LSS: Yoohoo, it’s Mother Nature calliing…

I spent a portion of this week at one of the largest hotels in Chicago. Turns out this completely urban hotel is doing its part to participate in the burgeoning grow local campaign.

More than 200,000 honey bees make their home on its roof. The hotel sells souvenir honey samples, and the chef and kitchen staff use the honey in a variety of recipes.

Tasting the honey made me consider the differences in taste between what the bees of Chicago produce versus Louisiana honey. The distinction isn’t huge, but there’s a difference.

Which got me to thinking.

Shouldn’t there be a difference in the taste of honey produced by bees buzzing along the shores of Lake Michigan versus the bees living along the banks of the Vermilion? Sure, some of the flowers are the same, but with two different climates, the flowerbeds vary between the hot of Louisiana and the relative cool of Chicago.

With that in mind, think about the last time you went to a chain restaurant. Did you order your favorite dish? Did it taste like you expected it to? Was it better? Was it worse? Is expecting such consistency realistic — or even a good idea?

Food comes from all over the world, in various seasons. And yet, we have come to expect a dish ordered in one place to not vary in taste from one visit to the next or the same dish ordered somewhere else a thousand miles away.

If you’ve ever grown a garden, consider the variety of the produce you grew. Remember how some tomatoes tasted better than others? Some were round, and some had uncomely lumps or bumps. Some were bright red. And some were a little orange or purplish. The factors that played in taste go beyond appearance. Rain, sun, soil, time between harvest and preparation to be eaten are just a few of the other factors that contribute to taste.

With all those possible distinctions in the ways a single tomato can vary from one bush to the next, think about the potential variations from one continent to the next. Which takes us back to the question: how often do you expect a dish to taste exactly how it did the last time you ordered it in a restaurant or even prepared it at home?

Holding food and the restaurants that serve it to a high standard is one thing, but is it realistic to expect practically every dish on the menu to be consistent year round? I’m no horticulturist or food scientist, but I’m speculating that those expectations for that kind of consistency lead to less-than-fresh food, at the very least. How else could it happen?

For me, this line of thinking makes my head spin. How can everything from canned foods to candy always taste the same? And what are the repercussions of so many of us expecting a constant flavor, texture, etc? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending poor quality. I’m only suggesting that getting closer to food sources is a quick reminder that Mother Nature likes and even nurtures a little diversity of size, shape and flavor.

How could we expect any less?

LSS: Seems like yesterday

On Wednesday, I was answering a friend from out-of-town’s message.

She asked, “How are the kids?”

I answered, “My oldest, Greer, started high yesterday.”

I caught myself as I typed it, and my head wouldn’t let go of that sentence.

Long after the conversation ended, I kept replaying it over and over in my head. I could almost hear a future, older (and hopefully wiser) version of me saying and thinking, “It seems like yesterday when Greer started high school.”

But Wednesday was the only day it would ever be true.

Now, I don’t want to get sappy sweet and sentimental, but the moment was one of those present tense nostalgia flashes. I recognized that what was happening as it was happening was significant — and that the memory of the moment would always invoke a certain wistfulness.

Truth be told, it’s been a week of big moments, all around. Greer’s younger sister, Piper, started middle school. My only niece earned her white coat and entered pharmacy school. And, one of my nephews graduated from Basic Training. Landmark moments all around for our family.

Throughout the week and the days leading up to it, we’ve been so busy taking care of so many details and getting everything done that had to get done that I didn’t take the time or energy to absorb the magnitude or beauty of this phase of life.

For that matter, I’ve also not taken the time to appreciate all of the little moments either — and, in my experience, the little moments generally add up to a whole lot more than the big ones. They are the moments that make or break us. They are the moments that show our true character. And when the going gets tough, they are the moments that become our anchor.

For some reason, recognizing that I had missed some good moments was easier than it sometimes is in all of the bedlam that back to school offers. For example, before bed one night, Piper, our 10 year old, walked up and sat down on the sofa. I was working on a project. She said, “Mom, will you braid my hair?”

I was hyper-focused and close to finishing something that I needed to finish and told her I just couldn’t braid her hair right then. She said, “OK,” and headed to bed.

When she walked away, I began to wonder, “What could I be doing that couldn’t wait five minutes for me to braid that sweet child’s hair?”

The answer: nothing.

It could have all waited.

And it should have.

How many more times will she ask me to braid her hair?

A thousand, I hope.

And if that’s what I hope, then I better braid it when she asks. So later this week, I got the opportunity for a little redemption when she asked again if I’d braid her hair, (as I was trying to write this column, in fact). I took my own advice and braided two short and stubby piggy tails.

Her short hair is just a phase. No doubt, those piggy tails will grow — just like her, her sister, her cousins and the rest of us.

(Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appear in The Sunday Advertiser. Email her at

LSS: The best bad bxperience she could have had

The ripple effect of strange little moments years ago continues.

Case in point. Way back in 1994, I spent a lot of time in New York City. Since I’ve always been a big theater fan, I did my best to see as many shows as possible, knowing there would come a day when I’d be a long way from Times Square. When a friend told me about an off-Broadway show called Blown Sideways through Life.

I got a ticket and went. The little show blew me away.

It was written and performed by a woman named Claudia Shear. It chronicled her experiences in the American workforce — 64 jobs in all, including a waitress, a nude model, a proofreader, a whorehouse receptionist, a pastry chef, an Italian translator and more.

There were parts of the show that made me laugh so hard my side hurt. There were other parts that made me cry, but the theme of the show already resonated with me back then — everybody has a story. To find her own story and get her life together, the writer and performer ended up doing an Outward Bound adventure.

Outward Bound is a non-profit organization that offers experience-based outdoor programs for youth and adults. According to their website, “Outward Bound courses change lives and give you the tools to see further, climb higher and know your way.”

In the one-woman show, I remember Shear telling of rock climbing, sailing and the hard-core trekking element of her course. Throughout her adventure, she had various Great Realizations about life that led her to a confidence she had never known before. With that newfound self-assurance, she picked herself up from her own bootstraps and began to realize, enjoy and appreciate the bounty of her world, her responsibility to herself and her responsibility to others. The rugged outdoor experience stretched her further than she had ever been stretched and was positively life changing.

Her words have stayed with me through the years. I’ve found myself thinking of little pieces of the show at the oddest times.

In the last several years, I’ve thought of her words on just how well the Outward Bound instructors were trained, how the group had to stay together and just how much was required to complete the adventure. For three summers, I’ve thought about the possibility of sending our 14-year-old daughter for her own Outward Bound experience. For some reason, I’ve thought this program might help her put things in a better perspective and find her own self-confidence. Finally, this year, she went.

When she returned home last week, she did so with a new take on life. In her words, “I don’t think I’ll ever complain again.” She has had much to tell as she’s chattered away about the atrocities of the backpacking and whitewater canoeing adventure. She spent the course with two instructors and 11 other 14 and 15-year-olds (whose parents had also encouraged them to complete this course).

In the process, she literally fell off a mountain she was attempting to climb. Fortunately, there was a thorny blackberry bush seven feet down that caught her. Her crew helped her up, removed the thorns and briars, bandaged her up — and then, to her shock and horror, they were ready to set off hiking again. She was outraged. However, with no fallback plan, she had no choice but to get up and continue the trek.

She came home with as big of a takeaway as Shear.

“I learned that I can fall off a mountain, climb back up on the trail, pick the briars off, keep going — and live to tell the tale,” she said. To quote a friend, our daughter has categorized her Great Adventure as “the best bad experience I could have ever had.”

To the many people who made that happen — from my late great friend Bob Roach who recommended the off-Broadway show all those years ago, to Claudia Shear who wrote and performed it, to the fine folks at Outward Bound and the friends who sent prayers and positive thoughts, I extend my heartfelt gratitude.

LSS: Buoyancy and beyond


That, in a word, is what I want children — my own and rest of the masses out there — to be. May they be blessed with whatever it is that creates that upward force within.

Because they’re going to fail.

And failing is important. If they don’t fail, they don’t learn that failing isn’t a forever thing. If you think about life as an addition problem, you might think of it in one of the following two ways:

Encouragement + effort = success


Encouragement + effort = failure

In reality, I don’t believe it’s either of those. Life is rarely a series of individual equations. Instead, life is a series of events that build on each other. It’s more like this:

encouragement + effort = failure + buoyancy + effort = success + encouragement + effort = failure + buoyancy + effort = success”»

And the math equation keeps going.

Rather than being the problem, failure is a necessary and important part of the equation that eventually leads to success as the sum of the parts. The math breaks down, when buoyancy isn’t there. Sometimes our kids (and even our friends) stop the math equation short and end at failure.

So, the big question is, how do we as parents and as a society — teachers, coaches, bosses, friends, and cousins, each and every one of us — foster buoyancy? Maybe you call it resilience. That works too. How do we foster resilience? No doubt many research papers have been written on that topic, but fostering buoyancy in children comes down to creating a loving environment and building them up as best we can. One of the primary issues is that every child doesn’t come from a home where someone has the time, energy or inclination to consider how to foster resilience or build up that child.

“Research suggests that when schools are places where the basic human needs for support, respect, and belonging are met, motivation for learning is fostered,” wrote Bonnie Benard at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in a piece on building resilience in children.

She continues, “Reciprocal caring, respectful and participatory relationships are the critical determining-factors in whether a student learns; whether parents become and stay involved in the school; whether a program or strategy is effective; whether an educational change is sustained; and, ultimately, whether a youth feels he or she has a place in this society. When a school redefines its culture by building a vision and commitment on the part of the whole school community that is based on these three critical factors of resilience, it has the power to serve as a ‘protective shield’ for all students and a beacon of light for youth from troubled homes and impoverished communities.”

And that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Our community has spent a lot of time, energy and discussion on what to do to help our schools. And just because they’ve failed in the past doesn’t mean the equation stops. Maybe the answer goes back to Archimedes’ Principal: An object (immersed in a fluid) is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

Somehow those able have to create environments capable of buoying up a child at home, and the schools are left with the lion’s share of the rest of that job — and that is no easy task. The community can help turn a community’s equation around by building up schools, educators and the children they serve who need help staying afloat.