Keeping It Real

keep it realHappy Friday, All!

Like clockwork, or even better, if there is such a thing, T.G.I.F.!

One of the reasons I often include a greeting like “Happy Whatever” is because I do believe in the power of positive thinking. This is something that has been believed in America and other parts of the Western Oriented societies for decades, perhaps centuries, now. A friend of mine had mentioned to me the title of a book, “Bright Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” by Barbara Ehrenreich, that kind of taunts the concept of positive thinking. Now, that’s not to say that negative thinking is better but it appears to address how we here in America may over-emphasize the power of positive thinking. One of the things that I have been interested in for many many years, even before I knew what it was called, is philosophy – you know Voltaire, Socrates … even Jesus. So, I find myself drawn to any interpretations of accepting things like death, or, the end of a relationship and other things with finality as the “end result”.

This past week we witnessed the passing of Larry Hagman who got his start on the television show, “I Dream of Jeannie”, and later became the infamous “JR” on Dallas, another television series that rose to unexpected heights with Hagman. Did it seem he was invincible, and, if he ever had a problem, couldn’t he simply ask “Jeannie” to blink it away for him?! That’s television, folks! In addition, we witnessed the recent passing of Zig Ziglar, a renowned motivational speaker whose goal was to propel us towards our dreams utilizing visualization and positive thinking. Whatever the verdict is in heaven when Zig gets there, I embrace his hard work, dedication and desire to give humans another approach to handling despair and inherent difficulties in becoming and maintaining successfulness.

I simply try to “keep it real” not only because I grew up at a time when that was most important, and, actually had to learn to segway my way into levels of professionalism like teaching, writing and speaking. When researching logos and photos for this topic, I came across this: “Selling out is the new keeping it real!” This is truly a sign of our times as it appears that human emotions and the inevitable challenges we face occasionally “tail spin” us into “selling out”! Be very careful what you think … you might just become that!

As we look upon these Holy Days ahead for various religions, it seems that our focus, even with Kwanza, is regarding increasing the quality of life as the human community. Whatever you believe, you may want to consider and contemplate the validity of what you don’t believe so as to balance ones approach to living a productive and healthy life, spiritually as well! Have a great weekend!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

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Angel On My Shoulder

Happy “Hump Day”, All!

Did you ever experience a time in your life when you wondered how you got through a particular situation or how you circumvented some puzzling circumstances? If you are like most humans, and me, you have. There were some years ago when I felt there must’ve been some “super natural” forces working in my life. Now, I don’t advocate witchcraft though there was a time when I was pretty sure that someone close to me was trying to “put a spell” on me … true story! I survived “the spell”, created some distance between me and that person, and lived to tell the story. It is interesting because even this morning when I woke up to write this piece, it seemed that my computer wouldn’t log on, so, I touched a few keys and up came “Pandora”, the musical website that I was listening to last night before going to sleep.

Now, I wanted to write this so I was relieved to see that my internet connection was still okay. On came the song “Angel On My Shoulder” by Kaskade. Thusly, the title … The idea came to me last night as I watched the news stories of Rilya Williams’ foster mother’s trial. It was ten years ago that this child went “missing” and was no longer on the “radar” of DCF in Miami. Most people were outraged at the social worker who literally “dropped the ball” on follow up visits to the little girl’s foster home. I could never imagine hurting a helpless little girl the way the prosecution described the things this woman did to Rilya before she was killed, and her body still has not been found. The woman was denied a “mistrial” and as she serves time for a different offense, she is facing sentencing for Rilya’s death and disappearance.

Then, a brief story came on about how there was some additional information “found” (but was not released to the prosecution) regarding the daughter of Casey Anthony. On Casey’s computer, there was a “search” request for how to suffocate someone without being discovered! Now, I “google” a lot of stuff but I never … NEVER imagined there would be a step by step instruction manual of how to suffocate someone so as to not be detected. Casey is free, as determined by the jury since they felt they didn’t have enough evidence to convict her. Would this bit of evidence have made the difference? Who knows …

Where were the angels on these two little girls shoulders? I hope and pray that they carried them off from the misery and suffering that they were experiencing. As we approach the end of 2012 and anticipated the date of “12-12-2012” and what Mayan folklore holds, I look forward to a new year with new options and new hopes and dreams. A good friend of mine’s father passed a few days ago in New York whom I knew rather well, and, a co-worker’s mother passed just yesterday morning during the early hours in a nursing home in Boca Raton, FL. Peace be with them ALL, especially the expired ones, and may their spirits be lifted high by the “angel on their shoulders”.

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Friends and Family

Good Monday morning, All!

Here’s to hoping your long Thanksgiving/American Indian Heritage Day weekends went well. Mine was pretty good … thanks to “friends & family”!

Last week on Monday, I was enjoying a couple of days off of work to get a few errands done after an anticipated restful weekend. As we at my job were expecting to get a pay check on Wednesday of last week since the office was to be closed on Friday, things changed. Change is good, but this time, it was a bit painful – no paycheck before Thanksgiving and a pay cut across the board for all employees. We were all pretty stunned and most of us had to reorganize things a bit to get through the normally festive Thanksgiving Weekend. Enter, “friends and family”!

Well, for me, I must extend a warm thank you to a few people who helped get me through this “change”. While my sister, my only remaining living sibling, went to the Dominican Republic with friends for Thanksgiving (which she totally deserved!), I went to spend Thanksgiving Day with my good friend’s family – The Zacharys! While Peter still struggles with ALS, his family welcomed me warmly to enjoy the days with them. I heartily and humbly accepted, and, since they know my heart, we had a fantastic time. Funds had gotten a bit short so between Peter’s son, Jordan, and another good friend, Solveig Kirker, and my writer/business “buddy”, Stokely Gittens, I was able to have enough for gas and the “unanticipated” expenses. As I had learned some years ago (and I still revisit that personality trait of “too proud to be poor” from time to time), when I need help, I ask for it … peace be still. This morning when I awoke and started getting things organized for the day, I looked at the picture/painting on my bedroom wall of “Black Jesus” given to me many years ago by a former student from Jamaica, Anieth Daley, and said whole heartedly … “Thank You”!

On Thanksgiving Day early morn, I had sent a text to my daughter, Ayanna Lynne, in Connecticut, as well as to my “adopted spiritual” daughter, Natasha Carriles, here in Florida and exchanged “Happy Thanksgivings” with a variety of friends whom I have recently made via Facebook as well as those long time friends that I have had the pleasure of meeting along this journey. If I missed giving you a personal “shout out”, here it is! And if you are at all like me, and I suspect there are some others out there, this season is the reason to be grateful for our “friends and family”, as well as our Creator.

Thank you … All!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

We Are Family . . .

Happy Friday, All!

Yes, if you want, you can say it with me . . . T.G.I.F.! While I may be experiencing some challenges today, I will still celebrate the fact that I woke up this morning and am getting started on my way!

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day, and, I encouraged those of you who read my Wednesday piece to remember it is also American Indian Heritage Day! There may not have been a “United States of America” had not the “natives” here been somewhat receptive to those nosey newcomers to the shores of “their” land. Again, may we never forget.

The thing about “modern humans” in general is that we often forget events of the past because we only have today to go on. In some ways, this is a great attitude to have as long as we have learned our lessons from our past, both individually and as the human family. For example, that there were people here on the North American continent when the explorers came to “discover” something, peace be still, should make us more grateful that they were so kind to many of our ancestors. Now, thinking back to yesterday, there must have been families all over this country having the traditional “turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies” as well as whatever fixings the chefs deemed appropriate. My biological family is down to just my sister Edna and I, her three kids and my daughter. Then we also have my oldest sister’s (RIP) daughter and son – Fawn Nadine and Daric Weldon, both Cooks – as well as their offspring. Fawn is still single, but Daric who lives in the Bronx has a wife and four kids of his own.

So, I was at the Zachary family home in Plantation, FL – yes, I said the same thing when I reconnected with him over 10 years ago – why should a brother go out to “Plantation”?! To see his long time and currently “best friend”!! Why else?! Okay, just making a bit of fun regarding the name of that city – Plantation! Well, I was there yesterday with pretty near the whole Zachary family. The only one not present was the ex-wife, mother of Peter’s two children – Samantha and Jordan. Andrea’s son Shane and daughter Christy Lee from Bonita Springs were also there. I mean, they really consider me family, as I have been going to his house for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, not to mention birthday parties or dinners, concerts with Peter for my birthday, and numerous other outings including basketball games (NBA) and beach outings. So, uh … I consider myself part of their family, too! They are probably the coolest Greek Hungarian Jews I have ever met!! So we literally feasted on a meal prepared by his three sisters – Christy, Andrea and Lisa – with dishes prepared by each of them from cranberry molds to string bean casserole, including Peter’s mother – Nancy- who made a serious sweet potato casserole, and, Andrea’s boyfriend even brought some lobster tails from a connection he has where he lives in Islamorada in the Florida Keys. We watched football, talked and traded stories, ate with gratitude and an attitude of family, and, around 10pm, I departed … with a doggie bag!

Of course, over the course of the day, I sent texts and received texts wishing each other Happy Thanksgiving, and I may have even forgotten a few good friends. I even sent my sister Edna a text though she and some friends were flying from Florida to the Dominican Republic for Thanksgiving! My Orlando connection and fellow author, business man and accounting administrator – Stokely Gittens – was in town so he spent the night on my couch after working on one of his small business projects catering with a business partner/chef of his. So, in closing, I would like to reiterate how you all reading this first hand as my e-mail family are also “family” for me. I love you all … and thank you! Happy Holy Days ahead!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Happy Thanksgiving/American Indian Heritage Day

Happy Hump Day, All!

As conflict in the Gaza strip area and Tel Aviv continues with hopes of peace and a ceasefire in the background of the Middle East, here in the USA families and friends are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving Day Festivities all over this country. Football games on a local and even the NFL level (National Football League) are scheduled to be played and viewed by millions of Americans on this day, November 22 when the National Holiday is observed this year.

The true celebrations from earlier years dating back as far as 1621 and 1623 had more of a religious basis as the early colonists were able to have a sufficient Fall harvest to get through the winter in colonies like Massachusetts Bay as well as Plymouth Virginia, and they gave thanks for it. For me, it is important to acknowledge the source of the colonists ability to have a harvest at that time. Many historians who shed light on this subject depict the Native American/Amerind/American Indian peoples as showing the colonist what to plant and eat as well as how to do so. There are paintings and stories that revolve around this same theme that have been passed on for many generations. Yet, in the recent years, groups of Native Americans have actually staged protests to heighten the awareness of the inclusion of Native Americans in the celebration traditionally held this time of year in the USA. Consequently, this time of year has also come to be known as “American Indian Heritage Day”.

Locally, here in Broward and Miami Dade Counties, there are numerous programs aimed at providing turkeys and “fixins” for families that may not be able to afford the traditional meal for various economic reasons. It is a time when certain people come out – of all colors and incomes, backgrounds and religions – to aid their fellow Americans to assist in providing foods for at least this day of celebration for needy families. “Big Mamma” has been big in Broward and Miami Dade as well as local radio stations and air personalities who have given generously to be sure there is a turkey and food on as many tables as possible for Thanksgiving. May we never forget the aid that the Native Americans provided for the earliest colonists that led to the origins of Thanksgiving!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Babies and Adults

Happy Monday, All!

Yes, I am taking a chance today and just wishing it for all who want it. Trust me, I know times are not easy for anyone. Yet, when you have an opportunity to enjoy some aspects of life, please take advantage of that … and share it with others when possible.

Today and tomorrow I am taking off as vacation days as the year comes to an end and the days either must be used, or one has to request reimbursement for the unused days. Now, my original plans included going to Orlando and connecting with a friend (former student) from White Plains as well as another good friend whom I lived with there when I worked for ACORN in Orlando and commuted between Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando for 6 months to complete an assignment with the community organization. We are still good friends – though I haven’t seen the young lady who now has a son of her own whom she is enjoying a vacation with at Disney! I remember doing this with my daughter, my mother, even an ex-wife and our mothers one Christmas. How nice, right?! Well, I have a lot of things on my plate and a plethora of money was NOT one, so …. I changed my plans and decided to enjoy some “me” time right here in Fort Lauderdale . . . peace be still.

As it appears that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians continues to escalate, I have decided to be as close to as many friends that I have HERE in preparation for the Holy Day (Holiday) season. Thanksgiving is just a few days away and I will be spending it with my long time friend, Peter Zachary, and his family. My sister is traveling with some of her friends so being that it is just that two of us and her children who are all grown up now, I will join my “other” family. It seems my daughter will be close to her mother in Connecticut.

After a day with Peter, who is struggling tremendously with ALS now, I came home to relax and watch “60 Minutes”. There was a special on the behavior of children from birth and their ability to distinguish good from bad and make decisions based on skits with puppets and stuffed animals. A husband-wife team of psychologists have continued these experiments which has led to over turning some of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s theory of children being a “tabula rasa”, or a blank slate (blackboard) waiting to learn all appropriate behavior from their life experiences.

We humans go from being completely dependent on others to meet our basic needs, though apparently not as “unintelligent” as previously thought, to experiencing a journey of anywhere from 50 – 100 years until we again become completely dependent on others to meet our basic needs. Of course, the time line and manner of expiration varies from person to person, and, journey to journey. With so much going on, may we, who are able to, enjoy this Season of Holy Days, so to speak, with good friends and family, including babies and adults.

Have a great week!

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

Bombs Bursting In Air . . .

Happy Friday, All . . .

Can we say T.G.I.F.? …. or are we feeling the “tug of war” from the Middle East? There are a variety of things that I could think of saying but I guess “Oh my gosh!” might sum it up this morning. If only peace could be still …

I remember the song about this country with the lyrics ” … and bombs bursting in air …” and how it seems for hundreds of years perhaps, fighting has characterized the region known as the Middle East. So many stories and calculations of how it is anticipated that the next World War will come out of that area FIRST. Does it seem more likely now that the military leader of the Palestinian organization known as Hamas has been killed, according to reliable sources, within hours of receiving a “truce” agreement from Israel. Does anybody understand any of this? Each time I try to wrap my thoughts around such events, I get exhausted just trying to unravel how and when and where all of the unrest began … and it continues.

Well, I anticipate that President Obama will be required to make a statement regarding our country’s position amidst all of this turmoil and conflict. I am dreading it, especially as we approach our holiday seasons of first Thanksgiving followed a month later by Christmas. It seems pretty serious now amidst the terms of the purported truce which was accentuated by the bombings and the air strikes and the ultimate death of Hamas’s leader.

In taking a few steps back from this, I am planning to take a short trip to visit friends in Orlando this weekend and into the early days of next week. May we all here feel grateful that we do not have bombs bursting in air … yet … and hopefully can look forward to a Happy Holiday Season here on the shores of the U.S.A.

Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

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