Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Want your head in the clouds but your feet on the ground?

Are you a striver or a dreamer? Put another way, do you consider your head more often in the clouds or your feet more firmly on the ground?

Dreamers are often thought of as ethereal-types while strivers are considered doers, the world's worker bees.  But this portrayal is often inaccurate.

How would you classify Walt Disney? Steve Jobs? Edison?  Einstein? Lincoln? The people we say had "vision" were dreamers AND strivers. While we tend to be more naturally inclined one way, we need to be people who have their feet on the ground and our heads in the clouds. So how do we achieve that?

One word: mediation.

Before I lose you to something you think is faddish/granola-ish/mumbo jumbo, allow me to point you to all of the positive science behind meditation. While everyone and their grandmother is jumping on the meditation (or "mindfulness practice") bandwagon these days, it's actually a practice that dates back more than 3000 years. Finally, while meditation is often considered a Buddhist or Eastern spiritual practice, mediation is just thinking, which last time I checked, is pretty non-denominational.

Contrary to popular belief, meditation isn't about stopping your thoughts. The goal isn't to cease thinking. Our minds work on dual planes constantly, it's literally how we can walk and chew gum at the same time. That ability is, to quote Martha, a "good thing." (Don't make me explain which Martha, it is implied.)

The problem is that when we try to quiet our mind, it keeps going like a run-away train. That high-speed, rail-jumping train is often referred to as the "monkey mind" or "roving mind." Want to see your monkey mind in action? Just for a minute, close your eyes and concentrate on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. How many times did you get distracted? How many times did you think: This is pointless or impractical? That's your roving mind. (Coincidentally, I have the same problem when I pray. I've heard pastors say that it was the devil distracting us. They were right, if by devil they meant ourselves!)

Unless we train our minds, we can't help to still them, which means we can't achieve greater focus or peace. So how do we train the mind?

I've found two tools that have helped me. I'll discuss them in more detail in my next post but for today, here they are:

Are you going to try it? 

Monday, May 23, 2016

If You Had Forty Minutes Left to Live, What Would You Say?

Story Corps is a project of NPR. Two people sit in a booth with 40 minutes to ask each other the questions they’ve always wanted the answers to. Snippets of the interview are played on NPR; the entire interview is cataloged at the Library of Congress.

Each session has a facilitator, the facilitator’s job is “bear witness” to the conversation. The facilitator’s job is to encourage people to jump in and begin with the hard question.

Today, if you would, allow me to be the facilitator. Let me ask you to consider: If you had 40 minutes left to live, what would you say? Would you need to spend a portion of that 40 minutes giving details about passwords and bank accounts and where to find a copy of the life insurance policy? Or have those things already been squared away?

Would you be able to spend your 40 minutes repeating, “I love you. I love you. I love you” while stoking hair and caressing faces over and over again?

Some people might consider this exercise morbid. Some might consider it poignant. For me, the question: If you had forty minutes left to live, what would you say? came on the heels of hearing about the death of a friend’s son. The question hit close to home.

Because that question can be asked another way: If you had forty minutes left to love, what would you do?

I know what I would do. There would be no prepared speeches or formal words. I’d stop everything and I’d listen. I’d say “yes” to another painful game of Candy Land. I’d say yes to one more book. I’d be less impatient about the length of time it takes to get on two shoes. I’d say yes to more snuggling, more canoodling, more running barefoot in the grass.

I’d take more pictures. I’d be in more pictures. I’d cede control of the pancake turner, even knowing that part of the meal was going to end up on the floor. I’d laugh more, I’d dance more, I’d look into eyes more, even when I’m typing or doing the dishes or trying to walk out the door.

I’d be less upset that there is often a +1 in my bed, that they like to clomp down the hall in the my heels (and never put them back), that they like to lounge on me like I was built to be a recliner and not a body.

That seems like an awful lot to do, to ask to have happen in 40 minutes and maybe it is if you really only had 40 minutes left on this earth.

But what if you spread it out through the week? That’s 40 more minutes of yes each week. The math works out to less than 6 minutes a day.  

I can give 6 more minutes today, can you?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Waking Up To the Warning Signs In Your Life

warning signs

Gavin de Becker calls it The Gift of Fear. Daniel Plink calls it the “power of thinking without thinking.”  

You may call it intuition, the Universe, or a God-thing. The issue isn’t what you call it but that you give heed to your instinctive reactions, your life’s warnings.

These are the little “pings” that happen at the most inopportune times. You’re making the kids lunches and a thought blips for an instant on your radar. Or it’s when you’re stopped at a red light and you have a sudden thought, but when the light turns green you focus on the car in front of you instead of following your thought.

We expect warnings to be like fire engines, red and obvious, with flashing lights, blaring sirens and a wide-turning radius. But, more often than not, they are more like that tickling in the back of your throat. You can clear it away –  until you’re stuck in bed with a box of tissues and a head full of sawdust. 

After the fact, people tend to exclaim, head and life in their hands: “I never saw it coming.” The thing is when we look back, really look back, we can see it. What they thought were lone stars were really constellations, but we were too busy slapping two pieces of bread into a sandwich to connect the dots.

Our nagging thoughts, our pesky worries, those uncomfortable twinges – they all amount to something. Taken alone, they can appear almost inconsequential but added together they equal Code Red.

Two extreme examples that illustrate this point are the lives of Malcolm Webster and Beau Bergdahl.

Malcolm Webster
Malcolm Webster was convicted of murdering his first wife and attempting the murder of his second. Webster, a nurse, drugged his first wife and then set their car on fire while she was still in it after staging a car accident. As a child, Webster was described as a loner and given the nickname "Pyro” because of his fire-starting tendencies.   

The mother of his first wife, Claire, years later would tell the UK Telegraph: "He just seemed odd and its hard to put my finger on why. He didn't seem natural to me." She elaborated further: "Claire would call me 'mum', but Malcolm didn't like that, and wanted her to call me 'mother', which was something I never really got used to.”

After the death of Claire, Webster spent large sums of money in a short time span. He lavished that money on other women and his purchases included a yacht.

His second wife said food made for her by Webster had often tasted bitter. According to the Guardian, after she ate or drank things made by Webster, she had “‘episodes’ where she became dizzy and disorientated, unable to walk unaided.” It was later learned that Webster was drugging her food and drink.

In retrospect, Webster’s behavior isn’t unusual. It’s a clearly established pattern, the method he used to prey upon his victims.   

Beau Bergdahl
Beau Bergdahl, the American soldier who walked off his base and was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan is another example of warnings signs being missed, although in his case ostensibly the U.S. Army blatantly ignored the red flags.

According to Time magazine, before Bergdahl enlisted in the Army in 2008, two years earlier he was given an “uncharacterized discharge” from the Coast Guard after only 26 days in boot camp.

The podcast Serial, which documents Bergdahl’s story, includes interviews of his platoon mates. Those soliders recalled that Bergdahl got along with others but also stated that there was always something different about Bergdahl that they couldn't put their finger on.
His fellow soldiers said that, “he smoked pipes instead of cigarettes, read the entire Ranger Handbook when no one else really bothered, listened to classical music and refused to tell any dirty jokes.” They also said that, “he also brought a quirky level of intensity that was unparalleled to anyone else in his squad, sleeping without a mattress and holding a tomahawk against his chest at night. Bergdahl’s letters and emails home were often emotionally deep, dark and disturbing.
What lessons can we learn from Bergdahl and Webster? The take-away isn’t that we should suspect our loved ones as unstable or sociopaths. The lesson is that we need to give greater awareness to the critical moments our lives. Bergdahl and Webster’s stories are played out on a smaller scale every single day: the cheating spouse, the thieving business partner, the child in trouble.

People postpone paying attention, we push back thoughts, or worse, we put our heads in the sand ignoring reality.

You may not always understand or correctly interpret what your intuition is trying to tell you but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to listen. It just may save your life. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

An Ode To A Mother's Purse

I write on this blog and I also write for They are a digital publication for people "who are as curious about the world as they are committed to raising great kids." That's a mission I can get behind and I'm thrilled to contribute there. 

Recently, I wrote an essay about downsizing my purse. You can read about my newly freed shoulders here

Friday, May 13, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for What I've Been Reading Lately. 

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - Ove is a fussy, cranky curmudgeon and I loved him. Loved him! The way he spoke of his wife alone was enough to make you weep. "But if anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either." Be still my heart. If you read one book this summer - this is it!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert - I had heard so much about this book but was admittedly skeptical. (By way of example, ideas leap from one person to another if you don't take hold of the idea quick enough. Umm, say what?) But this book delivered. To put Gilbert's message succinctly: Just get over yourself and write (or paint or photograph or create in whatever medium you do best). This book was a kick in the pants I needed at just the right time. Swift kick duly noted and much appreciated, Elizabeth. 

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson - Kitty Miller co-owns and runs a bookstore. In the life she almost lead, she doesn't. The book takes you back and forth between what is and what could have been. The plot is enjoyable but the story didn't "move me," the way it did other readers. Put it in the enjoyable way to spend an evening or two, but I would have lived if I hadn't category. 

All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin- One of my kiddos is a certifiable bookworm. He and I share equal amounts of glee when library books arrive. This was a Mother/Son read from Instagram. I think he fared better with The Lorax than I did on All Marketers Are Liars (which has since been renamed to All Marketers Tell Stories). My primary issue with this book is that, unlike Godin, I don't think the truth is elusive. I just think marketers (among others) make it elusive! An interesting take on how stories shape advertising, but I don't feel any better informed or better equipped as a consumer after having read this.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Help For The Child With Sensory Processing Issues

As I've mentioned many times, my kids are adopted. We met our oldest when he was 18 months old. He was a big kid with chubby legs and a huge grin. He melted my heart long before I ever met him. 

When we did meet him, one of the first things we noticed was that he was "rough." He was clumsy and often kind of threw himself at people and things. If he wanted your attention, he'd flop on the floor or into furniture with such intensity you were sure that either he or the floor were going to break. He'd come running at you full speed, you literally had to brace yourself for the impact. We were sure these things must be hurting him, but he seemed impervious to them. He never seemed to tire and required very, very little sleep. Conversely, he could get the smallest hurt, like a paper cut, and it would send him over the top. 

At first, we chocked a lot of this up to him being all boy, our first child, and newly adopted. But, over time, we noticed other things too. He could not stand the seams in socks or the tags in shirts. They drove him into a frenzy. He also hated to wear any shoe other than his roomy Crocs. He overstimulated very easily, particularly at parties, in crowds and in bright and noisy places (basically any place that was supposed to be "fun.").  

We never really made the connection between any of these things. To us, they seemed random and, at times, buying endless seam-free socks to find a comfy pair, felt overindulgent. We mentioned some of these things to the international adoption specialist we saw shortly after coming home and our pediatrician. No one ever told us anything was out of the ordinary. 

Then one day, I found the book The Out-of-Sync Child and learned about sensory processing disorders. Suddenly, it all made sense and I saw the common thread between these things: our kid's nervous system was being pushed to overcapacity.  (To compound issues, he's also a "spirited" child and has significant allergy problems - all common in kids with sensory issues.)

There are several ends of the sensory spectrum. Our son tends to be sensory-seeking (thus explaining why he liked to run into things and people) but some kids are the opposite. They become overwrought over certain textures, noises or unknown situations. 

Every child (and adult) is quirky, to some degree. We all have our individual likes and dislikes, temperaments and personalities and off days. But the out-of-sync child isn't just occasionally "off," for him, it's a chronic condition. 

There has been no panacea for our son. We've found many things that have helped him to regulate more easily. But the most beneficial thing for us to learn has been that his behavior has meaning, often "difficult" behavior is his body's way of saying, "Help!"

If you're reading any of this and a little light is going off in your head, I can not recommend the book The Out-of-Sync Child enough. Here are some other things that have worked for us: 

  • Swinging: The back and forth movement is calming for our son. But being outside isn't always practical. All of our kids love it when they climb into a big blanket and we swing them, like they're in a giant hammock. This is especially helpful before bedtime. 
  • Rice bags: It's a kind of weighted heating bag filled with rice that we heat in the microwave before bed. Our son loves both the pressure and the heat. 
  • Hop balls: Sometimes all of that energy is just too much. When we can't get our son outdoors, we let him hop on this. 
  • Melatonin - this is a natural sleep aid found in drug stores. Melatonin is naturally occurring in our body and helps us to fall asleep. Consult with your doctor before using. 
  • Gum - The repetitive motion of chewing is calming to some kids. 
  • Wiggle Seat Cushion - This is for the kid who just cannot sit still. He's always either standing during meals or flopping out of his chair. This is a lifesaver. 
  • Kinetic sand - This is the coolest stuff, it sticks together. The texture is very soft and playing with it is very soothing. I buy mine at Michael's with a coupon. 
Here's another article that might be beneficial: Don't Punish Your Child's Nervous System, Understand It. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Best Advice A Boss Ever Gave Me

I'm going to share the best advice a boss ever gave me. But before I do that, you need the context of a little back story.

Last summer, I wrote a book: a memoir about the crazy adoption road we've traveled. After I wrote the book, I wrote a book proposal and started reaching out to agents. Recently, one such agent asked to see sample chapters. In doing so, she asked me about my numbers and my "platform." Essentially, she wanted to know my sphere of influence. How many Twitters followers do I have? (None. I don't have Twitter.) How many people read my blog? (Umm, my mom, my cousin and a few close friends.) You get the idea.

Anyhow, last month, I heard back from this agent, whom I admire and who is well-respected in the publishing industry. She told me that while she likes my work, she doesn't think she could get a publisher to publish it given my lack of platform. The email was very gracious and she even made some alternative publishing suggestions for a new author such as myself. Her email was a confirmation of everything I had been seeing: if you want to write non-fiction, you first need people who will read it. It is all very Carl Sagan. If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, first create the universe. But I digress.

So, I got discouraged. But not for long because I've had an e-book kicking around in the back of my mind for months now. I told my fingers the idea and together we got typing. As I was plugging away, I got emails from all kinds of authors and bloggers (repeatedly) soliciting me to buy/sign up/try their e-course/book/blog about how to build a platform. The it hits me: How am I going to sell the e-book without a platform? Geesh.

So, I let my fingers cool off. I type other things. Do other work. The e-book sits on the metaphorical back burner on the lowest of simmers.

And that's where the words from my boss come in. When I was a new attorney, young and eager, I always seemed to pick slow juries. A party in my case could point two fingers at himself and give a full confession, and my jury would still sit in the jury deliberation room for days mulling over who done it. It was all very baffling. When I voiced this to my boss, he said that it wasn't all that surprising. He said: You pick jurors like you, jurors who are thoughtful and deliberate. Of course, my head puffed big and then his words sunk in like a slow dawn. If I was a juror, I would be the kind of juror who sat in the backroom looking over each piece of evidence for myself for days on end no matter what the guy or the gal in the courtroom said.

So how does this translate to my writing? Well, I realized that maybe the people who read this blog are like me - they are mistrusting and skeptical of anything that smacks of mass-sharing. Case in point: I don't share Facebook posts of blogs I read and I certainly don't tweet them to my non-existent Twitter account.

But that doesn't mean that I don't like what I read or that I don't share. To the contrary, I do both of these things, selectively. I send text messages to friends with links of things I've read that I think they'll find helpful. In conversation, I'll bring up a blog or podcast that seems relevant to that conversation.

Is it possible that what I write doesn't resonate with anyone? Of course.  Would I like the things I write to be well-read and well-received? Of course.

But I don't want a "tribe" or a "platform" or whatever else it is that I'm supposed to have. Those things, respectfully, equal a band wagon - I don't need a band wagon and neither do you.

I want to write because my fingers are on fire and because I can't stop the words. I want to move hearts, not "Like" buttons.

If you read here, thank you. Thank you for giving me a place to free myself, embarrass myself and re-tell the stories you've already heard.

Some day, if an agent again asks me about my "numbers," I'm going to say: Read by six, Believed in by six. From where I sit, those work out to good numbers indeed.