How Your Zodiac Sign Gets It Wrong

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What’s Your Zodiac Sign?

The zodiac sign – how people label you even if they do not know a thing about you. It is a strange world we live in.

I was born on January 23 which makes me an Aquarius according to most zodiac calendars but sometimes a Capricorn. This gives me the wonderful opportunity of messing with people’s minds when they ask me about my sign.

According to tradition, as an Aquarius, I am at my best caring, creative, and trustworthy; at my worst rebellious and stubborn. I might even have a tendency toward an addictive personality.

I have to confess, my name is Tanya and I’m a tea-drinking chocoholic. 

If I were a Capricorn, on the other hand, I would be a dependable rule-follower who is patient and loyal but a little vain and suspicious of others.

Who am I really? If I were represented by both signs, I would be a rebellious rule-follower! What does that even mean?

Elements of the Zodiac

The twelve zodiac signs are grouped into four different elements – air, earth, fire, and water – which carry similar character traits. Interestingly, the water-bearing Aquarius is not a water sign at all. Like Gemini and Libra, it is an air sign, a social butterfly so to speak. People with these signs like to communicate and express ideas to others. They stand for fairness and justice. They seek balance and get upset when people try to mess with what they see as the proper balance of things.

Capricorn, like Taurus and Virgo, is an earth sign. Not surprisingly, these people are “down to earth” and grounded, people who understand the rules of the game and know how to get things done. They like to be acknowledged and rewarded for their contributions and, if left unchecked, may tend towards materialism as they gain possessions from their conquests.

Do I see myself in these descriptions? I am all of these things, none of these things, and more. I am more than the sum of their parts.

Famous Aquarians and Capricorns

If you were not reading an article about zodiac signs, you would be hard pressed to find the commonalities between Abraham Lincoln and Axl Rose, Ayn Rand and Oprah Winfrey, Galileo and Jackie Robinson. Surprise! They are all Aquarians.

Likewise, what do Marilyn Manson and Stephen Hawking have in common beyond being Capricorns? Al Capone and Martin Luther King Jr.? Benjamin Franklin and Howard Stern?

We think we know these people because of their celebrity status or historical contributions but what do we really know beyond their bylines? What do we really know about anyone? While I would love nothing more than to have a sit-down with Oprah Winfrey or Stephen Hawking to ponder the meaning of life, I have to ask myself why their opinions would matter to me. They must be more than their zodiac sign to have made impressions on me and the world.

Nature vs. Nurture

The zodiac signs are an interesting paradigm, and horoscopes can be fun to read. Who doesn’t like twisting a vague fortune around and making it fit into the specifics of their own day-to-day life?

Horoscope: You will be invited to an exciting event.

Anything from a playdate for toddlers to a football game for NFL fans can fit into that category depending on personal interests. How about the prom for a teenager or Netflix night for a movie buff? Exciting is relative.

Whatever zodiac sign we are born under, it is really nature and nurture that make us who we are. Our genes and the people we meet influence us more than any star in the sky. Does it matter more that I was born to two Leos or that I lived in a poor neighborhood and learned to make ends meet? How do you explain that my brother is also an Aquarius but we have completely different personality types and life paths? There is more to the equation.

Experiences shape our reality, teach us lessons, guide us in how we react to people and respond to challenges. That is real living. If you tend to have characteristics attributed to a zodiac sign, perhaps it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then again, we can see bits and pieces of ourselves in most any zodiac sign because these traits together are how we express our humanity.

Would I accept a dinner date with Oprah or Stephen Hawking? You bet! Not because we share like zodiac signs but because I can learn from their experiences just as they can learn from mine. My point is you do not need to be a world-renowned talk show host or a pioneering Ph.D. to influence others. Every life is valuable.

Maybe instead of asking “What’s your sign?”, you can ask “Who are you?” That makes for a much more interesting conversation.

Who Wins and Loses in Kids’ Sports?

Image: My little monkeys, my daughter Charlotte and my son Gilbert, goofing around after a baseball game. (Photo by Tanya Feke)

An Unlikely Soccer Mom

I didn’t really “do sports” as a kid. My parents did not know the difference between a basketball and a golf ball when I was growing up. They did know what legs were though, so I gave running a try. I ran one track meet in junior high where I started strong but ended my mile-long run second to last. Let’s say, the team did not invite me back to another track and field event.

(For the record, I got back to running in 2013 and have since run two half-marathons!)

My kids, however, are a whole other ball game — literally.

The absence of sports in my younger days makes it even more miraculous that I stand proud as a soccer mom today. Soccer, baseball, basketball. You name it, my kids play it. Sure, I am still learning the rules of the games myself but I knew them well enough to assistant coach my daughter’s softball team. It was a great season on the tee with a lot of cheering and high fives. Go, girls!

Outside of chauffeuring (and there is a lot of chauffeuring!), I have to admit being a soccer mom is pretty awesome. I enjoy watching my kids being active rather than sitting in front of a screen. I love to see them develop skills and strategies to improve their game. I appreciate how sports promote teamwork and build self-esteem. At least that is what I tell myself.

The Losers in Kids’ Sports

The truth is that I cannot control what my kids get out of their sports experience. This is because as hard as I promote the positive aspects of play, there will always be some other parent pushing their kid to win, win, win. My kids hear parents hollering from the sidelines all the time.

“C’mon, kid! Hit the ball already!”

“You can do better than that.”

“I can’t believe you missed that play!”

One time I even heard a man at a soccer tournament say, “Just knock him down. The ref won’t see.” I was flabberghasted.

Everyone wants their child to succeed, but there is a huge difference between promoting healthy competition and damaging a child’s self-esteem. While many parents think they are “encouraging” their own children to do better, in many cases they may actually be doing the opposite. What child wants to be criticized in front of their peers or to feel like they have let their family or team down? Worse, who wants it blasted over a proverbial megaphone?

The truth is that while aggressive sports parents have an effect on their own children, they impact the morale of the other players as well. When all players feel the pressure to win, it can take the fun out of the game. When did playing for the love of the game become such a sin?

The Winners in Kids’ Sports

I am not talking about competitive sports here. There are no scholarships on the line. A child’s future in sports isn’t at stake. These are kids 10 years old and younger. These kids are learning how to coordinate their bodies. They are learning how to play the game and all the rules that come with it. More than that, these kids are learning important life lessons — to respect each other’s differences, to work together as a team, and to problem solve together. Not all kids are going to be at the same level, even at the same age, but many parents push them as if they are. In a twisted way, many parents have become bullies.

Personally, I only want my kids to play a sport if they enjoy it, not because I have an agenda. Some parents are reliving their glory days through their kids. Others push their kids to succeed where they did not. Everyone needs to remember who is actually playing here.

I let my kids know winning is only part of the game, encouraging instead that they have fun each time they get out there. I pat them on the back for trying and I applaud their successes. When another parent is critical, I make a point to say something positive, to turn it around. This, of course, usually irritates the aggressive parent, but I believe kids need positive reinforcement whenever possible. It only gets harder for kids to play when they are down on themselves.

Maybe I would feel differently if I were a sports kid my whole life, but I don’t think so. Children get out of sports what they put into it, but their coaches and parents influence every aspect of the game. Unfortunately, many parents take their kids’ sports all too seriously and put unnecessary pressure on the game, PRESSURE in all CAPS.

How to Make It Better

I say, let kids be kids. Let them learn good sportsmanship and become kind people while laughing and playing to the best of their abilities. Some will be more able than others but if they at least try at this stage, that should be good enough. Teach and encourage but don’t pressure.

If you see me on the sidelines, I’ll be rooting for my kids and yours too. Play ball!

A World Without Complaints

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Why Do We Like to Complain?

We want to be happy. We want to enjoy life. So why do we complain so much?

No one wants to feel that down in the mouth feeling they get when they find themselves in a sour mood. The muscles tighten up. The jaw clenches. The heart may even race. It is like carrying a large weight on our shoulders, only the weight is too often built on misconceptions and failed expectations.

The problem is we live in a society that thrives on complaining in some shape or form. Watching the nightly news alone is sure to bring out all sorts of bad feelings in people. The top stories usually emphasize abuse, crime, and tragedy. Don’t even get me started on politics. Oops, did I just complain about politics?

Headlines get more clicks and reads when they trigger an emotional response, and in a capitalist society, more clicks mean more money. Unfortunately, studies have shown time and again that humans tend towards a negativity bias. This leads us to have a stronger reaction to negative rather than positive information. This may have been helpful in the cave man days, to promote survival of the fittest, but in modern day society, it is keeping our spirits down.

In his book A Complaint Free World, Will Bowen writes that “complaining never attracts what you want; it perpetuates what you don’t want” and “we can’t complain about what we have and be grateful at the same time.” Simply put, when we don’t complain, we feel better about the world around us. Why? Because we will focus more on the positive aspects of our lives.

What Is a Complaint?

The biggest challenge is recognizing what constitutes a complaint in the first place. To be simplistic, a complaint is an expression of a negative idea about a person, place or thing. Someone who talks about things they dislike is obviously complaining but other complaints may not be so easy to figure out. Not everything has to be spoken out loud to be a complaint and not every “no” is inherently bad.

Body Language: Body language sets the tone for a conversation. Someone with crossed arms may seem tense. Someone with limited eye contact may seem uninterested. People can maintain any number of postures while holding a perfectly normal conversation but is their body language saying something else?

Disposition: Not everyone has a personality sprinkled with glitter and rainbows. For example, some folks are naturally sarcastic and delight in their acerbic remarks. In many cases, they are simply trying to be funny, but in others, their comments may be a (sub)conscious way to complain. This could apply to any number of personality types.

News and Gossip: Sharing information is important and reporting on facts more so. It is how we learn, adapt, and grow. How we choose to share that news, however, is the real issue. There is a turning point when information becomes sensationalized or is twisted into gossip that criticizes others.

Saying No: In a world that constantly wants you to say yes, is saying no wrong? “Sure, kids, eat all the candy you want!” or “Yes, boss, I would love to take on all that extra work for less pay.” Some things simply are not in our best interest and saying yes can lead to unwanted consequences. Despite what people tell us, yes is not always positive.

Your Inner Voice: If we do not share our negative thoughts out loud, are we still complaining? It is like the tree that falls in the forest. Of course, it makes a sound when it falls, even if we do not hear it. The vibrations the tree triggers in its wake are very real. Likewise, if we think negative thoughts and keep them to yourself, it will echo in our mannerisms and behavior in time. The question is when.

Complaints are not always black and white. Someone may not realize they are complaining, so accustomed they are to a negative way of thinking. At the other end of the spectrum, others may not be complaining at all but we interpret it that way. This is our own negativity bias sneaking in.

That person with crossed arms may simply be cold. The sarcastic guy may have been delivering his best joke. The boss may have been paying you a compliment or offering you up for a future promotion. The trouble is we too often take things out of context. Sometimes how we react is what colors a situation, not the situation itself.

Flipping Our Complaints

Turning off our negativity bias is not easy. The world can be a pretty negative place or so the media keeps telling us. That said, we can try to make our part of the world a better place by being aware that the bias exists.

We can try to find the best in a situation, or at least a spark of hope. We can try to focus on things that make us happy. We can be grateful for the things we have. We can forgive. We can meditate. We can dream. We can do these things one day at a time and build a positivity bias to fight those darker tendencies.

While not every situation has an obvious silver lining, we can try to flip negative news into positive news. We need to try to flip our complaints without flipping the bird. Only then can we dare to imagine a complaint-free world. Will you join me?

Saying Goodbye to a Family Pet

Image: Our miniature dachshund Francie in younger days, circa 2005. (Photo by Tanya Feke)

Four-Legged Friends

Humans and pets go together like peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, ketchup and hot dogs. They compliment each other in a way that brings out the flavor in life.

Speaking of hot dogs, I have a special one of my own. The four-legged member of my family is a not so miniature dachshund. My chubby little friend is blessed with obsessive compulsive tendencies and enjoys barking maniacally at passersby while the hair on her back springs to attention like a cat. She yips like a fox, jumps like a rabbit, and snores like a bear. Apparently, she is the midst of an animal identity crisis!

Francie (short for frankfurter!) is getting up there in years, thirteen in September, and her curmudgeonly ways are perfectly accented by the white hair peppering her snout and cataracts dulling her eyes. She drives me absolutely crazy most of the time but then she cuddles and looks up at me with those puppy dog eyes. I cannot help but love her. She is family.

An Unusual Family Pet

Most people feel similar affection towards their family pets, whether they have four legs or not.

I have had an aquarium for as long as I can remember. There is something soothing about the flow of water and the graceful quality of fish gliding through the crystal clear stream. We even had an unusual family pet in our aquarium, not that Francie isn’t unusual in her own way.

When we ran across Mr. Eel at a pet shop, I had my doubts. This was an odd fish and my ability to keep him alive longer than a week was questionable. It would not be for lack of trying. My aquarium had been having hard water issues and acid-base problems. By a miracle, he survived and lived for two glorious years.

Dunkin Donuts Is Heaven

My heart sank when I saw Mr. Eel at the bottom of the tank. Stillness from the long sinewy creature was a tell tale sign that I needed to talk to my kids. As luck would have it,  I had a discussion with my 5-year-old daughter about death only a week before.

“What does it mean when someone dies, mommy?”

“It means that they do not live on Earth anymore, honey.”

“Can they come back to Earth when they want to?”

“No, they cannot come back but they go to a wonderful place. When they go away, it can make their friends and family sad. People might miss them.”

“Do they go to heaven?” she asked me with wide eyes.

“Many people believe they go to heaven, yes.”

“Where is heaven, mommy?”

“Some people think heaven is a place, like a palace up in the clouds, but I believe heaven is everywhere around us.”

“I thought so. Dunkin Donuts is everywhere so it must be heaven.”

Spoken like a true New Englander, my daughter delivered a line that would be remembered for years to come but did she understand what it all meant?

Saying Goodbye to a Family Pet

Many people have suffered the loss of their four-legged friends but not everyone can say their hearts broke over an eel. I took my daughter and 10-year-old son into our living room and sat them down, my own heart pounding with the bad news I had to share.

“I am so sorry but Mr. Eel is not with us anymore.”

“You gave him away?” from the mouth of my little one.

“No, honey. Remember what we talked about the other day?” She nodded. “Mr. Eel lived a long life for an eel. I am sad to say he died today.”

Tears pooled in my son’s eyes though he kept them in check. Mr. Eel was his buddy. Not only did he discover him at the pet store, my son fed him frozen shrimp every day for two years and reveled when he swam to the top of the tank to dine. It was their daily moment of connection.

My daughter stormed over to the aquarium and pointed accusingly. “That makes no sense because I can see him! Mr. Eel is right there!”

I followed close behind and put my arms around her. “His body is still here, honey, but his spirit is gone. Your spirit is what makes you alive. His spirit went to heaven.”

My daughter’s response was delayed but five minutes later, the realization struck. Torrents of tears poured down her face. My older son stepped out of the room but sought me out later for hugs.

Love Makes Us Stronger

I could have sugar coated Mr. Eel’s passing (or replaced him with another eel) but my children deserved the truth. We had a short ceremony for Mr. Eel, a quick goodbye before we sent his body to meet other fish in the sea. As much as I was sad for my children, I was also proud of them. I was proud to have raised two beautiful people who cared, who appreciated life, who could be touched by simple things.

We live in a hard world. Love doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong. It makes you resilient. It adds meaning and color. It may be harder to say goodbye to a family pet you can hug and hold, that you run around and play with, but love is love.

A time will come when I will have to say goodbye to other family pets, a time I will have to comfort my children about the loss of not only animals but people. That day is not today. Today I will appreciate my time with each and everyone that crosses my path. That includes you, Francie!

A Walk in the Rain

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Do the Unexpected

It rained in New York City today. It didn’t start out that way. The morning teased a day of warmth with streaks of sun peering through a few scattered clouds. By midday, the sun had been pushed out of view and those clouds released a torrent of rain.

I could have let the weather put a literal damper on my day in the city but I said no. My days of letting the outside world affect my inside world were behind me. Instead, I chose to do what any self-respecting person would do. I took a five-mile walk in the rain.

It was not as if the rain was going to hurt anyone. The water drops, as fat as they were, were not going to burn my skin. They sure weren’t going to melt me into a puddle in the merry old land of Oz. They weren’t even going to make me “catch pneumonia”, as any good doctor knew.

Free time in my schedule had been gifted to me in a new and exciting place. Unable to pass up an opportunity like that, I hit the pavement and took a walk in the rain.

See the People Around You

My walking route wove through Times Square to Central Park and back again, then past on to Penn Station. The contrast of city life brought a smile to my face. Horses neighed in front of old-timey carriages while taxis zoomed by on busy streets. What affected me most though were the people.

I saw people rushing to get to their destinations. Some simply walked fast while others forcibly pushed through the crowds. A woman nearly knocked me to the ground. Another almost poked me as she rushed past with an umbrella, a metal spoke threatening me at eye level. One unfortunate guy slipped on a metal grate and nearly fell to the ground. People were so focused on where they were going they lost sight of what they were doing.

I saw people driven by the capitalist spirit. Vendors flooded the streets at a moment’s notice to sell umbrellas for $5 and $10 a pop. They are not the kind to miss out on a chance to make more of and for themselves.

I saw people handing out fliers and pamphlets. A few were aggressive to the point of forcing papers into clenched fists. This led to many people walking with downcast eyes and a hastening of footsteps. The audacity of some people led to the withdrawal of others.

I saw people sleeping under awnings and in doorways. How sad the homeless have to adapt to these conditions and worse how many walkers seemed to look right through them. My heart tripped when I saw that these poor souls stayed in dark corners, hiding as if their lives were not as important somehow.

I saw people flagging taxis and getting angry when one wouldn’t stop. I saw people jaywalking to get where they were going faster. I saw people with frowns and creases in their foreheads. Rainy weather does not exactly bring out the best in people.

Unless you look for it.

Find the Good in People

The woman who nearly knocked me over, she said she was sorry. I said thank you.

The guy who slipped on the metal grate, several people stepped forward to make sure he was okay. I was one of them.

Several people stopped to give a homeless person their spare change and more. I did too.

I saw people wearing ponchos and raincoats like good Girl and Boy Scouts. They were the type of people who came prepared for anything. I was not one of them but I appreciated their resilience. My backpack and sweater are still drying out.

I saw people working through the rain as if the sun kept on shining. Police officers directed traffic and construction workers jackhammered holes into the ground. These people were dedicated and would not let go of their responsibilities.

I saw people laughing and smiling. There were families oohing and aahing under the bright lights and signs. Cameras flashed for selfies despite rain drops on cell phones. Couples held hands and snuggled as if they starred in the grandest rom-com of all time. There was a true happiness in their step.

A walk in the rain can teach you a lot about people but even more about yourself. Maybe dreary weather brings out the baser instincts in people but I do not think so. I found myself to be observant, to appreciate what was happening around me, to feel a connectedness with people even when the world was racing around me at big-city pace.

I believe we see what we want to see and I choose to see the good. Maybe you will find yourself walking in the rain one day and join me.