anne_mikolay_120Before the ball drops and ushers in another year, it's important to review lessons learned during the previous twelve months. Thanks to Atlantic Highlands Herald readers, I have gained new insight into the personal experiences and opinions that form the basis of The Armchair Critic ever week.

For example, in my November 1st column, “Gimme My Mom Jeans,” I explained mom jeans “are worn by sensible women who value function (and breathing) over high style, women who want to enjoy their food without popping a zipper, women who shop sans stilettos, and women who laugh at impractical clothing, like neon green, skin hugging shorts modeled on Heidi Klum's Project Runway. Mom jeans are real jeans for real people.” Shortly there-after, a twenty-three year old reader, Melissa, sent me an email letting me know that older women are not the only ones “the fashion world zings for this supposed faux pas.” Melissa, who admittedly “proudly rocks” her mom jeans at times, taught me that not all young people are slaves to fashion trends. Some, like Melissa, are sensible, comfortable, and expressive. (I wish I had thought of Melissa's words, “zings” and “proudly rocks,” when I wrote that column!)

Melissa also showed me that the female experience is universal, as did Misty, who responded to my column, “Muriel's Kindness.” Misty's reaction to her father selling her childhood home was as emotional as my own reaction when my father did the same many years ago. We human beings tend to think of our pain as highly personal and individual; I was admittedly surprised by Misty's similar experience and grateful to learn  there was another daughter out there who understood how difficult it is to let go of a childhood treasure. I was moved by Misty's email.

Not all readers share my opinions.

One reader, Robert, took issue with my critique of Animal Planet's series, “Hillbilly Handfishin.” My explanation of “Hillbilly Handfishin” (“A group of hillbillies accompany thrill seeking tourists into the muddy waters of Oklahoma and instruct them on the fine art of noodling, or grappling, better known as handfishing. Using their bare hands and feet, these self-proclaimed hillbillies dig into the holes deep beneath the water to snare catfish.”) did not sit well with Robert. While Robert gave me a bit of a slap on the wrist for my somewhat sarcastic column (“Maybe you should give in and try something new,” he wrote), he also granted me a new appreciation of the program. Robert explained the purpose of “Hillbilly Handfishin”: “All this show is doing is bringing people from different backgrounds together to have a good time. Embrace life and try new things. There's more to life than fancy restaurants and Escalades.” Robert has the right attitude, though I must clarify: I prefer diners to fancy restaurants and have never ridden in an Escalade.

A fun exchange with readers followed my “Dark Shadows, the Movie” column. While reader Norene agreed with my assessment of Johnny Depp as a gifted actor but not quite right to fill Barnabas Collins' shoes, reader Michael disagreed and politely pointed out that I may be stuck in the past. My column lamented the absence of the Barnabas/Angelique/Josette triangle in the upcoming film and stated that Michele Pfeiffer is too young to portray matriarch Elizabeth Stoddard. Michael correctly pointed out that Ms. Pfeiffer is only three years younger than Joan Bennett when she assumed the same role in the popular 1960s television series. Norene and Michael are clear examples of the differing reception the Dark Shadows movie will receive when it is released on May 11, 2012.

Readers like Eva from Nokesville, Virginia, and The Reverend Canon James D. Von Dreele, Executive Director Seamen's Church Institute of Philadelphia and South Jersey, prove that words on the internet travel much farther than anticipated. Eva, a teacher in a Nokesville High School, read my article on Mighty Max Low and encouraged her students to send Christmas cards to Max. “There is much more to teach our youngsters,” Eva emailed. “Other than Math, Science, Spanish...” Now there's a true teacher!

Eva is absolutely right; there is much more to learn in life, as The Reverend Canon James D. Von Dreele and reader Pamela pointed out to me in response to my column “An Episcopal Double Standard” in which I questioned why the Episcopal Church denied former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey admittance while accepting Father Alberto Cutie, the former Catholic priest in Miami who admitted to an ongoing affair with a woman. Pamela explained the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church is “profoundly different from the structure of the Roman Catholic Church” (Dioceses within the Episcopal Church operate separately, unlike those within the Catholic Church) and thus can't be accused of double standards. The Reverend explained the Episcopal Church's “thorough and thoughtful” screening process of candidates for ordination, for which I am grateful. I was definitely wrong in my assessment of the McGreevey/Cutie situation and corrected myself immediately.

As a new year approaches, it is important to review the one gone by and learn as much as possible from it. To Melissa, Misty, Robert, Norene, Michael, Eva, Pamela and The Reverend Canon James D. Von Dreele, thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Your emails were very much appreciated, and I definitely learned from each one. To all Atlantic Highlands Herald readers, thank you...and Happy, Blessed New Year. See you in 2012!