Posted in Halloween, Peanuts Gang

Happy Halloween and Golden Anniversary, Great Pumpkin!

its-the-great-pumpkin-charlie-brownI have loved the creation of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts ever since I can remember.  Growing up in the 70’s, I was a ready-made fan of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and the rest of the gang.  Before I was old enough to even read the comic strip, I was delighted by the holiday television specials. My favorite has always been It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

This fall we observe the 50th anniversary since it first premiered on October 27th, 1966.  When I was a kid, I remember racing home from the local annual Halloween parade to get back home and change into warm pajamas before it started. I’d nest myself in the living room beanbag, empty my sack of parade goodies, and watch this beloved balloon headed gang celebrate and falter through Halloween.  I sat back with a fuzzy green (not blue) security blanket over my lap and enjoyed the animated masterpiece broadcast to me and millions of tuned in viewers.  

Back then I laughed at all the jokes and silly voices of Snoopy, enjoyed the colorful scenery, and watched with the same exuberance for Halloween as the characters.  Nothing, except the Coca Cola and Dolly Madison commercials, changes year after year.  The Great Pumpkin still won’t show, Charlie Brown still gets a treat bag full of rocks, Lucy still pulls the football away, and Sally still misses her first night of tricks-or-treats.

Whoa!  Are we gluttons for Pumpkin punishment?  There are and always have been a lot of letdowns in this episode, but back then I didn’t think about that and a somber mood and atmosphere.  Good grief, it was just a cartoon and I loved watching it.

Back then I did not dissect the episode’s plot points, character arcs, universal themes, unresolved issues, or author’s purpose.  Back then I didn’t know I’d grow up to be a nerdy English teacher who overanalyzes literature and films in this way (and has fun doing so).

After recently reading many blogs and articles about Charles M. Schulz, The Peanuts Gang, and The Great Pumpkin, I decided to give this classic a “close reading” and develop a deeper understanding and interpretation of the Halloween special as a whole. Beyond tradition, I wondered if there was truly any merit to airing this for the past fifty years and if it should be broadcast for another fifty.  

One particular article, “It’s Time to Retire, Charlie Brown,” stuck with me and really made me think.  Buzz Bishop, a popular social media writer and broadcaster, authored this post in 2012 on Babble.  Bishop criticized the Peanuts characters in The Great Pumpkin for being demeaning bullies and claimed “there’s nothing of value for children in the show.”  It made me think and wonder if Charlie Brown was indeed inappropriate and too melancholy for kids.   

Bishop’s words caused me to recall how my then 2 ½ year old daughter reacted to her first viewing of The Great Pumpkin.  She disapproved of Charlie Brown’s messed up ghost costume and was mortified that he got rocks instead of treats.  

“Why rocks?” she worried.

“Because we don’t always get what we want or expect,” was my quick response. I’m a realist who doesn’t make rock candy out of rocks.  This didn’t make her feel better, but I didn’t turn off the show.  I addressed her disappointment and was actually satisfied that she felt sorry for Charlie Brown.  She was a mere toddler already expressing empathy and sharing her hurt feelings for another’s misfortune, albeit a cartoon character.  *That’s a good thing, right?  

Recently, I wasn’t so sure. What if there was something I was missing in this and the other Peanuts holiday classics due to being such a Snoopy-groupie?   What if I ignored some inexcusable animated cruelty that was camouflaged by autumn colors, kissing beagles, and sincere pumpkin patches (whatever that means)?  What if Vince Guaraldi’s piano scores merely kept me entranced in a merciless world?  I needed to know, so I teamed up with over 100 others to figure it out.  

Today in my high school English classes I changed my lesson plans and showed this infamous Great Pumpkin cartoon.  My College Prep English 9 freshmen and Reading the Movies upperclassmen were required to write a reader response journal of what they viewed and then we discussed it.  They were required to write down their questions, connections, responses, and predictions.  

I told them about the blog I read in which the father turned off the show due to the characters’ bullying and “stupid, blockhead” name-calling.  I also revealed how my own child was upset, but I kept it on.  While viewing, I asked these teens to think about that and its fifty year longevity on the air.  In their response, kids also had to reveal what merit, if any, there was in showing this holiday “classic” or if it was time to put The Great Pumpkin to rest (even though he never even shows up).  

Needless to say, my students were elated with my revised lesson, and every single student contributed to the discussion and turned in a response.  It was one of the most productive teaching days all year.  Here are a dozen student observations, statements, and conclusions:

  1. Charlie Brown is the strong, silent type.  He doesn’t argue and fight, even when given reason to retaliate.  
  2. When CB does get upset or embarrassed, he quickly moves on.   He is not a grudge holder.
  3. I feel bad for Charlie Brown.  
  4. These kids talk like adults.  
  5. Lucy is so bossy, but I guess when your parents and teachers are merely trombone noises, someone has to step up to the plate.
  6. Lucy is caring when she gets Linus candy and brings him inside at 4:00 am.  
  7. No one makes fun of Pig Pen even though he is dirty and probably smelly.  
  8. Linus has a very strong faith.  Even though he is criticized for his passion for The Great Pumpkin, an unpopular mythical holiday character, he stands firm and will do so for the rest of his Linus life.
  9. Snoopy is the most loyal friend to Charlie Brown, man’s best friend.   
  10. Sally is struck by puppy love.  Sadly, Linus is too involved with attracting the Great Pumpkin to his sincere pumpkin patch to notice the cute little blonde.  
  11. Sally has a right to rant at Linus.  Even he knows it when he says, “Nothing [compares] to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of trick-or-treats.”  Puppy love needs fed treats too!  
  12. Snoopy walks on two legs.  

Here is a list of  “What IF’s?” I asked during our discussion.  

  1. What if Lucy didn’t pull the football away from Charlie Brown?
  2. What if Charlie Brown kicked Lucy after she pulled the football away?
  3. What if Charlie Brown got a golden nugget instead of the third rock?
  4. What if the Great Pumpkin actually showed up?
  5. What if Linus stopped believing in the Great Pumpkin?
  6. What if there were parents in the show?  
  7. What if Linus forced his beliefs on everyone that made fun of him?

We had a mature, scholarly, and fun conversation.  Students said the seven scenarios would ruin the story and take away its worth. Ultimately, the majority of kids felt that beyond being a viewing tradition, that It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has value for people of all ages and should continue to be aired yearly.

Teenagers, are no strangers to bullying, and my students did not see the Peanuts explicitly supporting it.  In fact, they thought, exposing the ridicule of Charlie Brown and Linus, gives people a chance to see that this was wrong.  Kids can be nasty, and so can adults. That’s a reality highlighted in this animated world.  

The universal themes we uncovered were:

  1. Keep the faith.
  2. Never lose hope.
  3. Don’t give up.
  4. It is what it is.  
  5. Hang in there.  

In conclusion, I’m pleased to report our findings and that I can keep being a guilt free, faithful fan.   *So can my daughter who is now fourteen, not a bully, and still compassionate for the underdog who gets rocks.   

As ugly as people can be to each other, I hope, like Charlie Brown, that people have it in them to shine and be better tomorrow than they are today.  God willing, I hope I am.  Charlie Brown deserves a high-five (or four, depending on the artist’s scene) for his respect, calmness, and peaceable ways.  He could have been a vengeful fella due to mean-spirits and insensitivity, yet he stood firmly as Good Ol’ Charlie Brown, whether he knew it or not.

Happy Halloween!  Let’s raise our Peppermint Patties in praise of fifty years of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  

Posted in Dogs

It was a dark and stormy night…

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It was a dark and stormy night… That’s how Snoopy started (and I think ended) all of the stories he tried belting out of his typewriter.   Last night, that’s just how my story began and it didn’t end until this dark and stormy morning.  It was 11:38 PM the first time she alarmed me awake with her wails.  I was only able to semi-soothe her by rubbing her soft, fuzzy head.  Since I can’t figure out how to swaddle her properly, I gave her a dose of Benadryl which Dr. Canine recommended for these “episodes.”    

Five hours later, it was a darker and stormier night – I mean morning –  and my girl Italia was losing a grip again.  When a second round of thunder shook our house like a cup of Yahtzee dice, our ten-year-old golden-years-retriever leapt into our bed and pounced on my head.  Italia pierced the slumbering silence with her storm phobia cries and erratic movements.  She circled our bed like a track star, a dog chasing her own feathery tail.  After my husband got a mouthful of said tail, I took her out of our bedroom to try to console her and let one of us sleep.  

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Today’s episode lasted a laundry load on the quick cycle, twenty-eight minutes.  Yes, if I’m going to be up at that early, why not squeeze in a chore?  I spied a basketful of dirty clothes and threw them in the washer while Italia stood up against the washing machine as if she would dive right in. I know enclosed spaces give her some relief, like when she wedges herself behind the toilet or jumps in the bathtub (a place she usually detests), but I have never seen her eye up the washing machine like that before.

Since I couldn’t sedate her again, we had to ride out the storm together.  We went downstairs to the family room where she jumped all over our leather furniture then into my lap, then back to the couch, into my lap, onto the recliner, lap, floor, lap, couch, lap…  She’s far from a lapdog and isn’t allowed on the furniture, but a 106 pound furry frantic Frogger is hard to tame.   

Just when I thought the storm abated and my leather was safe from her unmanicured nails, she started nervously tap dancing on the couch. Grand Finale: Thundercrack!  Lightning flash! Sammy Davis Jr. in the house – Tap-tap-tap, sit, turn around, bark, tap-tap-tap, leap down, jump back up, howl, tap-tap-tap!  This routine might actually have been cute if she were performing (on the floor) without terror in those big brown eyes.    

She needed my full attention, so I got down on the floor and pulled her into a tight hug, feeling helpless as she shivered, yelped, and panted through her full-blown panic attack.  

Thankfully, Mother Nature intervened.  She’s gotta be the queen of dog lovers, right? Beep-beep-beep! Was that Mother Nature chiming in?  Beep-beep-beep!  Could it be?  Could it really be her?  Beep-beep-beep!  Was that her waving a sun spritzing wand over our storm cloud?  Nah. It was just the laundry sensor reminding my sleep deprived self to put the clothes in the dryer.  But right after that, all echoes and rumblings of thunder halted.  

Phew!  Italia fell fast asleep on my lap.  She was heavy, but I didn’t dare disturb her and was comforted by the peaceful rhythm of her snores.  Ripples of raindrops gently cracked the house like a long round of applause for the sleeping pooch.    

I used to love a good thunderstorm until Italia started freaking out over them just a year ago.  Before then, she showed no signs of being a storm dog. Perhaps her double-digit age has made her hypersensitive.

Last spring, I bought her a calming coat for dogs, but I’ve yet to master how to put it on properly.  She and I both get stressed trying to fit it on her, but after this morning’s intense and prolonged anxiety, I will try to figure it out again.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  

Send me your own tips on how to calm the canine on a dark and stormy night.  

Posted in Seize the Day!, Writing

Forced into Submission

I am not the type of woman who readily submits.  I enjoy control of my own ideas, truths, and opinions.  If I submit and share myself with others, will I become possessed in ways I don’t want to be?  What challenges and new rules will I have to yield to? Will I lose the lifelong freedom I’ve maintained over my heart, mind, and soul?  What if I’m rejected?  What if I’m accepted?  Oh dear, it’s so much easier to just resist the process.  

These are the bizzarro thoughts I entertain when I consider taking my writing to the next level to seek publication. My writing process has been to write, recite parts of the story to anyone who will listen, revise, share a copy with a few loved ones, post it on Facebook (and now here on my blog), and/or put it into a random folder and bury it like junk mail.  What a writing graveyard I made!  R.I.P. is the final stamp on the tombs of my personal narratives, poetry, memoir, and stories.  Word ghosts haunt me.  

I often scold myself,  What a waste of paper, cyber space, time, and the alphabet!  Then with typing fingers and a hopeful change, I promise my muse, I will submit.  I think I can.  I know I can.  Squirrel!  And just like that, I get distracted and abandon the work I started.

I am a dirty little part-time sunshine when it comes to sticking with a piece of writing.  I have affairs and one-night stands with ideas; I enjoy the passion for a fresh story and hang out with it as much as I can until I get bored or stumble upon something I misconceive as better.  

You know what is better?  Running with the polished piece across the finish line to the cheers of a crowd.  I would love to be the one to add a little more cowbell to a reader’s day, to move, inspire, and entertain them with words. BUT, I have NEVER sent one piece of work to an agent, editor, or publisher.  I just quit rather than commit to entering the publishing world.  

Today, this will all change though.  I am not speaking figuratively here and literally vow to submit a short story to the editor I recently met at a writer’s conference.  I pitched to her and she expressed interest and requested the story.  

Wowza!  Whatever comes of this step, makes me thrilled to finally cross the threshold and send someone a completed piece of writing.  I loved creating this story and how it turned out.  She might too, but if not, her conversation at our pitch session inspired me enough to want to enter this unknown realm of publishing.  

I’m ready to seize and shake the writing cowbell today and wake the buried pieces of my heart, soul, and mind that have lain to rest.  

Use your talents.  You got ‘em!  Don’t wait for a rainy day… It’s gonna be a sunny one! Shine on! 

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Posted in Dogs, Health and Wellness, Running

Running App

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I recently hit another mileage goal on the running app that I paid just .99 for nearly five years ago. Let me just say that this has been the best money I’ve spent for extra exercise motivation and accountability as a runner. Less than a buck on my iPhone keeps me moving with goals and fist pumps when I hit them.

Before this I had to find other ways to calculate my runs. I’ve been an adult road runner for the past ten years.  In 2006, I got this playful golden retriever puppy, Italia, and she needed to score some neighborhood walks that she “helped” me turn into runs.

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Back then, my running tracking system included the following: a basic digital watch and pedometer placed on the waistband of my pants (Sadly I drowned many pedometers in toilets when they unknowingly popped off my pants and got flushed away like county fair fish.) To record the mileage, I drove around my “courses” before heading out then estimated how many pedometer steps equaled a mile based on my stride.

I wore a lot of extra devices for those runs and had no room for my Samsung, slide-out touch pad, non-data phone.  My athletic armband secured my iPod instead (Music is a must when I run.) Luckily, I never got lost or needed to call for help on those no-phone runs. Occasionally, I got chased by a trio of wiener dogs, but Italia and I were faster than their dozen of stumpy legs. Italia scoffed at the ankle biter stooges as we sped away.

That was such an old school, clunky way of calculating steps/miles/pace, but it was what worked for me then. I even trained for my first two half marathons using that method and finished strong with expected times. It was certainly cumbersome and less accurate than how I currently track runs.

When I got my first iPhone in 2011, I discovered a more convenient all-in-one system through the *Nike+ Running App. It had everything I needed and more, tracking distance, pace, and time while providing a GPS for my routes. The GPS is pretty reliable and has been a true asset at getting me to venture off the beaten path; switching it up has helped me enjoy new sites and terrain while avoiding traffic, boredom, and road kill.

My power songs can also sync to the app and are only interrupted by the friendly cheerleader voice that lets me know my pace and time every mile. This motivates me to speed up or take a breather when needed.

Now, when I’m ready to run, I just plug in my headphones and put the phone in my SPIbelt (a fancy name for a mini fanny pack that still looks dorky but takes the pressure off a swinging armbanded bicep. Then I hit start on the app, get a 3-2-1 countdown, zip up said dorky fanny pack and go. That’s it.

Since December of 2011, my app has supported me on the past 555 runs in which I travelled 2555 miles. **For the past two months, I wanted these exact numbers to happen, full of 5’s. This forced me to go on many longer runs than usual.

I do whatever it takes to keep me motivated to move, and running is my favorite way to do so (dancing is second). The app is full of the data, technology, and convenience to keep me grooving on the asphalt in my Asics.

I’m much sunnier being a part of our current convenient tracking society.  Two weeks ago I started using the Fitbit Charge HR and joined a new club, Weight Watchers.  Combined with my Nike App, I’m racking up some major health benefits that I’m excited to share in future posts.

I’m a word lover, not a numbers girl, so it’s a true treat to count on technology to count for me.

Good luck to you with all the health and wellness goals you set for yourself.  If you find a great tracking motivator, share what it is.

Shine on!

*The most recent updated version of the app is called Nike+RunClub, and it still has all the features that make it such a useful tool for me as a runner. There have been a number of complaints about the update, but since those features aren’t used by me, I have nothing negative to report. Ten toes and two thumbs up!

**I would have gotten to 555 in September, but I broke my pinky toe in a shopping cart accident at Kohl’s at the end of August. I’m finally healed and ready to keep at it. Besides running in the rain, tracking autumn miles in rural Pennsylvania is truly a gift.

Posted in Marriage

Go Home, Packers!

This was the final post I made on my old blog exactly one year ago.  Today is anniversary #19, and we are still going strong and smoke free… 

We were blissful newlyweds of merely three months when my husband Harry revealed that he planned to quit smoking after Super Bowl Sunday in 1998. What?! He never even mentioned this major life decision to me. He never talked about quitting before.

“Really? You’re giving up the smokes?” I incredulously asked.

“Yep. I’ve been at it for over a decade. It’s time,” he said.

“Wow! What’s your quitting plan?”

“I researched the Nicotine Patch and will use those for about three months.”

“Aren’t those expensive?”

“Cheaper than smoking in the long run. Whatever it takes.”

“Sounds like you got this all figured out.”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it for a while and gotta try. I’m gonna smoke em’ up at Jodi’s Super Bowl Party then start The Patch Monday.”

“Wow, Harry! That’s big news. I had no idea,” I remarked as I stepped out onto our snow-covered porch. I was bombarded by a blizzard and cold, bizarre thoughts to match. Harry and I talked about everything and made choices together. We were the couple who shared all: friends, philosophies, interests, TV shows, and ashtrays.

We were smokers, together.

I loved lighting up with Harry before work, after dinner, while having drinks, during commercials, whenever driving, after a newlywed spat, before and after honeymooning (wink), and any other time we just felt like relaxing. We decompressed and de-stressed with smokes. I didn’t want to be the only smoker of our Harry+Donna Duet, but I certainly didn’t want to quit.

We didn’t smoke in our apartment, so with shivering hands, I packed my box of Marlboro Lights (not Reds or Menthol which are really dangerous), opened the fresh pack and sniffed the sorta-chocolatey aroma of my twenty white tobacco sticks. Using my “You Light up my Life” engraved Zippo (gift from Harry) I fired up and inhaled.

Phew! I was stressed over Harry’s plan and double-hitting, dragging on the cigarette twice, to siphon the nicotine quicker. Within moments, I calmed down as my lips exhaled a carcinogenic chimney.

Coughing, probably from the breathtaking winter air, I spit out a slimy bit of goo, and fired up another; I didn’t want to face my wanna-be-quitter husband. Damn, it was cold out there and such a pain to smoke outside during Pennsylvania winters, but I L-O-V-E-D ciggies. Hell, they were in my life longer than Harry. Who quits smoking at age 25? We had years before we had to worry about our lungs, and skin, and heart (oh hush.)

If Harry was quitting, I guess It would just have to be Donna+The Marlboro Man. As I tried to talk myself into cowboys, I wasn’t going to let the handsome love of my lifetime influence my decisions with his own well-being. I would have great fun talking to myself while taking smoke breaks. Poor Harry would be all alone in our (warm) apartment when I stepped out.

Under the creamsicle clouds of January, I examined the fiery ash of my then smoky lover, and it horrified me. What I saw had never looked so monstrous, and the more I looked at it, the more faces it morphed into. Since when did my ashes glow like demons?

I guess it was always a devilish temptation that turned into my own addiction. I knew it was bad for me, for us, for our future, but I didn’t want to know. We were both hooked, and Harry decided to do something about it. Of course, he wanted his bride to quit too, but he didn’t suffocate my thoughts with pressure. He left me to figure it out on my own, and within five days, we both had our own boxes of 21 mg Nicoderm Patches.

That day-after-the-Super Bowl Monday, we woke to smoke-free kisses and stuck our patches of hope to our arms. Together we quit and defeated the pack like The Broncos did the Packers the night before.

Harry + Donna – The Marlboro Man = Healthy, Happy Couple (23+ years).

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(Republished on October 11th, 2016.  After dating for four years, we got married 19 years ago today. We still light up each other’s lives, without engraved Zippos.)

Posted in Welcome

Welcome

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Welcome to my narrative horizon about our wacky, wondrous world. There’s no pattern to my inspiration, so my pieces range from silly and mundane to serious and heartfelt. Here I share true, slice of light pieces about family, friendship, dogs, womanhood, health and wellness, wine, education, shopping, shoes, spirituality, reading, writing, entertainment, the moon, the sun and anything else under our sky.

I am a high energy, middle-age active woman who is constantly on the move. Filled calendar pages give me pleasure and purpose, but they also stress me out and make me more scattered than your average part-time sunshine. The older, busier, and more disorganized I get, the more I need to recharge in order to relax and refocus.

This blog gives me a chance to take a timeout to savor life, collect scattered memories, highlight sunny moments, and unclog cloudier ones. I seek balance, meaning, hope, and laughter that I’ll spread like PB&J through my stories.

My professional, home, and social fronts keep me hustling while giving me stories. I am a full-time high school English teacher, mother to two adolescent daughters, pet owner to two furry dogs, wife to one witty husband, relative to many loves, and friend to those who embrace my friendship.

I’m also a part-time sunshine who strives to be lively, bright, lighthearted, and comforting. Oh how I wish I could make my sunshine status full-time, but no can do. When the sunshine zest is too exhausting, and warmth becomes a scorcher, I lose the chipper optimism you’d expect from someone with nicknames like Sunshine or Sunny D. It can be a cockadoodle-dodo world, so being constantly happy and smiley while being honest and genuine is a trick I’d like to master.

For now, I’m a part-time sunshine, at best. When frazzled, my daily mission is to dazzle and find some extra beaming reason to smile and share why.  Random rays and small warm shimmers are the best, like double rainbows at a wedding, a greeting card among the bills in my mailbox, or a spotless bedroom cleaned by my daughters (who jest that this blog should be called Full-Time Nut Job, Part-Time Sunshine.)

I invite you to follow me on my horizon.  There’s a chance of sunshine (and a handful of nuttiness) in it for you, yours, and everyone else under the sky.