Monday, February 25, 2013

My Little Pony - Show Review

When I was a little girl I loved My Little Pony. I saved up my allowance to buy a unicorn pony, and bought more as I could afford them.

I was vaguely aware that there was a MLP television show, but from the little I had seen it was very silly, so I had no interest. I thought it was much more fun playing with the toys, making little houses for them out of shoeboxes and braiding their hair. I had given each one their own personality, and they talked to each other. I kept them for many years afterwards and even gave them to my eldest daughter to play with when she was about 2.


Now it's 2013, and there is a new My Little Pony tv show. I'm admitting to you all that I'm a grownup and a BIG FAN. I've seen all the episodes several times and the show continues to amaze me. This year's season finale was incredible, and opens up so many possibilities for next season. Go Bronys!

What do I think is so great about this show? It's about friendship. It portrays real friendship in real ways, while still being cute and fun and a great show for little kids. Some of the episodes are so true to the heart that I've cried watching them.

It's so unlike some other kid's shows that are on today, because this show talks about real friendship and the real choices we have to make. For example, one of my favorite episodes is about three characters; Gilda the Griffon, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie. It's called "Griffon the Brush Off".

Episode summary

I find this episode a perfect example of what I love so much about the show. They are talking about a real life situation that can come up, and they have the characters react in real ways. The lessons shown are lessons that I want my daughter to learn.

I'm proud to be a fan of this show.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Empathy Pitfall - rushing to judgements

I've been thinking a lot this week about how I judge people. Based on what someone is wearing and their overall appearance I will quickly put them into a group; such as class or ethnicity/race. Based on their actions and the location I'm in, I may make other judgments (for example, if I am walking down a street alone at night, I'll be fearful of anyone walking close by).

When someone says 'you are so judgmental' I believe they are saying 'you are making decisions about who I am before really getting to know me'. So in that sense, I believe that judging a person can be an opposition to empathy.

I don't usually consider myself a judgmental person. However, I am trying to build up my empathy. So recently, when I read this article, it got me thinking about my own rushes to judgment. The story is about a woman who did a series of self-portraits, which captured people judging her based on her appearance. What I found most striking about the article was how it seemed to be so easy for her to find images that contained these judging looks from strangers. Was I like them, so quick to judge? Was I giving strange looks to strangers?

There was another interesting story from 2012 about a woman who had been ridiculed for her weight online. She was a video blogger, so she, of course, made an excellent video response to her critics. One thing that she said in her response stood out to me - that when you see a person, remember, you don't know where they are in their journey. I think this can be applied for any of my judgmental behavior.

So I've resolved to try to break this habit of judgement. To see the person and not their appearance.

I'm doing it by focusing on a person's eyes and facial expressions before I do anything else. I have been trying to avoid looking at what people are wearing or how their bodies look, and to try to see them as people first.

It's hard.

Judging seems to be the path to fear, and it's much easier for me to feel fear by pushing people away rather than bringing them closer. This is part of my own journey, what I'm trying to do.

Thanks for listening. Please add your comments below (anonymous comments welcome).


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

About Me - Math Degree, Part II

Continued from this previous post.....

I walked into the small classroom and looked around. As per the school's protocol, I had chosen who would test me from my group of professors. There was the Algebra professor, who never ridiculed me and had always seemed to give me a fair shot. A brilliant man. In front of me was the Topology professor. I felt real, palpable fear when looking at the top of his head (he hadn't looked up to see me enter). At least one more professor was in the room, but honestly I can't recall who it was. 

Then it began. Professor A would ask questions first, so I was a bit relieved. He asked me some straight-forward questions, just facts. I was thinking, 'this isn't so bad, is this all that I have to do?' Then he asked me to show a proof. For those of you not familiar with higher math classes, this means I was asked to prove a theorem was correct by running though a sequence of logical steps on the blackboard. I remember being so nervous as I began the proof that the chalk kept slipping out of my sweaty hand.

Eeew, I know. But you had to be there.

I ran through the steps staring straight at the blackboard, never turning around or looking back to see what they thought. I put down the chalk and turned to face my professor, certain that this was where they were going to tell me I failed, that I didn't earn a degree, and I should just go back to New York empty-handed. The professor just nodded at me, said "that's correct" and started to ask me another question.

OH MY GOSH!!! I think my heart just leaped out of my chest it was pounding so hard. I got it right! I can be logical under pressure! Maybe I can pass! Maybe I can do this thing!

The next set of questions from Professor A were also straight forward, and when he was done I almost cried  I was so happy. I felt so happy, that is, until I turned to Professor T.

Professor T skipped straight to  proofs. He asked me to do three proofs, one after the other, and after the first two he said simply 'okay' and moved on to the next request. I had already been through such an emotional high and low that I was barely seeing through my eyes. It felt like a fog was in the room, and there was just me, the chalkboard, and my professors' voice. I didn't even have space to be scared of him anymore.

I didn't know the answer to the third proof, but because I lost the fear I was able to say, "I'm sorry, I don't know that one". He said "okay" and we moved on.

They did pass me, I did earn my degree.


Every challenge I've faced since that day has paled in comparison. I've faced down math professors! Woo! :)

How about you? What challenges have you faced? What fears have you conquered?

Friday, February 15, 2013

About me: Math Degree, part 1

Approximately 20 years ago, I sat for a test that changed my perspective. I presented myself for a three-hour oral exam in theoretical mathematics. If I passed, I would earn a Master's degree (M.A.).

I was very, very nervous walking in.

Before graduate school, I believed I was 'good' at math and science, and as long as I studied and practiced, could reach any goal. When I first got there I was confident. My undergrad teachers had encouraged me, I had gotten very high grades, and I was sure a Ph.D. was in my future. I loved math and studying, what else would I do?

However, for the previous two years of grad school, I had studied alongside some very intelligent boys who had outshone me at every turn. I had been barely scraping by with a solid C average.

Looking back now I guess that either I really was sub-par in abilities to my fellow students, or I was so regularly discouraged by my teachers and fellow students that I lost my confident streak. As a result (and this is my character) I stopped trying.

It stands out in my memory a certain day when I attended at least two classes, and in both I attempted to answer questions from the professor. In both cases I was told that my answer was 'obviously' wrong, and given looks of sadness and pity from my classmates. I resolved after that day to not bother answering or asking questions, as what was the point? This, of course, just led to me doing even worse.

I was fairly miserable at that point in time, about 8 months before the exam.


Now it's exam day, and I'm pacing outside of a room containing four professors and a chalkboard. I had studied and practiced. I knew that I was so unhappy being there that even if they, by some miracle, passed me, I would be leaving the school and never returning.

Then I took a deep breath and walked in. All of the professors were sitting, low in their chairs and leaning back. None of them smiled. Then the questions began.

to be continued on Monday....

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tourism Hospitality and Empathy

I've been comparing the people I meet, in everyday life, as to how easy or hard it is to create an empathy connection. As was recently pointed out to me in our comments section, differences in culture and background can make empathy harder to create and build.

For example, I live very close to a tourist area. I also grew up in a touristy town, New York City. It has been my observation that folks working in the service industry for tourism are both easier to be around, because they are so 'nice', and also significantly harder to connect to. I assume it is due to training. They have to interact with people from dozens of cultures and backgrounds, and must remain detached from them all to keep themselves from offending the customers with their own personality.

I can and do feel sympathy for them, but it's hard to be empathetic when the person you are talking to is not permitted to express their own self.

Is this something you've seen? Have you worked a tourist job, what was it like for you?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Movie Review - Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves

You thought I was going to talk about empathy...well, not today. I'll do an empathy post soon. But in the meantime I'm going to share another snippet of my life in the hope that you will want to share something with me in the comments or on our facebook page.

If you know the movie and don't like it, here's someone else's review that agrees with you.


I love the movie. I love it in the way that I love my favorite socks, even with the holes and fuzzy spots. What I love about this movie is that there's just SO MUCH for me to think and talk about!

The movie is yes, another take on the classic tale of Robin Hood. So all the important characters are there, Robin, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Little John, Maid Marion, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. But in this tale we also have some fabulous secondary characters that I love to watch again and again. Fanny, Little John's wife, is a strong woman willing to pick up a sword (in at least one scene) and is played by Soo Drouet. The Sherrif's cousin, Guy of Gisbourne, is played excellently by Michael Wincott.

The movie stars Alan Rickman as the Sherriff, and he's one of my favorite bad-guy actors. He's so much fun to watch, and has some great lines like "I'm gonna cut your heart out with a spoon". There's this one scene where he's telling some little kids that he's insane, and it just makes me laugh so hard every time I watch. It's kind of the precursor to his 'Professor Snape' bad guy to kids role, although I believe he's become a much better actor over time.

I have to talk a little bit about Kevin Costner here. I hear so often when I bring this movie up in conversation that it's a ridiculous movie, because Mr. Costner doesn't hold an English accent for more than half a line at a time. I agree with this statement but I still love how he plays the role. He plays Robin exactly as I imagine him. A little egotistical. A lot lacking in intelligence. Very physically skilled but emotionally kind of a child. A streak of honor that lasts a mile long. Yeah, I know I'm not going to be popular for saying this but I enjoy watching him act in this movie.

Although the movie did have a few female characters, I'm pretty sure it fails the bechdel test. If you don't know what I'm talking about read this. Marion has a handmaid, Mary, but they don't ever talk to each other. In one scene, Fanny is in labor and Marion is by her side, and Marion tells Fannie to 'bite down' on a stick. I don't think that counts as conversation, since Fanny doesn't say anything in response. Even if it did count as a conversation, it was a conversation about her soon-to-be-born baby son, so it would fail the test anyway.

Like I said - so much to talk about!!

I watch it and think, yes, they made some choices in casting that seem very silly to me now. I can picture a group of people sitting around a casting table and saying "Okay, to make sure we're including a larger audience, let's put in Christian Slater to capture the 18 and under crowd, since Kevin Costner is a bit older and may not appeal." However it also has Walter Sparrow as Robin's servant, who I just adore (he was also in another of my favorite movies, Ever After).

The costumes are cheesy (sorry I can't find a good link for that one).


I know it's not considered a good movie by everyone. I love it in spite of (or because of) the flaws. What about you? What movie do you love?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Objects of love at yard sales

I'm a big fan of yard sales, garage sales, online trading, freecycling and ebay. I buy things used for a few reasons; first, I was introduced to it by my Dad, so roaming a garage sale always makes me feel cozy. Second, I think of it as recycling, because I'm keeping someone from adding to a landfill. Third, the prices are good, and I often find things at yard sales that are gently used for much less than I would spend on them new.

Over and above all of those reasons, the main thing I love about yardsales is it's a way to look into the past. I've seen beautiful functional things from years ago, like furniture, china and tools, that were made in a time where the people who made them cared a lot about the manufacture and design. I'm not saying we don't have beautiful and well-crafted things in the stores today, but a quick trip around my neighborhood yardsales can reveal some wonderful things.


About two years ago I was at a moving sale and saw a tea set.  I had been in the market for a tea set, something pretty that I could take out for special occasions with my husband (like, it's 9 pm and the kids are in bed). It looked to be a set for two, with pot, sugar and creamer bowl for $5, so I snapped it up! Here are some terrible photos:

This is a Seltmann Weiden tea set made in Germany, from about the 1950s. I love the set for the look; it has such elegant shapes (the curls at the handles, the little bulges and delicate toppers on the teapot and sugar/creamer bowl). The pears appear to be hand painted and are not too orange (they aren't brightly colored, the orangey-red is very soft and makes me think about the tree they could have been picked from).


There is a downside to yardsale-shopping, sometimes you don't get what you expect. For example, I checked before I bought the above tea set that all the parts were there. However, when I got home I realized that I was missing a cup - I think I had miscounted one of the bowls as a cup.* As a result, I have a tea set that is missing a tea cup. Yes, so this does explain why the set was $5. I still love the set, and I know that that's how things roll sometimes. 

Do you buy used things?

Have you loved something so much it didn't matter that it was slightly broken?

*Side story - when I saw the cup was missing, first I tried to go back to the house where I had bought it. I thought maybe I had accidentally left the cup behind. I was too late, they had already moved, and there was a realtor's lock on the door. I left a note saying 'please, did I forget a cup' but I don't know if it ever got to the seller. I chose to believe that I miscounted originally, and that the cup was never there, rather than assuming that the seller is keeping the lone cup and saying 'ha ha' :). 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Listening to the Other Side

I had a conversation the other day with a man who had a different opinion than I did on a hot-topic issue. The issue isn't important, it could have been gun control, or abortion, or whatever. What is important is that he was an intelligent, reasonable man with, as far as I can see, a full capacity for learning and understanding. Yet, he had come to a completely different conclusion about the 'right' way to do things. I found myself thinking, "I'm going to empathize with him, I'm going to try to see things his way." I truly listened to him and have not been able to stop thinking about him since.

After listening to this one man, I've seen both sides of the argument. I don't think this happens very often, in fact, so often I hear people arguing for 'their side' without ever really listening.

I see people putting up their side of this issue (for or against) in magazine articles or on the internet. Most of them, to me, are simply saying 'MY SIDE IS RIGHT AND YOUR SIDE IS WRONG'. This doesn't feel to me like it will bring us to a good conclusion. These statements don't encourage empathy. Instead, when I read those statements I feel that it puts a wall up between 'us' and 'them'. I see it as the exact opposite of building empathy. Here's an example of some of these kinds of statements:

I believe that the way to come together and truly listen to those we see as opposite (liberals and conservatives, meat eaters and vegans, religious and nonreligious) is for us to have empathy for the other person. I used to think that what was important was to give people the facts, or to listen to another person's facts. If we all knew all the facts, I reasoned, we would all come to the same conclusion. Now I realize that I was making the mistake of seeing people only for the conclusions they have reached and the facts they have at hand. Or I was only seeing their level of intelligence (if they don't get what I'm talking about it's because they aren't smart enough). I wasn't always thinking about their feelings, or trying to see the emotions they used when making their decisions. I don't think I was really listening to them the way that I should have.


In this country (the U.S.) we currently have certain rights under law. I believe that there is fear now, real fear on the part of some U.S. citizens that their rights will be taken away.

When I think about this man and his feelings, I remember his fear. It reminds me of the real fear I get inside when I think about someone taking away my rights, or the rights of women in general. The fear expressed by the gentleman I spoke to feels the same, to me, as my fears.

As Mark Ruffalo and Murray so eloquently put it, empathy is feeling what someone else is feeling.

Have you been able to 'see' someone else's side in a discussion, someone you thought you would never agree with?