Sunday, December 30, 2012

Still Crazy After All These Years? Not!

This is one of my reader's favorite blog posts from the past. I hope you enjoy it.

I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine from high school. Sandy was the most talented cartoonist I ever met. We have made plans to break bread and crack jokes. I’m definitely looking forward to catching up with her. However, in our emails she referred to me as “the crazy Sally Marks.”

In the past when I went to my high school reunions, a few folks described me in a similar fashion - crazy. Some stories I remember with embarrassment. Other tales I don’t remember at all, but the essence of the plot seems like something I would’ve done. I want to keep the blog g-rated, so I will not go into my misspent youth, but I can tell you that as I retell these stories to my friends, we double over in laughter.

So, I ask myself, what happened to that crazy girl? Why am I sitting in front of my computer on New Year’s Eve trying to come up with something to write on my blog instead of painting the town?

For starters, if I write I won’t fall asleep before midnight. I’m looking forward to 2013 and I want to usher it in with a smile and a cheer. It hasn’t been an easy year for nearly everyone I know. People have lost jobs and homes. Good friends of mine lost their son. Another dear friend just lost her husband.

However, a new year awaits. As a Buddhist, I know (at least theoretically) that all things are transient. We cannot count on external things to bring us happiness. This includes money, power, lovers, children, success or status. All of those things can disappear in an instant. And this year, I, as well as others, experienced the loss of some of these cherished things firsthand.

However, there is one thing I am taking with me to the new decade. Hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, as well as the determination to do my part to bring a little light to the world. For a lot of my life I tried to shed a little happiness through humor. I did a few wild and silly things, told countless jokes and stories and wrote comedic scripts.

A few things have changed.

Frankly, I’m not as funny as I used to be. I tell people “I’m funny on paper, but I’m not that humorous in person.” When I go to a party I’d rather engage someone in an earnest dialogue than stand on a table with a lampshade on my head. When I look in the mirror I’m still astounded that the image reflected back to me is not a skinny, goofy and animated, young woman, but a middle-aged grandma who needs to exercise, pay more attention to what she eats, and needs a cup of coffee and a shot of liquid vitamins to kick into second gear. I am not the same crazy Sally Marks I once was.

And that’s okay.

As much as we might want things to stay the same, our lives, our country and our universe are constantly changing. It does no good to pine away about things in the past. We can cherish good memories and show appreciation for our blessings. But we cannot be assured that those blessings will always be with us. However, we can keep the light of hope in our hearts and constantly challenge ourselves to work toward a better future. As I write this I am one hour away from a new year, a new decade and new hope for tomorrow.

I’m not partying this New Year’s Eve. My spouse is working and I am home alone. But, I am doing exactly what I want to do, writing something that I hope will inspire someone. Maybe that sounds crazy. Hmmm. I guess I haven’t changed as much as I thought. I may be older, fatter, and hopefully wiser, but deep down, and in my own special way, I’m still that “crazy Sally Marks.”

Have a happy, healthy, prosperous and loving New Year.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Deck the Halls with Kindness

We recently moved back to Arizona after spending nearly a year in Port Angeles, WA. On the trip back we snuck in front of a snow storm and skated through Los Angeles before a small earth quake hit. I always say a few extra prayers whenever I travel. I also concentrate on positive thoughts as much as possible and try to envision a protective shield of white light around the vehicle we are driving.

Sometimes it can be challenging to focus on positive events, especially when on the road. When folks are enclosed in the anonymity of their own cars and trucks, it seems it is easier to leave their brain and courtesy on their doorstep.

While it may SEEM true that crazy drivers outnumber their safe and courteous counterparts, it is merely an illusion. The problem is we are geared to dwell on the negative and ignore the happy and uneventful. We curse the driver who cuts us off, but quickly forget the kind folks who wave us into their lane ahead of them or slow down or change lanes to allow us to merge onto the freeway.

Years ago I remember a coworker, Don Powell, gave me his insights into merging safely on the road. He said when he was barreling down the street, if a driver turned on their turn signal and made eye contact in a tacit request to enter his lane, he always waved them on. If they tried to force their way in, he was not as kind.

I have found the same thing is true in life. When we show courtesy and kindness, we increase the chances someone will do the same for us and others. I like to do this in the grocery store. If I’m standing in line and I see someone with only a couple of items, I always allow them to go ahead of me. I do the same thing when someone has a cranky baby or toddler. That is a courtesy to everyone within sight, hearing or scent of the unhappy tot.

Recently we attended a pre-holiday Christmas event. CB’s family does a white elephant Christmas exchange. While one or two items are decent gifts, most are silly things such as a screaming monkey, a whoopee cushion or a beat-up hat that comes back year after year with added decorations that depict the former owner’s interests or vocation.

CB’s sister, Lisa, hosts this annual event. Most of the siblings are grandparents now. This year I asked if I could bring my two granddaughters, Rosannah (Zanna) now age 5 and Briannah (Bree) age 3. This is how they looked a couple years ago.

This year they would be joining our great nieces and nephews that include: Xander, age 1, Hunter, 3, Meeka, 6, Zeke, 7, Annabelle, 9 and Kylie, 10.
Both Zanna and Bree remembered Hunter from an earlier gathering (he’s the little boy who not only OWNS a lot of toy cars, he SHARES them as well.) However, Meeka, who lives out of town, seemed a little nervous by this gathering of noisy relatives. I whispered to Zanna to try to make friends with her step cousin.

My affable granddaughter quickly complied with my request. Meeka seemed a bit apprehensive at first, but then told Rosannah and Briannah they could sit next to her if they wanted to do so. Before you know it they were fast friends.
We can learn a lot about this little interaction. Folks may seem unkind, but really they might be too shy or nervous to make the first overture toward a friendly encounter. While it is always a possibility that a kind gesture could be scorned, more often than not, it will be met with relief and gratitude.

The holiday season is a perfect time to initiate kindness. Also, I hope you can take a moment to sing some of your favorite Christmas carols. I like this one because even if you forget the lyrics, you can belt out the two sounds “fa” and “la” and sing with the best of them. To make things easier, here are the lyrics to the old Welch tune, Deck the Halls.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Troll the ancient Yule tide carol,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
See the blazing Yule before us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Follow me in merry measure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
While I tell of Yule tide treasure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Fast away the old year passes,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Sing we joyous, all together,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Thoughts for Tots

The holidays are approaching and many of us are trying to come up with gift ideas for our children, grandkids, nieces or nephews. While toys and cute outfits are always fun, I think one of the most valuable gifts someone can offer a tot is a Montessori education.

The following is an article I wrote for the Toddler Programs in Mesa, AZ. Even if you do not a toddler in your life, feel free to forward the info on to someone who could benefit from this story.


Forget about Chicago, the biggest toddlin’ town around is Montessori International School’s Toddler House, 2447 Fairbrook Road and the Toddler Community at 2401 E. Brown Road, both in Mesa,AZ.

Tots from 12 months to three years of age play with puzzles, don plastic coats and paint, sit in a circle and sing, learn Spanish, and interact happily with one another. A visit to either school denotes a surprisingly calm environment. While the occasional unhappy camper may surface, for the most part the school is free of the sound of whining and the smell of disinfectant that permeates the typical preschool classroom. Instead the atmosphere exudes a friendly ease as little ones engage in activities that serve the dual role of combining purpose and pleasure.

It is clear the current Toddler House and Toddler Community students enjoy their day and move with a sense of enjoyable resolve uncharacteristic of most one-year-old boys and girls. The difference is by design and is an integral part of the Montessori philosophy to foster a child’s love of learning.

Simple tasks are divided into life skills “jobs” such as polishing objects or rolling up mats and putting them in their proper place after use. The seemingly simple duties help the tots develop motor skills, as well as self confidence by successfully demonstrating an ability they have seen performed by others at home.

At lunch and snack time, tikes retrieve their own placemat and dishes and set their own spot at the table. Learning manners and showing consideration for others is also an essential part of each day, along with self care such as dressing, brushing their teeth, wiping their faces after eating and of course toilet training.

Infants as young as three months can join the Toddler House. However, current openings are limited to little ones 12 months and older. Parents interested in learning more about enrollment guidelines and openings can call 480-890-1580.

Most of the boys and girls join the Montessori toddler community after they begin to walk with confidence (approximately 16 months.) The youngsters embark on activities where basic motor coordination, independence and language development are fostered and individual personality is respected.

Both toddler programs follow the philosophy and tools developed by Maria Montessori (1870-1952) an Italian physician, educator and humanitarian, whose curriculum emphasizes independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. Rather than a classroom, the toddler programs offer a nurturing social community where very young children experience their first contact with other children and learn to participate in a cooperative group.

“By teaching toddlers how to take care of themselves and their immediate environment they develop a respect for all things, as well as building their own self confidence,” said Teryn Miller, an AMI certified teacher at the school whose advanced training focuses on teaching infants to three-year-old. “Many parents are unaware of what their children are capable of. However, when toddlers are engaged in structured activities that best allows for their mental, physical and psychological growth, they thrive. Learning becomes a joy and respect becomes a way of life.”

Both toddler programs are equipped with a small child in mind. Tables, chairs, cabinets and even the toilets are scaled to fit a little one’s needs and height. Children are allowed to pursue their interests, but must finish a task before pursuing another. Exploration and creativity is encouraged, but each child is taught the importance of listening, following rules and acting in a respectful manner.

The student/teacher ratio is one of the best in the state – one teacher to every four children. In addition to the Toddler House and the Toddler Community, M.I.S. has a primary school for children three to six years of age at 1230 N. Gilbert Road in Mesa and separate primary and elementary school programs at 2401 E. Brown Road in Mesa.

For more information visit or call 480-890-1580.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Enjoying Christmas "Presence"

One of the most challenging experiences I have in my daily life is to stay focused on the present moment. It is so easy for my mind to skip forward to the future or lapse into stale memories. Although I’d like to think I’m older and wiser, I have found children are much better at enjoying (or being grumpy about) what is happening right now. If you don’t believe me, try convincing an infant to wait two hours to be fed

or a three-year old with a full bladder he or she can wait until you get home to pee.

However, the one occasion where children DO put their minds into the future is Christmas time. Who doesn’t remember being a kid and anxiously counting the days until the holidays? Unfortunately, as I have aged, and in spite of every retailer putting up holiday decorations on display in September, the holidays have a way of sneaking up on me. Last year I didn’t trim the tree until Dec. 20th!

Fortunately, I learned from my mistake. This year, I decided to put up my Christmas tree up before I polished off my Thanksgiving leftovers.

My Tannebaum is a straggly old, plastic thing but I love it. After my divorce I got rid of a lot of things I didn’t want to move. My old tree went to Goodwill. For a few years I did not put up a Chanukah bush. Between limited finances and lack of holiday cheer, I could not face the idea of putting up a tree by myself. My marriage was over, I lost my job and my future prospects were looking pretty shabby. My oldest daughter, Alicia was newly married, so I went through the ornaments and gave her many of her hand-made decorations, as well as colorful balls that said things like Baby’s First Christmas 1980.

I eventually remarried, but my new spouse, CB, did not want a tree in the house. I put out a bowl of ornaments and placed a couple of holiday items in the music room. I complied with the request to go treeless for a year or two, but finally decided that enough was enough. This Boo Jew (a semi-kosher gal who converted to Buddhism in the 1980s) decided to take a stand and buy a tree to put it on. I decorated the tree alone. Eventually I convinced CB to place one ornament, a trumpet, on the tree.

However, as soon as my first grandchild was born (five years ago) I made sure I would have company when I celebrated the holidays. Little Rosannah was only a few weeks old for her first tree-decorating experience. I spread out a blanket and put her on it as I engaged in my tree trimming festivities. She seemed to enjoy the colorful lights and didn’t cry when I sang holiday tunes.

The next year Rosannah was a little more active and I had to work hard to keep her from eating the ornaments. But, with her company (although not her help) I got the job done. The following year a new granddaughter was a part of the mix. Putting the tree up and watching them was a real challenge, but I got it done.

This year Rosannah and Briannah are 5 and 3 years old. Rosannah helped put the tree stand together and placed the branches into their slots. Briannah was mostly focused on one ornament that she kept trying to hang before the tree was ready. However, both girls enjoyed looking at a lifetime’s worth of memories disguised as wooden reindeers, Santa Clauses and stockings.

After Briannah hung up her favorite ornament she became obsessed with the candy canes. I can’t even tell you what decade it was when we got those sugary sticks. However, I DO remember my youngest daughter, Brittany, was in junior high and was supposed to sell the red and white stripped peppermints to earn money for her school orchestra. Unfortunately, our dog, Rusty, ate a box and licked a bunch of other ones. The candy canes have been part of our holiday decorations ever since that incident.

After an hour or so the tree was up, the lights strung and my two granddaughter had placed numerous decorations on the tree. Unlike when I was growing up, I didn’t enforce any decorating rules. In my youth we weren’t supposed to put two of the same color balls next to each other, and, when possible, we tried to color coordinate the hue of the ball with the nearest light. Green ornament next to the green light, red ball by the red light etc. Candy canes were distributed evenly. Briannah decided they should all be placed together in a sort of candy cane family clump. Needless to say, all the decoration were on the bottom half of the tree.

Years ago, that decorating scheme would have bothered my sensibilities, but now I enjoy seeing their handiwork. I also admire how they appreciated each item. They didn’t reminisce about holidays past, they were perfectly happy to take part in the present activity.

It made me pause and think of how much I can learn from my grandchildren. I have an advantage of age and experience, but they are experts at living in the moment. And it’s truly a gift to have these adorable girls in my life.

To all of you reading this story, I hope you have a great holiday. My wish for you is to be kind to yourself and others, release past hurts and embrace the season as if you were a child again. Happy Holidays!