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What Ronald McDonald Taught Me About Emotional Depth

It was 1979. I was six. Mom said we were going somewhere special.

I settled into the passenger seat and pulled out my portable video game. On the screen were a series of red lights that represented football players. There were no men. No graphics. Video games were different back then. We didnt have a 3-D vigilante with a five oclock shadow whose mission was to steal cars, squire prostitutes and systematically urinate on the Ten Commandments. Kids these days have it good.

Three minutes later, Mom pulled into a parking lot of McDonalds. No different from any other day. We would enter the line of sedans. We would shout our order into the metal box, as if talking to an elderly person whose ears were merely ornamental at this point. We would leave adequately McMuffinned.

Only that day McDonalds was chaos. A majority of the parking lot was cordoned off with flags and cones. A massive red stage was equipped with 10-foot golden arches. A horde of children ran around like crazy people whod been denied meds.

Half-eaten burgers were scattered on the asphalt yet this occasion was such a joyous riot that not one kid was crying over the loss. A boy had a pickle in his hair. Every child had an orange mustache, a sign that McDonalds legendary party drink an aperitif made of sugar, water, sugar and orange stuff was somewhere nearby. That orange drink was black market McDonalds gold, only brought out at soccer league kickoffs and papal coronations.

Then I spotted him. You couldnt miss the Sasquatch. Ronald McDonald was what happened when an NBA power forward made an honest woman out of a circus clown. His crimson hairpiece was both Black Panther and Jackie O, male and female. He was part African American, Northern European and whatever ethnicity red-haired people are.

His face was painted white, and below each eye was a triangular, black droplet (it means you killed someone in clown school). His eyebrows had migrated to the far northern climes of his forehead. As a result, he looked permanently, unequivocally amused.

After some hugs and hoots and hollers, I started enumerating Ronalds many character strengths. I went on and on and mom just nodded and laughed.

Then, I said, Plus hes ALWAYS happy! Can you imagine? How great would that be?

True, she countered. But we need to be sad sometimes.

I looked at her stunned. What a downer. But, my god, I thought. The woman is right.

Lets say Ronalds buddy Grimace finally lost a limb to gout. Hes laid up in the hospital trying to come to terms with this new development in his life. On the one hand, he hadnt seen his legs in years on account of being morbidly obese. On the other hand, it had to be a blow to his acting career. Sure, Jabba the Hutt was getting great work with this new Spielberg character. But Jabba had that supple Mediterranean skin tone.

Im purple, Ronnie! Grimace would yell tenderly at his old friend in the hospital. Im purple and my main talent is eating burgers, man! A walking hematoma with one trick and oh, criminy now one leg to match.

Ron would be dealing with his own demons, of course, since it was he who convinced Grimace to audition for the McDonalds gig years ago.

Look, I was born the shape of an inflamed nostril. I get it. I coped with that. When I grew into a six-foot nostril, I coped with that, too. But all of it together? Its too much, man. Too much. If H.R. Pufnstuf was still around, maybe maybe Id have some options.

What, exactly, does THIS say to the kids, RON? hed ask, pretending to knock on his phantom limb. Hey, have a burger, little buddy! But dont go ape shit like your Uncle Grimace and eat so many that you lose a leg! Ha ha ha ha ha HA!

Speaking of. Wheres Hamburglar? Dont tell me rehab again. And where is that nurse with my pain candy?! Am I a nobody already???!

Grimace would then try to wipe the tears from his terrycloth eyes, but his comically short arms would not be able to reach that far. Ron would have no other option than to sit bedside, listen to his old pal, and look highly amused.

So, yes, mom. I guess eternal happiness is not as cool as it sounds.

I can’t find the “Less” in the Middle of so much “More”.

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Ive not written much since I have been home from my Fulbright experience in Finland where I became the champion for the Finnish concept of Less is More.  The truth is I quickly realized that I couldnt make the Finnish less work in the middle of all of the American more. Within weeks of returning from Finland feeling fresh, rejuvenated and free of business, I found myself more committed, more scheduled, and more stressed than ever before.

I got completely sucked back into the outrageously busy lifestyle of the Typical American.  When I returned I was simply too occupied and drained mentally and emotionally to write.   I didnt have the time, energy or the stillness required to produce good and thoughtful writing.  The days of my peaceful and quite Finnish lifestyle full of self-reflection and introspection were over.  They were replaced with days of my to-go-coffee, 10-minute lunch breaks and penciled in meetings.

Forgetting everything I loved and observed in Finnish classrooms, I fell right back into the swing of the American teacher lifestyle.  Each day I have 192 students, 7 classes and high expectations and demands.  I became consumed once again. I was putting in 12-hour days filled with grading hundreds of tests and assignments.

I quickly realized that the Finnish mentality does not work in our American schools. I tried some Finnish classroom ideas on my students.  I tried to ease up on the homework assigned.   I tried to adopt the less is more concept to my teaching and my classroom, but it did not work.  Our Society has created a structure that is too integrated with our competitive culture for the Finnish mindset to be effective.  My 7th grade students didnt know how to adapt to a school mode based on less structure, less competitiveness and less formal accountability.

And if I am being honest, I didnt know how to adapt my teaching either.  It took me all of three hours back in the school setting to feel the weight of the substantial curriculum I was expected to cover in a year.  I forgot how much our 12-year-old students were required to learn in only a few short months.

I soon understood that a Finnish pace was not going to cut it in our results-centric culture.   If I want my students to succeed in our society I would have to pick up my pace.  I would have to do more, not less.  I am ashamed to admit how quickly I relapsed back into the nasty American obsession with testing and results.

At the end of the day, the heart of the American spirit is competition.  Those who succeed in this country have worked the hardest and have pushed themselves to their highest levels. They really have done more, not less.  As teachers we are expected to demand excellence from our students and push them to compete to become the best.  This mentality is non-existent in Finland but also impossible to remove from American education.

Our students are truly remarkable.  What we expect and demand from them really is too much.   They have 7 to 8 classes a day, homework, sports practice, violin lessons and are also expected to get straight As and maintain a normal social life.  These are impossible standards for most adults, let alone 12-year-old kids.

I often feel guilty about pushing them so hard. The new standards expect my 7th graders to think and reason like PHD students. I am expected, no demanded, to lead them in that thought process regardless if they are developmentally ready for such advanced level thinking. The standards seem impossibly high.

Yet I am reminded  daily that I preparing them for an American work force that demands and expects too much of them as well.  It is our culture.  It is our identity.  Heck, It is the American dream.  We taught to believe that if you work hard enough, and do and accomplish enough you will eventually rise to the top.   The top of what and for what nobody knows. But the top is the best. Right? Maybe Not.

But this mentality exists so permanently in our culture that trying to remove it completely from the classroom would do our students a disservice. If they are going to succeed in our society, they have to learn to cope in high stress situations.  They have to learn to aim high and work hard.

As Finland demonstrates, this ultra competitive results driven philosophy on education is not necessarily the best method. I really do believe in the Finnish mindset of Less is More. I stand by what I wrote last spring. The problem is that until we change the societal expectations and our broad education systems, this Finnish mentality will not work.   The state, nation and even the parents of my students demand I push students to reach their fullest potential. I am not a good teacher unless I get them to work hard and push them to be their best.

In the United states we do not teach to the middle (the universally achievable average) as Finland does.   Instead of teaching to the middle like Finland, our standards aim for the very top level of possible performance.  We put expectations that are so high that only a select few are capable of reaching.  The result is we have a group of truly elite scholars and a group of those left in the dark.   Education mirrors society and while we are very good at getting a big group of students ahead in life, we also leave behind those who cant cope with our demands and expectations.

I had huge hopes to remedy this sad truth.  But I failed miserably.  I tried to incorporate the Finnish mentality I had observed in Finland to my classroom.  However I, being American through and through, soon felt like I was failing my students. I had this overwhelming feeling that I was a bad teacher for not pushing and challenging them to think more critically, do more problem solving and cover more content and problems.  I really felt like I was not doing my job and that they were not learning enough. And so, like a fraud, before I knew it I had abandoned my mantra and dove headfirst back into the More is More mentality.

I simply dont know how to make the Finnish mentality work in the midst of our American system of high stake testing and competition.  And so I remained silent.  I stopped writing.

I have lost the Finnish Less in the middle of all of the American More.

I am not sure how to find the less here in the midst of the swamped, hectic demands of our society.  And in some ways I enjoy my teeming American More abuzz with excitement, engagements and achievements.  And at the same time, there are days I yearn for Finnish simplicity and quiet calm.

And so I am stuck here in the middle struggling between two conflicting philosophies.   I understand both sides of the road and I am confused on how to best navigate. I believe in everything I stated before, Finnish success really is based on the Less is More mentality.

I simply dont know how to function as a Finn here in my American classroom or in my American life.  It feels like a fight against a strong current.  Right now I dont have the answers, I really do feel quite stuck. In the mean time I will try to find a way to incorporate a little more less in this world of so much more.  Until then, I am here writing my thoughts and trying my best. Thank you for listening.

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Rainbow crochet blanket

All finished! I really enjoyed making this, the colours are lovely and its so relaxing not to have to read a pattern constantly. What do you think?

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Thanks again to The Patchwork Heart and The Felted Button for the inspiration!

From Under the Spotlight to Behind the Lens: Sabrina Sikora

Sabrina Sikora may be a name and face you are familiar with in our posts in our social media channels. She is a Hong Kong-based professional photographer, model and style blogger. We have invited her to help style our new winter collection. As someone who is so involved in the fashion industry, Sabrina is a great person to talk to. We have chatted with her recently, and let’s get to know more about her and her tips for winter outlook!

Why would you choose to be a model before?

After taking a fashion class at my local mall when I was 12 years old I decided I wanted to be a model. At the time I was 5’8” and a size 0. I sent photos to Elite and they turned me down saying I was too young. The next year I sent updated images and was turned down again this time for being too thin. At age 14, when I was 5’10” and a size 2, Elite signed me. I wanted the chance to see more than my hometown of Macon, GA and thankfully my walking hanger-like body allowed me to do just that.

DSC_5724.1What brought you to Hong Kong and why did you decide to stay here?

I was modeling in New York where I met a boy and fell in love. After a few years together, his job offered him an opportunity to relocate here and he asked if I would join him. Because I can do my job anywhere (and I wanted to be with him) I said yes! We still live in HK and are now married and have a son who is almost two.

What made you switch your career from modeling to photography?

Originally I had still planned to model full-time and shoot as a photographer part-time as I had done in New York. Once we relocated to HK and I took the break from modeling I found it really refreshing and loved the freedom of setting my own schedule and not having to watch everything I ate. I made the leap to full-time photography and set up my studio here in 2010. It was slow going at first, as my work is mainly word of mouth, but once I linked up with Sassy and started blogging and shooting for them things really took off. Now I shoot around four times a week from both my Chai Wan studio and on-location as well. I also maintain a studio in Georgia, where I am from, and return there several times a year to shoot and see family.

9Ov1aMOlmNEe5WnCiZDk_JQUcsgP8BYNxS03etmUjqsWhat is the most enjoyable about being a photographer?

Seeing the world as a photographer sees it is my favorite part. I don’t mean traveling around, though that is nice as well, but actually seeing the world in a different way. It’s the little things like looking at someone and noticing their angles and the way they laugh and brush their hair away from their face. It’s walking down the street and seeing the beauty in everyday objects or the way the light falls down an alley. It feels like people can be so busy that they miss all the small beautiful elements all around them happening at any given moment. It isn’t until you pick up a camera and start to look for the beautiful, the interesting things, that you see what is really all around you. Once you start to notice it you find it is hard to stop.

What is the most challenging part of being a photographer?

Time management for me is the trickiest part. I have to be very diligent about how I organize my schedule so as not to over load myself. It is tempting to say yes to every project, especially in a city like HK where there is so much activity and so many interesting endeavors. I have to leave time for editing and retouching. I also run my own blog www.TheFirstWife.com and contribute to Sassy Media Group so there are events to attend and articles to be written. And on top of all that I am a mom to a very active toddler, which is the most important, enjoyable, and stressful job of all.

156430_10150128364014991_1317879624_nYou’re a photographer, a blogger, and a mum at the same time. What are your tips to manage all these events, photo shoots, and your family life?

I find it so funny when people talk about work/life balance like there is some magic formula where it all works perfectly. The fact is no matter how much time you spend in any one area it is never enough and yet you always feel like you should be spending more time on it as well. I try to look at a week and balance that instead of balancing each day. I take my son to school on Mondays and Fridays and shoot Tuesday-Thursday. Mornings are spent at the computer so the afternoons can be spent at the turtle pond in Chai Wan Park or at the playground chasing my son around. Saturday night is date night with my husband and Sunday is family day so I won’t book any shoots for Sundays. The biggest thing for me is keeping my inbox clear and making sure every item, no matter how small makes it onto my iCal and Evernote which I can view from all of my devices so I make sure I never miss a thing.

What are your must-have items in your wardrobe this winter?

This year my wardrobe is very clean and simple. I like basic pieces that I can mix and match well. We usually travel for the holidays so I need pieces that work in multiple cities. Then I add some really show-stopping accessories and bright lipstick to make the look pop. I love the Marco Visconti cropped black pants and the gray sleeveless top with the oversize knot at the collar. Both pieces work for both day and night and are great for flights, family time, and shooting alike.

It’s impossible not to…

I need to write a post to stay in this very nice and mellow mood I find myself in. I dont want to break the spell by doing anything else. I want to stay behind the computer and ignore the world around me, even though theres nothing threatening about it. I just want to sit here and stay in this tiny place behind the keyboard and share my thoughts even if they dont amount to much at all.

Im having my inevitable cup of coffee to help sharpen my mind. I just need it to be slightly sharpened, it is okay if it stays just the slightest bit dull. I dont have to be real quick witted and fast on my feet. Im not going to engage in a battle of minds and come out the winner.

You could call what Ive had another splendid day, but it went by so fast and easily that I barely had time to look at it. I havent done anything special. On the contrary, I completely wasted the day on doing hardly anything at all. Im left with almost nothing to show for it.

I can tell you that it was Saturday and that it was my day off and that my main concern was getting a new supply of tobacco from the tobacco shop. I also bought a chocolate bar, like I almost always do, and it spoiled my appetite and I havent had dinner yet.

That was my bit of excitement for today. At least I had my few minutes of socializing. You do have to interact kindly in the shop. It helps if you are a steady customer and they know your name. It puts a smile on your face.You cant help yourself.

Another thing that puts a smile on my face are the antics of my dog. He keeps insisting on taking the potholders off their hook in the kitchen. He doesnt do anything with them but put them down in the living room with his other toys. I can hang them back up, but in the shortest amount of time he will have collected them again. Hes discovered that he can do this so now keeps doing it. Hes a funny one.

The cat isnt nearly as funny. Shes just endearing. She never does anything silly, but shes so sweet and cuddly that she doesnt have to. All she has to do is lie down on my lap and purr. Thats good enough. Shes so kind to the dog too and always comes and greets him even when she has just seen him.  I really think she adores him. Hes crazy about her and thinks shes there just for him to do with as he pleases. He does always let her know that hes boss in case she forgets. But shes an angel and tolerates anything.

My life wouldnt be nearly as interesting if I didnt have the animals. They do bring a bit of color to my daily life.

Ive got to eat dinner now. I am starting to get hungry. You cant live on a chocolate bar alone.

I hope you all have a good night.

Ciao,

Nora

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