Archive for March, 2010

Another ode to George & Martha

Yesterday a neighbor friend wandered into my yard and noticed that there were crocuses in bloom in the “way back” of my yard.

This was news to me. I had no idea we had crocuses back there. My back yard is very large and, sadly, I often don’t go into the way back unless I’m mowing.

Then I told her I need to buy some more bark chips for a flower bed and she pointed out all the bark chips at the base of my silver maple trees.

She said she uses those in lieu of buying mulch. Funny, I had never really noticed those bark chips before and certainly never thought to use them in that way.

Then in the evening I walked briskly through the living room, my mind focused on the pressing tasks on my agenda.

My youngest daughter stopped my and pointed out the picture window and said, “Look at the sky!”

She insisted on taking a photo with my Blackberry phone.

My oldest daughter, the only one who knows how to use our complicated Nikon camera, would be appalled that I posted that photo, because it’s unedited (I don’t know how to use PhotoShop).

But I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this blog so I’m safe. :D

Then I sat down to read a hilarious blog that I had discovered a few days ago. Someone brought a post to my attention that was hilarious and I showed it to a friend.

She went on to discover other great posts on that blog that I hadn’t noticed myself and brought them to my attention. These have given me much needed laughs this week (and will be this week’s Fun Friday feature).

It seems the people in my life are forever noticing things I would have missed.

All of which reminds me of my favorite George and Martha
story (George & Martha is a children’s book about two best friends. It’s my favorite book about friendship and I’ve written about it before here).

It’s a nice sunny day and Martha sees that it’s a perfect day for a picnic.

George keeps snoozing on his bed and refuses to budge. So Martha pushes him to the park in his bed and they have a picnic.

George finally gets up and notices that it’s a great day after all and enjoys the picnic.

Martha falls asleep because of all the work she put into pushing George to the picnic.

I’m sure I’ve exhausted a few friends over the years as they’ve “pushed” me.

But that’s what friends are for I guess. :-)

Or as that U2 song goes: “A friend is someone who lets you help.”


An ode to Mr. Clean Magic Erasers

Yesterday I went to the grocery store… not to buy food but to buy a box of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.

Unfortunately the store only sells two packs and four packs, not an 8-Count Box like Amazon does. But that’s OK.

There’s something satisfying about opening a box of Magic Erasers, especially in early spring.

Seeing those shiny white erasers makes me excited about the cleaning possibilities.

No other product out there has this effect on me… they all make cleaning  feel like drudge work.

I guess it’s the way Magic Erasers effortlessly remove marks and grime from walls and every other surface. By erasing away all the crap, they make it possible for me to see and appreciate what I already have.

Plus Mr. Clean is a whole lot cheaper than hiring a cleaning service. :-)


How one artist found a metaphor for her disease

When you have a chronic disease or ongoing struggle, it is often difficult to talk about it.

On the one hand, you don’t want to brand yourself as someone with a particular disease or struggle. It’s not a lot of fun going around with a label like, “the woman with Chrohn’s disease.”

On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to bear the burden alone, even if it’s not a life-threatening or dire one.

This is why I was very intriugued to read an article in the current Wisconsin Woman magazine about local artist Carol Chase Bjerke.

Several years ago she had surgery to treat cancer. As a result she was left with an ostomy, which is an opening in the abdominal wall through which the body waste passes.

Even though she was grateful to be rid of her cancer, living with the ostomy was devastating to her.

I journaled away, trying desperately to find a metaphor. But there didn’t seem to be anything appropriate – or polite enough – for speaking about all the excrement I was handling. This went on for two and a half years…”

Eventually she started to notice that the disposable supplies used for her ostomy had certain aesthetic qualities.

Her Hidden Agenda art project was born. She had found her metaphor.

As she started sharing her artwork with friends she discovered:

As we talked, it became obvious that the artwork was facilitating the conversations that had previously been unspeakable.

This reminds me of the metaphor one of my daughters and I used shortly after her diagnosis of type 1 (juvenile) diabetes in 2007.

At that time we were in a Star Trek Voyager phase and were in the process of watching the episodes via Netflix DVDs. All my daughters liked Captain Kathryn Janeway and the other strong female characters such as B’Elanna and Seven of Nine.

As we talked about her diabetes I would say, “you’re the captain of your body, just like Captain Janeway is the captain of her ship.” I did not want her to despair in the face of this disease or think that diabetes had control over her.

This made it easier to have conversations with her about diabetes. It’s interesting how something as simple as a metaphor or story can totally shift one’s attitude.

As Isak Dineson said, All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”


Spring break started four hours ago yet I’m already feeling how oxymoronic the phrase “spring break” is when you’re a parent.

Within three minutes of my daughters arriving home from school there were kerfuffles and tears.

The agita continued to such a degree that I finally fled with the youngest daughters to La Bamba for lunch and then the library.

Lunch and library. A good survival strategy when you aren’t on a vacation and have to spend spring break at home with children.

I’m consoling myself by looking at Vicki the Biker comics and like her advice and am adding it to the mix: Head north. Alone.

Vicki the biker’s reaction to spring is entirely appropriate, I think:

Here’s another good tip… linger in the car and listen to music (or just sit and enjoy the silence) after you pull into the driveway and the kids have already run inside:

In fact, I did that today, after the library excursion. I sat in the car for a few minutes after the girls ran inside.

Eventually my youngest daughter came back out and gave me two Skittles. “Maybe these will cheer you up.” Awwwww.

I know these tips aren’t as enthralling as, say, a trip to Disneyland for spring break. But whatever helps put the “break” back into Spring Break for those of us parents who have to stay home with kids during spring break.

Now I’m going to head south. Which for me means the grocery store.


Fun Friday: Here’s one way to deal with deadline pressure

As a writer I deal with deadlines and having to write when I don’t feel like it every day. So I got a kick out of this video. As the person who made this video said, “Where my idea comes from is that every time when I am busy, I feel that I am not fighting with my works, I am fighting with those post-it notes and deadline.”

This video is a stop action video made with Post It notes. Pretty amazing. It took 3 months to plan, 4 days to shoot and 6000 Post It notes.


Even beggars have to tell stories

If they want anyone to give them money, that is.

Abraham Piper reminds us of that today.

Which reminds me of how my daughter once responded to a beggar’s three word story. It doesn’t have to be a long story, and not everyone will respond to it, but it has to be a story.


On early spring gardening and spores

Today was the first day I worked in the flower garden since last fall.

There was something satisfying about clearing away the last of the dead plants from last fall and making way for the new blooms already peeking through.

As I cleared away the remains of last year’s peony bush I was very happy to see the new red shoots pushing through:

The last bit of the hibiscus stems, which reach 6 feet high or so when in full bloom, look and feel very hard and sturdy. At first one might think one would need a saw to cut them away. Yet I’m able to twist them off with my bare hands.

There’s something symbolic about that, I suppose.

As I worked I thought about how almost every plant and flower in my garden was chosen by someone else.

My husband went through a rose bush phase some years ago and there are several shrub roses in the garden.

I don’t especially care for shrub roses and sometimes I get annoyed at how I’ve now been stuck with their upkeep. They take up a lot of space and their thorns always prick me, even when I wear gloves.

Also, I prefer the look of the old-fashioned tea roses.

Here’s our Elizabeth Taylor tea rose, which belongs to my oldest daughter:

But last December the shrub roses were still in bloom in the flower garden, even long after everything else had died (the Elizabeth Taylor rose only bloomed for a couple of weeks):

So I have a new respect for these shrub roses and will keep them. Anything that retains vivid color in harsh conditions is worth hanging onto.

My father selected and helped plant most of the other plants. He’s not so mobile anymore and can’t help me in the garden like he used to. I wouldn’t ever consider ripping out anything he had planted for me.

Then there are the hostas on the east side of the house, planted ages ago by a previous owner, which require shade and bloom in August.

Seven years ago we chopped down the two trees in the front yard and these hostas have struggled ever since. I tend to forget about them because they aren’t in the front yard with the other flowers.

Constant full sun has been hard on them. Yet somehow they continue to bloom every year. I haven’t managed to find the time to dig them up and plant something different.

Also, I know what it feels like to be in full sun when you are in dire need of shade – there have been areas of my life where I have felt just like that.

So I kind of like these hostas, imperfect as they are.

Working in the garden in early spring like this, before the new plants have grown, reminds me of what Rachel Remen says about spores in Kitchen Table Wisdom:

One of the most dramatic manifestations of the life force is seen in the plant kingdom. When times are harsh and what is needed to bloom cannot be found, certain plants become spores.

These plants dampen down and wall off their life force in order to survive. It is an effective strategy. Spores found in mummies, spores thousands of years old, have unfolded into plants when given the opportunity of nurture….

But a spore is a survival strategy, not a way of life. Spores do not grow. They endure. What you needed to do to survive may be very different from what you need to do to live.

No wonder she likes to compare the practice of medicine to gardening instead of to carpentry. Helping someone to live and thrive is very different from helping someone to merely survive. Gardening is a nice reminder of that.


It’s not how many people you know but how many kinds

In this age of social media it’s easy to get caught up in how many “friends” and “followers” you have.

But while reading June Singer’s Boundaries of the Soul: The practice of Jung’s psychology, I noticed she said the best way way for psychology to have a positive impact on our life outside of the analyst’s office is to interact with many different kinds of people in our everyday lives.

She goes so far as to say that to have an impact on society we shouldn’t first turn to experts. Instead we need to listen to the less vocal parts of society…

“These people watch and listen, they observe and reflect. They know far more than most people give them credit for. It is time to ask them what they see, what they need and what they can contribute.”

She listed 7 types of people we should listen to:

1. The ordinary person just struggling to get along in the world.

2. The elderly in your community. They have watched history unfold. Those that continue to have a lively interest in the world have much to teach younger people.

3. Indigenous people. She mentions people who are native to a country but I also like to think of indigenous people as people who have lived in a neighborhood or community for a very long time.

For example, in my neighborhood are two sets of neighbors who have lived in this neighborhood since the 1960s.  They always have a lot of information and stories to share.

4. Recent immigrants. They help us remember the importance of retaining our uniqueness while blending in with the whole of society.

5. Wisdom teachers. Religious leaders, ministers, etc.

6. Gay and lesbian people. She says we can learn from them because they tend to be creative and because they can teach us how members of a community can support one another through difficult times.

7. Families who live in rural settings. We should be interested in what they are learning about life and their natural surroundings.

She goes on to say that she approves of how psychology has also made inroads in the medical community and that it is generally accepted today that diseases have both physical and psychological components.

Of course this made me think of the work of Dr. Rachel Remen and her book Kitchen Table Wisdom. It became apparent while reading Boundaries of the Soul that Jung’s psychology has obviously had some influence on Dr. Remen.

Both Jung and Remen seem to share the same optimism and belief that wholeness and healing are possible. June Singer’s Boundaries of the Soul is considered the classic introductory book about Jung so that’s the book to read if you have any interest in learning more about Jung.

At any rate, it reinforces all the more how if we just listen to each other, including people who are different from us, and share empathy and stories, we won’t need to turn to the “experts” as often.


Saying it all while doing no harm

Is it possible to both keep the peace and communicate your hurt feelings?

There have been painful times in my life where I would do almost anything to avoid conflict or communicate my true feelings, for the sake of keeping the peace.

Communicating painful feelings and setting boundaries can be very stressful and is difficult to do well.

After all, it’s not like most of us were taught how to do this while we were growing up.

There are times when you must speak up, however.

And, according to Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, it’s possible to do so in a way that communicates your thoughts without disrespecting the other person.

I’ve written before about his method of teaching listening skills to doctors and how you can use the same listening techniques in your personal life.

He has a similar system he developed for doctors to help them handle conflict and speak their minds while dealing with contentious patients. Those of us who aren’t doctors can use this six point STABEN method too:

S for SOURCE: Make sure you speak to the person who is actually the source of the problem. The only way to influence the behavior of someone is to speak directly to that person instead of to their spouse, boss, colleague, etc.

T for TIME and PLACE: Make sure the discussion takes place at a favorable time and in a private place.

A for AMICABLE APPROACH: Make sure the other person is at ease from the get-go. Begin by using the person’s name because we are more receptive to our name than to any other word.

Then say something positive. For example, if you want to complain to your boss because she criticized you in public, you could begin by saying, “Kristin, I appreciate your feedback because it helps me improve my work.”  This opens the door to communication.

B for OBJECTIVE BEHAVIOR: Explain the behavior that bothered you without making moral judgments. For example, say: “When you pointed out my shortcomings in front of my colleagues…” Don’t say, “When you acted like a jerk…”

E for EMOTION: Describe your emotion but don’t mention anger. It’s more powerful to say “I felt hurt” or “I felt humiliated by the experience.”

N for NEED: It’s effective to mention your need that you feel wasn’t recognized: “I need security at work and to know that I won’t be humiliated in public by critical remarks, especially from someone as important as you.”

Dr. Servan-Schreiber admits that this approach may seem stilted at first because it’s not second nature for most of us. Doctors usually carry around an index card with the STABEN outline until they get the hang of it.

He says there are only three ways to react in a situation of conflict: passivity/passive-aggression, aggression or nonviolent assertiveness.

Difficult relationships with loved ones lead to stress, anxiety and depression. STABEN, combined with the BATHE technique I wrote about in my other post,  are excellent first steps in changing those relationships.

By the way, Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s book The Instinct to Heal describes many other methods of alleviating stress and anxiety without meds or psychotherpay and I highly recommend it. It’s from his book that I first found out about Dr. Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom book, for which I’m grateful.


Fun Friday: Imagination Girl and Vicki the Biker

We’ve had a few unusually warm March days this week so I spent quite a bit of time at the park with my youngest daughter.

Yesterday she didn’t have playmates at the park because there were no big sisters or other kids around, so she played alone for some time while I sat and read a book.

After a while she ran up to me and said that her new friend, Imagination Girl, had to leave for a few minutes.

“Imagination Girl?” I asked.

“My new invisible friend,” she said.

“What’s her superpower?”

“She makes little girls feel less sad and less lonely,” she said.  Awwww.

I thought it was fun how she invented a new character in her life on the spot.

It occurred to me that this invisible friend thing isn’t just a kid thing.

Moms have invisible friends/alter egos too, as the Vicki the Biker character in Rose is Rose shows us:

I love Vicki the Biker (check out an archives here) and wish that character appeared in Rose is Rose at least once a week:

Rose Is Rose

Here’s one more:

Rose Is Rose

In almost every close friendship I’ve had since I was a teenager, the friend and I have had various personas, alter ego characters and sometimes nicknames for each other that are unique to the friendship.

These alter egos/invisible friends have been named The Phantom, Sybil, Dixie the diner waitress, etc. For some reason these characters just
developed naturally and if one friend was struggling with, say, being assertive in a situation the other could say, “It’s time to channel your inner Vicki the Biker.”

I guess you don’t have to be a novelist to create characters in your life.