Saturday, December 29, 2007

More About Restfulness and Bed

Well, it appears that teenagers need more than nine hours of sleep daily. Between studying and socializing, computers and homework, jobs and family obligations, how in the world can that much sleep occur?

Wait a minute: doesn't that sound familiar to adults as well?

Check out the NPR article "Helping Teens Make Peace with Sleep" (NPR Morning Edition, January 18, 2007) to get a few tips for the sleepy among you. Adults also can learn a lot about this phenomenon called sleep.

As you are reading, take notes of information previously stated in this blog, including restful rooms and habits. Being rested is the key to health and success, so do your best to keep healthy and rested.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Getting it All Done in Bed

The next time you want to indulge yourself, give yourself permission to spend the day, or at least part of the day, in bed.

Now, that doesn't mean you get nothing done. Surf — er, research with your laptop computer. (I did that just this morning, thanks to a laptop and wireless Internet, both beautiful modern conveniences.) Balance the checkbook while reclining in bed. Spend time with that book you meant to finish. If you have a television in the bedroom (perish the thought!), pop in a movie. Whatever you can do seated, do it in bed.

Or maybe just catch up on some sleep.

Do the math: when do you get to bed? When do you actually fall asleep? And at what ungodly hour do you awaken to the alarm clock? Healthy adults are supposed to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and odds are you don't get nearly that much.

Despite its prevalence in today's society, that perpetually drowsy and yawning constitution is not healthy or normal.

Or safe, either: driving under the influence of exhaustion can cause traffic accidents just as handily as NyQuil- or tequila-impaired driving. Probably even worse — tired drivers want to just get to their destination and are apt to soldier on despite their impairment.

When you arise from the treat of spending the day in bed, remove all of the distractions from the bedroom. "Distractions" include computers and television sets, work papers, newspapers, school books and video games. A book or two on the nightstand might be essential, but don't turn your bedroom into a study hall or research lab.

If distractions absolutely must reside in the bedroom with you, make sure they're tucked behind closed doors of closets, armoires or shelving units. Sleep experts note that the more distractions are placed in bedrooms, the harder it is for people to sleep in them.

A treat of spending the morning in bed with your laptop or school books should remain a treat — and by definitions, treats are special, rare gems. Work at a desk, where work belongs. Remember: bedrooms are for beds and living rooms are for living.

Friday, December 21, 2007

'A Visit From St. Nicholas' (a.k.a. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

The year I read this poem to my nieces and nephews, all huddled together under the covers in the room upstairs, they asked for it a second time.

I don't think it was my stellar performance (though, I have to say, I did rock). I think it's because they knew the longer I read, the longer they could stay awake on Christmas Eve.

I also believe it is such an icon, a lot of people haven't really read it, or listened to it in years.

So, with no further ado, on the eve of the winter solstice, here it is, in its entirety (courtesy In the words of the poet Clement Clarke Moore, Happy Christmas!

A Visit from Saint Nicholas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

by Clement Clarke Moore, courtesy

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sea Monsters, Part Two — Aaaah!

As discussed in an earlier blog, I am convinced sea monsters exist.

National Geographic has confirmed their existence. Take a gander at the prehistoric frilled shark that surfaced near Japan earlier this year.

Or at these "7-foot-long paddlefish." (Are those TEETH?)

I'm not sure what disturbs me more: the fact that a prehistoric shark exists or the fact that other things in my brain thought to be extinct or fictional might very well exist, too.

My friend Carole has the talent of influencing Hollywood: very soon after she reads a book, the movie studios put it on celluloid. I'd prefer that talent to my dubious ability to bring to life whatever is in my imagination. I read a lot of Stephen King as a youngster, so just imagine what is in there.

So if we start seeing more monsters leaping out of the ocean, I apologize in advance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From the "Litigious Society" File

You really must visit Wacky Warning Labels Web site and see the award-winning entries.

Sponsored by the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, the contest features honest-to-goodness warning labels on items sold, used and distributed in the United States.

Check it and and decide for yourself if you're going to laugh or cry.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Remaining "Other"

"Woman suicide attacker," "woman president," "woman trucker" — what's wrong with these nouns?

What's wrong is this: to describe a woman doing some things, taking some actions, being in some roles, the speaker or writer has to identify the sex of the person. No one has trouble imagining a man as a soldier, a cab driver or a chef — or president of the United States of America — yet only "pink collar jobs" need no preface of "woman."

If you doubt this logic, check out the Reuters article in the Washington Post ("Woman suicide attacker and car bomb kill 26," December 7, 2007). The bomber's identity as a woman was as important as her act, and the headline and lead prove it. Headlines never read "Man suicide bomber."

It reminds me of that awful scene in the movie "A Time to Kill," when the white lawyer is describing the awful acts against the child. "Can you picture her? Can you?" he asks the white jurors, some of whom have tears running down their faces. "Now, imagine she's black."

Their eyes flew open. They didn't naturally imagine a black child.

Any more than some people can imagine a woman being a trucker, serial killer, president of a country, baseball team owner, stunt car driver....

When someone has to use the word "woman" before a title, it just means that we haven't come far enough, baby.

Until we vote for a presidential candidate because she is qualified, rather than because she will "make history," we still have a long, long way to go.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Banned Book Week Update: Penguins

When it comes to banned or challenged books, my first question seems to be, "What is all the fuss about?" I have to find out myself.

The story of And Tango Makes Three was intriguing: two male chinstrap penguins lived together as a couple and tried to hatch an egg together. When the penguin-keeper gave them an egg, they hatched it together and raised the chick together.

Charming for fiction. Unbelievable for real life. But it was real: Roy and Silo were two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who chose to cohabitate. During their years together, the tried to hatch stones (because both were male and could not lay eggs). The penguin-keeper gave them a real egg to try to hatch — which they did.

So, I decided to read the book to see what the fuss was about.

It was written simply and directly, and the illustrations were adorable and charming. (My personal favorite drawing was the "aerial" view of the egg-warming penguin in the nest.) It was fact-based, and at the end are the details about the true story. There was even a little joke in there for adults relating to the word "Tango."

I also read a couple of Web sites that included entries stating some bloggers' objections to the book and research on same-sex pairing in the animal kingdom.

Perhaps if I shared the detractors' ideology, I would understand their objections better. However, I read no endorsement of any penguin instincts described in the book, whether it was exhibited by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.

In the end, all I did was read a story about two penguins in the Central Park Zoo who hatched an egg and raised a chick, and the story and illustrations were cute. The fact that Roy and Silo were both male didn't seem to make much of a difference to them, so it didn't make a difference to me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

This is Your Brain on Exercise

With winds reaching 25 miles per hour this morning and the temperature peaking in the low 30s, I couldn't bring myself to run at dawn. Instead, I promised myself a trip to the gym with David this evening.

As I stood in the spray of the shower, I could see why people depended on coffee. Most mornings, I don't find my way to the shower until I've put in five miles on the road. By then, I'm alert — or I'd be under the wheels of a car driven by an inattentive driver on a cell phone. I wouldn't say I'm annoyingly perky, but I am aware of my surroundings and functioning at a higher level than I would be without prior stimulation.

Apparently I can thank my regular exercise regimen for this alertness, as well as for the possibility of long-term mental and brain health ("Rx for the Brain: Move," The Washington Post, December 4, 2007).

John J. Ratey, a Harvard Medical School professor, will attest to that very thing in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, which will be published in January 2008.

Anyone who has taken a walk can attest to the magic and restorative nature of a little exercise. Do it as a regular activity and see how much you benefit.

Keep doing the word puzzles, Sudoku, word games and puzzles. Just throw a little exercise into the deal. Work out to your heart's content, but don't feel you have to overdo it — you don't have to run a marathon to be fit. Take a walk around the lake. Play basketball in the driveway. Kick a soccer ball around.

Remember: your brain is a part of your body, a living organism. Treat it like you love it. Chances are, you'll live to remember your happy days with loved ones in the park.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Without Further Ado, I Give You Pablo Neruda

Tonight I Can Write

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, "The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance."

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

by Pablo Neruda
From I Explain a Few Things: Selected Poems, copyright 2007.

A bonus: listen to the soundtrack of the motion picture "The Postman (Il Postino)" to hear various works of Pablo Neruda read by familiar voices, including Andy Garcia (reciting the poem above), Glenn Close, William Dafoe, Samuel L. Jackson, Miranda Richardson and Sting. It's officially on my Christmas list!