This project's goal is to give each family member and myself just 10 minutes of unconditional positive regard every day. All attention is focused on the other person for those 10 minutes and only positive comments or thoughts are allowed. Just 10 minutes often becomes much more. Try it and see. You'll find the Just 10 guidelines on the right side of this blog.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who's Calling?

Despite being mentally committed to giving each family member Just 10 each day, I've had a really hard time crawling out of my own head long enough to give them the time.    I took off on my Just 10 walk pondering the why's of this and hoping to uncover a plan of action to repair what I feel is lacking.

I look up and spot a neighbor unloading groceries from his car.  Oh,  I so hope he doesn't want to talk.  He is a nice man, full of desire to bring the Lord to others.  I'm not looking for a conversion experience or even tales of one this morning.  He seems not to recognize me and he is busy repeating something to his wife who seems especially hard of hearing.  Ah, back to brooding in silence.

My thoughts keep returning to the neighbor.  I envy the neighbor's spiritual simplicity, his single minded, self-appointed mission to bring the Lord to others.  I am also filled with judgment at what I believe to be naivete. Envy and disdain, all at once.  I scold myself for not being a nicer person and then quickly come to my defense and argue for being a critical thinker.  I am a soul, divided.

The steps fly by.  I'm on the trail, walking quickly, headed nowhere.  I meet other walkers.  Three of them have hand and ear connected to cell phones.  Three are wired for sound, music leaking from their heads.  They are not easy to greet, especially those hooked to the phone.  I am irritated that I can't make eye contact and smile a hello.    They'll miss my dimples.  Is it really all about me this morning?    I answer, softly, to myself, "Yes, yes it is."

I have lost perspective.  I inhabit the safe, yet lonely universe of  ME.   I seek distraction.   I overhear a fellow, phone-head walker, say to the unfortunate person on the other end of the call that she has "reached the intersection and is now heading toward 117th."   We've developed the ability to communicate more efficiently, then ever before and we're talking about where we are at that moment or calling home to find out which can of soup to buy.  Something seems so wrong here. This "noise" is piercing my walk with unwelcome sound.  What ever happened to really sharing ourselves with each other?  Why haven't I been doing a very good job in that department?  Why have I been avoiding my Just 10 time with the people I care about most?  I keep walking, looking for answers. 

I can't do this alone.  I want to get God, the Force, my higher power, on speaker phone.  I want a simple reassurance that everything will turn out all right.  I want some hope.  I want to look forward to the future, not dread what may lie ahead.  There have been too many defeats,  too many disappointments.   I  want a sign, the kind that my neighbor seems to be getting daily.   It's a "me" kind of morning. 

Suddenly, I hesitate, sigh deeply, and give myself permission to be me.  Me, a prison and a temple, encasing a soul divided.  "It is what it is."    I am not my neighbor.  I am not the cell phone talker walkers nor the walkers leaking noise out of their ears.   Yet, I understand some of the same things that drive them, also drive me.  They struggle to connect, to love, to keep hope alive, just like I do.  

I  keep walking. 

Monday, June 28, 2010


I left for my Just 10 walk this morning with some heavy baggage.    I was pulling two heavy psychic suitcases.  One was filled with worry over the lack of money in our lives.  The second, almost heavier burden, the lack of patience.  I took off down the sidewalk like a woman pursued.  The train to the land of "What If" and "If Only" had picked me up and I was headed there at break neck speed.  I walk faster.

I tell myself to focus on the word "abundance."  The pessimist inside me scoffs and says,  "Yah, right.  Like that's going to help."  I pick up more speed.  My shins start to ache.  I want to get off the train to crazy town.  I'm having a hard time finding out just how to disembark.

I decide to take a leap and jump.  I look up to see a Monarch butterfly fluttering over Oregon grape. Bushes heavy with dusty royal blue berries.  A chickadee chirps a warning.  A lone sweet pea vine punctuates the landscape with vivid magenta flowers.   I think of the reclusive Emily Dickinson.  "God's in his heaven.  All's right with the world."  If only that felt true to me now. 

Thoughts turn to the lilies of the field, those "that neither toil or sow." Yet, they receive all they need.  Might I be a lily for a while?   Maybe in my next life?  Today, I'm not enjoying being a human in temporal time with a significant cash flow problem.  It looks like I might be climbing back aboard that crazy train.

"Think, abundance.   Focus on all you have, not on what you don't."  I try.  Gosh, this is hard this morning.  I pick up the pace and decide to focus on my breathing.  The train roars on with out me.  I stop trying to block my feelings.  I let them go and walk on.  Slowly, they leave me.  I imagine a black pall lifting from me.  I can hear the "what ifs" and "if onlys" and then let them go.  I know they'll be back.  I am hopelessly human, after all.  It is possible to possess two opposite truths at once,  to know abundance and great scarcity,  to have everything and yet want everything you don't possess.

As illogical as that sounds, it gives me some peace this morning.   I return, thirsty, sweaty and calmer.  The mornings irritations that I was so eager to escape when I left for this walk, no longer really matter.  I have it all but am always looking for more.  I know this to be the heart of abundance for us humans.  For a moment, I let myself feel and enjoy it.  Scarcity will have to wait.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Date Night

Aware of the continued need to give my husband some quality time, we took time for a date night yesterday evening.  Musicians of my husband's acquaintance, The Mike Branch Band were playing at a small bar outside of Kelso.  This is the quintessential biker bar.  Unevenly worn, wooden floors, an outdoor eating area with crude fire pit and what smelled like great food give this place an unforgettable ambiance.   This little bar hangs on the side of a country road, suspended above a ditch filled with murky water.  It has a perfect sense of what it is and who it serves. It's customers seem to be having a great time.

My husband and I shared few words on the drive up.  Lost in my own thoughts, I gave him the gift of an easy silence.  When we arrived, the building was packed .  We parked at a bit of a distance, the van hugging the side of the road.  I had to get out on the driver's side.  I accidentally honked the horn with my derriere.  I'd slipped on a summer dress that I had paid a whole quarter for at a garage sale.  I soon saw that I was grossly overdressed.   No one seemed to notice or even care.  I liked this odd collection of middle-aged folks seeking to relive their youth, if only for a few hours on a Saturday evening.  They were amusing and yet, endearing.  They hadn't forgotten how to relax and have fun.  Had I?

The band was good but so loud.  I pondered on why middle aged men find it necessary to distort the quality of their music by cranking up the amp.  Then again, my viewing it as too loud maybe more of a reflection of my age then theirs.   A kind couple at the next table, offered some us bright orange ear plugs.  They were my kind of people.  Wearing the ear plugs, I could understand the words and hear the guitar solos.  My ears rang less.  The threat of a headache waned.

A few couples got up to dance.  Women stretched various synthetic fabrics in interesting ways.  Men seemed to do more kicking than dancing.  Or maybe, it was some form of kung fu.    Occasionally, a man whose eyes had almost completely retreated to the back of his head, staggered on to the dance floor, beer in one hand and a tall black stool with silver legs, in the other.  I feared for the stool and then myself, as he staggered  near.  He would abruptly toddle away only to return to dance with his partner, the stool.    A flash of irritation that they were still serving him flashed across my head.  It was out of my hands.  I let my anger go and said a quiet prayer that no one would let him drive and then forgot about him until today.  Hey, Stool Dancer, I hope you're lost in fitful slumber and will awake with one heck of a headache.  Consequences have much to teach us. 

At about 9 p.m. someone lit the outdoor fire pit.  The smoke from the wood fire filled the room. The smell of wood smoke always takes me back to childhood.  For a moment, I stand before the furnace.  I am feeding the fire with a log from the wood pile, the pile we carefully built every early autumn.  The floor, vibrating with sound, breaks my revelry.  I take in the dance floor, stools jerking through air, fabric stretched in unattractive ways, men kicking spasmodically.  I realize that I really am having fun.  I am observing.  I am learning.  I am a nerd and I'm happy to be one.  No stool dancing for me unless carefully controlled and done among friends for a laugh.  I may have fluked party but I'm doing what I enjoy most, watching and enjoying it all.

I hope that my husband is enjoying himself.  With the volume and the ear plugs, we communicate with gestures and an occasional shouted word.  I wonder if he is as content as I or if he needs to join some of the action to really have fun.  When he asks me if I'm ready to leave,  I don't answer with the "yes" I feel.  I say,  "Are you?"  He hesitates and surveys the room.  I ask,  "Do you want to stay?"  I quickly add,  "I don't want to be a wet blanket."  I can be and this evening is for him more than it is for me.  After a small hesitation, he says,  "No, I'm ready."  I believe him.  We head back to our sleeping children.  Our son awakes when I check on him.    He asks,  "Did you have a good time?"  I say, "Yes, we did."  We really did.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Death of the Candy Sprinkles: A Tale of Perfect Imperfection

There is a small family that lives in a modest home.  This home is topped with shingles that flap in a strong wind.  The north side of the chimney has seen too many Northwest winters. It needs cleaning and paint.  In the yard, weeds threaten to hide the once tended plants living there.  The floor beneath the master shower feels too spongy for comfort.  Above the weathered back deck, several plants have sprouted in the gutter.  This house is flawed and needs many things.  And yet, it is still a home to the family that lives within.  They don't want to lose it for all its needs and imperfections.

When the weather is warm and the windows are open, the family sometimes vocalizes its imperfections to the neighbors.  Yelling bounces off the stone wall at the back of the small yard, allowing neighbors to hear some of their less than stellar moments.  There was no yelling this morning.  And so, we come to the death of the candy sprinkles.

The mother in our story often awakes slowly.  In her half awake, half asleep state, she is calm and often blessed with inspiration.  After she arises, she greets her #1 son, who seems to be hiding something behind his back.  Filled with only curiosity, she asks, "What's in the cup?"   #1 son dissolves into sobs.   "It's candy sprinkles.  I know I'm not supposed to have them for breakfast.  I hate myself."   This is too much angst for a small boy in the early morning.

Like a mother bear, awakening from a long slumber, this mother has yet to have all her wits about her.  Better yet, her claws and fangs have yet to be engaged.  She is touched by the weight of her son's self-loathing.  She knows that not many young cubs can resist the allure of candy sprinkles.  She is not angry.  She knows that this problem can be easily solved.   She says calmly,  "I can fix this.  I just won't buy candy sprinkles."  This decision spoken aloud, causes the son to cry louder.  This wasn't the desired effect.   It's time for damage control.  She "shshes" him and says, "Enough."  No crying first thing in the morning."  The son needs to emotionally regroup and gives himself a time out. 

The mother knows that if this is the worst thing her son does, life will be good.  She knows that many mistakes lie ahead, much worse than the consumption of candy sprinkles.  She loves him in spite of his "theft".  She loves him because of his theft.  Hadn't she annoyed her own mother with similar and repeated theft?  Mother knows first hand what the burden of shame feels like.  It is too early for such a weight this morning.  She can spare her son the full weight of this shame by choosing to let it go and quietly implement solutions that will benefit him.  Candy sprinkles don't need to be year-round temptations in the pantry.  Absent from our lives they can not cause this grief. 

Young son returns and begs her,  "Don't say anything to Dad.  I don't want him mad at me."  Mom agrees.  It's best to spare Dad the frustration so early in the morning.  She begins to talk of other things.  The pain of the demise of the sprinkles begins to pass.

This family, just like the structure that surrounds them, is imperfect.  As long as they remain a family, there is one perfectly imperfect thing they can do for each other:  love one another.  Their love for each other is often limited by the demons and angels that dance in their heads.  But, as long as they, keep reaching for the love that lies just beyond human grasp, they will know and experience what it means to be a family,  what it means to forgive, what it means to love.  They are who they are, fragile, flawed humans whose lives are occasionally pierced by the divine.  In their imperfections, they glimpse a perfect love.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Days of Discontent

Truth is, I'm not always floating on a "happy bubble."  The last few days have seen my mantle of contentment slip.  I'm worried and generally unhappy.  I know that this too shall pass and that feelings aren't reality.  This has been a very hard lesson to learn, that of discovering how to honor and pay attention to feelings without let them ruin my life.  So today, during my Just 10, I walked with my less than happy feelings to learn what they have to tell me.

Yesterday, I felt really disappointed.  At first, I was disappointed in my daughter.  The once straight-A student had ended the year with a few C's.  I strongly expressed my frustration and demanded to know what had happened.  I could see she was upset for disappointing  me but that she really didn't care about the grade.  This pushed a button for me.   Fortunately, I knew enough to give myself a time out.  I took a break and thought about why this was so upsetting.

I wanted her to be a straight-A student so that she stands a better chance of getting into a good college, especially given the fact that we won't be able to pay for her tuition.  I wanted her to have something to fall back on, some source of validation for being bright.  I soon realized that while I had a few good intentions, I really wanted her to have good grades for my sake more than for hers.  This was an unpleasant fact to discover.  I was no longer really disappointed in her as much as I was disappointed in myself.

I hadn't been checking her grades on line.  If I had, I would have seen her uneven test performance, her failure to turn in several assignments.  I would have know that she gets A's and B's with occasional C's and even an F or two.  I would have seen that the potential is there but follow-through and perseverance needs some assistance.

I returned to her room, leaving my anger behind.  I told her that it isn't the fact that she got a C- as an ending grade in math, it was that she wasn't consistent about following through.  She didn't always turn in her assignments and she didn't ask for help when she needed it.  I said I wasn't as mad at her as I was at myself for not being more attentive as to how she was really doing.  She quickly, responded by acknowledging her responsibility for not doing her best.  Next fall, I will also have to improve on my consistency and follow-through and pay greater attention to her school work.

For me, it's so much more than the C- in math.  I, who has major math anxiety, was always handicapped by my grades in math.  I don't want that for my daughter.  I was always so self driven.  I don't think my parents really cared how I did in school.  They were always so preoccupied with the struggle to make ends meet.    Have I neglected my daughter's education for the same reason?

Most of all,  I am displeased with the quality of my children's education in the public schools.  They've had good teachers.  I fault the curriculum and the "dumbing it down for the masses" that occurs when you have a large number of students who come from homes in which an education is not valued.    What I want most, is to homeschool my children.  As long as the need to provide for their basic needs takes precedence,  I must hold down a job.   I can't do what I really want to do.  Inside, I constantly struggle with this reality.

My work at the high school has uncovered some frightening facts.  I meet students who can't figure out how to use a telephone to dial their parents.  I meet students who don't know their home address.  I listen to many bright students complain about how bored they are.  I talk to teenagers who have spent an entire year in school and not have earned a single credit.  I often see bright kids going nowhere or worse, going some where to rendevous with trouble.

I want something more for these kids and for my own.  I want them to be curious about the world around them.  I want them to learn how to find the answers for themselves.  I want them to be critical thinkers.  I want them to feel excited about learning and developing their skills and talents.  I want someone to open the door and turn the light on.  The world is depending on this future generation and we are failing so many of them.  We have become complacent.  We have abdicated our responsibility.  We haven't been paying attention.

In exactly the same way, I failed my own daughter.  It's not to late to open the door.  It's time to pay attention and to follow through.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Mission of the Night Vulture

The Just 10 Team just got back from a trip to the central transfer center, which is a fancy name for a dump.  As we pulled in the driveway, our #1 son was creating a spoof of a Justin Bieber song, for the sole purpose of irritating his sister.  His spoof was so funny, it had the opposite effect, at least initially.  When he sings it repeatedly I guarantee you she will be annoyed.

None of us enjoy our journeys to the dump but it's necessary since we lost garbage service about a year ago.  As to be expected, when trying to live on one part-time income, we got behind in our bills.  Power, water and gas people will work with you.  The local garbage carrier will not.  One day our garbage sat alone, unwanted on the curb.  The collection calls began.  You would think that when you explained the situation and told the caller that full payment isn't possible, it may have some effect.  It did not.  They were rabid about wanting the full $98 we owed. 

An especially aggressive caller got me on the line one day.  We were getting multiple calls a day, every day.  I guess they hoped we were lying or that somehow the money fairy made a visit over night.  They were sure determined to get that $98 dollars.  Normally, I'd learned to avoid these calls.  There is little point when you can't pay and they aren't willing to work with what you can afford.  Alas, somehow I picked up the phone one day and an angry woman was on the end of the line.  Her first question was, "Do you know you haven't paid your trash bill?  This was a hard fact to miss especially, when I knew the garbage was piling up next to the garage, sad, smelly and unwanted.

I reacted with a small chuckle.  This angered her even more.  She said, So you  think this is funny?"  Ok, now that made me mad.  I said, "I so, wish I had the money to pay you and avoid these nasty calls."  She then proceeded to demand payment of the $98.  They'd already stopped service.  Our credit rating was destroyed long ago.  There really wasn't anything she could do unless it was sending out Guido to fit me for a pair of concrete overshoes.

There had been an article in our local newspaper that mentioned how many millions the local waste hauler had spent on brand new trucks and new bins for every customer.    I laughed at the irony of how much importance this woman gave our $98.  So, I told her what I found amusing.  She didn't share my sense of humor and snarled, " That doesn't have anything to do with the money you owe us!"    Oh, if only wishing for money were the answer.  I would have so loved to pay them and never listen to her again. 

Instead, I told her, that the money that they'd spent had everything to do with the $98 she was demanding.  I told her that the other utilities seemed to understand the financial challenges of some of it's customers and did what they could to work with us.  I told her that if their company hadn't spent so much money, they might be able to work with people like us and gain the $98 over time.  She was as persistent as an old dog with a bone.  She growled.  I hung up.  We haven't spoken since.  They still haven't received $98.

We have solved our trash problem.  We can take our recyclables to the transfer center. The center takes a greater variety than the curbside program, so we can recycle more.  I pile our yard waste behind the shed.  I compost as many kitchen scraps as I can and we have a resident trash hero who under the cloak of darkness shares our trash with the trash bins behind local businesses who always seem to have room for a little more.

Necessity makes this necessary and our resident trash hero seems to actually enjoy the cloak and dagger aspect of his night missions.  I call him "The Night Vulture." 

Humor is a way to cope and not such a bad way either.  I'd prefer to laugh about something other than the situations we find ourselves in when living below the federal poverty level but it seems I don't have a choice, at least, not right now.  Hearing #1 son, make up a silly song after a messy trip to a smelly dump, made us all laugh.  I prefer laughing to crying any day.  Now if "wishing could only allow beggars to ride",  I could laugh all the way to the bank.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Active Acceptance

Today, I  returned from a 2-mile-Just-10 walk full of ideas.  If you had told me 14 years ago that I would be the mother of two children and walking 2 miles, I'd have thought you insane.  Fourteen years ago, I hurt my back jumping on a shovel in our backyard in Chula Vista. 

At the moment it happened, I heard an audible pop.  My first thought was, "you really hurt you're back."  It wasn't long and I was in constant pain.  A trip to the doctor was futile.  When I complained of the pain, she scowled at me and said,  "I have a patient with arthritis in her fingers who still tats. You have too much time on your hands.  You're just depressed."   I was after hearing that.  Yet another doctor said "The x-ray shows nothing.  It's just arthritis.  Exercise." ( I didn't know then than you can't see a herniated disk with an x-ray.)

So, I exercised.  After several days, I was in so much pain that I'd spend several days sitting on the couch.  During those days, I often prayed for a quick end to this life.  The pain interfered with my sleep.  I had almost constant muscle spasms in my legs.  I was a mess.  This went on for a year with no end in sight.  Until, one morning before dawn as I lay awake, wracked with pain, I heard a strong voice inside me say,  "You can't fight this.  This is your life now.  Accept it.  Focus on the pain, put yourself in it's center.   It will make everything easier."

I didn't think I knew exactly what that meant but decided to give it a try.  I allowed myself to relax into the pain.  I focused my concentration on it's "center".  The pain eased.  I slept peacefully for several hours.  Over the next days and months, I'd often have to remember my "ah ha" moment.  When I was tired or did too much, the pain was strong.  I had, however, found a way to live with it.  Soon, we were pregnant with Shannon.  My life had found a new meaning.

When she was a baby, my left leg would often give out.  I was afraid I might drop her and decided to mention my back pain to yet another doctor.  This doctor immediately ordered an MRI and sent me to a surgeon.  When the surgeon entered the exam room upon my first visit.    Holding the MRI report, he shook his head and said,  "I can't believe you lived with this for over 2 years.  Do you know how many grown men I see with the same issue who are in tears because of the pain?"  How did you do it?"  I blushed and found that I didn't have the words to tell him.   I said nothing.

I was vindicated.  I was not a whiner.  Surgery soon helped relieve the constant pain.  There is still some residual nerve damage.  My feet sometimes drag.  I often walk with a limp.   I have to be carefull not to over do it.   My back and legs often hurt but I have found a way to live with it and accept it.

Genuine acceptance is anything but passive.  When I wrote about acceptance yesterday, I later realized that I don't want to give the impression that acceptance is a "roll over and play dead" state of being.  Learning to accept the pain required a radical shift in my perception.  I had to work at this new way of seeing.  I still have to work at it, especially when I'm tired and hurting.   Life  offers many new opportunities to accept "the things that I can not change."

I have spent years of my life fighting against pain, physical and emotional pain.  The harder I try to run from it the worse it gets.  Pain is part of life.  It's not an enemy.  It's a companion that I have to embrace.  When I accept this companion, I find that it has so much to share.    It forces me to look at the dark corners of my life.  It makes me strong and resilient.  It opens my heart to the pain of others.  It does these things only if I accept it for what it is and learn to listen to all it has to say.  The struggle to accept pain has been the single most defining activity of my life. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Gray Heron

I left the house for my Just 10 morning walk so deep in almost wordless thought that I had traveled a distance before I really realized where I was.  When I emerged from my revelry, I found myself starring across a pond at the silhouette of a single gray heron.

I was captivated by this gray bird, preening against a pond as smooth as glass, it's outline etched against an even grayer sky.  I remembered the air fight I'd seen between an eagle and an osprey near this same place the heron now stood.  Slowly, this open field, surrounded by a strip mall and a subdivision, is being developed.  My thoughts soon turned to the horror I feel at the oil gushing into the ocean.  I feel ill when I think of what this is doing to the sea life and all who depend upon it.

I found myself suddenly begging God for a miracle.  A miracle for me, a miracle for the earth.

I realized that I don't ask God for many things these days.  In the past, God's answer has often been a quiet "no."   Like a spoiled child, I have often behaved badly upon hearing this "no".  Over time, I've slowly begun to change how I interact with this being, I call God.  As much as I may disagree with the plan, I pray for strength, perseverance and acceptance.  I'm not in charge.  I need to leave the details and the outcome up to the Master.

For several moments this morning, I felt guilty about not praying more especially given the challenges in my life and the problems in the world.  As I walked, I realized that my prayers are less about asking for specific things or outcomes.  God isn't Santa.  Today, my prayers often transcend words.  When overwhelmed with worry, surrounded by love,  or touched by beauty,  I share those moments, those feelings with God and often find a wordless peace.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Chasm Within

This morning, during my private Just 10,  as I took a brisk walk, I pondered the reason for my weight gain.

For the past, 25 years, I've tried to fill the emptiness inside with food.   I have yet to succeed, despite the extra weight.  I know how to eat right, all about portion control, and exercise.  This knowledge means nothing as long as the emptiness calls me.    Food is love to me and I can never seem to get enough.  I throw food into the emptiness to soothe the ache.

My weight gain started after I left the convent.  It was a traumatic parting.  I couldn't process all that had happened.  I was tormented by the "whys" of it.  I felt unworthy, a failure.  I was heart broken.  Food helped dull the pain.  It wasn't long and my figure resembled that of my beloved grandmothers and great aunts. In time, I understood how my attachment to food started when I was still very young.  My best memories are centered around food and family.  I used those memories to hide the memories of lost innocence, memories that were too painful to acknowledge and that still leave me feeling damaged and broken.

Today, I knew, with great certainty, that it's time to make peace with the emptiness.  When I listen to people's stories, the real stories in between their words, I hear the emptiness within them.  I don't think I've ever gotten to know a person who isn't broken and empty in some way.  That emptiness explains so much, the drive to succeed, materialism, consumerism, addictions, promiscuity, wasted hours in front of the computer.    All these things are attempts to fill that chasm within.  They can not.  It is time to make peace with this emptiness.  This emptiness can't be filled in this lifetime and yet, this emptiness can open the door to hope.

I imagined myself standing at the edge of a precipice, looking down into a swirling, jet black chasm of darkness.   This emptiness is part of me.  It's part of all of us.  I can lean over the abyss and say, "I accept this as part of me, as part of my human existence."   It is the unknown, the incomplete, the imperfect, the broken pieces of my life.  It is my emptiness.  It's always been there and will remain with me until I leave this life.  I am humbled before it. 

This emptiness can be the source of compassion for others who struggle with their own emptiness, their own chasm within.  It can also be the source of great hope.  I, who still believe in the existence of a loving God, despite events and people who argued the contrary,  remember St. Augustine's words,  "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in thee."  I can not fill this emptiness, especially not with food.  It simply is and so am I, empty, broken and yet, infinitely loved.  Peace.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Wrath of the Little Red Hens

After spending the better part of three days, sitting at a joint garage sale with friends, Laura, Marnie, Carolle and Jessica,  I was left with much to ponder.  We, five ladies, actually had a good time visiting despite our fatigue and I came away liking each of them even more than I did before.  We also got a good glimpse into humanity and some of there less than noble manifestations.  I awoke this morning still thinking about all that happened and decided to use it as the fodder for my Just 10.

The three days were eventful.  I witnessed a hit and run between garage sale customers and a hot pursuit.  Jessica had one of her handmade necklaces stolen and we had to loudly insist that one customer leave the premises.  There were several lovely customers, but sadly, there were also many who had less than good manners.

One of my constant inner struggles is that of  finding qualities in my fellow humans that warrant redemption.  When people behave badly, I'm left wanting to isolate myself from this "ship of fools."    I often find the world a rather frightening place.    We finished the sale with a rather unpleasant incident.

A man,who returned at the end of the garage sale, was told he could have a picture that in which he expressed interest in having.  Soon, he was engaged in a frenzied "grab" of all that remained.  I told him that not everything was free and he ignored me and continued to collect.  I told him,  "You need to leave now.  We are closed."  Again he pretended not to understand English.  Since, I've spent a considerable amount of time around native and non-native English speakers, I know when someone doesn't speak English and when some one does.

(For the record,  Whites, as a group, are equally capable of acting badly.)

He, then stepped out of the garage and began rifling through more of the "not-for-sale" items.  By this time, colleague, Jessica was aware of the problem and quickly came to tell him that those items are spoken for.  He ignored her as well and started throwing around glass objects.  By this time, Jessica and I were just plain mad.

We both started yelling at him.  Our noise soon got every one's attention.  My husband, who was unaware of what was going on, came up behind us and glared at our slow-to-respond man who finally decided to leave.  His parting words were in fluent English.

My first reaction was anger.  Fear came a bit later.  This man was not alone.  His family/friends were waiting at the edge of the driveway.  Until my husband joined us, we were just a collection of women.  We weren't much of a threat to a large, young and muscular man with backup.  My husband said, he'd seen the group earlier and had thought they might have made arrangements with one of us to come back.  They had not.  It wasn't until Jess and I got engaged in a loud banishment that every one's attention was focused on the threat to "the hen house."

I was angry.  I felt that this young man was using his physical size to simply take what he wanted from a group of mostly middle-aged women.  (Jess, you're young and gorgeous, enjoy it.)  When someone uses their size to intimidate, I see red.    All those years of being single and watching out for myself, I learned that showing fear gives the potential perpetrator the upper hand.   I was very lucky.  The few close calls I had, I made eye contact and the threat made me angry.  I stood my ground and made a lot of noise.  I walked away unharmed physically.  Fear and it's aftermath came later.  It made me more wary, which is a good thing.  It also made me more jaded and that is not as good.

While, it's nice to know that my survival instincts are still strong, it still makes me sad that they are necessary.  The dreamer in me wants to live in a civil, polite world.  I want to greet strangers with a smile.  I want to see the best in others.  I don't want to worry about potential threats to my safety or the safety of my family and friends.

I worry that I'm not teaching my children to be careful, to be assertive, to fight back, so that they can loudly say "no" when the need arises.  I don't want fear to cripple them but I also don't want them to be easily swayed by others.  The job of teaching them street smarts and manners is not an easy one, especially when you are working with literal-minded children.  So often bad appears as good.  When is it ok to stop being polite? How do they develop the ability to sense when and where danger maybe lurking?  How do I help them anticipate possible problems so they can avoid them and still give them the confidence to function well in this less than perfect world?

This is when parenting weighs heavily upon my shoulders.  I have to shelf some of my disappointment in humanity so that I can give my children the gift of hope and of perseverance.  I have to utilize some of my anger and channel it into showing them how to take care of themselves.  Most of all, I have to use Just 10 time and as much time as possible to instill in them a strong sense of self-worth and value.  It is this self-worth and value that will make them strong defenders.  Maybe, if our young garage sale thug had a sense of his own worth and value, he would have had more respect for others.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Burden of Knowledge and Responsibility

Washington State Extension Service has a program to teach nutrition in grade schools.  My son brought home a questionnaire for the parents designed to measure the effectiveness of the program.  One of the questions read:

"I (we) wash my hands before eating or before handling food. Yes or No?"

Really?  Come on.

I did scan the nutrition info that was sent home.  These flyers were mixed with assorted school news, ads for summer camps and sports programs,  finished homework and assorted miscellaneous.  I often wonder how many trees were sacrificed in order to fill my childrens backpacks with information that loudly proclaims it's importance.  I seem to get almost as much homework as my children do.  But back to the nutrition survey. . . It was poorly written and allowed the respondents to rave about the benefits of the program.  It did not provide any room for any additional feedback.   I was quick to infer that if the parents didn't read the nutrition information that was sent home in the kids' backpacks, they only had themselves to blame for their childrens' poor nutrition.  Really? Come on.  Have you seen the school lunches?   Apparently, the government subsidized lunch program hasn't been reading it's nutrition information.    That canned nacho cheese sauce I've seen in the lunch room is just plain scary.
We are surrounded by information, now more than ever.   If knowledge were all that was lacking, we'd all be living happier, healthy lives and making tons of money by virtue of our superior knowledge.  We're left to do the best we can with what we've got.  Knowledge alone doesn't solve problems.  It takes action.  Action is often required of all parties involved.  My washing my hands (and I do by the way) is not going to improve the school lunch program or eliminate the sale of energy drinks at the high school. 

So what does this mean to me and to my Just 10 today?

I had to look inward after I got past my initial irritation at being asked about my hand washing.  I'm intimidated by all the responsibilities to process, digest and take action when it comes to all that seems to be expected of me as a parent.  I get upset when I receive yet another piece of paper that claims to be very important, "Parent response required".    When did I abdicate my responsibility for determining what I consider important? 

Yet, I felt irritated because for a time I felt inadequate.  I questioned my parenting because I don't implement all that I know about nutrition when it comes to feeding my children or myself.  I felt dumb.    I got lost in my "oration from a soap box."  (I still think my points extremely valid, by the way.)   I felt defensive because I wasn't applying all that I know.  I also felt overwhelmed by all I felt I should know and should be doing.  I was "shoulding" all over myself because some one in the Washington State Extension office wrote up a survey asking me "If I wash my hands."

All this angst over my not applying the nutrition knowledge I do possess may be understandable, but it isn't helpful.  If the school/state should send home information indicating that parents should be serving Twinkies and gum drops at every meal because sugar intake is correlated to increased focus and retention of information, it would still be up to me to decide what I would serve my family.  It would be up to me to take what ever knowledge I possess and to choose what action I will take.  That was true when I woke up this morning and it'll be true when I go to bed tonight.  All, this talk about food is causing me to feel hungry.  Lock up your Twinkies!

Monday, June 14, 2010

12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know

This book caught my eye in the library.  I poured over it yesterday and found it very reassuring and interesting.  Apparently my Just 10 is really "right on."

Michele Borba sites a survey that was done by Nickelodion/Time of 1, 172 children ages six to fourteen in 25 U.S. cities.  Sixty percent of the children wanted to spend more time with their parents.  The children were clear on the quality of that time.

"Regardless of whether we're full-time or part-time working moms or stay-at-home moms, kids tell researchers that our interactions with them make them feel rushed and harried.  More than two in five kids feel that their time with us is rushed.  And, just as we'd expect, our kids rate us more positively if their time with us is less rushed and hurried [sic] and calmer.  In fact almost 90 percent of the kids who rate their time with their mom as very calm give them an A for making them feel important and loved compared to 63 percent of those who rate their time with mom as rushed." p. 35.

I don't know about you but I often operate in high gear.  Some times, I  rush my children, just as I often rush through life.   When I sit down for my kids' Just 10 time, I feel relaxed almost immediately.  Now, if I could make Just 10 time all the time.  Oh, it's time to sit with my son while we wait for the bus.  I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two to Tangle or Tango?

Good relationships require constant adjustment and attention.  Every time I forget that fact I am surprised at how the foundation I once thought so firm is crumbling beneath my feet.  Just 10 helps me keep in touch.  Just 10 also keeps me constantly challenged. 

I've discovered that the men in my life often respond best to a shared activity instead of a conversation, especially my significant other.  You'd think that after all these years, I'd still remember that most males aren't as verbal as most females.  They are more action than talk and sometimes shared action opens the door to deeper conversation.  It's time I used my female brain and applied clever and creative ways to open that door.

When I announce to my husband that it's time for his Just 10, he usually blinks like a deer in the headlights, awaiting a terrible impact.  In other words, he freezes and clams up.  Sometimes being so direct is a handicap. 

Just now, he wanted to tell to me the results of an experiment on the Discovery Channel's,  Mythbusters.  I'm obviously doing something else but I stopped and listened.  I made eye contact.  I let myself be engaged.  We connected.  He's much more likely to talk with me again if he knows I'll listen.  He knows he is more important than the task at hand because I stopped and gave him my attention.  It really is the little things that make the biggest difference.

I often avoid giving my husband his Just 10 because I don't want it to feel artificial.   I don't want to make him uncomfortable.  I want to make him comfortable. I wasn't sure how to make his Just 10 easier for both of us.

Yesterday, I looked  at the nice guitar I received as a Christmas present a few years back and it occurred to me that guitar lessons from my husband might be a good way for us to share some time together.  He gets to share his superior skill and I just might learn something.   It seems that his Just 10 requires some action.  It's time to lay the groundwork to a deeper relationship by not just listening and talking but by doing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Litany of the Parent

This morning I realized that I have a limited repetoire of refrains that fall out of my mouth when talking to my children during the non-Just 10 moments.  Here are the top 10:

Cut that out!
Stoppppp It!
No one says anything for 5 minutes.
Ok, that's enough!
You must finish your chores first.
Did you hear me?
What did I just say?

Lastly, my two favorite:

I'm sorry, I made a mistake.
I love you.

The last two help make up for the 8 refrains that preceded it.  What are your top ten refrains?

Remember to take good care of the world's children.  They are non-refundable and extremely valuable.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Strategy

One of the challenging things about parenting is that it constantly requires regrouping and coming up with new strategies.  Just when you have tackled a problem successfully a new problem comes to take it's place. 

For example, playing video games with my son in the morning was working as a great motivator.  When it became too great a motivation and the primary focus of the morning, the necessary tasks were neglected.  He lost perspective and was in a terrible mood when we insisted he still complete the morning tasks.  I had to come up with a new strategy, one that didn't use video games as the primary objective. 

So often, I just want to rely on the comfort of routine.  I often resist change because it requires effort.  I forget that change and growth are partners.  Parenting demands growth and change.  Becoming a parent changes your world forever.  It's changed who I am.  It's made me a better person than I was.  This is a process that is often met with resistance on my part. This resistance forces me to come up with new strategies such as the Just 10 project.  It forces me to question my own motives when disciplining my children and ask what is in the interest of the greatest good. 

As I constantly consider what is in my children's best interests, I also have to ask what is in my own.  Mistakes are inevitable.  Mistakes have shown me the beauty and wisdom in the words, "I'm sorry."  Mistakes have taken me to places I didn't want to go.  Mistakes have made me grow as a parent and as a person. 

One of the most important skills my children can acquire is that of resilience.  My son is often severely "happiness challenged."    He forces me to put my own happiness challenged issues aside.  I have to reframe his tragedies and help him to see something other than the dark side.  (Currently, Star Wars analogies are very effective.)  More important than reframing, is modeling the behavior.  I've had to become much more resilient than I ever though I could.  As I struggle with my own challenges and tragedies, I am ever mindful of the eyes that are always watching.  My children learn more from how I face life than they learn from all the words that fall from my mouth.

On these dark rainy mornings that follow days of financial struggles, job searches that have yet to find solutions, the temptation to lie in bed with the blankets over my head is very strong.   My children and my responsibility to them keep me going.  They force me to find the humor in life.  They remind me that happiness is fleeting at best but contentment and satisfaction with a job well done are long lasting.  I've learned what it really means to "seize the day."  

Today is another opportunity to develop new strategies and to re-commit to those that are tried and true.  Andrew and I are going to sit and have Just 10 as we wait for the bus.  It's the start of another good day.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Just Breathe

 The other day I borrrowed the phrase "shame spiral" to describe how I felt.  Al Franken's, Stewart Smalley character on SNL used to say it.    He also said, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and dog-gone-it people like me!"  I loved that character.  Stewart tried so hard to overcome his less than healthy tendencies but somehow usually ended up feeling inadequate.  He'd often go on a food binge, check into a motel and call his OA sponsor to confess eating a box of Twinkies or a bag of Oreos.  Such self-defeating behaviors were evident of a "shame spiral."

So, when I bolted out the door this morning, hurrying to work.  I found myself out of breath very quickly.  I realized I was holding my breath and failing to breathe.  Hard to believe, but true.  I've been "holding my breath" metaphorically, as I wait for the full impact of not having sufficient income to make ends meet.    Do you know how hard it is to walk and hold your breath at the same time?  It's equally hard to live the appearance of a normal life when you live way below the federal poverty line.  In this mindstorm, I remembered Stewart Smalley. Despite his knowledge and good intentions, he still indulged his neurotic tendencies from time to time and felt the impact of the now-classic shame spiral.  I've been in a shame spiral and I've forgotten how to breathe.

Humor has been a good coping mechanism for me.  In remembering Stewart Smalley and how silly and yet endearing he was, I found part of myself, a part I was able to love.  I've been so frustrated with my inactivity.  My to-do list is a whole lot bigger than I am.   I haven't been very good about taking Just 10 with my family these last few weeks.  I've felt overwhelmed and I want to hide in a bag of potato chips or a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup.  Not good choices, not healthy choices but choices that aren't uncommon which is exactly what makes Stewart Smalley funny to me.  I know him.  I see him in others and I see him in myself.

Stewart had to constantly remind himself of his own value, his own worth and so do I.  Today, I had to remind myself to breathe.    Focus on your breath has new meaning to me.  I see how easy it is to overlook the most essential.  I see how important it is to tend to one's own needs first.  I see how difficult we can make the simplest of things.  I caught a glimpse of why the root words for breathe and spirit are forever linked.

As I thought more of relaxing and taking things one moment at a time, I forgot all about breathing and in the forgetting the breathing came naturally.   My psyche has been tensing up and expecting the worst.  All that tension diminishes my inner resources.   I need to do what I can and let go.  After all, "I'm good enough, smart enough and dog-gone it people like me!"  Just breathe.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I Hope You Dance

I'm an observer by nature.  It must come with the introvert package and a lot of the time I do enjoy it.  But not always.  Sometimes I'm just left with the feeling that I'm missing something.

This weekend, my husband and I actually had a date night.  A friend of my husband was playing with his band at the Moose Lodge and we went to hear them.  Out on the small dance floor was a cute assortment of seniors.  The youngest couple had to be in their sixties.  Suddenly, my husband asked me to dance.  I was speechless.  We have never danced together.  One of us has always been too self-conscious.  I was frozen.   Considering my "competition" on the dance floor, I knew I was being foolish.  The cute woman with her hair done up like Heidi the goat girl, actually walked with a cane.    I didn't want to just observe.  I wanted to dance but something held me back.   It was fear.

What was I afraid of?  What is the worst thing that could happen?  People would laugh at me?  I was enjoying watching the dancers but as far as any of them getting anywhere on Dancing with the Stars, well, that won't happen.  Frozen in my seat, watching old people dance, I felt like I was missing out on something.  Life was happening and I was just sitting there. 

My Just 10 assignment for the day is to look at all the areas of my life.  Where might fear be holding me back?   When I want to "get up and dance" what is keeping me?  How do I get beyond it? 

Soon, I'm going to get up and dance.  How about you?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Happy Acres

At Happy Acres everyone agrees and gets along.  There is always enough money, food, time for everyone.  We are in great shape and wonderfully photogenic.  We're Pleasantville, Stepford Wives and a Twilight Zone episode rolled into one.   No one lives at "Happy Acres" all the time.  Happy Acres is that mythical and perfect world we often envision and curse fate when we don't achieve.  Maybe I'm the only one that does that but I'll bet not.

This morning I had a few insane moments when my dissatisfaction with how poorly my world mirrors Happy Acres caused me grief.   Lost in the novelty of a new world just uncovered, in Super Mario Bros., son and I were so deep in the game that Teri, the bus driver had to call from the bus in our driveway to throw us into action.  Husband scolded me.  I felt like I was ten.   I had to face the fact that my home life isn't always peaceful and pleasant.  I'm not living in Happy Acres.

After a few sentences were exchanged, I took a deep breath and decided to let it go.  I needed to let go of any frustration I felt with myself and with him.  I assumed responsibility yet, I also realized that in the larger scheme of things, my not hearing the bus was the tiniest of glitches.   I was reacting based on my feeling.  I wasn't responding based on the reality.  

I made myself stop and took time to look inside.  His reaction was his reaction.  It was up to me to choose and own mine.  I actually found it amusing that I could be so focused on a game and having so much fun that I forgot to look for the bus.  I realized that I had been busy with the morning routine earlier and hadn't really paid much attention to my husband. There are so many important issues worth arguing about that getting upset wouldn't be in my best interests.  I decided to let it go.  My husband began to talk about other things and I turned my attention to the new topic. 

Many times, I've gotten stuck in my anger and frustration.  I focus on the what and not the how and why.  I compare my life to that idyllic life that lies just beyond human grasp and come up disappointed.    As long as I expect a level of unachievable perfection, I create misery for myself.  I agonize over what could be without understanding that life is a journey and we are always works in progress.

I can curse my fate and dream of a perfect world or I can figure out what I can do that will put me just a bit closer to the life I envision, a life still full of problems but a satisfying and self-directed life, a life, to which I can say "Yes".    During my Just 10 today, I said "Yes" to my flawed and problem-riddled life.  It's so much more interesting than Happy Acres and when it's all said and done, I'll bet I can say that it was also more fun.  Fun needs its opposite to be appreciated.  Life bring it on.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More Important Than Money

Our children our wonderful procrastinators and have yet to grasp some of the essential elements of time management.  Several days ago, my husband was trying to explain the why's of good time management to son, Andrew.   This is what I heard.  "Andrew, a lot of people think that money is the most important thing but it's not.  The most important things are time and love.  Without time and love, money doesn't really matter."  Bravo, Dad.

I thought about these short sentences during my Just 10 this morning.  My mind was flooded with thoughts.  I thought about some of the students I see everyday.   They all seem to want someone to take time to listen to them.  I hear students wishing that their family sat down to meals together.  Many just want time to talk with their parents but so many parents are working, spending time at the computer, spending time with partners or younger children.  Many teenagers don't value themselves.  They don't feel important.  They don't feel loved.  When it's all said and done, they want more time with their family or at least time with someone who feels like family.   Many of the choices they make are motivated by the need to belong, to feel that someone or some group cares about them.  If their families don't take time to be with them, they will find someone who will.  That someone or something isn't always the best choice. 

These teenagers don't realize that they have been giving me a gift.  In the brief time, I'm with them, they are teaching me so much about the value of time and love.  They have shown me how important it is for me to make a commitment to give my own children and the people in my life, my time, as a gift.  They've shown me that time without love is not a gift at all.

The beauty of Just 10 is that it is my daily reminder.  The Just 10 guidelines keep me on track.  I still derail on occasion but it gets easier every day.  When I devote time to another, time to really listen and to honor who they are without judgment or criticism, I discover that underneath the faults and rough edges, is a person I like knowing. 

If we could learn to see each others' strengths instead of each others' weaknesses, the world would be a much kinder and gentler place.  Just 10 really can change the world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Play Again

Friend, Traci sent a link to a film preview posted on Youtube.  It referenced a site and I'm posting the link here.  It's something I needed to see as a parent.

My fondest childhood memories are of playing outside on the farm.  Later when we moved into town our back yard still opened up on to fields.  Near us was a still undeveloped woods.  I spent hours upon hours out doors, building forts, tossing cow pies, playing slip and slide in the mud.  Outdoors was a refuge, a place to go when the pressures of being at home were too great.  It was a place to meet friends and sometimes enemies as we pursued a childlike "cowboy justice."  It was a huge backdrop to our games of pretend, imagining ourselves as rulers of field and forest.  My children have a very different relationship with the outdoors.  They rarely get dirty.  My son is afraid of bugs, although fascinated by them.  They haven't really learned how to play outside.

Guess, who needs to show them how, the old mud Queen, herself.  Watch out summer hear we come. I'm taking Just 10 outdoors.  We'll spend time with each other in nature and we'll take time to play.  I'll plan to make one Sunday a month, Adventure Sunday.  Having fun doesn't have to cost a dime.  It doesn't require a controller, a computer, a TVor musical accompaniment.  It does require opportunity, willingness and a creative state of mind.  After all, we are guests on Mother Earth.  It's time to take advantage of her hospitality. Now if I can only convince her to stop raining.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

Most of my shower thoughts are inspirations.  This mornings inspiration didn't feel good.  I actually hated it.  I realized that I have been ignoring the elephant in the room and that elephant is me.  I've managed to gain 30 lbs in less than a year.  The fact that I can use my stomach as a ledge finally pierced my consciousness at 6:51 a.m. this morning in the shower. 

So today's Just 10 is about accepting that as a reality on a deeper level.  I've given losing weight lip service but it hasn't really gotten through to my "control center."  The gateway to my control center was blasted open about 5:30 this a.m. when I woke up with an irregular and rapid heartbeat.  Now, I might have been dreaming about running from tigers, but I doubt it.  I think it was a wake up call.   

"Today is the first day of the rest of my life" is so cliche but it's also true.  It's time to lose weight.  I want to be healthier.  I want to fit into my small clothes, I want to feel better,and to move easier.  Most of all, I don't want cringe every time I see my reflection or photo of myself.

How to accomplish this?  I have the knowledge. What I've lacked is the will.  I'm dusting off my copy of  The Complete Beck Diet for Life.  I'm going to do the exercises, address the behaviors, focus on my successes, make good food choices and exercise.  I'm also going to be accountable, to myself, to my family and to you.  I'll use my personal Just 10 for an honest assessment and review.  I'd like to report feeling energized by my resolution but I just feel disgusted with myself.  Since feelings often drive me to the feed sack, I'm going to acknowledge them and not get stuck in the refrigerator.  Here I go.