Mrs. Gump did well in using a box of chocolate to instill rare Life wisdom in her son. But being far simpler than Forrest, it dawned on me this week that the humble Oreo cookie is as perfect example of the parenthesis that constitute our lives on this spinning rock we call Home. So often, the good stuff is what’s in-between.
“Oreos made their debut 100 years ago, at the Nabisco factory in New York on March 6, 1912. The sandwich cookies were originally available in two flavors: lemon meringue and cream. The cream-filled chocolate biscuits were Nabisco’s more popular offering, but they kept the lemon meringue flavor on the market until the 1920s when they dropped it in favor of the combination we all know today. The origin of the name Oreo seems to be shrouded in mystery, with no direct answer even from Nabisco historians.”
And while the history may be fascinating if you’re getting ready to try-out for Jeopardy, my own personal history begins in my grandma’s kitchen with a plate of Oreos and tall glasses of milk for each of us grand kids assembled around her table.
Dunking quickly became one of my favorite pastimes. I remember thinking, “Can it get any better than this?” The answer, remarkably, was ‘Yes.‘
Ever the innovator, it was my older cousin Doug who showed me the joy of pulling the Oreo apart in just such a way as to leave the creamy white stuffing intact on one side. Then, you had all kinds of options: scrape off the cream with your front teeth or proceed with the dunking exercise. The choices were endless. But did it taste better? The Daily Journal (Friday, December 6, 2013 5:23 pm) reports that in fact, it does. Research at Harvard and the University of Minnesota confirms it. And it all boils down to the ritual of it all. Seems untwisting those two cookie halves ‘just so’ has the same effect on our brain chemistry as walking into a movie theater and suddenly craving popcorn. Whether over-salted and topped with fake butter or one half of the chocolate cookie being naked does not really enter into matter. We’ve learned. We hold the unwinding as precious as the product itself.
But all stuff in between Life’s two cookies is not good. Chicago kids are justifiably afraid of getting shot on their walk to school. Last week, the cost of being gay in Uganda took an ugly turn as that nation joins Nigeria and Russia in their crackdown on the GLBT segments of their population. And speaking of Russia, as Putin’s $50B press release entitled The Olympics was winding up to its grand conclusion, Ukrainians in Kiev were dodging bullets from rooftop snipers on their (then) governments payroll. This morning sees the Georgian playbook of armed occupation unfolding in the Crimea in Ukraines’ eastern territory. In an odd twist of ‘location, location, location’, it is now the pro-Ukranians getting beaten up by largely Russian speaking crowds in Kharkiv. Much closer to home in more ways than just one, more than 23,600 Americans heard their doctors say the word ‘Cancer’…and that was just last week. Even though it was more than five-years ago, I still remember the stifling silence that smothered us as we walked back to the car…each one of us asking “…Why? What now?”
How can the joy of unwinding a cookie seem relevant up against such a canvas of hatred and pain? Even now, I remember being trained up to put away such childish things and concentrate on more serious matters like the ones I’ve just outlined.
I was tricked.
Hear me, my fellow lovers of all things holy and otherwise Oreo. Choosing to be happy is not about picking one or the other. It has everything to do with learning to choose balance, actively learning to unwind the parts and lick up the good stuff.
So what is one to do? Life isn’t a cookie. Why should I even think I can be happy in the face of such torturous turmoil?
Because you can. Yes, there is so much in each of our backdrops we cannot change. Poverty, disease, bigotry and greed have learned to work as co-conspirators whose sole objective is to rob us of that which is best in each of us. Protecting the good is hard work. But every time we choose to unwind and ‘lick the good stuff’, we’ve taken a stand against Darkness.
We did it when farmers in New England hid runaway slaves in their barns. We did it when we walked into Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. As a nation of individuals, we did it when we lined the railroad tracks to mourn the passing of Robert F. Kennedy. We did it after Kent State. We did it after 9-11. More recently, we’ve done it when thousands of Citizens descended in protest on state capitals from Albany, Montgomery, Madison and just last week, in Phoenix.
My plan is to do the same thing on a uniquely personal scale that is my Life. There is nothing special or bullet-proof about me. I don’t know how long it’ll be before I’m promoted at work. I don’t know what my first doctors visit will tell me after fifteen years since my last check-up. I don’t know when the car will throw some mechanical wrench into our household finances, but I do suspect it will not be at a time that is convenient. Such is Life.
But I also refuse to surrender my right to choose to offer an unexpected compliment to someone who isn’t expecting it. I insist on being vigilant for signs of depression or loneliness in myself and those around me. It empowers me to tip $5 on a ten-dollar tab to a waiter named Alec who studies for his classes when he’s on his 15-minute break. Just this morning, I tipped my hat to my ancestors who took the time to teach me about the significance of doing right, especially when no one is there to witness my action. Was I there to see my neighbor come out and see her car already cleaned of last nights snowfall? No. Did it matter? Yes, but not for the reasons you might think. I know I did something with a snow brush and ice scraper that will never appear on a United Nations agenda. I smile knowing Alec has no clue who made sure he got the $5. I smile knowing a co-worker will never suspect it was me that nominated them for a teamwork award they’ll receive next week.
Try as I might, there are times when I can’t help but smile knowing how strangely powerful we become when we’re being excellent to each other. And who can blame me for grinning to myself when I know awesome things are waiting for each of us when we remember to first, unwind and then, lick the good stuff.
With my apologies for the broken link last week, the song fits.
Turn it up and dance around your house!
JAMES JOHN “Jim” LANGE
(August 15, 1932 – February 25, 2014)
Host of ‘The Dating Game’, dies at 81
“Jim Lange, the host of the popular TV show “The Dating Game”, died on Tuesday at his home in California at the age of 81 after suffering a heart attack, his wife said.
Lange, who was born in St. Paul, Minn., worked in radio and as a disc jockey before joining the “Dating Game”. Contestants on the show, which debuted in 1965, chose a date from three candidates after asking a series of questions. Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Steve Martin were among the celebrity contestants who appeared on the show.
Lange also hosted other game shows including “$100,000 Name That Tune.” After leaving television he returned to radio where he worked until retiring in 2005. His wife, Nancy, told NBC’s “Today” morning news show that although her husband was best known for his television work his real love was radio.
Lange is survived by his wife, five children, two stepchildren and four grandchildren.”
FUN FACTS: At age 15 he won an audition to work at a local radio station, as a disc jockey and sports reporter. He studied radio and television speech, with a minor in journalism at the university, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In the mid-1950s he got his first TV hosting job, portraying the title character on the local “Captain 11” show in which he’d introduce science fiction adventures such as “Buck Rogers.”
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Lange; http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-27/entertainment/chi-jim-lange-dead-20140227_1_dating-game-jim-lange-disc-jockey; http://www.latimes.com/obituaries/la-me-jim-lange-20140228,0,6823668.story#ixzz2um0LB71s; (Photo Sources) Jim Lange on the set of The Dating Game: http://i1.huffpost.com/gen/1647942/thumbs/n-THE-DATING-GAME-large570.jpg and Mr. Lange portraying the title character for “Captain 11,” a children’s program in the mid-1950s that joined in the outer space craze of that era and aired on WMIN, Channel 11 in Minnesota’s Twin Cities: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/celebrities/247525521.html
MARIA AUGUSTA VON TRAPP
(née Kutschera; 26 January 1905 – 28 March 1987)
Maria von Trapp, ‘Sound of Music’ Daughter, Dies at 99
(NYTIMES) “Maria Franziska von Trapp, the last surviving sibling of seven brothers and sisters who were portrayed in the Broadway musical and the film “The Sound of Music,” died on Tuesday at her home in Stowe, Vt. She was 99. Her death was confirmed by her half-brother, Johannes von Trapp.
She was the third oldest child of seven born to Baron Georg von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe, who died of scarlet fever. The 1965 film was based on the real story of how the baron fell in love with the children’s governess, also named Maria, and the family toured together as a choir.
Ms. von Trapp was the reason the governess came to work for the family — she needed a tutor at home because she also had scarlet fever and was too ill to walk to school. After her father married the governess in 1927, they had three children together.
In the film, which starred Julie Andrews as the governess (Mary Martin played the role on Broadway), Ms. von Trapp was named Louisa and was played by Heather Menzies. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the score.
She and her siblings learned to play musical instruments at a young age, Ms. von Trapp wrote in an essay on the family’s website. “Sometimes our house must have sounded like a musical conservatory,” she wrote. “You could hear us practice piano, violin, guitar, cello, clarinet, accordion, and later, recorders.”
The family fled Nazi-occupied Austria and performed across Europe and the United States. They eventually settled in Stowe, where they bought a 660-acre farm that they later turned into a ski lodge…Maria Franziska von Trapp was born on Sept. 28, 1914 in Zell am See, Austria. In addition to touring with the family choir, she worked as a lay missionary in Papua New Guinea. She adopted a son, Kikuli Mwanukuzi, after meeting him there. She eventually moved back to Vermont to be close to family. In 2008, Ms. von Trapp traveled to Salzburg, Austria, to visit her family’s villa when it opened to the public for the first time as a hotel and museum. The family had lived there for more than a decade until the Nazis confiscated it in 1939.
She told Reuters that returning to the home had been an emotional experience. “Our whole life is in here, in this house,” she said. “Especially here in the stairwell, where we always used to slide down the railings.”
She is survived by her son and three half-siblings: Mr. von Trapp, Rosmarie Trapp and
Eleonore von Trapp Campbell.”
Sources: NY Times – By EMMA G. FITZSIMMONSFEB. 23, 2014:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/24/arts/maria-von-trapp-sound-of-music-daughter-dies-at-99.html;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_von_Trapp ; (Photo Sources) Maria von Trapp on a 2008 visit to the villa in Salzburg, Austria, that had been home to her family before World War II. Credit Leonhard Foeger/Reuters: http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/02/24/arts/sub-von-trapp-obit/sub-von-trapp-obit-superJumbo.jpg
HAROLD ALLEN RAMIS
(November 21, 1944 – February 24, 2014)
Director, Actor and Alchemist of Comedy, Dies at 69
Harold Ramis and living the ‘yes, and’ life
(CHICAGO TRIBUNE) Harold Ramis, the actor-writer-director who died last Monday, was greatly beloved. The extraordinarily voluminous outpouring of attention and affection—which extended all the way up to the “Caddyshack” fan who occupies the White House—was partly a consequence of his having been involved in several very funny, popular and accomplished movies (the likes of “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day”) that help people recall the happier and freer moments of their lives. In Chicago, especially, there was an intense feeling of pride and gratitude that Ramis was a mensch who had rejected Hollywood for a rooted family and creative life in the Chicago area, whence he came. But it also had a great deal to do with how Ramis, by so very many accounts, lived a “yes, and” life.
As the retired critic Richard Christiansen told the Tribune’s Mark Caro this week: “(Ramis) was aggressive in his desire to succeed but never at the sacrifice of somebody else’s gain. I always admired him for that. He wanted to get the brass ring but he didn’t want to deprive anyone else from having the thrill of triumph. He was unusual in that among a lot of comedy people.”
Those two words—yes, and—are part of the core competency at The Second City, the Chicago institution where Ramis trained and worked in his formative years. They refer to the cast-iron improvisational rule of accepting and validating the reality created by your partner, however bizarre, as distinct from questioning and blocking that reality, which has the inevitable effect of annoying your partner and rendering a scene stone-cold dead.
In other words, if Actor A starts a scene by saying, “here we are at the Baghdad zoo” and Actor B says, “no, we’re at the botanical gardens in Kabul,” then no discernible reality is established and Actor A is left both annoyed and scrambling for what the heck to say next as all of the air goes out of the room (or the TV studio, or the Hollywood lot, or the office of your marriage therapist). But if Actor B says, “yes, isn’t the weather strikingly chilly, and, by the way, there’s an escaped zebra right over there who looks a lot like the ghost of Uday Hussein,” then you’re off and running. Creative innovation is put into motion. Problems are solved. Bill Murray improvises a brilliant scene. Movies rack up huge grosses. Deals are brokered. Partnerships are forged. Careers are made, collectively.”
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Ramis; Chicago Tribune – Chris Jones 1:58 p.m. CST, February 27, 2014: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/ct-ae-0302-jones-20140227,0,7650389.column
; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/25/movies/harold-ramis-who-helped-redefine-what-makes-us-laugh-on-screen-dies-at-69.html(Photo Sources) ; ramis-vid-image-videoSixteenByNine540-v3: http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/02/24/arts/design/ramis-vid-image/ramis-vid-image-videoSixteenByNine540-v3.jpg Cartoon: http://www.trbimg.com/img-530f9b06/turbine/chi-stantis-rip-harold-ramis-20140225/600
SOURCES, PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS: Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission. Visit Eric and see his other work at: http://www.ericephoto.com or http://ericephoto.wordpress.com/
Opening Quote Source: Thought for Today Newsletter (OprahNewsletter@oprah.com) Feb. 6, 2014: Leah Hager Cohen is the author of five works of nonfiction, including TRAIN GO SORRY and I DON’T KNOW: IN PRAISE OF ADMITTING IGNORANCE (EXCEPT WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T), and five novels, including THE GRIEF OF OTHERS, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the forthcoming NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD.
She holds the Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross, teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.
www.leahhagercohen.com Opening Gaphic: http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs51/f/2009/304/2/7/oreo_bomb_by_xReminiscencex.jpg; History of the Oreo and photo (oreostamps): http://bakingbites.com/2012/02/the-history-of-oreos/; Cookie Dunking: http://img.wonderhowto.com/img/95/76/63500496786407/0/dunk-oreo-cookie-milk-without-getting-your-fingers-messy.w654.jpg; http://www.daily-journal.com/life/food/is-an-oreo-cookie-better-when-it-s-pulled-apart/article_cea55185-9316-52b5-837b-0564db650209.html; oreos02: http://www.cockeyed.com/inside/oreos/oreos02.jpg; pro-western-activist-sits-clashes-pro-russia-activists (AP PHOTO/Olga Ivashchenko): http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1707217.1393692440!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/pro-western-activist-sits-clashes-pro-russia-activists.jpg; Cancer Facts: http://www.thomlatimercares.org/Cancer_Facts.htm#HowManyNew;fail_number_two___twisting_oreos___by_choppywings-d4ivkej: http://fc03.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2011/345/f/c/fail_number_two___twisting_oreos___by_choppywings-d4ivkej.png; Fusco-RFK-Funeral-Train: http://sldistin.com/blog/2013/8/3/20×200-paul-fusco; oreo_bomb_by_xReminiscencex: http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs51/f/2009/304/2/7/oreo_bomb_by_xReminiscencex.jpg
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