Monday, December 29, 2008

Road Warrior says Thanks Sidney!

Tonight on my commute home I spent two hours sitting in a line of cars on Hwy 11leading out of Walla Walla. Here I was all happy that the snow was finally melting so roads would be SAFE at last (have had some white knuckle drives in white out conditions and done some really scary slipping and sliding on my daily commute in recent days.) But today we started getting high winds (40 mph) and that in combination with some wet and ice left on the roads contributed to a couple semi tip overs. Then there were three or four OTHER accidents from cars pulling into the other lane to get around the traffic backups and running into oncoming traffic. It was pretty awful.

I left work looking forward to getting home at a decent time and actually having time to make a nice dinner for my man. laid plans. Yes, it was frustrating just sitting there for two stinking hours. Dinner was grilled ham and cheese instead of enchiladas. But at least I had the patience to sit and WAIT rather than risk pulling out into the other lane like so many others and possibly contributing to the mess. At least I DID get home safe, from the look of some of the wrecks I passed, not everyone did.

This whole commute thing is wearing me out. But such is life when you live out in the middle of no where.

However, it wasn't all bad. As usual I had an audio book with me, so I got to spend some quality time with Mr. Sidney Poitier reading the letters he wrote about his life to his great granddaughter in his book Life Beyond Measure.

It was fascinating to hear about many of his experiences growing up and the way various things influenced him. It makes me wonder what sort of messages I would want to leave for my own grandchildren or posterity beyond.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Winding Down 2008

Well it seems I've set a new record. It's nearly 10:00 PM on Dec 26 and I have not yet packed away all signs of Christmas. Wow. Go figure.

Normally I start itching to undecorate by noon on Christmas day.

But this year I just don't have the energy for it. If I could twinkle my nose and have it all fly into boxes I'd have it gone. But I don't want it away bad enough to haul all the tubs out and start crating it just yet. I'll get there.

So now we wind down the last week of 2008. Clearly, calendar days are totally arbitrary segments of the continuum of time, like hours and like minutes and like weeks and like years. We make them up, appointing concepts of starting and stopping to segments of forever as if they had any real meaning.

Our feeble finite mortal brains have a tough time wrapping around eternity. So we pretend that time matters.

Buying into this silly social construct, I feel reflective as the last days of this year sputter to a close.

I vacillate between going all pro-active with goals and resolutions for the new year or just wanting to hunker down, hold on tight and get through whatever comes next.

I suspect there will be some big changes for Casa Piranha in the coming year - some of our own choosing and plenty we never suspected.

Am I up for it? Dunno - but ready or not here they come.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Page Nibblers is born

My dear friend Rozel and I have decided to create a virtual book club. When first considering why we (who are both OH SO BUSY) are motivated to do this Roz said: "I just want to read a book and talk to someone about it. I want others to pick books that I would have NEVER given a second thought to. Since I am no longer in school, my brain feels like it is dying. I don't have enough self discipline to read a book on my own so if I am responsible to others I will be more motivated (even though it is a guilt free book club)."

We are still tossing around ideas about how much structure and how much anarchy we want in this collaboration. It's just beginning to congeal into a plan. We've started a blog to guide and record our meanderings. Check us out HERE.

I'm excited to have a place for some old friends and new friends to come together to talk about what we are reading.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Something for Baby Boomers

This LINK is worth a chuckle

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Can You Keep a Secret?

I started this post a couple weeks ago and have had it languishing in my DRAFTS file up till now...figured it was time I finally dusted it off and got it posted or else delete. Posting won out.

I've been thinking some about how I manage work stress and what it means to find personal balance when in the front lines of the helping professions.

Years ago when I was working Mental Health I went to a training about Coping With Helper Secrets. The guy who did the training, Dale Larson, talked about how those who work with people in pain or crisis are bound to have all sorts of different emotional reactions to what we experience. His research was based on work with people serving in Hospice. But he generalized the effect to any helping professional who routinely interacted with clients/patients whose lives were characterized by trauma, drama and/or generalized chaos.

No matter how proficient our skill sets may be for responding appropriately in the moment to our clients, internally we may be all amok with self doubt, disgust, frustration, resentment, anger or shame. Larson talked about the importance of having a safe place for appropriately processing those conflicts so the secondary trauma does not overtake us.

The agency I direct does re-entry services with felons after release from prison so I get opportunities to interact with all sorts of different people and to be in the front lines for a fair amount of drama.

Part of my job now requires me to work with sex offenders who I personally find reprehensible.

My work also sometimes has me associating with people who are dishonest, selfish and manipulative.

And on occasions I cross paths with people who are rude, ignorant or just plain difficult.

All of that takes a toll.

Sure, there are also some GREAT folks who have recognized the error of their ways and are genuinely trying to turn their lives around. But those are the minority, it seems. Day in and day out, mostly I deal with people who I have no reason to believe or trust. I have to be on my guard all the time. That wears me out.

I'm usually pretty good at how I manage my responses when I'm with the clients. But sometimes my internal response is more than a little skewed. All too often I have a hard time letting things go.

At the training Larson talked about how working with people in distress can trigger all sorts of personal reactions for the professionals serving them, and how if those reactions are not tended to in a suitable manner it can wreak holy havoc for the therapists, cops, priests, paramedics and others whose lives so often intersect with other people's pain.

I really do believe that to be true. I think it is important and healthy to have a safe place where one can drop the constraint of our professional role and authentically own the full range of the impact all that stress brings.

So the trick for me is to figure out when and where it is ok to share, ok to vent, ok to gnash my teeth over all the different stressors of my job - from the client drama to the funding woes - and when I need to just come to terms with it on my own. Part of the issue I need to be cautious of is client confidentiality. I can't talk about them in any identifying way to those outside the agency other than what is needed to coordinate specific services. Part of the problem also is the need to present my agency as strong and capable to help shore up the reputation in the community, even when I am aware of the problems inside that sometimes seem like insurmountable barriers.

Sorting out where to draw the line between my PUBLIC self as "executive director" of a particular non-profit and my PRIVATE self as a person who worries about XYZ or longs for ABC...that is an interesting kettle of fish.

Last Friday I had a meeting with one of the counselors up at the prison. As I was on my way out of his office he asked me "So do you like this kind of work? Do you enjoy working with offenders?" His question really knocked me for a loop. Up until now I had not asked myself that at all. I kept asking myself whether or not I was doing it well. My measuring stick was all about mastery. I wanted to know that I was proficient at the role. It never occurred to me to stop and ask if I ENJOYED my job.

Most I can't say I do. I'm too busy scrambling, dancing as fast as I can and still feeling like I may be dropping balls.

What does that mean? Does that mean I need to scramble to find something else and kick this one to the curb? I don't think so.

I think it means I need to examine more how I am managing the stress load. I need to learn how to do a better job of letting go.

I have much to learn from this position I am in. I really do believe I am serving right where I belong for now. I do not know how long I will have this job. I doubt it will be long term. But for however long it may be, whether 3 more months or 3 more years - I hope I can find ways of processing the complicated range of feelings that this work triggers in a more healthy, balanced way than I have so far.

And when my spirits are flagging, I do tell myself I'm ever so grateful I'm not bending over in a rice paddy day after day. I'm ever so grateful I don't work at Walmart. I am glad I don't work in a factory. I am glad I don't work for some mean boss. There are several parts about my job that have me tearing my hair out in frustration. But there are parts that I DO feel good about too. It's just a matter of how I balance and focus between the two. What will I pay attention to the most and what will I let go of?

Part of how I sort that out, for me, will be who I talk to about this stuff.
If I haven't learned anything else, one thing I absolutely know for sure is that when I feel connected with another person that can understand and relate to what I'm going through then my resilience increases exponentially. When I feel isolated and alone I get more scattered, less able to set clear priorities, my judgement starts to slip. I do way better when I can bounce ideas or vent or praise to another human being.

Knowing that about myself I need to work on identifying how to get more of that. I need to have someone out there I can tell things to, who will keep it confidential, not judge me, and be willing to give me feedback about when I'm over-reacting or making mountains out of mole hills. I need that outside perspective to help me see better when I'm on track and when I'm getting off the path.

I have some ideas of how to move in this direction...

but I'm also open to suggestion. So I'm throwing it out to the universe.

How do YOU deal with work angst? How do you find balance? How do you turn it off at the end of the day?

Absolute Poverty vs Relative Deprivation

I've been working on my online classes to get them ready for winter term. I came across this question that is posted for the unit on social class & mobility:

"Because there is such great wealth in the hands of some in the U.S., and a great deal of commercial exposure to the range of material goods available, those who live modestly may feel poor even if all their basic needs are met. Different people have different ideas about what standard of living is “good enough” for them. What has had the greatest impact on how you feel about your own material circumstances in relation to your community and/or other family members? What factors do you believe have the greatest impact on whether or not a person will feel satisfied with what they have?"

That question got me thinking...

I grew up poor without the advantages of summer camps or music lessons. I wore hand me down clothes most my life as a child and didn't have much in the way of pretty things. I used to think having matching furniture and wall to wall carpet in your house meant you were rich.

I've heard lots of people who grew up in similarly humble circumstances say that in retrospect they realized their family had been poor when they were little, but that they had never really been aware of that at the time. That was not the case for me. I was very, very aware of my family's low status. My parents fought incessantly about debts and things we could not afford. I heard snide comments from other people about the way we lived. Even when I was quite young, I defined my life as lacking basic things other people took for granted. I used to dream of one day living in a pretty house and having enough - not being RICH necessarily, but simply having ENOUGH.

I left that home at sixteen to marry my first husband. During that volatile seven year marriage we lived pretty much hand to mouth, bouncing around from one rented hovel to the next as my ex husband seldom held a steady job very long and a lot of what money he did bring in went to getting high. We were on food stamps most of the time and had no health insurance. We took our kids to county hospital if they got sick.

Fast forward several years to when I married my current husband. We struggled our first 10 years together, but it was a different kind of struggle. Once all the bills were paid and the groceries bought there was not much of anything left over. But the key thing is all the bills WERE paid on time and we never had to worry about having enough groceries. We bought a house and were stable in ways I had never known. We NEVER had shut off notices from the utilities and our standards were about establishing decent credit and putting away a little saving for the future. (Savings? Unheard of in my former life.)

Then there were some promotions for my man and eventually our kids were emancipated. Since we no longer were paying for the many expenses of raising our boys and then I was available to start working full time suddenly we had a level of discretionary income I'd never known before.

We were always pretty scrupulous about living within our means and having some savings. To do that we had to watch the budget closely. We seldom went to the movies or out to eat. We did not buy a lot of "STUFF". It took a while to pay off my student loans and pay for a car - but we did it. Eventually the only debt we had in the world was our mortgage, and that was manageable. We had two or three credit cards and used them plenty, but always made sure they were paid off in full every month.

Once we got to that point my man and I started taking some trips - Costa Rica, Fiji, Hawaii, Alaska. Every year we made sure we had a vacation for at least a week to ten days somewhere. We still had to watch the budget closely to make this possible, but it WAS possible. With both of us working full time we had a pretty comfortable lifestyle according to our level of expectations. We knew people who had a lot more than us, we knew people who had much less. But for us, if felt like we had just enough to truly appreciate our abundance without so much to let it go to our heads.

We had a handful of fat cow years during which we were able to do more things, help others, and dream of a cushy retirement.

Now the lean cow years are here, or so it seems. Due to some unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, our financial picture has changed. Some of our long range plans will have to be scrapped and others adjusted significantly. We're still doing ok, but the balance sheet definitely isn't as promising as it once was. And that triggers a fair amount of anxiety for me.

I don't need a pile a cash or stacks of shiny THINGS. But I do need to know that we will always have a secure place to live and be able to pay our bills on time. I never want to go back to the marginal way of living I came from.

So long as we both work full time we could continue on pretty much as we have been, minus any exotic travel anytime soon. But my husband is 63. At some point the time will come for him to step away from his job. Also, just from a point of prudence, I'd like to be in a position so that if something were to happen to either one of us (or to the jobs we hold) that we'd still be able to manage.

That was a big part of why we chose to sell our place in Athena. To get out from under the mortgage and to free us up to be able to choose to stay here or leave to another area depending on what opportunities came up.

But now that we are in the process of selling that house we have to decide what next.
Do we buy some tiny little place here locally that we can get for $120K or less? Or do we keep the money in the bank as a parachute against potential woe in the future and continue to rent our current place out at the farm?

How do I feel about where I live? I admit I do miss having my big fancy house where I was comfortable doing lots of entertaining. But I've kind of gotten over the worst of the homesickness I initially felt when we left it. I've come to appreciate the snug house we are in now in a lot of ways, even though I don't have walk in closets or a garage. (With all the snow we have now I REALLY miss the garage!)

As I plan for the future, what factors will determine how much is enough in what sort of house I expect to have or how much wiggle room I need in my budget to feel comfortable rather than stressing over the wolf at the door?

My ideas about this are in flux at the moment - shimmering with iridescent contrast between wanting something VERY simple and basic on some days while other days I long for something more upscale. Also the level of anxiety I feel on a day to day basis over the current financial crisis in our national economy varies a lot. At this point I don't even want to open up the statements for our investment savings. I just want to stick them in a box for later, cover my eyes and ears and shout LA LA LA LA so I don't have to see or hear about the decline anymore. Some days it makes me crazy, and I fret hopelessly about having 30 years of hard work and savings go up in smoke. Other days I'm more serene, trusting that even if we have to adjust our lifestyle considerably from what we had planned, God knows our needs and will provide for them. We may not get much extra, but I generally have confidence that we will have enough.

How much is enough? As I come to know more and more people who are living in serious poverty I see my grumbling about giving up the excess of my former abundance as rather petty.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having abundance. But as I wrestle with how I feel about what I have now, what I most appreciate, what I long for, what I think of as futile pipe dream that I NEVER expect to's interesting which things land on which lists. How DO I decide how much is "enough"?

How about you?

Big Ideas in the Night

So what to do at 2:30 -4:00 AM when sleep won't come?

Explore a few blogs, of course.

I started out with Violins and Starships, where I thoroughly enjoyed Lynn's posting on Colonizing the Stars.

That of course, led me to Steve Barnes's post over on Dar Kush

which led me to Suzanne's writing over at Susannagig.jig

In her posting dated November 11, 2008 she names 3AM as a favorite time of day and writes lyrical prose praising the hour.

Ok. Maybe I can quit cursing the fact that I am awake when I would rather be sleeping and make my peace with appreciating what these middle of the night pockets of time have to offer?

Easy to say - hard to do when I know I have a LONG day ahead of me and I will be dragging dead tired with not enough rest.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Santa and Me

My beloved was asked to play Santa at the ward party last night. He had fun with it.

I have mixed feelings about the whole Santa tradition. As it says on Wikipedia: "There has long been opposition to teaching children to believe in Santa Claus. Some Christians say the Santa tradition detracts from the religious origins and purpose of Christmas. Other critics feel that Santa Claus is an elaborate lie, and that it is unethical for parents to teach their children to believe in his existence. Still others oppose Santa Claus as a symbol of the commercialization of the Christmas holiday, or as an intrusion upon their own national traditions."

I don't mind the idea of Santa in the cartoon myth sort of way - having a character that represents jolliness and the magic of Christmas. But I've always questioned the wisdom of telling kids he is REAL. Last night as the Primary children came onto "Santa's" lap one by one it was very evident that many of the younger ones totally believed he was the real thing. One little girl looked up at him in all seriousness and said to him: "I have to ask you a question. Am I on the good list or the bad list?" I felt so sad for her to have such uncertainty and doubt about the miraculous little person she was.

Some say that believing in Santa is part of the magic of childhood. I dunno. It doesn't really make sense to me.

I do not recall ever believing in Santa as a kid and therefore there was never a moment of disillusion for me when I realized I had been lied to for years. But for some kids this is a big deal. How about you? Did you (or do you) believe in Santa? What do you tell children now?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Quiz

I enjoyed reading Jaquandor's responses to the Christmas Quiz so I figured I'd post my own answers to the questions:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?

Some of both. I am not a great gift wrapper. My sister-in-law, Toni, always makes the most gorgeous packages. It's almost a shame to open them. Fancy home made bows and all. My wrapping makes the presents look like Charley Brown did it. Oh well. I mean well.

2. Real tree or artificial?
Fake with the lights already wired on. For me real trees are like Cats. I can admire them at OTHER people's houses, but I just don't want to deal with the mess and nuisance.

3. When do you put up the tree?
Shortly after Thanksgiving. Often Thanksgiving weekend. I take it down EARLY, so this is the only way to get any time to appreciate it.

4. When do you take the tree down?
I've been known to have it all packed up and put away by 4:00 PM on Christmas day which makes my husband scowl. So I try to hold off till the 26th. But left up to me, I'd dismantle the thing on Christmas eve. When I'm done, I'm DONE.

5. Do you like eggnog?
Yep - but no rum.

6. Favorite gifts received as a child?
One year our family got a ping pong table. That was fun.

7. Hardest person to buy for?
My husband. He is impossible. If he wants something he goes out and buys it. So there never seems to be anything that he is particularly hoping for or would like. Also his birthday is Dec 1 so I've used up all my creative juices getting THAT figured out so by the time Christmas rolls around I'm fresh out of ideas.

We've tried several methods:
(1) Just tell me what you want
(DUD - no excitement or surprise that way, sort of misses the whole point)

(2) I do my very best on my own and HOPE he will like it.
DOUBLE dud. We're out the money for presents neither of us like and then stuck with stuff we don't want but feel hesitant to get rid of because it was a present that was SUPPOSED to please. Like the smoker I got him two years ago. It's out in the shed somewhere but has never even been out of the box.

(3) Forget it! We have too much stuff already - let's just agree NOT to get each other presents.

Another dud. Christmas is not only about the presents, but some token is a part of the magic and it just feels lame if we do nothing.

Then we finally hit on a solutions to the whole Christmas present dilemma a few years ago. We set a dollar limit and I go out and buy a present FROM him TO me. I wrap it up and put it under the tree. He goes out and buys a present FROM me TO him and does the same. Then, on Christmas morning we both get EXACTLY what we wanted (since we picked them ourselves!) AND we also get a SURPRISE of unwrapping presents. My surprise is to see what I got him and his surprise is to see what he got me.

Hey, it works .

8. Easiest person to buy for?
I agonize over every gift, even ones I'm picking for myself.

9. Do you have a nativity scene?
I have about 25 of them. I've collected them for years. Some of them have been gifts. Some I bought myself. I have some real favorites - like this Orthodox Icon of the Nativity that I picked up on e-bay earlier this year:

I TOTALLY COVET Kelly's nativity ornaments. I'll have to repent.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?
I mail about 50-70 or so every year. Unfortunately four of the ones I mailed this year have already come back as unable to foreword. Sigh.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
A pair of pants when I was 9 or so. I felt gypped, like my parents were copping out by getting me clothes that I sort of thought they should have provided for me anyway so they wouldn't have to get me a real present. Besides, they were ugly pants.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
When I was younger I really liked How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman with Burl Ives.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Haven't started yet. I'll let ya know. We don't buy a lot. Send checks to the kids/grandkids. Used to make ourselves crazy trying to find the perfect gifts, but as the kids have gotten older we've resorted to sending cash and letting them get what they want.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?Yep. Why not? I think regifting makes sense. But ONLY if what I am giving someone is something I think they would appreciate, not just that I want to get rid of it.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My mother used to make homemade pineapple sherbet. I know a main ingredient was buttermilk. If anyone has a recipe for this PLEASE LET ME KNOW! Also my grandmother always made 5 layer cookies. (graham crackers, nuts, chocolate chips, coconut and Eagle Brand). Totally decadent!

16. Lights on the tree?
When I was growing up we had those lights that look like candles that had some sort of liquid inside that bubbled from top to bottom. I always thought those were cool. But now we just have white lights on our pre lit tree and that's just fine by me.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
ANYTHING but Silent Night. I really don't like Silent Night at all and it plays over and over and over for WEEKS. It's not a bad's just that every time I hear that song I get a mental image of my mother's face dead in her casket and that is not something I choose to dwell on.

My parents both died in December just a few days apart. It has been many years now, but because it was the Christmas season when I was in AZ for the funeral I STILL associate many of the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas with death.

I do, however, really like "What Child Is This?" and "Do You See What I See?"

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We almost always stay home by ourselves and I try to distract myself enough to keep my funk at bay. However, a really fun tradition that has developed over the last few years is that we drive to Boise around New Years to UNDECORATE my brother's tree. They have a big house so usually have a 20-25 foot tree with LOTS of ornaments. We go visit, eat good food, the guys play music together. We always have a blast together and I get to put all the ornaments away in their little nested boxes. That's really the best part of Christmas for me these days.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
Yeah, but why?

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
We used to put the angel that came from my husband's childhood but it sort of fell apart this year, (hey, he's 63 so the thing has been around a while!) so we are back to the plastic top piece - not a star really, I sort of think of it as a tree steeple.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
When the kids were home we used to open ONE on Christmas Eve and do the rest in the morning. Now days with just the two of us home there are only a couple under the tree so we do 'em whenever we get up on Christmas.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
My own weird moodiness that I have a difficult time shaking off.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?
Our tree has no particular theme - VERY eclectic. After all, how many people have a pink paper fish on their Christmas tree? We have a nice mix of home made and store bought, brand new and very old. There's a macaroni angel and something made out of glue and yarn from my oldest son when he was in elementary school. There are some made out of wheat, crochet, felt, you name it. I like the mix.

I do NOT accept blue as a Christmas color.

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner?

Green chili?

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?
Sleep. Laughter. Peace. To feel more present to the precious connections in my life rather than being haunted by the loss. To finally get my home office organized.

So there's my take on Christmas. How about you?

Monday, December 08, 2008


I've got India on my mind this morning.

For one reason, my oldest brother is there, working most the month of December. I miss him.

Reason #2 is all the stuff in the news lately about bombs, hostage taking, and general chaos.

Reason #3 is THIS VIDEO shared by a former colleague of mine over on Facebook.

The soundtrack is in Hindi and I don't have a direct translation, but it's a short clip encouraging unity, and the images are powerful all on their own. The message is priceless and served as a reminder to me that even when the odds seem impossible, if ONE PERSON will throw impossibility to the wind and BEGIN doing what is just, what is righteous, what is good, others will follow.

It is a basic law of physics that the material world operates on the principle of entropy, meaning that all things naturally decay, break down, and eventually rot or return to chaos. (Well, actually entropy has a much more complicated definition than that having to do with the ratio of useful and non-useful forms of energy, but the bottom line is that there is an inevitable and steady deterioration.)

I recognize that as real in the material world. All the many old dilapidated barns falling down in fields give evidence.

But what of the social and spiritual worlds? Is it inevitable that our culture will corrode and collapse eventually? Is it merely a matter of time before we run out of juice for building/refining civilization and hand things over to total decadence? Does it HAVE to be that righteousness will fade in this fallen mortal world as we strangle on our own pride and sin in the last days?

I do believe there are cycles and trends that will happen, and there is a general climate of chaos over which I have no power. I know from both social analysis and words of prophets that the coming years are going to bring some very bleak days.

But I still believe in the power of individual lives to step up and create amazing pockets of beauty amid ugliness, healing in the face of carnage, holiness right next to depravity.

I have to believe this, or else I could not even get out of bed.

Increasingly ours is a world of extreme contrasts. Each day we decide which side of the line we will put our energies to. Will I throw in with those who look to self interest alone as a measure of worthwhile endeavors? Nope. Not me. I have my own selfish streak, to be sure. But somehow or another I have learned to define every day's success or lack of it by the degree to which I touched a life, made a difference for good. Maybe some of my efforts have all the efficacy of Don Quixote's mad dash for windmills. But I've got to keep trying to move the logs in my way to make this world better. While I completely recognize that acting alone my puny individual efforts are of little value, I really do believe that when we strike out for good others WILL follow, just as surely as there are masses following the paths of depravity and decadence.

So I will continue to pray for my brother's safe return from Hyderabad. And I will continue to push at logs that fall in my way.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pacific Northwest Beauty

I had intended to leave a long comment over on Violins and Starships but apparently there was an error in some of the HTML code I typed in for links so most of it got lost. So rather than start over there I figured I'd just post it here where I could edit any problems...

I was singing the praises of the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon coast is DEFINITELY worth visiting. My husband and I spent a weekend at the bed and breakfast at Heceta Head Lighthouse that was absolutely amazing.

Other special places worth taking in,

The drive through the Columbia Gorge - between Hood River and Portland has over 25 waterfalls, from the stunning to the sublime...several with nice hiking trails to the top through lush land.

Then there's Ho National Forest over in Washington, amazing old growth forest that makes my spirit soar.

The interpretive center at Mt. St. Helens is definitely work taking in. A whole hillside of giant trees scattered like pick up sticks gives silent testatment to the power of that might volcano's force.

Or if you enjoy covered bridges Oregon has lots of them.

Whether it's exciting city stuff in Portland or Seattle, quiet moutain retreats, skiing, windsurfing, or just taking in a farmer's market we've got it all here in the Pacific Northwest.

I may be a desert baby by birth, but this part of the country has most definitely captured my heart.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Self Esteem

I have been mulling over the issue of self esteem ever since Jen introduced her idea of the carnival bringing together a bouquet of postings offering different perspectives on the topic. So late last night I cranked out some words, wanting to honor my commitment to participate.

But then this morning I read it again and cringed at the sound of much of what I had written. "Where do I get this crap?" I said to myself. I started slashing out paragraphs and reworking sentences. Twice I almost just deleted the whole darn thing. Why? What was it about what I written that made me so uncomfortable? I'm still not entirely sure. But clearly it was a reminder to me that I don't even begin to have this whole self confidence thing figured out for myself.

I think to some degree the quality we think of as self esteem is hard wired (or not) into us from our earliest beginnings... While I don't believe the bold/shy continuum is the very same thing as self esteem, it can be closely related. Some kids just seem to come into this world timid and self doubting, no matter how much reassurance and affirmation family and friend may offer. Others carry courage and confidence as their birthright - blazing through life with heads held high, ready to face anything. What makes the difference? I don't really know.

I believe that just as individuals are born with varying amounts of hair or predisposition to freckles, we are created with different degrees of built-in natural self esteem before the world adds or takes away a single thing. But no matter how much or how little of that magic potion of innate self confidence we get to start out with, once we enter the world our environment most definitely will compliment or corrode our native temperaments.

The values, resources, and social messages we are surrounded with growing up make a huge difference in how we view our personal worth and define our place in the world. Clearly, this is a critical issue for the upbringing of children. Nurturing kids well really matters. Still, there are no guarantees of a set formula that will ensure a strong sense of self. Just about everyone I know has been acquainted with someone from a "good" family who seemed to have loads of support and every imaginable advantage, yet turned out just awful. There are others we know who grew up in deplorable circumstances that could crush even the strongest spirit who nevertheless came through strong and whole.

So sometimes I do have to wonder, IS self esteem something that can be TAUGHT through the "right" kind of socializing process, whatever that is defined to be? Is it something that can be acquired later in life if missed out early on?

I sure hope so. If not, we are in deep trouble.

My job puts me in regular contact with sex offenders, drug addicts and your garden variety of hoodlums and gangsters. While some may present as arrogant, almost never do I find one of these clients to have what I would call a healthy self esteem. I see lots of broken lives that have done serious damage to themselves and those around them. As I work hard to design programs to serve this difficult population I often wish I could turn back the clock to be there for these men and women when they were six or nine or eleven BEFORE their lives were in shambles. But that is not possible. So all I can do is try my best to give them opportunities today to redefine who they are and reinforce new patterns of thinking and behaving that will allow them to find a more productive path in the world.

Will it do any good? Not always. I am pragmatic enough to recognize that not all of them are ready or willing to do the work it takes to make meaningful change. A few may be too broken, no longer capable of pro-social living (or so it seems.) But for some, they CAN learn, they CAN change, they CAN build a strong sense of themselves as worthy and worthwhile and let that lead them to live in a way that demonstrates it. When that occurs it is remarkable to see.

Whether talking about children whose futures still lie before them or the grown ups who have already established their path, I have to believe that positive influences will make a difference in developing a strong self image. Because the world we live in does not flow by gently. In dozens of ways we get told we are not enough, we don't measure up. Sometimes the world is just plain mean.

We get messages from media trying to sell products by making us dissatisfied with ourselves. We get messages from family members playing out their own less than healthy histories. We get messages from neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers as we move through the path of our lives. A lot of those messages would have us believe we are better than or not as good as the person standing next to us. Both ends of that spectrum lead us to a dark place.

In light of that, how do we inoculate our children from the harshness, help them to remain strong and confident when faced with judgment or ridicule? By the same token, how to we be sure our kids are not the ones dishing out the ridicule? How do we teach our kids to have a strong sense of self so they are less inclined to become either victims or bullies?

For that matter, how do we hold fast to solid faith in ourselves and corresponding compassion for others at ANY age?

I don't think piles of praise is the answer. It will take more than blue ribbons or applause or a stack of compliments to make anyone feel worthy. Affirmations from the world are nice but what matters most is how each of us feels in the dark quiet of night when no one is looking.

I wish I had some magic formula to spread more self respect and stronger self esteem throughout the world, because the world badly needs it. The signs of its lacking are appallingly apparent at every turn.

I just have to keep trying to do the best I can, spreading encouragement for others and grace for myself at every opportunity. I try to remember that even on a bad hair day or when I'm feeling fat and bloated, I AM ENOUGH. Even when other people may be disappointed or disdainful, I AM ENOUGH. Even when those I thought I could trust have let me down or disappointed me in a significant way...I AM ENOUGH. Even when I make mistakes that clearly ARE my fault and may have stinging consequences...I am still ENOUGH.

And then I do my best to extend that sort of acceptance to others, being someone who will motivate and empower others rather than bring them down.

For me, that's the best I can manage.

Enough of my meandering ramblings. Pop on over to Lords of the Manor to see what others have posted on the topic of Self Esteem.

What's Your Favorite Movie?

My dear blogger pal from Buffalo, Kelly Sedinger, AKA "Jaquandor" of Byzantium's Shores has written a hearty recommendation of the movie Across the Universe. I was delighted to see this, because I don't see all that many movies. I have a personal policy of not watching anything that is rated R, which seriously cuts down on the available pool of things I COULD watch.

Then of the ones that are left, I just don't find that many good films to see. So I am now looking forward to picking up this one to find out if I like it half as much as he does.

That got me to thinking...what makes a good movie?

Sometimes I like movie that entertains, sometimes I want one that makes me think. It's a real bonus when I find one that can do both.

I'm not big on blood and guts or explosions and chase scenes.

In no particular order, some of the movies I have especially enjoyed include:
Ever After
What Dreams May Come
Hotel Rwanda
The Saint
Fried Green Tomatoes
When Harry Met Sally
Man In the Iron Mask
Dead Poet Society

There are plenty of others, but those come to mind right now.

I need something sort of like Pandora...a service that would analyze what I have already liked and then suggest others I am likely too...I've heard Netflix does something of that sort, but I have not tried them yet.

What are your favorite movies? What appeals to you most in a film?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Feeling Festive

Between our many trips into Walla Walla over the past several days to haul the dozens of boxes from the major donation I've been working on, somehow I found time to dig out our Christmas stuff and get our place decorated.

In addition to putting up the tree, I put out several of the many manger scenes I have collected over the years and have got a few favorite house decorations that have become a tradition for us over the years.

However, this place is a lot smaller than our old house in Athena, so there simply is not room for a lot of the things I used to enjoy displaying for the holiday. No matter. I've learned to adapt and improvise.

A Man Out Standing in his Field

One more post about the man I love...

My beloved is a field researcher. He has spent the past 37 years doing experiments of one sort or another on various agricultural chemicals.

Here in this picture he is out working on his variety tolerance test. Basically what he does is stick all those little stakes that you see in the ground to mark off plots that are about 6 foot by 30 feet. Each plot gets a different code number. The ground has been planted with six different kinds of wheat. Each variety gets four different treatments of herbicides. Then my handsome man goes out to gaze at this field two or three times throughout the season to rate whether or not there was any damage to the wheat from any of the different rates of the various types of chemicals. He rates any damage on a percentage scale and compares that to the untreated controls. This particular test has 96 sticks in the ground separating out the various treatment rates, and the one next to it has 168 sticks. There's another behind it that has 200. And that's only about half of the test plots he has out. So he is using that fancy pants scientific graduate degree of his to put sticks in the ground much of the time!

Other tests he is currently working on include weed control in grass grown for seed, and weed control with several different chemicals in wheat.

Over the years he has worked with insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, plant growth regulators and just about any kind of pest control you can imagine. He has done tests in cotton fields, citrus and vegetables in Arizona, corn, soybeans and fruit in the Midwest, tree fruits in Washington and now he works with wheat and grass here in Oregon. I tease him sometimes that working with all those chemicals is going to make his belly button glow in the dark. But he's careful and he's smart. He does important work that helps farmers understand what chemicals work and what do not, what rates are safe and how to maximize crops.

Many people think we'd be way better off to quit using chemicals all together and go back to the "natural" ways of farming. But it simply isn't realistic for us to be able to feed the world without relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Manure has its place (they use it here at the farm where we live), but it also has its limitations. With the agribusiness industry farming hundreds of thousands of acres there is no way to deal with weeds and bugs by hand. So if they are going to use chemical interventions to increase productivity, I'm glad there are people like my husband who do the research and development work to make sure what chemicals are safest under what conditions rather than just willy nilly pouring out poisons like people used to do with DDT.

Part of the time he is a farmer, out on a tractor planting crops. Part of the time he is a scientist compiling and analyzing data to measure the results of his tests. Part of the time he is a business man meeting with growers to give presentations and answer questions about what works and what doesn't.

Having grown up on a farm in Millard County, Utah he learned from a very early age the value of hard work and over the years has developed a work ethic with more integrity than anyone else I know. He works hard when there's work to be done. When the job is done he won't stand around trying to look busy. He either moves on to the next task or goes fishing. He's extremely responsible and dependable.

Can ya tell yet that I really, REALLY admire this guy?

I love his sense of humor and his sense of adventure. But I truly respect what a hard worker he is and all the things he has done to support our family over the years.

Tomorrow he turns 63. So I baked him a pineapple upside down cake from scratch and we'll spend the evening playing board games and visiting with friends.

Happy Birthday sweetie...wishing you many, many more.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another Meme

I picked this one up over at Booklogged's blog, and since I'm procrastinating cleaning my kitchen I thought I'd post this instead:

7 things I've done before
1. Ridden as a passenger in an old Plymouth going 90 miles an hour down a small town airport runway in the middle of the night .
2. Eaten moose, cobra, chinchilla, and Vegemite. I'd repeat any of them EXCEPT the Vegemite. NASTY STUFF!
3. Gotten into the wrong car leaving the video store and spent several minutes of utter confusion as to why my keys would not go in the ignition. (Hey, it was dark!)
4. Won an art contest on the Wallace and Ladmo show (old kid's TV show in Arizona.) Don't be impressed. I started a picture but messed up, so I sort of scribbled over it and then did my masterpiece on the other side of the paper. They held the WRONG SIDE up on TV and it was upside down besides. Oh well, I still got my prize.
5. Gone skinny dipping with friends in a remote canyon only to be intruded upon by a hiking band of boy scouts.
6. Walked on stilts.
7. Walked into the boys bathroom at my high school by mistake.

7 things I do now
1. Walk the dog
2. Commute
3. Daydream
4. Play way too much spider solitaire when I can't sleep
5. Frequently lose my keys
6. fly kites
7. ponder big ideas

7 things I want to do
1. Get my whole office clean - not just move it all around and hide stuff, but really once and for all deal with all those papers and pictures and stuff that's never been unpacked since July and ORGANIZE IT.
2. Find shoes that are BOTH cute AND comfortable. Buy 10 pair.
3. Get back into doing stained glass again
4. Travel to New Zealand
5. Figure out Isaiah
6. Find more time for play
7. Get comfortable working with Angel

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex
1. Someone who makes me laugh
2. Confidence without cockiness
3. Ability and willingness to maintain prolonged eye contact (a rare thing!)
4. Definitely prefer beards to clean shaven on MOST guys
5. Ability & willingness to listen to me vent without trying to fix the problem or otherwise offer advice
6. Sincerity
7. Clean smell - no cologne, just man & soap.

7 Favorite Foods
1. Fresh pineapple
2. my brother's green chili
3. baklava
4. funeral potatoes with Ritz cracker crumb crust
5. Shanoa's pot roast
6. a good salad
7. almost any soup

7 things I Say Most Often:
1. It is what it is.
2. Where are my keys?
3. Did you water the plants?
4. Outstanding!
5. How can I support you right now?
6. I appreciate that.
7. I've got your back.

Ok - enough already. Now I've REALLY gotta finish that kitchen!

As Seen on TV...

As I said in my last posting, I truly do adore my husband. But one of his characteristics that I tease him about endlessly is that he is a total sucker for gadgets and gizmos sold on TV. Give that man a remote and a credit card and he can be dangerous~!

His latest find. SHAM WOW! He's been wanting this for months. I have discouraged him, telling him we just plain don't need it. But his birthday is Monday. And what he wanted more than anything else was a silly old Sham Wow. Good grief! So we went to Shopko, one of his favorite stores because they have a whole aisle of "As Seen on TV" products. He's pretty tickled to get it.

He also picked up a Food Saver vacuum sealer. My man loves his gadgets.

SOME of the things that he's purchased on TV have actually been great. My absolute favorite is the set of plastic food containers he got. They come in 3 sizes, all using the same blue lids and the whole set stacks together into a lazy susan type holder that keeps 'em all organized in the cupboard. Very handy!

I also have appreciated the Green Bags. Those things actually work!

TOTAL waste: Pedi Paws, (Morgan won't stand for it), all sorts of fishing stuff, (not just my bias - the man himself admits those lures that were supposed to wiggle backwards were no darn good), battery-free flashlights (you have to shake them till your arm is ready to fall off to get even a glimmer of light) and swivel sweepers. (they do NOT pick up well at all, just give me a darn broom.)

He's bought fishing poles, a beard trimmer, fancy razor he no longer uses,and who knows what all else. The guy just can't pass this stuff up.

YES, I roll my eyes and chuckle ever time he falls for another one. MOST of it I am quite certain is going to be a waste. But what the heck. He does not smoke, does not drink, does not gamble, does not chase other women, would never raise his voice at me let alone a fist. If his one vice is to be a total sucker for "As Seen on TV" gizmos and gadgets, I can live with that.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today was my husband and my 27th anniversary. We didn't go out to dinner or do anything especially romantic. We worked together most the day moving furniture and boxes of household stuff that a family in Walla Walla was donating to my agency.

I was contacted by a man who said he and his brother were both flying in from out of town (one back east and one coming from Alaska) to clear out his parents house which was in the process of being sold. Since neither of them were local and they didn't want to pay to ship stuff home they decided to donate most of it to a worthy cause. So, they are giving it all to the non profit organization that I run...which will be LOTS of work for me, but great for the clients my agency serves. Since they only had short time before both of them were scheduled to fly back home again it was important that we get everything out of the house over the last few days.

I took 2 loads on Wednesday with my SUV filled to the brim. Then Thursday after stuffing ourselves with Turkey, pie and all the trimmings my husband and I hauled a load in his pickup with a borrowed trailer filled as well. We did another load today and have one more to pick up tomorrow. It will be weeks of sorting to figure out what is in all those boxes and figuring out how to put it to best use. Much of it we will have no need for and will simply pass on to partnering organizations - but in order to get the parts we DID want I agreed to take it all.

I had equal parts of feeling gratitude and being overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of it all. But most of all I really appreciated my husband's willingness to spend a big chunk of his holiday weekend helping me with this project.

Afterwards we came home to eat turkey leftovers. Then we curled up on the couch and watched Spiderwick Chronicles together. We kept the celebrating fairly low key. Still all in all, it was a pretty good day.

We've done a lot of exciting, exotic things over the years, my man and me. We've taken trips to Egypt, to Costa Rica, to Fiji, and other places all over this country. Many of our anniversaries have been marked by sparkles and fun. This time around we felt satisfied just sticking close to home and taking care of what needed to get done.

Marriage is a complicated endeavor. I've been richly blessed by the union I share with this guy. We are nearly a generation apart in age and VERY different in our interests, opinions, tastes and attitudes. We cancel each other out at most elections and our preferences in music, books, food and many other parts of life are about as far apart as the north and south poles. Yet somehow we manage to merge into a partnership of trust, intimacy, humor, strength and spirit that rocks my world.

There is something about a long term union like we have that is incredibly comforting, even during those times when one or the other or both of us must make sacrifices or forgo our own interests for the sake of the team. We truly are partners, he and I, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

So happy anniversary to you, my beloved. (he's not a blog reader and has only looked at this one once or twice when I specifically asked his input on something I'd written, so I don't expect him to ever see this...but still, I will say it to him anyway. Love ya babe. Lets go build another 20 yrs. Hopefully there will be many more years, many more pictures as we keep building adventures and memories together. I am so richly blessed to be with this man!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I've been screening some different movies for possible inclusion on a list of films for one of the project options my Sociology students have to choose from. (Currently there are five options. The topics are quite varied, but the methodology for all of them is the same - to do structured interviews and then write a paper about it. I decided to throw in one alternative that centered on media analysis rather than interview.)

The movie I saw tonight was Disfigured - a movie about women and weight. I figured it might be appropriate during the unit we do on the Looking Glass Self - Charles H. Cooley's term for how our social environment influences the way we view ourselves.

On the back of the video it says: "Lydia is a fat, graceful woman struggling to maintain her identity in fashionable Venice Beach, California. Though she is a member of a Fat Acceptance Group (a movement dedicated to fighting prejudice against fat people) she still struggles with complex feelings about her body and its place in the world. Darcy, a recovering-anorexic real estate agent, is struggling with the same issues from a very different perspective. Her attempt to join the Fat Acceptance Group (since she sees herself as fat) is quickly rejected--but it introduces her to Lydia. Though they seem at first to be each others worst nightmare, Lydia and Darcy begin to confide in each other. Meeting warily in the social minefield's of hunger and satisfaction, anger and femininity, sexuality and fashion, trust and fear...they become friends."

I'm not sure what I think of this film. It had no rating, but had it gone through that process would certainly have earned an R for language and nudity. (There is one sex scene that starts out tastefully cut to give the sense of it without revealing too much and then all of a sudden goes across the line, at least for my tastes).

Still, there is much of value in the film - disturbingly so.

Both the obese woman and the frighteningly thin woman in this movie are struggling with feelings of disgust and loathing for their bodies. They are trying to break through and conquer that self hatred, to learn to appreciate and embrace who they are as they are. Why is that so hard?

There is so much in our culture that teaches us to feel inadequate, that we do not fit, do not measure up.

Jen has been addressing some of these issues over on her blog Lords of the Manner, and is hosting a Self Esteem Carnival on Dec 2.

I'll be very interested to read what others have to say on this topic, and if I have time to pull something coherent together may contribute a piece as well.

I encourage any of you other bloggers who stop by here to consider posting something on the subject and linking it in to Jen's carnival.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What is Success?

In the principles of sociology class I teach online we do a unit where we discuss the impact of various groups on our perceptions and behavior. One of my favorites to teach about is "Reference Groups" which are those whose opinions and standards we use to evaluate ourselves.

How successful I feel in any given endeavor will depend on who I look to as a reference group. If I consider other fat middle aged ladies as my reference group for my skill at basketball or bowling or any kind of physical sport I can honestly say I can do reasonably well. (OK, maybe not at bowling - I am one who definitely benefits from gutter guards.) But if I looked to members of the NBA or Olympic athletes to measure my expertise I would look very bad indeed.

Who I define as my reference group is going to determine what standards I adopt for what "good enough" or "great" means in just about every thing I do or am. Every term I have students who say "I just go by my own standards, I don't compare myself to anyone else." I don't buy it. Our own standards are things we have internalized by observing others.

During our current economic free fall I have heard different people comparing notes about what percentage of their assets they have lost in the stock market, or at what point they jumped ship, took the hit and got out of the market. Is it BETTER to ride the wave and hope it comes back or to bail when you can to preserve what you have left? That all depends on who your reference groups are. What seems terribly foolhardy to some is considered gutsy by others.

What makes me feel "successful"? How do I define it? How do I measure it?
There have been a lot of good quotes about success... One of my favorites lately is from Winstin Churchill who said:
"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm"

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Type Are You?

My dear pal Jaquandor did a link dump of various things of interest he picked up during his recent hiatus (which thank GOD is finally OVER!)

One of the things he shared with Typealyzer - a gizmo that analyzes a blog to spit out a Myers-Briggs personality type based on content of postings.

Accoding to Mind-Muffins, here's how I rate:

ISTP - The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

But when I put in my Life-by-Design blog it comes up with:

ISFP - The Artists
The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.

Then I put in my Apprentice Human blog and I get:

ESFP - The Performers
The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

Last of all I put in my private blog that is restricted for my eyes only and came up with :

INTP - The Thinkers
The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Uh, ok. So what do I think of this little gizmo? Not sure. But interesting to consider.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning New Things

BlackBoard,the platform that I've used to teach my two online classes for the past six years, is going away. The Washington State community college system has opted to switch to a different system called Angel. According to the promo information "Colleges and universities worldwide choose ANGEL to deliver powerful online teaching and learning experiences. ANGEL provides a simple and easy to use system, a powerful and rich feature set, and an openness that integrates into today's diverse educational environment."

It's very possible that Angel MIGHT be better. It's also possible that it is not better, but is simply more cost effective for the schools. Either way, for me it means learning a whole new way of doing things and rebuilding my courses from the ground up. With everything else I've got going on in my life right now, I have felt rather overwhelmed about digging into this completely unfamiliar terrain.

My reticince to start working with the tutorials made me recognize something.

Sometimes I stick with something familiar even when there is something way better within my grasp simply because I like the comfort of what I know.

Even when that "comfort" is not so comfortable.

I think many of us form habits of things we do, how we think and/or emotions we typically default to long after they clearly no longer make sense simply because they are FAMILIAR.

MANY organizations I've been affiliated with have policies or practices based on "that's the way we've always done it" even if it makes no sense.

Far too many of the people I've known, MYSELF INCLUDED, have allowed themseves to fall into the trap of staying stuck in relationships or work paths or value systems long after they have proven to be more harm than good.

Why is change so intimidating? Why is it we so often believe that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't?

It can be very unsettling to step off into the abyss of the unknown - striking out toward a new way of thinking, doing or being. Whether it means converting to a new religion, changing your college major, ending an unhealthy relationship and starting a new one (or learning to be solo for the first time), changing jobs, beginning retirement, or any other way we embrace change... It's hard sometimes to give up our native language way of relating to the world, to others, to ourselves, even when we know that the old system does not serve us. But CHANGE is inevitable. It's high time I started being a bit more welcoming of the transitions that come, even the bumpy ones, rather than naming them my foes.

I know one thing that clearly holds me back from trying new things. I LOVE mastery and avoid doing badly at things whenever I can. But for MOST new skills you have to tolerate mediocrity for an extended period before mastery emerges. While logically I recognize that I limit myself if I allow my fear of failure to hold me back from trying someting new, history tells me I've done it a lot. The reason I don't speak Spanish or play the piano is because I hated the practice required that repeatedly exposed me to my incompetence, so I bailed out before I gave myself a chance to develop real competence.

One of the members of my board of directors said to me recently: "A lot of people say if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well. That's all well and good. But they need to recognize that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing BADLY until you CAN do it well. Rome wasn't built in a day and developing new abilities sometimes takes time."

There is wisdom in those words.

So I'll jump in and do the best I can to learn Angel. I will also try to be more open in other areas of my life, to understand that change does not have to be my enemy. There are SOME things that are very much worth holding on to come hell or high water. But there are other things that can be appreciated and savored for a time, and then let go of without lessening the value they once held.

The trick is sorting out which is which.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deciding What We Want to Be When We Grow Up

This morning I got a message from a guy over on Facebook asking for input on whether or not to change his major to Sociology.

As I crafted my answer to him I pondered some about the circuitous route many of us take in finding our life path.

When I was a kid playing imaginary games I NEVER thought "I want to be a Sociologist when I grow up!" It just sort of happened. Like many in the field, I was seduced into the study by the influence of a very charismatic instructor who made me feel like understanding SOC was akin to having a secret de-coder ring. Every situation I looked at took on new implications of meaning when viewed from the sociological perspective.

Then, when work started coming my way as a result of my SOC contacts that reaffirmed for me that I was on the right path.

But how do we really CHOOSE what area of study is the best fit?

As I told George, NO MATTER WHAT we major in, it is possible to get stuck in a dead end job or not be able to find a job, and NO MATTER WHAT we study it is possible to find a niche that fits. My kid brother got a heavy duty degree in materials engineering from MIT and then went into banking. Go figure.

It is an illusion to think that any certain certificate from any certain college will lead to "the good life." But the networking with professors and others in the field can sure help to open some doors.

I'm curious. For those of you who read this who have the blessing of a college education, how did you decide what to study? For those who never went to college - if it were handed to you on a silver platter, what would you LIKE to study?

How much do you think it makes sense to plan and design your life's work and how much of it is getting out of your own way and watching it unfold?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bond DUD

On Saturday my husband and brother and I went to go see Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond film.

NOT my kind of movie. chase chase, boom boom, kiss kiss, more boom boom - NO DISCERNABLE PLOT, shoddy editing, Has a few nice shots of Austria, Italy and South America. But I was not particularly entertained.

I like movies where special effects and elaborate stunts are strategically placed to ENHANCE the film rather than becoming the whole point.

This movie COULD HAVE tapped into some complex things.... loyalty, revenge, betrayal, redemption. But the pace did not allow for much development of any of that. Consequently, I never got invested enough in the outcome to build suspense. I just watched it play out, knowing that no matter how many explosions or harrowing battles there were our 007 hero would come out with barely having his hair mussed.

I still like the old Bond movies...but this new one leaves me flat.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


My oldest brother came for a visit (he lives in Santa Fe, NM) and we have had the most delicious time visiting. I can talk to him at a level that I share with no one else.

One of the topics we have discussed has been work... what we are willing to give to it, what we expect back from it, how it impacts the rest of our lives.

EVERY job I have ever had (even the really stinky ones) have had elements that were satisfying, and EVERY job I have had (even my very favorite positions) have had parts to them that I did not like.

How we each strike a balance between how much satisfaction we need and how much distasteful parts we are willing to endure is different for everyone.

Here is what I have figured out about me in terms of work:

1) It is important to me to believe in what I do. I cannot do jobs that I think are exploitive, harmful or unethical.

2) It is important to me to feel mastery is possible. I really REALLY want to be good at what I do. I know there is always learning curve involved when I start something new, but I have to believe I will have the tools and support to eventually get proficient at whatever I am assigned to do.

3)My physical environment matters. I cannot stand working in cubicles. While I can certainly share space with others, having some degree of access to privacy matters a lot to me.

4) I need at least one ally I can trust. Recently I had an experience at work where I erred in how much I said to someone. I shared information I should have kept to myself, it got back to others in a way I did not expect it to and then reflected badly on both me and my agency. OUCH. I won't do that again. Still, I do know that I need to identify someone I CAN be open with and vent to when things are nutty. I just need to be more careful of who that is and even when I choose well, STILL need to have some caution in levels of disclosure. Once information is out of my mouth I have no control over where it goes. So I need to do a better job of recognizing how open/authentic I can be when I am in my work role.

5. I need to learn how to turn it off. I woke up at 4:30 this morning thinking about work, fretting over some of the challenges I have facing me. It's SUNDAY. I should be able to focus on a day of rest, worship, connection with my real life and my spirituality this Sabbath day - NOT worrying over what I have coming up in the next few days. There will be time enough for that as it unfolds. This is something I'm not sure how to get better at. I have this pilot light of concern about my job that seldom goes out, and at times I let it consume way too much of my energy.

I've been at my current job for 3 months now. In some ways it feels like a very good match. In some ways not. I do admit I have reservations about how long I'll be able to maintain this sort of role.

Lately I've been frustrated, discouraged and overwhelmed about some aspects of my job that I have no control over. I'm hoping I can shift that so I can focus more on the areas I do have some ability to influence and let go of railing against some of the things I simply cannot change. For now, I'm trying to regroup and commit to doing the very best job I can there. I want to stay open to the lessons it has to teach me, and to make the best contribution I can.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pondering Pain

Recently I have been giving some thought to how I relate to suffering.
(My own, that of those close to me, the hurting of people on my social periphery and that of total strangers.)

I have a very, VERY dear friend who is struggling with breast cancer. I have a cousin my age who is facing a mastectomy next week for the same thing. I have a sister-in-law whose sister has ovarian cancer. And tonight at a church function I learned of a fellow parishioner who has cancer.

The big C seems to be where ever I turn.

But cancer certainly is not the only culprit. One of my uncles died a few days ago, leaving my aunt bereft and grieving. My sister's MS is escalating in new ways that are interfering with her life.

My brother's job is highly stressful, at times completely overwhelming him.
My son's lack of a job is overwhelming him.

I know people whose relationships are fractured and furious.

I know people who are feeling deep angst over other things.

There's the crisis in the economy, the casualties in the war.
There's pain of body, pain of mind, deep sorrow of the spirit. Every way I turn it seems there is struggle and hurting.

How much of that do I let seep down into my own heart?

Back when I was working in the mental health world I attended a training about "the helper's pit." The idea was for us to learn to maintain professional boundaries, recognizing that if I jump down in a pit with someone who is hurting then my increase in empathy is directly related to my reduced ability to offer any kind of meaningful support, because now I'm in the very same boat.

In a work setting that made a certain amount of sense. But what about when the one hurting in my neighbor, my sister, my friend? Does the same rule apply?

Whether in working with troubled clients or living in troubled times, how much of other people's pain do I own and how much distance from it do I retreat to? My capacity for compassion matters a lot. But if I completely take in every nuance of sorrow that surrounds me I am not able to function. My heart tumbles and turns with sorrow, dismay, disappointment, outrage. At some point I need to be able to back away from it. Yet how do I know how far to back away?

How much is enough? How do I find that balance? How do I find INTERNAL PEACE when being immersed in this very unpeaceful world??

I do not know the answers. I do not know what criteria to lean on.

All I know is that there is much hurting in this fallen mortal world.
And it is difficult indeed to watch people I love go through such struggle.
I pray long and hard for each of these people, and then for the countless others who are also suffering outside the reach of my understanding.

and I keep asking myself .... When and why does it matter to me what happens to another? What if I don't know them personally, but have SOME sort of connection (same faith, same town, same whatever...) that seems give us common ground.
Or does any of that matter? Can I allow the sorrow of others clear across the world who have nothing in common with me other than our shared humanity be significant?

How much does a total stranger's hurting touch my spirit?
How much does YOUR pain become mine?

Where is the middle ground between too much feeling caring and callousness?

And then I spin it and wonder... how much do I expect another to care about my hurt feelings, my worry, my grief?

What connects us? What stands us apart?

I admit there have been times when I've heard of some terrible thing that happened to someone else I've been grateful and relieved that it had not been anyone in my family that had to endure such a harmful blow. I was not happy the other person had to suffer. But if suffering had to come, I was just glad it was not me or mine.

I know from past experience that some of the painful things that have come my way have taught me a lot, given me new strength, fostered a deeper understanding of others. Still, I do not welcome adversity or thank it for the teaching it will bring. I cringe from it. I sometimes resent it. I flee from it if I can. When forced to stay and face it I grit my teeth and endure it as best I can. But I do not view hard times as blessings that help me grow, even though I know they are.

As I get older I recognize that pain is going to come more and more often...
pain in the form of losing people I love
pain in the form of sickness and physical limitation
pain in the form of heartache for others who are suffering
pain in all its many faces will be my companion in abundance
of that I am sure.

How I choose to respond to those opportunities will in many ways define me...

Will I hide my head in the sand or try to bolt the door when hurting comes calling? Or will I open the door and let it in with equanimity?
And what will that mean for me?

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Last weekend my beloved and I had a chance to go to Ohio to visit some old friends. We lived in Ohio 1982-1986, first in Cuyohoga county (Parma) and then in Lorain County (Elyria). Those were good years. I was a young stay-at-home mom raising my two rambunctious boys and my sweetie had his hands full doing agricultural research for a private chemical company. We haven't been back in over 20 years, but when we heard there was going to be a 25-year reunion of the the people from our church who were around when the congregation first started we knew we wanted to go. My husband was in the first bishopric of the newly formed Elyria ward and I was RS president for a while, so we were pretty involved.

It was so good to see people from that time in our lives and to drive around looking at places we remembered well.

Lots of changes since that time. Part of the town were barely recognizable to us. But one of our favorite spots, Cascade Park, was still pretty much the same. This is where our boys played soccer every fall, went sledding in the winters, and where we had lots of family picnics in the the summertimes.

We attempted to find a geocache hidden there but got stuck in the mud - LITERALLY. We walked off the main trail up to some rocks where the cache was supposed to be. I sank up past my ankles in deep goo. I squirmed and pulled trying to get my feet out. My right foot came out - shoe stayed behind. Then when I twisted to try to get my left foot free I lost my balance and ended up smack on the cold wet ground making mud angels. NOT good considering we were on our way to the airport to fly home and now I was totally covered in mud. We got out our suitcase and found me something presentable to wear but my shoes were a total loss. I wore my glamorous blue fuzzy slippers home looking like I had smurf feet.

So we never did find the cache.

But mud and all we had a great visit. It was a quick trip flying out Friday and coming home Monday, but it was worth every minute.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's that time of Year again...

Who thinks up this stuff? Morgan would never stand for it.

Enrich Your Word Power!

Word of the Day
Quote of the Day

This Day in History