Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Awareness. Laughter. Support.

Most people have heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  It is a charity effort that has gone viral on the Internet. I was recently tagged for this challenge.  I only swim in heated pools, and a cold shower sounds like torture to me - so I really had to muster up enough courage to participate. 

A. Awareness

Once better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, the medical name Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (or at least the acronym ALS) has become a common topic of many recent conversations. Videos posted on social media sites of people being doused by icy-cold water have greatly increased awareness of the disease. Not every participant in the challenge has donated money, but many people have. The campaign has been so profitable that similar challenges have even been created to raise money and awareness for other worthy causes.

L. Laughter

There has been much creativity and humor in the video productions of these challenges. It is hard to dump water on someone's head - or have it dumped upon your own - without a laugh (and possibly a scream!) or two. If the challenge lacked this element of fun, it probably would not have been as successful. 

But ALS or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis itself is no laughing matter.  An incurable disease which leads to progressive paralysis and death is really much more appropriately a cause for tears. 

S. Support

Humor may be the element that solicits participation in the challenge, but feelings of empathy are what guide us to our wallets. Empathy - and in many cases, publicity! According to the rules of the ALS Challenge, once a person is "tagged" by someone else, they must do one of the following:
a.) produce a videotape of a bucket of ice-cold water being poured on their head 
b.) donate $100 to an ALS charity.  

To Participate or Not: 

Some people have opted not to participate or completely adhere to the rules of the challenge, because of an awareness of water shortages and various other concerns. Some of these people, however (Matt Damon and Charlie Sheen for example) have found other very creative ways to pledge their support.

I chose to participate in several ways 

So as not to appear a coward, I allowed my son to dump a cooler full of ice water on my head. My daughter and husband filmed the process and enjoyed witnessing my anxiety and discomfort!

What persuaded me to participate was the realization that just a few seconds of discomfort (cut short by a dip in our hot tub!) are incomparable to the agony suffered by ALS victims and their loved ones.  If my actions help increase awareness of ALS and lead to a cure, a videotape of me anxiously stumbling over my words and experiencing a few wet, chilly seconds is a small sacrifice for me to make! 

While it is true that we should all conserve water when we can, it was actually good for our grass to have a little extra water dumped upon it today. A lack of sanitation and water shortages are a global concern that should be taken seriously though. With this in mind, in addition to making a donation to ALS, my family and I also just sent a donation to water.org. Even if you are not tagged in this challenge, please consider donating whatever amount you can afford to ALS or at least one charity of your choice this year. 

I am publishing my Ice Bucket Challenge video in this post, (which will be published on Facebook also) with the hope that it will do more good than just provide you with a laugh.

Have you participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge yet?


This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog.  Check them out!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Weekend - Summer Is Not Over Yet!

Labor Day Weekend is celebrated in the United States and Canada (spelled Labour Day there!) on the first Monday of September. It typically symbolizes the end of summer for most of us. My calendar, however, says the last day of summer is actually September 22nd. Many schools are back in session before Labor Day Weekend, and September can be a warm month with summer-like weather.  So why does Labor Day weekend seem to mark the end of summer?

According to timeanddate.com, in the United States: "Labor Day is annually held on the first Monday of September. It was originally organized to celebrate various labor associations' strengths of and contributions to the United States economy. It is largely a day of rest in modern times."

Labor Day is a United States federal holiday, which always falls on a Monday about the time school is back in session. Maybe we associate it with the end of summer because it is the last long weekend of the season.  The three-day holiday reminds us to enjoy the nice weather before it comes to an end. In many places of the United States, it will soon be cold and the snow will begin to fly.  Boats and fly rods will be replaced by ski lifts and mittens.

But seasons tend to blur in Montana, the state where I live.   This is a place where you can start a hike in hot weather - and then enjoy body-sliding/glissading down a snowy slope! Snow can be found here any time of year - but we have summer for only for a few short months!

Image: A photo of my son and some friends, during a June hike we took in Glacier National Park.
Does it feel like the end of summer today where you live?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog.  Check them out!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Safe Travels This Weekend Everyone!

This photo was taken during a hike in Arizona - with a view of the road - way, way down  below!
The Arizona Desert has some of my favorite types of topography and vegetation in the United States.
The quote by Doug Larson* (on the top photo of this post) struck me as a good reminder that people should use extra caution while traveling this weekend.  Traffic increases during holiday weekends, and drivers may be driving unfamiliar routes or be distracted. 

Have a fun weekend - and be safe!

*Doug Larson was a columnist and editor in Wisconsin. 

Have you ever been to the desert?
What are your plans for this weekend?  

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog.  Check them out!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Adventures in Germany - Fiction and Fact.

Words for Wednesday Word Challenge

Words for Wednesday is a word prompt challenge I have been participating in for the past few months. Up until this week, all of the fiction I have created using these prompts has been published on this blog. 

This week, I gave myself a time limit of 30 minutes to create a true work of flash fiction, using the words as soon as I saw them. Like many bloggers do, I published my piece immediately in the comments section of the Under the Porch Light blog post, where the words had been supplied.  

This week's words were: infiltratesplendid, gastronomic, chipped, dither, tankard.

My sister and I in Germany.  I'm holding what may be a stein or a tankard, but is probably a mug of beer!

What I wrote this week, and where to read it

What I wrote was a short fiction paragraph that involves beer, a German vacation and an accident. You can view it on the blog Under the Porch Light.  Just click on this link, and then look for it in the comment section at the bottom of that blog post.  My story is part-way down in the comments: look for a good sized paragraph submitted by Susan F.  While there, I encourage you to read the other submissions as well!

My Inspiration

My word prompt paragraph was totally fictitious. While I was writing it, however, I was reminded of a time when I visited Germany with one of my sisters, during a Eurail pass vacation.  While there, I ordered a beer, and paid for the Lowenbrau stein as a souvenir. (I have never loved the taste of beer - so I desired the mug more than the beverage!) Today, I became curious as to whether a beer stein and a tankard are the same thing. I just did a little research on the Internet.    

Maybe just a mug?

Explanations of the terms stein and tankard are varied.  One site, suggested that a tankard should be all pewter or all-silver, and both a tankard and a stein have a hinged lid and a handle; a mug has a handle, but never a lid.)  Other sites indicated that a stein may or may not have a lid, and a stein must be sufficiently large to be called a tankard.  Confused?  So am I!

A trip to Germany

While in Germany, (a few decades ago) my sister and I visited the town of Baden-Baden - home of a famous spa and the Black Forest.  While there, we bought cuckoo clocks and ate Black Forest Cake.  I just found a recipe for "authentic Black Forest Cake" on Food.com that looks fun to try. 

Baden-Baden, Germany - me at the train station, and a store full of cuckoo clocks!

We left Baden-Baden, and then enjoyed sight-seeing in the University town of Heidelberg.

A train took us to Mainz; from there we took a five hour cruise of the Rhine Valley, between Mainz and Cologne. (My notes were good in my photo album - or I would never have remembered these details!) We saw many vineyards and beautiful castles. We were served a lunch of "Black Forest Deer Stew" and - of course - glasses of wine made from the grapes of the valley!

It was a chilly summer day for a boat ride, but the Rhine Valley was beautiful!

We disembarked in Koblenz.  The advantage of backpacking: we had all of our belongings with us, so we could just continue on our way through Germany from there!

There are many beautiful old buildings to admire in Koblinz

We spent an afternoon in Koblenz, sightseeing and shopping - and my sister and I both bought small Hummel figurines.  We boarded an early evening train for Cologne (Köln).

We had a wonderful meal of German food and beer in Cologne - the memory of which prompted this post! We felt safe wandering the streets of Cologne until after midnight, admiring the beautiful "Dom" cathedral and the work of the chalk artists.

These photos give a glimpse of the beauty we saw, but nothing compares to traveling and actually seeing these  wonders yourself.

Too broke to afford a hotel, that night we rode a train from Cologne to Koblenz and then back. This is a favorite trick of Eurail backpackers - save money and have a safe place to rest by taking advantage of the train rides all free to owners of a Eurail pass! In the morning, we watched the interesting process of a mail delivery being unloaded at the train station.

We then boarded a different train - on to our next country, and more adventures.

Do you like to travel by train?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog.  Check them out!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

To Give is Truly to Receive

I saw the following video on Facebook this week, and there are no words (in any language) that I could add here to make it any more meaningful, or more important.  Its message is about making the most of not just our own moments - but the moments of people all around us.

I hope you take three minutes (3:01 minutes, to be exact) to watch this clip to the very end.  I found the whole thing heartwarming, but there was a particular moment that made my pulse jolt - and then my heart flood with relief.

I challenge all of us to perform similar selfless acts of kindness today, and every day.  
I'm calling the Red Cross today to make an appointment to donate blood.

What unexpected benefits have you experienced by helping or being kind to someone else?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog.  Check them out!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back to School ... or Going There For the First Time!

The first day of the school year is always an important milestone.

  • Excitement and some fear are common emotions (for students and their parents!) on the first day of preschool - kindergarten - first grade - middle school - high school - and college.  
  • The first day of every other grade is significant as well.  It is an opportunity for a fresh start after a summer of growth, with all new classes, new teachers, and possibly even new friends as well.  
  • The first day of the last year of college has special significance - the last of these firsts!   My niece recently wrote on Facebook: "Cheers to my last first day of school."  
Image: Alphabet cookies I baked with my kids, after a first morning of preschool

Important milestones should be celebrated and documented.  

Many families have traditions regarding these firsts.  We have some - although if Pinterest had been available when my kids were small, we might have a lot more!  I relied heavily on magazines such as Family Fun and Parents for creative ideas.  The wealth of information on the Internet now makes it easy to be inspired by many good ideas.

Our Family "First Day of School" Traditions - and what I wish I had done differently:

  • On the first morning of every school year, we've taken photos of my kids, before they've headed out the door. - I wish now that I had given them a sign to hold, showing the date and the year of school they were entering.
  • I've always tried to cook a special dinner on the first day of school. - It would have been even more meaningful, had I always cooked the same special menu.
  • I saved special school papers and art work. - I wish instead that I had taken a photo of my child with the art work (which I might have then discarded) and created a scrapbook of photos of their work. This would have created less paper clutter - and I would now have a photo of the child at the age when they produced each piece.
  • We occasionally videotaped on the first day of school. - I wish I had done a short videotaping on the first day of every school year. Growth shows in photos - but children's voices change a lot from year to year.
  • We go back-to-school shopping for clothes before the first day of school every year. - I didn't always realize how quickly the weather would cool off - and should have bought less warm-weather attire, as it was sometimes outgrown before it saw much wear.
  • There is something motivating about new pencils, crayons and school supplies.  - Rather than just shop with my children for their own supplies, I wish I had encouraged them to pick out supplies to donate to others in need.
  • With the beginning of school, I always tried to be sure my kids took their daily multi-vitamins and got adequate rest. - In retrospect, I would remember to be sure my kids took their vitamins and got adequate rest. Being back in the classroom means being exposed to lots of germs!

On the first days of preschool, we took before pictures - and these after photos to document the day!

First Day of College - A Surprise for Mom!

Last year my daughter moved to another state for college.  Imagine my delight, when on her first morning of classes, she sent me a text that read "the obligatory first day of school photo." It was accompanied by a photo of her taken by a friend, before heading out to her first class!
My daughter continued our "first day of school photo tradition" on her own in college
Of course, receiving this text and photo made me cry. I realized something though. All those years of making my children pose before they headed out the door meant something to my kids as well.  Family traditions are important.

Our school starts (for 10 - 12th grade) on Thursday.

I wonder if my son, entering his junior year of high school, will remind me to take his picture before he leaves for school? I highly doubt it, but, like years past, he will humor me when I suggest it!

What Are Your First Day of School Traditions?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog.  Check them out!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Emmy Goes to ... (Should TV people have all the fun?)

The 66th Emmy Awards ceremony is now complete.  But why should people of television have all the fun?  Shouldn't we all be presenting and receiving awards on a regular basis?  By the end of this post, I think you will agree!

I took a photo of this image on our television screen.

If I were presenting, I would provide awards for categories of: 
  • kindness, 
  • support, 
  • wisdom, 
  • accomplishment, 
  • talent,
  • helpfulness, 
  • guidance, and 
  • love.  
The recipients, of course, would be my friends and family.  For many awards, there would be more than one winner.

Emmy award "acceptance speeches" are often tedious to listen to, and get cut short by the music.  It is easy to think "hurry up" and "keep it brief for heavens sake" as an observer.  But, my list would not be short. I would want to thank: 
  • my husband and my children 
  • my parents and my siblings 
  • my in-laws and all of my extended family  
  • friends 
  • teachers 
  • anyone I have ever worked with 
  • doctors, nurses, dentists - anyone who has ever cared for me or my family  
  • blogger friends, who read and comment on my blog, and who teach me by example  ...
... By now the music would be playing, and I am just getting warmed up!  This list could go on and on.

I'm not suggesting we all invest in red carpets or designer evening wear; or even that a trophy is necessary.  But, the Emmy Awards reminded me of the importance of recognition for achievement, and gratitude to those who have supported us.  We should all try to express more of this for each other every day.

For me, and I suspect almost everyone, the most touching part of the 2014 Emmy Awards was a tribute, not an award.  For decades, Robin Williams has filled our screens and made us laugh.  Last night, his image filled our hearts with loss - for a man gone much too soon, before his time.  The gift of laughter which he gave to so many people was, in the end, the one thing he could not give himself.  

May his memory help spark better understanding of the illness of depression - and may someone, someday soon, receive a real award for the discovery of a perfect cure for this devastating disease.  In the meantime, as we all strive to give more compliments, words of encouragement and gratitude - perhaps we could think of it as giving out "Williams" awards.  

I can almost here Robin chuckling, as we say, "And the Williams goes to ... ."

What other categories for recognition would you add to the ones I listed above?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog.  Check them out!
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