Archive for January, 2013

Penguin Therapy

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In an effort to make myself useful and to escape the obsessive compulsive stressing that goes along with freelance writing, I help first graders with their schoolwork at a local elementary school every Thursday afternoon. First graders are the perfect fit for me: They don’t need help with calculus and they make me laugh.

Yesterday the first graders’ homework assignment was to write seven sentences about penguins. They could write down any fact they had learned from their teacher’s penguin primer or the National Geographic article on Emperor Penguins that was floating around the room. I liked this assignment. I’ve seen a few penguins in my time and thought that, for once, my experience might come in handy. It turns out that the kids didn’t need any help with their penguin facts. They were on fire about this animal’s quirky coolness and I couldn’t spell the big words fast enough to keep up with the information live-streaming out of their little heads, stuff like…

1. Penguins have feet like crampons.

2. Penguins fish for fish.

3. Penguins protect their eggs with their feet.

4. A penguin’s worst nightmare is a leopard seal.

5. Penguins can jump ten feet in the air, higher than the ceiling in the classroom.

6. Penguins can dive 1,750 feet deep.

7. Penguins like to jump off icebergs.

Even after we finished the list, the kids didn’t rush out when the bell rang. They wanted to keep talking penguins. Unlike me, they could have cared less about statistics and facts that show how penguins are disappearing or how quickly the ice is melting underneath their cramponed feet. All they cared about is that penguins exist right now, which is another reason I like first graders so much.

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2012: Deep Thoughts From My Moleskine Reporter Notebooks

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Sometimes I’m so focused on looking ahead that I forget to look back. A more enlightened soul would tell me that the point is not to look back or ahead, but to stay present. That’s good if you happen to be a Bodhisattva, but in 2012 my fingers clutched a UniBall Vision Elite pen and scribbled thousands of words on one of many, many little black notebooks. Roughly 33.5 percent of what I wrote saw the light of day. Below are a few random quotes I must have wanted to remember. The collective scratchings make me realize that in 2012 I met some funny, wise, and profound people. Here’s what they told me:

“I love Berlusconi because he loves women, the symbol of Italy. He’s like Bill Clinton.” —Vincenzo Fusco, Taxi Driver, Positano, Italy

“To juice is to do your body’s work for you. It eases digestion and gives you more nutrients. In juicing you get 90 percent of the fruit’s benefits.” —Jillian Lambert, Fitness and Nutrition Specialist at Travaasa Spa, Austin, Texas

“I love a great glass of red wine. To me it’s lovely nectar from the gods.” —Dr. Toni Bark, Evanston, Illinois

“You need to come to Namibia, get down on your hands and knees and look at the small wonders. Spend more time in Namibia. It has a strange way of attaching itself to you. You will be back a second, third, and fourth time and then you’ll start saying to yourself, ‘Shit. What if I have a flat tire out here?'” —Willem de Witt, Pilot, Namibia

“To be a good guide, I recommend a former poacher who used to be a good poacher. My father used to be a poacher.” —John Kasaona, Namibia

“I don’t visit children’s homes to prove that we are suffering. I don’t see why that should be encouraged. People can not eat from people watching them suffer.” —Anna Mafwila, founder of Katu Tours, while biking through Katatura Township outside of Windhoek.

“Think about us as a healthy way of life company. Someone has an interest like they want to lose weight, they want to look good in their bathing suit in the summer, they want to win a fitness contest, or they might want to run a marathon under 3.5 hours. When they come to us rather than saying ‘Oh, everybody needs to go on a fitness machine,’ instead of doing that, we ask you ‘What’s your interest? What do you want to do? What are your goals?’ And then we connect you to where you want to be and achieving the goal you want to achieve.” —Bahram Akradi, Founder, Lifetime Fitness, Eden Prairie, Minnesota

“That’s paradise on the corner of the river.” —Mauricio Becerra, Pilot, Bogota, Colombia

“The cows fight to decide who is going to be queen. They fight in May, butting heads, and the winner gets flowers on her head. It’s fashionable to have a cow here. Piaget, the jewelry maker has a cow here.” —Claude Buchs Favre, owner Hotel Bella Tola, St. Luc, Switzerland