Doggone It

Many of you read Carol’s recent post announcing her hiatus from Permission Slips blogging (click here if you missed it).

I miss her already, and suspect that our loyal readers do, too.

Blog puppyCarol’s life is very full, raising the new puppy pictured here, managing a family that includes four children, ages 13 – 21, coaching the local high school’s JV girls tennis team, serving as an adviser to several start-up businesses, helping out with her family’s organic farm and playing tennis as often as she can.

I don’t know how she found the time to blog at all.

However, I think Carol enjoyed writing about the world around her. She is much more interested in politics, brain development, local government and sports than I am, and I believe readers enjoyed “hearing” her unique perspectives.

Personally, I liked it best when she wrote from the heart. Some of my favorite “Carol Posts” are listed here (click on the titles to read each post):

Carol and my friendship dates back more than a dozen years. Back then, our children were enrolled in the same Montessori preschool, but it was rare for parents to interact as many were dropping and picking up children on the way to and from work.

In early 2000, Carol’s third child attended my third son’s birthday party at a local play space. She approached me and said, “Everyone keeps telling me we need to get to know each other. I see you’re pregnant with your fourth child [due four months later], and I just found out I’m pregnant with my fourth.”

We immediately understood each other.

Since our kids are roughly the same ages, we started crossing paths more and more – at first-grade basketball games (her daughter was the only girl on the team), T-ball practices, PTA meetings, swim club events and while pushing full carts down supermarket aisles.

Our families became fast friends. After all, who else would invite a family of five or six to dinner?

And then, we started taking “Girlfriend Getaways” together (click here to read about one of our trips). This photo was taken on our Blog carol linda paris2005 trip to Paris, when I had my “mommy braces” (friends from Paris and London are at the photo’s right side).

After our third getaway, in response to friends who kept asking, “How do you do it?” we conceived of a book promoting and explaining the concept.

We attended a publishing conference in New York, secured an agent and met for hours each week to write our book proposal and sample chapters.

While our proposal was well received, publishers told us the timing wasn’t right – in the midst of a depressed economy – for a book about non-essential travel with friends.

So, we retooled our idea several times, and eventually decided to write a blog about frazzled women like us. We fine-tuned the blog’s concept as the time passed, and decided to keep it going as long as we were having fun and had something to say.

Three and a half years later, I’m still not sure where PermissionSlips is headed. We have a stable base of readers, get great feedback (mostly through emails and live conversations, not necessarily in the blog’s comments section) and seem to come up with fresh ideas each week. But I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort to expand the readership or try to turn the posts into a book.

Nevertheless, since I have made a career out of writing, I’m not ready to stop blogging. At the same time, I do get tired of hearing myself “talk” every week, so would really welcome submissions from others. If you’re interested in guest blogging, please let me know. The only requirement? Clear, concise writing that promotes some kind of “permission” (usually relating to the idea, “Give yourself a break.”).

And, please, if you have ideas for future posts, but don’t want to write them yourself, let me know. My goal is to make PermissionSlips as “user-friendly” and interactive as possible, for as long as I have the energy to keep it going.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 21 April 2014
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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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A Quotable World

Some people meditate to get perspective, others go for a run. Some might pray. Personally, I look for a good quotation to find inspiration, perspective and a good laugh. I litter my letters with them.

I am a lover of inspirational quotations. I have them on sticky notes, plaques and posters all over my office. I keep a file of quotations. I am the friend who will “like” your quotation posted on Facebook. Memes work for me too. I frequently visit the website Brainy Quote.  I have a hard copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I even get quotes emailed to my inbox each morning.bartlett's

Since I use quotations for situational inspiration, I can’t say that I have an all-time favorite. However, I do seem to return to a handful of writers and speakers again and again. These are some of my “go to” guys and gals. Here is small sample of their wisdom and humor which spans centuries and cultures.

1. Sun Tzu, Chinese military general, strategist and author. Born 544 BC.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

2.Mark Twain, American humorist and author. Born 1835.

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Note this was written about a 19th century group of politicians not about the 2013 U.S. government shutdown!

Eleanor Roosevelt with Fala

Eleanor Roosevelt with Fala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3.Eleanor Roosevelt, U.S. Presidential spouse, women’s and civil rights activist, syndicated columnist. Born 1884.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

4. Martin Luther King, Jr., U.S. Civil Rights Leader. Born 1929.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meet at the White House, 1966 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

5. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor. Born 121

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

Today’s inspiration is about giving ourselves permission to be unafraid. It is courtesy of Mark Twain.

Today’s inspiration is about giving ourselves permission to be unafraid. Mark Twain wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

 Who inspires you? Please share your quotations in the comments section of Permission Slips.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, October 7, 2013

Permissionslips1@gmail.com

Mind Your Ps and Qs

So I’m standing in the Starbucks line, rushing to grab a decaf before my first class, and the family in front of me is holding things up.

Three elementary-school-age monkeys are climbing on their mother, the register and the display case, throwing mom items to purchase, and just as quickly and rudely, swapping for other treats.

“I want this,’ a mop-haired girl announces as she hands a chocolate-covered graham cracker to her mother. “No, wait, I want these chocolates instead!”

The two boys are similarly grabbing, pushing and decreeing what their parent should pay for. “Don’t forget the whipped cream!” the oldest one yells.

It’s always when you’re in a rush, right?

When all is said and done, the mom and her kids move to the end of the counter, to wait for their drinks. None of them thanks the young lady at the register, nor turns to apologize to those in the growing line behind them.

Now, I know I’m going to sound like a cranky old lady (I’m really not that old), but I’m a stickler for manners. They, like compliments, don’t cost a cent, but (like pennies in Canada) seem to be in short supply.

I learned from the best. My mother’s mother demanded thank-you notes when she sent birthday checks or Christmas gifts. In fact, she stopped sending one of my brothers his annual five bucks because he never replied with a word of thanks. (I believe he thought that was a fair trade-off.)

My mom didn’t know the meaning of “helicopter,” and perhaps allowed us to act a bit more “free” and unruly than our friends. Just ask our next-door neighbor, Roy, who on a regular basis, after the inevitable mayhem occurred (another broken toy, a hole in the new blow-up wading pool), would yell, “Alan and Linda, it’s time for you to go home.”

However, I’d like to think we always left with a hurried, “Thanks for having us!”

As soon as my sister Jean could read (she has Down syndrome, so this was no small achievement at age eight), my mother gave her a book entitled What Do You Say, Dear?

Jean and I delighted in the outrageous situations and engaging Maurice Sendak illustrations, which sneakily taught correct manners in social settings:
• You bump into a crocodile on a crowded city street. What do you say, Dear?
• The Queen feeds you so much spaghetti that you don’t fit in your chair anymore? What do you say, Dear?

On the school playground, we all enjoyed a group game called “Mother May I?” which involved penalties for not saying those three words before taking steps towards an endpoint. We all got the point.

I made sure my own kids knew to say “please” and “thank you,” while making direct eye contact, as soon as they could talk. Don’t get me wrong; they are not perfectly behaved young people, but they certainly are polite.

My kids look adults in the eye, give firm handshakes, carry their dishes to the sink and give thanks for meals. I demand they write Thank-You notes for gifts, kind gestures and parties (and I think of my beloved Nana every time).

In fact, I always told my oldest child, who was something of a loose cannon in grade school, that his manners could minimize the damage. He and I both agree that this was borne out on several occasions.

When my kids invite friends to the house, they demand they say hello and good-bye to me, and clean up after themselves. Just this summer, I overheard my 18-year-old tell a friend, who had slipped in through the basement door, “You need to go upstairs and say ‘Hi’ to my mom.” I like to hear “thanks” when they leave, too.

Last week, while I was hosting book club (if you’ve seen the mac ‘n’ cheese commercial, you have a good sense of our meetings), a new friend of my 16-year-old’s came and went without a word. She may have been intimidated by our group, but afterwards, I texted my son, “Don’t let that happen again.”

Perhaps most important, recent studies have shown that gratitude leads to happiness. To see the now-viral video making the rounds on Facebook, click here.)

So, let’s all remember to mind and model our Ps and Qs (a phrase my sister learned from a wonderful teacher who also valued manners). We’ll all be happier for it.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 30 September 2013
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20130930-092755.jpg

Blue Christmas and Dark Skies

As a kid, I never understand the line, “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again” in “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”

Blue skies and white snowSeriously, most children find the holiday season simply magical—buoyed by TV ads, store displays and the promise of presents—but many of my adult friends feel it’s stressful and exhausting. Yes, we love the decorations, the holiday music, the cookies and the parties, but the season starts too early and lasts too long, the kids become frenetic and the pressure to maintain the spirit nearly wrecks us.

Now that the holiday season starts in September (at least according to Costco and Target), by late December, some of us are ready to take all the red decor and “paint it black.”

I don’t think it’s true blues or depression, as in the Stones’ song, but perhaps we could call it end-of-the-year-itis. So, let’s just give ourselves permission to celebrate that the season signifies endings.

In Seattle, it does seem that the “whole world is black” during December. In fact, we endured something like 27 rainy days last month (totalling 6.79 inches of rain, in a year when we received 10 more inches than usual).

Because we live so far north, we experience very short days as we near the Winter Solstice.  Those with office jobs hardly ever see the sun (even if it isn’t raining), which rises at nearly 8 am and sets at about 4:15 pm in late December.

Despite the dark, wet, crazy days, most of us parents try to act cheerful, putting one soggy boot in front of the other. For the sake of the kids, we decorate, we bake, we shop and we wrap. We write Christmas cards and cherish annual photos and letters from good friends. We attend parties and performances, and watch Elf and The Santa Clause over and over.

For me, however, the month is about finales. It’s the close of another calendar, the conclusion of a stressful season and a reminder of my father’s and brother’s premature deaths in long-ago Decembers.

The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics points out that more Americans die in December and January than at other times of year. Sadly, those number ring true close to home: during one week last month, three local friends lost their fathers and another lost a younger sister. Another friend’s mother was gasping her last breaths.

In an effort to spread cheer for my family, I blast Christmas music throughout the house, and keep my car radio tuned to a commercial-free holiday-songs station. (Of course, I need to tune out Judy Garland, Elvis and the singers who lament, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”)

As the craziness builds to a crescendo, I look forward to the midnight church service, with the reminder of the season’s real purpose and the candles that flicker during a soulful “Silent Night.”

Yes, I know, surviving Christmas is certainly a first-world problem.

My friends and family have money, gifts, decorations, beautiful trees and presents galore. We enjoy bountiful meals, chic clothes, good friends and fun fetes. We have roofs over our heads, and no flood or wind damage to deal with.

Most of all, we have each other.

So, every year, I try to re-center with family. After the Christmas roast and creamed corn casserole have been consumed, my husband, children and I pack the car and head for the ski slopes. The gifts, the cards and the cookies stay behind.

We relish several days of simplicity, seeing nothing but endless vistas of blue and white.  At night, we sit by the fire and read or play board games. We don’t receive mail or phone calls from solicitors, and the biggest stress is trying to beat the morning lift lines. We decompress, breathe clean mountain air and challenge our bodies on bumpy ski runs.

We make resolutions for change and take a break from over-consumption.

Then, back in Seattle, we open new calendars, with all the hope and promise of fresh starts and new life.  School starts again.

Friends and advertisers focus on health, happiness and weight loss.

The grass here remains green, and new plants start pushing through the earth. Stores sell blossoming bulbs, such as daffodils and hyacinths.

The days stretch out, and by the end of the month, we’ll have sunlight—should the rain cease – until 5 pm.  Spring will follow soon, and the dark days of December will become a distant memory.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 7 January 2013
PermissionSlips1@gmail.com

More Than Fifty Shades

When I worked at a national news magazine, I learned that the optimal “cover story” evoked an equal number of “pro” and “con” responses. I found that to be roughly true after my recent blog post on the popular Fifty Shades of Grey series: half of the respondents thanked me for the warning not to read the book(s), and the other half expressed gratitude for encouraging the read.

What’s most interesting is that 90 percent of these remarks came through one-one-one conversations or personal emails, not comments on the WordPress or Facebook posts. Could my loyal readers be afraid to admit publically that they’re reading – and even enjoying – E. L. James’ books?

Do we need permission to take a break from our duties as serious grownups at work and home, where we normally spend our days stressed and hurried, cooking, driving, cleaning, spectating and reading children’ s books or school papers?

Is it so wrong to take flight from our normally frantic lives, and maybe even to fantasize a bit?

I admit that I did read the first book out of obligation to the book club (our meeting is this Thursday; I’ll let you know how the discussion goes). But, aside from the over-the-top sexual stuff (who knew you could do that with a riding crop, that balls could be inserted there and that you could buy things to “plug” certain orifices) – the story grew on me. And, when Book I came to a sudden halt, I moved right on to Book II (Fifty Shades Darker), and got sucked into the story of Christian and Ana’s burgeoning relationship.

So, ladies – and brave gentlemen – give yourself a little permission to escape every now and then, and let us know how the “trip” feels.

–        Linda Williams Rorem, 9 June 2012
PermissionSlips1@gmail.com

50 Shades of Embarrassment

After the plane reached its cruising altitude last week, I fired up the iPad and dove into my book club’s current selection. I had started the novel poolside the prior day, so knew the direction it was heading, but when I reached the potential “contract” between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, I started feeling a bit uncomfortable.

My unease was heightened by the fact that I was seated next to an elderly couple that was – along with their friends across the aisle, one of whom was breathing oxygen through a nasal tube – headed to the Northwest for an Alaskan cruise. The very sensibly dressed husband and wife at my side were eating sandwiches they had packed for the flight, and both were rushing to finish James Michener’s Alaska before landing in Seattle.

I’m not one for small talk on planes – I see them as mini vacations in themselves – so I generally give myself permission to keep my nose in whatever book I’m devouring. This time, as I read Ana’s thoughts on hard and soft limits with Mr. Grey, I was grateful that I hadn’t brought along a paperback with a tell-tale cover. However, just in case, every time the sweet woman next to me turned to take in the view out the window, I tilted my e-reader just a little to the right.

Those who know me well, and even those who know me just a little, will understand my discomfort and note the irony of my reading Fifty Shades of Grey. One of my college majors was literature – you know, writing papers on Chaucer, DeFoe and Hardy – and I’ve never opened anything by Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele, or with Fabio on the cover.

During my adult life, I’ve participated in several book clubs, and have always looked forward to monthly discussions of “real” literature (oh, and also the food, wine, gossip and general girlfriend time). Most of my friends and colleagues probably consider me a serious reader.

And yet, in the past few years, I’ve raced through the Twilight, Hunger Games and Stieg Larsson series, so I guess that even in my rapidly advancing age, I’m capable of change – or at least flexibility. Apparently, by relishing these popular, decidedly un-literary tomes, I’ve joined a new breed of “mommy readers.” And, like millions of others in this new demographic, I’m enjoying a book that’s widely considered “mommy porn.”

To enlighten the handful of you who have not heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s the story of a virginal, soon-to-graduate college student who strikes up a relationship with a late-20s gazillionaire, who has a taste for eroticism and contracts the sexual novice to become his “submissive” for a three-month period. The troubled, yet handsome and very adept protagonist has a penchant for BDSM – a term that’s not part of my everyday vernacular.

Apparently segments of British author E. L. James’ book started appearing with the title Master of the Universe on a Twilight-related “fan-fiction” website a while back. After concerns of copyright infringement and the book’s sexual nature, James started publishing the series on her own site, FiftyShades.com.

About a year ago, an Australian “virtual publisher” released the trilogy’s first volume, Fifty Shades of Grey, as an e-book and a print-on-demand paperback. Through word of mouth and “viral marketing,” the book’s popularity snowballed, and this spring, Vantage Books reportedly paid James a seven-figure advance for the publishing rights.

In April, TIME Magazine listed James as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World,” and as of this week, James’ trilogy holds the top three spots on the New York Times best-seller lists for “Combined Print & E-Book Fiction,” “Paperback Trade Fiction,” “E-Book Fiction” and “Combined Hardcover & Paperback Fiction.”

The series is being translated into some 30 languages, a movie is in the works and it has provided fodder for Dr. Drew on The Today Show and the 82-year-old Barbara Walters on The View. It even received the popular-culture stamp of approval via a Saturday Night Live parody.

To be clear, the book is not for the faint of heart or sexually reserved. It is very graphic and steps well beyond the bedroom boundaries most of us keep. In fact, Fifty Shades of Grey has been banned – so far – by public libraries in Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin, but perhaps that only adds to its allure.

And while the content is titillating, to say the least, the writing is far from high brow. I’ve heard many women voice the same assessment as Huffington Post writer Julie Gerstenblatt, who recently noted, “I thought it was awfully written and yet I couldn’t put it down.”

The good news is that adult women who rarely pick up books are now reading voraciously. And, as someone who would love to write a novel someday, I’m all for the publishing industry’s survival.

Here in the Seattle area – where much of the books’ activity takes place – Shades of Grey has become Topic A among moms at the gym, the grocery store, charity league meetings and dinner parties.

The phenomenon has spread across the nation. In fact, last week an LA-area friend posted a Facebook photo indicating that a dozen or so of her book club members tackled a 50 Shades discussion with cold beverages in a hot tub. Now that’s a meeting I would have liked.

As for my own book club, our tastes have recently ranged from The Help to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We advocate a low-pressure approach – understanding that most of us juggle zillions of obligations – and stress attendance and fun over book completion. And so, over the past few weeks, when I have run into my fellow book clubbers in public, conversations have taken place in hushed tones: “Are you reading it?”; “How far are you?”; and “I couldn’t put it down, and now I’m finishing the third book.”

In truth, I haven’t found much inspiration from the book. I am, and always will be, a somewhat prude Midwesterner at heart (just ask some of my former boyfriends). I don’t dream about Christian Grey, and I certainly don’t fantasize about cheating on my husband of 21 years.

And, yet, I’m still reading – mostly on the elliptical at the gym – and I’m determined to finish the book before my club’s meeting.  Maybe that’s the point: because my book club and just about every other 30-plus woman in America is reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve given myself permission to do so, too. And, really, what’s the harm in that?

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 21 May 2012
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