Reflections on the Mall : My 1980’s Top 40 List

My nostalgic yearning for life as it was in the 1980s continues for a number of reasons. Sad news of the passing of a childhood friend, an upcoming family visit to my hometown and the longing for simpler, more authentic experiences have me pining for my happy days growing up in the small, friendly community of Spotswood, NJ.

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Last year I wrote a two part series on the popular Netflix series Stranger Things and the Dungeons & Dragon phenomena and today I am excited to share with you the latest update on Stranger Things season 3.

This quirky teaser trailer for season 3  had me LMAO and vividly remembering my first job at the Brunswick Square Mall in 1983.

I visited the shopping mall the other day and it just didn’t have the same positive vibe that I remember growing up.

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Photo by Michael Galinsky

It looks like we will have to wait a bit longer to get our next 1985 fix since season 3 of Stranger Things isn’t scheduled to release until mid 2019.

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The other thing I loved about the 1980s was the music.  Everyday I listen to SiriusXM radio on my drive to work and I always end up on the 70s, 80s or Classic Vinyl/Rewind channels.  Hair Nation is also a favorite channel with its compilation of arena rock concert music.

Images of black and white band jerseys come flooding back every time I hear a song from Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Rush, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel or Lynryd Skynryd.

 

I also enjoyed Casey Kasem and the weekly Top 40 countdown so I thought I’d share with you my own list of memories from the decade of big hair and great movies.

The Top 40 List (in no particular order) of the things I miss most about the awesome 80s:

  1. Hanging out with friends and listening to records or cassette tapes for hours on end.
  2. Playing Asteroids, Space Invaders and Pac Man at the video arcade.
  3. Waking my Dad up bright and early on my 17thbirthday so he could drive me to the DMV in Rahway, NJ. He let me drive his 1972 Chevy Chevelle to take my driving test to get my license.
  4. Listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall on my Sony Walkman.
  5. Back to school shopping and getting a shiny, new Trapper Keeper note book.
  6. Paradoxes in clothing trends: Black parachute pants. White Painters pants, Overalls.  Day glow colored spandex.   Peach colored anything.
  7. Quality movies like Back the Future, Ghostbusters, E.T. and The Terminator.The list is endless.
  8. Hanging out at Brunswick Square Mall and my first job at York Steak House.
  9. Getting a slice at Taverna Pizza parlor for lunch during senior year at Spotswood High School.
  10. High quality teachers like Mr. Muschla, Mr Dziedziak and Mr. Perosa.
  11. Great coaches who inspired and motivated: Jean Lonergan Puff and Bruce Nissenbaum.
  12. Playing in large piles of leaves in the front yard.
  13. Watching or marching in the annual Memorial Day parade.
  14. Eating a Carvel banana barge with nuts after eating pizza.
  15. Making cassette tape mixes by recording them from vinyl albums or the radio.
  16. Listening to classic rock on FM radio WPLJ.
  17. Being able to go over to someone’s house unannounced and just knock on the door and ask if they want to come out and play.
  18. Climbing trees and occasionally having someone break an arm.
  19. Building forts in the woods.
  20. Playing in the “dirt piles” behind my house.
  21. Sitting around an open fire in the woods.
  22. Going to Devoe Lake and sitting by the small waterfall on the Immaculate Conception church side overlooking the American Legion post.
  23. Watching Fourth of July fireworks over Devoe Lake from the church parking lot.
  24. Play acting and performing skits with my friends on Maiden Lane and Bruning Lane.
  25. Riding our bikes to places my parents didn’t know about.
  26. Exploration and the sense of wonder at discovering new and buried things.
  27. Playing kick ball in the street until it was dark.
  28. Riding my bike and unicycle to school without a helmet (it’s amazing I survived).
  29. Watching my friends play D&D.
  30. High School Marching Band and Color Guard pride.
  31. Swing sets and dodge ball at recess after lunch at Appleby school.
  32. Walking home from school on the railroad tracks.
  33. Playing video games at the Sorrentos pizza parlor on Main St and Devoe Ave.
  34. Jumping off home made, wooden ramps with our bikes.
  35. Storytelling at sleepover parties.
  36. High school yearbooks with hand drawn artwork on the covers.
  37. Using a shiny, new Apple II in high school computer class and learning BASIC.
  38. Fun and festive carnivals behind the Catholic church.
  39. Fishing in down at the outlets and rivers.
  40. Going to the Movie City Five theater and it costing $1.50 to see a movie.

Getting to the Point

NEWS ALERT:

You have something important to say.

 Here are some tips to ensure that your ideas are heard.

Why?

  • Attention spans are short
  • People are inundated with information
  • Your ideas need to stand out
  • Focusing your point/purpose will help you hit your target

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One of my favorite movies from the 1980s is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”.  Little did I realize that it was teaching me valuable lessons on how to be an effective speaker.

The humor and sarcasm of Steve Martin in his scenes with John Candy are memorable, priceless and often times, instructive.

This fun quote from the movie applies to all Toastmasters.

“Here’s a good idea. Have a point.  It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

Steve Martin’s Pointed Clip

What?

For decades, the objectives of Project # 3 in the Toastmaster communication manual emphasized that the speaker should strive to organize their speech with a focused and precise purpose. The project was later named “Get to the Point”.

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Objectives of “Get to the Point” speech:

  1. Determine your general purpose
  2. Focus in on your specific purpose.
    • What does the audience really need to hear?
  3. Organize your speech so that the opening, body and conclusion all tie into and reinforce the purposes.

Interestingly, when I researched and found the archives of Ralph Smedley’s  “Basic Training for Toastmasters”manual from 1956, the concepts and techniques outlined are still relevant and applicable today.

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How?

  • Give the headline (point/purpose) up front.
  • Early in the speech, provide the audience with a roadmap of where you are taking them.
  • Bring stories and supporting items together to reinforce the larger, single message.
  • Use an outline or a framework (a plan on which to hang your words).
    • For example, I find the acronym PRES helpful.
      • P- Point
      • R- Reason
      • E- Example
      • S- Summary
  • Frame the central idea so that no matter what, the audience will remember that.
  • Strive to have the closing statement link back to the opening (like book ends).

I had something important to share with you and it is my hope that my point was clear and that I made it mildly interesting along the way!

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What nice genes you have!

We are all going to die.

This seems to be one of the few things that we humans all can agree upon.

Most of us don’t know when and there’s no escaping the fact that we all have an expiration date.

Over the last few years there is increased interest and availability of genetic testing. As a result, the age old debate of Nature vs Nurture is back on the minds of many people.

The idea that my genes can directly impact my health has fascinated me for years.  I was a biochemistry major in college and I especially enjoyed my genetics and psychobiology classes.

So here I am, pondering Life and Death.  Genetics vs Lifestyle.  Accept vs Adjust.

One of my relatives has a saying, “ You gotta die of something, right?”.

I agree and I just wish it would be of something other than cancer or heart disease!

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The idea to write this blog came to me a few weeks ago and below is the funny story that first made me laugh and then got me thinking.

It all started when my doctor handed me the results from my genetic screening test. I was relieved to see that it was negative for known mutations that can lead various types of cancer including breast, uterine, colon and ovarian.

In my excitement , I happily shared the news with a few of my family members on Facebook.

In a Private Message to them, I wrote:

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Relative 1:  Yay!

Me:  We have good genes.

Relative 2:  Awwww good!

Relative 3:   I had good jeans once, I wore them all the time. I wore them while smoking, drinking, eating greasy food. I wore them while working doing all sorts of things like working with chemical solvents, insulation, paints and while cleaning up messes from backed up sewer pipes. So those jean that were once good are now stained torn and thread bare. But such is life. LOL

For many, Such Is Life is a common mindset and attitude.  This, along with,  Live and Let Live, Don’t Worry- Be Happy,  Life is Short are very popular paradigms.

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The Genetics vs Lifestyle Debate

My genetic test results combined with the PM response from smart aleck relative #3 got me asking questions like:

How much do genetic factors contribute to cancer?

How much of this dreaded disease if out of our control?

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I was surprised when I researched and discovered that only 5-10% of cancers have a hereditary component and that 90-95% of cancers are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors. 

The research and evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, 30%-35% are linked to diet, 25%-30% are due to tobacco, 10%-20% are linked to obesity, about 15%-20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentages are due to other factors like radiation, alcohol consumption, stress, physical inactivity and environmental pollutants.

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Those statistics shows that a great number cancer risk factors are in our control.  But are they really?  Control can be a funny thing and isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Realistically,  what percentage of Americans really want to, or are able to,  limit and regulate what they ingest and how much they move?  

I don’t know about you but I love a good, juicy hamburger every now and then.

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Accept vs Adjust

Do we simply accept that cancer happens in this toxic world of ours or do we adjust our habits in hopes of preventing or delaying it?

Can a healthy diet and active lifestyle prevent cancer?

In our polluted and stressful world,  does any of this really matter?

We are surrounded by environmental pollutants and UV rays everyday, does that extra piece of broccoli really help?

The Good News

Medical studies have shown that yes, you can help decrease your odds of getting cancer through healthy choices and good habits.  Knowledge and awareness of the risk factors have increased over the last four decades.

Protection from sun exposure has improved greatly over the last 20 years with increased availability of broad spectrum sunscreen and clothing with UV coverage.

The Bad News

We live in a toxic and stressful world and there are no guarantees in life.

A high percentage of Americans want to enjoy life and eat and drink whatever the hell they want.   You gotta die of something, right?

Addictions are real and difficult to overcome.  The food and tobacco industries have not helped to reduce in our every increasing desire for sugar, fat, salt and nicotine.

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There is a also a mindset battle that pits “modifying lifestyle” against the “live and let live” attitude.

Like most tough questions in life, there are no easy answers.

All I can only do is what’s best for me personally and try to set a good example for others.

I can work to educate and increase awareness.

But no one likes to be told what to do and the appetite for being lectured and harangued is low in these fiercely independent and freedom loving United States.

Everyone has a Choice.  We value our personal freedom.

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We all make daily decisions on how we want to live and what we put in our bodies.

I have the freedom to live how I want, knowing that it could be positively or negatively impacting my health.  It’s nice to have options.

I also have the power to observe what I see and write about it in this blog.

You have the choice to read my words and either ignore them or take action to change something in your life as a result.

Life is short, right?

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The Day After Memorial Day Inspiration

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At my Toastmaster’s meeting this morning, I missed the opportunity to give an Inspiration after leading the group in the Pledge to the Flag.

Here’s my belated message to the In Ahwatukee Toastmasters club:

Message Text:

Yesterday was Memorial Day.

The Word of the day was Remember.

The Song of the day was Taps.

The Image of the day was a long line of wreaths decorating the gravesites.

The Flower of the day was the red Poppy, blowing in the fields.

The Emotion of the day was too powerful and immense for words.

Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring Americans who died defending our nation and its values.

Yesterday day was Memorial Day.

This day of remembrance is always an emotional one as I visit national or local cemeteries for the annual services and tributes. This year the tears flowed stronger than usual as I listened to the heart-wrenching story of a Gold Star Mom who kept the memory of her son Christopher alive with a moving tribute of love and inspiration.  Tina’s son was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004 and she shared many joyous memories and touching impacts of his short life.  He and all the others who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country will not be forgotten.

Yesterday was Memorial Day and it was a powerful and moving day for me to remember.

Yesterday was a time to pause, reflect and pay our respect to our nations’ many heroes who have shown us that Freedom is Never Free.

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Photo by Steve Smull

 

 

Blazing a Path- My Inspirational Opening for District 3 Toastmasters

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I was recently asked to present the opening Inspiration at the conference for District 3 Toastmasters in Phoenix, AZ.

Here’s the text of the 1.5 minute speech:

As we blaze a new path to success, I’m reminded of an old Irish blessing, may the road rise to meet you and may the wind be always at your back.

May is a month for remembering- a time for visits to memorials and tributes honoring those who came before us.  May is also a time of growth and renewal.

As we look to grow, I encourage you to remember the past, our history and our traditions at Toastmasters.  We are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Those who came before us forged new paths and paved the way for our current and future success.

We live in a rapidly changing world where we must adapt to the needs of our members in new and innovative ways.

So as we evolve and blaze exciting new roads, let us not forget our strong Toastmaster roots.

Embrace the new.

Honor our foundation.

Prepare for the future.

And know that by blazing a path to success with your District 3 family, the wind will always be at your back.

 

Calm, Steady and Flying Strong

I cautiously boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to Phoenix last Thursday, two days after the horrific engine failure that took the life of Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two.   I quickly found myself a window seat like a normally do but this one was the second row, much closer to the front of the plane than I usually get.  I guess more people were choosing aisle seats that week.

The story of the dramatic emergency landing by Navy veteran Tammi Jo Shults captured my attention and made me reflect on what it means to be a hero. 

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A gift from Angie. Photo by Steve.

The news of the tragic event hit home for me since I have been flying on Southwest in window seats overlooking the engine numerous times this year.   The details of how the plane was forced to make a harrowing and rapid descent after one of the engines exploded in midair was chilling to say the least.

Hero is a word that gets used a lot in the news today and is often associated with masculine acts of strength and bravery.   Stereotypes and Google images bring up muscled men with capes.

Stereotypes Shattered in desert wars and at 30,000 feet

My experience and observations on the battlefield during the first Persian Gulf war were that the women Army officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) I served with in the US Amy were rocks-  strong and solid leaders who were calm under pressure and seemingly less agitated than their male counterparts.

Last week, I was most impressed by the calm and collected voice of Southwest Captain Tammi Jo in comparison to the stressed and strained vocals of the man communicating with her from Air Traffic Control.  The former F-18 fighter pilot was composed, steady and in control of the situation.  Her skill, professionalism and “nerves of steel” were recorded for everyone to hear and I loved it!

And then there was Peggy Phillips, the confidence and self-assured Registered Nurse who performed over 20 minutes of CPR on the battered and severely injured Jennifer Riordan.  There was no question, no hesitation- Peggy just launched into action doing what she was trained to do.

When praised and called heroes these woman replied that they were “simply doing their jobs”. These women were doing what they were trained to do, performing at the high standard they set for themselves.

Yes, Tammi Jo and Peggy did their jobs that day with the strength and the skill of true professionals.   True heroines who were calm and steady and refreshingly humble.

Imagine a world without heroes.   I can’t because I know too many strong, capable women.  Women who are Mothers and above all else love, support and nurture their children. Women who make sacrifices to give their families the best that they can.

The Mothers I know may not be piloting a plane in an emergency landing but day in and day out they work their asses off and make a positive difference in their kid’s lives.  Just like my Mom did for me and my siblings.

Mothers are Heroes.  Women like my Mom, Virginia; my sister, Barbara; my niece, Heather; my sisters-in-law, Shanon and Katie and my dear friends Andrea and Marie.  They all have and continue to impress me.

They are the unsung heroines of the never-ending drama and psychological thriller we know as life.

These heroes may not wear capes but I can visualize a large “S” across each of their chests.    They are more than Super, they are Supreme.

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Mother and child I photographed at a Me Rah Ko “The Photo Mom” seminar in Bastrop, TX

The Super Hero Mothers I know and had the great honor of being raised by may not have piloted an F-18 or a Boeing 737 but they are masterfully navigating, guiding and steering their families under enormous amounts of stress, pressure and sometimes chaos.

It is these women that I deeply respect.  It is to these heroes that I salute.

I thank Tammi Jo Shults and Peggy Phillips for their skills and bravery last week on Southwest flight 1380 for they have rekindled in me the passion and motivation to appreciate and recognize all the calm, steady and strong heroes in our midst.

Thanks Mom!

Learning to Fall Well: Lessons from Unicycle Riding

I dusted off my old unicycle and brought it down to the bike shop where they put on a spiffy new Specialized tire called the Renegade.

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While circling the cul de sac last night on my spruced up one wheeler, my husband Steve encouraged me to put on my helmet.  My initial response was that I didn’t need it since I had never worn one growing up and I didn’t injure myself when I fell.  After a few minutes, common sense and an abundance of caution led me back into the garage to get my helmet.  It was fun to ride on something that I learned to balance on 40 years ago but you can never be too careful.

Strong and vivid childhood memories came rushing back and they reinforced a key concept I recently read in Ray Dalio’s book titled Principles.  Learning from our mistakes is key to growing and developing new skills.

I was reminded that it is okay to try something new and fall down. If we are going to learn a new skill we should not be afraid of failing, in fact, we should look at our failures as the ultimate learning experiences.   This is also the Agile mindset which embraces experiments and encourages doing, testing, reflecting and adapting in an iterative manner.

When I was 10 years old, my eldest brother, Billy gave me a unicycle for Christmas.  It was a shiny steel Schwinn with a black leather banana seat.  I was so excited and couldn’t wait until spring arrived so I could take it outside and ride it. MyfirstredUnicycle

I knew that I had to learn how to balance in order to ride but I was ready for the challenge.  Little did I realize just how hard it would be since my memory of mastering my first coaster bike at age four was that it was simple, quick and easy.

When learning to ride a bicycle, I didn’t use training wheels and was helped by Billy holding on to my sissy bar and running along side me as we traveled on Maiden Lane.  After a few sprints up and down the block, he encouraged me to keep pedaling so I could balance and ride on my own.  In little time,  I was off to the races and just a bit wobbly.

There are no training wheels when learning to ride a unicycle-  just continuous practice and persistence.  You have to experiment and try an action in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.

I had to continually fall and fall again until my muscles and my brain learned how to balance.  I practiced for many weeks by holding on to the side of my brother John’s 1973 blue Chevy pickup.  I went up and down the length of the truck until one day I got to the end of tailgate and kept going.  It was a wonderful feeling of freedom and I remember thinking “What do I do with hands now?”.   In the end, I used my hands to wave hello and goodbye to all my neighbors and friends.

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A 1973 Chevy like the one my brother John had

I road my unicycle all over Spotswood NJ in the early 1980s and loved the responsive steering it provided. You could turn on a dime and make quick 90 degree turns just by rotating your hips.  It was fun, lighter and so much easier to stow than a bicycle.

Learning to balance on one wheel wasn’t a quick and easy endeavor but in retrospect, I think it helped prepare me for the future challenges I would face in life.  I had to experience what didn’t work, learn from it and try again. Over and over and over.

Sound familiar?

Making mistakes and falling well are part of the process of learning. 

I appreciate Ray Dalio’s reminder of this important principle and for all the happy memories of my Spotswood unicycle adventures!

Remember:  It’s okay to try something new and fall. 

It’s even better when we learn from our failures and do it better the next time!