Crikey, there’s nobody like The Crocodile Hunter

On a dreary Saturday morning, we were channel surfing and came across a familiar face from years ago – Steve Irwin. Smiles broke out and we settled in to revisit Steve and his adventures.

Those of us over the age of 25 remember Australia’s favorite celebrity, the Crocodile Hunter. With his boundless energy and over-the-top enthusiasm toward crocodiles, snakes and reptiles, Irwin was a huge favorite, not only in our house but around the world.

More than just seeing if Steve was going to get bitten by a crocodile or a snake, Steve was constantly talking.

He introduced dozens of Australian terms to American audiences, including the famous “by Crikey” and his love of his home was evident in every show.

Our boys loved watching him lay down on the backs of crocodiles, jump into the water with 12-foot-long crocs and wave venomous snakes around like they were jump ropes.

His constant talking was more than nervous energy – he was educating the audience about the beauty, power and fragility of wildlife on this planet.

His partner was his wife, Terri. I remember watching the show when Irwin introduced her to the crocodile enclosure. He told her to go ahead and jump on the back of a crocodile to calm it down.

“I don’t think so, Steve,” she said as she backed away. But those two quickly became a conservation team, and their adventures throughout Australia were riveting.

When Steve was stung by a stingray in 2006 and died, the entire world mourned. No one could believe that someone who’d faced as many dangers as Steve had could’ve died in the first recorded death by a stingray.

Even though the whole world grieved with the Irwins, his family lost a beloved husband, a doting, hands-on father to then 8-year-old Bindi and 3-year-old Robert and their primary business partner in running the Australia Zoo started by Steve’s father.

Those children could’ve cratered or been completely destroyed. They had two major blows – they were in the public spotlight and they’d suffered a tremendous loss.

It’s unusual to come across children from any walk of life who have their life together after experiencing the sudden loss of a parent, much less the children of one of the world’s most beloved personalities.

Nobody would’ve blamed the Irwin children if they’d lashed out at the world, left Australia behind or hid in drugs or alcohol.

The world would’ve understood if they’d been spoiled brats. After all, they lost one of the most dynamic people the world’s ever seen, but to them, they lost the center of their universe.

Instead, their mother found the strength to continue Steve’s work of conservation and education. The children grew up around animals, just like their father, and embraced the message he believed in.

Today 16-year-old Robert and 21-year-old Bindi are conservation ambassadors who travel around the world, spreading their father’s conviction in protecting wildlife.

Lest we forget Steve, “Animal Planet” has compiled hours of footage from Steve’s earlier shows and added thoughts and remembrances from Terri and one of Steve’s best friends.

This new series gives viewers some insight into what was going on behind the camera. The footage and the commentary from those who knew and loved Steve remind the world that “the Crocodile Hunter” wasn’t just a showman or a daredevil.

Steve lived what he preached – get in there with the world, grab on with both hands and make sure passion is the main ingredient in everything you do. Long after his death, that’s a legacy worth embracing and passing on.

This column was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald. 

 

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Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday where we celebrate the ones we love with chocolate, flowers, cards and sweet sentiments.

Financially, those tributes benefit Hallmark, Hershey’s and FTD, but traditions are traditions. If we can get past the protestations of those who think these types of holidays are nothing more than a marketing plan to take our money, then let’s take a look at holidays and why they’re worth more than retailers would have us believe.

New Year’s Day is more than champagne and horn blowers. It’s a day of renewal, a day to make changes and promises. Of course we don’t keep them, but that’s where Mardi Gras shines.

For those not born in Louisiana, Mardi Gras is the day before Lent begins. The Cajun holiday is more than catching beads, digging through a king cake for the plastic baby and going to parades.

It’s the day where we admit what foods we’ve been cheating with since our New Year’s resolutions fell through the cracks. Mardi Gras is a day to make good on a new set of self-imposed rules and regulations for the 40 days of Lent.

Instead of giving up cake, those 40 days are a great opportunity to give up the things that cause us the most harm – toxic relationships and not taking care of ourselves.

Just about the time our willpower is close to empty after walking past the Cadbury chocolate eggs and giant chocolate bunnies, Easter arrives. For Christians, it’s a day to celebrate Christ rising from the dead and the start of a new year.

It’s also a great time to let loose the inner child in us. No matter how old you are, dyeing Easter eggs is fun. Even though we don’t have young children, I still drag out a Paas kit, vinegar and coffee mugs and dye all the eggs in the fridge.

Likewise with Halloween. I still love seeing little ones dressed up as princesses and pirates. Best of all, Halloween is my son and niece’s birthday, so instead of griping about how much all those bags of candy cost, I’m thrilled two of my favorite people came into the world on Oct. 31.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are big-ticket items. Sure there’s the oversized $5.50 Hallmark cards that play music, but nothing beats a hand-made construction-paper card from the kids.

Parents deserve more than a new frying pan or oversized coffee mug. These are the women and men who changed diapers, cleaned up spit, worried about us every day of our lives and do the thousand little things that make life easier.

For those whose parents have passed away, the day is bittersweet, but it’s still an opportunity to think about how mom and dad shaped us into the people we are today.

Father’s Day is when I think about all the good qualities my dad had. It’s also a day to celebrate what a good father and grandfather my husband is and what a good dad my youngest son is.

Thanksgiving is about family and, let’s be honest, cornbread dressing and pecan pie. Christmas is a holy day, and yes it’s commercialized, but at midnight, when the children are dreaming about Santa, it’s the parents who understand the true meaning of Christmas – giving without expecting thanks.

So instead of whining about the money I have to spend for holidays, I try to concentrate on the intangibles they make me think about – the impact the people, holidays and traditions have on our lives.

Which brings us back to Valentine’s Day.

Cards and sentiments say we should praise the ones we love. That includes everyone – a significant other, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, parents, friends and those who stepped in as family when we needed them.

People – that’s what all these holidays are really all about. So go ahead, get that cheesy box of Valentine’s Day candy tomorrow when they’re on sale and share it with your loved ones.

And try not to take a bite out of every square to make sure you didn’t get the orange cream chocolate.

This column was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald.

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My freshman year at Baker High School was uneventful. The year was 1969 and most of us were in love with The Beatles, pet rocks and bell-bottom jeans.

Our parents weren’t rich, and few of us lived in fancy houses. Most of my classmates had grown up together and we seemed like one big family.

High school life was pretty good, I thought, but all that changed my sophomore year when our high school underwent forced integration.

Black students from a neighboring town had to come to our high school and some of our friends had to go to a different school.

Both black and white parents were outraged. There were protesters outside of the school those first few weeks with screaming angry parents marching back and forth.

Inside the school, things weren’t much better. I distinctly remember seeing our assistant principal walking down the hall carrying chains and brass knuckles he’d taken away from students.

It wasn’t unusual for girls to walk down the hall three and four abreast and knock down anybody in their way.

Tempers flared, fist fights happened every hour, and there was chaos. Our first pep rally, the students from Scotlandville sat together and the kids from Baker sat together.

They sang their school fight song and we screamed ours. Fights broke out, and that was the last of the pep rallies for the year.

I was scared a good bit of the time as well as angry about why politicians and prejudiced parents had to ruin life for us.

Then I got to know some of the kids from Scotlandville, and I found out a few things. They were proud of their school, proud of their school’s achievements and as angry as we were.

As the weeks rolled by, we realized a few uncomfortable truths. The teens from Scotlandville didn’t have the same level of textbooks that we had. Not that ours were great, but at least ours had all the pages and were printed in the last 20 years.

They didn’t have the same school supplies we had in the classrooms nor did they have the same level of musical instruments or football equipment. The classrooms at their old school were in sad shape, and that was unbelievable as ours weren’t that great.

By the time we were seniors, many of us had become friends. Some parents came around, but generations of hate are difficult to erase in one generation and almost impossible to forget.

Which brings us to the uproar over Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s black-face picture in a 1984 medical school yearbook page.

What he did is unconscionable. Not because he did it – there’s not a one of us who doesn’t regret something we said or did back when we were young. Who poses next to someone in a Ku Klux robe and thinks that’s funny?

What’s almost impossible to forgive is that Northam didn’t come forward and own his past transgressions. It’s not like he was a teenager whose hormones and immaturity ran ahead of common sense. This man was in medical school in the mid-1980s.

Surely his memory isn’t that shallow.

Still the question looms:  how far back do we go to punish someone? A picture from elementary school? High school? College? Do we examine that person’s life to see if they’ve outgrown those prejudices or do we immediately call for blood?

I admit freely that there were things I said and did in my youth I truly regret. There will probably be words I’ll utter today or next year I’ll wish I hadn’t said. I pray that anyone I’ve hurt will accept my apologies and forgive me, but I’m not sure that’s possible these days.

We are quick to judge and condemn but we should be slower to judge and faster to understand and learn.

We must never stop working to right wrongs, even if they happened five, 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. We must be willing to look inside and admit to prejudices and find ways to educate ourselves.

The words of Abraham Lincoln still ring true: “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.”

This article was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald. 

Ain’t nobody got time for that…

“Ain’t nobody got time for that” is part of American slang, thanks to Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins.

In 2012, she was being interviewed after escaping from an apartment fire. Her interview was bizarre, especially when describing her escape and her sum-it-up statement:  “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

The phrase caught fire and went viral on social media. I thought about Wilkins’ phrase when I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic with ice cream in the back seat of the car slowly but surely melting.

There’s a lot of things and situations we “ain’t got time for.”

Traffic. Ain’t nobody got time to sit in stopped traffic for no good reason.

If there’s a wreck, it’s logical that traffic would move slowly. I understand a slow down if there’s construction or debris in the roadway.

But to be sitting there because drivers aren’t paying attention to the traffic signals, people are texting on their phones and missing the green light or people can’t manage a left-hand turn, then my patience evaporates.

Waiting in line. Ain’t nobody got time to stand in an endless line in the grocery store, the post office or the return line. If I’m in the grocery store after work, I understand I’ll have to stand in a line.

But to wait in line for 30 minutes – which happened to me last week – with others who were picking up groceries at the end of the work day made me see red.

Grocers, people are tired when they hit your store at 5 p.m., and the last thing they want to do is stand in line for an extra 30 minutes because you’re unwilling to open additional grocery lanes to accommodate the flood of after-work shoppers.

So please think about getting customers out of the store in a timely manner when they’re already frazzled, tired and beat.

Likewise for the post office. I understand people have questions when they’re mailing a package or want to insure a box. But ain’t nobody got time for you to ask about a dozen different mailing methods to save 50 cents.

You’re going to send that letter first class or you’re not. You’re going to insure that package to your aunt or you’re not. And unless you’re a lawyer or a bill collector, you’re not going to use certified mail.

And, please, if you don’t know how to use the self-serve kiosk and there’s a lot of people in the post office lobby, go to the clerk. Ain’t nobody got time for you to stand there and try and figure out the self-service features.

The drive-through. Ain’t nobody got time for you to be indecisive in the McDonald’s drive-through line. Either you want a cheeseburger or you want a Big Mac. Fries are a definite yes but pass on the apple pie.

Ain’t nobody got time to wait for you to decide between a caramel macchiato or an iced caramel cappuccino to go with your burger without onions and extra pickles. Order a Diet Coke and get out of the line.

Another thing we ain’t got time for is punching in 10 numbers in a phone queue when we call a business or the doctor’s office. First, the caller has to decide whether or not it’s English or Spanish and then there’s at least five options for the office you want to speak to.

One for billing, two for consultations, three to talk to the nurse, four to talk to the physician’s assistant, five for directions… you get the drift. Pressing zero repeatedly only gets a “sorry, I didn’t get that, please listen to all the options again” recording.

When you’re not feeling good, ain’t nobody got time to sit in phone purgatory.

So there you have it. My rant is over because, frankly, ain’t nobody got time to listen to me complain.

This column was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald.  

Go west young man… and find your smile

After I saw the movie “Dances with Wolves,” I knew I had to see the rugged western United States before the “wild west” disappeared. It took a while, but I finally convinced my family to make the trip, and we fell in love with the beauty of the west.

My youngest son must’ve felt the same way because he heard the same call I’d had years ago.

He’d had a rough year.

In the fall, his house burned to the ground. Luckily, no one was home at the time, but to see ashes where your home once stood was devastating.

A couple of months later, Chris was injured in an on-the-job accident. Surgery on his finger was required, and his doctor told him he had to let the tendon heal.

While he was recuperating, he was able to spend a great deal of time with his four children, and being around his sons and daughters was more therapeutic than any antibiotic or surgical procedure.

A life-long dog lover, Chris also brought a baby bloodhound into his life but he remained restless.

In a conversation about places to visit, a friend told him about the Petrified National Forest in Arizona, and, for some reason, seeing something millions of years old intrigued him.

He remembered our trip to Yellowstone National Park but not the majesty an adult feels when seeing those rugged mountains, endless acres of rippling grasses and cobalt blue lakes reflecting snow-covered mountain peaks.

When one loses their home and there’s no job to go to every day, it’s easy to lose one’s way.

He needed an anchor.

He needed to find his way again.

So he loaded up an ice chest, a suitcase, and his puppy and headed west.

For many of us, driving those miles of deserted roadways through Texas, Arizona and New Mexico would be a nightmare, but not for Chris.

The miles gave him time to think and regroup.

He stopped at roadside shops and fell in love with Southwest art and artifacts.

Shopkeepers became sources of information and knowledge, and he soaked up their stories.

He took a detour for a stretch along the iconic Route 66 and, even though he’s young, understood the importance of that roadway in American history.

Because of the government shutdown, he wasn’t able to go through the whole national park, but seeing the nearby Painted Desert was incredible, he said.

Purples, reds, browns and tans painted the landscape as far as the eye could see, and that sight of endless beauty and possibilities struck a chord with him, and the trip was worth every hour spent on the road.

He came back to Texas in time to see his son compete in the Cub Scouts’ Pinewood Derby, and had gifts for everyone. His favorite souvenirs were his Baja jacket and the matching ones he got for his boys.

As they stood in a circle, all happily wearing their jackets, I sensed a peace and calm in their father I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Maybe the petrified wood struck home with him – this was wood that over millions of years transformed into something different yet similar to its original state.

Perhaps that gradual transformation from the original into something different is what makes nature and people strong, long lasting and things of new beauty.

“Go west, young man” is what newspaper editor Horace Greeley said in the late 1800s. Over two hundred years later, that advice is still sound.

At least it was for a young man who needed a bit of an adventure and to see that the world, like the highways and experiences between where we are and where we want to go, are filled with possibilities.

 

This column was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald. 

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This weekend, I spent hours oiling the fronts of our wooden cabinets, sprucing up the inside doors and dusting the furniture, including all the nooks and crannies on the dressers.

No need for a pat on the back – the last time I did that type of deep cleaning was 2017.

Yes, two years ago.

I have a love/hate relationship with housework. I love how the house looks when I’m finished sweeping, mopping and straightening up.

I simply hate the process to get there, and I’ve rationalized my way out of almost every household chore.

Dust, in my mind, leaves a protective covering on the furniture. It protects furniture from sun damage, especially since I banished window drapes years ago. I told the boys it was because we all have allergies, but the reason was much more embarrassing.

One spring, I took down the drapes to wash them since they’d never been cleaned, and they were covered with dust.

I’m surprised the curtain rods didn’t break from the extra weight.

Then there’s vacuuming. The carpet looks great when I’m finished, but when I’m yanking and pulling that metal monster across the rugs, it’s a chore.

Plus I always vacuum up a Lego or piece of cardboard and I have to stop, empty out the canister and dig out the offending item. Later, I’ll notice that I forgot to vacuum behind the doors, and with a dog, the omission is obvious.

Sweeping and mopping are two thankless chores. As soon as I finish sweeping the floor, someone spills something. The grandkids love cereal, but quite a few Froot Loops get spilled on the way to the table.

Our dog is thrilled, but I not only have to sweep up whatever she missed but then I have to mop the floor because there’s dog slobber everywhere. I love to walk around barefoot, but I hate stepping in dog spit.

Over the Christmas break, we had our grandchildren here, and I kept a damp mop handy at all times. I mopped up Kool-Aid, orange juice, spilled milk and syrup every day.

There was one particularly stubborn sticky spot, and I had to get down on the floor to remove it.

That’s when I noticed the baseboards.

We’ve been in this house about six years, and I never thought about cleaning the baseboards. But apparently that’s where the dust starts to accumulate before inching its way to the top of the cabinets where the dust partners up with the grease in the air and becomes almost permanently attached to the tops of the doors and cabinets.

Climbing down from the ladder, I noticed the fingerprints and hand prints on the wall. I secretly congratulated my grandchildren for managing to get a dirty hand print on a wall that’s taller than they are.

They do better than I do because when I looked at the bathroom mirrors in the daylight, I noticed that the top third of all the mirrors had a layer of dust on them.

At 5 foot 2 inches, I can’t reach that high, and I’m too lazy to drag a step stool around the house just to clean a bathroom mirror nobody will notice is dusty unless they’re here on a bright, sunny day.

As strange as it seems, I don’t mind cleaning the bathrooms. Perhaps it’s because porcelain glistens and shines when it’s clean and the bathroom towels smell wonderful when they’re freshly laundered.

That makes it easy to overlook the commode that needs a target on the lid for the young grandsons.

But right now, the bathrooms and cabinet doors are gleaming, the floors are clean and the baseboards look like I just painted them. Sitting back with a glass of lemonade, I had to pat myself on the back for a job well done.

And then I saw the dog lick the kitchen floor.

This column was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald. 

The golden years are anything but…

 

Ten years ago, I admitted I might need glasses to drive. I could see well enough during the day, but at night, the headlights from oncoming cars were blurry. I bellied up to the bar and visited the optometrist who prescribed driving lenses.

He assured me I didn’t need reading glasses.

Yet.

A few years later, I noticed the words were a little blurry on the pages of my paperback novels.

“Cheap publishing,” I’d say, holding the book closer.

Then one afternoon, I saw some inexpensive “cheater” glasses in the drugstore. I slipped on a pair of +1.25 lenses, and the world jumped into focus.

I loved those cheater glasses so much, I’d buy a pair every time I’d see some. I rationalized they were less than $5, so I could stock on a few and avoid shelling out major bucks for glasses.

But after a year or so, the +1.25 lenses were losing their ability to let me see the small print. So I moved up to the +1.75. Those worked, but I found I had to move up to the +2.00. And, you guessed it, a couple of years later, I was at +2.50.

And then, the nose pad broke off my driving glasses, and one side kept digging into my skin. Plus I noticed the headlights were getting blurry again, and I figured it was time to admit I was getting older and needed all-the-time glasses.

As I was going through the eye exam, I realized just how much my eyesight had deteriorated in the past decade. Gritting my teeth, I agreed to progressive lenses so I wouldn’t have to juggle reading glasses with driving glasses nor would I have to find big enough sunglasses to fit over the progressive lenses.

Walking out of the optometrist’s office, I had to admit age was not only creeping up on me but it was passing me by like I was standing still. My knees creak most of the time, I’m turning the television up louder than I used to and, gasp, I think there’s a brown spot starting on the back of my hand.

Whoever coined the term “golden years” wasn’t thinking about that valuable commodity in the ground. Granted the alternative to growing older isn’t great, but those of us entering these “golden” years are complaining about the same things were heard “old people” whining about when we were younger.

“The kids never call.”

No, they don’t. They text or Facetime their family members. If you’re not getting phone calls from your grown children, learn about texting and Instagram.

“I can’t figure out my cell phone.” Few people over the age of 50 can figure out all the bells and whistles on a cell phone.

If you’ve gotten this far in life without knowing how to copy and paste a text message, then chances are pretty good you can get by the next 10 years without knowing how to accomplish this feat. Just use your cell to play Angry Birds and text the pizza shop.

“The health-care industry is a heartless maze.” Yes, it is. It’s also overly complicated, totally without compassion or empathy and a working entity only because insurance companies make a profit.

I can either whine like so many others or accept getting older. Along the way, I’m making strides — I’m getting used to the progressive lenses. I’m learning how to tilt my head at just the right angle to read the fine print on my medical card and I found the sweet spot when I want to read the newspaper.

I’m still not sure where to put my feet when getting on an escalator or walking up the steps, but the optometrist reassured me I’d catch on sooner rather than later. After all, these are the “golden years,” and so I have to make hay while the sun shines.

Let’s just hope the sun stays out while I get used to these progressive lenses.

This column was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald

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I’m a list maker. From what to pick up at the grocery store to never-ending daily tasks, I make a list to stay organized.

I road map my way through life because, without some sort of direction or plan, I wander aimlessly from YouTube video to channel surfing to trying to match up orphaned socks.

For 2019, I decided to make a “try-it” road map. Once a month seems practical, and I’m including activities that are practically free because, well, I’m cheap.

Hopefully my list can inspire you to create your own list for the coming year. Make your checklist fun, make it realistic but, most of all, make the 2019 try-it list something you want to do.

Here goes:

January:  Get a library card and visit a location. The Fort Bend County Library system is one of the best in the state with convenient branches around most neighborhoods. Take advantage of their free e-books, books on CD or go old school with a real paper book. Best of all – a library card is free.

February:  Attend a theater production. The weather’s unpredictable, so indoors is a good bet. Cast Theatrical in Rosenberg is presenting “The Queen of Bingo” at the beginning of the month, and Inspiration Stage in Sugar Land is showing “Peter Pan” at the end of the month.

Plus many of our high schools will be presenting their spring shows, and your money benefits public education. Check the online school calendars for show times.

March:  Live it up. For families that can’t get away a whole week during spring break, spend one night at a hotel in Houston with an indoor pool, and the kids will be thrilled. If you’re young or empty nesters, book a hotel within walking distance to a jazz club. Groupon always has great deals.

April:  Jump in the car. A road trip through the Hill Country offers the opportunity to see Texas wildflowers at the peak of their glory. There are well-marked trails around the Cat Spring area, and that’s less than an hour from your front door. Pack a picnic lunch, and the afternoon’s practically free.

May: Chill out.  Stop at an outdoor café and relax. Order a glass of lemonade and a slice of pie and watch the people walk by as you relax underneath an umbrella for less than five bucks.

June, July and August:  Stop sweating. I’m grouping these months together because they’re brutally hot, so unless you’ve got access to a pool or are willing to ramp up the AC, find something inside.

For kids, check out the free programs at the Fort Bend County Libraries – which should be easy because you have your library card – or a museum. Gone are the days when museums were stuffy relics – they offer interactive activities for all ages and are well worth the price of admission.

September:  Road trip. Fall’s a great time to watch the leaves change color, so a day trip’s in order. Head over to the Hill Country and catch a few glimpses of scarlet and orange from some of the tallow trees. Most of the wineries have outdoor seating areas, so bring your own cheese and crackers to go with a glass of Texas wine.

October:  Polka time. October’s festival month. Admission is often free, so as long as you stay away from the kettle corn and turkey legs, you’ll have a great time browsing through the booths and sampling free treats.

November:  Family time. Visit a relative you haven’t seen in a while. Don’t go empty handed – stop at one of the local bakeries for some kolaches or cookies and surprise your elderly aunt or cousin with something yummy.

December:  Do the Jingle Bell tour. Go see the Christmas lights in any neighborhood or visit the holiday tree-lighting ceremonies from Sugar Land to Rosenberg to East Bernard and experience an evening of old-fashioned fun. You don’t need to spend a fortune to soak up the Christmas spirit.

So there you have it. A years’ worth of activities that won’t break the bank. Enjoy!

 

This article was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald.

Stop nagging is at the top of the resolution list for 2019

The year 2018 is coming to a close, and it’s hard to believe we’re racing toward the mythical 2020. We still have to get through 2019, so it’s time to write the annual resolutions list.

You know what I’m talking about — the unrealistic list we all make in January and toss in the wastebasket by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around.

This year could be different if I alter my mindset as to what to improve, what to change and, most importantly, understand the difference between the two.

Instead of the same old, same old list, I’m going to take a different direction in 2019. In no particular order, here’s the list:

Stop nagging. I can hear my family fist pumping the air with this one. I admit I’m a nag. I offer the same advice a dozen different ways, rationalizing I’m being helpful.

That thinking is wrong.

My sons are adults and fully capable of running their lives without my comments and observations. Family members and friends don’t need my opinion about what they’re doing and, frankly, I’m probably wrong anyway.

Listen and talk less.

I’m guilty of adding my own personal narrative or anecdote when someone’s telling me about a problem or a situation in their life. I think if I tell them what happened to me, my story will help them.

That thinking is wrong.

If someone’s talking about their family, their problem or asking a question, I need to keep the conversation on them. That means truly listening to what they’re saying instead of thinking about what I’m going to say.

I will heed that old saying – God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

I think my husband will stand on the kitchen table and applaud this resolution.

Pay attention.

We laugh about the time our 3-year-old granddaughter told my husband to pay attention. In my case, it’s no laughing matter.

I often don’t pay attention to what people are telling me – not because I don’t care but because I’m not paying 100 percent attention. The older I get, the more I’m realizing I need to concentrate on the task at hand, not the dozen other things running around in my head.

This year, I’d like to slow down and make note of the things I have to remember in my phone instead of a piece of paper I’ll lose because I’m not paying attention to where I left the note.

Let go.

My uncle died when he was young from kidney failure. Marshall’s death was a tragedy, and my mom’s family was rocked to the core, especially my grandmother.

For the rest of her life, she wore only black or navy blue and there was always a sad anger about her.

Whenever someone passed away, she looked in the book she had of the people who’d sent flowers to Marshall’s funeral. If they hadn’t sent flowers to her son’s funeral, she did not send flowers to their family.

She checked that book for 40 years.

I don’t want to be a bitter person, but I can feel the seed growing in my heart. So it’s time to let go of the anger and resentment I’ve been carrying around. The people I resent have no idea I feel this way, and the only person I’m hurting is myself.

Besides, my friends and family are tired of hearing me complain.

I’m tired of hearing myself complain.

Instead, I’ll fill my mind with good thoughts and give out compliments instead of complaints.

This thinking is right.

I might not be able to live up to these ideals all year long, but I’m going to try. And that’s what the new year is all about – trying to live a better life.

Happy New Year!

This column was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald. 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 5-year-old boy walked up the steps, his bowtie straight, his white shirt tucked in.

He took a few steps onto the stage, turned to the audience and, with his right hand in front of his waist and his left hand behind his back, he bowed courtly to the audience.

His smiling piano teacher, Rhonda Klutts, handed him his music, and he sat down to play.

His feet dangled above the ground, but his tiny fingers correctly tapped out “Jingle Bells.” At the end of the song, everyone let out their breath and polite, yet enthusiastic, applause filled the church.

And so it went at the first recital for Miss Rhonda’s Christian Piano Studio.

It was also the first piano recital I’ve ever attended.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at a recital for students who’d only been studying for a couple of months. “Chopsticks” with two fingers maybe, but not both-hands-on-the-keys renditions of “Up on the House” and “Away in a Manger.”

None of the students were over the age of 12, and every one was a little scared. But with their piano teacher’s hands on their shoulders, they took a deep breath and jumped in.

Some played softly, some more confidently, but they all finished. A few times, Rhonda came up and put her hands over theirs on the keys to get them redirected, and the audience was patient until the pianist was ready to begin playing again.

I can’t imagine the fear a child has when they sit down at a piano bench, knowing everyone can hear every mistake they make. I credit their teacher with giving them the courage to keep going.

There’s a bit of bias here – I’ve known Rhonda for over 20 years, the last 10 as a co-worker. I met her when she was directing a school choir at a somber funeral, and I’ve grown to be her friend as well as an admirer.

She’s always wanted her own Christian piano school, and after retiring from 30-plus years as a music teacher, she made that dream come true.

So few of us have the opportunity to see our dreams turn into reality. Rhonda didn’t make the decision easily because she adored her career as a music and choir teacher.

But she felt the time was right, and she and her husband, Joe, moved to a home that could accommodate an in-home studio and a new direction.

She transitioned into a second career as a small business owner doing something she loves – teaching young ones how to read music, learn the scales and then make the notes on a page transform into music one can hear.

At this time of the year, we think about finding the perfect gift, and I can think of no greater gift than to instill in children a passion for the arts, whether that’s playing a musical instrument, learning how to direct a play or write a special story for others to read.

Combine that with finding the courage to play for family and friends to hear is truly an accomplishment.

To anyone who teaches children a special skill, please know that your gift is a life-long one, and the child, and the world, will be a much better place for having the arts continue to flourish.

May your holidays be joyful ones, and in the words of the old song, “May all your Christmases be bright.”

This article was originally published in The Fort Bend Herald.