Monday, October 26, 2009

Power of FOCUS

Today I am thinking about the power of focus.

Lots of stuff happens every day - some good, some not so good, some bizarre, some mundane. I decide which of those things I will pay the most attention to. I am in control of my own mental focus.

I believe I have the power to be in charge of my own mood and attitude by deliberately choosing to focus on things I am grateful for, things I am excited about, things that make me smile INSTEAD of staying stuck in dwelling on all that is not perfect in my life. There is PLENTY that is not perfect in my world right now. If I chose to focus on those things I could work myself into a pretty potent pity party. (say that five times fast!) Instead, I am working hard to keep putting my attention on the many things I have that are fantastic. There are a lot of those things in my world as well. It's up to me to decide which ones will get the bulk of my attention.

Recently I had an opportunity to go on a week long cruise with my husband and some other family members to Mexico. We took a Holland America ship to Mazatlan, Porta Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. It was supposed to be a fabulous vacation in the sun, seeing interesting places and having the time of our lives.

Except I got sick. By the second day on ship I was coughing like crazy and felt kinda puny. So I went to the medical center to get some cough medicine. They took my temperature, did a throat culture and diagnosed me with flu A. Which means I was put into quarantine to protect the other passengers from my germs. I DID have fun in Mazatlan. But I did NOT get to go see Porta Vallarta or Cabo. Not only did I not get to see those ports of call, I wasn't even allowed out of my room. Not fun.

The first day I was very understanding about it. There are lots of little old people on cruise ships. I sure did not want to get anyone else sick. I thought with bed rest, pushing fluids and a course of Tamiflu I'd beat it pretty quick. However, my positive attitude about it pretty much went flying out the window by the third day of isolation. I was ready to go postal.

The time I was down was pretty grim. Not only did I feel terrible, I hated missing out on the only vacation I am likely to get this year. Also, I am by nature a pretty social person. Being in solitary confinement all that time was hard to take. However, when I finally DID get to get out of my room (on our way back home) I had an amazing day. Dolphins surrounded the ship by the hundreds, jumping out of the water right up next to the boat and all across the sea. After that we went through a pod of whales. Over and over again they came up to the surface within just a few feet of where I was standing on the deck. They were truly awesome to watch. I saw amazing islands, I enjoyed some good meals. Besides all that, I felt very grateful to simply be able to BREATHE without coughing and to have the freedom to walk around again.

When I think of that trip I could define it as a miserable experience that I spent locked up most of the time. Or I can think of that trip as the vacation I took when I got to commune with dolphins and whales. The choice is up to me.

For me, the most positive way for me to define that cruise to Mexico is to clearly remember BOTH parts of it. Rather than having to view my life experiences in terms of either/or good/bad dichotomy, I prefer to embrace both/and. This vacation was the trip when I got sick AND the trip that I saw dolphins and whales.

I do not want to put on blinders to my experience of being ill. It was a very difficult, painful, disappointing thing to have happen. Yet it also was a reminder to me about how very fortunate I am to have generally good health. There was a point that every free breath I took without going into spasms of coughing truly felt like a precious gift from God. (I was really sick!) It was interesting to watch how long it took for me to start taking breathing for granted again. It wasn't very long. I am trying to HOLD ON to that feeling of gratitude for things as basic as my breath. Remembering my period of illness gets me closer to feeling a deep appreciation for it.

I give meaning to what happens to me on a daily basis. I can whine about the things that do not meet my expectations. Or I can look for the blessings and lessons that are in ALL things that occur, even the painful ones.

I will definitely have pain. Whether I allow that pain to make me miserable is up to me. I really do believe that there are blessings in ALL my experiences. Some float right up to the surface, like those breaching whales and leaping dolphins. Others are harder to identify. But if I look deep, they are always there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Today I am thinking about Resliency.

RESILIENCY: Able to recover quickly from misfortune; able to return to original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched out of shape. A human ability to recover quickly from disruptive change, or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways. As in "Our team showed great resilience," or "Our team had good resiliency."

One of my friends on FaceBook posted a link to a story about a pilot who had the misfortune of having his plane rather seriously mangled by a bear in a remote area of Alaska. The piolt called for help - NOT to rescue him from the bush. Rather, he had two new tires and a few cases of duct tape delivered. Yeah. Duct tape. He pieced his plane back together and FLEW IT HOME where he could have it repaired further.

Now THAT's what I call resilience.

To take a quiz to see how relient you are, go HERE.

Life on the Farm

Columbia Basin Research Farm

Morning at the farm

Where I go walking nearly every day

Blue Mountains in the background

Lovely Oregon sky

Weather Station


Where I live

Hope & Disappointment

After learning I did not get the job I was really hoping I would be hired for, I've been giving a lot of thought to the relationship between hope and disappointment.

Every broken dream that causes me to cry is a direct result of having reached for a place, a person, a thing, or set of circumstances I want to draw into my life. When what I long for doesn't happen, how badly I feel about it seems to be in direct proportion to how much I had hoped. In my mind, the definition of pain is the distance between what IS and what I hope for. Little distance = little pain. Big distance = devastated, bleeding, bruised and battered heart whimpering in a ball on the floor. (Well, figuratively anyway.) What it comes down to, for me, is this: if I could stop HOPING for certain outcomes then I would never be disappointed.

Recently I allowed my hopes to go flying sky high.
Today, my disappointment has my heart crawling lower than a snake's belly.

So was all that hope a mistake?

I don't think so.

I prefer to hold on to the words of Martin Luther King who said: "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

It is an inevitable part of living in this fallen mortal world that we will all experience some shattered dreams and big disappointments. How we choose to respond to those events will shape how we experience our lives.

Sometimes it may seem a bit masochistic or misguided to keep flinging my heart skyward with hope, giving room for deep longing for certain outcomes to happen. More than one person has recently advised me I'd be better off to practice more "acceptance" and appreciation of whatever actually comes into my life instead of forever chasing passionately after different paths. I know that advice is well intended. But it's not for me. I am determined to keep hope alive.

I am a dreamer at my core. I like being optimistic as I reach for different possibilities. It's not without a price. But it is a price I'm willing to pay. A lot of the things I reach for never come to pass. Some of those missed dreams cause me to shrug my shoulders and say "oh well!". Others have sent me huddled into fetal position wailing for days. But I will accept that risk. I would rather have a life of scars from the crashes than play it safe by never striving. I will take the heartbreak. Because I choose to continue to reach for the stars.

Silly girl.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

BOOK REVIEW- Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story

I just finished reading the book "Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story" by Mark Shurtleff. This was a powerful book.

Mark Shurtleff, Attorney General for the State of Utah, spent five years carefully researching the story of Dred Scott, an illiterate slave who sued for freedom in the 1800's. In law school Shurtleff had studied the case of Scott vs. Sanford - a case that is very significant because the Supreme Court had overturned an act of Congress. Years later Shurtleff became interested in the case again, only this time he sought to more fully understand the person of Dred Scott rather than just the facts of legal precedent. He also became very interested in the various members of the Blow family who fought so tirelessly to assist their former slave to win his freedom after having sold him off to help pay their own debts.

The book is very meticulously researched and clearly details many incidents of the time in stark accuracy according to the documents Shurtleff uncovered. While the "personalities" involved are of necessity conjecture, assigning motives, thoughts, and dialogue that are entirely creations of the author, the EVENTS that are reported throughout this book are very real.

Historical fiction is an interesting genre. With some it is difficult to sort out where the history starts and stops and when the fiction begins. This book was a strong departure from that pattern. And that, perhaps, is both the strength and the weakness of this book. There were times as I was reading it that I had difficulty assigning a "voice" to the story as it vacillated between the writer's attempt to create believable characters against the backdrop of such detailed historical accounts. Clearly much of what is included comes from the various letters, newspaper reports, court records, deeds, wills, and other tangible evidence of the times. I found myself continually switching tracks in my mind. Just when I would begin to get caught up in caring about the PEOPLE I was reading about, the tale would then segue off into various factual tangents... a detail about Francis Scott Key or a sideline about various Indian treaties. I found it distracting. YES, they helped portray a more complete picture of what was going on at the time. But for me, too often those details, even though true and sometimes quite interesting, were not entirely germane to the story of Dred Scott. So I felt the narrative was cluttered with way too much of the HISTORY and weak when it came to the FICTION.

I suspect that Shurtleff would be an excellent writer of non fiction accounts that would be fascinating to read. He is clearly an intelligent, articulate guy who has very carefully studied every detail of this time period and of the parties involved.

FICTION writing, however, has more to do with imagination. I would like to see what Shurtleff might do if he were to attempt a straight fiction piece - simply weaving a story of believable characters sorting their way through some sort of conflict or struggle. It would be fine if the backdrop were loosely based on actual events. But to mix the fiction with such detailed research was frustrating for me. I could never fully engage in unfolding of the plot enough to fully care about the characters. Juxtaposed as they were against all the detailed facts kept bringing me up short in how I responded to the book, never letting me give myself over to the degree of willful suspension of disbelief that can make fiction reading so delightful. Still, I could never entirely immerse myself in enjoying the analytical world of related facts that generally appeals to me in reading non-fiction because that kept getting interspersed with dialogue that seemed to me a bit contrived.

So I was both fascinated and frustrated by this book. In many ways it remains a good read and taught me much about our nation's history of that period that I had not known previously. It also made me hungry to know more about the Blows. I was very curious about what led them to have the moral courage to stand up for their friend Dred Scott the way that they did, at considerable risk and expense to themselves. As a follow up to this book I would love to see Shurtleff attempt a retelling of the same period exclusively from their point of view - only this time really allow himself to give way to the fiction. I believe he could accomplish much with that by staying true to the characters he clearly has much admiration for (and rightfully so) if he could manage to avoid being so married to the details of the research.

NOTE: You can read reviews of what others thought about this important book by following links to their blogs listed for the Virtual Book Tour HERE.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


You would think that somebody who has moved as many times as I have would have gotten rid of most of the unnecessary clutter in their lives. Somehow, however, I seem to have accumulated A LOT of stuff.

As I am preparing for a possible move to Alaska, I am re-evaluating how important to me every thing I own really is. It is VERY expensive to ship things up north. So it just makes sense to get rid of anything I currently own which I do not either a)USE or b) really love.

Sounds simple enough. Until I start going through all the boxes I have stored in my basement and in the closets. Oh my. I have things stored there which I have not even LOOKED at in over a year. That by definition should mean I can get by just fine with out it, right? Um, well, sorta. But not THIS piece. ARGH!

I have A LOT of framed photos. When we lived in our big house they were all over the walls. Now they are in boxes. Granted, I spent a lot of money on those frames and some of them are very nice pictures. But I've managed just fine this long without having them out. And chances are, my next house will be as small or smaller than this one. So...what to do with all these pictures???

Then there is the furniture. What about that? Obviously some of it will go with us. But not all. What about the pieces we choose not to take?

I think that's the hard part for me. It's not so much that I have to keep them. I am just very torn on the best outcome for my things. They are way too good to just throw away. I do not have interest or suitable place to have a yard sale. I don't have the time or energy to do Craig's list or eBay. So do I really just give it all away?

Yep. I have enough. There are people who do not. I can give away the things I don't need.

I believe that. Really. I do.

And then I start coveting my own stuff....

WHY would I care about a fancy dish that has been in a box for a year?
WHY would I care about a framed picture I absolutely know I'll never hang again?
WHY would I care about any number of material things I do not use ever?

It simple, really. Each one of these things has so many memories attached. I know the drill - take a box of index cards and WRITE OUT the memory you associate with the thing. If you want, take a photo of the thing to attach to the card. KEEP the memory. Get rid of the THING. It makes perfect sense.

Still, for whatever reason, for me that's really hard to do.

Deep breath. LET IT GO...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Continuing Journey

Those of you who know me well know I have moved A LOT. (Arizona, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Washington, Oregon - with several shifts between various towns...over 25 moves since leaving my parents' home.)

When my job at the non profit ended last July I began looking for a position in or near Boise. I was utterly CONVINCED that was where I would land next, hopefully for keeps.

There were a number of reason I picked Boise. (close to family, nice climate, affordable housing, LDS temple there, right size town...not too big, not too small, but in the words of baby bear in the Goldilocks story, it's "just right".)

However, after MANY applications and six interviews in Idaho, no job floated to the top. I went through every phase of anticipation, excitement, disappointment, worry, crankiness, discouragement and fear you can imagine.

My husband in nearing retirement. I will be primary wage earner for the next 15 yrs. So it is critical that I find a place where I can get a job with decent benefits where we will be comfortable living long term.

So I began widening my net...applied for jobs in lots of different places doing lots of different things: Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

And wouldn't ya know, it seems I may have found a hit... in Alaska.

I am working really hard at not getting over confidant. I've had too many near misses over the past few months to dare get cocky again. But this one feels different. This one somehow just seems to be a fit. I passed the phone interview and am now scheduled to fly up for a face-to-face. They will start checking my references this week and I will do a 30 minute presentation to show my stuff...We'll see how it lands....

But through it all I have had such an interesting roller coaster ride of perceptions about what work means. What work do I consider beneath me? What work do I consider out of my league? Why? How come not having a job to go to felt so excruciatingly crummy some days and appeared as sweet respite on others?

In my head I completely understand that my value as a person is NOT defined or limited by what I do to earn a paycheck. Yet in my gut I still tie a lot of my identity to my job.

I've thought a lot about good jobs I've had and horrid jobs I've had and tried my very best to sort out what I need from a work environment to make it be a better match.

What do you like about your job? What do you hate?
If you could do ANYTHING you wanted (and no matter what it was you would get paid EXACTLY twice what you now earn) what would you do?

Work is indeed an intriguing part of our lives. I've had several starts and stops with trying to do some serious academic research about American perceptions of the workplace. Lately, however, I've been too busy dancing in circles with my own attitudes about it all to make much sense of bibliography and footnotes.

Will I get this next job I interview for? I honestly don't know.
But I feel ready for it. I think it would be a good fit.
Only time will tell.

Enrich Your Word Power!

Word of the Day
Quote of the Day

This Day in History