Counting Blessings

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

We began getting ready for Christmas the first Friday of December with the purchase of our Christmas tree from our children's elementary school.

The tree went up the next day in the center of the windows in the back of our living room. My husband carried all the Christmas boxes down from the attic and our children Maggie and Robert and I spent the weekend decorating the tree and the inside of our house while my husband strung the outside lights.While unpacking one of the boxes, I ran across one of my favorite movies - "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney (who my mother keeps reminding me was George's aunt) and Vera-Ellen.The following Friday night, Maggie and Robert opted for watching "White Christmas," and we have watched it five more times since.The story about friendship, service, anticipation, love and fulfillment begins on Christmas Eve, 1944, during the war, somewhere in Europe. Capt. Bob Wallace (a successful entertainer played by Crosby) and Priv. Phil Davis (an aspiring entertainer played by Kaye) are entertaining U.S. troops with a song-and-dance act. During it, they pay tribute to Maj. Gen. Thomas F. Waverly, their 151st Division commanding officer who is getting a transfer to the rear. Once the tribute is over, shelling begins. Davis pulls Wallace to the side as a wall falls, saving Wallace's life but injuring his arm in the process. While Davis is recovering, Wallace visits to thank him. Davis asks that they team up after the war as an entertainment act. After initially declining, Wallace succumbs to Davis' entreaties made as he rubs his injured arm.

Fast forward to post-war America. Their act a success, Wallace and Davis begin producing and directing shows. While in Florida with their show, they receive a letter from "Freckled-Faced Haynes the dog-faced boy," an old army buddy, asking them to watch a duet of his sisters, Betty (Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen).

Wallace and Davis go to the club and watch the act. After they meet, Betty tells Wallace that the letter was really from her sister Judy.

When the sheriff and an irate landlord arrive to collect deposit money from the, Wallace and Davis - dressed as women sing and dance Betty and Judy's "sisters" act as the girls escape.

All four wind up on a train headed from Florida to Vermont, where they have plans to perform, Davis gives the women the hotel room reserved for him and Wallace, while giving Wallace credit for being thoughtful. The women thank Wallace for his generosity, and the four of them look forward to snow, typical in Vermont this time of year.

But upon their arrival in the Green Mountain State, they see that Vermont has no snow. The four go to the inn where Betty and Judy have been booked to perform for the holidays.
The manager informs the sisters that they will not be needed, as no snow means slow business. As they are trying to figure out what to do, they are astounded to see Major General Waverly enter the inn carrying a load of firewood. Wallace and Davis drop their suitcases and salute.

The lack of business threatens to force the general to close his inn.

Determined to help, Wallace and Davis call their cast and crew to the inn to prepare to put on a show, one that has been reworked to include the sisters. During all this, Davis tries to set Wallace up. Once Davis and Judy meet, they plot to bring Wallace and Betty together. One night, they get Betty and Wallace into the inn lobby for a midnight snack and they sing together, "Count your Blessings.This scene serves as a pause in the story line, a time to give thanks in the midst of uncertainty: will people attend the Christmas Eve event and support the general, will Betty and Wallace end up together, will Davis and Judy end up together, will it ever snow? Soon after this respite, Betty mistakenly comes to believe that Wallace is trying to take advantage of the general's precarious circumstances. Disillusioned and angry, she leaves for a gig in New York. Wallace, who is also going to New York to appear on a radio show to request all 151st Division personnel living in the area to visit the Inn for Christmas Eve, attempts to persuade Betty to return, to no avail. But after Betty hears Wallace's appeal to the troops, she understands she was mistaken and returns to the inn for Christmas Eve.The show's last scene takes place at the inn. The general enters a room packed with men of the 151st Division; Betty and Wallace make up and kiss; Davis and Judy kiss; it begins to snow.

Davis remarks that the production was a success and they must get ready to travel and perform; Wallace replies that he will be busy seemingly with Betty. In the final number, a happy cast toasts to "May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white."Last week, I was traveling, and I woke up a few times in the middle of the night. Instead of worrying about future events as I normally would, I have begun lying as still as possible and counting my blessings.In reviewing this year's blessings (which include you, dear reader), I realize that I have written a column for 60 consecutive weeks. I will be taking next week off during which I plan to continue to count my blessings.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved.

A Place Called Hope

By Jackie Cushman


Published by

The town of Hope, Arkansas, settled in 1852, became famous when Bill Clinton ended his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention with "I believe in a place called Hope."
Hope's population of slightly more than 10,000, represents about three thousandths of one percent of the U.S. population. Yet Hope is the birthplace of a disproportionate share of national political figures: Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, and Mike Huckabee, the current surging Republican candidate.

Clinton was born in Hope in 1946, three months after his father died in an accident. Clinton lived with his maternal grandparents in Hope while his mother went to nursing school.

Huckabee was born nine years later, by which time Clinton and his mother had moved 90 Miles away to Hot Springs.

Having a president and a presidential contender from Hope makes me wonder, what is it about this place called Hope? Why would such a small town produce one president and one presidential contender within 15 years? Why Hope?

The City of Hope was named for the daughter of James Loughborough, the Cairo and Fulton (railroad) land commissioner, who drew up the city plat. It is the county seat of Hempstead County, located 25 miles northeast of Texarkana and 120 miles southwest of Little Rock Arkansas.

Hope is "a nice little quiet town," said Arkansas resident Tommy Horton.

This description reminds me of Carrollton, Georgia, the town where I grew up.

In the early 1970s, my family moved to the town of about 12,000 residents located an hour west of Atlanta. Though Carrollton might now be considered more of an Atlanta suburb, back then it was a small, close-knit community.

I called Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey to learn more about Hope and why it produced a president and presidential contender.


"Everyone knew what everyone was doing" and back then "we didn't have locks on the door," said Ramsey, the president of Summit Bank in Hope, and a Hope native.

This too sounds similar to Carrollton. Growing up, we often left the door unlocked and, wherever we went, people knew who we were and who our parents were. They would look out for us as if we were their own children.

News traveled fast in Carrollton, as it probably did in Hope. I know from experience that news of a child's misbehavior outside the home often had reached that child's parents by the time she got home.


According to Ramsey, Hope students had a "great educational system and support, teachers took an interest." Ramsey reminisced that his former civics teacher, Josephine Vesey, took her topic to heart and Anna Williams, an English teacher and sponsor of the Student Council, worked hard to encourage young leaders.

Americans believe in the importance of education as imparted not by a school system, but by individual teachers who reach out and inspire children.

Work ethic

Offering an additional reason for Clinton's and Huckabee's success, Ramsey noted that both former state governors Clinton and Huckabee had humble beginnings. Clinton lived with his grandmother and Huckabee's father was a fireman.

As boys, both Hope residents learned that working hard pays off, that success and achievement follow hard work, that success does not happen by itself, but requires real work.


"Big things come out of small packages," said Hope Vice Mayor David Johnson in a telephone interview. "People here dream and their dreams come true we had parents that would allow us to dream."

"Allow your kids to dream," Johnson recommended. These dreams provide a vision of what is possible. Hope for what might be.

Johnson said that he had "always dreamed of going to the White House." He visited the White House during the Clinton Administration.

It is good to know that dreams can come true.

Hope the name asked if he believes Clinton and Huckabee might have been inspired by the town's name, Johnson responded, "I do, I do. I always want to have hope."

Hope, a place of community, education, work ethic and dreams, sounds like Hope's motto "A slice of the good life."

What role will Hope play in the current presidential election? We already have one president from a place called Hope. Will there be another? While pundits will continue to call the race from now until election day, as a veteran of over a dozen elections, my experience is that you can never fully anticipate what will happen, and that its not over until its over. The election is a long way off.

I can tell you this much, there are real nice people in Hope, Arkansas. And it sure is nice to believe in a place called Hope.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved


Learned Optimism

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

Most of us experience ups and downs. Without the downs, we would neither appreciate nor recognize the ups and, without the ups, we would be joyless and listless.

While many believe that each individual has a natural set point for happiness that is not changeable, Dr. Martin Seligman believes differently. The director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania lays out his research, findings and recommendations in his book "Learned Optimism, How to Change Your Mind and Your Life" (Vintage Books, 2006).
As a graduate student in experimental psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Seligman studied dogs, and noticed that some would do nothing when they were shocked. Seligman determined that the dogs had felt the "shocks go on and off regardless of whether they struggled or jumped back or barked or they did nothing at all."

Therefore, according to Seligman, the dogs "had concluded or learned, that nothing they did mattered. So why try?"

Most people have faced situations where they too have felt helpless, times when no efforts seemed to make a difference. Eventually, after becoming worn down, they gave up and did nothing.

Seligman references a study done by graduate student Donald Hiroto while completing his dissertation at Oregon State University. This study noted that about 33 percent of test subjects did not learn helplessness, but continued to persevere. The study also noted that about 10 percent of test subjects never tried, or acted helpless from the start.

Applying this study's results to the general population, this translates into 10 percent of the population who never try to overcome obstacles, 57 percent of the population who learn to be helpless in the face of failure and 33 percent who never give up.

The good news is that Seligman hypothesized that if helplessness "could be learned, then it could be unlearned." The benefits of unlearning helplessness would be enormous: continued action, energy, perseverance and results. This ability to unlearn helplessness could potentially benefit 57 percent of the population.

Why is optimism important? "Optimists recover from their momentary helplessness immediately," according to Seligman. "Very soon after failing, they pick themselves up, shrug, and start trying again. For them, defeat is a challenge, a mere setback on the road to inevitable victory. They see defeat as temporary and specific, not pervasive."

Pessimists wallow in defeat, which they see as permanent and pervasive. They become depressed and stay helpless for very long periods," Seligman notes. "A setback is defeat. And a defeat in a battle is the loss of the war."

So how can one unlearn helplessness? "Learned helplessness could be cured by showing the subject his own actions would now work. It could be cured by teaching the subject to think differently about what caused him to fail." Seligman continues, "It could be prevented if, before his experience with helplessness occurred, the subject learned that his actions made a difference. The earlier in life such mastery was learned, the more effective the immunization against helplessness."

Seligman cites three ways of explaining events: Permanence (temporary or permanent), Pervasiveness (specific versus universal), Personalization (internal versus external).

According to Seligman, "it's a matter of ABC: when we encounter adversity, we react by thinking about it. Our thoughts rapidly congeal into beliefs." And these beliefs have consequences.

"Pessimistic explanations (permanent, universal and internal) set off passivity and dejection, whereas optimistic explanations (temporary, specific and external) energize."

When looking for explanatory evidence regarding an event, instead of thinking of the permanent, pervasive and personal belief, scan for the temporary (or changeable), specific (i.e., related to a specific event rather than an entire life), and the nonpersonal (i.e., the event was not due to you).

Seligman notes that there are two ways to approach pessimistic beliefs: distraction and disputation.

Distraction involves thinking about other things or resolving to think the pessimistic thought later. This provides immediate but not permanent relief.

Disputation disputing one's beliefs is a more effective, long-term approach. What makes disputation work is the acceptance that beliefs are just that, beliefs not necessarily reality. And the recognition that believing something is true does not always make it so.

The approach to disputation is: evidence, alternatives, implications and usefulness. First, the evidence-based approach: is the belief factually correct this often allows beliefs that are extreme and catastrophic (always, never, worst, awful) to be reframed correctly.

While it is not always possible to dispute a belief, because it might be based in reality, you can decatastrophize, and realize the consequences are not as bad as you might have initially thought.

For example, dieters may eat too much at a given meal (the belief is correct), but they need not interpret that to mean they are gluttons who will never lose weight. Instead, they can acknowledge that they overate, but bear in mind that they do not always overeat.

Finally, there is the question of usefulness: a given belief might be correct, but is it useful? If the belief inhibits you from functioning well in a crisis, it might be best to distract the thought until later.

Once the D (disputation) is added to the ABC (action, belief and consequence) the result is E (energy) rather that lethargy. It is energizing to believe that things do get better, that a given event was not about you, but about a specific situation. With this belief, it is easier to pick oneself up and move forward.

Next time you find yourself thinking pessimistically, examine your beliefs and their consequences. Remember, believing something is true does not make it true. Reexamine your beliefs, look towards a brighter future and continue to move forward.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman

All Rights Reserved

The (not so) Great Debate

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

After reading about the Nov. 28 "CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate," I decided to watch the video online last night. Normally, I might have contented myself with Colbert's or Stewart's take but the ongoing writers' strike meant I had to trudge through the 2-hour debate myself.

After the welcome by moderator Anderson Cooper, CNN played a video that included snowmen, little green men and animals, both stuffed and real.  Supposedly, the intent of the video was to show what would NOT be allowed during the debate but instead the video appeared to be juvenile, a waste of time.  It also made me wonder if Paula Abdul and Simon were waiting in the wings with comments. I wished for the writers' strike to be over.

After the candidate introductions, CNN played a video from Chris Nandor of Snohomish, Wash. Chris played the guitar and sang a ditty introducing the candidates. While Chris has a fine voice, can play the guitar, and sang entertaining lyrics, his act would have demeaned the debate had it not been for the prior video with snowmen, aliens and animals remember it always matters whom you follow.

The good news is Chris has perfect material to entertain friends with during happy hour around the bar.

Ten minutes and 30 seconds into the debate, the first question was finally asked "yea, actual content, -- about immigration. This led to a round of answers and accusations from Giuliani and Romney and booing from the audience. It was hard to tell if the audience was booing Giuliani for continuing to attempt to make the same point, or from boredom with the answers.

The second questioner asked the candidates to pledge "to veto any immigration bill that involves amnesty for those that have come here illegally." After Thompson and Giuliani answered, McCain offered his perspective on the format of the night's debate, "You know, this whole debate saddens me a little bit, because we do have a serious situation in America. "

I agree. While not bad for a country low on comedic entertainment due to the writers' strike, the debate format did not provide viewers with a serious, grounded framework for determining who ought to lead our nation's government. However, the debate went on, with questions and answers on gun control, imports and abortion.

Giuliani remained tough on crime, Romney remained good-looking and smiling, McCain remained tough on national security.

Thompson appeared to engage just enough to stay on course.

All in all, these candidates performed as expected.

Huckabee gave the best performance, appearing to be the most authentic, relaxed and at ease with himself. Whether his performance can translate into the nomination might be determined by his ability to improve his name recognition. (My spell-check program flags Huckabee as misspelled, but it recognizes Giuliani, Romney, McCain and Thompson.)

In response to Romney's comment that illegal immigrant children, who came into the country with their parents, should not be able to earn merit-based scholarships, Huckabee said, "In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We're a better country than that." Clearly, the former governor of Arkansas came with his game on.

Asked about the death penalty, he said, "You know, one of the toughest challenges that I ever faced as a governor was carrying out the death penalty. I did it more than any other governor ever had to do it in my state. As I look on this stage, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person on this stage that's ever had to actually do it." CNN's Cooper pressed for more. "The question was, from the viewer was? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus support the death penalty?" Proving he was fast on his feet and could maintain a sense of humor, Huckabee answered, "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That's what Jesus would do."

Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee responded to the question asked by Joseph from Dallas, Texas, which he delivered while holding up the King James version of the Bible. Joseph asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?

Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?"

My interpretation of the candidates answers:

Giuliani: yes and no

Romney: yes but maybe no

Huckabee: yes, but clearly it is allegorical.

McCain continued to project the image of a leader who would be tough of national security, but the former POW also held the line on torture.

Asked about waterboarding, McCain clearly stated he was against it; Romney equivocated, declaring he would not define what "was," and what "was not" torture.

Romney's vagueness left McCain looking tortured. "My friends, this is what America is all about. This is a defining issue and, clearly, we should be able, if we want to be commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to take a definite and positive position on, and that is, we will never allow torture to take place in the United States of America."

Well stated.

According to Cooper, the questions CNN selected for the debate were gleaned from 5,000 submissions. One topic was glaringly missing: health care. Many polls consider it and national security to be the top two issues of the 2008 election among likely voters. Big miss for the content keepers, CNN and YouTube.

The debate ended with a question about baseball, Yankees and Giuliani rooting for the Red Sox. Neither the question nor the answers it evoked offered anything of value other than to serve as a fitting close for a debate that began with a video and a ditty.

Maybe once the writer's strike is over, and comedy is once again reclaimed by Stewart and Colbert, we can begin a push for serious political debates in style of the Lincoln-Douglas debates: 90 minutes, two candidates, all issues and no moderator. Now that would be a great debate.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved


How to Catch Redfish (and Live LIfe more Fully

By Jackie Cushman


Sea Island, Georgia. -- Normally the sound of the surf can be heard faintly throughout the house on the coast to Georgia. This morning the volume seems to have increased a few decibels. As I look east, towards the sunrise, the ocean appears to be closer to the house than normal.
This higher than normal tide reminds me of a conversation I overheard the day before.

My husband, son and I decided to brave the overcast and rainy Thanksgiving morning weather and joined a boat tour of the marsh area surrounding St. Simons Island. Also on the boat tour was an extended family from the Fort Worth area.

At the time of the tour, the water was about 2 hours before low tide and the high water mark was clearly visible above the water. These marks lead to a discussion about the timing of the tides and the impacts on fishing in the area. One of the gentlemen from Fort Worth was discussing with the captain the upcoming "flood tide," trying to determine the timing and impact of the upcoming higher than-normal morning high tide. The reference to a "flood tide," was one I had never heard before. As I understood their conversation, a flood tide occurs when the high tide is higher than normal, creating a flood in low-lying areas.

Of course, where there is water, there is also the possibility of fish.

This flooding allows redfish to swim into areas that are normally dry, providing them with access to fiddler crabs, which are normally not accessible to them. This opportunity for the fish (access to fiddler crabs) ends up being an opportunity for fishermen (a higher concentration of redfish than normal).

Flood tides occur once a month, with the full moon. If you know when they are going to occur, then you can take advantage of the opportunity and, potentially, catch more fish than normal.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, opportunity is the "favorable juncture of circumstances," or "a good chance for advancement or progress." In this case, the opportunity for the fisherman during a flood tide is the unusually large number of fish in a particular area, leading to the possibility that he will catch more fish than he usually does.

If you are not aware of the flood tide, the opportunity can become a hazard. The boats can travel into the marsh with the tide, but when it recedes, those aboard can be left high and dry, stuck in an area that will not see tide water again for another month.

Once this occurs, they are left with the option of dragging the boat through the mud, back into the water, or leaving the boat until the next flood tide unlodges it.

Serious fishermen, who want to take advantage of the flood tide opportunities as they happen, study the tides and phases of the moon to determine the best possible fishing times. They determine the best locations by talking to other, more experienced fishermen, or by watching the flood tides over time to determine where the water will go. Rather than leaving their fishing to chance, these fishermen attempt to provide themselves with the best opportunity to be successful at fishing.

Fishermen can increase their chances of success by showing up at the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment (including, in this case, a jig, a fishing lure with a lead sinker, hook and soft body covering made to resemble a fiddler crab).

Properly armed with information, equipment, location and timing, the fisherman is more likely to be able to take advantage of the opportunity the flood tide provides. However, ever the best fisherman, ill prepared can squander an opportunity.

Now, here's the hook: Throughout life, opportunities occur. Sometimes, we are able to take advantage of them; other times we do not even recognize they existed until after they are gone. The questions we might ask ourselves include: Are we paying attention to the surrounding landscape? Do we prepare for and then recognize the opportunities so we can take advantage of them while they are here? When opportunities present themselves, do we have all the equipment necessary to take full advantage of them, or will we simply allow ourselves to be swept up, tossed about and then left high and dry?

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved


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