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?

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