Reprinted from the Jupiter Courier

Read To Achieve

As an author, the topic of literacy is ever important in my life. I write for many reasons, but the primary one is to educate through entertainment. Reading… at least, reading well… is a dying art and, if a person is not a good reader, they will not be well informed no matter how many diplomas and degrees they may acquire.

During the last school year, I had the privilege of mentoring seven gifted students at J.D. Parker Elementary School in Stuart. Three girls and four boys aged nine to 11 spent 90 minutes with me every Tuesday. Cliché as it may sound, I learned so much more from them than they learned from me. There wasn’t a day I left school without a big smile spread across my face.

When children are raised in a home where reading is a focal point, their manner of speaking and writing… their vocabulary and sentence structure… is a dead giveaway that their parents know the importance of books. When children are exposed to literature, they grow emotionally and intellectually because they are better able to grasp the deeper meanings in all that they see and hear. When good readers speak, you can bet they have something important to say and will say it well.

The first assignment these boys and girls were given was to write about a topic for which they felt passion. It could be a sport, a hobby, a place they had visited... anything that got them excited. The only No! No! was that they could not write about video games.

Oh, the groans I heard when I delivered that instruction. Guess what. Once video games were no longer a choice, those seven students found that they actually had many other activities in their lives that brought them pleasure. The few short paragraphs they were asked to write became page upon page of excited expressions about sports, dance, singing, travel and, yes, even school. Each student was asked to read his/her piece out loud and doing so generated a barrage of questions from their peers. We all learned a lot about each other that day and deeper friendships were born.

Over the past year I have produced a number of Author Meet and Greets in our community. With the help of sponsors like Harbourside Place, I have been able to introduce many local writers to our residents. The talented men and women who join me at these events write in a variety of genres and each one of them stresses the importance of books in our lives. They are dedicated to promoting literacy. I am honored to call them friends and privileged to share a stage with them.

I am also a proud member of the Woman’s Club of Stuart. You might wonder why, living as far away as I do, I chose to join this organization. The reason is that the Club’s mission statement focuses heavily on education. With literacy all important in my life, I am willing to travel near and far to work with like minded people.

I’d like to share with you an experience I recently had while dining out. A  friend and I were enjoying a leisurely lunch in a busy restaurant. All around us professional men and women carrying the requisite iPhones were engaged in animated conversations that rivaled Japanese katakana. Well-groomed and, seemingly, well-educated, their manicured fingers poked the air as if it was the Pillsbury Doughboy’s belly.

Overhearing other people’s conversations is an unavoidable part of the dining experience. As my friend and I reviewed the specials of the day, words -- or rather one word -- began to vie for attention with our growling stomachs. Making eye contact over the tops of the menus, we uttered the same thought aloud, “Gene Weingarten.”

In September 2010, Weingarten, a journalist with the Washington Post, wrote an article entitled, Goodbye, cruel words: English. It's dead to me. To quote from his essay:

“Signs of its (the English language) failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, sometimes eliminating it entirely.”

Prior to Weingarten’s post, I often wondered if anyone except me noticed the poor sentence structure, misspellings and improper grammar used by reporters, public speakers, teachers, students and every day people.  As I compose this editorial, I fear I am writing more of a eulogy than an opinion piece.  How can it be that, with all the words Webster has put at our disposal, the utterance we heard used most often that day to specify an object or action was a word that did not specifically identify an object or action at all?

No matter the topic under discussion, this one word was significant for its insignificance. The actual definition is “an object or entity not precisely designated or capable of being designated.” Is it even possible for a known object or action not to be “precisely designated?”

Spotlighting something we want and nothing we need, this single syllable word is all encompassing. Lovers know it as the touch that sets their souls aquiver. It is sometimes stupid, sometimes rash, and often funny. Without it, pipes would leak, chairs wobble and doors squeak.

I can only presume that the action or object requested is so sacrosanct that it must be referred to in code. At times, it is something that is missing, nothing that is wrong and anything that is a possibility. It can define an object that resembles something, remind us of something, sound like something but is never the thing itself. Landfills, basements, attics and garages are piled high with discards defined by these six letters. Every day we outgrow its usefulness. Not the word… the object defined.

Here are snippets from conversations overheard:

A female diner: “Ewwww! Look at the size of that thing! Kill it! Kill it!” (palmetto bug)

An attorney: “I am so frustrated writing that damned thing, um, the brief but I have to get it to the judge this afternoon.” (He gets points for self-correcting.) 

We are all guilty of maiming the language we speak. I’ve no doubt Webster is spinning in his, well, you know.

 At the time Weingarten published his article, he claimed that the English language “… succumbed at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.”

I would have to agree, but I’m not willing to bid a final farewell just yet; at least, not until I’ve found the ever-elusive thing. How hard could it be to find? Everyone knows of its existence. People constantly talk about it. We carry it, but can never find it, in our purses, pockets and briefcases. We store things in the trunk of our car and in kitchen cabinets. There are random things in toolboxes, sewing kits and junk drawers.

Weingarten said it better than I ever could in his closing paragraph:

“English has become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles.”

That explains the orange hue staining so many keyboards and smart phones.

Don’t allow yourself and your children to fall into the cracks left by empty book shelves. Reading, writing and speaking go hand and hand. Your children will never achieve their dreams if they are not enthusiastic readers. Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. It is by example that good (and bad) behaviors are learned.

Open a book tonight. Sit down with your child and share not just the words on the page but the message within the narrative. Encourage a love of reading in your children because books, whether they are comedies or dramas, not only entertain, they teach many of life’s important lessons. Reading improves language skills and helps with critical thinking.

Books are your passport to other places and times. Give your children every advantage in an ever increasingly competitive world. Read every day!



Reprinted from the Jupiter Courier

The Sweet Side of Addiction

For years, I have blamed my penchant for Yankee Doodles and Devil Dogs on biology. Genetics are responsible for my inability to pass by the tray of brownies which holds center stage at every family gathering without eating two or three before dinner. Even as I avert my face, those moist little fudge-frosted mouthfuls call my name, "Donna. You know you want us. Don't fight the temptation. Give in." My hand shakes as I reach for the platter. Oh, the guilt! I stuff the first one into my mouth and reach for another. Brownies, I've learned, make great appetizers.

Easter is especially hard on me. My salivary glands start dripping right after the last caramel-filled square disappears from the box of Valentine's candy.  Visions of solid dark chocolate bunnies and little foil wrapped eggs begin to haunt my waking hours. I would sell my soul to the devil for a few peanut butter or coconut-filled milk chocolate delights.

When my kids were small, they never believed that my lack of willpower was birth related. They just thought I was greedy and gluttonous. Every trip to the supermarket ended with me covered in cookie crumbs. While driving and pinned in place by the seatbelt, I would stretch my arm near out of its socket to dig through the grocery bags in search of the Mallomars.

Well, I've been vindicated. Based on a 2012 study from the Scripps Institute in Jupiter, my claim of genetic addiction now has some validation.

In a three year study of rats being fed nothing but a high-calorie, high-fat junk food diet, it was determined that cupcakes and cookies have the same effect on the brain as cocaine -- the release of dopamine D2 receptors. Dopamine is the chemical the brain releases in response to enjoyable experiences such as eating chocolate and having sex.

Since it's already been proven that some people are born with addictive personalities, and chocolate is an addictive substance, what further proof could be required. I'm a junk food junkie!

In reading the Scripps research, I discovered something else the rats and I have in common. When given the option of healthy food, the rats chose death by starvation rather than live life without their Ding Dongs. I understand exactly how they felt. Told that I would have to spend the rest of my life without enjoying an Almond Joy or a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, I, too, would choose to die.

It should be noted that the rats gained weight much as I have over the years. However, unlike me, they don't really care about their expanding waistlines. They will never know the embarrassment of having to lie on the floor to zip their jeans.

With the refrigerator empty of turkey leftovers that had been turned into variations of its former self and with Christmas less than a month away, I’m beginning to sense an old familiar stirring in the recesses of my mind. Dancing in my head are dreams of… no, not sugarplums… dark chocolate-coated bonbons wrapped in silver and gold paper. Packaged in a bright red box and tied with a green bow they are my personal and tasty reminder that the season of joy to the world is upon us.

I just checked the Hoffman’s website. They are open until 8:00 pm tonight. It’s a good bet that those beautifully decorated boxes of bonbons will be on display in the middle of the store. If they aren’t, I’m certain that whatever chocolate pumpkins and turkeys are left over from Halloween and Thanksgiving will be on sale. They will satisfy my cravings until the bonbons are ready.

Now all I have to do is find a solution to the article published in a recent issue of the Journal of American Medicine. Said article recommended that women exercise at least an hour a day to minimize weight gain as they age. I hate exercise! If I park my car on the PGA Boulevard side of the Garden Square mall and walk to Hoffman’s, isn’t that just as good… maybe, better… than going to the gym? Me thinks, yes.

Warning to Hoffman’s employees: I’ve been known to stand outside the store with my nose pressed to the window until the holiday chocolates are put out for display. Don’t be afraid. I’m a danger to no one but myself. My presence is a compliment to the chocolatier working diligently somewhere in the recesses of the store.

And, if for some obscure reason, management isn’t happy with my daily presence, they can get a restraining order. Over the years, I’ve learned that the paper restraining orders are printed on makes an excellent napkin with which to wipe my mouth when the almond bark I keep in my pocketbook starts to melt in the lingering heat of a lost summer.

Ahhh, Christmas! You can’t get here quick enough!