Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Some of What I Learned in 2010 (So Far)

That no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to be in more than one place at a time.

That no matter how careful you are, there will always be someone who takes what you say or do the wrong way.

That expecting life to make sense makes no sense at all.

That something as fleeting as a sigh, a word, glance, a touch, can change your life forever. For better or worse.

That sinking down is easier, faster, and more common than rising up.

That the hardest part of finishing a job is starting it.

That even though animals can’t put words to it, they often know more about loyalty than humans.

That time doesn’t heal all wounds, but you can decide to let an injury stop you in your tracks, or simply slow you down.

That we should never make a promise if keeping it depends on someone else’s behavior.

That letting go is sometimes harder than holding on.

That it’s easier for older people to understand young people than for young people to understand their elders.

That sometimes the fastest way to make someone really angry is to be right.

That if you want a hug from someone sometimes you just gotta give them one.

That having a hero in your life is important, even though all hero worship is largely fantasy.

That love has more to do with what another person needs, than what you have to offer.

That sometimes it helps to clear things up, but sometimes it’s best to let things be blurry. The trick is knowing when to do what.

That fixing something doesn’t always mean it’s going to stay fixed. Sometimes you have to fix it over and over and over again.

That “Knowledge is power” and “Ignorance is bliss” are separate but equal truths.

That certainty is stupidity dressed up in party clothes. Wisdom is never being sure of anything.

That too much of a good thing can be bad, but sometimes too much of a bad thing is pretty good too.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fitting In and Standing Out

Relationships are complicated. Correction: meaningful relationships are complicated. Meaningless relationships are simple. Consider what we used to call the one-night-stand (today known as “hooking up”). This consists of one set of hormones bumping uglies with another set of hormones, after which everyone moves on without a backward glance. If one party stops to think about the interaction or starts to feel something for the other person, complexities begin to brew. The one who cares the least wins, the win who cares the most, most likely loses.

Now remove sex from the equation and consider parent/child relationships, which - typically - rest upon the very foundation of caring. It’s a given. Or should be. The basic variables are: who cares the most, who cares the least, and who or what is cared about.

When my daughter was small I was sitting beside her where she was nestled in her bed, talking about something or other that was of concern to her. “Don’t frown,” I said to her, gently rubbing the place between her eyebrows. “If you do, you’ll grow up to have wrinkles here, like mine.” “But, Mommy,” she replied, “I want to be just like you when I grow up.” That changed, of course, with time. Why? Because humans are herding animals.

Think about horses. They run together in the wild, and individual safety depends on fitting in with the others. A predator’s attention is always drawn to the one among the group that “stands out” by being different somehow… smaller, slower, more erratic, less attentive, a different color, or perhaps the same color but with different markings. When children are small, yes, they want to be just like those responsible for protecting them -- their parents. It’s instinct. But when they leave the home and go to school, dynamics change. Faint stirrings of logic begin to set in, bringing with them the latent realization that teachers and parents are older and less likely to last as protectors. Safety now shifts to fitting in with their peers. As the new group of allies forms, in order to separate itself from the group that was once in control, it rebels, revolts, and redirects its allegiance to members of its own generation.

As parents, we want our children to succeed, which at its core means to be psychologically safe. Most commonly we want them to follow in our footsteps, or to pursue a path we’ve chosen for them based of our years of experience. We know the way! We know the whys and wherefores. Some will do as we desire (or dictate). It’s an easier life for them because we’ve cleared the way. Furthermore, when Fireman Fred’s son becomes Fireman Frank, Dad’s life choices are validated by his son’s replication. If Dad has instead lauded the police force and his little boy grows up to become Officer Alex, the message is still that father knows best, and everyone is happy with that. Despite the generation gap, an emotional connection remains intact. It's win/win... fitting in with both parents and peers. Nancy becomes a nurse just like her mother, but under that crisp, white uniform are racy tottoos that impress her friends.

But what about the maverick? The one who knows the dangers but decides to dart off in an entirely different direction than the one with arrows pointing toward it and footprints clearly leading the way. Here is where humans differ from the four legged creatures of the earth. We are, at least theoretically, more highly evolved. A horse, a cow, a giraffe, a zebra leaving the herd to go his or her own way doesn’t look back. Doesn’t stop to think or start to feel. And doesn’t care, therefore doesn't return in time to say, “Look what I’ve become. Look what I’ve made of myself. Look at me now that I’m my own person. Look at me. And show me you love me -- even though I‘m not who or what or how you may want me to be.”

Yes, they yanked your control over them out of your hands, and perhaps left you wondering where you went wrong. But isn’t good parenting about eventually relinquishing control? As long as they’re doing nothing illegal or unethical, choosing for themselves something different from what you would have chosen for them doesn’t mean they -- or you -- have made a mistake, it simply means they chose a harder path. And perhaps for that they deserve some credit, not denigration or rejection.

When they come back it’s not because you don’t matter to them. It’s because you do. If you don’t hand over the love it takes (with no strings attahed) to fill that empty spot they’ve shown you, they’ll go away again, maybe for good. They care, you care, but everybody loses. Remember: loving an adult child means making their individuality more important to you than your control. This is one of the things that marks the distinction between a good parent and a bad -- and sad -- one.

Humans care. I’ve seen it with my own eyes… youngsters who have grown into adults apart from the herd (family), and come back yearning for approval. They want to be accepted not as one that fits in, but as one that stands out… by choice. This is when the question a parent must answer is “Do you want a lasting relationship? Are you willing to think, and feel, and care -- not about yourself and whether or not your hopes and dreams for them have been fulfilled -- but about this person standing before you, who hunted down their own hopes, domesticated their own dreams, and is here to show you that little empty place in their heart than can only be filled by your acceptance and approval.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Darwin During the Holidays

My favorite part of Christmas has always been finding just the right present(s) for the people I care about. Surprising my kids when they were little (by putting unexpected but highly hoped for toys under the tree), impressing them as grownups by personalizing my selections for each of them.

Shopping (or even making something by hand) isn’t as much fun as it used to be, though. My sons and their wives have all made good money for years, and they tend to buy whatever they want, whenever they want it. It has become harder and harder for me to get a genuine rise out of them at Christmas.

My son-in-law is younger and it took awhile for him to reach roughly the same point. It was always fun to surprise him and my stay-at-home-full-time-mother daughter with something I knew they wanted but couldn’t afford; but now they’re also in a better financial condition and do without very little. Even their kids seem to have two or three of everything.

What makes buying presents for my grandchildren and great grandchildren still relatively easy, however, is that I carry out a theme, which is… horsies, of course! I keep an eye out all year long to find unique items that reflect their love of horses (for which, I admit, I am largely responsible).

This year I have taken a huge leap. I have announced that I am only giving gifts to the little ones. Guess what. No one seems to care. Except me. It makes me sad. I feel as though I am abandoning a natural talent I’ve cultivated for years, and denying myself a wonderful source of pleasure watching others open their packages from me. But it does take the pressure off at a time when I truly do need to lower my stress level. Not that I’m having an easy time of it, because I am constantly fighting the urge to pick up this or that for one person or another, and stick twenty bucks in a card for someone else; but basically life changes and we must adapt. In my book The Rising Tide Model for Self-improvement I quote Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

Frank and I asked others years ago not to give us presents. We have run out of room on our walls to hang things, on our flat surfaces to set things, and in our closets and drawers to stuff things. Our home runneth over and we are at a point where we are passing things on (or sticking them in the attic because we don’t have the heart to toss them -- When the time comes our kids will deal with them appropriately.) We no longer buy for each other on special occasions either. Simply stated there’s nothing we want or need, other than each other and for our loved ones to be healthy and happy.

Well, there is something else: World peace and an end to hunger and homelessness. If you ever come across those available to the public, please let us know. We’ll gladly rush right out with our checkbook.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Touching Tale of Random Creativity

Now follow this if you can. My daughter-in-law's sister's husband's sister lives in Petersburg, Alaska. On a recent trip there Carla met me on the rustic dock with her seventeen-year-old son Ben, who used a laptop to show me photographs he's taken depicting the life of a commercial fishing family. We only had an hour or so to visit, but we made the most of it while sitting beneath a graying sky, breathing in the brisk salt air.

When Carla learned I am a hypnotherapist, she was as excited about that as I was about Ben's impressive pictures of Alaska. She had been reading about clinical hypnosis and wishing she could use it to deal with some multilayered issues. "E-mail me," I said as we hugged goodbye. "Tell me what's going on, I'll get back to you if I have questions, then I'll record a session for you and send it on a CD." She did and I did, assuring her she had already paid for my services with the mouthwatering home-smoked salmon she gave us, wrapped for travel.

That was three months ago. Other than hearing from her how much she appreciated my help, we lost touch until she e-mailed a few days ago saying she had mailed a package to me. "A random piece of creativity," she called the gift she was sending. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas, and especially excited because part of the problem addressed on her personalized CD was her sense of sorrow over the fading away of her creative nature. Along with the recorded session I tailored from the information she sent, I had included subliminal suggestions specifically to help revive her creativity.

In the box I found Styrofoam beans protecting another box, in which there was an interestingly shaped shiny clear glass bottle... partially filled with the course black sand found on the shores of Petersburg. In the sand there were tiny treasures Carla had collected while beach combing -- several seashells, a tiny piece of coral, part of a young crab's leg shell, the red cap off a little tube 0f some sort, a little girl's pink hair clip, a tiny toy, a goldish ring, a piece of colored glass, and so on. Most importantly, there was a green marble. Marbles are rare finds, Carla's note told me, and she had come across this one on September 8th, the day my newest granddaughter was born. It's olive-green color made her think of the baby -- named Olivia. Carla had baked the sand to dry and sterilize it, and thought how much enjoyment I would have discovering the marble for myself each time I turned the bottle (sealed with a button and dangling bead) this way and that to expose the significant little greeen treasure that rolls around hidden in the dark sand.


The result of Carla's "random creativity" now sits on the windowsill of my kitchen (coincidentally decorated in an Alaskan theme). Sunlight shines in through the subtly decorated bottle daily, reminding me to take a moment to play. And I do, smiling each time I find there what I'm looking for, fantasizing about how much fun it will be to share the experience with my little Olivia when she is old enough.

In the package from Carla was also a page she had composed entitled, "Tides." The first paragraph reads, "Many people know some basic types of tides; there are spring tides and neap tides and lunar tides. They know of high tides and low tides, flood tides and ebb tides, and some even have met a riptide or two. At certain times in the summer come the krill tides, when millions of tiny krill wash up on the beach. They don't make the news the way a whale would that washes up. I've never actually seen a whale tide, but I am among the lucky few who have seen the button and decorative cap tides, the hair clip and comb tides, the little plastic toy tides, and sometimes the very rare marble tide."

Wow again.

What else can I say, other than what a pleasure it was to meet this special lady, how privileged I feel to have played a small part in her life, how impressed I am by her random creativity, how grateful I am for her thoughtfulness and sensitivity, and how touched I am by the unique and very meaningful gift she has sent.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"I Do" And Other Platitudes

After 35 years my husband and I are getting married again. We’re not renewing our vows, we are getting married again. I haven’t researched it but I’m pretty certain it isn't considered bigamy if you are in two marriages at the same time -- but to the same person.

We have been making our plans for several months now and keeping them secret, which has been such fun! We cuddle by candlelight with a glass of wine, and decide things like the pastor (lined up) and the place (decided). We're still kicking around the date and time, but that of course will require more candelight and cabernet.

Our first and most important decision has been that this time we will definitely not have children.

It isn’t that we don’t love the children we already have, because we love them very much and are very proud of them… how they have chosen to live their lives, and all that they are accomplishing. The reason for our decision is that when we had children, we made our lives all about them. We did our best to raise them to become upstanding adults, and then… they left us… to become upstanding adults.

Of course it’s never that simple. Not like they were all here one day and all gone the next, leaving me with an empty nest in which to rattle around. When my first son moved out I recall throwing myself into my husband’s arms, sobbing and saying “I wasn’t done with him yet!” When my second son moved into his own apartment, it was a short distance from our home and I thought he'd always stay close (wrong), but we still had our daughter, who was only four at the time.

That was, I believe, where we ran into trouble. She was the center of our universe. If it is possible to love a child too much, we did. When she left at 18 to join the Air Force and begin a life of her own, I said, “You are not supposed to have a life of your own now! I never said now! I always told you some dayl! Some day you will have a life of your own, I've said. I never used the word now!” My laments fell on deaf ears. She was out the door before I could finish my pathetic plea for more of her. Since then we’ve been the safety net she has fallen into occasionally, which is as it should be; however, what do safety nets do when they aren’t being put to use? They just hang around… feeling useless and unimportant. Until the next time.

So it has taken us years to adjust, and I believe we are finally okay with the current scheme of things. We have young grandchildren we dote on and adore, and an older set who drift in and out (mostly out) of our lives, busily living their own. Frank has his clients and his meetings, I have my quiet, cozy home on a good day and too many irons in the fire on other days (weeks, months). We have a dog, a cat, and a horse… all warm and fuzzy-ish. But most importantly, we have each other.

And now a wedding to plan!

Looking to the future this time is far different from the first time, when our concerns were primarily for our children and teaching them as best we could to tread with caution upon their chosen paths. We’re closer now to the end of our own path, and our long term concerns center on how we will walk it alone when one of us is left without the other, as life usually decrees. Getting married again will help us turn our attention from the others we love, and to focus more on ourelves as newlyweds are entitled to do.

A recent line from the TV series Brothers & Sisters comes to mind. Nora said recently to her two grown daughters (asking her to settle a squabble between them), “No! I don’t have to fix it for you! That’s not my job anymore!” Our relationships with our grown children sometimes catch us with shakier steps and thinner skin, but now I realize I don’t have to fix it with them, as I've tried so hard to do during past squabbles. It’s not my job anymore!

My job is to be in love with Frank, plan our wedding, and this time I won't even have to worry about music, a cake, or who catches the boquet. The first time we got married we knew we wanted to grow old together. This time, we know we are doing exactly that. Where did the last 35 years go? I just don't know...

But sometimes platitudes say it all, like: What’s done is done, it is what it is, and what will be will be.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Talking Body Parts

If your legs could talk, have you ever wondered what they would say to you if, as a semi-fit woman pushing 70, you (1) sprained a knee and tore a ligament in Alaska, spent a month using a knee brace and a cane, another month having physical therapy three times a week, THEN (2) hopped on a plane to Honolulu to climb to the top of Diamondhead, do several walking tours of the downtown area, a lengthy excursion through the Army Museum, and an exploration of the many decks of the battleship Missouri using multiple ladders to go up and down?

Well, I can tell you what my legs are saying to me, two days home from Hawaii: “What the… were you thinking?” Answer: I was thinking, “I can do this.” So I did. Was it sensible? No. Was it challenging? Yes. Was it easy? No. Was it worth it? Yes.

When my son recently took his family to Waikiki Beach to celebrate his 50th birthday, he invited my husband and me to join them. I no longer “do“ sun, although I was an avid (okay, obsessive) sunbather in my youth, and previous trips we’ve made to the islands have included only a brief stop on Oahu to hop a flight to either Kauai or Molokai (both quieter). So with a week to, uh, relax.., we were more interested in the history of Honolulu than its sun and sea.

This made it an emotional week for us, as my deceased father was career military and Frank is a Viet Nam vet. On the grueling Diamondhead climb my mind was on the many soldiers who had passed there long ago to build and then man the bunkers (that were never used in wartime). The museum surprised me by displaying artifacts that ranged from ancient wars among the islands themselves, to wars being currently fought. The Missouri was impressive on many levels (pun intended), but most particularly as the place where the WWII peace treaty was eventually signed.

We stayed in a luxurious ninth floor beachfront condo ON Waikiki, which was a wonderful place to rest and recuperate between adventures. There were times when I literally could not stand without support, let alone take a step. As I look back on that week, I am honestly amazed at my ability to keep on keeping on -- and no, I did not resort to pain medication (unless a few mai tais count). I literally listened to my legs. We had an unspoken agreement. They would give me their all, if I would give them my attention and push them to but not beyond their physical limitations.

Yes we had a rental car, but we chose to walk one day from the condo over a mile (each way) to Barnes & Noble, leisurely taking in island sights along the way. The manager, Naomi, welcomed us in true Aloha style (a warm smile and kind words), It was worth our time and effort, just to speak with the islanders and tourists there who were interested in our book Charming Children -- How the Relaxation Game Helps Good Parents Raise Great Kids. ( www.CharmingChildrenTheBook.com )

Reflecting the advice we give others in our book, I’ve recorded a CD for my granddaughters Annabella (6) and Evelyn (4), that they listen to nightly since I can’t be with them in person. To cover issues such as biting their nails and taking way too long to eat, the Fabulous Fix It Fairy now visits them at bedtime. They tell me their favorite part is when she waves her magic wand so their ten fingers can all talk to each other and to them. Among other things the fingers say they don’t like being put into the girls’ mouths, but they do like putting healthy food in so the girls can bite, chew chew chew, and swallow it down. They also like to put toys away. And to pet my horse Brandi, when Annabella and Evelyn visit her.

So now my legs and I are talking to each other, happy in our relationship. I have promised not to take them on another… relaxing… vacation for a while, and they’ve promised to support me in my goal to get my right foot into the stirrup painlessly for my first real ride since my injury in Alaska. Which brings to mind something I’ve said nearly 40 years now to my Yoga students, that might be helpful advice for some of you.

“Instead of being upset with your body because it won’t do what it used to do, or all that you want it to do, be grateful to it for what it can do, and for what it does do for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, often without your awareness, let alone your appreciation. Take time to be appreciative, because when it feels appreciated, it wants to do an even better job for you.”

We all know that feeling.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Long Does True Love Last?

True love lasts a lifetime, and even beyond death -- if some metaphysicians have it right. Not to mention Patrick Swayze's character in the movie Ghost. I personally believe that when love runs deep enough, you leave some of yours behind for others and take some of theirs with you. This is the way I love my family, and most likely the way you love yours.

It's also the way I have loved John Denver, as everyone who knows me, knows. Not just his songs, not just his stage presence, not just his philosophy, not just his public image. I've done my homework well enough to know that he was more than all that. And yes, he was a man of many moods, some of which may have been a bit ugly. If ugly moods affect the love you feel for someone, it isn't love. That's what I say. True love is not for candy asses, as Clint Eastwood would so eloquently put it.

Last night I went to yet another New Christy Minstrels performance. There's no tiring of it, this experience gets better each time. I feel fortunate and blessed to call Jennifer Lind a friend, and through her I met Randy Sparks last summer, the man who helped John Denver make it to the top. It was a pivotal point in my life. Last night I met John's Uncle Dave, who sings with the group. To others it may have seemed I was shaking his hand at that moment, but I wasn't shaking it. I was holding it. I held it as long and as best I could without being silly about it. I hope.

Traditional Yoga teaches that pranic energy (life-force) is absorbed, emitted, and exchanged through the pores of our skin, and primarily through the palms of our hands. I was taking in as much of Dave Deutschendorf's pranic energy as I could, and hoping to leave some of mine with him. No, not just because he is John's uncle, but because he seems a gentle person, modest, a sweet man I'll bet, without being wimpy about it. I looked him in the eye and said to him, "You are the reason I'm here." I then felt compelled to add, "And you have a beautiful voice." A true statement and a simple compliment well deserved.

But wait, there's more. This man was a teacher and student counselor for 38 years. What's not to love? A good teacher doesn't just teach, a good teacher can save lives. Good teachers saved mine

Uncle Dave's voice is nothing like John's. It is his own. Deep and resonant. Warming in its touch. His physical resemblance to John may be subtle to some, but was obvious to me. To have looked into that face that hints of John, to have heard him sing in a voice that John must have grown up hearing, to have held the hand that John must have held countless times... what a thrill for me.

As for the New Christy Minstrels, they're not entertaining an audience. They are touching lives. Every person in that packed house left personally transformed to varying degree. The NCM had us laughing, they had us misting up, they had us chiming in on many olden, golden, familiar favorites. Now, on a personal note, I suppose I can say not only that I met John's Uncle Dave. I sang with him. LOL.

Yes, I got his autograph, but not for myself. I'll give it to my son-in-law who also loves to play the guitar and sing (mostly in the privacy of his own home), and who shares my appreciation of John Denver. What I'm keeping for myself is the memory of what I saw, what I heard, and what I felt last night at the Gallo Theater in Modesto. Another magical evening in the life of one who loves deeply.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Little Look at My Life as a Landlady

When our daughter was in her teens, she brought home kids the way many caring souls bring home stray kittens. The kids were her friends in high school who were either homeless, moving around to stay at one person's house awhile and then another's and another's, or in homes that provided less than desirable environments. It started with Louis, whom she met at running camp, brought home on my 50th birthday, and said, "Isn't he cute? Can we keep him?" We did.

His mother was in prison (drugs) and his father was dead (drugs and alcohol). He was being kicked out of his ninth foster home. He had serious issues going on as a result of abuse and abandonment. It was a rough row to hoe because he was anything but a pleasant person, and introduced an element of toxicity into our lives. Our conflict was in exposing our daughter at such close range to someone so volatile, but she was as invested in "saving" him as we were, and although we paid a price, in the long run, to his credit, Louis became stable in his adulthood, a good husband, loving father, and productive member of the community. His mother has found God, is trying sincerely to bring Louis into the fold, and their relationship is actually functional, at long last.

But "back when," Louis brought home Bruce, his best friend. Bruce didn't need us the way Louis did, but Louis needed Bruce, and Bruce brought home Lisa, a friend from Salinas. Our daughter then brought home her best friend, another Jennifer whom we called "Little Jenn" because she was skinny as a rail. All the kids called us Mom and Dad. There were lots of hugs and lots of problems that we tackled during family meetings, which we all hated but damn, they worked.

Little Jenn had her own issues from childhood, which she was addressing in therapy, and although she came to live with us she often visited her little brothers to keep an eye on them. She brought them home one time with tears in her eyes, saying they hadn't eaten and their mother (with substance abuse issues) was not to be found. I made beef stroganoff in my pressure cooker and fed the two boys at my table.

Halfway through the meal their mother showed up, went to the table and proceeded to pick pieces of meat off her sons' plates which she hastily ate. Something like that, you don't forget. To her credit, that was a long time ago and I believe she has cleaned up her act. Has she become a name on my favorite persons list? Uhhh.... no. But more recently when I lost weight and had literally a closet full of clothes that hung on me, guess who I gave them to. Little Jenn, to pass along to her mother, who was divorced, homeless, and not working.

In recent years my daughter lived in Sparks, Nevada, and Little Jenn would occasionally come to visit me. We established a "Mother/Daughter Day" that consisted of watching a movie together, with chips and dip, heartfelt talks, some laughter and some tears. I suppose I was filling in as a mother figure and she was filling in as a daughter figure, but over time events occurred that resulted in miscommunication and a falling out. Although I offered to talk things out and mend that fence, she was not interested and I let it (and her) go.

Back track now to when we were still at the height of our friendship. My mother's house became vacant and Little Jenn's brother and his wife rented it, against my better judgement. I told them I didn't think they could afford it (even though I dropped the rent $50 for them and did not ask for the last month's rent in advance, or a security deposit). I told them the place was old, needed work, and the huge yard required a LOT of maintenance. They LOVED yard work, they told me, and couldn't wait to get started. They also agreed to clean and paint indoors, which they did. There was a huge pile of trash in the back yard which they agreed to dispose of. They took two loads to the dump, and not only left the rest but contributed to it over a period of two years, during which time they did nothing but complain about the house being old and the yard being too big to take care of. Payment of rent was sporadic. Two, three weeks late, half now, half later, etc. In our dealings with them they became so rude and disrespectful that even my husband (with unlimited patience and great people skills) gave up, and we asked our son to take over management so we could remove ourselves from the situation.

The meat eating mother had worked many years in property management and so was well versed in how to live in a house without paying rent, milking the system that looks out for renters, not owners. Knowing this in advance, while Little Jenn and I were still what I thought was close, I expressed my concern that her brother would, in the end, not treat us honorably. She looked me in the eye, her hands on my shoulders, and said, "Mom, I PROMISE you I will not let that happen."

When the time came that it did happen, word came back to me through our daughter that her best friend had long since washed her hands of her brother and his wife, therefore she felt no responsibility to intercede when they lived in the rental without paying their garbage bill for a year (which cost us several hundred dollars), and without paying rent for two months, which cost us a couple of thousand dollars. Interesting thing about promises. They only last until you decide to break them. But, lesson learned.

Now the house is empty, we're working like crazy to do improvements we couldn't do when the tenants were, uhhh... such crappy tenants... because (1) we avoided them as best we could and (2) they didn't communicate with us once they planned to bilk us so we had no way of knowing the sprinklers didn't work, some tile was missing in the kitchen, and the roof needed replacing, not patching. They've moved out, we're dealing with all the junk they've left behind, and on one unexpected encounter with him, when the tenant made a fist and would have hit me if Frank hadn't gotten between us, and threatened, "Wait till you see what I do next," we called the sheriff. A roofer was there at the time to witness this, and there's a report on file. So we'll see where this goes from here.

Bottom line, in a weird way I'm enjoying the process of spiffing up the old place, but my heart hurts when I allow myself to explore the old fashioned, outdated attributes of honesty, integrity, and loyalty. Let alone appreciation. And just when I was recently spiralling downward emotionally, Louis stopped by with a big smile, a warm hug, and a reminder to me that in all bad there is good. Who would have thought that the one kid of all our kids, who gave us the most problems, would end up giving us the most reassurance that it was, indeed worth it. When Louis says on occasion, "I love you," he means it, and I feel it. It feels good.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Caring, Worrying, and Letting Go

I don't remember living with my mother until I was six years old, when she married my stepfather and retrieved my sister and me from our grandmother's house. Looking back, my perception is that she never worried about anything except missing one of her soap operas, or spilling a drink. In fact she prided herself on not worrying. Not caring, for that matter. She took great personal satisfaction in being a "tough broad."

I, on the other hand, worry about everything, and care too much. Overcompensation, of course. Basic psychology. However, realizing that at some point I chose to worry and to care, so as not to be like her, gives me the ability to investigate the choice I made when I was young, and rethink it. I understand, for example, that I learned to worry from a woman named Mary, who seemed to me to be a very loving person who worried about everyone she loved. I, therefore, equated love with worry, and preferred Mary's example to my mother's.

At the same time I met Mary, my high school English teacher (the first male role model in my life who was not mean spirited and abusive), introduced to our class the concept of complacency. He spoke out against it of course, and because he was a hero in my eyes, my decision to care/worry was compounded. I chose to worry about not only those I knew and cared about personally, but about the state of the world in its entirety... all matters animate and inanimate. I developed the skill that, at the time, seemed an honorable and appropriate attribute.

Now it drives me nuts, and I've come to realize that I can care without worrying. Furthermore, I can care without being obsessive about it. Wow! Insight! Realization itself, however, isn't what gets the job done. Would that it were that simple. What it takes is vigilance and consistent practice. This means I now notice myself worrying needlessly or caring too much, and I make a concentrated effort to rein myself in. I do it with -- borrowing from psychobabble -- self-talk.

The ones I seem to talk to myself about most are my kids. Using the term kids loosely, since they range in age from 32 to almost 50. I worry about things that challenge them and scare me, mostly involving their physical and emotional safety. I worry about not being able to protect them and. realizing it's no longer my role to do so, I worry that I somehow fell short during the earlier stage of our relationship when it was my role. Enter the ugly monster... guilt.

So I talk to myself about caring, worrying, and feeling guilty. Makes for quite a conversation but at least it isn't about soap operas and whiskey and soda with a twist. I tell myself what I would tell a client, or a close friend, coming to me for advice... an effective communication technique. I tell myself, "You've done the best you could. Give yourself credit for what you did well. Stop berating yourself for falling short of perfection, since no human can be perfect. Your kids are smart and sound and finding their own way in life. You pointed them in the right direction, but you don't get to choose their path or lead the way. Let them go. It's your turn now to focus on your own path, which grows shorter every day."

I've learned that letting go is a process, less like dropping an object and more like trying to get gum off your shoe. So I work at it, and try not to work so hard that it monopolizes my life. Humor helps, so I finish my self talk with a phrase one of my yoga students shared with me years ago. She learned it from her mother in German, but the English translation is: Go with God. But go.

I've also learned that letting go leaves one not empty handed, but free. A wonderful reward for the ongoing effort required. Freedom -- you gotta work at it. And you gotta love it. Without it our lives weigh heavy on the scale of universal balance.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Doctors Deliver the Goods

I read something interesting on FaceBook recently -- a chiropractor speaking out against the medical field. He wrote, among other things, that women have been “brainwashed” into believing they have to be in a hospital to give birth. He favors home deliveries. My first reaction was to wonder how many times he has given birth, either at home or in a hospital! But I didn't go there. Instead I responded by telling him that two out of three of my children would not be here today if I had not been in the hospital at the time they were born.

My first son weighed 9 lbs 6 ounces which, 50 years ago, was saying a lot -- especially considering my normal weight was 110. The nursing staff called him "the big guy." We delivered his head, but his shoulders were too broad. The doctor had to decide between breaking the baby's clavicle and then resetting it, or giving me an episiotomy that was twice the normal length. He chose the latter, and I'm glad. Then he used forceps, which folded one tiny ear and left a mark on one little cheek, but both were temporary; and thank goodness I was in the hospital!

My second son was more cooperative, and provided no battle stories to tell.

Sixteen years later, however, when my membranes broke and amniotic fluid rushed out, my daughter settled on the umbilical chord and cut off her supply of oxygen. By this time fetal monitors were in use, and we could see that her heartbeat doubled. The fetus was in distress. Emergency c-section -- with an infant resuscitation specialist on hand! I then required a transfusion of three pints of blood, and was comatose for nearly 24 hours. Thank goodness I was in the hospital!

But back to FaceBook. The chiropractor stated that, although most births in the US are in the hospital, our U.S.A. birth mortality rate is "one of the highest in the world." Rather than continue the debate, I chose not to respond by pointing out that, in some parts of the world, birth mortality is so common that many cases are likely not even reported. These are births that take place apart from a medical setting --but not by choice. Not everyone is as fortunate as we are to have opportunities other than “squat, push, and pray,” the third being optional.

Granted, in the majority of cases home deliveries go smoothly, and thank goodness for that. Thank goodness, also, for midwives and doulas, who are trained in assisting. However… let’s not malign the medical doctors whose expertise and hands-on experience, and state-of-the-art equipment qualifiy them to handle unpredictable emergencies that can be life threatening.

I do not agree that women have been “brainwashed” to believe they must be in a hospital to give birth. I believe in this day and age, in this country, most women are well ware of their options, and grateful to have so many of them. Based on my own experience, however, I say “better safe than sorry.” Hospitals aren't my favorite places, but if I'm in labor, that's exactly where I'm heading. Without delay. Other women are welcome to decide for themselves based on their own criteria -- mine is life or death.

In any event, medical professionals looked down their noses at chiropractic for many decades. Now they've come a long way and MD’s and DC’s refer back-and-forth. It disturbed me to see a DC putting down the medical profession. AND I AM A PROPONENT OF CHIROPRACTIC! I feel a wiser strategy would have been to build up the perceived advantages of home births, rather than to tear down the perceived disadvantages of hospital deliveries. And all this opining came from a man... which gave me pause.

This also gives me an opportunity to share, as I have many times, one of my favorite things that my husband has ever said to me. Back when our daughter was born, fathers weren't allowed to attend c-section deliveries. I was brokenhearted. Frank asked me why I was crying and I told him I felt I'd let him down. He said, "Silly. You've just given me a million dollars, and you're crying because you dropped a dime."

And that's just one reason I've kept him these 35 years!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Most Bizarre E-mail I've Ever Received

My blog before this one was a heartfelt expression of my thoughts and feelings about a friend named Jane, an unfortunate victim of a stroke. Last week we received an invitation to meet with some of her friends, but we declined because we had already planned to make the 1-1/2-hour drive to visit Jane herself, just a day before the gathering. After our visit I received an e-mail from the woman who had invited us, asking me how our visit with Jane went. I responded politely, and suggested she might like to read my blog. She then replied to me with the most bizarre e-mail I've ever received. It appears here, with her name deleted.

From: .... [mailto:...@yahoo.com] Sent: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 10:03 PMTo: Ginny LucasSubject: Re: Jane

Jesus Christ, oh God, you were not there for any of this. What a jackass you are. Ha ha I read your blog. We have been there from day one trying to help our Jane. Gads, get a grip on yourself you stupid fool and go back there and try to help Jane as I have done since we saved her life thinking she had the flu back on March 24th. She asked for my help & my husband & I gave it, saving her life, following her from hospital to hospital, moving her possessions, answering the calls of her nurses & doctors daily, taking care of her car, her possessions, watching out for Jane. Wow, who are you or what you have to do with Jane we will never know everyone else, tons of people have tried to help her. Your blog is bullshit and you are a fool for writing it about our Jane.

On a personal note, I was first absolutely astonished, and then plain pissed. From the perspective of psychology, I found this an interesting study and a sad display of emotional disturbance. When Frank read it he was appalled. He and I talked about it, and discussed whether or not I should even dignify it with an answer. After careful deliberation, I sent the following to "...."

We’ve known Jane about twenty-five years, but were not in close touch. Two or three times a year one of us would call the other and talk for an hour or so. It was always as though no time at all had passed since the last call. Every few years she would come and stay with us for several days. Everyone in the family enjoyed dropping by to see her.

Had we lived in San Jose and had she called us, we would have done for her exactly what you and your husband did. I find it sad that, instead of feeling grateful that you were in a position to help, and proud of yourself for taking on such a monumental responsibility, and honored to be the people she turned to in need, you are apparently resentful and bitter, and certainly hateful. This boggles my mind. I find it hard to believe that Jane would have a friend of your caliber… arrogant, petty and so vitriolic. Obviously your connection with her isn’t grounded in her love of Buddhism.

I know Jane well enough to know how she would feel about what I’ve written, and how she would feel about what you have written. You are bitching in tone about what an imposition it was to “save her life” and implying that no one else has the right to hurt for her because they didn’t do what you did. How pompous of you.

My husband and I will visit Jane as and when we choose to. And certainly not because you have TOLD us to. Excuse me but who the hell do you think YOU are? We were told by staff that she is not, cannot process mentally, and has little if any recognition of visitors. Based on the tone of your irrational, rude, in fact despicable e-mail, do you think for one second I would place greater value in what you say about her condition, than what they say?

And by the way, touching though it is that you call her “our Jane,” she does not belong to you or to anyone else. Your thinking so, hints of a God complex. Your involvement and long term stress has obviously taken its toll on you. You might want to seriously consider getting professional help.

Don’t bother responding.

We blocked any future e-mail from her, because it goes without saying that you cannot carry on a rational exchange with an irrational person. I was sincere in my suggestion that she seek professional help. Raw emotions can be ugly monsters that raise their head to strike out at others, and if you care about those others, you do what you can to calm them, even if it is after the fact. That's what therapy is all about, and of course the concept of forgiveness, inherent to all major religions. "...." obviously doesn't care about me, which is perfectly fine. I hope she cares enough about herself though, to come to healthy terms with her psychological upheaval.

To mix metaphors, there will be no fence mending between "...." and me. Fence mending takes time and energy, both of which diminish as we grow older. I don't have as much of either, as I used to. I've learned in my old age to save my time and energy for the relationships that are near and dear, and even then I no longer rush in where I'm not wanted, to try to do the job alone. It isn't enough that I care. Others have to care too, if there is to be a fix.

As for "...." the fact is I don't care about her anymore than she cares about me, except to be thankful that there was someone in a position to handle matters for Jane when she could no longer do so herself. I find it regrettable, however, that this person's participation didn't elevate her to a higher place. I wish her well.

And hope to hell her path never crosses mine again.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Stroke of Genius Named Jane

I can't stop thinking about my friend Jane. She is in a convalescent hospital following a stroke, and that's all we knew until we visited her recently. We intentionally waited several months from the time of the incident, hoping for improvement and allowing her time to adjust to her new circumstances. I asked myself, in her condition would I want people swarming to my side to see me at my worst?

So now she is apparently at her best, but to say that her best isn't what it used to be is a gross understatement and an insult to the woman I know and love. In my naivete I thought (hoped) that she would be making progress all this time, and that the healing would continue. The hospital staff assured me a few days ago that this is not the case. Jane will live out her days being bathed, dressed, and fed pureed foods, by others.

It seems odd to speak of her in the past tense, but necessary. She was a brilliant woman. An attorney most of her life, but always engaged with life apart from her career. She read voraciously, and anytime she found a topic that caught her interest, she "went there." She investigated it with passion, and if possible she went there literally... travelling to places she had studied, to get to know them firsthand. She would come home running over with stories that braided "way back when" (history) and "then" (her visit) and "now" (her reliving the personal experience) like Dorothy's hair in the Wizard of Oz. Something you can count on. Jane's voice danced across details and her eyes sparkled like spotlights showing her off as the star of the show, and the show was the life she created for herself.

Yet she was keenly interested in the lives of others. When she asked about my scattered family, for example, she always remembered everyone's name, where we left off the last time we spoke of their circumstances, and she genuinely wanted to know more. She asked questions not like an attorney holding interrogatories, but more like a top notch therapist needing to delve deeply enough to gain an understanding. If she could have she would have phoned each one of my kids and grandkids, written to or e-mailed each one of them, visited each one of them, the way she approached every other topic of interest. But of course her time and energy were limited, even though her curiosity and caring were not.

She had the idiosyncrasies not uncommon to geniuses, sometimes viewed by others as flaws. Her glasses were often smudged, her clothes unkempt, her plans disorganized. But those were part of what made Jane... Jane. She had a laugh that still rings in my ears, a wonderful laugh, heartfelt and hearty. She loved to laugh, and laughed a lot.

Now she looks at visitors with no expression on her face, although she does look at her visitors. If her eyes wander off, she somehow brings them back. There's no way of knowing if she can understand what we say to her, and although the staff assured us she can say "yes" and "no," she said nothing while we sat with her, holding her hands. Made no sound. Other than the sound, now and then, of someone trying hard to cry but unable to do even that to her own satisfaction.

If I know anything about Jane, I know she wants desperately... to understand what happened to her, and why, and what she can do to have her life back. But this, of course is speculation. Staff assured me she cannot process mentally. I almost hope that's true. I hope she has no inkling of where she is or why, or even who these people are, holding her hands and holding back their own tears as they try to say the right thing, whatever that means at a time like this. If this is the case, if she has no intellectual awareness, then there is nothing left of Jane there in that wheelchair, except a shell.

And the question I'm left with is whether or not to visit that shell again. I will, at least once more, in time, because my recent visit has left me bleeding at some level where a band aid won't reach. She tried to cry several times throughout our visit, including as we left. I promised her we will be back and I'll keep that promise. Because, I tell myself, shells don't cry. And the next question becomes: do we want to go back, should we, what's the point if we... make her cry? But crying may be all she has left.

Some would say, "It's about you. You visit her to make yourself feel better." But, trust me, seeing her doesn't make me feel better. It hurts. Bad. Maybe what it comes down to is being there to share her suffering. If creating heartache for myself lessens hers, I'm willing to do that. Again, there's no way to know. But if pain is the only place Jane and I can connect, I'll go there for her, rather than leave her there alone.

Alone is a nice place to visit, but no one should ever have to live there. Because that's not living. Not even close.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Thing About Things

I know we're not supposed to love "things." Actually, technically, I believe it's okay to love things as long as we're not attached to them. Emotionally, that is, not as in joined at the hip.

And of course we have to take into consideration the definition of love. Is it a feeling that enfolds such qualities as trust and loyalty and commitment, or is it merely a blip that appears on our radar screen regardless of the quality of a relationship? You may know someone who says "I love you" the way others say "God bless you" when a person sneezes. That kind of "I love you" -- forged from shallow habit --sounds good, but it's based on quantity (being said to practically everyone), not quality, as in "What we have is special."

That having been said, let's get back to things. These are some of the things I love, and why:

I love my bathtub. My husband installed it when I retired, so that I could take my luxuriating to a higher level than a mere soak. My tub has adjustable jets that churn the water, and a heating system that keeps the water at a desired temperature regardless of how long I remain emerged. I've had it for seven years now and I suppose I could become blase and simply take it for granted, but I choose to remain appreciative and enthralled.

I love crickets. Not the little critters themselves, but the sound they make rubbing their little legs together in an attempt to find a mate, and announcing the arrival of spring. I've had people tell me their chirping drives them nuts, but to me it's a nighttime lullaby that connects me with nature even as I rest indoors, snug in my soft, warm bed.

I love the first big sip of a cold beer from a frosty bottle, on a hot summer day. Anything after that first sip looses my interest and I may continue drinking the brew to be polite, but I'll never down the last swallow from the bottom of the bottle. By then, it's already over for me. And I don't need another. But that one beer has to be cold, and it has to be in a bottle, not a can or a cup or a glass. Well, maybe a glass, if it's not plastic or styrofoam or cardboard. A glass glass.

I love the thing that happens when my horse and I look into each other's eyes. It doesn't happen with all horses, not even those I "owned" years ago. Just Brandi. It doesn't happen now and then, it happens every time we look at each other. There's a message that passes between us, that can't be put into words. It didn't happen at the onset of our relationship, it simple appeared at some point in time, and took my breath away. It still does.

I love the American Flag. For most of my life I took it for granted and assigned it little value, until I attended my father's burial with full military honors. The flag that draped his casket brought home to me the message that my father, at great personal risk and sacrifice, devoted his life to defending what our flag stands for. Now when I see our flag, I sigh. A deep in-breath fills me with loyalty to my father and gratitude to others like him, and an out breath directs my emotions toward all who have earned and will forever deserve my deep admiration.

I love gardenias. They're very assertive. Even though they have a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" attitude, you know when one is nearby even if you can't see it. Their fragrance is distinctive, never to be confused with the rose or sweet pea, for example. And they're so self-confident that they don't need to dress up in colors. White does quite nicely, thank you very much. Nothng subtle about a gardenia, or pretentious. It makes itself known unapologetically. It is authentic if it is anything.

Lastly, I love love. It is a warm and fuzzy thing, but also has some rough edges. It isn't for the weak of heart. It can lift you up and it can drop you down. Either way there's no denying it's power. It's what makes life worth living, and even when it's bad, it's good. You simply need to accept that love, like everything else in life, changes. It's a living thing. It can take some lumps, and if they aren't too many and don't come too hard too fast for too long, it can self-heal. It can also fade, which simply means transform itself into something perhaps indiscernible. I don't believe it goes away. It just goes into hiding -- and sometimes stays there, rather than go back to where it is unwanted, unappreciated, or unnurtured.

So the thing about things is that things matter. When we run into trouble, is when they matter too much.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grandkids Are Great. Animals Are Awesome.

When I was a child we always had a family dog. The first one I remember was when I lived with my gramma. He was named Boxer. He was old, always dusty, and walked on three legs with the fourth bent permanently up against his ribs after having been hit by a car. When my mother remarried after divorcing my father, my sister and I moved in to live with her and our stepfather, and a succession of dachunds began, but later as a mother myself, our dogs were of various breeds and were joined by cats, hamsters, parakeets, and so on. I've always loved animals of all species, shapes, colors and sizes.

At some point in my forties, and for some reason I still can't identify, I became fixated on seals. Maybe because the seashore is a favorite retreat of mine. But I began to collect pictures of seals, ceramic, stuffed, sandstone, and so on -- seals. This placated me somewhat, but -- I wanted to touch a real seal! And sure enough, on a trip to Sea World, trainers brought a seal out of the water to sit on a platform and I was chosen from the crowd of volunteers to come forward and pet him. I'll always remember that magical moment. His name was Peabody. Touching him, touched me. Some silly (?) need inside me was met that day.

Later it became all about wolves. I had photos of wolves, paintings of wolves, posters of wolves, statues of wolves, and of course soft, stuffed wolves. But I wanted a relationship with a real wolf! I heard of a wolf rescue program in the foothills, and my son drove me to pick out a hybrid to bring home. I chose the runt of the pack, a female I named Albertine. My son brought a male home and named him Mano; but it wasn't long before Mano outgrew my son's back yard, so came to live with his sister. The two of them decimated our huge yard, and proved what we had heard -- that wolves are different from dogs. They were sweet and I loved them, but they lived in their own world. After a year we found a home for them with old friends of ours, where they could be together on a large ocean side ranch south of Ensenada, Mexico. I cried when they left. Mano jumped in the van, tail wagging, and wanted to drive! But Albertine hid behind me and I had to pick her up and put her in. She had been neutered, but we later learned that Mano fathered many pups. I still think of them often, and remember how they loved our back yard, playing in and drinking from our waterfall.

Eagles came next, and the longstanding theme of my bathroom is... eagles. Beautiful wood, glass, ceramic and brass eagles fill the shelves of my greenhouse window. No, I've never owned a real eagle, but here's a cute thing that happened. About a year ago we rescued a pet cockatiel that either got loose or was set free. We bought a cage, taught him to say his new name, and my little granddaughters loved talking to him. Annabella, five at the time, went to school one day and told her teacher excitedly, "My gramma owns an EAGLE!"

Of course there is a special place in my heart for horses, and I can't tell you when that began. I had horses many years ago and have had one more recently for seven years now. Although I don't think of her as "mine." I think of myself as "Brandi's person." When she is gone I'll never have another. I feel toward her the way I feel toward my husband. No one will ever take their place. The memory of them will have to carry me through to the end of my days, if I'm ever to be left without them.

After a knee injury in Alaska, I tried yesterday for the first time to ride. I was able to get into the saddle, but when I tried to place my right foot in the stirrup my knee was having none of it. The "ride" lasted all of 30 seconds, and I was so disappointed. But looking back, what comforts me is reliving the exchange of energy that took place between Brandi and me. There's always something in her eyes that sends a heartfelt message, and yesterday she was particularly patient with me and gave me "love nudges" to boot. I think she was as disappointed as I was, that we didn't get to play.

Aside from the sprained knee, my husband and I have been caught up in a family crisis that has affected us deeply. We're helping each other through it, and our dog (Artax) and cat (Mismatch) have been even more tender and attentive than usual. They seem to sense our sorrow, our sense of injustice and helplessness. As is usually the case with animals, they ask no questions and make no judgments, they simply accept us and do what they can to provide solace. They offer unflinching loyalty that is much needed and much lacking, at this stage of our life. Yeah. As we age, things change. Including the way others think and feel about us, and behave toward us. As my clever little Annabella once said when she was four and broke a crayon, "It's just part of life Gramma." Grandchildren are great. They're irreplacable.

Animals are awesome. They're irreplacable, too.

Once precious grandchildren and special animals have touched your life, even in their absence you can never feel alone. You just have to dig deep enough inside yourself, to where their love lives.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Injuries, Healing, and Falling Apart

My daughter's dog Artax was her "practice baby," meaning when he was hers she did everything but put a bonnet on him and wrap him in a baby blanket. When she actually became pregnant, we all knew Artax would not do well in second place, so she gave him to my husband and me. He fit perfectly into our empty nest.

We call ourselves Gramma and Grampa to him, as in "Gramma and Grampa have to leave for awhile but we'll be back." He has severe separation anxiety, and that's a fact. He has a doggie door and goes outside to... take care of business... but otherwise he is indoors and either at my side, in my lap (all 65 lbs. of him), or close at my feet. He sleeps with us, and during the night, if Frank and I happen to move apart, we wake up to find him lying between us, head on pillow. Aside from that, if Frank gets out of bed before me, Artax moves immediately to take over my husband's side of the bed.

One morning Artax lept into bed to be beside me, and pawed at my face as a gesture of affection. Unfortunately I opened my eyes at that very second, and his long, rough toenail went into my eye. In a more alert state I would have blinked instantaneously, which would have let my eyelid provide some protection; but I was still in a groggy state and so an injury was incurred. Two scratch marks from top to bottom across the center of the cornea.

In the three hours we waited for Urgent Care to open, I kept a compress on it and focused on banishing fearful thoughts as they entered my mind. "I'm going to be blind in one eye." "I'm going to need surgery." "I'm going to have to cancel my trip to Alaska." I converted these to, "The body is designed to heal, and healing has already begun." It's great to have training that kicks in when you need it. I used slow, deep breathing to keep myself calm, and Frank used hypnosis with me to reduce the pain.

I was not the least bit angry at Artax, in fact I felt sorry for him. He realized there was a problem that he had had a hand (or paw) in, but smart as dogs are, he of course could not apply any reasoning beyond that. When I came home from seeing the doctor, I had gauze and tape that covered half my face, plus professional assurance that no permanent damage had been done. Artax cuddled up to me with his chin in my lap, but kept his paws to himself. By the time I left for Alaska three days later, I was able to replace the patch with dark glasses, and continue the antibiotic drops on my trip.

It sounds somewhat mild as I write about it now, but Frank and I were both very scared at the time and, no pun intended, I keep a closer eye now on Artax's paws.

There was a time when I would have fallen apart, but as a therapist I've spent years helping clients not fall apart, and on a personal level I've learned from my own past experiences that falling apart is easy, but putting yourself back together again later isn't. Better to avoid that problem, than try to fix it.

Sinking requires no energy or effort, which is why it is part of our nature to wind up in a low place from time to time, whether we wanted to go there or not. Rising up again afterwards is the challenge. Sometimes, some people can't recuperate alone, and the fortunate ones have others who care enough about them to help with the heavy lifting. Sadly, there are also some who, in a low place themselves, can hold us down -- because they like the company and lack the initiative to do anything but settle in and hope you'll do the same.

This is why it is so important to surround yourself with people who help make your life better, and who help you to be a better person (which isn't all about you. It's also about how you treat others). I am fortunate and grateful that for me, there is always Frank. We've been through worse than the Artax incident together, and have grown closer as a result. We have our differences, we have our own highs and lows. but most importantly we have each other. Even when one of us is "gone" (and we're at the age where this thinking is significant), one of us will still have the other, because I have internalized him and he has internalized me, and we are both better persons for it. "Till death do you part" doesn't apply to us. Nothing will ever keep us apart. There is a line from some movie or other, about a wife who has died: "She's gone, but I'm still married to her."

But enough about Frank and me. What comes to mind when I ask myself how I can offer readers something of value to apply in their own lives, is a simple technique that helps when facing a difficult choice: ask yourself, "What, in the long run, is going to let me feel better about myself as a person?" As an example, to be candid, I didn't like my mother and she didn't like me, and there were times when I didn't want to invite her to this or that event. I learned that it always feels better to be inclusive, than exclusive. It lets me feel better about myself. Maybe all those Sunday School classes did some good when I was a kid, after all. Love and foregiveness are somewhere to be found in all religions, though sometimes confined to empty rhetoric rather than actual application.

On a global level, wouldn't it be wonderful if races, cultures and religions could live out the concept of inclusion -- letting others in, accepting them rather than rejecting them because they aren't who or what or how you want them to be? But what are the odds, when there are so many individuals who don't get it.

It's so much easier to settle for a crappy fence, to let it fall apart rather than make the effort to maintain or mend it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Like Mother, Like Daughter

My daughter is expecting her third daughter any day now, which means for awhile she won’t be able to walk our firstgrader right up to the classroom door, as in the past. I recently received this “report,” which I found so amusing I asked Jenn’s permission to post it as a blog. The “steps” she describes took place over a period of many days.

My first step was to walk Annabella to the same gate where I will soon be dropping her from my car. I let her lead as I walked behind her to make sure she knows where to go and what to do, etc.  

If the kids get there early they get to play on the playground until the bell rings, when they line up outside their classroom. So my next step was to, after following her lead, sit and watch her on the playground. I then walked her to line up for class, waiting to watch her walk into the room, and waving goodbye to her.

My next step was to say good-bye to her as she left me to go and drop her back pack at the door to her classroom and head off to the playground alone. Then I watched her play without her knowing it, and followed her to make sure she lined up for class without me.

Next, I said good-bye to her after her back pack drop-off, and stayed in the courtyard across from her classroom where I could still secretly watch her line up. This was to make sure she made it there from the playground alone, as she was supposed to. 

Next step, I followed her to her classroom as I had been doing but I actually left when she went to the playground, hoping she would remember where to go and when, then line up as expected. She did fine.

Today: the BIG step! I took her to the gate where I will be dropping her from my car, stayed there and let her go through the entire routine all by herself. I did watch her from the gate, of course. I saw her walk across the big courtyard without me, like such a big girl, put her backpack down by her classroom door, walk off to the playground, and go to line up when the bell rang. I was so proud! And then I left! 

Part of me wants to call the school to make sure she got to class okay, but I realize this is just me feeling insecure.

It's so hard to let your kids grow up!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the Subject of Pissing Contests

Most people entering into a pissing contest are men. It may have something to do with the size of the weapon they brandish -- in this case their ego. If they hear that someone has gone somewhere or done something or acquired something that they consider to be within the territory they have marked as theirs, something in the psyche clicks and the game is on.

In the old days (she said, as though she had dentures to talk around), a man wouldn't dream of taking on a woman in a pissing contest. Wouldn't be gentlemanly. But in this day and age one-upmanship is like driving on the freeway -- chivalry is dead and it's every man -- and woman -- for him/herself.

Women don't typically do pissing contests. They do baby showers. Example:

"I hope you won't be in labor 36 hours, as I was."
"Only 36 hours? I was in labor three days!"
"Well, be grateful for epidurals. I delivered naturally. An 8-lb. baby boy."
"Eight pounds? My baby weighed 10!"
"I delivered in the backseat of a cab! No one to help but the driver!"
"I delivered all alone. No anesthetic. Baby was breach. Took me all night. I had to untangle the cord from around his neck, then bite it to sever it. He was 10 lbs. 4 ounces."

You get the idea. For some reason we women seem to award brownie points for suffering. Then we eat cake with lots of frosting and oooh and ahhh over the presents being opened. Men have a similar points system, comparing scars after a battle. Then they drink beer. If they're lucky.

Most men can butt heads with each other then back off and go to lunch together. Take attorneys, for example, who battle it out in court, but when it's over, it's over. They've done their job. Outside of a professional context, however, oneupmanship cries out for analysis. If your neighbor buys a new car but yours is a more expensive model, why would you bother "dropping" that fact in conversation? Why not just be happy for your neighbor? Answer: insecurity. Yes, women have it too but women typically want to be accepted, whereas men want to be king of the hill. Go figure.

I've never been a very girly girl. I'd rather cut wood and run the chipper in the backyard with Frank than simply serve him ice tea now and then, with a sweet smile. I practiced karate for 12 years back in the days before protective gear was worn. We were trained to execute control. There were no segregated classes then so I often sparred with men. To be honest, it sort of gave me an advantage because they really didn't want to hurt me. Except for one 12-year-old who bopped me in the nose (poor control). I wasn't old enough then to be his mother, but I figured maybe he had an older sister he didn't like? More recently I've seen men and women compete in martial arts. Everybody kicks ass without compunction!

We were expected to compete in tournaments and I did. Have the trophies in the attic to prove it. Don't have the heart to toss them. I'll let my kids do that "when the time comes." The point I'm trying to make though is that I do not enjoy competition and I can remember the exact day I made a conscious decision to avoid it whenever possible. I scored the highest final exam grade in a statistics class, and was embarrassed when the professor announced that. There was another student whom I felt should have had that honor. She thought so too, and was crushed. I felt bad, not good.

Still, it's hard when someone tosses a challenge your way, to turn around and walk off. So I get suckered in sometimes. It happened recently. Afterwards I gave myself a little talking to, and asked myself, "What have I learned?"

Answer: I've learned that, in a pissing contest, when you notice your opponent (yes, it was a man), really grovelling for material no matter how weak, to keep himself in the game no matter how wimpy he may seem, the way to bow out gracefully and put an end to it is to simply -- laugh, and leave.

And blog about it!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Beloved Alaska

My beloved Alaska flipped on me and landed sunny side up. The natives and most other visitors were ecstatic, but based on past trips I was prepared (and hoping) for extreme weather of another kind. The kind that justifies long johns, waterproof parkas, and thermal socks that cushion your hiking boots. Eventually the weather improved -- gray skies, some rain, a little wind -- all registering " wimpy" by Alaska standards. But hey, when you're in Alaska, you're in Alaska. It can't be bad.

I realize there are thousands of folks who swear by the cruise ship experience, but I'm not one of them. I've always taken the passenger ferry (state marine highway), where you're mixing with mostly Alaskans and very few tourists. It's casual, comfortable, and exposes the face of Alaska without its makeup. College kids (mostly) camp out on the top deck in a protected area equipped with overhead heaters, restrooms and showers. Others opt (as we did) for a cabin with private facilities. Everyone mixes in the dining room, cafeteria, bar, observation room, or deckside on one level or another to watch for wildlife. We spotted eagles, orcas, a pod of seven humpbacks, and even a bear was captured on camera by one passenger. The four-leggeds frequent the shoreline, we learned, to eat the salt grass that grows there.

My first trip to Alaska was close to thirty years ago, my most recent prior to this visit was twenty. Alaska has changed since then. I'm very grateful that I was able to explore, back then, the places where my grandfather was a commercial fisherman and also a gold miner (striking it rich in the Klondike then losing his fortune in the great depression). The trip from which I just returned would not have provided the same sense of personal satisfaction.

In the tiny towns scattered along the inside passage, we learned quickly to duck for cover when cruise ships unloaded literally hundreds of tourists at a time, storming the streets, sidewalks, and businesses. If swept up by the crowd we breathed more secondhand smoke than I like to think about, mostly produced by visitors from other countries who puffed away without apology as they spoke colorful languages such as German, Russian, French, Greek and others unrecognizable. Once the docks were home to just the passenger ferry again, the air cleared and the energy changed. Somewhat.

I had hoped to find again the quaint little cafe in Skagway where I once ate the most delectable liver and onions ever (probably moose), but no such luck. The wooden walkways are now rimmed with gift shop after gift shop after gift shop, many of them selling diamonds, furs and expensive art work. In Juneau we were told that twenty jewelry stores are located along the main street. They, along with most of businesses along the sea route, are owned by the cruise ship companies, putting all but a few local owners out of work or, at best, on someone else's payroll.

Rafting the Mendenhal again was fun... wet and cold but hey, that's what I signed up for. The rowers no longer stop along the bank halfway to serve reindeer sausage and moose juice (cider spiked with bourbon), but at the end of the ride there are crackers and cheese and un-spiked cider -- not to mention souvenirs for sale.

The narrow gauge train now stops short of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, but goes as far as Carcross. The scenery is still breathtaking and now passengers are also privy to informative and nicely delivered narrative over a decent sound system, and an opportunity to buy -- souvenirs. I can't fault Alaska's inside passage for its trend toward commercialism, which I'm told erupted about eight years ago. Even on the edge of the wilderness, people have to do what they have to do to survive, and that isn't limited to fishing and hunting and braving the elements.

On the passenger ferry we met a family that, fifteen years ago, sold everything they owned to homestead land on Petersburg, where they cleared an area, cut down trees, built their home on the water's edge, and still live -- without electricity. Getting to know them, however briefly, warmed my heart more than the sunshine overhead delighted those around me typically held captive by winter year round.

This is the first time I've left Alaska for home without having to hold back tears. Of course this is the first time Frank was waiting for me when I got here. In thirty-five years we've never been separated for more than one night, and at that no more than three or four times. I had injured my knee on the steep terrain, and was hobbling through the Sacramento airport with a nagging limp. When I saw Frank I shrieked with glee and made a mad run for him. Behind me my daughter-in-law called out, "Oh, yeah! Now your leg's just fine!" :-)

The hurt came back, but I don't care. It's good to be home.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How "Crazy" Is This?

Enter the lead actors: Ginny, Joanne, Rosalee.

Background: Ginny. Legal secretary by day, yoga instructor by night. Interesting contrast. Divorced mother of two sons. Joanne: divorced, works in an insurance office across the hall from Ginny. Rosalee is the daughter of one of Joanne's coworkers, thereby a friend of Joanne's.

Ginny meets Frank, falls in love, and when they marry, Joanne is there to throw rice, and Rosalee plays the guitar and sings at their wedding, where she meets Ginny's younger half-brother from San Francisco. They develop an interest in each other, but it goes nowhere of significance. He is struggling with his upbringing in a strict military environment, she is struggling with her own childhood issues that included having to choose between her birth mother and her adopted mother.

Ginny and Frank, wrapped up in their own lives, plan a family and have a daughter. Ginny has introduced Joanne to an old male friend, the two have married,and they become godparents. She changes jobs and loses touch with Rosalee, who fades into the background to live a quiet existence centered around her singing, and after five or six years Joanne ends up divorced again. After a few years she and Ginny eventually lose touch.

Twenty-five years go by. Ginny, who has become a semi-recluse, is holding a book signing and discussion of her latest publication, Charming Children - How the Relaxation Game Helps Good Parents Raise Great Kids. As people begin to arrive at Barnes & Noble, she sees in the distance her friend from the past, Joanne. "Did you know I was going to be here?" she asks in amazement as they hug with enthusiasm. "No!" Joanne says. "I just happened to come in to do some shopping!" Ginny is distracted by preparations for her presentation, but comes back moments later to find Joanne talking with another woman.

"Rosalee!" she says, "Oh my God, did you know I was going to be here?" Rosalee says no, but when she saw the poster at the front of the store she wondered if it could be the person she had known years before. She had not expected to see Joanne, who had not expected to see her either, or Ginny! Rosalee asks about Greg and learns he has never married. "Nor have I," she says.

Joanne and Ginny stay for Ginny's presentation, after which the three friends exchange phone numbers and agree to meet for lunch when Ginny returns from Alaska, her next stop on the book tour.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Never Give Up, Never Give In. Well, At Least Not Yet.

I was 35 when my youngest child was born. During that pregnancy, I noticed all sorts of side effects that were new to me since I'd had my youngest son 14 years before. Anytime I asked the doctor why this or why that was happening (becuase it hadn't happened in my earlier pregnancies), he would preceed his answer with, "As we age..." It drove me nuts. "35 isn't that old, for Pete's sake," I'd think.

That was 33 years ago and, pregnancy aside, I notice that with more years under my belt comes more maintenance. For example, I used to just grab my car keys and skedaddle when I wanted to go somewhere. Now I have to throw on a little makeup (which I don't wear around the house), find clothes that are suitable for the public (as opposed to the same mismatched slop-arounds I've worn for three days straight), and do something with my hair (it's usually eather just hanging or pinned in a knot atop my head). Then I have to search for shoes, (I'm always barefooted at home). At this point I look presentable at best, whereas in the good old days I'd leave the house without giving it a second thought, and always look perfectly fine with no effort at all. That's what youth does for you.

Now, once I've worked at an appearance that at least won't scare people, I move to the next phase of leaving home. I search for my car keys. Sometimes they're in my purse but rarely, and even at that I also have trouble finding my purse! Once I have it and my keyes in tow, the search begins for my cell phone. I can't remember where I used it last. So anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes after I've decided to head out, I actually walk through the door. Not looking or feeling like a million bucks, mind you, but passing for human, at least.

In my hay day I'd be out and about having given no thought at all to garnering attention, yet heads would turn. Wolf whistles annoyed me. "Honestly. Men," I'd think. Now if I hear a guy whistle in my direction it's either because my daughter or grown granddaughters are with me, or I look over my shoulder to see who's walking behind me.

Now I have to avoid many of my favorite foods and exercise just to maintain my weight, which is more than I'd like it to be but I'm actually into a smaller size than a few years ago. I used to be able to eat anything and lots of it, and my only exercise was from cleaning my whole house in one day, chasing after my kids, and once in awhile galavanting about. If the galavanting about involved makeup, I'd hit the hay afterwards without washing my face, wake up with a smeared face but still looking ten years younger than my actual age.

Now I have speacial nighttime cleanser. Special cream for undereye puffiness. Special cream for wrinkles, special cream for age spots. Body lotion too, of course, with Q10 for firming. Does all this work? I don't know. But it smells good. If I do it right I go to bed looking and feeling like a greased monkey. I also have sunblock for daytime, and moisturizer of course. Am I religious about this regimen? Alas, no. It's a luxury that I sometimes allow myself, but more often than not just washing my face is a major accomplishment in the morning and at night I fall asleep watching TV and figure I'm doing well just to make it to the bedroom without Frank's support and guidance.

I won't even get started on the assortment of vitamins and other supplements I now ingest. I used to snack on M&M's, but now... it's pill popping and trying to remember to drink lots of water every day. (Trying, of course, implies something short of success.)

And when I do get dressed to go out, can I just throw on something and run? No. My jeans can't be too tight or too loose, and sometimes jeans are no longer appropriate at my age. My shirts have to have sleeves to cover my flabby tricept area, and if there are buttons in front I almost always discard it for an alternate choice because the opening will most certainly gap across my chest area. If I'm em>really getting dolled up, can I wear the spike heels that make legs look shapelier? Oh no. Must wear sensible heels in order to walk safely. (Okay, I'll be honest. Sometimes I still wear the spikes, but only for an event where I know I can literally be on Frank's arm the entire time. I say to him, "Under NO circumstances can you let go of me!"

Sometimes I resent all the effort it takes to try to stay ahead of the years that have accrued, but I make it a point to refute the emotion and replace it with logic. The fact is that the nature of things is to atrophy. Deteriorate. Fall apart. It's a process we cannot stop, but we can slow it down, if we're willing to take the time and put forth the effort.

I could write more on this topic, but I have a few spare moments so I think I'll give myself a mud pack instead. Guess I've shamed myself into it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ladies First, Forget the Boy Scouts

President Obama has now appeared (yet again) on The View. He chose a show, he said, "that Michele watches." Uhhh... okaaay... please tell me you're not buying that. A man in his position is going to use milk toast criteria to influence a stainless steel strategy? Wait, maybe he's simply keen on pleasing his wife in an attempt to compensate for breaking his two-year-old promise to her that he would stop smoking!

He is, if anything, razor sharp when it comes to campaigning, and he is forever campaigning because it's what he does best -- so why would he deviate? No, he chose a venue where (a) he would reach lots of ... women... which is the category showing the greatest decline in supporters and (b) he would be surrounded by... women... most of whom were very obviously predisposed to behave adoringly. At least he is channeling his charm in a different direction than did Bill Clinton!

What do you have on your i-pod? Do you know Lindsay Lohan is in jail? Do you know who Snookie is? OMG, what an insult to all View-ers with triple digit IQs. I wasn't surprised, I was disappointed. Elisabeth tossed out the one question with substance, and then let him skate when he answered. As far as the panel goes, she was my one hope, but she has been growing increasingly docile and now, it seems, has gone over to the dark side -- no pun intended. And I'm talking about gushers, BTW, not Democrats. I won't be View-ing future seasons of The View after the farce that was aired yesterday.

To be honest I was getting pretty tired of fluffy celebrities hawking their tell all book, latest movie, or just released CD. Tired of affordable fashions and ditzy diet fads. Tired of Whoopie peering out from behind her floppy dreadlocks. Tired of the top heavy Sherry stuck chest deep on her divorce, her kid, her galavanting and herself -- not necessarily in that order. Tired of Barbara's faux humility. But more than anything else, I was SICK and tired of Joy's vitriol. What a bitter and pathetic excuse for a comedianne. If I had to choose who to toss out of a boat into shark infested water and it was between Joy Bahar and Nancy Pelosi, I swear I'd either find a way to toss them both, or I'd leave them behind and I'd jump!

But back to the president. I first became aware of Barak Obama when he spoke years ago at the Democratic convention, and I admit I was in absolute awe. What a presence! When we elected him as our first black president, I was proud of us as a nation, and hopeful that he would keep his campaign promises to unite rather than divide. Well, at least he kept one promise... he is transforming America. Regardless of what the majority of the people want, he is getting what he wants,and has definitely fooled some of the people most of the time.

Oh. Did you know the audience of The View that day was made up solely of the show's staff members, crew and favored friends? Not much chance of a heckler that way. And did you know he chose appearing on the popular daytime talk show over an invitation to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America? Way to go, Mr. President. Way to honor our most precious natural resource, the youth of our land, the face of our nation's future (rather than your own). And he did so without apology. Then, after charming the ladies of The View, he traveled to an event where he addressed teachers and complained to them about the frivolity the female panel had displayed. We have more important matters to discuss, he admonished. OMG. The nerve of the man. Love 'em and leave 'em... in the dust.

I didn't vote for Obama but when he won I wanted to support him and I tried to believe in him and now I wish I could trust him. But I don't. I'll take integrity over charisma any day of the week, but that's hard to find in politics. Come November, our president may find a change he wasn't bargaining for. Can more Republicans level the playing field? Who knows. Maybe it's six one way and half a... dirty... dozen the other.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shirley Sherrod and The Secret

What has happened recently to Shirley Sherrod is interesting, ironic, and discouraging. We should be able to trust the media to get it right, and to remain objective in their coverage; but those days are apparently gone for good.

When we finally learned Ms. Sherrod was quoted out of context to come across as racist, what occurred to me is (1) how many times I've been misquoted by the press simply due to lazy reporting, and (2) how the technique of "words out of context" can be used deliberately as a weapon against the speaker.

Or to mislead others.

And this brings to my mind the research Frank and I did when The Secret (Rhonda Byrne's huge money maker) became all the rage. For starters, Ms. Byrne attributed a self-serving quote to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The secret is the answer to all that has been, all that is, and all that ever will be." According to the Emerson Society (authentic experts and thorough in their knowledge of all things Emerson), no such statement (or anything close to it)ever existed. But here's the tactic used by Byrne that correlates to the Shirley Shirrod fiasco:

In The Secret Ms Byrne quotes Winston Churchill as saying: "You create your own universe as you go along." This statement appears IN CONTEXT as follows (in caps so that it's easier to spot).

“Some of my cousins who had the great advantage of University education used to tease me with arguments to prove that nothing has any existence except what we think of it. The whole creation is but a dream; all phenomena are imaginary. YOU CREATE YOUR OWN UNIVERSE AS YOU GO ALONG. The stronger your imagination, the more variegated your universe. When you leave off dreaming, the universe ceases to exist.

"These amusing mental acrobatics are all right to play with. They are PERFECTLY HARMLESS and PERFECTLY USELESS. I warn my younger readers only to treat them as a game. The metaphysicians will have the last word and defy you to disprove their absurd propositions.”

The quote Byrne attributes to Churchill actually represents the point of view of his COUSINS, with whom Churchuill did NOT agree! In fact, in his own words he declares such "mental acrobatics" to be "perfectly useless."

I have studied ancient philosopy, metaphysics and quantum physics. In all fairness, much of what The Secret teaches is valid; however, some of it is not; and the fact that Byrne felt it necessary to resort to shoddy misrepresentations to support her work, (a) detracts from her credibility and (b) disturbs me. Her public deserves better.

I disagree with Churchill's pronouncement that gullibility in this area is "harmless." Byrne sells the snake oil and includes the caveat that if it doesn't work, it's the fault of the person who bought it, not the person who sold it. She places full responsibiity on each of us as individuals, with no recognition of a divine force superior to man, with the power to intervene in our course of actions. Furthermore, victims such as those devestated by Hurricane Katrina or the 9/11 tragedy, for example, brought it on themselves, she says... giving no recognition either to the negative polarity that exists in our universe.

Her claims are not harmless. Indeed they inflict harm on those gullible enough to believe that, should they fall short of success following her teachings, their failure is their own fault.

Apparently the secret discovered by Ms. Byrne is actually how to make a lot of money selling a little truth wrapped up in a lot of b.s. Maybe she learned this from the modern day media. Or did they learn it from her?