Finding Time To Help
Published on September 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my column this week at the DG, I write about volunteerism, and Hurricane Irene.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last week I interviewed some of the people who have been volunteering regularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, helping those affected by flooding clear out their homes, get electricity restored and replace damaged possessions.

Many of these people were helping friends and neighbors and spoke of volunteering as something they simply had to do. They talked about being called, often by God. Two women from Herkimer told me they planned to drive to the village of Schoharie every Thursday to drop off food, and I admired both their sense of purpose and ability to stick to a schedule. Other volunteers have been working constantly since the hurricane hit and have no plans to take a break. While speaking to these folks, it occurred to me that massive disasters require volunteers of all types — those who can work round the clock and those who can provide relief and aid for an hour or two every week.

I know from experience that volunteer work is rewarding.

When I was in high school, one of the highlights of my church youth group experience was traveling to rural Kentucky and working for a wonderful organization called the Appalachia Service Project. A small band of us were dispatched to the home of an impoverished woman and her sons and spent the next week fixing her roof and rebuilding her bathroom. I got stuck in the bathroom with my father, where I found myself tearing up floorboards and clearing out water and mud. At times, it was pretty disgusting, but by the end of the week the family had a clean and functional bathroom, and I took some satisfaction in knowing that I had actually helped build something, despite a notable lack of construction experience or expertise."

An End to Escapades
Published on September 18, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my print column at the DG, I write about how a debilitating head cold (I still have it! It won't go away!) has brought an end to my recent round of escapades.

Here's an excerpt:

"I marveled at my full schedule. Every second of the day, it seemed, involved doing things with various sets of friends. 'I feel like I’m in college again,' I said.

And it was great.

I was having constant fun, I was surrounded by people I liked, our conversations were stimulating and funny, and the potential for adventure was unusually high. I felt energized, rather than exhausted; the world seemed full of opportunity and adventure. At the same time, I found myself wondering when all the activity would catch up with me. Sure, I felt good, but I couldn’t sustain the manic pace forever, could I?

The answer arrived on Monday evening, when I met my friend Kim for dinner.

'I have a sore throat,' I complained. 'I feel tired.'

The next morning I awoke to a terrible head cold.

Unable to breathe or function like a normal human being, I called in sick, and spent the day lying on the couch, doing nothing. I became depressed and listless; occasionally, I felt like crying. The cold also robbed me of my ability to sleep, and I became increasingly exhausted; every morning I awoke with the sheets tangled around me like a straightjacket, and a pile of tissues on the floor.

Plenty of other people have colds right now. Every time I talk to someone, they tell me that they have a cold, or that a loved one has a cold. Parents tell me that their kids always get sick at the start of school, while others describe what’s going around as a change-of-season cold. These are reasonable explanations, and yet I remain convinced that my cold is the direct consequence of acting like a college student.

'I just can’t party like it’s 1998 anymore,' I croaked to a friend."

I don't know why, but that last sentence makes me feel like listening to Prince.

Shared Songs
Published on September 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about how music is one of those things you share with your friends, and how certain songs and bands are meaningful because they remind you of people you care about, and the fun times you had together. For instance, I will always love "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS, classic Prince, "Whenever God Shines His Light" by Van Morrison and the UB40 cover of "Fools Rush In."

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the column:

"My friends and I tend to have similar musical tastes.

This is a matter of personality, but also of shared experience: We’re drawn to the same stuff, which explains why we became friends, but we also spend a lot of time together, and the stuff we do when we’re hanging out often takes on special meaning.

My college roommate and I both arrived at our dormitory with boxes full of CDs and tapes, and one of the first things we did was compare our vast collections and make comments about our likes and dislikes; an early bonding experience involved recording snippets from favorite songs for our answering machine message. Much to my delight, my roommate possessed a lot of music that I had never heard before, and I soon found myself listening to a whole new set of bands. Her music eventually became my music, too.

I love different songs for different reasons, but there are a lot of songs I love simply because my friends love them, too.

They range from Van Morrison songs I listened to while working at camp to the raw, late 1990s punk songs that my roommate was so fond of, to the carefully selected pop and rock songs on a mix tape given to me by a friend in high school. I like Van Halen, because my high school boyfriend used to play them all the time, and I also have a secret fondness for Seal, because he was popular with the staff at one of my summer jobs."

Natural Thrills
Published on August 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

In this week's column at the DG, I write about the joys of body surfing, white water rafting, hiking and bobsledding. But mostly about body surfing, which is one of my favorite things ever. My thesis: Sometimes nature can be a little bit like an amuseument park. 

Here's an excerpt:

"When I was a kid, I loved amusement parks.

I loved roller coasters and Ferris wheels and bumper cars and that pirate ship that swings back and forth and sends you surging into the air at absurd angles.

I still like these things, but it’s been years since I’ve been to an amusement park.

At some point, I outgrew them, and although I still regard them as fun, despite the crowds and high prices, it never occurs to me to round up a group of friends and spend the day at an amusement park. For one thing, nobody except me would want to go, and even I don’t really want to go, because of the aforementioned crowds and high prices.

But I do enjoy a good thrill every now and again, and amusement parks are reliable and time-tested providers of thrills. A good ride makes me burst out laughing, while the surge of adrenalin accompanying its scary heights and hair-raising turns is strangely addictive."

Thankfully, Memories Fade
Published on August 22, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my column this week at the DG, I write about why sometimes it's good to forget ... at least a little.

Here's an excerpt:

"The one event I’ve been surprisingly successful at moving past is my sister Rebecca’s near-fatal accident, coma, brain injury and surgery. I think about it quite often, of course, but I manage to do this without dwelling on the particulars — the uncertainty of her outcome, the visits to the intensive-care unit, the waiting by the telephone for updates from my parents. She lived and recovered, life returned to normal. Why remember the hard times? What good would that do?

In a recent piece in Harper’s magazine, David Rieff suggests that our capacity for remembering is limited.

His essay aims to put the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 into a larger historical context, but what he manages to convey most is the slow, steady passage of time and the inevitability of forgetting. 'The stark reality is that in the very long run nothing will be remembered,' he writes, quoting the biblical book of Ecclesiastes: 'There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.'

Most interesting and perhaps controversial of all, Reiff doesn’t see forgetting as a bad thing; instead, he sees it as an essential step to moving forward, and progress. 'Will it ever be possible for us to give up the memory of our wounds?' he asks. 'We had better hope so, for all our sakes.'"

In Defense of Brand Loyalty
Published on August 18, 2011 by guest author: Tatiana Zarnowski

Brand loyalty is a way of life for my grandfather. He gravitates toward Ford vehicles; keeps his house stocked with only Yuengling lager, purchases either Maytag or GE appliances and has never owned a computer that wasn't an IBM.

So I was more than a little surprised to get a mass email from him last week noting that his email address had changed from his long-held AOL account to a new Comcast extension.

My grandparents signed on with AOL in the mid-90s. They were the kind of 70-somethings who wanted to stay on top of technology, so they picked a market leader and forked over their per-minute charge for dial-up.

As far as I can tell, my grandfather mainly uses the Internet to forward joke emails, but also keeps in touch with my cousins in Seattle, a former in-law in Florida and even friends in Australia.

But now my 86-year-old grandpa has silenced his "You've got mail" account, as he's apparently gotten a better deal and has one fewer bill to pay by packaging his cable and Internet together. Frankly, I'm surprised. He never minded paying more than $25 a month for dial-up in the early 2000s, though I thought it was an outrageous price for slow service.


Why I Write
Published on August 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my print column this week at the DG, I write about why I write. Here's an excerpt:

"When I’m asked how I became interested in writing or newspapers in the first place, I usually start talking about the second grade.

Our teacher gave us a lot of time to write on our own, about anything we wanted, and I tended to spend this time writing mystery stories that borrowed a lot of inspiration from Scooby-Doo, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. My friends and I were the characters, and in each book we solved a mystery; the books became popular, and soon the majority of my classmates were also writing mystery books. Somewhat amazingly, writing became a classroom fad.

Writing is generally considered a solitary activity, and it often is, but when I was a kid it wasn’t solitary at all. It was something I did with my friends, and in student clubs."

In the column, I briefly mention how boredom inspired me and my friends to write a story called "Richard is Skinny!" during our unbelievably dull eighth grade earth science class. The more I think about it, the more I think boredom is a crucial part of the creative lifestyle; without it, we might be content to simply digest art and entertainment created by others. I hate boredom; I consider it something that must be nipped in the bud as soon as possible. And if it isn't, I find myself dreaming up new projects ... such as this website.

Don't Be A Jerk
Published on August 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Don't Be A Jerk - a good rule of thumb, don't you think? In my print column this week, I suggest that maybe the world would be a better place if people weren't jerks. And if jerks weren't tolerated.

Visit the DG to read it.

Swimming Home
Published on August 2, 2011 by Sara Foss

In my print column this week, I touched upon swimming, childhood, John Cheever, Burt Lancaster and more.

Here's an excerpt:

"Growing up, I spent almost every day of the summer at a public beach called Manahan, where I took swimming lessons, played with my friends and jumped off the raft in the deep end. I also swam in a nearby river, which was colder, but also a little more exciting: fish were a frequent sight, as they glided past arms and legs, and there was a small waterfall you could swim to, and sit on the rocks or float in the swifter current.

Back then, I didn’t realize how lucky I was.

These swimming holes were a short drive from my house, and they were also free. I assumed every kid enjoyed a childhood like mine, one centered on swimming and playing with friends, and it wasn’t until later, when I was an adult, that I learned that this wasn’t the case.

Many people live in places that lack access to a good swimming hole, and although pools are an adequate substitute, they really aren’t the same. Lakes aren’t made of concrete and plastic, for one thing. Their water is fresh, rather than chlorinated, and their boundaries tend to be less defined — you often feel a little less restricted and crowded when swimming in a lake. Also, lakes are often pretty, with lovely views of trees and hills and water, and even a little bit mysterious: Swimming past the point where you can stand is a genuine and timeless thrill, especially at night."

To read the entire post, visit  the DG.

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