SHIFT Magazine: Fighting Adversity with Faith

December 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

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By Katie Simon
katies@smu.edu

Cindy stands with her son, William, at his school. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CINDY BRINKER SIMMONS).

It is 1:30 on a sunny Friday afternoon, and Cindy Brinker Simmons is bounding through her kitchen, making sure everything is in order before she meets her son at school. “My son William has his football tournament away, and I didn’t know I was going until yesterday!” she exclaims. She walks towards an area of her kitchen that looks like a page straight out of a spring edition of Southern Living. Looking out the window at her enormous, sun-bathed back yard, she takes a seat in a plush yellow armchair and says, “You know, I am so happy it’s Friday. What a great day.”

Most people who meet Simmons are instantly captivated by this bubbliness. “It’s like she has Starbucks in her blood! Seriously!” says her friend Mary Dowling. A lady who acts much younger than her 53 years with short, reddish brown hair and a smile that could convince anybody that she’s never had a bad day in her life, Simmons is a woman of joy. A woman of faith. A woman of perseverance. A woman of deep, irreplaceable loss.

When Simmons was just 12 years old, her mother died. Fifteen years after marrying her husband, Bob Simmons, she lost him as well. But she isn’t a woman hiding behind the façade of happiness. She isn’t even pretending. Through every step of grieving, she has turned to her deep Christian faith to find joy. Rather than insulating, Simmons has dedicated her life to fighting cancer, the disease that prematurely took the lives of the two people she most loved.

Childhood without Mom

Simmons is the daughter of the well-known restaurateur Norman Brinker and Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly Brinker, a three-time Wimbledon winner. And she loved her mother. She adored her.

When she was 10, childhood came to a standstill. Her mother was training juniors—girls who had promising careers in tennis—at her home. One day, Simmons recalled, the girls abruptly packed their things to go back home. Simmons knew something was off. “I didn’t really know that she was sick,” Simmons says. “I had dreams that she was dying, and I would go to her and say, ‘Mommy, are you gonna die?’ Because I just had these dreams. And she said, ‘Honey, I don’t plan to.’”

Two years later, she sat at her mother’s funeral. As she was sitting on the pew, she imagined her family as a giant jigsaw puzzle consisting of thousands of pieces. “I saw this puzzle being thrown haphazardly to the wind and all these pieces came apart and were dispersed everywhere,” she says as she throws her arms out in a circular motion. “And I realized it was our job to put that puzzle back together again. First of all find the pieces, and then to re-assemble it.”

She threw herself into tennis and her studies. She practiced tennis every day, all day. She became number one in Texas and one of the top juniors in the country.
She was angry. God hated her, she thought. She was the only child she knew who didn’t have a mother. “Cancer is limited. It can’t silence courage, it can’t erode friendships and love, it can’t quench the spirit. But what can happen is bitterness and anger creeps in. And that can destroy you,” she says. “Because bitterness and anger is like a cancer. It’s like a cancer in that it seeks to destroy.”

But something clicked during this period of bitterness and grieving. She became a Christian,. She decided then to devote her life to giving to society and sharing her experiences in an uplifting way. In 2001, after 19 years of planning, her first book, “Little Mo’s Legacy: A Mother’s Lessons,” was published. In it, she shares the lessons her mother taught her about life and death. “It really explains that you can’t control your circumstances,” she says.

The birth of Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer

After graduating from the University of Virginia in 1979 with a degree in public relations, she was hired at Willowbend Polo and Hunt Club as the public relations and special events manager. Her first year at Willowbend, she and members put together a fundraising event called A Weekend at Willowbend to Wipe Out Cancer, which raised $6000 for the Collin County Cancer Society. Eventually, she opened the events up to the public, and with the help of a few friends who shared her vision, she created Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer (WOKC), an organization dedicated to raising funds for pediatric cancer research. Since its origination in 1980, WOKC has raised over $3 million through annual programs and events, including a 5k run, a golf tournament, and a bowl-a-thon. When WOKC was created, children were surviving cancer at a rate under 50 percent, but because of extensive pediatric research, survival rates are now at 86 to 90 percent. “That’s the whipped cream on top, those successes,” says her long-time friend and colleague Betty Lovell.

Lovell, who met Simmons while volunteering at Children’s, has watched Simmons interact with cancer patients’ families. “She doesn’t focus on her own grieving and tragedy, but helps other people get through theirs. She does it with great grace,” Lovell says. “I think having gone through loss like she has, she has so much more empathy for other people because she’s lived it.

Bob Simmons

“Oh, he was so cute,” she says as she tosses her hand in the air. “But when we met, we were just best friends. Big brother, little sister.”

She yawns.

“Excuse me! You know what, I’m going to get a Diet Dr. Pepper. That just sounds so good right now. A little caffeine.” She scurries over to her mini fridge and pulls out two cans. “It is a beautiful day!” she chirps as she sits back down and pops open the tab on her soda. “So Bob and I were best friends…” she continues.

One day, he surprised her. He asked her to meet him for breakfast, but this was nothing new to Simmons. She rolled out of bed, brushed her hair, and skipped the makeup. At breakfast, she ordered prunes. “Cindy,” he said quietly. “I’ve been all over the world. I’ve met all kinds of people, all kinds of ladies. And, the person I want to spend the rest of my life with…is you.” She giggles. “All I could think was, ‘What do I do with this prune in my mouth?’” Six months later, they were married. In 1995, William was born. And, several years later, Bob was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. Knowing what she went through when her mother had cancer, she did her best to make sure their son, who was only six at the time of diagnosis, wasn’t left in the dark. “With her mother, it was kind of a tremendous illness and a lot of pain,” Paula Strasser, a close friend and board member for WOKC, says. “With William, they were very upfront from day one. He was a part of it so he could see the reality, so he’d be prepared.”

Bob lived three more years. Those were the best three years of their marriage. But like the death of her mother, Bob’s death merely reinforced her personal crusade against the disease. “Her biggest message, to me, has been it’s not really what happens to you, it’s how you respond to it,” Lovell says.

Life’s Lessons

Simmons is on a personal leave from her job as president of her PR firm, Levenson Brinker, to write her second book. While she still retains her position, she will be working from home. The book, she explains, is a personal calling to share with people that they can still have hope, even when adversity comes unexpectedly.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” she says. “We’re all going to be thrown curveballs. Very few people, at the end of their life, could honestly say, ‘My life did exactly what I expected it to do.’”

SHIFT Magazine: The King of Snowballs

October 5, 2010 by · Comments Off 

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Rubio's fresh mango and papaya snowball, made from real fruit and covered in sweet cream topping. (PHOTO BY KATIE SIMON / SHIFT MAGAZINE)


By Katie Simon
katies@smu.edu

In the far corner of a well-hidden Doc’s Food convenience store, George Rubio is busy dissecting the machine that keeps his business running. With one hand on a metal plate and the other on a blade, he meticulously attempts to re-attach the pieces.

A drowsy-looking police officer enters the store, strides past the Doc’s employees, and approaches Rubio.

“I’m sorry, we’re closed right now,” he tells her, even though it’s half-past noon, the business’s opening time. She nods, turns around, and walks out of the store while Rubio continues assembling.

“So what happened to it?” Diana Farias, his employee, asks him.

“Oh, I think the same thing happened as last time,” he responds.

“That little part came off?”

“Yeah, I think so. It just wasn’t tight enough or something.”

After putting the piece back in, the two place the machine back on the wall. Farias opens the hatch, inserts a huge block of ice, cranks the gear, and holds her palms out as soft shaved ice spews out of the snowball-making machine.

This is Rubio’s life for the moment. He spends early mornings and late evenings making homemade syrups out of cane sugar and artificial flavors (and real fruit juice in his natural flavors) for his shaved ice business, Snowballs.

But making snowballs—the Louisianan name for shaved ice, which should not be confused with crushed ice snow cones—was not Rubio’s dream job. Although he had originally planned for it to be temporary, success quickly pounced on the business.

Before he graduated from University of Texas at Austin with a law degree, Rubio had never tasted a snowball in his life.

“I always thought snow cones were just nasty little crunchy ice things. I never would have gone for one,” he says.

After he visited a stand in a small Texas town, all of that changed. The Louisiana native working there had been making the treats for four generations and convinced Rubio he could actually earn some money in such a business. Six years later, Rubio is considered one of the best snowball makers in Dallas, and is the only one who makes his ingredients from scratch.

With only two low-key locations, one in Doc’s Food on Meadow Road and the other in a Carnival grocery store off of Webb Chapel Road, Rubio credits his success to word of mouth from loyal customers.

“I remember I had a Highland Park customer. And then all of a sudden…she brought three friends, and then like a week later, it was just crazy.”

Every day, customers pour in by the dozens to try one of his homemade flavors. Some unusual flavors, such as “diablitos”—made out of fresh lime, cucumber and sugar—are the result of Rubio and Farias experimenting with their syrups.

“That’s how most of them end up coming out anyways,” Farias explains. “We’ll be like, ‘Hey, that looks pretty good together!’ ‘Oh yeah, let’s try it!’”

And while gummy bears may be popular elsewhere, Rubio offers a number of exotic toppings, including chili powder, sweet cream, fresh fruit, and chamoy—a blended liquid made of salt, chili powder, sugar and fruit.

As Farias tests the ice, a sweaty mother in her gym garb idles near the counter, waiting for the duo to kick into full gear.

“A medium papaya and mango with sweet cream?” Rubio asks the lady as Farias grabs for a Styrofoam cup.

“You know me,” she replies.

Inside the Mind of an Unfaithful Partner

May 11, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Katie Simon
katies@smu.edu

What could a famous golfer, a motorcycle show host and a politician possibly have in common?

Well, they all seem to have each come down with the cheat-on-your-wife bug. Tiger Woods, Jesse James and John Edwards have all suffered from the wandering eye, which begs the question—are high profile people more likely to cheat than the average American?

While many might argue “yes”, especially since infamous cheaters such as Bill Clinton and David Letterman have always been around, what is seldom taken into account is the fact that their fame also leaves them more exposed than the average American. In the end, researchers and psychologists say cheaters are cheaters, famous or not.

“If we really compared the data from celebrities and non-famous people, they might not be that different,” said Dr. Margaret Pinder, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It’s just that non-famous people don’t have others constantly checking up on them.”

The average American cheater, according to Dr. Pinder and Dr. Brian Gladue, the psychobiology director for the Office of Protection of Human Subjects at University of North Texas, goes astray for a number of reasons.

Some people like to take risks and see how far they can push the boundaries, so the reasons aren’t necessarily emotional. But for others, the reasons are completely emotion-based. Some partners feel that their relationship isn’t fulfilling a certain desire, while others are unhappy with themselves and seek another partner to find security.

Others, explains Dr. Pinder, are simply immature.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with their partner,” Dr. Pinder said. “It usually means there is something wrong with connecting with yourself.”

Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us!

Dr. Pinder said that people too often forget that celebrities are human too. The only difference between the average person and the person in the spotlight, she explains, is their level of public exposure.

“High profile politicians, athletes and celebrities get caught and make the news because they are high profile,” Dr. Gladue said. “Nobody would care about your average golfer cheating on his wife, because who cares about some guy at the local country club?”

That isn’t to say, though, that celebrities don’t have a higher level of temptation. With fame and success comes more access to more people.

Dr. Pinder explains that famous people are more exposed to elements in their lives that may make some of them more likely to cheat.

“Sex, money and power are very related,” Dr. Pinder said. “So when one is caught up in money and power and celebrity status, there is just a whole energy around passion and they will always be surrounded by people who want a piece of them.”

In a recent survey of 17 students, eight believed celebrities cheat because they need constant excitement to feed their already busy lifestyles.

Another eight students, however, answered that people make a big deal out of celebrity cheating scandals simply because they are famous—not because they are more likely to cheat.

“You can’t just generally expect them to be morally depraved and promiscuous,” said Rusty Haake, a senior mechanical engineering and math double major at SMU. “But you can’t be surprised when it turns out that way, either.”

So if the difference between a celebrity and an average American is the television screen and the tabloids, then what causes people to turn to infidelity?

Risk Takers

For some people, cheating may not be caused by something unfulfilled emotionally. Rather, cheating may be just another risk taken to get a thrill.

Dr. Gladue explains that every person has a biological set point for how much stimuli and sensation gets him or her excited.

“The way we approach the world is organized a little differently for everybody in terms of how their brain functions,” Dr. Gladue said. “Some people like to go all in during a poker game. For others, it’s simply reading a book cover to cover.”

While some people are really high on the risk-taking scale, others are naturally lower.

And, while not all risk-takers necessarily cheat, they do have a higher genetic predisposition to be more likely to do so.

“It’s pretty basic,” Dr. Gladue said. “People who are risk-takers will manage their risk a little differently than people who are cautious. They may be more prone to cheat, gamble or drive at high speeds. People who are very cautious, careful and methodical are less likely.”

Dr. Pinder believes that risk-takers like the thrill of having an intimate relationship with someone else because they aren’t forced to share every detail of their personal lives with them.

“Sometimes there’s just the fun and attraction,” Dr. Pinder said. “They don’t know your secrets and you don’t know theirs.”

So even though some risk-takers may be in a happy relationship, they may simply not be getting enough stimuli from that relationship. Therefore, they turn to cheating to get their excitement.

“I imagine lots of people do it because they think they won’t get caught and it satisfies an immediate need or curiosity,” Haake said.

But for those who are seeking a particular need, the reasons for cheating may be more emotion-based on reasons rather than mere curiosity.

Unmatched Lovemaps

One of the most common reasons for cheating is because one partner is not fulfilling something for the other, so the other partner looks for that need elsewhere.

And, while somebody who is more risk-oriented is probably more inclined to actually take action and seek that need while still in their relationship, many people who normally don’t take risks can find themselves in a situation that leads to cheating as well.

“People who would never dream of cheating find themselves having an affair,” explained Dr. Pinder. “And they don’t understand how they ended up in such a mess.”

“Sometimes you’re just so comfortable in the relationship that you don’t want to end it. Your relationship is going well and everything, but you’re just unhappy, and infidelity is a way to make yourself feel better,” said SMU sophomore Marguerite Kleinheinz.

Even if only one area of a relationship is unfulfilled, it can still serve as enough to lead a person to cheat.

Dr. Gladue said that everybody has what is called a “love map.”

“It is the core concept of what turns them on, what they like in a person—whether a sex partner or a romantic partner,” Dr. Gladue said. “What they see is what they need fulfilled.”

And when somebody is mismatched with the wrong person, he said it can almost be guaranteed that the relationship won’t last. For some though, the relationship continues, but the loyalty does not.

“Breaking up is hard, and getting what you need physically or emotionally, which tends to lead to physically, from someone else in this environment is often easier to do,” Haake said.

In celebrity cases such as Sandra Bullock and Jesse James, Dr. Gladue says that it is very likely that Jesse was intrigued by Sandra, but that his core “love map” fit better with somebody else.

When an element of the lovemap is missing, many people actively look to find that missing element while still in their relationships.

Insecurity and Immaturity

Most people hate to hear, “It isn’t you, it’s me.” But with cheating, sometimes this line speaks the truth. People who often feel hopeless, depressed or insecure, she said, are often much more vulnerable.

Sometimes, Dr. Pinder explains, the desire to cheat stems from simple immaturity.

“If someone really hasn’t done their development work and they think ‘me first’ or ‘more pleasure,’ they don’t really have critical thinking skills,” Dr. Pinder said. “As people increase their critical thinking skills, they improve their ethical decisions.”

Multicultural Greek Council Teaches Students to Make Sushi

April 30, 2010 by · Comments Off 

SMU sophomores Karen Rico and Alberto Bruno make sushi at the Muticultural Greek Council\\\'s sushi-making class in the Varsity at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center on Thursday, April 29. (PHOTO BY KATIE SIMON/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

SMU sophomores Karen Rico and Alberto Bruno make sushi at the Muticultural Greek Council\\\'s sushi-making class in the Varsity at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center on Thursday, April 29. (PHOTO BY KATIE SIMON/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

By Katie Simon
katies@smu.edu

Something smelled fishy inside the Varsity in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center on Thursday night. And it was, in fact, raw fish.

SMU’s Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) held a sushi-making class as part of a series of events held by CelebrASIAN: Asian American Heritage Month celebration.

Members of both the Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority and the Omega Delta Phi fraternity teamed up with SMU’s Asian Council to put on the event with sushi ingredients provided by Mr. Sushi restaurant in North Dallas.

“Multicultural Greek Council likes to be involved with cultural activities—it’s one of our pillars,” said Jasmine Khaleel, an SMU junior and member of the Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority.

Khaleel said that their involvement with the sushi-making night was a contribution to the Asian Council.

The event was one of several social activities that the MGC puts on every semester, explained junior Ricardo Tovar, a member of the Omega Delta Phi fraternity.

“All of the greeks and non-greeks come out and just have a great time with us,” Tovar said.

While many of the students who showed up planned to celebrate Asian Heritage month, others were more interested in the free food.

“I’ve never tried sushi before,” Sigma Lambda Gamma freshman Ruby Sanchez said. “I figure this would be a good experience.”

The night began with live entertainment hosted by a Japanese drum band concert outside of Hughes-Trigg. Hungry students then made their way downstairs to find a completely transformed Varsity.

Tables were lined up with plates of cucumber, avocado, and seaweed. Pounds of raw tuna and lump crabmeat sat in tubs at the center of every table. A chef stood at each row of tables, sifting through the fish and preparing row after row of carefully handcrafted spicy tuna rolls.

Once the crowd of students had gathered in the Varsity, SMU senior and catering assistant Nick Reynolds carefully explained, step-by-step, the process of making the perfect California roll.

Each student was provided nori (roasted seaweed), a ball of rice, avocado slices, cucumber slivers, a lump of crabmeat, and a wooden roll-up mat to shape the sushi rolls.

Reynolds, who works at Mr. Sushi, explained that they were only making the sushi-making process seem easy.

“It is actually surprisingly easy to break sushi, especially the harder stuff,” he said. “It’s not just the one roll. When you do it, you do it over and over again and you have to make it perfect.”

While the perfect California roll may not have been achieved, the night ended with soy sauce spilled across the tables, sticky rice scattered across the floor, and new knowledge on how to make a sushi dinner for a group of closest friends who don’t judge the appearance of a roll.