Blog It or Not?

When we conceived writing Permission Slips back in the “old” days of 2010 we had only a vague idea about blogging. Social media was an emerging avenue of communication and the term “Blogger” was not widely used nor understood. Digital media outlets were not even considered legitimate journalism by traditional news organizations. However, the numbers of readers and writers exponentially exploded and could not be ignored. Finally, in 2012 the Huffington Post became the first blog to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the tide turned permanently.

We found blogging to be an accessible, democratized way to share stories. Without a publisher operating as a gatekeeper, we had unfiltered freedom and loved it.

In preparation for our blog launch we interviewed dozens of women and medical experts in-depth. During this process we observed an unhealthy behavior pattern. Women were running themselves into the ground in an all-sacrificing quest for the sake of work, community and family. This common pattern negatively impacted their mental and physical well-being and relationships. The doctors we consulted were seeing this pattern emerge at an increasing rate in their practices and were alarmed.

Thus, our blog mission was born. We decided that through our writing we would give frazzled women permission to take better care of themselves. The feedback was positive immediately. We heard not only from women, but also from men who shared our blog with their wives, girlfriends and mothers.

The stories seemed to resonate and aid the navigation of life’s road bumps, challenges and joys.  It should come as no surprise that health, parenting and friendship have been our most popular topics over the years.

While we don’t receive loads of public comments on our site, we do get many heartfelt emails from readers each week. Some letters are long enough to be blogs in their own right. We believe this is indicative of our ability as writers to bring up universal topics that hit a nerve. Our readers may be active on Facebook and Twitter but they prefer to “share” their personal journeys privately.

In 2010, Linda and I wrote topics together. Eventually, we split off and used separate by-lines to aid our own freedom of expression and give readers a little variety. Readers have said they enjoy this format.

In the past few months I have been admittedly a little off-mission in my writings.

I felt a little burnt out and took some delightful side trips. I enjoyed blogging about the Olympics, Seahawks and other topics that are perhaps not top-of-mind for frazzled women. This has amounted to one giant permission for me to display my personal passion for sports. I am pretty certain that a few readers who decided to follow our blog after reading some of these stories are wondering why the masthead is pink.DSC00174

Today I am giving myself another permission – to take a break from blogging. Linda will take over most of the writing and I will guest blog on occasion. Thank you Linda for being a great editor and mentor. I must owe you private tennis lessons for life by now.

Thank you so much readers for all your “likes, ” encouragement and thoughtful emails through the years. I have truly enjoyed getting to know you.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 31, 2014

permissionslips1@gmail.com

Spring Into a New Year

Last week marked the start of my favorite season, the appearance of sunnier skies and fragrant flowers, the 23rd anniversary of my marriage and the approach of Easter. For me, as for most people, springtime initiates deep cleansing and fresh starts.

Beautiful sunrises, clear skies and fresh air provide renewed energy and lead to more positive outlooks.

hyacinthsHouse windows open, letting in the scents of blossoming flowers and budding trees. Birds appear on windowsills and chirp as they fly to their new nests. Children squeal with delight while playing in their yards. Neighbors emerge from their homes and chat as they stroll in the evenings or work in their gardens.

Store shelves burst with gardening supplies, birdseed, short-sleeved clothes, Easter baskets and jelly beans.

Several years ago, a good friend introduced me to Nowruz, the Persian/ Iranian New Year, which is celebrated on the first day of spring, commemorating the rebirth of nature. As the sun crosses the celestial equator, bringing night and day into balance, it seems a fitting time for fresh starts.

Apparently Nowruz has its roots in the religious traditions of Zoroastrianism, which dates back to the 6th century BC and later influenced Judaism, Islam and Christianity. According to Wikipedia, “the religion states that active participation in life through good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep chaos at bay.”

Preparations for Nowruz include a major house cleaning (Khouneh Tekouni – shaking of the home) and the purchase of new clothes and spring flowers, such as hyacinths and tulips. It seems spring cleaning is a universal concept.

In addition, Nowruz promotes time to honor family and friendships with short visits and gifts. Wikipedia tells me that “whatever a eastercandyperson does on Nowruz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on Nowruz, then the new year will be a good one.” I grew up with similar versions of that concept: “Do unto others…” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

When my friend told me about this Persian high holiday, she showed me her family’s Haft-Sin – or seven S’s – table display. The array includes seven items, all starting with the letter “S” in Persian, symbolizing such virtues as age and patience, love, affluence and health.

I like to think of spring as the start of a new year, too. A new year of marriage and life, with a clean home, a colorful garden and thoughts of health, happiness, patience, love and good deeds, I wish the same for you, dear friends and readers.

Oh, and I give myself – and you – permission to dip into the jelly beans a bit early. I’m already on my third bag.

Linda Williams Rorem, 24 March 2014
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College Admissions Hunger Games

Over the next few weeks thousands of high school seniors across the country will be receiving news of college acceptances.  Some students will be elated after getting accepted by their first choice school. Others will be heartbroken after receiving a “no” from their dream school.  Both students and parents will try to make sense of a selection process that can appear quite arbitrary.

They have good reasons to feel this way as highly selective schools have thousands more applicants than slots available leading to the oft repeated mantra in college admissions communications, “Sorry, we reject more qualified applicants than we can accept.”

There has been a simultaneous escalation in the number of applications received by schools and the number of applications prospective college students submit. The phenomenon is driven by a system that equates college value with selectivity measured by a low admissions rate.

Since colleges are incentivized to drive up the number of applicants they deploy a variety of tactics to achieve this goal. The most basic tactic is advertising to students via glossy brochures and post cards after obtaining home mailing addresses from PSAT, SAT and ACT test registrations. Schools may also entice applicants by waiving fees or sending a partially complete application that requires merely a signature. The college doesn’t need to care about the quality of the applicant, simply the grand total of applications.college admissions solicitations

It is no wonder that college admissions are starting to feel like an academic “Hunger Games.” Colleges select “Tributes” from different “Districts” guided by student application “targets” and admission “yields.” There is no denying who the “Victors” are in this scenario – the schools and college admissions advisors – not the students.

The students incur the expense of applying to multiple schools with admissions rates that border on a lottery-style chance of winning. In 2013, schools such as Stanford and Harvard accepted only 5.7% of students who applied in a pool of 35,000 to 38,000 applicants. Happy college admissions games, the odds are never in your favor.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/colleges-announce-2013-acceptance-rates/2013/04/01/bc546484-9adc-11e2-9bda-edd1a7fb557d_story.html

Exacerbating the matter, the phenomenon is no longer exclusive to private universities. The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) received an eye-popping 105,000 applicants for admission to the fall 2014 freshman class. http://dailybruin.com/2014/01/17/ucla-sets-records-with-more-than-100000-fall-2014-applicants/.

The college admissions business is further fueled by the proliferation of private for-hire college admissions consultants and coaches. While many parents are happy to delegate the stress of the process to a non-emotionally vested outsider; the use of coaches may only serve to feed the monster. After all, counselors benefit by demonstrating the admission results of their clients. They are able to capitalize on parents’ lack of time and fear that their child will not “get into the best school.”  A recent article in the Huffington Post claimed that “In 2013, 26 percent of all college applicants — three times as many as in 2003, hired a “private admissions consultant” or an “independent educational consultant (IEC)” to assist with their college applications.”

The new era of college admissions can seem daunting and perhaps a bit discouraging at first but there is hope.  I am on my third round in this game. After observing my own college-aged children and their friends only one thing seems to hold true. If a student is happy and has found a good fit at their college they will thrive regardless of the institution. Go ahead and open up those emails from college admissions offices in the next few weeks and don’t take it as a self-worth referendum. The happy and satisfied adults I know have many traits in common – the one they don’t share is where they went to school.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 17, 2014

permissionslips1@gmail.com

Netflix Nearly Ruined My Life

Books serve as a window into different worlds, time periods and lives, and provide endless hours of entertainment and escape.

When I was a young child, books held a great mystery that I could not wait to unravel.

I remember the Bookmobile coming to our suburban-Pittsburgh neighborhood, and the excitement of checking out picture books. I recall the thrill of applying for my first library card (and bank account, on the same day), as soon as I could write my own name. And I have a fond memory of the first book my mom bought just for me; it was shaped like a sleeping cat.

Over the years, books have provided company during quiet afternoons, comfort in stressful times, unexpected knowledge and endless delights.

Movies provide much of the same pleasure, but in the past, they were less tenable and required advance planning.

Trips to the movies, for a family of eight, were rare. Birthday party outings to theaters were special.

We anxiously waited the once-yearly TV broadcasts of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  My mother let us stay up late when old Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields films ran. My siblings and I watched “Bozo’s Circus” during lunchtime (what kid didn’t love hearing, “Let’s go over the Bozo buckets?”), “Dudley Do-Right” cartoons on Saturday mornings and “Laugh-In” on Monday nights.

photo-2But with Netflix, it’s all too easy to watch movies and TV shows anywhere, any time. And, recently I got sucked in to the abyss.

Perhaps I should blame my 13-year-old daughter. She’s the one who showed me how easy it is to order films on an iPad. And, she introduced me to a TV series I wouldn’t have watched otherwise.

In an effort to retain any shard of respect you readers may have for me, I won’t mention the name of the program. Let’s just say it’s about people much younger than me, whose lives I really shouldn’t care about.

Here’s what happened: During a recent road trip, I watched several episodes of that show with Pea. It gave us an activity to share and something to discuss afterwards, and those of you with teenage daughters may understand that is no easy feat.

While traveling together, Pea and I watched the last five or six episodes of the show’s six-season run, and I was left with many questions.

“It’s too complicated,” she said, with the patience of a teenager. “You’re just going to have to start at the beginning.” So, she showed me how to watch the show on my iPad.

Soon, I had it streaming when I was cooking, answering emails and lying in bed (my husband travels for work every week). At the gym, I could watch an entire episode during one workout on the elliptical, instead of covering 45 pages of a novel.

I became far involved with characters that had literally nothing in common with me.

Now, I might add that during this period, the escape was welcome. Those who know me well would agree that the past year has been more than a little challenging for my family. While my husband and I are still married, gainfully employed and well-housed, we have experienced unparalleled stress and sadness related to several loved ones.

So, perhaps a few months’ “vacation” into these other lives was just what the doctor ordered.

But the price was too high, as l stopped reading. My stash of unopened New Yorker, Sunday New York Times magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Kenyon Review publications piled up. My email queue contained more than 2,000 messages. I stopped looking for French-class assignments in Le Monde. I barely touched the assigned readings for my two book clubs, and went to meetings unprepared (definitely not my style).

I tried to skip several episodes of the program, but that left too many holes in the continuing saga. So, I rushed forward, feeling a burning pressure to complete the series before my life was totally upended. “Okay, just four more episodes, and then I can finish this month’s book club reading,” I told myself.

However, the book selection totaled about 450 pages, and there weren’t enough hours in the day – after work and family obligations – to tackle them.

Last Tuesday night, as we discussed Lent at the dinner table,  Pea announced she was giving up junk food. She asked what I had chosen, and it dawned on me that banning Netflix shows on the iPad would provide much-needed respite.

So, I stayed up late that night, finishing the show’s last two episodes. I did feel a sense of accomplishment and great relief when I turned off the iPad that night. And I was more than happy to say good-bye to those self-indulged characters.

The next day, I started reading a great book at the gym, and I have several more queued up. A new day is dawning.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 10 March 2014
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Oscar Style

I grew up in L.A. – more precisely in “the Valley.” Although I now live in Seattle and my daily wardrobe consists of jeans, some variation of a black shirt and boots, I am a Valley Girl at heart. I have a great appreciation for bright colors, sequins and sparkle.

Long live the red carpet.

Last night I couldn’t help but look – the hair, the jewelry, the make-up, the dresses. I had a serious article teed up for this morning but instead of editing my essay, I found my attention happily diverted to Oscar style.  Apparently I was in good company. Yes, there is a war erupting in the Ukraine but it is the news of Ellen DeGeneres’ star-studded Oscar selfie that crashed Twitter.

I am going with the flow and shelving my contemplative matter for next time. Instead, here’s a few  links to all things Oscar. Even if you missed the show, you’ll be in the know with your friends:

  1. Ellen’s tweet that crashed Twitter: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/moviesnow/la-et-mn-oscars-ellen-degeneres-jennifer–lawrence-selfie-twitter-20140302,0,3402811.story#axzz2uv4Et6IQellen selfie
  2. Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech: http://entertainment.time.com/2014/03/02/oscars-2014-lupita-nyongo-speech-best-supporting-actress/
  3. Best Oscar dresses: http://www.vogue.com/vogue-daily/article/oscars-2014-best-dressed-celebrities-on-the-red-carpet/#1
  4. After party pictures: http://www.peoplestylewatch.com/people/stylewatch/package/gallery/0,,20768377_20789643,00.html
  5. Video highlights of best Oscar moments including Ellen distributing pizza in the audience: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lyapalater/the-best-moments-from-2014-academy-awards

In a year of unrelenting snow-fall in the northern part of the U.S., drought in California and global unrest, the Oscars provided a light-hearted break with the exception of a few political-statement acceptance speeches. It is a much-needed salve, permission to enjoy fluff. You’re welcome.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 3, 2014

permissionslips1@gmail.com

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