good, nothing -- not the theatre, not the magazines or newspapers -- nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse."

That well-known Minow speech was made in 1961 and was prophetic on many fronts. Unfortunately most of television either wasn't paying attention or allowed his words to dim through the years since.

Television has always had the ability to inform and entertain the audience. However, pursuit of the almighty dollar and ever increasing ratings have shaped output by the networks until there is neither substance nor enlightenment. Too bad, Big 3. Thank goodness there is someone willing to step up to the challenge and provide something new and different.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


It's time to show appreciation for our feet.

Like other important components of our lives, feet help us a great deal. They secure us when we stand, propel us when we walk and ask for little in return. Yet they are abused, crammed into ill-fitting and often foul-smelling shoes and generally ignored.

I read that a recent survey showed a large percentage of women have knowingly worn uncomfortable shoes rather than be out of fashion. Naturally there are some fashionistas who would agree to such behavior. But a large percentage? The survey had to have been conducted of "women" under the age of 22 to compile such a statistic.

When you return home after a long day, likely that the first thing you do is remove your shoes. There is no pleasure that compares to the removal of restricting shoes. Even tennis shoes or outdoor oxfords can grow heavy and burdensome by the end of a long day. "Freedom at last" our toes shout collectively.

Of course, children are oblivious to many foot dangers. As soon as they toddle, they walk barefoot in the grass, splash in wadding pools or climb on furniture. Even these activities expose tootsies to injury, splinters and stubbing. But parents usually aren't worried yet.

Children soon enter a phase of continual growth. Parents become watchful over the size of the kiddies' feet, purchasing new shoes routinely. Feet are pivotal in the growth cycle and most moms can quote the size of the little ones' shoe without hesitation.

By the time we enter the adult world, our foot size is fairly established. We may change a half-size now and then depending on our activities and the type of shoe chosen, but most of us have reached a certain and constant number.

But many pitfalls await feet and toes. They can be injured when something heavy is dropped on them. They can be pinched inside shoes to the point of excruciating pain. This happened to me last year after one afternoon in "cute and stylish" shoes when I developed a "Morton's neuroma" on my right foot. It was the most painful injury I have ever experienced, worsened by the fact that I was on my feet for hours on end at the time. After six months of treatment, the matter is nearly resolved. The entire experience gave me a new-found appreciation for how we depend on our feet.

As adults, we nearly disregard our feet entirely. They are there when we remove our shoes and again when we wake up and search for slippers. Feet are there in the bath and shower, they move quickly when avoiding puddles and more carefully when trying not to fall on the ice. They like to be warm and appreciate being elevated when tired.

I know people with serious joint pain and some with disfigured and misaligned joints and they have a tough time accomplishing tasks while enduring pain.

Be kind to your feet once in a while. Apply moisturizer and remove callused skin when you have a minute. These guys work hard to keep us moving forward and deserve our respect.