Making New Year’s resolutions has been around for as long as I can remember. According to Lifescript.com here are some resolutions at the top of the list:  Get a better job, get in shape, go somewhere and stop smoking.  I not surprised, but I’m betting that whatever their resolutions, most folks have entirely forgotten or broken them by the time you read this piece.

          I don’t hesitate to be pessimistic about this resolution business because I’ve spent some time checking up on friends over the years, and I’ve discovered nearly all of them can’t even remember the resolution they made by the end of January!  Those who resolved to lose weight, well, weigh pretty much the same year after year.  I suspect most people have good intentions but set their goals unnecessarily high.

          Nonetheless, I’ve been impressed by some famous people who made worthy resolutions, whether they kept them or not.  Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the famous clergyman, “Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”  He also wrote in his Diary (1723) “[I] Intend to live in continual mortification and never to expect or desire any worldly ease or pleasure.”  Whatever…Edwards took this matter of Resolutions quite seriously!

          In his While England Slept, the great Sir Winston Churchill wrote that he “decided only to be undecided, [and] resolved to be irresolute.”  Interesting.  John Dryden, the noted English poet, critic and playwright was honest with himself.  He wrote “I am resolved to grow fat, and look young till forty.”  Well, actually, he put the words in the mouth of one of his characters, and it’s easy to “resolve” anything in fiction!

happy-new-years-985741_1920          I do not want to toot my own horn but, seriously, I made a New Year’s resolution a number of years ago that I’ve managed to keep, with allowance for sick days! And I have simply renewed it in subsequent years. I had given up, at various times, acquiring a better job, getting in shape and stopping smoking. I finally gave up smoking twenty-four years ago following a nasty heart attack, surgery and nagging church members. When a doctor tells you, “if you continue to smoke, I’ll see you in a couple of years but won’t be able to help you”…well, that’s pretty strong motivation!

          Quite simply, I resolved to do something nice for a total stranger at least once every day.  Nothing could be easier, and the result of doing it has given me a treasured sense of pride and pleasure, along with the good feeling of having accomplished something worthwhile.

          How hard can it be to hold the door for someone whose arms are overloaded? Or, to stop short, allowing someone to cut into a long line of traffic? Or, to respond to a critic with a kind word?  To deliver an unexpected compliment?  Or, if you’re feeling particularly generous, buy a Starbucks for the person in the car behind yours.  Easy and so rewarding. And, you don’t even have to wait until a New Year to begin!

FAMILY TIES by Beth Rankin

FAMILY TIES by Beth Rankin

Following the Christmas holiday I don’t need to tell YOU that your family is……..well, challenged.  I have one myself. I had an aunt that my mother disliked so much she never talked to her brother but, because of family dynamics, I needed to allow her to sing her warble of some song I didn’t even know at my wedding.  I had another aunt who, in the 1950s got a (whisper here) divorce and all we ever heard was “don’t come running home to us if you have problems with your husband.” Not exactly a helpful life lesson.

So, we all have less than perfect families, and if we are true to form, we don’t do such a great job at parenting. We do what we know, so unless you have sought out a parenting class, you will have a tendency to teach your children in the same dysfunctional way you were raised.

In the interest of changing that here are TEN RULES TO BETTER FAMILY LIFE:

  1. Recognize that the reason you love your friends more than your family is because your friends let you do the shit your mom and dad won’t. That doesn’t mean that shit is good. It still is shit. Your parents literally cleaned up your shit as a baby and into your childhood, but  now it is time for you to realize that your actions have consequences and you really need to accept responsibility. When you grow up, your relationships with the long term people who are on your life path AKA your family, will improve.Illustration by Nate Powell.
  2. Let go of anger. We want to be RIGHT! We want others to know they are WRONG! Let it go. It is not a helpful manner of communication. If you really feel strongly that your little sister or your second cousin is on the road to perdition, sit down calmly, maybe with a cup of lavender tea (ha ha) and ask why they feel their pathway is going to bring them the life they want. LISTEN.  They probably will not come around, but at least you’ll understand better and maybe they will turn to you when they recognize they need to change their ways.being kind
  3. Look in the mirror. Recognize your own flaws. Now praise your skills realistically. Understand that each of us is made of the entire ability spectrum. You and your buddies are not the only ones who can do things right. Even your parents get it right some of the time.looking-in-the-mirror
  4. Learn from others. Yup, even that warbling aunt of mine probably had something worthwhile to share with me……hard for me to imagine but I am remembering her with a child’s memory. If you are an adult, you can go where I was unable to perceive.learning
  5. Look at your children. We watched Home Alone again this Christmas and a few things were obvious to an outsider that the family members did not perceive. Be fair when you think over your kids’ strengths and weaknesses. Don’t have them do what YOU wish you could have done as a kid if they are not interested. Help them develop their own interests. Help them learn to read and research. Your-Kids-Look-up-to-You-for-Guidance
  6. Look at your children again. Help them learn life skills like cooking, sewing buttons and hems, how to wash laundry and iron to press a shirt to make a good appearance,  and how to swim.  A man who expects his wife or girlfriend to do all the cooking does not realize the stress that constant task causes. More importantly, he never sees her face light up in pleasure when he prepares her a nourishing meal. A man who can cook is sexy.LifeSkills-750
  7. Look at your children again. Teach your kids to change their oil and their tires. You may not be that proficient yourself. Learn it together. Your daughters too.  Watch your tendency for sexism. Let your sons and daughters learn they can access the entire array of  arts and skills.Nike-Voices-Feature
  8. Tell stories to your kids. Turn off the television and the electronic gadgets. Have one evening a month (or more) when you gather to share the stories of your childhood. Keep it as upbeat as possible. Your baggage with your parents need not be their baggage.  Tell about adventures you had when you were tested and succeeded. Tell about times you thought you could do something but failed and how you responded to that experience. Let them tell stories too. Use a talking stick to pass the right to talk around the circle. talking stick
  9. Explore together. Food is an excellent vehicle for exploration. Move away from what you know. I remember when we visited England for the first time and I asked for bangers and mash at a pub because I had read about it in numerous British stories,. The server paused and then said, “You know that is nursery food?” In other words, for little kids. That was okay, since it was a new experience for me, but it is not okay for you to turn to mac and cheese every few days. Time to learn new tricks. You are an adult now. You have control over your gag reflex and will not barf into your plate. Really. Taste new things. You need not repeat if you honestly do not like it. But your world will open when you explore the amazing variety of flavors from all over the world. 11646-learning-culture-through-food-mexico
  10. Realize, if you change your ways, your birth family members may make some snarky comments. That’s when you get to practice your smile and say, yeah! I’m doing great and I’m proud of my kids! And mean it.keepgoing
Beth Rankin is, first of all, a mother; freelance craftsperson, blogger, and social activist from McMinnville, Oregon. All illustrations and pictures used with her permission.


I’ve followed the phenomenon of Ben Carson’s popularity among the GOP base with a mix of bemusement, irritation, and, like most of you, disbelief. What prompts me to submit my first blog entry is the pervasive misuse of the word “smart” by journalists of all stripes when describing Dr. Carson. We’ve all seen a variation of this point in almost every story: “He is obviously very smart because he is a neurosurgeon but…”.  Even journalists I admire confess confusion at how he can be so smart yet harbor such outlandish ideas.

“Smart” is a multifaceted cognitive feature composed of excellent analytical skills, possession of an extensive knowledge base that is easily and frequently augmented, possession of a good memory, and being readily curious about the world and willing, even eager, to reject previously accepted notions in the face of new data. Being smart includes having the ability to analyze new data for validity and, thinking creatively, draw new insights from existing common knowledge.

As a neurologist in practice for 20 years and one who has worked closely with many neurosurgeons I can assure you, Dr. Ben Carson does not meet the above criteria. Not even close. He is a painfully ignorant person. This is an easy point to defend. From his statements on the pyramids as grain silos, his rejection of extensive, confirmatory evidence of climate change, to his glaringly unworkable alternative to Medicare, most Americans out of the conservative media bubble are familiar with the litany of uninformed, intellectually shabby statements he has made over the last few months.

brain2My point is that neurosurgeons are not automatically smart because they are  neurosurgeons. To get through training and have any sort of practice they must be disciplined, have immense ego strength, a reasonably good memory, and have mental and physical stamina. However, like many other doctors, they are not always smart. Neurosurgeons, like other surgeons, can be outstanding technicians but that is different than being intellectually brilliant. A truly brilliant internal medicine specialist once told me that “you can train anyone to perform a procedure”. I’ve seen surgical assistants perform technically difficult procedures with stunning alacrity. It’s the old rule: do something enough times and you will get damn good at it.

One feature shared by neurosurgeons far out of proportion to other doctors is a large ego. All doctors can be accused of having big egos but more than other specialists, neurosurgeons- Ben Carson is exhibit 1 in this regard-have pathologically large egos. You know, the kind of ego that requires not one large self-portrait prominently displayed in an ostentatious mansion but a second of Mr. Ego sitting with Jesus; at the right hand of Jesus.

So, professional journalists, bloggers, and all those who post comments at Daily Kos and elsewhere, please stop using the word smart to describe Dr. Carson in the first clause of your sentence. Leave that one out and stay with the subsequent clauses detailing his ignorant beliefs and intellectually sloppy policy proposals.

If there is any interest in this essay I will be happy to explain, from the perspective of a practitioner, why his proposals for health-care are stunningly unworkable and, well, dumb.

Neuroguy is a pen name used by the author of this essay. The essay first appeared in The Daily Kos. It is republished here by permission of The Daily Kos.


What’s your passion? What gets you fired up enough to get involved?


Me? I have several now. Have had many over my life, but right now there are two that capture my attention.


Awareness of our food and how full of chemicals much of it is and unhealthy results of conventional farming practices can affect health. I learned this only 5 years ago and I am a strong advocate to Know Your Farmer. By eating locally you not only can chose food sourced at places where you support the growing practice, but by supporting a local farmer, you are contributing to a healthier local economy.

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But right now, it appears the Presidential campaign season has started and is full swing. Like Christmas advertising that starts the day after Halloween, we Americans are in for lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (ad nauseum) of campaign propaganda. Get ready for the roller coaster for the next 15 months.

My political leaning is liberal but I read a lot of information from and about all the candidates. I want to know as much as I can about each of them in the hope that any discussion will be intelligent.

I ran into a problem already though. One friend of mine took me to task because he felt I had made a negative comment about Donald Trump and was concerned I was going to get nasty in loading Facebook with negatives. 

The issue I made was that when the two (expletive deleted) guys beat up the homeless Latino man and attributed their actions to Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants being bad, I reported what Trump’s comment was. And I offered one question.

As you probably know, all Trump had to say at the time was “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.”   

My comment was “No words about this action being wrong. No concern about the victim. Is this the kind of leadership our country needs?” My friend felt this was negative commenting on my part. I do not think so. I hope to make people think, not just have a emotional reaction.

Now I see several days after his comments, Trump has added “Boston incident is terrible. We need energy and passion, but we must treat each other with respect,” and “I would never condone violence.”

So NOW, after he gets backlash, he has changed his statement to one of more concern.  This is the kind of action I have seen from Trump over the last month. He says a lot of things that have to be later amended. I think this is the way he is and I for one do not want him to be our nation’s leader.  I do not think what I pointed out is bashing Trump. Bashing him would be saying he is an idiot. He’s clearly not an idiot. He just is not a man who considers all he needs to before opening his mouth.

But my point is NOT to point out concern about one candidate. Each gets equal treatment. If I see something that is inconsistent with helping the people of this nation, it needs to be considered.

Some people choose their Presidential candidate based on one issue and one issue alone. Women who claim they are Pro-Life thereby support candidates that are anti abortion without any consideration of other issues of health care, education programs, and job opportunities for the people who are not earning a living wage. Very narrowly defining what is right hides a lot of what is wrong.

Passion is great but it has to be able to expand to include all the influences to that issue. Just like I believe the problems in the food system relate to environmental concerns and thereby lend my support to movements to educate how fracking ruins our water supply, how coal mining and the toxic residue of its waste affects the land so things can no longer grow so areas like the coal counties in West Virginia need economic redevelopment, how not teaching our children methods of problem solving and how to handle responsibilities leads to increased escape into drugs….all these side issues are fueled because of my passion for healthy food.

So, my passion at this season is for education and clear thinking. Feel your passion but by all means, use your brain.


[Beth Rankin is a remarkable woman of many talents.  She says, “My life and how I am feeling about it is https://goingplaceslivinglife.wordpress.com/”  Portrait of Beth Rankin by permission.]