Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The other side of the coin...

While I was driving on Tuesday, I was half-listening to Marcus Smith, the host of a radio news and information show. He was talking about what a beautiful morning it was in the sky was clear and blue, and the breeze was gentle. (It was almost the same here in Texas that morning.)

And then said something that caught my ear...

He started talking about how the clear skies and breezes were reality, for him.  But at the same time, Hurricane Sandy was bringing high winds and pouring rain and flooding and destruction to people on the east coast.  And at that exact same moment, their reality of weather and the day was very different from his.  Both could answer "what's the weather like?" and although nothing in their description would agree, both are completely true and accurate. And neither one is better than the other!

And then he connected the dots to other things in our lives, where we look at the world as though there is always one right answer to every question...or at least one best answer. But in reality, that just might not be the case.  The answer -- the right answer -- depends on where the speaker is standing.  Or where they came from. Or what experiences they've had in life.

I listened so closely, because like so many of us, this is something I have a problem with in my life.

It's not about the little things, like whether you think a pizza isn't complete until it's covered with green peppers, and I think only pineapple works. Those differences are easy to resolve, whether it's by doing a half-and-half pizza or ordering two.

And it's not about the big things...the life and death matters where I truly believe there is universally no wiggle room for opinions on whether it's okay or not (like child abuse, or rape or murder.)

It's about all the stuff in the middle. Like whether getting 8 hours of sleep a night is a must-do or if it's better to sleep less and do more. Or if you believe that bottle feeding is just fine for babies or breastfeeding is the only way to go.

In those kinds of differences, if I have a strong opinion, I have a tendency to spend more time proving my point, and less time listening to someone else's. Because to me, accepting their opinions quietly (before or after sharing mine) has always felt tantamount to agreeing.

It's not a 100% thing, mind you.  Often times I do listen and learn, and sometimes I do change my views after learning new information. And like most of us, my reasons for speaking up are usually benevolent -- I genuinely believe my information/view/experience will help them in some way.

But that respectful listening, and trying to understand where they're coming from, and why they believe as they do, is tough.  And when it's a real hot-button issue for me, it  doesn't happen as much of the time as I would like.

I want to do better. When I am tempted to shut down any objections to breastfeeding or natural childbirth, or jump into that conversation where someone is saying that you need meat to be healthy, I need to work on listening more.

I need to remind myself that listening, and trying to understand has nothing to do with agreeing. And it doesn't prevent me from sharing my reality any more than someone in Texas is prevented from sharing the day's weather with someone in Pennsylvania. It just means I have to remind myself that the right answer to the question just might depend on where each of us is standing -- even if we're only across the table.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Throughts while blogging from the Texas Conference for Women

(My tablet weirded  out yesterday during the conference, so I had to wait until the day after the conference  to publish this! Gotta love technology!)

Right now I'm sitting in the Texas M.I.L.K. bloggers lounge at the conference, catching my breath and taking a minute to think about what I've heard so far.

But before I talk about the "official program", I wanted to mention something I heard two women talking about. It seemed that they had just met at the table. They chatted for a minute or two and then when speaker Gretchen Rubin talked about how important good relationships are to happiness one said...

"I would bet that half of the women in this room are lonely. It's so hard to make friends."

The other woman just nodded, then said "Who has time?"

And there, right there, was my post from yesterday. Here, in a room with nearly 5000 women, loneliness was a real issue.

And in quite a few presentations today, I've heard the same theme.

No time for friends. Seeing people once a month or every six weeks is now counted as good enough. No time for one on one visits, so group activities where you can see a bunch of people is good enough. Women starved for connection.  Women lonely in the midst of lives that leave them with too many tasks and not enough time to breathe. Women who are seldom if ever far from other people, and yet missing the whole category of friends from their lives.

When I wrote that post yesterday, I had no idea my rant would be repeated in a major conference the very next day. But the extent of my experience with this bone-deep loneliness for girlfriends, and the fact that the same theme was repeated over and over again means that it is NOT just me!  It's most of us.  Maybe almost all of us.

So what do we do?  I wish I had an answer!  I wish someone at the conference had an answer. Maybe just getting the reality out there and into our consciousness is the first step. I desperately, passionately hope so.

(Now that I can see this post so far, I see that it's too long to add the conference coverage part, so watch for that is my Thursday post!)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Life without girlfriends...

Tomorrow, I'll be heading to the Texas Conference for Women for a full day of seminars and roundtables and talks. I'm excited about the information I'll learn, the ideas that might inspire a blog post or lead to a new client.

All day long, I'll be surrounded by other women, many of them moms and wives and bloggers like me. Some of them probably scrapbook, others love jazz or dogs or old bookstores, and I'd be willing to bet that at least a few like getting together at the last minute for lunch or a late night snack and a long talk about everything and nothing.

But after over a year in Texas, I have given up hope of turning any of those chance meetings into a friendship.

We (all of us, but especially women) live in bubbles. We who work from home, or those who make their home their profession, work alone.  Drive alone.  Shop alone. Raise children with a spouse...or do that alone, too. Women who go to a workplace are cautioned to avoid making friends even amid the worker lunches, meetings and projects, we remain essentially disconnected.

And when that urge to meet someone for a chat after the kids are in bed strikes, we pull out our computers or tablets and login to Facebook or a blog or Pinterest, and try to fill our need for girlfriends there.

But no matter how we tell ourselves that the online connections or the casual conversations at church or our kids' school events or in line at the store count as human interaction, we know in our hearts that it never quite fills that hole.

When we go to events like the Conference, we exchange business cards and blog names, and then move on, returning home with a bag full of cards and vague impressions of the people behind them.  In the bustle of running from seminar to roundtable, we pass in halls, share a table for a few minutes or an hour, and then we are off to the next event. 

And for those of us who have moved from state to state, or even country to country, the effort of starting over again and again, and trying to build relationships that last for more than just the time we share the same geography becomes exhausting.

We live, most of us, in lives without girlfriends. We live without face to face time with other women who really and truly know us.  We accept "friends for now", and dance around the impermanence, knowing that when a job or a spouse's job or a child's school needs or a new house somewhere else calls, those "friends" will move on (or we will), and the dance will begin again.

The question is, then, if our in-person time with other women is so seldom what we crave and need, why do we keep pretending?

Is it better to tell ourselves that what we can get from our brief (or virtual) connections is enough, even as we yearn for something more?  Or is it better to just accept that, as sad as it is, true friendship among women...real lasting, sustaining, growing friendship that lasts through years, that exists within the reach of a hand or close enough for a hug, has vanished into the past?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I think reading health advice is bad for my health

I just came across an article on the Weather Channel website about the things that are terrible for your immune system.  I wasn't looking for health articles...I was just minding my own business and following a link for a forecast.

But then BOOM! Instead of reading about the weather in a Rocky Mountain town where I used to live, I am  facing article that promises to tell me exactly what will reduce my immune system to rubble. And like an accident you can't look away from, I can't stop reading.

The first piece was about isolation, and how people with less daily contacts get sicker.  Great.  I work from home in a town where I have yet to make any friends after over a year. Strike one.

The next part is about not sleeping enough.  Sleep?  8 hours a night?  Yeah right. Strike two.

Chronic stress?  You bet!  Despite yoga and the best of positive intentions to meditate more, the stress continues. So strike three.

Bottling up emotions and feelings and not being positive were items four and five.  Kind of seems like one or the other has to give, but since I haven't gone postal on anyone lately (or ever, for that matter), I guess I might be bottling up something or another. Strike four.  And after reading that article, I'm feeling pretty pessimistic about the whole immune system thing, so I guess that hits strike five.

Yup, I get to strike out almost two times at bat in one article.

Now here's my question...if reading this article increases my stress, keeps me up with worry, messes up my plans to go out to lunch tomorrow, and makes me grumpy (but not enough to take it out on my family), isn't there only one logical conclusion?  You got it!

Reading health advice is the worst thing I could do for my health. Now where was that in their list??

Friday, 12 October 2012

The smell of home

Yesterday, I got the box my dad sent me.  Inside was the long woolen cape that my mom had bought a few months before she passed. She never got to wear the cape, so for the past year and a half it's hung in the closet of my childhood home.

By all rights, this unworn cape should smell of wool or stores or that nasty new-clothes-smell that so many things seem to have.  But as soon as I opened the box, I was enveloped in the scent of home.  That unique mixture of fresh Florida air and a slight hint of moisture and the wood of my parents' closets and something else I can't define.

I held the cape up to my nose, and I breathed in.  And I cried.

I cried for the home my dad is selling...the home of my childhood.  My root in my world that has seen too many moves, too many temporary dwellings.  I cried for the never-to-be chance to have a good, loving relationship with my mom, and for the good-byes she wouldn't let me say. I cried for my dad, knowing after our summer together how very hard this packing up and clearing out is on him.

And I cried because I know that once that smell of home fades from this cape, it's gone forever.

When I came back after the summer, I hauled with me a large white coverlet that used to live on the guest room bed.  Part of my reason was that looking at it reminded me of being a kid, and seeing that always perfect white coverlet in the guest room that waited for the next grandmother, a cousin, an aunt or uncle.  But mostly I brought it back because it carried that same wonderful smell of home.

Only weeks after returning to Texas, my dog jumped up on the coverlet with muddy paws, and I had to wash the coverlet.  With that wash, the smell of home vanished.

Now in the final days of packing up for his move, my dad found this cape and sent me one last breath of home. The house is nearly empty there in Florida, so there will be no more surprises to bring me that scent.

If it was a look, I could photograph it.  A sound could be recorded. But that scent...that most evocative of our senses...there is no way to capture it.

So for now it hangs in my closet. And I will inhale that bit of home every chance I get until the Texas air takes it away.  And on that day, I know I'll cry again.

Because then, when my childhood home is someone else's house and the smell of home is gone for good, all of it (my home, my mom, my childhood) will exist only in my memory.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Marriage advice you just might want to print out

One thing that's not lacking online is advice.  Dating advice, home improvement advice, website advice...and of course, marriage advice.

It's everywhere, and to be honest, most of it's either so ridiculously obvious ("it's never acceptable to throw things at your spouse"  Gotcha.) or just plain bad ("You get what you give"  Right, Dr. Phil!)  that it will either waste your time or make matters worse.

But yesterday, while I was looking for something about education, I came across a post on a site called Today's Letters that defied all of those was marriage advice that made sense. For instance, here's number 7 from their top 10 list:

7. We Celebrate Each Other: Husband and I love to make a big deal out of anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and even smaller personal accomplishments. We are each other's biggest fans, and finding a thoughtful gift or preparing a special meal can make the biggest difference in helping us feel known, loved, and celebrated.

How different is this from the stereotype of the husband running out for the last minute present, or the wife begrudging making the holiday dinner. How refreshing to use these days to honor and celebrate our partners!   In fact, this tip was the very first one I saw.

There were nine other equally thoughtful ideas, from surrounding yourself with other couples committed to marriage to some wonderful weekly questions to help keep the marriage on track.

I love the ideas behind their post, too.  The idea that marriage should be fun...and that playtime is just as important as conflict resolution (maybe more so, because more play probably means less conflicts to resolve.)  I love the unconditional tone of their's not something to do IF the marriage works, but because the marriage is a given.

My DH and I have only been married about two and half years, so we're still learning about our marriage. Sometimes I think that we should be completely on track by now.

But this post not only gave me some great ideas, it reminded me that the learning and growing and improving will never end.  And really, that very fact might be exactly what is best about marriage.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Rethinking the classroom is no longer an's a necessity

I hear my daughter's complaints about school.  And I hear her friend's complaints, too.  They're remarkably similar. They are bored with school. And they have been for years.

It's not that they think that they know everything (although at 14, there is sometimes a bit of that, too!) It's that they're not learning anything that seems to matter to them.  Or even worse, not learning anything at all.

For example, the math. These are gifted, talented kids but they are mastering only enough of their advanced math classes to get through the tests with a good grade. And I understand why.

No where in their assignments or textbooks or lectures is there a hint of how any of this information can be used in life -- or a career. No where is there an explanation of the application of Advanced Geometry or Algebra. The subject are taught in a vacuum, and the result is a classroom full of really smart kids who don't give a darn beyond the grade sheet.

The same could be said of their science, English and history classes. No where is the "why" answered...or even allowed to be asked. 

 I was thinking about this when I came across this article on Wired's website this morning "Coding for kids is as easy as Pi" it said. And the story was the opposite of what I see and hear in my daughter's school. These little kids weren't be told to USE a computer program; they were being taught how to create their own programs.  They weren't handed "learning games" to play...they were coding their own games.

And I was struck by the difference between that school in the UK, and this supposedly outstanding high school in Texas. In one, learning is doing. And when you do, you quickly learn the "why" of things like math and science. They used math and science and English to make a toy crocodile "bite" an offered finger. And in the process, learned far more than any textbook and test could ever teach.

But that lesson seems to be missed in the high school here, where competition for grades and ridiculous levels of homework substitute for actual learning...or even motivation for real learning.

There's a lot of talk about education reform, classroom size, and how we are falling behind the rest of the world in knowledge. But instead of more tests and longer school day and stricter attendance policies, it seems to me that the real answer lies in a primary school in England -- and making a crocodile bite a curious finger. 

(Image from the wired website and the original article)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Happiness and sleep...but what about a life?

I've been reading a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  It's arranged by month, but I'm a rebel so I'm starting with January instead of skipping ahead to October.  Yup, running with scissors, that's me.

Anyhow, the very first element of happiness she addresses is sleep. Er, um...sleep as an issue?  Who me?  Well....yeah. In fact sleep has been an issue for me as long as I can remember. By middle school, I was a veteran of the late movie channels.  And that book I got in the morning might very well be finished by the next morning.

I've heard all the reasons why sleep matters...and the dire predictions for those who don't sleep enough. People opt out of the 8 hours a night of shut eye are more prone to accidents, have weaker immune systems, are less effective at work. Thanks folks...nothing like worrying about the health risks of a lifetime of sleeplessness to help you drift off into dreamland, right?
So when I saw the same warnings in Rubin's book, I almost skipped the chapter. And when she talked about how wonderful she felt after a week of going to sleep at 9:30 and waking up sans alarm at 5:30, I closed the book.

Let's get real.  Sure sleep might be great.  It might even be critical, but drifting off at 9:30 p.m. night after night would mean:

  • Ending my day and getting ready for bed at around 9 pm
  • Spending almost no time alone with my husband. (And because this is a family-friendly blog, I will leave it at that.)
  • Missing all the wonderful connections that come from late night conversations with my daughter
  • Giving up on concerts, date nights, football games, blogger gatherings, professional conferences, and even phone calls with friends when their kids are finally asleep
  • Never seeing another movie in its the time the dishes are cleaned up after dinner, it's at least 8 pm (often later)
  • No scrapbooking or art or (gasp!) reading for more than a half hour or so
  • Skipping out early on religious services on Friday nights, where we are often still at the Temple at 9:30
Don't get me wrong.  I get the idea. And odds are I would feel more rested and be a better worker. But the days of really falling asleep over dinner aren't that far away for any of us.  So until it's time for me to be packed off to Century Village, I will choose my late nights over a bit more shut eye. 

And I'm going to use some of that time to read the rest of Rubin's book....I flipped through the book and a lot of the other ideas sounded very good. And you know what?  I might even stay up extra late tonight to finish it! 

Gretchen Rubin will be speaking about her new book  Happier at Home at the Texas Conference for Women on October 24th in Austin. Tickets are still available at the conference website.  Listen in on her free teleconference on October 15th for a taste of what's to come!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Bring it on, Autumn!

austin autumn fireplace decorations 
Once upon a time, for a few years, I didn't like autumn. Well, not entirely. I did love the colors of the leaves.  And the snap in the air.  And I always loved the feeling of taking long walks wrapped in a cozy sweater and boots, with the scent of fireplace smoke in the air.

What I didn't like for those few years was the knowledge that this most perfect of seasons was followed by winter.  And I lived in a 200+ year old farmhouse that was never ever warm enough in winter. I dreaded the days ahead when I would huddle over the floor vents to get even slightly warm enough. When fireplaces were great for keeping one side warm...but your other side would be ice cold.

That fear of what was to come robbed me of any joy I had in autumn. But things changed when I moved back to Florida. Suddenly autumn wasn't about impending winter.  It wasn't even about all those wonderful colors outside or long chilly walks.  It was all about the decorations I put up in the house.

My daughters and I decked our Coral Springs apartment with garlands of silk autumn leaves and bowls filled with mock pumpkins and gourds. We lit Yankee Candles in scents like cinnamon spice and Autumn leaves. And we made hearty soups and spicy pumpkin bread.  Despite the 70 degrees outside, we created autumn inside. Sure, there would be cool or even cold days in winter.  But we couldn't wait.

Now we're in Texas, where summer's awful heat reaches deep into fall. But unlike in Florida, there are a few days, like today, when a real feel of autumn is in the air.  Last night, we went for a wonderful walk when the air was around 50 degrees and heading down. And we smelled wood smoke in the air, from a nearby fireplace.  Yes, it will sadly go back up to the 90's later this week :-(  -- but for a few days, we had real autumn.

And inside, we have continued our practice from our Florida days.  The fireplace is decked out with garland and autumn flowers and just a bit of Halloween. The front porch has it's own taste of autumn, too, with our decorated chair and a step basket overflowing with autumn colors.

In the kitchen we draped the light with more leaves, and scattered some around on shelves.  With no threat of a too-cold house for months ahead, we can enjoy our taste of autumn to its fullest.

So as much as I would love to be seeing the beauty of a full Pennsylvania autumn, I think I'll just be happy with what I have today.  So bring it on, autumn. Leave those hot temps far behind...we're decorated and ready for everything you have to offer here in Texas.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Post holiday lessons keep coming

Buddha in garden

Those of you who are Jewish know that we just completed the High Holidays.  Those who aren't Jewish might not know, or at least, might not know that this season of the year is about self-reflection, inner review and a determination to do things better in the coming year.

I had a particularly meaningful Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) this year, so it shouldn't surprise me that the lessons that go along with it just keep coming.

Today's piece showed up in my e-mail inbox, in a post from a site called Tiny Buddha.  Here's a little bit of what it said...

Finances, relationships, responsibilities, and life in general can certainly create a great deal of noise in our heads. However, if we truly want to feel inner peace, we must take the time to learn to be mindful instead of mind full. This, and only this, will allow us to respond to life instead of reacting to it.
I have tons of happy memories from my childhood and a few harsh ones too. Unfortunately, the harsh memories are those that we replay over and over again, until we heal them. A difficult memory that stuck with me for a very long time was my mother’s pattern of despair.
She would appear agitated or frustrated about something and soon after she would yell, “One of these days, you’ll come home and you’re not going to find me!” (There’s still a part of me that shudders a bit when I hear those words.)
As a child, this was a clear sign that my mom was angry about something and if I didn’t hurry up and make it better, she just might leave. (Read more....)
I immediately stopped there. In my head, I heard my own mother's voice making similar threats whenever I upset her or any number of other things upset her. But my mom's threat wasn't exactly the was to die. She spent her life facing a huge number of illnesses, some of her own making and some not, but she used those sicknesses as a weapon to express her anger.

My mom passed away in 2011, in large part because she refused any treatment that would have kept her alive and functional. She had finally made good on her threat to die.

Like the author of the post, I too had to reach the understanding that her anger and her threats weren't really about me. She had had a rough childhood, filled with loss and probably neglect. She had some very real health challenges. But this brilliant woman (and I do mean seriously brilliant) didn't have the ability/interest/skills/desire to channel her anger appropriately. She lashed out at her children, her husband, her neighbors as a reaction to any kind of frustration or fear or upset. She alienated almost everyone who should have mattered to her in the process, and she died without her children or friends or any family except my dad around (her choice.)

I have lived my entire adult life in terror of becoming my mother. I asked friends, family, even a therapist if I was like her. They assured me I was not. I sought out other role models for being a mom (mostly from my LDS friends who, thank goodness, were more than willing and able to model healthy family life for me.)

I embraced  the influence of spirituality and family heritage that she had rejected, and have used it to help me find deeper meaning in life. I have tried to find peace with her since her passing, focusing on the few good memories, and offering my hopes that she is now at peace herself, free from the demons that fueled her anger.

But...since moving to Texas last year, I have seen some aspects of that reacting in myself. I am unhappy here.  I am lonely and lately, not feeling well, as I deal with what seems to be an intense allergy to the place  (I can't remember the last day I didn't wake up stuffy and coughing.) And I am homesick for Florida.

Unfortunately, that unhappiness has spilled over into some angry reactions. I thought a lot about this during Yom Kippur. But it was Vicki Savini's article that crystallized exactly what was  happening, and reminded me what to do about it. And why it matters so much that I do work on it.

I will never be perfect.  No one will, and even the greatest saints sometimes mess up and get angry when they should step away and breathe. But I want to do better at responding instead of reacting. I want to incorporate that stepping away and breathing and finding the source of my feelings instead of just reacting.

I have no idea whether the message in my inbox arrived at just the right time to help me with what I was already feeling, or if the feeling made me more aware of the message.  And it doesn't really matter. I am just grateful for the synchronicity.


Image via

Do you have stories of synchronicity to share?  I would love to hear them! 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Texas rain

It rained last weekend.

For those of you who aren't in Texas, that might seem like a pretty meaningless statement.  "So what", I can hear my friends and family in Florida saying. "It rains every day."

But not in Texas.  In Texas, I've learned, rain is a precious thing. Instead of an every day occurrence, it's a rare treat.

Each time rain is even a slight possibility, I become an Accuweather junkie.  I keep it on the first menu page on my phone, my tablet and my computer.  I start the TV on the Weather Channel.

My level of hope rises and falls with the number at the bottom of the page.  "20% chance on Friday.  Okay, that's better than yesterday when it was only a 10% chance for Friday.  We're going in the right direction."  Or "Heck!  It was a 60% chance for rain this weekend, but now it's only 40%. No!!!"

And when it does rain, I try to make sure I am where I can see and hear it. I don't want to miss a single moment of that wonderful moist air.

I go for walks in it. I take pictures. And then when it ends, I return to my post on Accuweather, looking for the next day without a zero at the bottom.

I miss the daily rain. I miss knowing that if I missed a chance to dance in the rain today, there was always tomorrow. Here, missing a single rain shower could mean waiting weeks for the next precious drops.

And maybe that's a lesson for me. In so many things, even things I already love like rainy days or great beaches or my family or my friends, maybe I haven't been paying enough attention. Maybe there's been too much of the "there's always tomorrow", and not enough of the "who knows when (or if) this will come again."

I hope I won't always have to live where rain is such a scarce commodity, or friends out of reach for a spur-of-the-moment lunch. But even when I am back in the world of daily rain, and when friends and family and beaches are all within reach, I hope I will remember this lesson. I hope that even in abundance, even in bounty, I will remember to be grateful for every single drop.