Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lesson 24- How to Get Out of a Rut

5 Things the Perseid Meteor Shower Taught Me

Crouching behind the mailbox at 4 a.m. that Tuesday, I only thought once about what the neighbors would think. I had other things on my mind. People in my camp were saying I lived my life in a rut. That I was not spontaneous.  Last week, I was out to prove them wrong- and get some amazing photographs in the process.

I do not love science. I am not the weather watcher or the phenomena fan. But every social media site I visited boasted stories and photos of the Perseid meteor shower.

I gave in to the pressure. And ventured outside my so called rut. I gave up TV shows and morning rituals. I went to bed early and got up earlier. I pointed a chair in the backyard to the exact spot in the sky USA Today said there would be action. No matter how asleep I was, I would be facing the right direction. 

I fell asleep on the couch Sunday night, wondering whether to go to bed early or stay up late. I woke at 2:30 a.m and rushed to my chair in the backyard. I waited for a bright white meteor and long, brilliant tail.  But cloud cover made my view starless. I returned to bed and pinned my hopes on Tuesday.  That night I went to bed early. I set my internal clock and woke at 2 a.m. Street lights, porch lights and the glow of every fast food establishment for miles did not create the sky my how-to articles described. I napped for an hour. At 3:45 a.m. I returned to the chair. I saw one quick flash. I hurried to the front yard where the skies were darker.

The show I dreamed of never came.

But the hours I spent watching and waiting (and skulking about my own yard), taught me some things about spontaneity and rut-busting.
Allow me to share:  

 5 Ways to get out of your rut

!.  Be in awe

We need to be reminded of what we don’t know.

How insignificant I felt looking up at the infinite sky. Not since my granddaughter Smarty Pants’ birth have I felt so moved by the mere sight of something. Yet every day we are given opportunities to be amazed and speechless. All we need do is remain open.  

2.  Get excited

The minute we run out of things to look forward to, we are doomed.

At least once a week Smarty Pants asks me how many days until her birthday. This undaunted ritual is as critical to her birthday as cake and presents. I did not see the Perseids show I had hoped for. But I was excited the entire time. The anticipation alone was worth the undertaking.

3. Witness the moment

Life is always in the little things. The details. A perfect view of the night sky cannot be forced. It is ephemeral. Life is like that, too. We must bear witness to the things before us that are fleeting- good and bad.


4. See something through

I might never have seen splashes of the Perseids if I hadn’t planned my nights so thoroughly. Sometimes we are lulled into believing that good planning is a substitute for hard work.

It is not.

Viewing the Perseids is hard work. I did not plan for that. But I did the work. And sometimes that is its own reward.


5. Laugh when things don’t turn out as you plan

It is only when we let go of the ego that we can learn from failure.

We don’t have to love it. But to grow we must notice that we are not perfect. Then move on. A chuckle is often helpful- along with a mental note to not repeat the same mistake.

Looking at that empty chair reminds me of things that didn’t work out. But it also reminds me of how hard I worked. And how much fun I had. 

How about you? Have you ever stumbled into a moment of self-discovery? What did you learn? Can you share? If it helped you, it would probably help me, too.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lesson 23: Warning! Social Media is Not For Children


7 Reasons Why That Might Surprise You

We all have our reasons for restricting our children from the internet. We take our responsibility seriously because we know or imagine the dangers. I learned some new ones this week that I thought I should share.

Yesterday my granddaughter (whom I once called Smarty Pants and she thought it was a compliment) spent the day with me. I was in my office, checking Facebook messages, when Smarty Pants stood behind me and started reading, too.

At the most inappropriate time, there was a message from a friend with an attached recipe for a "Fun Project for Kids". Smarty Pants saw it:
Squirmy Jelly Worms

To prevent a similar tragedy from happening to you, I share what I learned. (If you decide to try the project anyway, I have included my  NOTES.)


7 New Reasons Children Should be Kept from Social Media:

#1- There will immediately be money involved

Impulse shopping is very effective on children. The time between suggestion and action is zero. And because you already know that, here’s what can make it shorter--grandparents.  Within minutes, Smarty Pants and I were at the grocery store with a cart full of project supplies and more snacks than we could eat all summer.

(NOTE:  Adult supervision WAS necessary for this Fun Project. If you still want to continue, read my NOTES.)

(NOTE TO ADULTS: You MUST read this recipe at least once before you begin. Regardless of how many capital letters I use, I am not overstating this. Having a second adult read the recipe was also helpful. Having a movie handy was even more helpful. Waiting for water to boil and cool are things that evidently take forever. You’ll not want the drama of displeasing the child so early in the Fun Project.)


#2- Once ingredients for a project are placed in view of a child, there is no time to read the recipe

At once Smarty Pants began mixing, pouring and touching everything she could find. Then, she told me the outfit she was wearing was brand new. Simultaneously, I remembered why it had been so long since I bought food coloring.

(NOTE: You will want to wear gloves.)


#3- Only items in your kitchen that are clean (or irreplaceable) will work for Fun Projects

Seriously, this is a beautiful picture. But that is not the reason we used this container. The container is 80 years old. That is not the reason, either. After we dirtied everything else in the kitchen, this was the container that perfectly held our bubble tea-sized straws. (Any cocktail shaker or straw holder would probably work.)
(NOTE:  The secret to bigger and better worms is crowding the straws and making certain they fit flush against the bottom (and top) of your container. You want to minimize how much gelatin leaks outside of the straws.)

#4- If a Rolling Pin is involved, an extra hour can be added to the length of the project

The Fun Project recipe shares multiple tips for removing the worms from the straws. Though we did not use the rolling pin, it was Smarty Pants’ first time to see one. I left the room and waited till she tired of it.

Reason #5- In the end, the child will make their own rules for any Fun Project

This is the method Smarty Pants favored. Worm size is relative to breath size.

(NOTE: At this stage the recipe can be thrown away, unless you are collecting your own set of NOTES.)


REASON #6- By the time you realize you should be wearing gloves, it will be 3 weeks too late

See NOTES #s 1 and 2.


REASON #7 – You get what you get

Regardless of the outcome, there will be no regrets for the child. The project was so much fun for Smarty Pants; she has already asked when we will do it again. And by “It” I assume she means test my patience and destroy my kitchen.

(NOTE: I told her next week. See Reason #1.)

If you have any questions, let me know. (I'll still be in the kitchen cleaning.) 



Monday, July 1, 2013

Lesson 22- Independence Days

Three Reasons Why The Past Is Not Better


noun : The quality or state of being independent. Related words: autonomy, freedom, self-determination, potency, power, resilience, strength


Have you ever wondered why things just can’t stay the same?

I have. Especially this summer, when so much around me is changing. This past week began my summer vacation with my granddaughter (who now wishes to be called Meadow).
In past years, our summer days meant me watching her toddle around- pointing to everything she saw, then squealing with delight. When I couldn’t see or hear her, I probably didn’t want to know what she was doing.

This summer Meadow walks from room to room, pointing out everything she can reach by herself. She shows me how my shoes almost fit her and that I am only a head taller. She uses words like ‘gigantic’ and ‘humongous’ to describe a word she is about to use- like ‘disposition’ or ‘uncertainty’. And when I don’t see or hear her, she is probably reading a book or writing in her journal.

Things Change

For Meadow, things changed exponentially when she learned to read. She reads books by herself, from cover to cover. She reads signs, instructions and box labels. It seems only yesterday she pulled things from grocery store shelves, wanting me to buy them for her.  Now she pulls boxes from shelves to have something to read.

For her it’s entertainment. It’s a challenge to see how many words she knows and can pronounce.  She knows reading is one more ticket to her independence. But it’s also a rite of passage. It’s hard for me. Because Meadow no longer needs me in the same way. (And because soon she will be taller than I am. And probably smarter.) The more she knows, the further she can go. As soon as we stand on our own, we move- whether our mothers like it or not.

Even if we could stay the same, would we want to?

Think about it. The best days of our lives are filled with things that are better than things before. Even the best day ever can be built on or learned from, creating a value or principle that can stay with us forever. We are not abandoning our roots; we are using them to shape the future.

We do what we do to get what we need.

We do what works. When something no longer works, we change it. The good old days are not forgotten. They are the impetus for good in the future.

 Progress is not always monumental. The invention of the cube-shaped box for tissues did little to advance society. But it did increase the number of places we could put tissues.  As population swells and water supplies shrink, changes are made to our management of resources. Small improvements here will affect us all.

When we know more, we can do more.

Meadow told me this one. And she is right. People who are oppressed don’t pray for things to stay the same. They dream of the day oppression no longer exists. They take every step they can, so that restrictions put on them will not be put on their children or grandchildren.

We may not be ready for all the changes around us. But when others are, we should pay attention.

Compassion is not new. Innovation is not new.  But tomorrow is new. It always will be.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lesson 21- 3 Secrets to Overcoming Obstacles


“First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.” Donovan

When my granddaughter (whose name is Trouble) was four, I watched her throw a 7 minute tantrum because I told her it was not snack time. I watched as she threw herself onto the floor in protest. Continued watching as she wailed and jerked and twisted her body about- hoping for some kind of reaction. I grew sad (and tired) as she started sobbing in frustration. I said nothing. I just sat down in the same room and waited until she finished. Then I took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”

 I mustered every serious bone I had to convince her that I wanted the same thing she did.  “I wonder if there’s another way to say that,” I said slowly. “One that doesn’t make you so tired. Maybe- something like, ‘Nana, I really want a snack. Can we talk about it?’” 

I was winging it. I had no idea what I was doing, except trying to make it quiet. And it worked. That time.

But there will always be mountains.

This year, mountains have come in waves for my husband. After his motorcycle accident and surgery, he spent months staying off his feet. Then, months learning to walk again. Physical therapy and exercise became his mountains. As did days of exhaustion and pain. These were just the physical hurdles. The mental ones were just as steep.

What are we to do? We pray. We practice kindness. We live a life of cooperation and compassion. And, wham. The car overheats. The project that should have taken an hour to finish sits on your desk for a week. Your four-year-old guest throws a tantrum that defines the mood of the entire house. A man who has ridden a motorcycle since grade school is swept off the road and hurled into uncertainty. The peaceful order you work so hard to create vanishes faster than a twenty dollar bill. How do you make it stop?

You can’t.

But here are some secrets to making obstacles work for you:

Secret #1- Mountains teach.

How unfair that the only constant in life is change. If only we could see it coming. Or see it as opportunity. Though we can’t eliminate mountains from our lives, we can change how we react to them.

Mountains stop us from going where we may not be ready to go. They force us to use our entire skill set- and then some- to climb them. But they are only insurmountable with our permission.

We tell Trouble that she is always in control. Even when things are not going well, she can turn things around. To take something negative and make it positive is sometimes all it takes.

We must get inside every uncomfortable experience and stay until we figure out what makes it uncomfortable. To transcend a mountain, we must understand how it became a mountain in the first place.

Secret #2- The worst kinds of mountains are the ones we create.

Often these mountains come in the form of grudges and hurts. Letting go of hurt is sometimes moving mountains.

If something doesn’t have to be an obstacle, ask yourself why it is.

When Trouble was a toddler, you could keep her from hurting herself by turning her about 15 degrees.  If she didn’t see the kitty, she wouldn’t pull its tail. Now it is harder. As her view expands, so does her desire to stray. But life is transformation.


Secret #3- It’s all about the view (wherever you are).


The view from a mountain top is both celebration and perspective. Standing on top is nice. But you know you have to come down. Part of you (as my husband says) is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Another mountain is just around the corner, if you let it become that. Sometimes the desire to climb is enough. Baby steps are still transformative.  For my husband, things he once took for granted are coming back slowly. But he is a different person now. His view of life has changed. Slowing down has helped him appreciate it.

I recently picked up Trouble from school. She chatted a minute, then got very quiet. I heard the sound of her lunch bag zipper and an ‘Oops’.  Preparing for the worst, I meditated on my mountain climbing mantra- ‘Not a big deal. Not a big deal.’

“Trouble,” I asked cautiously, “why does my car smell like donuts?” 

“Oh,” she answered brightly, “It’s because I just spilled sugar all over it. It smells Great, right?”  

How good are you at climbing ‘mountains’ in your daily life? Care to share your techniques?


Friday, June 7, 2013

Lesson 20- SURPRISE!

How being afraid can make you a happier person

There are good surprises and bad surprises, but all surprises can teach us something about being ready.

It’s birthday week here and a lot of secret conversations are going on around me. The smallest of us- my granddaughter Valerie Fields (whose name to me is now Trouble) - is planning a birthday party for her mother. Everything must be a surprise, she keeps telling me. The party is at my house and I only know one detail. There will be a piñata.

Here’s the problem.

Half the people on Trouble’s invitation list live out of town. The others have not been told about the party at all. You can’t have a well-attended or well-organized party without sharing some of the details. I am trying to teach this to Trouble without crushing her dreams of surprising her mom.
Everything can’t be a surprise. And you don’t really want it to be.

Not all surprises are created equal.

Some are good:  Surprise! You won the lottery. Or-Surprise! Candy is falling from the piñata.  
Others are not as good: Surprise! There’s no hot water when you take a shower. Or- Surprise! No one came to your party because you forgot to invite them.  

All surprises can teach us something, if we’re willing

Like when Trouble jumps out at me from behind a door or piece of furniture, which she finds so thrilling lately. I am so surprised when this happens that my heart quickens. Sometimes my spine tingles. But every time I am surprised. Yet, nothing is new about this antic. And no matter how many times I tell Trouble this scares me to death, she thinks it funny. For my own safety, I am trying to accept that this is fun for her. This can teach me to relax more around her. Or when I am rounding corners in my house.

We can also learn that water heaters don’t last forever. Keeping track of that could spare us an unpleasant surprise.

Bracing ourselves for surprises teaches us to be both prepared and relaxed.

You train and exercise. But when you injure your ankle, you don’t have to see it as a personal insult. You continue your training after you rest and heal. We keep records on the water heater, but use that cold bath to pretend we are in a pool or lake.

With surprises, we are given a chance to learn humility and gratitude.

We realize that everything in life is not meant to be controlled. We manage the things we can and accept the things we cannot. Sometimes we welcome these things as pleasant surprises.

Being prepared is being open to good surprises, too.

We must not let our problems blind us. We must see joy when it comes in the form of a surprise.
Like when friends show up at your house with a piñata. Or when Trouble jumps out in front of you because it makes her laugh.



Friday, May 31, 2013

Lesson 19- Be a Dad

A kid needs five minutes of your time

 “Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope”. ~Bill Cosby

And this is no joke. Poor fathers. This is their fate.  With few shopping days left till Father’s Day, I am compelled to share better gift ideas with you. And give you some things to think about.

My friends in the gift industry tell me this- there is Mother’s Day and then every other holiday. Except Father’s Day. Father’s Day is so low on the sales chart; even retailers don’t care about it.

My husband and I recently laughed at Father’s Day gifts we remembered. There were tons. From batteries, peanuts and hot sauce. To flashlights and socks.  Our favorite was a walking salt and pepper shaker our kids gave my father.

It’s hard to say if too little or too much thought is put into the buying of Dad gifts. But I think we can all agree- it’s mostly their fault.

They get what they get. And they don’t throw a fit. 

It's another reason we love them. These gifts and their straight faces are a testament to how easily they love us. I once made an ashtray for my dad out of a piece of furniture from my Barbie Dream House. He loved it. 
Seriously. Think of the worst gift you ever gave your dad. Then ask yourself how it affected your relationship. Did he think less of you after that?  Hint- he didn’t.

Here's something to think about...

Roughly four million men become fathers in the USA every year. That’s the number of babies born.  Of these men, hundreds of thousands are never involved in that child’s life. Every day fewer men are choosing the role of father. How sad. 

It takes so little to be one.

My husband (whom I call Biker Mike, even though he asks me not to) says that if dads knew how easy the job was, more of them would be dads. Showing up. That’s what being a father is about. Showing up with a smile on your face is all it takes to convince a child you care. 


Compared to a mother’s job, Biker Mike says being a dad is the easiest job ever.  And he should know. Because he never planned to have children, then he married me. And I had two, already.  Feeling comfortable with parenting took a few years. But finding joy in those kids, Biker Mike says, was instant.

Meantime, there are thousands of men wanting to be fathers. 

Please don’t give up. While you dream about becoming a father, be there for some child who could really use an extra role model. Every day, groups like Big Brothers and Sisters, CASA and scouts are looking for volunteers. Give up your time and open your heart. Be a friend. Be an uncle. Just be there. Some child will be better for it.


Last year I was with my granddaughter (Valerie Fields) when she shopped for her dad.

With her own money she chose a ballpoint pen, a refrigerator magnet and a garish plastic key chain. Everything she could see with the inscription “Number one Dad”. If he didn’t know his place before, surely he would after this.

The next afternoon Valerie Fields helped her dad work on her mother’s car. You should have seen the huge smile on her grease-marked face, my daughter told me.  I had. Every time her father called her ‘Munchkin’. Or lifted her high off the ground and twirled her in the air.  How hard he works for her adoration.

Today marks six years since the last time I saw my dad’s face. And I still remember how he loved me.

I remember the first time he stopped reading to me at bedtime and leaned back to listen as I read to him. I remember the day he let go of my bike and I didn’t fall. The smile on his face when I showed him my first college course schedule. His belief in me is what I remember most. 

So when a dad says that he loves soap-on-a-rope, what he means is he loves that you bought it for him.  (And he will never hold that against you.)

Thanks, Dad






Friday, May 24, 2013

Lesson 18- Let the Commencement begin

How Truck Driving School for GIrls is good for us all

All around me people are graduating. Every day an invitation comes in the mail from someone I thought was in preschool. Every weekend stadium lights come on and long lines of young people await their walking papers. Parents beam, thinking of what the future holds for their child.

I feel better already.

I’m not kidding. I really do. I believe in the human spirit. With a single positive thought, many can benefit.
When something is learned, everyone advances just a little. It’s progress. And it’s palpable this month. Commencement is advancement for us all. When one student steps forward on that stage, we all move forward a little. Every generation benefits from generations before and after them. Think of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk.
Graduation is forward motion.

 From learning to walk to learning to read. From riding a bike to correctly pronouncing words. With one person’s improvement, we are all better for it.
 When my granddaughter (whose pen name is Valerie Fields) started Pre-K, she seemed to learn exponentially. One minute she was depending on us to feed her and hold her hand to stand up. The next she was counting by 5s to 200. A curriculum was all she needed to propel her- and us- into the reality that she was no longer helpless. To prepare for kindergarten, Valerie Fields began speaking and inventing words in Spanish. She   didn’t just learn to tie her shoes; she tied bows on everything. 

But learning is not without strife.
Learning can bring defiance, bull-headedness, whining and more than a little back talk. All of this was necessary, we assured Valerie Fields’ mother, to teach her confidence. To accept and own what she was learning.  

Like Valerie Fields I, too, struggle with learning. Sometimes I make the same mistake 56 times before I understand why it’s wrong. We all need refresher courses.

Which explains Truck Driving School for Girls

Just before Valerie Fields’ graduation, she told me she wanted to take some summer classes. She worried she might stop being smart if she took a few weeks off.  She was thinking about cheerleading and dance classes. And maybe a truck-driving school, just for girls.

Though Valerie Fields’ third course of study surprised me, it made me the proudest. Truck Driving School for Girls was her four year old version of breaking a glass ceiling. She was fascinated by cars and trucks. And because she had no life models for that, she knew a course of study was the next step. What confidence she had already learned. 

The trickledown effect

Imagine my pride when Valerie Fields walked calmly to the front of the room (her cap and gown more than slightly askew) and sat with her classmates.

The wishes, prayers and optimism of families, teachers and loved ones brought these kids to this point. And they would every class after them.  When Valerie Fields’ name was called, she raced to the podium for her diploma. As she received it, she announced her plans to become a basketball player.  Though stunned, we were moved forward a decade in that single moment. I’d like to think that the next time I learn something the hard way, another truck driving school graduate is becoming a basketball player.