About Me

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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Election We Don't Want to Miss

I decided to write a blog post today (despite being home with a migraine) about why I think it’s important to vote and why I am voting the way I am.  I generally veer away from political blog posting because I think most people are sick of politics at the end of the day, but this election is different. We are at a crossroads as a nation and as a planet. This could be the election that determines how we face the future and all of its incredibly complex possibilities.

First, a little bit about why you should vote.  Statistically, your vote counts more than you think it does. I live in a state that has been labeled “red,” and yet I could give you dozens of examples of how this is not entirely true. If you looked at just the Kansas City and St. Louis regions’ voting records, for example, you’d be scratching your head.  Red state?  Really?  It’s out-state Missouri that tips the state into the Republican basket, and even those votes are up for grabs on lots of occasions. This is a state that has only had one Republican governor in the past 20 years.  The relevance of this is that every vote in this state is statistically important.  While it might look bad for Barack Obama in Missouri, it is entirely possible that Claire McCaskill could keep her senate seat, which will have a not-insubstantial impact on the make-up of the United States Senate and the federal legislative process as a whole.  So if you think your vote isn’t important, please think again.

The second reason to vote is this:  Because you can.  I remember somebody saying in the 1980s (maybe it was Gil Scott Heron, a great voice we lost this past year) that people in this country don’t exercise a right that people in other countries would willingly die for. We take our freedom for granted.  Sometimes people don’t vote because they think it doesn’t matter (see previous paragraph), and sometimes because they feel disillusioned.  This is my take:  When I exit the voting booth, it is the greatest feeling in the world. I leave with a smile on my face and an upbeat mood that stays with me all day. I leave feeling like I’ve done my part as a citizen of the world. There is literally nothing else that leaves me feeling that way.  Giving blood, donating to a good charity, raising a good kid – these all signify responsible citizenship, but for me, nothing compares to voting.  Nothing.

As for my personal candidate selection process, this is how I make my decision:  I look at the integrity of the individual and at the choices he or she has made in his or her life as well as their stand on issues.  Issues are important, don’t get me wrong, but even though I am pro-choice, I would vote for a pro-life candidate if he or she got 60 to 70 percent of everything else right.  I think single-issue voting is dangerous for such a complex society as the one we have in America

I also look at the candidate’s vision.  There are no easy decisions any more (if there ever were), and this year’s presidential election exemplifies that.  Europeans laugh at us because they can’t see a single damned difference between our two major party candidates for president. And to be sure, at first glance, the differences seem insubstantial.  This year, both candidates are men (again).  Both have supported some form of universal healthcare. Both say they want to reduce federal spending, raise taxes on the wealthy, and help the middle class. Both display compassion for their fellow Americans.  Both are wealthy.

Really, and I say this as a die-hard liberal, but truly I don’t see a lot of difference between them.  One is pro-choice and the other is pro-life, but as I mentioned above, that is not enough for me. What I am looking for is a vision.  I’m looking for a vision of the future that is hopeful and optimistic.  I am a hopeless optimist.  When I look at the east coast today and how they are coping, I see resilience.  I see Americans at their best, against all odds, and it makes me smile. THAT is what I want in my president. I want someone who doesn’t let the negative voices weigh him down.  I want someone who will fight for me. I want someone who sees the glass half full and is ready to top it off.

I know my Republican friends think that government is too big (I don’t disagree) and they fear that Barack Obama will only make it bigger, but I have to tell you:  He is my candidate. I respect Mitt Romney for his values, but I do not believe he has the strength of character to make this world a better place – to fight for me or to fight for my children and their future.  I do think Mr. Obama does.  I am willing to give him another term and another chance to implement his vision.

So…I hope to see you all at the polls tomorrow and on Twitter and Facebook tomorrow night as we all partake of that every-four-year American phenomenon called Election Night.  Here’s hoping for a pre-midnight bedtime for us all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Way We Were

I am officially an empty nester. My college-age son lives with his father and my college-grad daughter has moved to Seattle.  I live with my domestic partner (aka boyfriend), two dogs, and a cat, in a home we just purchased and are still fixing up and settling into.

I have a demanding job that I love.  I travel often.  I work out five days a week and play tennis on top of that. I go to lots of social events, some with friends and some that are connected to my career.  I read a lot, see movies, and have committed to seeing some interesting theatre this season.  In other words, I have a full life, and the demands on my time are many, so why do I still look longingly at families with small children?

It's not like I have the energy for young children.  When great nieces and nephews visit, I love playing with and spoiling them but am happy when their parents take them home and I can tidy up. When colleagues bring their babies to the office, I hold them for a couple of minutes but gladly turn them back over once they start to fuss.

I seriously considered having more children in my 40s but am eternally grateful now that my body had other ideas.  My typical day goes like this:  Up at 5am to run or work out, home to shower and eat, out the door by 7:30 to fight traffic, working at my desk pretty much non-stop until lunch (at which time I eat at my desk and then run errands), back to the desk for another four hours, and then it's tennis two to three days a week or an after-work meeting or event, and then home to make dinner, take care of the animals, sweep up dog hair, talk to my significant other about his day, and then maybe - MAYBE - if I'm lucky, settle in to watch an hour of television or read a few pages of the novel I've been trying to finish, before I crash at about 9:00.  The weekends are equally full with friends and trips and dinners out and shopping and laundry and cleaning.  This is a full life.  There are days when I forget to touch base with my kids (usually by text message), and if I go two or three days without touching base, I feel really guilty.

And yet...and yet, I look at younger women with toddlers in tow and remember those days with a fondness that borders on yearning.  Intellectually, I know I'm done.  Emotionally, images of other families conjure up memories of my own children and simpler days.  Days when we got up whenever we felt like it (I didn't work when they were little), had a leisurely breakfast, went to the park or the mall, took naps together, read books, watched Sesame Street, made finger paints, and did all the things I have absolutely no patience or energy for anymore.

I live in the world of adults now, including the worlds of my two adult children.  The magic of the early years is behind me, and on some days, that just makes me sad.  It was so much fun.  Of course, the only way to stay in that world is to find a way to not let your children grow up, and not only is that unfair to them, it's unfair to the world and to ourselves.  They need to make their way.  The world needs them now more than I do, and I need to get back to all the things I gave up when they were little (even if I didn't see it that way then).

It's all good, as the saying goes.  It's a good thing that they are making their way in the world.  It's a good thing I have a full life.  And it's a good thing that a part of me will always be that Mom who baked cookies and spent weeks sewing Halloween costumes together.  It's just that once in a while, she sticks her head out and wonders where it all went.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Running on Empty

This year marks my 15th year of running, give or take a few periods when I was recovering from a broken bone or had lost my running mojo due to extended illness or bad weather or some other reason.  When I tell people I run three to four miles, three to four times a week, I'm sure they take one look at me and think, wow, she is a pathological liar.

It's true that running has never helped me to shed the pounds I gained during two pregnancies, but it has allowed me to keep eating pizza and chocolate while not keeling over from a heart attack (so far). [Here's an article on fitness and fatness.]    It's kept me in good heart health and in good mental health (I get my best ideas while running), and it got me a job once.  The woman who hired me, Karen, who is also now a good friend (and a marathon runner), insists she hired me for my skills, but talking about running led to talking about other things that helped us both to realize we were a good fit.

Over the past three years, my running has become inconsistent at best.  A relationship break-up, a new job, the loss of a beloved pet, my brother's battle with leukemia, and an empty nest demoralized me.  I tried walking and swimming, but walking bores me, and chlorinated water irritates my eyes.  My complete failure at exercise over the past year means the pounds were piling on, since I didn't match my lack of exercise with a commensurate reduction in calories.  In January, however, we started a "Biggest Loser" contest at work, and I'm one of the organizers of the contest, so I couldn't very well sit in my office with my feet up, eating Ding-Dongs and yelling "carry on - you're doing great," now could I?

So after two months of slowly transitioning back into exercise, I am finally back to running about 10-12 miles a week (and I am down 11 pounds - yay!).  On dark, cold days, I use the treadmill at the gym, but on weekends, or if it's sunny enough after work, I head to the park, which brings me to the point of this post:  Other runners are STILL making the same dumb mistakes they were making 15 years ago. I am routinely amazed at some of the things I see other runners do.  It makes me want to pull my hair out (or stop them on the track and lecture them like their high school gym coaches SHOULD have done). Instead, I've vented by writing down my suggestions here. So, for anyone who would like to still be running into their 50s and 60s, instead of recovering from knee or hip replacement surgery, read on.

1)  Stop running on the balls of your feet. That is called sprinting, and it works brilliantly if you are running a 50-yard dash.  For anything longer, and if you don't want to destroy your feet, knees, or back, your whole foot needs to hit the pavement, starting with the heel, and rolling forwards as you come up again.

2) Stop stretching before you run.  You should never stretch cold muscles unless you really want to hurt yourself.  If you really must, if it makes you feel better, or if you think you look pretty cool doing it, do some jumping jacks first to warm up your muscles before you stretch.  Or run for five minutes, stop to stretch, and then take off again.  (It is extremely important, btw, to stretch AFTER you run.)

3) Don't bring your dog with you to run.  They have these HUGE olfactory cavities, and they like to stop and sniff and do other bodily things, so if you don't want to stop too, come alone.

4) Buy some running shoes.  Every day, I see at least one runner, sometimes more, running in boots or flat Keds or Converse basketball shoes.  It pains me to see this.  Running shoes are designed for running and will prevent serious injury to your knees and back. It's a simple thing.  Really.

5)  Dress for the weather, not for your fan club. Everybody starts pulling off clothes after they've warmed up, so it's a good idea to dress in layers (some scouting wisdom never gets old), but don't START OUT running in your Speedo unless it's 101 in the shade (and even then, really?).  There are tons of companies out there making money off of your foolish athletic-clothing choices, but here's what you really need: Clothes to fit the weather, so sweats and two tee-shirts plus a warm, hooded running jacket will do fine in the winter, while shorts and a running bra (or topless for men) is fine in the heat of the summer. Other options include a baseball cap to keep the sun out of your eyes and to catch your sweat (wear the jacket hood over the cap in winter); sunglasses as appropriate; good shoes and socks; a bandana if you sweat a lot; gloves and a neck warmer if it's freezing outside.  For women:  After running shoes, there is no better investment for female runners than a good running bra. If you're heavy up top, you may want to wear two.

6) Drink water. I see so many runners at the park who don't carry water with them and never stop to take a drink.  They must be heartier than me.  I could probably run three to four miles without passing out, but I'm an open-mouth runner so my mouth gets pretty dry.  I don't know how anyone can run for an hour and not have a drink of water.

7) Smile.  If you've chosen to run in a park, then you must have figured you'd run into real people.  I don't need you to stop and discuss the World Series or the presidential election with me, but would it kill you to smile?  Just sayin'.

That's pretty much it.  It's not brain surgery.  People tell me all the time that they "could never run."  This includes my fitness-obsessed friends who work out for 15 to 20 hours a week and do workouts I would never survive. And yet, while a 50-minute spinning class would KILL me, I find running to be as easy and natural as eating pizza and chocolate.  My sense is that everybody has a sport or fitness routine that works for them, and you just have to find yours.  And if it's running, well, I hope you'll leave the dog at home.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Technology Life We Lead

If you had told me at 18 that technology would be an ever-expanding, not to mention crucial, part of my life over the next 35 to 40 years, I probably would have lumped you in with all those loonies who thought they heard "Paul is dead" backwards on some Beatles album.   At 18, "technology" was a term reserved solely for history class, evoking images of cavemen and tools.

In retrospect, my first battle with technology was waged as the 17-year-old co-editor of my high school newspaper.  We produced the paper using machines that had clearly been manufactured during the Jurassic era, including the Varityper Headliner (see photo).  This particular machine was bigger than our washing machine at home and came with tire-sized font reels you turned manually to "write" headlines that were then kicked out on photographic paper and slapped onto copy boards with rubber cement.  This machine's counterpart was the two-headed monster we used to produce justified copy: You typed on one machine, which produced a ticker tape that you then threaded (or tried to thread) into the other machine, which produced copy on white paper that you also rubber-cemented onto copy boards. Painstakingly.

It was barbaric.  But it was also precise. To this day, I cannot see an extra space in a newspaper article - or a painting that's not straight on a wall, or a headline that's not centered perfectly, or a book that's not lined up with others on a shelf - without fixing it.  It drives my co-workers nuts.  Drives me nuts too.

Over the next ten years or so, I used a variety of ever-advancing photo-typesetting technologies and, eventually, even computers.  Then one day, in my first professional position as an editor of warehouse inspection reports, I received my first email.  It was 1986, and while most companies were still on mainframes, my little company (50 employees) had moved us all to networked PCs.  Most of my work for them was still done by hand, in notebooks, and our typists still used memory typewriters, but I did love using that first PC.  So one day, out of the blue, a box popped up on my screen and there was a message in it from our IT guy.  He used me as his guinea pig because we had talked about what email was and because he figured I wouldn't start screaming about ghosts in the machine when it happened.  I remember smiling and thinking, wow, this is cool, as I hesitantly typed out a reply.  (And the rest is history...)

I left the workforce to have babies at about the time PCs were becoming the standard in many offices (1990).  My husband at the time was learning DOS and "hypertext" and spending a lot of time in "news groups" (none of which I understood) while I was going to playgroups and changing diapers. By the time I re-entered the workforce, Windows95 had been introduced, so I managed to skip the whole DOS period. I "learned computers" in a Windows environment, so by 1997 or so, I knew more about Windows than my computer-expert husband, who had to relearn everything (yes, there was that much of a difference).  When I wasn't looking, he would close Windows on our home PC and open DOS because it was easier for him (true story).  And if you think DOS is easier than Windows, I have a bridge I can sell you...

Today, when one discusses technology, you're more likely to be talking about phones and tablets and apps than PCs or fonts, and does anyone even know where you can buy rubber cement anymore?  (Actually, I bought some about a year ago for a poster project, so indeed it is still available.)

I used to marvel that my great-grandmother, who was born in the 1880s and lived until the late 1970s (97 years), had witnessed so much change in her lifetime. She was alive for the Wright Brothers' first flight tests and lived until the first space shuttle was under construction.  I imagine that some day my own great grandchildren may marvel at the changes I have witnessed.  From rotary dial phones and black and white televisions with antennae to full-length movies on my hand-held computer (phone) and who knows what next.  Teleportation, anyone?