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.

Friday, October 29, 2010


I wear worry like I wear underwear.  I never leave home without it.

Last night, my husband and I assumed our usual positions;  I, in the brown recliner.  He, in the overstuffed armchair with footstool.  Between us, a lamp sits on top of a shelf.   Strategically placed, this shelf holds our cups full of tea or water, an assortment of pens, a bunch of books for me, my knitting and crocheting, an old Game Boy, well you get the idea.  We are consummate couch potatoes.  Our skill at avoiding getting up is evident in the materials we have within arms reach.

Picture us sitting there, mindlessly watching TV.  We speak little.  Each is absorbed in whatever each is absorbed in.  So, it was a bit of a surprise, when I suddenly said,"I think I'm a better worrier than you."

This kind of statement is sure to capture the interest of my husband.  He looked at me as if my head had turned into the Medusa, snakes for hair, writhing about my head like a halo. Of course, his look communicated a question and I'm never one to let a question go by unanswered.
 "No, honestly.  I think I have more experience in living with worry."
Again, he stared at me in semi-horror.
"Okay, here's the deal."  I worry all the time about absolutely everything.  It's crazy worry.  I'm used to living with it.  I'm pretty sure this crazy worry isn't something you indulge in."
Obviously, this statement needs to be backed up with evidence.  He, still looked at me with mouth agape.

"Do you know that I come from a long line of worriers, who worry about everything?  For example, do you know that I worry about an earthquake hitting while I'm in the middle of the Glen Jackson Bridge?  It would be curtains for anyone caught on the bridge."
"What about the Marquam Bridge,"  he says.  "Do you worry about going off the edge on that one?"
He already knows I hate the Marquam and why.  He just didn't know that I worry about driving off the edge every time I cross it.
"Why, yes, I do."
He replied, "You know the van wouldn't be able to jump the barrier."
Being a male, he had some fancy name for this barrier which I can not remember.  The look of horror on his face relaxed but only slightly.
"You're not being rational."  He announced this like he's Mr. Spock.
With a sassy but playful curtness, I replied, "Don't you think I know it's irrational?  Doesn't change a thing in the worry center of my brain.  Worry still swirls in my head like a constant storm."
His face relaxed a bit more but he still looked at me like I'd suddenly grown a second head but this time without the writhing snakes.  This looks still goaded me on.  Mr. Spock needed more evidence.

"Well, if I'm driving and I'm any where near home and an ambulance or a fire truck goes by, my first thought is something has happened at home."
I could tell by the wrinkles between his eyes that he thought I might be nuttier than he first thought. That and his physical recoil in mock horror as the word, "no" fell from his mouth. 
He quickly added with a quizzical tone, "Are you kidding me?"
"No," I said, nodding my head with dramatic vigor.
"This is just a small sample of the worry that haunts my head on a daily basis.  You should be trapped in this body with this mind." 
I jabbed my finger at the airspace between my head and cranium.

His face relaxed slightly.  I could tell he was thinking he's grateful that he wasn't me.  He shook his head, still baffled by the irrational me. I'm not finished with this topic yet and said,
" When it comes to worry, I'm a veteran.  You can let it drive you crazy or learn to live with it.  I've tried crazy.  Learning to live with it is the better option" 
Sighing, I added, "Besides, I'm too tired for crazy.  It takes too much energy."

The fact that I was wearing pajamas, feet up in a recliner with a drink at the ready helped to prove my point.  That's as sane as it's going to get.  Then the words that all this self-centered conversation prepared for came from my lips,  "I worry about you.  You've got to find a way to worry without it being so hard on you."

I worry that he worries too much.  Worry that overwhelms or slows us down doesn't serve a useful purpose. Worry that wakes us up, makes us a little more careful, points us toward a greater awareness of what we value most, is a worry that I can live with.  By now, my husband looked at me with sleepy eyes.  My chatter had begun to turn into a low and distant droning.  He opened his mouth as if to speak but before he did so, his mouth closed.  He shook his head and turned his attention back to the flickering TV screen. 

We quietly resumed our separate pursuits and soon trudged down the hall to bed.  After a quick goodnight kiss, we quickly fell into an easy slumber.  Worry was placed on the shelf for another day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tears for What Matters

Everyday I learn something new.  After years of being perplexed by algebra, I'm discovering it's not nearly as complicated and mysterious as I once thought.  It's fun to be able to solve problems containing a variable that is unknown.  This new interest in algebra takes me completely by surprise.  I was also surprised by tears today.  Tears took me by surprise in a way I'd never expected.  More surprising, still was that I took the shedding of them in stride as if they were as natural a part of this particular day as breathing.  This isn't the me, who began this day.  I'm someone different than the me that woke up this morning.

As I worked with one of the students at school, I found myself shedding tears of empathy.   The biggest surprise to me was how spontaneously those tears fell.  Those who know me, know that shedding tears in front of others is something I rarely do.  In the past, those rare occasions left me feeling embarrassed and vulnerable.  They made me feel weak.  Today, those tears made me feel strong.  They told me how much I cared.   Those tears left behind an awareness.  My job performance, my student's performance was not as important as my concern for his/her best interests.   My anxiety about doing a good job,about doing the right thing, about being acknowledged for doing the right thing can sometimes get in the way of identifying what is most important.  Today, my heart told me what was most important as loudly and clearly as it could.

My face was visited by only a few tears.  I was able to smile through them.  I was able to tell him/her exactly why they were there, how much I felt for him/her, how much they mattered to me.  Tears left quickly, without lingering.  As I moved through the rest of my day, I did so with a greater awareness of what really mattered.  This I carry with me now. The importance of human connections, of making time for others and valuing who they are more than what they can do was the message for the day. 

In lives filled with activities and responsibilities, it is easy to forget what is most important.  What we do is never more important than who we are.  I learned something new about the world today.  Something that tears taught me. Those tears blessed me with awareness.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Recently,  I overhead a young student voice his opinion on the subject of love.
He said, "Love doesn't really exist."
The student beside me quietly said, "He's right.  Love isn't real."

At first,  I found their youthful cynicism surprising, but soon, I began to wonder if they might have a point.  Their words have haunted me since and today, during my Just 10, I decided to give love some thought.  More specifically, what does love mean to me?

Before I faced deep personal reflection, I decided to look up the definition. had so many definitions of the word, "love" I didn't want to cut and paste them all.  I did cut and paste the first few.  I also came away with the knowledge that our current word, "love" used to be "lufu" in Middle English. 
a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
sexual passion or desire.
a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart
This four-letter word has a lot of baggage.  Today, as I pondered the complexities of love, and the cynicism of the young, I confronted  my own feelings about love. Like happiness, love isn't always a feeling.  It doesn't always feel warm and fuzzy.  In fact, that warm and fuzzy feeling might not correlate with real love at all. 

Over the years, I have often questioned the love I feel for others.  There are times when what I feel toward them isn't a good feeling.  When the flames of conflict, die down and the heat of passionate intensity has cooled, I discover anew that love doesn't always feel good.  Human love is never perfect.  It is forever flawed.  Love is picking up the pieces and deciding to work it out.  Love is not "never having to say your sorry."  Sometimes it's all about being sorry and saying so.  It's about gritting one's teeth and getting down to business.  Love really isn't roses and chocolates.  It's weeds and oatmeal with an occasional rose and bonbon tossed into the mix.  Love is often messy, complicated,  and a real nuisance.

Despite my years of life experience, I can still be lulled into a false sense of what love is, by the corporate world, popular fiction, TV and film.  Romantic love sells.  It baits me and reels me in.  I am entranced by the promise of it.   Waking up next to the same person for years with morning breath and ratty flannel pajamas does not capture my attention the way a smarmy movie like  An Affair to Remember or From Here to Eternity can.   Yet, slowly over time, the appeal of romantic love has waned.  Inside a greater appreciation for the courage, perseverance and strength of character necessary to commit to years of partner's sharing halitosis has grown. 

Maybe this type of love should be described with the word, "lufu".  It dances across my tongue with all the awkwardness of an elderly couple learning the polka for the first time.  Always slightly out of step, their movement more like lurching than dancing, they look at each other.
"I lufu you," their eyes shout.
Lines of amusement draw smiles on their faces.  The others' face has become more familiar than their own and just as much a part of them. 
"Lufu",  they say to each other as each year folds into another.
"Lufu", they say through the arguments, the disappointments and the heartache.
"Lufu", they say to each other when there is nothing left to say.  
This "lufu" is the love to which I now aspire.   Wish me well as I wish for you a life blessed with "lufu".

The Dark Lover

The darkness wraps itself around my car like a jealous lover as I creep across town on my morning commute. Arriving at my destination with no memory of the trip, I stumble out of the car and into my work day.   Briefly, consulting my mental calendar, I discover that it is only Tuesday.  My body feels the shock of this awareness.  I walk more slowly and with a slight limp.  Tuesday is heavy.  I struggle under her weight.   The darkness of the morning has  followed me.  It nips at my heels  I pretend it isn't there.  Surviving Tuesday depends on my little ruse.  The darkness dances before me, seductively. 
"Join me" it whispers.

My resistance weakens.  I want to lie with it in the parking lot and never cross the threshold into my day.  Longingly,  I peer into the eyes of darkness.  What I see there does not frighten me.  Its caresses me gently and for a moment, I am lost.  Driven by a cold wind, raindrops bring me back, slapping against my cheek. Mindlessly, my feet carry me forward out of habit.   As I dash between the drops of rain, I look to the horizon.  A band of light,swaddled in gray pushes against the darkness.   I see a familiar face and smile.  Day begins.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have an dictionary that is as full of memories as it is of words. 

When I was in the convent, the Sisters didn't really celebrate birthdays but they did celebrate feast days.  My feast day is November 4th.  In the last year of my exile with the Sisters, my superiors decided to teach me a lesson by not celebrating my feast day.  I don't remember what I did to deserve the cancellation of the celebration.  I doubt it was anything serious.  It  may not have even been something real but something they imagined and pinned on me.  The Sisters had a way of twisting reality to suit some mysterious plan.  That plan will always remain a mystery to me.

One of the things I asked for (I was supposed to submit suggestions),  was a dictionary.  When November 4th rolled around, in 1982   Sister C. made a big deal of the fact that I was denied a celebration and any presents. "Dictionary denied!"  When at the end of January, of the next year, I could no longer torture myself by remaining in the convent, many of the Sisters acted with guilt and regret.  Most seemed actually saddened by my leaving.  In a sincere and tearful gesture, I was given a $1000 to start a new life and a large hard-back edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language .  That dictionary sits next to me now.  The binding has cracked.  A few of the pages sit loosely among the others.  Today, I use it to look up the word, frustration.  This is what my 1981 version says:

"Frustration: n. 1. The condition or an instance of being frustrated. 2. One that frustrates."
then I looked up. . .

"Frustrate tr. v. 1. a. To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire; thwart. b. To cause feelings of discouragement or bafflement in. 2. To prevent the accomplishment of, development of; nullify. . ."

Finding this definition in a dictionary laden with memories has an emotional impact on me.  As I close the book, several pages try to escape.  I frustrate their attempt by carefully putting them back.   Lately, I've been painfully aware that I'm wearing frustration like a bad tattoo.  I've tried to cover it up but my ability to maintain the denial is weakening.  I'd love to indulge in a good old-fashioned cry. 

Thinking I was making a valiant effort to stave off frustration and depression, I've devoted a lot of mental energy toward positive thinking.  Sadly, I think a lot of my energy has really been spent on denial.  I can deny frustration no longer.

"Hello,Frustration tattoo.  It's time to get to know you." 

For the last few years, the world has been my cathedral.  Organized religion has often been a huge disappointment and a source of pain for me.  I've known some wonderful people, Godly people, over the years.  I have also known some of the opposite, people who used religion as a battering ram.  When I've most needed the connection to a faith community, I have felt the most distant, the most judged and the most unworthy.  While I  bring some of my own insecure baggage to the table, my reaction does have some justification in the behavior of some in positions of authority.   How do I maintain a spirit of compassion toward those who often harshly judged me?  It's a frustratingly difficult thing to do at times but one I'm convinced is absolutely necessary.

Still, the truth is, the frustrations I feel toward others and toward circumstances pales in comparison to the frustration I often feel with myself,  my lack of focus, my lack of accomplishment, and my lack of good judgment.  Lately, I've been indulging in a pity party of one.  Frustration is a bad tattoo, a moldy cake and a filthy party hat all at the same time.    I've used frustration as a whip and engaged in that freakish practice of self-flaggelation.  The mental picture that conjures in my head is giving me a bad case of the full-body shudders. 

So this rainy Sunday morning as I sit in my world cathedral, I intend to soak up the wisdom and energy of acceptance.  In order to move forward, I must have compassion for where I am right now.  I need to look at my frustration tattoo and all that it signifies and see it for what it is.  It's time I got out of my own way. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trinity of Happiness

Yesterday, would have been such a wonderful day to play hooky but maybe that's what I've been doing all along.  Stumbling through my days waiting for the proverbial ship to come in to the harbor, I scream "Where is that bloody ship?"  Lately, a lot of days open onto an entire ocean of sand.  No ships here.  This ocean of sand has become one nightmarish sandbox.  My fellow playmates are too busy throwing sand at each other to figure out that sand throwing is a terrible idea.  Standing in the thick of it, I throw sand like everybody else.  Not a very productive way to spend a life, is it?  It's no surprise that happiness has been elusive.

So, yesterday,  I slogged through interruptions, melt-downs, whining, frustration and boredom, (not all of that mine), to finally tackle a task I've been avoiding:  define happiness.   Instead of approaching this task with eagerness, I had procrastinated.  Why?  I didn't really know and so the task ahead had two parts:  first, I must define happiness and  second, find out why I didn't want to.   This is what I discovered.

My Trinity of Happiness

1.) Connections
2.) Meaningful work
3.) Health

Determining the ingredients for my brand of happy was easier than I thought. It was also incredibly obvious to me that these three things were equal in importance.  No hierarchy here.  Their overlapping spheres of influence became my personal trinity of happiness.  Apparently, the number three was the number of the day.

Realizing that each ingredient for happiness was multifaceted, I looked at each of my ingredients and decided to break each down into three subcategories.


1.) Family
2.) Friends
3.) God/Self and the Universe.

Meaningful Work

1.) Clear Purpose
2.) Serving a Greater Good
3.) A Personal Passion


1.) Physical
2.) Mental
3.) Spiritual

After all the procrastination and resistance, determining what happiness meant to me wasn't difficult.  What was difficult was realizing that I wasn't doing a very good job chasing it.  My poor job performance was the reason I hadn't wanted to define happiness.  When I finally did, I had to accept that I had a lot of work ahead of me. At first, that realization left me wanting to take a nap.  Today, I'm intrigued by the challenge.

Last night as our book group met to discuss The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin,
I was reminded of two truths that are so profound that I like to forget them.  (It is so easy for the mind and soul to fall back into old and often bad habits.)

"Happiness doesn't always make you feel happy." (Rubin.p.79)


 ". . . challenge brings happiness . . .it allows you to expand your self-definition." (Rubin. p. 78)

After a little quality Just 10 time with myself, forcing me into positive reflection, I'm ready to strap my trinity of happiness to my back and get back in the game.  I've had enough of the sandbox.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Flood of Words

Sometimes, an idea comes into my head and pushes everything else out.  Today, I drove home distracted by the force of an idea.  This idea insisted upon  materializing into  printed words.  I'm not really sure what it  means or why I think I have to write it.  It doesn't really matter.  I'm going to toss it out upon the page and then concern myself with the task of making dinner.

First, a little background. . . This past weekend, my youngest sister came to visit.  We discovered that we both share a weird phenomenon.  Each of us thought that "this must only happens to me".  Little did we know.  Often as we lay in bed, at the end of the day, waiting for sleep, we see a calidescope of human faces, heads, really, of people we have never met.  They appear and quickly fade into the next.  Sometimes their faces are contorted or grotesque.   Other times they wear peaceful or happy expressions.  I thought this sufficiently odd so I rarely spoke of it.  Over the years, I've gotten used to it.  It doesn't happen every night but when it does, I don't fight it or let it carry me into the land of raging madness.  I watch the show.  At times, I'm even amused by the odd theatre playing behind my closed eyes.  I no longer fight it.  I've learned to "go with it".

When my sister started to share this experience, I was tingling with excitement and completing the end of her sentences.  Now, I know one other person that shares this odd experience.  We are not alone and we'd never have found out if she hadn't shared this with me.  This desire to share some of the odd twists and turns in my own human experience is the motivation behind this blog.  I find it delightfully cathartic.

And so, when driving home today, the inspiration for an entry was flooding my head with such force, I was having a hard time paying attention to traffic.   I'm used to this flooding in my head.  Gradually, I am learning not to fight it.  On the battered bridge, between the mundane and the other worldly,  (If wordly was an actual word, I'd use it here.) I am a novice, still in training.   Learning how to a "build a boat and stay afloat" has been a life long task.  Today, I'm committed to whittling an oar or two.  Instead of resisting inspiration, I'm going to let it play through me just because I can.  Without further ado, I share today's "word flood".  In started with a simple line from a song. . ."the sun told me to run."

The sun told me to run and I've been running ever since.  Sometimes, at night the moon,  its round, bright face urges me to rest, to settle down, and  to stop running.  The beautiful moon tempts me but day always follows night.  The sun returns. She tells me to do what I have always done.  "Run" she says, "Run".  

As the sun and moon chase each other around the earth, so I chase myself.

STOP. .  My son just accidentally snorted nail polish remover up his nose.  A call to poison control helped ease both our minds.  I'm trying to use this as a lesson on "thinking before acting" which is a bit too common in this house.  Rosie at Poison Control had to ask if he was snorting on purpose.  I had to explain it was just an accident.  Apparently, acetone isn't the worst thing you can inhale.  Fresh air, a hot steamy cloth to breathe through and milk to drink were the recommendations.  Now that a son of a different spelling has gotten my attention, I quit for the day.    I did find a great link to a web site and an 800 number for Poison Control.  His regular doctor's clinic changed her phone number.  An annoyingly useless message gave a new number only once and very quickly.  Thank goodness for the following and Rosie:

Sunday, October 17, 2010


The image above looks a bit like a rug you might find rolled up in the local Goodwill.  It's really an old Arabic symbol I found on a web site that talks of this mystical brass teapot supposedly formed on the day Jesus went before Pontius Pilate.  Since then it's passed through hands for centuries, kings, queens, Hitler maybe even Marilyn Monroe or Marilyn Manson.  It's a cross between The Holy Grail and Aladdin's lamp.  Here I thought the word "alchemy" meant turning the ordinary into gold.   I guess it can mean a lot more.

Yesterday as I sat mired in a "hell of my own making" cursing fate, government conspiracies, the misalignment of the stars, stepping on a sidewalk crack and just plain bad luck, I realized that I needed to become an alchemist and learn how to turn "crap into gold."  Pardon my use of a rather crude colloquial expression.  In this case, it does seem like the perfect word.   The word "alchemy" along with the phrase "turn crap into gold"  took up residence in my head and has been banging around up there ever since. 

During my morning shower, the word, "alchemy" really started rattling my mental doors and I knew I'd have to give this idea some Just 10 thought.  Normally, I try very hard to keep an optimistic overcoat (i.e. facade) wrapped tightly against the cold but the truth is, I often struggle against feeling bitter or dumped on by some capricious Fate.     Worst case scenario is an art form I have perfected.   Turning difficulties into advantages, well,that requires either divine intervention, a hard whack on the cranium or a whole lot of mental energy.  Some days I just don't feel up to the task.  In this vacuum of inertia,  the word "alchemy" is now filling the void.

Some days you just can't run from the truth.  As I rinsed my hair and mentally questioned the occasion of my last leg shaving, I realized that life is presenting me an amazing opportunity.   I can indulge the feeling of being the universe's punching bag, the long-suffering victim, the poor damaged soul,  or I can become an alchemist and turn "crap into gold."

I'd like to say that realizing this, in just these words, was a liberating breakthrough.   While I was encouraged by this "new" perspective, the truth is I am less than giddy with enthusiasm.  I have no illusions about the amount of inner and outer work this is going to take.  Just thinking about it makes me tired.    Fortunately, I'm smart enough to know that of the two options, I'd be an idiot not to take up "alchemy."  "Crap,  it's time for a make over."

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Assignment

One of the assignments in Freshman English is to write a short story in 55 words or less.  It has to have a beginning, middle and end, at least two characters and a setting.  It also has to have a clear problem that is resolved at the end of the story and a clever title.  Not an easy assignment but a challenging one.  I decided to give it a try today. This is what I wrote.

The Last Laugh

Fog surrounds the beach, the body and the man.  Cold eyes scream, "Murderer."  No one hears.  The man laughs as he climbs into his car.  This wasn't his first but it was the sweetest. The sand in his shoes troubles him.  He forgets the road and finds the cliff.  Death swallows him whole and laughs.

I'm not 100 % sure I satisfied the two character requirement unless I can count Death or the dead body as a characters, which I do.   This wasn't easy for a woman as wordy as I but it was a lot of fun.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Cup Runneth Over

At one point this afternoon, I started hearing the song, "My Cup Runneth over."  In 1967, this was a popular love song sung by Ed Ames.   A few of you might remember Ed Mingo on Daniel Boone.
 Well,  time ravages all of us, at some point or another.   Currently, Mr. Ames has been eligible for the senior discount at Denny's for years.  My even knowing Ed Ames, means I'm getting dangerously close to said discount.  But, I digress.  The reason this song flashed through my head mid-afternoon started with this morning and another "cup running over."  Well, it wasn't exactly a cup, it was a toilet.

My alarm rang at 5:30 a.m.  I shut it off and easily fell back asleep.  My inner snooze alarm had the good fortune to jerk my eyes open at 5:56 a.m.  I was up and staggering toward the shower before I knew what hit me.  I raced through the shower and practically ran to the kitchen to start the coffee and oatmeal.  Fast forward to 6:51a.m. when I entered the following in my Facebook status:

Ok, Who cast an evil spell on my Wednesday. It's 6:51 and I'm ready for it to be over. Toilet overflowing, lost library books, car lights that won't go off. UGH!
How so much could go so wrong in a matter of minutes still remains one of the great mysteries of life.  Lost library books and car lights are nothing compared to toilet overflow. Combine them with toilet overflow and you have a morning that has gone so far south, it's not funny.    Toilets overflowing is one of my least favorite household disasters for all the obvious reasons.  It is not what I would choose to have happen on a lovely autumn Wednesday, not on a windy winter Wednesday, a rainy spring Wednesday, not even a Wednesday in hell complete with snowman and snowball.  Since, I'm not yet Queen of the Universe with the power to travel across time and space, fly, levitate, bi-locate or become invisible, controlling toilet overflow is not within my limited human powers.  As soon as the job of Queen of the Universe opens up, I'm going to apply.  I would be so good at that job.  Again, I digress.

By the time of my departure at 7:15 a.m. I almost ran out the door eager to leave toilet, unhappy children (blamed for clogging toilet by angry parents) and nasty dirty towels and rags (for husband to wash/sterilize) far, far behind.  As I drove across town, listening to music trivia spoken by radio DJ's who seemed to be having a bit too much fun first thing in the morning, I decided that I was going to "start my day over."  No toilet had the right to ruin my day!  I shook my proverbial fist at the heavens and vowed to forget about the hideous pall cast over my day by an evil toilet.  And, I did.  Now, I'd like to take a lot of credit for some great self-reprogramming or cognitive behavioral "stuff" but now that I'm beginning to rapidly approach the land of senior discount, Mr. Ed Ames forging the way before me, forgetting things is not that difficult.  If there is one good thing about aging, I think my favorite is this ability to forget.

A lot of the time, this ability does not feel like a gift.  When this forgetfulness began to first expose itself for what it is,  I was certain I had a brain tumor or Alzheimers.  I still have moments when I entertain the possibility.  While I don't relish the idea of ending up as shriveled empty shell of a women, drooling mindlesslessly, waiting for death, the truth is if my brain goes completely, I won't realize it's gone.  What I don't know or don't remember can't hurt me while I'm drooling in my ancient shriveled state.  Things could be worse, a whole lot worse.  Forgetting can be a very sweet thing.

Forgetting that my day started out on the wrong foot was the best thing I could do for myself today.  I let go of the morning irritation, leaving it somewhere on the road between home and work.  I'd like to think that lots of cars drove over this irritation, leaving it flat and lifeless, stinking in the afternoon sun.  Well, maybe cutting the odor is a good idea.  By the time I got to school, I was enjoying the DJ trivia.  I greeted people with a sincere smile. Time flew by.  My cup was running over, not my toilet.

This awareness made it self know via a flashback to the Ed Ames song.  At first, I thought it was an Engelbert Humperdinck song.  Google straightened me out.  There was that forgetfulness thing again.  Hmm, I'm finding Englebert's album cover a bit disturbing.  Where was I?  Ah, my cup. . . my cup running over with love."

When this song first started playing through my head today, I wasn't exactly thrilled.  Runneth isn't a word used in English for centuries which tends to make this song's popularity in 1967 a mind-boggling event, along with flower power, men wearing puka shells and the blow-up bubble chair  All of those things are usually best left forgotten.  Yet, in the swirling maelstrom that holds court between my ears, one of those things rose to the surface in the middle of the afternoon,  Ed Ames song.  For a time, elevators everywhere played this song and a myriad of other easy-istening schlock.  Music droning out of speakers as human cargo was trafficked between floors of buildings every where. 

When I woke up this morning,  I was a long way from a 1967 elevator.  So, what was this song doing in my head?  Without more than a split-second's elapse in time, I connected my toilet overflow of that morning to the cup, Mr. Ames immortalized in song.  "Yes, " I said to myself, visualizing a mental smile on my face.  "My cup did run over." Apparently, I hadn't really forgotten after all.   Somehow, the imprint of the morning had pressed itself upon my psyche and left a lingering impression.  I had left the horror of the morning behind but I hadn't really forgotten. Instead, as the day wore on, I carried the morning with me.  Some how, by the time I arrived at afternoon, my cup was running over, not my toilet.  One thing had become another through the magic of time and letting go.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness and Health?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Recently, a dear friend posted on Facebook a comment about the need for health care reform.  Her comment was motivated by a personal loss  A friend's son lost his life because his family couldn't pay for life saving surgery.  Her comment elicited a lively dialogue.  When she called for solutions, few seemed to be expressed.  Motivated with a desire to understand how we might better address the health care needs of our citizens, I decided to research some possible solutions.  Normally, I avoid discussions about religion or politics.   The subject of health care reform transcends both topics.  I believe there is too much at stake and I'm ready to stand up and be counted.

Joe Messerli wrote this article He offers 20 solutions.   While I may not agree with all of them,  he is solution oriented.    In an article on the web site Alter Net, Guy Saperstein helps define the problem and outline some possible solutions in " Medicare for All: The Only Sound Solution for Our Healthcare Crisis". 

Saperstein cites some important information from the World Health Organization regarding the quality of medical care in the United States when compared to other world countries.

"The World Health Organization ranks healthcare systems based on objective measures of medical outcomes: The United States' healthcare system currently ranks 37th in the world, behind Colombia and Portugal; the United States ranks 44th in the world in infant mortality, behind many impoverished Latin American countries. While infant mortality in the United States is skewed toward poor people, who have rates double the wealthy, the top quintile of the U.S. population has infant mortality rates higher than Canadians in the lowest quintile of wealth.
Out of 30 developed nations, life expectancy in the United States ranks 21st; life expectancy in the United States is 4.6 years less than Japan, 2.1 years less than France and 2.6 years less than Canada. The United States has fewer physicians, nurses and hospital beds than most developed nations. In the United States, 28 percent say it is "difficult to get care"; in most European countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, 15 percent say that. In terms of continuity of care (i.e., five-plus years with the same doctor), the United States is the worst of all developed nations. By every objective measure, the United States has a second-rate healthcare system."
Socialized medicine is not perfect and is often criticized but considering how poorly the United States is doing in comparison to other countries, moving toward a type of socialized or single payer system for health care costs would seem to be a step in the right direction.

In order for our citizenry to support such a radical reform, a paradigm shift in our thinking is necessary.  As long as we remain polarized over even the most basic issues, this will be an extremely difficult task.  We must guard against the infighting that so often separates us so that we can work together for a greater good.

In many of the arguments against social programs, the recipients of said program are often attacked and criticized.  Someone is always able to search out an individual or group that may be guilty of abusing the system unfairly.  They become the poster child of why greater social programs should not be undertaken.  This only divides us further.  There is no perfect solution.  We will always have individuals who abuse whatever system is in place.  The failings of the few do not negate a greater moral imperative.  How can we ignore the countless people among the over 40 million citizens who are uninsured who need medical care, sometimes care that could save their lives and are not receiving it?  Some are dying as a result of the current lacks in the system.

Our country was founded on some basic ideals, ideals for which we must continue to strive.  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Life is first and foremost.  Lives must be our first priority.  We can't justify our lack of concern or involvement by arguing that some people are unfairly abusing Medicare or their private health insurance.  We must do whatever we can to communicate our concerns to our elected officials.  We must rise above our differences and value the lives of others as we do our own.    That value is not dependent on income or salary. It's a value that does not rest within personal merit.   A single mother earning minimum wage is no less worthy of health care than a bank president, corporate executive or congressman.  We need to acknowledge that and move toward correcting such inequity.

Recently, the Humane Society in my town of Vancouver, Washington was able to raise 1.2 million dollars in donations.  Meanwhile, Vancouver's non-profit Share program which serves Vancouver's homeless has to eliminate many of their services because of lack of funds.  I believe in the humane treatment of animals and I'm very glad that the Humane society was blessed with such generous donations.  I also believe in the social and moral value of caring for the homeless.  I find it sobering that generous donations have not also found their way to Share. Are homeless people less worthy of care than homeless animals?   I continue to believe that the greatness of any society can be measured by its treatment of the "least of these."  We are only as strong as our weakest link.  The ideal toward which we much strive as American's remains.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Just Before Dawn

Saturday, 6:08 a.m. The October sun has yet to make an appearances.  A head cold has gotten me out of bed refusing to let me sleep.  My son soon joins me in the awakened state. "Sonsoon",  like monsoon, is a storm.  Storms can be very good things.  They break the monotony.  They bring much  needed rain.  They stir things up.  They have lots of energy.  He is my sonsoon.   He rarely sleeps if I am awake.  He has always had a special radar.   I've never lost him in a store.  Now that he is older and spends time looking at things he's interested in while I shop elsewhere.  He can always find me and I, him.

As much as I cherish our special connection, I am often concerned that he is not more independent.  My daughter has always been more comfortable in the world.  No hesitancy or tears her first day of school.  She marched in the classroom, found her name on her seat, sat down and waited for the teacher to tell her what to do next. As we left,  she waved a happy goodbye.  Outside the classroom door, I choked back tears.  I wasn't ready to let go but it was time.  She navigates the social world with ease.  I don't think I've ever heard her say anything negative about another person.  I used to worry that this meant she would be easily mislead by others.  So far, that doesn't seem to be true.  She takes in the unpleasant or less than honorable and simply steers around it.  She admits to me that there are things that worry her or make her feel sad but that for the most part, she chooses not to think about those things too much.  I envy her attitude and often wonder how this sunny child can be my daughter.  I am eternally grateful that she is.

In this way, my "sonsoon"  is her exact opposite.  Even the sunniest of days can be filled with an awareness of the negative, the unpleasant, the tragic.  My daughter has her own protective shield.  My son has none.  His feelings are often crushed.  He mourns not fitting in.  The world often feels frightening and overwhelms him with its noise and chaos.  He tells me he just wants to spend the day with me.  I know that this isn't completely true.  He does value the company of his peers even when that company is less than pleasant.  I'd love to be able to hand pick the children he was exposed to in a day.  When I send him off to school, he must deal with the bullies and the ex-friends who dumped him when they began to get self-conscious about playing with a "special" kid.

Sonsoon tells me, "Some of the kids think I'm more special than I am.  They think that because I am in the special group that I'm not as smart as they are.  They try to talk me out of things (like lunch, Pokemon cards, Lego figures)  because they think I'm stupid."  In the second grade one "friend" used to talk him out of his favorite things in his lunch box.   He would give them to this child and then quietly cry.  When I found out, I made the teacher aware and for the rest of that year, he had a "helper" at lunch who protected him because he could not.  He's in the fifth grade now.  He is not as gullible or naive.  He's learned to protect what is his.  He has also learned to beg others for what they have.  This I do not like.  It's difficult to teach your child manners and boundaries when so many of his peers lack them.  He is learning to survive and in the process picks up habits and behaviors that are less than desirable.

Now, while at work, I have the opportunity to observe children who are a bit older than my "sonsoon",  who behave in ways that are often offensive, inappropriate and disruptive. A freshman girl who was supposed to work on an assignment was sitting on the floor holding court with two young men in attendance.  The topic of her pontification was her sex life.  When I heard enough to know what they were discussing.  I quietly walked over to them and said, "You need to be aware that I can hear you.  It is not wise to discuss such a topic within earshot of an adult while at school."  Fortunately, this young lady had enough sense to blush and put the topic on the shelf until it could be resumed on her own time.   In another class, a good half of the students are disruptive.  They talk out of turn, talk while teacher and other students are talking, talk about sex,  get up and sharpen pencils just to make noise, then shuffle back to their seats with stupid grins, like they've really accomplished something.  Last week, I'm almost certain I heard two of them make derogatory comments about Jews.  When they noticed I was listening they stopped so I couldn't be 100 percent certain of what I'd heard but I am afraid I heard enough.

Granted these students are still children.  I find the fact that so many children don't know how to behave appropriately alarming.  This is the social world my children will navigate, are navigating.  In many classes the teachers are so busy trying to gain some control that the quiet students, those who aren't constantly acting out for attention, are completely ignored.  Despite sometimes criticizing my own social mileu as a child, the fact is I was shielded and protected by growing up in a small town and going to parochial school.  I was able to get a good education.  Classrooms were not noisy, play pens.  I learned how to study, how to do homework, how to listen.  Today, in every classroom, I sit in on, there are numerous students who will never do homework and a good handful who will not pass the class.  Many teachers don't even assign homework because they know it won't get done.  Witnessing this has been discouraging.  At times, it's overwhelming. how do I best prepare my children to navigate this chaotic social world? 

Whether  I like it or not some of the most important education is done in the home.   I've got to step up to the task before me and assume the role of primary educator to my children.  My Sonsoon appears and wants to spend some time with me.  My daughter calls from the living room and asks me to watch a movie with her.  These are simple but important things.  I say, "Yes, I'll be there in a minute." I close today's entry.  It's time to value my children with at least Just 10 minutes.  Valuing them is the best way for them to learn to value themselves.  I am preparing them to go forth into the world.  It's a world desperate for guidance, hope, and most of all love.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Hole

Morning came too early on this October Monday.  I'd love to be the kind of person who bounces out of bed, ready to meet the day, tossing smiles.  I do not.  It takes time to slowly warm to the idea of being awake.  I prefer the world of my dreams.

Just the other night, I dreamed a full-length feature film.  Alone, I sit in a dark theater watching a story about complete strangers unfold.  The twist at the end of the story comes as a complete surprise.  This morning, I remembered my dream and begin to tell my son the story at breakfast.  My husband  keeps breaking in with morning instructions for our son.  I push reality back. My husband swirls in the center of it.  He is a busy dust cloud of industry.  My oatmeal gets cold.

Still, I manage to leave for work five minutes early.  There is road work along the way.  Recently, people in neon-orange vests created a crater in 2 lanes of a 4-lane road.  The neon vests stand above their creation and stare into the absence their hole has created.  Their movements take on the appearance of ritual observance, a primitive pause.  Man stares into the unknown.  They lean on their shovels in reverence.

I make my way past the hole and arrive at school.  Sleepy students shuffle along the sidewalk.  All wear  morning faces just like mine.  I carry my Spongebob lunch bag to the teachers lounge refrigerator.  The shelves are almost bare.  Spongebob becomes a minnow in the belly of a whale.  The refrigerator's light shines too brightly.  It burns my eyes.  I hurry to shut the door.  The warmth of my bed and my dreams beckons still.  I want to lie within them now.

"Not an option," my inner parent squawks and then goes back to sleep. I shuffle among my fellow students of shuffling.  Age does not separate us.  We are a giant grey blob of sleepy confusion.  A shaft of morning sunlight threatens to separate us.  We huddle together for protection.  There is safety in numbers.

Across my older, tired brain, a worry flashes.  "Did I remember my lunch?"  For a second, I am not sure.  Suddenly, the tape replays.  I am placing my lunch into the too bright frig. My entire body sighs in relief.    Lunch is that important.

I lean against the brick wall outside a Freshman math class.  How the numbers used to swim before me.  They taunted my math anxiety with their foreign shapes.  As the students slowly trickle in to class, they carry none of the tension that math used to ignite in me.  Apathy drips off these faces, like grains of sleep fall from morning eyes.  I fight to be free of their contagious mood.  Trying to understand even when the attempt is futile, is better than not caring at all.  The door opens.  I smile a hello to the teacher.  Am I really awake on an October Monday morning or is this still part of a lazy dream slowly meandering nowhere?

I think again of the hole in the road.  I wonder why I should think of this but find no answers.  In my mind, I see the neon-clad work crew holding stop and slow paddles, leaning on shovels, placing traffic cones.  "Avoid the chasm," they seemed to say.  All the while, they stare down into the hole, looking into the darkness, nothing bounded by something.  Each defines the other.  There was a hole in the road today.  I drove around it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

With Love to Those in the Dark

 Friday was a very hard day for me.  I'd been hopping down my own bunny trail, one that's full of branches, dog poop and peril, when a big hole opened up before me.  Unlike Alice, no fun awaited me at the bottom.

The second student at my new high school died this week.  This girl, I knew.  I continue to struggle to get through to the student's I'm assigned to help.  I also prepare for life without a home and am considering membership in the city health club to guarantee a place for showering, etc, if we have to live in our van for a while.  So when other people in need don't find me helpful or as available as they might like, it's not entirely you.  I've got "liver and onions on my plate and I'm trying to choke it down with a smile on."  I am not unaware of others pain.  Many people near and dear to my heart are having a hard time too.  I dedicate today's post to you.

"This goes out to the one(s) I love."  You may not feel my love but it is there.  You, who sit in the dark are not forgotten.  Lately, my human frailties may have failed you.  You may think I don't really care or that I'm indifferent to your struggles.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There was a time when I sat with you in the dark and cooed gentle reassurances in your ear.  The darkness remained.  You sit in it still.  Now, you hear me say, "You need to start climbing out on your own."  Your rage licks at my heels as I climb out of the darkness just ahead of you.

Do not forget that I know this darkness well.  As I walked on the path today, devoting today's Just 10 to your intentions, I realized that the path behind me has been riddled with dark canyons not so different from the one you find yourself in now.   For me, the path ahead will also be full of these "pools of darkness."

The Darkness is an old companion.  I have often sat at the bottom in the pitch black darkness and waited for rescue, someone or something to reach down and pull me up.  Many times, hands did appear, spotlighted by a sudden light.  They remained open, in the light, for a little while.  If I didn't reach up toward them, I'd be sitting there still.  What you mistake as callous indifference to your suffering, is not what it seems.  I'm climbing just ahead of you.  I can't take your full weight and make it out on my own.  You must make the first movements toward your own redemption.  I can not make them for you.  I would, if I could. 

Each of us has their own brand of misery, our own demons in the dark.  These demons can kill us if we don't learn to dance with them.  Each of us must make the effort to climb out of the pit.   I'll be just ahead of you, cheering you on.  I'll never say, "It's okay to give up" or "I'll carry you."  Those actions are not within my finite human powers.

I know the darkness and the demons better than you can imagine.  The only way out is through.  You may not believe me when I tell you that the darkness has shown me my real worth.  That sitting at the bottom of the pit, alone, an unmistakable conviction took residence in my soul.  It is simply this:  You may feel worthless, unappreciated, inadequate, a total waste of human life but feelings do not make it so.  You have the spark of incredible potential, of unimaginable value within you.  Depression tries to rob this from you but it can not. This value lies within and outside of you.  Even when you feel it least, you must make an effort to move toward the light and your own redemption.  Light and love waits for you but you must begin the climb on your own.

Darkness is an old friend.   I will sometimes fail you.  Even when I want to I can not carry you.  You must take the first steps.  I'm one step ahead of you in the darkness.  I'll wait for you at the top.  Please join me there.  I promise you the view is incredible.  Trust me, the climb is worth it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chasing Happy

Do you ever feel that happiness is an arms length away and that somehow it keeps slipping through your fingers, teasing you with its proximity?   I've finally gotten to the point in life where I don't expect to be happy all the time. What's happy if you don't have sad to show you?  And, yet,  I've seemed to be preoccupied with chasing happiness.

This endeavor is motivated by pure "cussedness" on my part.  Somehow striving to maintain a positive and happy disposition in light of the current circumstances seems a satisfying form of revenge.  As I wave the "one finger salute" at the unfortunate circumstances, I can laugh manically.  Not a very pretty picture, I'm afraid and sadly, not always personally satisfying.   In those quiet hours, at the end of the day, when I rerun the events and feelings from the day that lies behind me, I am often filled with a quiet melancholy. Time is slipping away.  Have I been all I could be in the day that I'll never have again?  The answer is often a sad, "no".

These were my thoughts this morning.  This is what I took into my day.  I spent the day chasing happiness.  To say that it was challenging is a gross understatement.   Now that I'm sitting in the evening and looking forward to a few hours of zoning out in front of the television,  I want to forget about most of my day.  Working inside the classrooms has left me so disenchanted with our public education system.  I come home to find letters telling me that both my children have not passed all the state mandated tests.  I understand why my son does not.  Honestly, I don't care.  He is not wired to be a test taker at this stage of the game.  I tell him to do his best.  But my daughter?  It's a mystery.

So, I log on line to check on my daughter's grades. Wow, she received an F in a class because she was absent 3 days.  I call her over.   She tells me that she has done some makeup work but that the teacher's policy is if you miss something and make it up the best you can get is a C.  I send a couple of e-mails.  I know that they can see her attendance since she was in kindergarten. She misses very little school.   She gets the flu and her grade suffers because why?  During my frustration with what I don't understand, I realize that as a parent, I should be able to see just what this state-mandated test has in it.

I discover that of course, I can see sample questions but the test itself is top-secret.   We don't want to risk cheating yet, educators spend a lot of time and energy preparing students for this test?  Isn't this a form of cheating?  Shouldn't this test evaluate the overall effectiveness of our current educational system?  If we encourage teachers to prepare children to take the test, than aren't we artificially affecting the test's outcome?  
I know it comes down to simple dollars and sense.  Federal education dollars are dependent on these tests scores.  Education, real education seems to be the ultimate loser.  We might educate better test takers but are we nurturing better thinkers or creative problem solvers? Are we providing an environment conducive to artistic expression?  We give these same tests to our Aspergers and total "think-outside-the-box" kids and wonder why they don't give the correct answer.  From what I see of the sample questions, the correct answer leaves the door wide open for debate.  It's highly subjective to me.  Some of the language is confusing.  I wonder if I could pass these lovely tests.   I worry that instead of encouraging innovative thinking, exploration and art, we're teaching our children to become dumb sheep.

So, on this Friday, the chase for happiness continues.  Unfortunately, there is a major thorn in my side that is making the chase especially difficult.  Today's thorn may look better than some of the other thorns along the way but it's a thorn all the same.  I can wax poetic on the faults in the system but it doesn't change a thing.  All the rhetoric doesn't take me one millimeter closer to happiness.  I can get lost in my frustration and fail to see the solution.  If my children aren't getting the education I want them to have, it's up to me to supplement it. There is the rub.  Where do I begin?  Where do I find the time, the energy, the resources?

The chase for happiness could die here, crushed under a mountain of textbooks and test scores.  Again, the image of the one-finger salute crawls across my brain.  Still, not pretty, but this time it does make me smile.  I can whine forever about the problem and make myself miserable or I can take small steps toward the liberation of my spirit.  A spirit that loves to learn, a spirit that is learning despite efforts to the contrary.  Hey,mediocrity, status quo, bare minimum, you're coming down.  See my salute and weep.  I see happiness on the horizon, beyond hours of hard work, self-doubt and just wanting to quit.  Wait for me.  I'm right behind you.