Thursday, December 31, 2009

Still Crazy After All These Years?

I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine from high school. Sandy was the most talented cartoonist I ever met. We have made plans to break bread and crack jokes. I’m definitely looking forward to catching up with her. However, in our emails she referred to me as “the crazy Sally Marks.”

In the past when I went to my high school reunions, a few folks described me in a similar fashion - crazy. Some stories I remember with embarrassment. Other tales I don’t remember at all, but the essence of the plot seems like something I would’ve done. I want to keep the blog g-rated, so I will not go into my misspent youth, but I can tell you that as I retell these stories to my friends, we double over in laughter.

So, I ask myself, what happened to that crazy girl? Why am I sitting in front of my computer on New Year’s Eve trying to come up with something to write on my blog instead of painting the town?

For starters, if I write I won’t fall asleep before midnight. I’m looking forward to 2010 and I want to usher it in with a smile and a cheer. It hasn’t been an easy year for nearly everyone I know. People have lost jobs and homes. Good friends of mine lost their son. Another dear friend just lost her husband.

However, a new year awaits. As a Buddhist, I know (at least theoretically) that all things are transient. We cannot count on external things to bring us happiness. This includes money, power, lovers, children, success or status. All of those things can disappear in an instant. And this year, I, as well as others, experienced the loss of some of these cherished things firsthand.

However, there is one thing I am taking with me to the new decade. Hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, as well as the determination to do my part to bring a little light to the world. For a lot of my life I tried to shed a little happiness through humor. I did a few wild and silly things, told countless jokes and stories and wrote comedic scripts.

A few things have changed.

Frankly, I’m not as funny as I used to be. I tell people “I’m funny on paper, but I’m not that humorous in person.” When I go to a party I’d rather engage someone in an earnest dialogue than stand on a table with a lampshade on my head. When I look in the mirror I’m still astounded that the image reflected back to me is not a skinny, goofy and animated, young woman, but a middle-aged grandma who needs to exercise, pay more attention to what she eats, and needs a cup of coffee and a shot of liquid vitamins to kick into second gear. I am not the same crazy Sally Marks I once was.

And that’s okay.

As much as we might want things to stay the same, our lives, our country and our universe are constantly changing. It does no good to pine away about things in the past. We can cherish good memories and show appreciation for our blessings. But we cannot be assured that those blessings will always be with us. However, we can keep the light of hope in our hearts and constantly challenge ourselves to work toward a better future. As I write this I am one hour away from a new year, a new decade and new hope for tomorrow.

I’m not partying this New Year’s Eve. My spouse is working and I am home alone. But, I am doing exactly what I want to do, writing something that I hope will inspire someone. Maybe that sounds crazy. Hmmm. I guess I haven’t changed as much as I thought. I may be older, fatter, and hopefully wiser, but deep down, and in my own special way, I’m still that “crazy Sally Marks.”

Have a happy, healthy, prosperous and loving New Year.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Filling in the Gap Between Success and Failure

There is a unit of time that does not have an official name, but it is a crucial link between success and failure. It is the time between “wanting to do something” and actually doing it. As a youngster, this time period was often prefaced by, “When I’m a grown up.” Later it evolved to “When the kids grow up” or “When I have more time”.

I’ve always been pretty good at meeting deadlines, at least as an adult. I have all my unforgiving journalism professors to thank for that. But when it comes to unofficial deadlines, the game can get a bit trickier. After all, life doesn’t always come with the motivation of a good grade, or the threat of a nasty editor.

I don’t like to think of myself as lazy, or even as someone who procrastinates (more on that later – ha ha). Yet, life threw me a little reminder that I could turn my refrain for “I’ll do it another day” to a life of sloth if I didn’t change a few habits.

A case in point.

I had feng shui practitioner Lisa Montgomery perform her skills and knowledge to enhance and increase the positive qui of my home. One of the cures to prevent negative energy from hitting my happy abode included placing a bagua (a yellow, wooden, octagon with a mirror in the center) over my garage door. The street comes to a T right in front of our driveway, and that can throw a bit of negative vibes our way. This little bagua has been perched in its location for quite some time. Then one day we had a nasty wind storm and the bagua, like Humpty Dumpty, had a big fall. Fortunately nothing was broken. All I had to do was put it back up on its little perch.

However, I was on my way out, so I just picked up the bagua, put it on my spouse’s truck, and vowed I would return the feng shui device when I came home. Of course, I did not return the bagua to its resting spot. I’m vertically challenged and I knew I would have to get the ladder out to accomplish this feat. And it was cold and rainy. “I’ll do it another day,” I told myself. Several days passed and I still hadn’t replaced the bagua.

I thought about the little bagua every day. I even fretted over it a bit. Yet, there it sat on the hood of CB’s truck. As each day passed, I noticed it got increasingly difficult to perform this task. It took on a life of its own. What would’ve been a simple, five-minute task became a real drain on my psyche.

Then one day I pulled in the driveway and noticed the bagua once again. I felt myself grimace as I thought about the task in front of me. “I’ll do it another day,” I thought. Then I stopped myself. “Why am I putting this off?” I asked. “It’s not cold or rainy. I do not have a pressing deadline. The only reason I’m not doing this is because I’ve let my brain turn this little task into a monumental feat.”

So I opened the garage, took out the ladder and put the bagua back to its spot above the garage door. It was done in less than five minutes. Angels didn’t sing the hallelujah chorus and I didn’t feel a surge of positive energy, but the task was done. My only thought was “Why did I wait so long to do this?”

I remember a bit of advice that I learned. When faced with multiple tasks, always do the most unpleasant chore first, then the rest is easy.

It also made me think of the mentors chapter or “I’ll Get By With A Little Help From My Friends” section of my self-help book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.
The following excerpt is an anecdote Entrepreneur Tammy Dantonio cites from her encounter with her mentor, Tony.

“Tony was always so motivated and I’d ask him how he did it,” said Tammy. “He would create these characters. He called them Mr. Positive and Mr. Negative. He said he’d lay in bed in the morning, not wanting to get up. He said Mr. Negative would tempt him stay in bed saying, “Tony, sleep. Sleep is good. Sleep, Tony. Sleep.” But then he would pantomime Mr. Positive cheering him on to jump out of bed and face the day. He said often, Mr. Positive and Mr. Negative would have words with one another. Often times, Mr. Positive would have to kick Mr. Negative’s ass. It was a funny motivator, but it worked for him and it works for me. It’s not always about goodness and light. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth, throw back the covers and kick Mr. Negative’s butt.”

The same is true of closing the gap between “thinking about doing something” and taking action. Whether it’s pursuing a dream, starting an exercise program, eating better or mowing the lawn, procrastination is not your friend. Think about Mr. or Ms. Positive and doing what it takes to close the gap between success and failure. Now go out there and kick some butt!

As Featured On EzineArticles

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guilty or Not Guilty of Laziness?

Some people run marathons, I run my mouth. I had a marathon phone day earlier this week and caught up with several old friends. There seems to be so much to do around Christmas time, but it is also a time I think about the many friends I’ve had the privilege of knowing.

So instead of working on my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, writing Christmas cards, cleaning the house, pitching story ideas to producers or any number of things – I chose to reconnect with friends.

At the end of the day I thought about what I had accomplished, Years ago, a day without visible work results would have been deemed a failure in my mind. Not only would I beat myself up for my lack of initiative, I’d sprinkle a healthy dose of guilt on my psyche.

In the past, the guilt would plague me and rob me of a good night’s sleep. I would not only confine this guilt to the present situation, I would delve into my memory bank and pull out every rotten transgression (imagined or not) and emotionally torture myself. I’m not, nor have I ever been, a mean-spirited person. But I am forgetful. And forgetfulness can lead to hurting others.

In addition to the typical careless remark, missed appointment or angry word, I remember lying awake at night lambasting myself over absolutely ridiculous transgressions. I would feel regret for all the cups of coffee I forgot to serve my customers when I was a waitress, or that I failed to remember table 27 needed a bottle of ketchup. Never mind the fact that I haven’t been a server for years. These mistakes were torturing my soul. And of course those mistakes would trigger memories of other errors in judgment.

The ironic thing is that nothing of value comes from this type of self flagellation. It took me years to figure this out, but now I don’t engage in this painful process (or at least not for long.) When a guilty feeling springs forth, I focus on a solution. If I do this during the day, I can usually come up with a plan on how to avoid a similar mistake, how to make amends etc. What do I do when I try to problem solve at night? I fall asleep. It’s too much work to take this on when I’m sleepy. I let my subconscious take over. I either get a solution through a dream, or I just fall asleep and forget about it. No harm, no foul.

Not all guilt is bad. It can serve a purpose. Here are a few pointers.

• Recognize what you are feeling guilty about and use this recognition to grow, mature, and perhaps modify future behavior. If you are just beating yourself up and nothing of value results from your thoughts, say “stop” and redirect your mental meanderings.
• If your guilt is the result of unhealthy behavior (drinking, smoking, overeating etc) come up with a plan of action to change. Then stick to it. If you fail, try again.
• If you have hurt another, make amends. And do it as quickly as possible. The person you hurt may or may not accept your apology, but that is out of your control. Do your part by making the effort, try not to repeat the bad behavior in question, then move on.
• Accept that you are not perfect.
Whether you are religious or not, the Serenity Prayer offers great comfort and insight. If you need to substitute the word, God, for something else, then do so. The message is still the same:
Grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage, to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom, to know the difference.

After my marathon phone day with my friends, I did a little work the next morning and played softball in the afternoon. Then I had two of my team mates over for a potluck dinner. I was going to clean the house before they came over, but I ran out of time. You know what? They didn’t care that the house wasn’t pristine. We had fun. That evening I received a message through Facebook from a high school friend I hadn’t heard from in decades. Of course I wrote her back right away.

I suppose I could beat myself up for not working harder. And it’s not that I condone sloth or laziness. But there is no glory in beating myself up for something from the past – including a day of no work. I was fueling my soul with the joy of reconnecting with dear friends. And I’m not about to apologize for that. Not even to myself.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Deficit Thinking

You don’t need to be a financial guru to know that you need to earn more than you spend to get ahead. What is not so obvious is that the same applies to our thoughts. If we put our attention and energy on what we are lacking, we will always come up short. With so many of us suffering from the effects of the troubled economy, it is easy to resort to a scarcity mentality of “there isn’t enough”. Unfortunately this results in a downward spiral that is not only depressing, it also robs of us the energy we could be using to tap into more positive and creative thoughts to change our circumstances.

For instance, I have a public relations firm. When the economy was merrily buzzing along, I had more than enough clients to take care of needs and I enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. However, when the housing boom melted, the domino theory trickled down to my business. I lost some valued clients – some from bankruptcy – others to a severe shortage of funds. Not only was my client base reduced, some of the existing companies I was working with were not paying the money they owed me. As a small business person, this was pretty rough.

Each time I lost a customer I had a running tally of the deficit. My inner dialogue was something like, “I need $1,000 to make up for ABC client, $500 to make up for DEF client and another $1,500 to replenish the income from GHI client. Needless to say, I was not successful in my pursuits. I kept trying to bring everything back to where it was before. My focus was on what I was lacking, and I was motivated by fear.

Fear may be useful to keep people from doing something stupid – like jumping off a building – but it is not a good stimulus for creativity. And as a public relations practitioner and freelance writer, creativity is the juice that keeps me going.

I took the normal precautions one should take with a loss of income. I cut my expenses. It is good to be optimistic, but one has to be realistic too. You shouldn’t spend what you don’t have. So I ate less pizza, curtailed unnecessary costs, drove less and increased the deductible on my health insurance. These were all necessary (and in the pizza-eating case) healthier choices.

Unfortunately, I started resenting my circumstances and my focus turned into a wee bit of negativity. However, I know better and I didn’t dwell in my emotional basement for long. Years of experience has taught me that negativity NEVER changes a situation for the better.

So what did I do to turn things around? I played tennis.

I had been sitting on my duff and I hadn’t been taking any action. That is not to say that I wasn’t using the internet to find more work. I sent out letters and proposals. But that is so stagnant. I was using my brain, but not my body. So I went out and played some doubles tennis in the evening. I am no Venus Williams, but I had fun. Because of my physical exertion, I slept better. When I was physically dormant and consumed with worry, my nocturnal thoughts evolved into frustrating nightmares. But the night after I played tennis I had empowering dreams. That gave way to a few new ideas for increasing my business. Then I found out about a new form of publishing for my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. Then I contacted a former client and came up with a great pitch I could make to the local morning show producers. For the first time in a couple months, producers were contacting me again.

Once my creativity started flowing, so did the work. I felt empowered and that new mindset was making me a magnet for success. Instead of focusing on the work I lost, I concentrated on my original intention – helping small businesses succeed through creative, cost-effective public relations strategies.

New clients, albeit with smaller retainers, were coming my way. I started to rebuild my business again, almost from the ground up. It was a lot like my tennis game. I wasn’t acing anyone with the brute force of a 100-mph serve, but I was slowly gathering points by staying in the game.

We all suffer setbacks in life. I am no exception. And even as the author of a self help book on the value of positive thinking, I have my moments of tarnished thoughts. But I can honestly say nothing is ever restored to brightness from grousing or crying into a pity pot. It is only when we challenge our obstacles, shake off defeat and use creativity rather than negativity to combat our problems that we can truly shine.

As Featured On EzineArticles

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thanksgiving Rerun

This post is a reprint from last Thanksgiving:

Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest to see. A recent example is this past Thanksgiving. We invited 16 people over for the holidays and my spouse and I were running around trying to get the food and house in order for the big feast. After looking in the same place – twice – I found the ancient, orange table cloth for its once-a-year outing. However, I was not so fortunate locating the pads we put on the table to prevent it from getting scratched (over zealous appetites and sharp forks can be a dangerous combination). I looked in the garage where these pads have lived for many years. No luck. I retraced my steps, my spouse took up the search, and I looked again for good measure. Still no luck. I looked under the bed (where I did find the table leaf and a family of dust bunnies), checked the closets and even some really obscure places. Was I really thinking I was going to find those table pads in the spare bathroom? Frustration and panic can really unleash some strange thoughts.

I’m generally a patient person, but I hate it when I can’t find something. Of course I knew this was my spouse’s fault because I ALWAYS put things back in their proper place. I kept running this nasty script in my head about how if CB would just put stuff back in the SAME PLACE every time instead of experimenting with another idea, this would NEVER HAPPEN.

Time was ticking away and I needed to get that table protected from the hungry hordes. Finally, CB asked if the pads were in my office. I had checked the office closet – twice. Then it dawned on me. I had purchased a new desk several months ago and put the pads on the desk to prevent it from getting scratched by the office equipment. How often do I see these pads? Try no less than eight hours a day six or seven days a week. The missing pads are literally inches from my nose every single day, but I don’t see them. So what does this mean (besides the fact that I am not observant and had to eat humble pie instead of pumpkin that day)? For me it was how the most obvious things are invisible.

Since it was Thanksgiving, it is easy to reflect on how there are a multitude of things to be grateful for, but they are largely taken for granted. I have lived through many turkey holidays and enjoyed abundant food, as well as numerous friends and family to share the day with. Sometimes the guest list changes. Many loved ones have passed away, and new ones, including my one-year-old granddaughter, Rosannah have joined the family. Every year is precious.

Something else that is invaluable, but not always easy to see, is our own personal power. There are those magic moments when we feel great and everything clicks into place. However, when things are difficult it is easy to go down the negativity highway, and let little bumps morph into Mount Vesuvius. In my angry little mind, I had a whole novel in my head about my spouse’s thoughtless actions. I had visions of my beloved table pads being used to test drill bits and then being placed under our leaky truck to prevent oil from staining the driveway.

I admit it, the self-help writer got a little nutty with her own imagined negativity. But fortunately, I stopped my crummy thoughts in the prologue phase instead of chapter six. So you see, I struggle with the same issues as everyone else, but I’m coping with it a lot better than I used to. Part of the reason is since my writing partner, Jackie, and I have written our new book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, I feel obligated to practice what I preach. And I do. I mess up now and then, but I stop myself before I get too carried away.

It really is true that if you want to master something, you should try to teach it to someone else. So please carry on our message. If you have questions, shoot us an email. If you want us to give a little talk at one of your meetings, or you would like to host a seminar, just let us know. Our goal is to erase a little negativity however we can.

And for a preview into the future, our next blog entry is going to delve more into the invisible power concept. I’d say more now but this message is already too long. Besides that, I have three table pads sitting in my office and I need to figure out where I am going to put them.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

I have a friend who is one of the hardest-working women on the planet. However, now that she is in her mid 60s, she is slowing down. Worst of all, her lack of zip has her feeling blue. This is a woman who works full time, takes care of an ailing spouse, keeps an immaculate house, cooks dinner, regularly attends Buddhist meetings and activities, and also assists her semi-retired husband in his business. We discussed diet, exercise, supplements, religion and a host of other topics to find solutions to boost her energy level. Then I came up with another idea – motivation through friendship.

My friend (I’ll call her “V”) is a brilliant woman, but I knew she was lacking in intellectual stimulation. I have felt that way myself. So we decided we needed more fun in our lives. The solution was to form a group of interesting women who were interested in attending cultural events, classes or activities. Since money is limited for several of us, we are checking into events that were free or cheap. This includes museums (many have no admission nights), concerts, plays, workshops at the library, attending art fairs, listening to authors at book signings, as well as a host of other activities.

We figured if we had a group of 10, we would most likely get three or four to attend any given event. Now that we are on the prowl for fun, it’s amazing how many activities there are to enjoy. My spouse, CB, suggested more athletic endeavors. And as valuable as that advice is, I know the most exercise a depressed woman wants to do is run screaming from the person who mentions it.

First things first. Start with a little fun, then maybe a bit of exercise. And I’m sure there will be some walking involved getting from the parking lot to the actual event. That counts for something, right?

I have been fortunate to have many wonderful friends in my life. However, as time goes by, it is easy to lose touch with one another. I’ve always made it a point to take the initiative and call up my friends – even if many years have passed. When I do, very often they tell me they had been thinking of me too, but just hadn’t had the chance to call. I’m not shy. I don’t mind being the one to call. The rewards far outweigh any goofy prideful thoughts of, “I called last time…blah, blah, blah.”

So it was not a big surprise to me when I read an article about friendship in MORE magazine and saw a little blurb on how there is scientific evidence that indicates friendships and extensive social networks can lower blood pressure; reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease; ward off depression; and make us less susceptible to the ravages of old age. The article quoted a Harvard Nurses; Health Study that found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to become physically debilitated as they grew older.

Of course women have known for years that having friends is more than a nice thing – it’s really a valuable ingredient in creating a joyful life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little chatter while pounding laundry on a rock near a stream, or sharing a dessert at a fancy restaurant, women value each other’s company.

In my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, I dedicate a section on the importance of having good friends. So if you have some great buddies, call them up and schedule a date. Don’t wait until you have “extra” time. It won’t happen. Good friendships are worth the time investment. And it’s good for your health. You want to argue with Harvard nurses? I don’t. And if you don’t have friends, go out and meet some. Or email me through the blog. You can always join up with my friends. They’re the best.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Scariest Demon We Invite Into Our Lives

It’s nearly Halloween and the stores are filled with ghoulish d├ęcor. On a recent outing my little granddaughter, Rosannah, discovered some holiday decorations packed more trick than treat. Rosannah is nearly two years old and quite fearless. She runs through the house with her hands in the air, scales the couch and her high chair with the speed of a mountain goat, and follows the family’s Rottweilers through the doggy door, with no worry of being trampled.

However, my plucky, little granddaughter’s bravery melted like a candy bar when she encountered a cackling witch at the local hardware store. Rosannah buried her head into her mother’s shoulder and whimpered, “no, no.” When she looked up, she saw another display – a werewolf. She smiled at the item and said, “doggy?” Then the eyes of the beast turned red. This elicited another whimpering “no, no” and she buried her dimpled face into her mother’s shoulder once again. Even something as innocuous as a skull on a glass elicits a quick retreat.

I’m not sure why the symbol of a skull is so frightening to Rosannah. It makes me wonder if there could be universal phobias that are buried deep within our collective consciousness. I read somewhere that snakes are feared in many cultures – including those areas that have never seen one of the slithering reptiles.

Other phobias are not so universal. For instance, my friend, Michele, has a 36-year-daughter who is afraid of dryer lint. I reminded her of this quirky habit. I assumed she had outgrown it. Nope. If her husband wanted a divorce he could chase her around the house with the lint, much like how her brother used to do when they were kids. But, like I said, the man wants to remain happily married so he takes care of the lint disposal. My normally logical sister, Diane, gets squeamish touching balls of cotton. I always felt I had a sense of power over her as I would valiantly pull the wad of the white padding from bottles of aspirin. Recently I reminded her of this childhood fear. Well, guess what? She still won’t touch the cotton balls.

The point is, there are many things that strike fear into the hearts of humankind. However, there is one demon that, unlike dryer lint, has caused tremendous harm, but holds free reign in society – negativity.

These pessimistic messages take various forms – news reports, gossip, complaints, lack of gratitude, judgmental thoughts, as well as stinging criticism of ourselves and others. Unfortunately, negativity has become so pervasive that many of us accept it as a normal part of life. This is especially true because we are bombarded with negative news 24/7. The reality is there are many more happy incidents in a day, but no journalist is going to lead the 5 o’clock news with a story of good cheer. As the old adage goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

As dismal as this may seem, the good news is we still have a choice on whether or not we are going to allow negativity to stain our lives. There is no law that says we have to watch depressing news. We should not feel compelled to listen to others say disparaging things about others. And we should never repeat gossip…period.

Living a happy life is not that difficult. Even in the most depressing situations there are things to be grateful for. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Every morning I recite several things that I appreciate in my life before I get out of bed. This only takes a few seconds, but it creates an attitude of gratitude that I try to embrace throughout the day.

For those who have a little more trouble adopting a positive attitude, there are little tricks you can perform to shift into an attitude of gratitude. I outline several in the upcoming book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. I’m also happy to provide customized advice to those who email me through my blog.

In the meantime, you can always adopt an adult version of Rosannah’s technique when confronted with negative messages. It’s the same thing we teach children who are tempted to take drugs. Turn away and just say no.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kick “But” Subtitles Out On Their Fannies

I enjoy writing titles and headlines for stories. Sometimes I come up with a twist on an old saying. For example, Doctor, Heal Thyself, became Dentist, Heal Thy Finances. I used this when I wrote a press release promoting a workshop for The Schuster Center for Professional Development. Patriotic Beauty was used to highlight free services for military families during the week of the 4th of July. More recently I used the phrase “Snazzy Jazz” in a headline about a free jazz concert.

Creating headlines and titles can be fun. But when I was listening to a little video clip from Carol Look, the author who wrote, Attracting Abundance with EFT, she talked about subtitles in another way. She mentioned that we have our own title for what we want, but we negate the message with a destructive subtitle. For example, we might think, “I’d love to go back to school!” But then the sneaky subtitle comes in. Maybe it’s, “But I’m too old.” Or maybe “But, I’m not smart enough.”

A lot of these subtitles begin with “but”. It’s no wonder it is only one letter short of the word “butt”, as that is exactly where it kicks you. Not to mention any hopes you may have for success. The word “but” can be a crappy communication tool as well. “I love you…but…” Not many good things follow but. It is a turd of a word. I try to use the word “and” instead, and turn the negative phrase I am considering to something more positive.

Here’s another example. Instead of saying, “I love you, but your nagging drives me insane.” Try, “I love you, and when you appreciate the little things I do for you I realize how lucky I am.” You come up with your own examples.

However, let’s return to the subject of subtitles.

For many years I was the queen of negative, self subtitles. I blamed my lack of success on my husband, children, being a middle child…you name it. Guess what? I divorced the husband, the two kids have moved away and married. Furthermore, no one can tell by looking at me that I’m a middle child. The old excuses were running out. Of course I could always come up with new ones.

Luckily, I had an epiphany. I was at a luncheon and the guest speaker was Mae Jemison, the first female, African American, astronaut. She was such a dynamic speaker that I waited to get autographed posters for my two girls (both teenagers at the time).

I can’t remember the exact words but it went something like this:

Me: You are so inspirational. I’m going to tell my daughters about what you had to say so they can have the confidence to pursue their dreams.
Mae: What about you? Why should you limit the message to your daughters? Isn’t there a dream you would like to achieve?

This really hit close to home. When I heard what Ms. Jemison had to say, I was applying it all to my young daughters. It was as if I had given up on myself. And I had. It was a low point in my life. I was divorced, working at a job that paid the bills, but was not suited for my personality. I felt trapped.

Worst of all, I stopped writing. Part of my writing paralysis was I felt I didn’t have the time to pursue it. Another excuse was I was sick of rejections from agents, publishers and magazine editors. Another reason was I doubted my ability and thought I wasn’t good enough to do the very thing that made me feel alive. The result was I was miserable. For two years I felt like a part of me had died. Instead of “The Day the Music Died” it became “The Time the Writer Died.”

To make a long story short, I did start writing again. However, even though I had been published in magazines and newspapers, I created a lousy subtitle for myself. People would ask what I did for a living. I would tell them, “I’m a writer.” Usually folks would ask me what type of writing I did (at that time no one knew what a public relations person did). However, I needed business, so I did tell them about my PR firm, then I would tell them my real love was writing romantic comedy screenplays. People’s eyes usually would light up with this statement. Who doesn’t enjoy a witty, romantic comedy? Then I’d follow up with my subtitle, “But I haven’t sold a script yet.”

I could have told them about the stories, or the awards, or any number of things. Instead, I chose to use my lousy subtitle, “But I haven’t sold anything yet.”

So this week’s advice is to either stifle the rotten subtitle, or create a positive one. Also, before you use the word “but” see if you are kicking yourself when you use it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mighty Phoenix Mercury Inspires Courage in Daily Life

I am a happy fan. My favorite team, the Phoenix Mercury, recently won the Women’s National Basketball Association title. As I watched the games, I was mostly caught up in the excitement of cheering for the home team. But the following day, I thought about how these gifted athletes provided a lesson in winning on and off the court.

Each Mercury player is extremely talented. But any sports fan knows that individual talent is not what wins team championships. You must be able to work together as a highly tuned unit. I watched in awe as the Mercury ran, passed and took shots with the elegance of a tightly choreographed Broadway production.

That is not to say that everything is pretty. These gals were knocked on their butts, took elbows to the face, only to charge forward and muscle their way to the hoop to make shots, grab rebounds, or block shots by their worthy opponents, the Indiana Fever.

I don’t know all the injuries that took place, but I know for sure that Penny Taylor was playing with a broken finger and had a tooth knocked loose in an earlier game. Cappie Poindexter was whacked in the eye and had to leave the game because she couldn’t see. Fortunately, Cappie had no severe optical damage and she returned with a vengeance, knocking in important buckets at crucial times, in spite of a swollen black eye. Diana Taurasi always plays like it’s the last minute of her life. I don’t know what injuries she sustained, but the way she attacks the game, I’m sure returns home with more than her fair share of cuts and bruises.

As I was taking a walk the day after the championship, I thought about how the game mirrored life. These gals were knocked down, beaten up, and yet they kept on driving forward. They didn’t let losses, pain, the possibility of significant injury or any other factor deter them from their goal. When I saw Cappie Poindexter return to the court, I actually winced. I thought about her eye and all those flying elbows. I was really concerned about her welfare. And then, as if she could read my thoughts, she answered by swishing a basket with nothing but net.

The point is, we all face hardships. And we all will be knocked on our butts from time to time. We can boldly move ahead, tip toe with caution, or cower in a corner. The choice is ours. But winners, whether on or off the court, are not timid about living.

To bring this back to a personal level, as I was thinking about the game, and what I was going to write about it, I passed a neighbor and her dog. We exchanged “Good mornings” without breaking stride. I passed the woman on her left (the dog was on her right), then her German Shepherd turned around and bit me on my thigh.

This was quite a shock to me as I did not stop to pet the dog, I was in a good, not fearful mood, and I didn’t do anything to provoke an attack. I informed the woman her dog had just bitten me. I quickly learned the dog was up to date on her shots, had never bitten anyone before. Lucky me. If I were going to be the first for something I would prefer something less painful.

Anyway, the owner, a nurse, told me how to care for the wound and I left. I suppose I should have collected her name and phone number, but I was more concerned about taking care of the business at hand. Fortunately, everything is fine. It was more of a bruise than a puncture, my tetanus shot is up to date, and I’m going to be fine.

But the next day I didn’t want to go for a walk.

Then I thought about the Phoenix Mercury. What if Penny Taylor, who knocked in 14 points in the final game, decided to sit the game out and nurse her wounds? What would have happened if Cappie Poindexter decided to go shopping to find a pair of sunglasses to hide her shiner instead of courageously racking up 24 points? Who could have predicted the outcome if Diana Taurasi said, “enough is enough” and headed for the hot tub instead of driving to the basket?

And I’d be neglect in my duties if I didn’t mention the outstanding contributions of the entire roster of DeWanna Bonner, Temeka Johnson, Nicole Ohlde, Brooke Smith, Tangela Smith, Le’Coe Willingham and Ketia Swanier.

It is easy to be optimistic when everything is going great. The true strength of one’s character is how one reacts to adversity. One of my favorite lines from the movie, “A League of Their Own” when baseball star, Dottie Hinson, wants to quit the team.

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that.
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.
Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard! If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

We all may wish for an easy life, but if we think back to the things that we are the most proud of, it is not the easy wins, it’s the times where we struggled and won that bring us the most satisfaction.

In my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, I interviewed men and women who overcame adversity and chose a more optimistic life. They could have given up, but they didn’t. So unless I want to be a hypocrite, I need to practice what I preach, or write about. I’m going to end this story now and go look for my shoes. It’s time to take a walk.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Here Piggy Piggy...

I went for a stroll last night. I thought I was alone, but I wasn’t. As I walked down the sidewalk I heard the sound of munching. I assumed that some type of critter was enjoying an evening meal. It was dark and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I didn’t bother looking around. I just ambled toward the community mail box with my Visa payment in hand, ignored my surroundings, and let my brain cycle through its thoughts.

For the most part I enjoy my little musings, just like I enjoy my dreams. But every once in a while my mind gets stuck on an idea or situation that annoys me, and I have trouble shaking loose from it. I was chanting, “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” and reciting a few affirmations regarding my upcoming book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. In spite of my efforts, a few errant concepts were buzzing around like flies. I shooed them away, but they kept returning, ready to spread their filth on my cleaner intentions.

Part of my annoyance is my impatience with getting my book published. I know that messages of optimism and hope are badly needed, but book publishers have their own agenda and time line. They say later and I say “NOW!” Normally I’m a patient individual, but I am human and I have my limits. Part of my problem is I veered a bit off course with my original intention. The sole purpose of writing the book was to help people, but somewhere along the line, my self esteem got involved in the mix. Every day that I encountered a setback, rejection, or no response at all – I’d get frustrated, angry, or worst of all – sad.

I was making a mistake that I lecture others about – looking outside oneself for validation and acceptance. In my lapse of judgment, I was feeling like a failure because publishers were not jumping up and down to publish my book. The problem is I have no control over what others think or do. If I had good news, I felt great. Bad news and I was upset. This is a very defeating way to look at things because I was handing over my happiness to the whim of others. That’s like handing the car keys over to an impaired driver and then getting upset when the car comes back in a damaged state.

Fortunately, I know better than to indulge in a pity party. Been there, done that, and I know how the story goes. So instead, I reviewed this excerpt from the book (written by my co-author, Jackie.)

"One of the greatest lessons a person must learn is acceptance of self. The acceptance of total responsibility for one's own thoughts, words and actions. This means maturity and loving yourself, filling yourself up with joy. When you have done this acceptance is no longer an issue nor is it important. You have made peace within you and the world around you. You like the person you are, just as you are.

Louie Pasqual, an 18th century philosopher once said "I am concerned about Western man because he could not be alone with himself in an empty room." In effect, this means we need to go inside ourselves and find our acceptance, peace, joy and love and learn to connect with the power within ourselves. Until we are able to do this, we will never truly be happy and whole. This is what releasing negativity is about, starting the journey to find the joy within. The only way to do this is change the way we think and perceive the world and people around us. We must accept the only path that can be changed and improved is through our own efforts and not through the opinion of others."

Back to my stroll (you thought I really wandered off topic and forgot to return, didn’t you?) As I was walking back home, a car was driving slowly by and came to a halt. I thought they were going to ask me for directions. Instead, they asked if I saw the herd of javelina that was in the desert basin. I realized that I had walked by the beasts, but was so intent on my thoughts, that I hadn’t seen them. And it wasn’t one or two of the critters – there was a whole herd – mothers and babies, happily munching on the desert fauna.

I was so caught up in my thoughts (and many of them unhappy thoughts at that!) that I was oblivious to a wondrous sight (and maybe even a potentially dangerous one).

The bottom line is I am more than my back account, my career, my writing, my family and any number of things that I use to identify myself. There are wonderful things within, or right in front of my face, that I can choose to see, or ignore. There is a saying that we can see the moon that is thousands of miles away, but cannot see our own eyebrows without a mirror. The same is true about our inner beauty.

How ironic that it was a stranger in a car and a herd of wild pigs that helped me see the hidden treasure that was there all along.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Water, water every where...

“Water, water everywhere and nor any drop to drink.” This line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner came to life like a tidal wave of confusion when I went to greet the carpet installers at my daughter, Alicia’s house earlier this week.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to Alicia’s place and stepped into a flash flood. I could hear the sound of water spewing forth and gasped in fear as I saw the lake of water inching closer to the beautiful laminate flooring my son-in-law Greg, had just installed.

I’ve lived in a few different houses over the span of my life, and one of the things that I made sure I knew about was how to turn off the main water valve to the house. But this wasn’t my house! I was clueless. However, as I was about to bolt to the outside spigot to see if I could find the shutoff valve, the carpet installer, Pancho, rushed to the kitchen and quickly found the guilty culprit. It was the tubing that supplied the water to the refrigerator. Pancho turned the water off quickly, and even helped with some of the cleanup. What a great guy.

Pancho guessed it had been running for two hours. Apparently, if you do not use the correct tubing for the drinking water, it can easily burst and create an indoor lake. I have found out since this little disaster occurred that using the wrong tubing – and the leaks that ensue - are a common problem. The tubing that is needed is pricier than one would expect – but certainly a bargain compared to dealing with a major leak. My friend, Andrea, who is active on the HOA board of her community said this has happened to her development a few times in the last two years. One resulted in a major repair.

So, my advice for today is to make sure to use proper equipment when installing appliances. If you can’t afford the $80 hose, then just don’t hook up the water filtration system until you CAN afford the right tubing. There is something to be said for doing things the right way, using the best tools for the job, and taking the time to do the job right. Of course this is all very ironic coming from someone who can’t put a child’s puzzle together. I hate reading directions or doing anything that takes even a modicum of mechanical aptitude. I even get confused changing the vacuum cleaner bag. But I’m getting better. After all, if you live long enough and learn from your crummy mistakes, you get to be a pretty sharp cookie.

In spite of my lack of mechanical skills, I AM good in a crisis. Plus I was plenty motivated. My daughter, her husband and my beautiful granddaughters were going to be moving into a bank-owned property only three miles away, and it couldn’t happen soon enough as far as I was concerned. Part of this is my desire to have the family unit close by, and part of it is to relieve the stress of my daughter, who has her hands full with a fearless and inquisitive, 22-month-old, and a slightly demanding, three-month infant who has been nicknamed “Crabby Cakes”.

In the past, my spouse was always the one who performed the more “manly duties” (plumbing, carpentry, tree-trimming, tile work etc). But in my zeal to get my daughter moved into her new home I’ve helped remove carpet and padding, removed tack strips, washed walls and cabinets, and volunteered to babysit to hasten the move-in process. I even made the appointment for the carpet installers to come. Not only that, I put a little pressure on the appointment setters to get a crew out there as soon as possible. This was definitely overstepping the mother/daughter boundaries, but my daughter is very easy-going, and I was afraid the installers would put her off another week. So I just took the first appointment they offered. I also let them know she had wanted to move in the week before, but they needed the carpet to be installed first. This was overstepping the boundary of my duties, but as I said, I wanted this to happen.

The installers had been scheduled to arrive between 8-10 a.m., but they got there early. When they called my daughter and told them they were almost there, Alicia called me and asked if I could let the workmen in the house to begin the project. No problem. By 7:15 a.m., me, my cereal, the newspaper and my coffee, were ready to roll. The installers were waiting for me when I pulled up.

I opened the door, stepped inside, and immediately found myself sloshing through inches of water. Before you could say, “Noah, where’s the ark?” I got towels, a mop and a bucket and started cleaning up the mess. Pancho also pitched in. After calling my daughter and son-in-law, we decided to go ahead and start with the installation on the parts of the house that weren’t flooded. All in all, everything worked out okay.

I have to admit that prior to seeing the flood, I felt a little guilty about pushing my daughter to get moving on the house renovations so they could move in, as well as for the earliest delivery dates for the carpet. It is, after all, her house, her life and her family. But in this case, my nagging paid off. Pancho said that he estimated the leak had been going on for two hours. In another 40 minutes the water would have flooded the laminate my son-in–law had just installed. Two more hours and the whole house would’ve been flooded and the water would have been running out of the house and into the street (the same road that was getting chip sealed – but that’s another story).

So what is the morale of this story (besides the using the right tool and doing a good job?) It is not about being a pushy mother. It’s not about nagging. It’s about following intuition. Something told me to push for this. I actually went against my daughter’s wishes when I made that early appointment. And I do not advocate that we run over the desires of others – quite the contrary. But when there is a strong intuition that something should be done, it is best to follow that instinct – or dam the consequences.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Time, Education and Leaky Brains

There are times when my head is so full of information that I wonder if I can absorb anything new. Sometimes I feel as if my brain were like a bucket of water and if another dollop of information is added to the pail, liquid will leak out of my ears. Of course this isn’t true. My head isn’t leaking, so I can take my fingers out of my ears and stop singing “La, la, la,” every time I am confronted with new factoids. But in this age of instant information, it can seem a little overwhelming to keep up with everything.

After talking to my daughter, Brittany, I realize my concern is not confined to middle-aged Baby Boomers. Brittany just turned 25 and she is not only learning new things on the computer, phone and digital camera (all things I seriously underuse), she is studying interior design – a career that is constantly changing. She is attending a private college and passed on an opportunity to enter a competition where she could have won a significant scholarship. Unfortunately, the entry was due shortly after completing her finals and she felt she wouldn’t have the time to create a worthwhile project.

Apparently, her classmates felt the same way. Only one person entered, and that lucky person won the top prize. The second and third place awards went unclaimed.

One of my clients, the International Academy of Hair & Aesthetics in Tempe, AZ, also had a competition. Students were asked to write an essay, or pledge, outlining their commitment to their future careers as aestheticians. The prizes were significant – a $2,000 and a $1,000 scholarship to the National Laser Institute. Amanda Tihey won first place and Baeley Haught received second place.

While the International Academy of Hair & Aesthetics received more reaction than Brittany’s school for its competition, I thought the response was a bit underwhelming, particularly considering the amount of the scholarship and how tight money is for most folks right now. I think it might be attributed to the leaky head syndrome. Bottom line is most of us feel like there is too much to do, not enough time to do it, and if I have to learn anything else today I’m going to go screaming into the night.

So, you might ask, with this attitude, why did I write the self-help book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within? Isn’t this just another example of new information? Technically, this may be correct. There is nothing new about my book, or even most self-help books in general. Some of the best ones go back hundreds, or even thousands of years ago – The Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, The Richest Man in Babylon.

However, since there is only so much time in a day, the information may be out there, but taking the time to access it may be problematic. And that is the catch 22. Most of us recognize we would be happier if we took the time to learn better habits and methods of interacting in the world, but we feel like we just don’t have the time to do it. Just like my poor, struggling student-of-a-daughter, Brittany who missed out on a chance to win a scholarship and reduce her student loan debt.

No matter where we live or who we are, all of us have the same 24 hours in each day. What separates us is how we choose to spend our time. We can veg out in front of the television, gossip on the telephone, or sleep all day. Or we can make an investment in ourselves to learn how to become better human beings by taking the time to help others, read an uplifting book, or simply enjoy beauty by taking a stroll through the park.

When confronted with the many options we have each day on how to fill our day, I hope you will take a moment to ponder on how you can use what limited spare time you do have to create value in some way. Because that type of investment in time is one that is sure to bring lasting rewards for yourself, and for others.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

When Dreams, Witches and Butterflies Take Flight

I love to dream. I love my waking life too, but my crazy little imagination really cooks up some interesting nocturnal scenarios when I’m asleep. Occasionally I will have a dream that I think conveys an important message. When this happens, I write down what I remember. The following is a case in point.

In this dream I had great powers. Two reoccurring themes were present that I’ve experienced in other dreams – I can identify other special people with powers (particularly children), and I can fly. The children with powers look like everyone else and they do not know they have powers. They actually come from another planet. I believe they are sent here to help earth, as well as have some sort of mission about their planet of origin.

I can’t remember all the parts of the dream, but in one segment I am flying and there are emerald, green, trees below. It was a breath-taking sight that was absolutely awe inspiring. It was more than sheer beauty, there was an element of magic to the scenario. At one point I flew straight up to the clouds. There was a meeting of magical witches and I was one of them. There were mostly middle aged women, but there were a few younger ones and a couple of women in their early 60s with white hair.

There was one woman I didn’t know and I introduced myself. The rest of the women I knew and trusted. At one point we were supposed to suspend our powers so we could recharge. I think this was a normal part of the mystical process. However, there was something about this unknown woman that made me uncomfortable. I sent a telepathic message to the others to not totally give up our powers, as I thought we might be too vulnerable. The other women already thought the same thing. It was as if our vulnerability would allow dark forces to defeat us, and then the rest of the non-empowered society.

I woke up before the dream had a real ending. However, it was very interesting and fun. Even the part of the dark forces was empowering because I knew we were right in our pursuits and that is why the other dark forces were trying to stop us. I had no doubt we would win. I wish I could remember all the sights and colors enough to describe it. It was better than anything I had ever seen in a movie.

I suppose I could interpret this dream in a variety of ways. However, a few key things come to mind.

• If you want to be happy, seek out friends and/or acquaintances who will lift your spirits.
• Take the time to show kindness to children. They may have more material and technological advantages than we had at their age, but they have also inherited a planet that has been badly damaged. Help instill in them the hope that they can accomplish great and wondrous things that will be a benefit to everyone..
• Follow your instincts about people and events. If your gut is telling you to not trust someone, take heed.
• Life isn’t always easy, but it is the struggles that help us grow.

It is said that before a butterfly can take flight, it has to constantly beat its wings against its cocoon to break free. It takes enormous energy for the butterfly to emerge, but it is precisely what the butterfly needs to have the strength to fly. If someone were to break through the chrysalis to help the butterfly in its escape, the winged creature would be too weak to survive.

No one likes hardships, but they are a part of life. We may not be able to sidestep problems, but we always have a choice on how to respond to each situation. We can grouse over our setbacks, or we can take a more optimistic approach and take the opportunity to use each obstacle as an opportunity to grow. And the more we grow, the higher we can fly.

Monday, August 31, 2009


When I first became a Buddhist I found it inspiring- yet a bit painful – to take responsibility for my life. I’m a middle child and attributed most of my difficulties on being a member of this ignored placement in the family birth order. It would seem the oldest child is usually the most successful, and the youngest siblings make great comedians and performers. Middle children’s claim to fame is they are often the peace makers of the family (more about this in another blog).

However, the point is, I spent a lot of my life blaming my problems on someone – or something, outside of myself. I had a litany of excuses for why I couldn’t accomplish any given task or role. Whether or not my reasoning was sound isn’t the point. It really boils done to the fact that blaming others for my troubles did not help me overcome anything.

Over the years I have made good strides in taking personal responsibility for things. However, I was recently reminded about how deeply ingrained denial, or the “blaming others for your problems” can have on one’s life.

Here’s a case in point.

One of my clients is The Schuster Center, the first business school created exclusively for dentists. One innovative program Dr. Schuster created is the Dental Fitness program. This program includes an interactive process where the patient gets a tooth-by-tooth analysis of their teeth and gums. The amount of plaque, as well as bleeding (which denotes infection) are evaluated and given a number from 1 (minimal problem) to 10 (severe infection and bone loss). By knowing exactly where they stand, and with instruction on proper maintenance, patients learn how dental and gum disease begins, and how to stop it.

The program grew out of Dr. Schuster’s frustration in the early stages of his practice.

“I had a difficult start in Dyersville, Iowa when the farmers would send their boys to a dentist to 'get all their teeth out because they were going to lose them anyway’,” said Dr. Schuster. “I remember talking to these people and saying….what is it about teeth that you think you can go without them or just let them rot and take them out. You certainly wouldn't let that happen to your fingers or your toes. Doesn't it make sense to find out what causes t his disease and control it rather than just take the teeth out?”

To prove his point, Dr. Schuster guaranteed his patients that if they participated in his Dental Fitness program they would have no new decay or gum disease. If there was, they didn't have to pay to fix it. However, the patients had to stay in the program and keep their oral health to a certain level, which Dr. Schuster’s office measured three times a year. A mere 18 months later, folks were coming in from three different states for this unique approach to oral health.

I think this is a fantastic way to look at oral health and life. However, I was surprised that a lot of my friends weren’t interested in this program. They said they avoided the dentist at all costs. And, of course, the cost was high. Dental decay and gum disease are progressive. Ignoring it only makes it worse. They would (and will) go to the dentist – when they need a root canal or some other painful malady. But until it was an emergency, they were going to live in denial.

I may have had some experience as a “responsibility dodger” as a youngster, but when it comes to oral hygiene, I made an exception. Because my mother had suffered from dental issues as a young girl, (she grew up during the Depression and even though she asked her mother for a toothbrush, they couldn’t afford it). Subsequently, she developed issues with her teeth, something that bothered her immensely. When she married and had children of her own, she vowed we would have bright smiles and strong teeth. We were poor, but she made sure we had yearly dental exams, and hovered over us to ensure we were taking care of our chompers. Dr. Leo Wirth, our family dentist, helped explain about oral hygiene, and cleaned and polished our teeth at least once a year (now I go to his son, Duane, every six months). But if I were lax and my teeth were in need of help, I knew it wasn’t the dentist’s fault – it was mine.

It really doesn’t matter whether the issue is dental health or another component in life. If we don’t accept personal responsibility for our actions, our lives will be filled with decay (both physical and spiritual). Denial and blame are not powerful agents for self improvement. Not only will this mindset make things worse, an attitude of blaming others for our problems will rob us of the power to overcome the difficulties we face. So please take these words and chew on them a while. And when you’re done, be sure to floss and brush. The world always looks brighter from behind a smile.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Write Way to Live

I recently attended the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. I stayed with my friend and fellow writer, Cindy Brown. I’ve been to writer’s conferences in Los Angeles, Santa Fe and Phoenix, but this event was truly outstanding – but not for the reasons one might suspect. I was inspired by many of my fellow writers who were attending this conference, including Cindy.

Cindy moved from Portland to Phoenix two years ago, and she was nice enough to introduce me to several of her writer friends. This was a welcome relief to me as I find it is much easier to enter unfamiliar territory if I know at least one or two people who are attending the same function.

In my interaction with Cindy’s friends, as well as several other authors that I met, I noticed the folks in the Pacific Northwest are a different breed of animal. They possess a collaborative spirit that I don’t run into in the other places I’ve lived or visited. People are happy to share notes, offer advice and sincerely wish you the best in your endeavors – even if you share the same occupation.

I enjoy this helpful attitude because I believe it’s important to live in a humanistic and compassionate manner. However, I’ve had some friends and family members chastise me for “helping the competition.” This always seemed odd advice to me. I’ve never felt life was a zero sum gain experience where there is only so much opportunity in the world and if you offer a bit of help to others that you will lose out on your share.

And while I do believe in karma, I don’t expect an equal amount of good things in direct proportion for any of my benevolent choices. Life is more complicated than that, and so is karma. If I only perform a kindness because I am looking for something in return, my intent is not generated out of compassion, it is emerging from a bartering perspective. It becomes a kind gesture in a tit for tat world and I don’t like keeping score.

My father used to tell me that if I could do a good deed for someone, and it didn’t hurt me to do so, then go ahead and do it. But he also cautioned me to not expect anything in return – not even gratitude. Kind actions are not always appreciated by the recipient. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway. So I do. It’s a lesson that has served me well. I enjoy helping others, and it has become a way of life for me.

This same credo manifested in the spirit of many of the writers and teachers I met at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. Not only did they share information they learned about how to succeed as writers, they also practiced common courtesy at a higher level than I generally experience. People consistently gave up their seats to the elderly and disabled, they opened doors for one another, they drove courteously and they seemed genuinely friendly. It wasn’t an isolated case or two of interacting respectfully, it seemed to be an inherent part of the culture.

Unless someone is a hateful grouch, my guess is everyone has been kind to others on occasion. So I am asking myself (and you too, dear reader) why not extend this type of kindness and helpfulness to more people every day?

I plan on attending the Willamette Writer’s Conference next year. I learned a great deal about marketing, publishing and writing, but one of the most important lessons was not listed in the conference guide. It was the experience of being surrounded by so many people who live by the Golden Rule. And at the risk of being redundant, do unto others as you would have them do onto you, is one important lesson that bears repeating.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let Your Spirit Fly

One of my favorite dreams is about flying. There is something powerful about defying gravity and soaring above the earth, or perching from the top of a tall building like a bird. And no, I’m not tempted to mimic our feathered friends and leave deposits on people’s windshields. This blog is about erasing negativity, not creating more nastiness.

Flying dreams make me think back to when I was a little girl. I remember someone coming to the school and giving us an inspirational talk about how we could be – or do – anything we wanted. That wasn’t entirely true We weren't allowed to chew gum or leave school early. I had tried both of those activities and got in trouble. But the future did seem to have a lot of possibilities. My friend, Laurie, decided she wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to fly. My problem is I didn’t want to fly in an airplane – too many gadgets to worry about. I just wanted to do it on my own – like Superman or Mighty Mouse.

Most of the kids took the message with a grain of salt. We were probably seven years old and already a significant number of my classmates had put a limit on what they thought they could achieve in life. Laurie’s dad was a doctor. She wanted to be a nurse. I don’t think it occurred to any of us that she could be a doctor. This was the early 1960s and female doctors were still a rarity. As far as most of my classmates were concerned, Laurie had about as much chance of being a doctor as I had of flying.

A couple years later I decided I wanted to be a writer. I had entertained the idea of a couple other careers – the first female professional baseball player, a nurse, a pediatrician, but I decided writing was an achievable dream. Fortunately, I believed I could attain this goal, and so did my mother. I took journalism classes, wrote for the school newspapers and even won a few contests. The first story I submitted to a newspaper, the Arizona Republic, was picked up. I earned a whopping $30. My first submission to the college newspaper won first place in the Rocky Mountain Community College Journalism Competition.

Then reality set in.

Everyone told me how hard it was to be published. Tales of constant rejection – even for the most famous and talented scribes - circled around my head like mosquitoes in a swamp. My idealism and optimistic mindset were severely challenged. I had occasional victories, but it was always after a difficult battle. There were times when I thought I just didn’t have what it takes to succeed as an author. Fortunately, I’m a stubborn cuss. People may have varied opinions about whether or not I have any talent, but I will only be defeated if I give up. And I have no intention of doing that.

Which brings me to my point (and yes I do have one). I still want to fly. I have a laywoman’s knowledge of how gravity works, but I’m still hopeful that someone will invent a gravity belt, or some other contraption, and I’ll shoot up into the air like Dick Tracy.

The other day I took a walk along the Sacramento River. There is a beautiful park along the river’s edge and I inhaled the scent of the trees and watched the birds. The sights, sounds and smells took me back to the nature walks I went on when I was a kid. All of a sudden, the child in me was on board. I skipped down the trail. Why is it that almost no one over 10 skips anymore? I felt more alive than I had in a long while. I watched the birds fly overhead and imagined I could join them in flight. In my mind’s eye, I could see the top of the trees and path below. My heart raced with joy.

I returned to reality and enjoyed the rest of my earth-bound hike. But those few minutes where I let my heart and mind experience flight brought me incredible joy. On the return back to the motel, I felt an exuberance I hadn’t felt in a while. Everything seemed possible again. The energy and creative thoughts that seemed unable to percolate through my system, were now flowing through me like river water tumbling over rocks.

Reality is what we make it. Was the flight I experienced imagination? Probably. Do I care? Not one bit. Perhaps my earth-bound body was on terra firma, but my spirit was flying – and I won’t let it stay grounded for too long again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Shakubuku Rock of Kindness

I read an uplifting story about how a sickly Korean woman overcame illness by helping others. Her story gave me the inspiration to use a similar tactic in my own life.
The woman began practicing Buddhism and was encouraged to tell others about the philosophy, and to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. She gathered several pebbles and placed them in her pockets. Every time she told someone about Buddhism, she removed one stone. In three months time all her stones were gone, and so was her debilitating illness.
The word for introducing others to this particular sect of Buddhism is shakubuku. Proselytizing can be an uncomfortable practice – even when an individual has experienced absolute proof that chanting works. With that in mind, I decided to experiment with a whimsical icebreaker at my next Buddhist meeting.
I purchased a number of colorful glass stones and placed them in a large, glass vase. I passed the vase around and told the members to take a few stones. They could take one, two, or a handful, but they would be using the stones at a later date.
Everyone participated. Some folks carefully selected a single stone. Others took a handful. After everyone had their rocks I told them about the story of the Korean woman. I asked each person to carry their rocks around to remind them of the importance of telling others about their Buddhist practice.
A week later, I was at a different meeting, and since I still had plenty of stones, I did the same icebreaker. One of the men, a fellow named Rich, had been at my previous meeting. He told the group that when he came home from the first meeting, he told his wife, Kathy, that he had a shakubuku rock. He was going to carry the stone with him to remind him to share Buddhism with others. Unfortunately, Rich had discovered that he never had the opportunity to have a casual conversation with anyone at work. He also knew religious discussions at work were a taboo subject.
However, the following day, a coworker discovered Rich lived close to his house and asked if they could carpool to work. Rich gave the young man a ride and they wound up discussing philosophy. This unlikely event made it possible for Rich to tell the fellow about Buddhism. Rich told the folks at the meeting that the stone was a good reminder to take the time to share Buddhism with others - especially those who are suffering.
While I believe in the importance of spreading Buddhism, I thought that the stones don’t need to be limited to only religious introductions – or shakubuku. I thought to myself that I could carry stones to remind myself to practice other good deeds as well. I try to be a thoughtful person, but it never hurts to have a little physical reminder. Since I have a habit of sticking my hands in my pockets anyway, I can use this simple act as an opportunity to nudge me in a kinder, gentler direction. The act can be as simple as a smile to a stranger, opening the door for someone, or simply a kind word.
I’m using my shakubuku rocks to create a shift in my thinking. Rather than making a mountain out of mole hill when things do not go my way, my determination is to take a mole hill of kindness and turn it into a mountain – one beautiful, glass stone at a time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Miracle of Birth

I had heard about the miracle of birth, but until recently I had not really experienced it from an observer’s perspective.

I don’t remember my own birth – but I sure heard about it from my mother. Apparently I wouldn’t turn my head the right way as I was coming down the birth canal and they couldn’t get me out of the womb. This caused my mother to endure a longer and more difficult labor. I’m not sure she ever forgave me for that.

In retrospect, I think this painful event was my first experience of getting lost. I have no sense of direction and was probably looking for an alternate route. When I’m driving I make a lot of U-turns, but when it comes to birthing down the vaginal highway, there is no turning back.

When my daughters, Alicia and Brittany, were born, I focused on getting them delivered. I was not thinking about the miracle of birth, I was thinking, “Get that baby out of there!” When Alicia’s head crowned, my husband, John, practically squealed with excitement as he said, “I can see the head.” I remember thinking (but not saying) “What the hell did you think you’d see, a choo-choo train?”

When I was in labor with Brittany things went so fast that all I could think of was whether to push, push, push or bite, bite, bite my lip.

Although both of my daughter’s births were relatively easy, and were absolutely the happiest moments of my life, it did not seem miraculous.

However, in 2007 I had the honor and privilege of witnessing the birth of my first granddaughter, Rosannah. She is my first grandchild and I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation.

When her head crowned, I felt almost an angelic presence that moved me to tears. There was some fetal distress, so Rosannah was quickly whisked away, but the moment of her birth was an overwhelmingly wondrous moment. And just so you don’t worry, she is absolutely fine now.

A mere 19 months later, my second grandchild, Briannah, was ready for her world debut. Both Alicia and I were a little nervous during the labor because the delivery was induced and almost three weeks before the due date. I did the typical praying, positive thinking and visualization to help my daughter, as well as the more practical matters such as rubbing Alicia’s feet, talking to the nurses and being my daughter’s advocate.

Soon (although not soon enough) Briannah was ready for her arrival. Alicia’s husband, Greg, held her hand, and Amy, Alicia’s doula, was by her side. Greg’s mother, Sandy, and I took up residence a few feet away from Alicia’s feet. Then it happened again. Briannah’s head crowned. Once again I felt an angel’s presence, and a feeling of wonder.

This time my granddaughter was not whisked away. She was allowed to nurse at her mother’s breast. Soon, Rosannah was brought into the room to say hello to her new sister.

Of course I was ecstatic with joy that both mother and daughter were alive and well, but I still think about that magical moment of birth. It was like no other feeling I have experienced. Did I witness the merging of a baby’s body and soul? Was I the witness of a guardian angel watching over ready to take his or her place by Briannah’s side? I’m not sure. All that I know is I experienced a miracle and I have even more appreciation for the magical wonder that we call life.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Did I Forget Today?

I am forgetful. There, I said it. My name is Sally and I’m memory impaired. There should be self-help meetings for folks like me. We could call it the Forgetful People Society. Unfortunately it would likely disband quickly. The members would forget to show up.

I can’t even blame my lapse in memory to my advancing years because I remember forgetting (is that an oxymoron?) from a very young age. I can’t tell you how many conversations in my youth went something like this:

MOM- Sally, stop squinting. Put on your glasses.
ME – I can’t remember where they are (an excuse, but it was true).
DAD – I swear you wouldn’t know where your head was if it wasn’t screwed on top of your shoulders.

To help compensate for my lack of memory, I make lists. I also tend to take the same roads when I travel, put things in the same spot (heaven forbid someone move MY cheese) and I’ve learned to rely on the kindness of strangers and ask for help when needed. There is a good side to my hazy memory. I don’t hold grudges, I forgive easily and I assume the best in folks. It is way too taxing to remember every hurt or unkind word, thought or action that may or may not have been intentionally directed at me.

However, other than the standard problems that go along with a fuzzy memory, there is one severe drawback that I’m trying very hard to correct. It’s forgetting to be grateful. There are so many wonderful things that happen every day that we take for granted. So I started a new routine. When I wake up, the first thing I do is say that I’m thankful for another day. As I become aware of my waking senses I express gratitude that I can see, hear, walk, taste and smell. As I go on throughout the tasks at hand, I try to remember how fortunate I am to have wonderful friends and family, that I have enough to eat, that I have a roof over my head etc.

When things are going great, it may be hard to think about gratitude. The old saying about “You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone” is so true. So I’ve decided I’m not going to wait. I think about several things that I am grateful for every day and take a moment to say a little thank you out loud. I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m some Pollyanna with no real problems. Not true. I’m not going to provide a litany of complaints, but I will mention one malady. I have splitting migraine headaches. I get about six of them a month and they can really set me back. When I wake up without one, I say how thankful I am for my health and that I don’t have a headache. When I do have a migraine I express my gratitude for the medication that is available to me (yeah Imitrex!)

Another example is the going-back-to-basics-gratitude stimulator. I go camping for about 3 weeks every summer. I was never a big fan of camping, but I like to travel and car camping is a very inexpensive way to visit new places. CB and I sleep in the back of our little camper on the back of our Ford F-150 pick up truck. The SMALL camper is stuffed full of things (sometimes even our pet rabbits and their cage). There are times I feel like I’m in a sardine can (and between the bunnies and the lack of a shower we all smell like stinky sardines as well!)

But I love hiking in the forest, sitting by a babbling stream, gazing at the brilliant stars in the evening sky, and taking in nature’s beauty. I’m not that fond of cooking over a fire or Coleman stove, picking dirt out of my food, fetching my own water and wondering when my next shower will be. But by the time I get home I want to sing Hallelujah to the refrigerator, stove, clean sheets, running water and flushing toilets of the world. If I didn’t spend a little time without these things I wouldn’t appreciate them so.

So in the morning and evening, and sometimes throughout the day, I try to offer an internal tribute to the little things in life, as well as the big things. My life isn’t perfect, but neither am I. And yes, I’m forgetful. But not so forgetful that I can’t remember to say thank you for a few of the many things I am grateful for.

In closing, I would encourage you to remember to feel gratitude in your life, even if it’s only a few things each day. If you must forget, than say goodbye to the little inconveniences and aggravations you experience. Let those nasty little thoughts go by the wayside before they choke off any happiness that is trying to filter through.

"Better by far that you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad." Christina Rossetti.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

You Don't Say!

I was driving down the road, fiddling with the radio and I accidentally tuned into a call-in show. A young girl had called in with a problem regarding her sexual identity. As I listened, it became increasingly evident that the host offered no meaningful advice whatsoever. However, by reflecting on her situation (and since the host was offering no useful guidance) the young woman seemed to come to grips with her situation. In retrospect, I think the radio show was a comedy routine (or I accidentally stumbled onto the campiest radio program ever broadcast).

However, it made me think of an earlier incident in my own life. I was appointed a chapter leader in the Buddhist group I belong to, and occasionally I offer guidance to members in my spiritual community. On a couple of occasions, people have told me how I had helped them. Of course, as the author of a self-help book that has been stalled in the publishing process, I sometimes need an encouraging word or two myself.

Just the other day, Barbara, a wise and funny woman I’ve known for years, called me on the phone. She told me about some difficulties she was facing. Barbara is a very optimistic and humorous woman (she is also a professional clown), so she definitely has a way of communicating that is down right engaging. She always makes me laugh. I’m not sure if I was in a receptive mood, or just really didn’t know what to say, so I listened. At the end of our conversation, Barbara told me how much I had helped her. This was ironic, because I really hadn’t said much. I just listened.

It was a very similar scenario with the radio talk show host. He hadn’t said much of anything (or at least nothing useful) but by the end of the conversation, the caller seemed to have discovered her own answer. I thought about this. I am a problem solver. That is how my brain operates. And when my mind is clicking, my tongue (with its endless stream of advice) is not far behind.

However, I have to remind myself to temper my loquacious tendency and reflect on the famous words of the Greek philosopher Epictetus. “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” While advice can be appreciated, more often than not, a friendly and sympathetic ear is valued more. While there may be exceptions, I do believe that most of us, given the time to reflect, intuitively know the answer we are seeking. We just need to take the time, and be sensitive enough, to listen to our own inner wisdom.

With that in mind, this blog entry will be short. When a friend asks for advice, take the time to listen. You may find that no words are necessary. And when you are struggling with a decision, take a few deep breaths and listen to your own inner voice. There is quote (and I’m paraphrasing) Speak less and listen more. No one learned anything worthwhile from talking. That said, I will say no more.
Until next time…


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Voggy, Voggy Night

The Big Island of Hawaii is a unique and wondrous place. There are lush, tropical forests, fiery rivers of molten lava, barren deserts, as well as beautiful pastures of verdant grass.. However, one thing that took me by surprise was something called Vog. It looks like fog, or an overcast day, but unfortunately there is more to it than that. A new vent for Kilauea opened up east of Pu 'u 'O o' , and the volcanic ash that is discharged creates a hazy atmosphere with some deleterious consequences.

The Voggy air quality is causing respiratory problems. It also creates an acid rain that fouls the water and kills off some of the plant life. For those who collect rainwater to drink, their bodies can become spoisoned and ill. Fortunately, trade winds can disperse the Vog. Even in paradise there are factors that can have a serious effect on health and happiness. In this case, it is an air and water pollution problem that is not caused by humankind. Of course this is the exception and not the rule when it comes to pollution. But I digress.

It is not my intent to diss Hawaii. I love the Hawaiian islands. The beauty of both the land and the people are unforgettable. I have lived here in the past, and I will return again and again to visit. Once my Voggy headache disappeared, it occurred to me how Vog is an example of our connectedness with nature, its creatures, and one another. Being a strong-minded woman with an individualistic spirit, the notion of how humankind and our environment are connected, was a bit of a stretch when I first heard of the concept some 20 years ago. I believe in personal responsibility and had a hard time believing that my actions, or the actions of others had a domino effect on the planet, as well as the universe. However, with our education and awareness of the effects of pollution, we know better than to think we live in a vacuum.

From a spiritual standpoint, air and water pollution help bring home the illustrative point of our connectedness and interdependence to one another. Let’s imagine the earth as a big bottle of water. Draw a circle the glass to designate the country where you live. Then make a small dot to represent you. Everything in your area is nice and clean. Now take a few drops of food coloring from the top of the bottle and add a little wind and wave action by stirring things up a bit. Before you know it, the little country you drew, and your little life, have taken on the hue of the food coloring. Whether we like it or not, we are connected and share each other’s pain and happiness.

It has always amazed me how the human body is so much a microcosm of our planet earth. Like Earth, our body is mostly water. Our blood vessels work much the same way as the rivers and streams that flow across the landscape. And when things become toxic, things get sick and die. It is as if we are cells in the living organism we call Earth. And of course Earth is like a cell within the universe. All the more reason we need to be conscious of our actions. Of course most of us are trying to reduce pollution. And while we have a long way to go, we are making some important strides for the better.

However, there is another pollution that is totally under our control, yet it continues to wreck havoc on so many of us. That pollution is the inability to forgive. How often have we dredged up a painful moment from your past and not only kept it alive and well, but even wear it as a badge of honor? I dare say that this internal pollution is akin to breathing in Vog day in and day out. We may think it’s invisible, but it colors our thoughts, speech and actions and poisons our souls. Each hurt that we cling to is like adding drops of dark, toxic, ink to our body vessel.

In my lifetime I have held onto more than my fair share of grudges. Some may have seemed justified, others probably not. But either way, my lack of forgiveness did not make me a happier, healthier person. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect. So now I forgive and forget (which is very handy since I am pretty forgetful in a general way too).

Sages, saints and coordinators of 12-step programs have preached forgiveness for years. They spread the message because it works. So let’s take a global issue and make it personal. Start by forgiving one person who wronged you. Then, move on to forgiving another. In time, the Vog will lift and just like the Jimmy Cliff song, from “I can see clearly now” you will experience the following.

Gone are the dark clouds that had me down.
It’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright., bright sun shiny day.



Monday, May 18, 2009

Hanging Things Out To Dry

In an earlier blog I wrote about having solar panels installed on the roof of my house.
Now, more than ever, I am paying attention to the appliances that are real drain suckers. The worst is the air conditioning. Well, I live in Arizona and there are some things a menopausal woman will not live without. If I could just plug my hot flashes into a power source I’d generate enough electricity to light up Las Vegas, but that alternative energy is not available yet. Bottom line is air conditioning is like chocolate – it’s a necessity that helps ensure peace on earth. At least it ensures peace where I tread.

That said, I have found that I can conserve energy in other areas. One is restricting my use of the clothes dryer. I resisted this at first. Hanging clothes on a line is not totally unfamiliar to me. This was a regular routine in the Marks household. When I was a little girl we moved from Chicago to Arizona. Part of the deal when we sold the house was to leave a few appliances behind. One of the items was the clothes dryer. My father promised my mom that he would replace the clothes dryer after he got a good job. In the meantime, my mom could hang out the laundry on the clothes line in the backyard. It took a while before dad got a decent job, but when he did, he was ready to make good on his promise. But my mom declined. She actually seemed to enjoy this household chore of hanging the clothes out to dry. To this day I can see her in my mind’s eye, bobby pins holding pin curls in place, a flowery apron (she wore it like a shirt with her bra strap showing in the back) carrying out yet another load of laundry to the clothes line.

Years later, my sister, Diane, married and moved to a neighboring city. She decided to upgrade her appliances and gave my mom her old clothes dryer. My parents had it installed in the garage. The old house was a bit unusual. It had a utility room, complete with a washer hook up, hot water heater and storage cabinets, but there was no room for a dryer. But even after the dryer was installed, I never remember mom using it. It was mostly used to store cat food. Occasionally we would ask mom when she was going to use the dryer. She said she was saving it for a rainy day – literally. If we went a week without sunshine, she would use it. I don’t think she ever did.

I, on the other hand, enjoy my creature comforts. But my environmentally-conscious spouse, CB, thinks using a clothes dryer is a horrible waste of electricity. At first, the suggestion was to take the items that take the longest to dry (towels and jeans) and find a place in the garage for them to dry. I had shirts hanging (and dropping) from hangers, jeans lopped over the wooden kayak in the garage, and socks hanging all over the place. Finally, I had it. I told CB that if I the washer woman was going to hang laundry out to dry, she needed a clothes line. And I wanted a nice retractable one, so I didn’t have to see it when it wasn’t in use.

Before I could say, Maytag, CB installed a retractable wire clothes just outside the garage. A few days later I ran a load of clothes. I wanted to throw them all in the dryer, but I thought I’d at least put a few of the heavier things out to dry. As I performed this task, a weird sensation came over me. As I hung up a towel, a shirt, a pair of jeans, I thought how it was nice to spend a couple minutes outside. I heard the birds chirp and caught a glimpse of a few fluffy clouds. As I hooked the clothes on the line, I remembered how my mom taught me to hang things up so it wouldn’t put clothes pin creases in the clothes. And, if you hung the clothes just right, you wouldn’t have to iron anything.

I also had a flashback when I was a young mother hanging out little baby shirts and dresses and socks. I used cloth diapers for my first daughter, Alicia. I always washed the diapers separately and I remember that I liked hanging out the diapers the most because you didn’t have to worry about creases or clothes pin dents. I also liked the uniform look of the little white rectangular shapes as they wafted in the breeze. It was relaxing to just pin diaper after diaper on the line and not have to worry about anything – except maybe a dust storm. Who wants dusty diapers? But that really wasn’t an issue that often. Then, a couple hours later it would be time to gather up the clothes. Sometimes I would put Alicia in the laundry basket and let the diapers fall around her. At times she would play peek a boo. Other times she would just toddle around in the grass while I hung out the sheets and other laundry.

Now, as I hang the clothes, there aren’t any diapers or baby things. I straighten out the sleeve of one of CB’s favorite shirts. It has sailboats on it. It took me years to find a sailboat shirt in the right size, but I finally did it. Next, I match the socks with one another and I think about my mom and dad who passed away. It’s been almost 50 years since they packed up the family and headed west. On more than one occasion they told us they moved from Chicago because they wanted a simpler life, away from the hustle, bustle and crime of the city. In their minds, Arizona was the perfect place to live because their children could play outside and enjoy fresh air and sunshine all year round.

I’m not a kid anymore. Unlike my youthful days, I can’t gather up the neighbors for a game of hide and go seek, or tag football. There are things to do, places to go and an ongoing list of household chores that need to be done. But when I hang out the clothes I have a few minutes where I can enjoy the sunshine, feel the breeze on my face and take in the scent of clean clothes as I hang them out to dry. I guess mom knew what she was doing after all.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Go Solar Go!

We recently had solar panels installed on the roof. Living in sunny Arizona, it seems a waste to not have the sun working for you. With the new tax incentives, my spouse, CB and I, decided to take action. As of March, we were connected to Salt River Project’s energy grid. Last month we generated enough excess electricity to receive an energy credit (we made more electricity than we used). Of course we didn’t have to use the air conditioning until a few days ago, so we may not see an energy credit until things cool down, but at least our bills will be significantly lower.

One of the interesting things about having the system is the two meters that operate like a bank account. One shows when the system is making energy (our gross). The other shows whether or not we are generating enough power on our own, or whether or not we have to rely on our backup system (our net). When we generate more than we use, there is a little dial that rotates counter clockwise. I love to go outside and see that little puppy running in reverse. I sing a little song to the tune of my high school fight song, “Go Westwood Go.”

Go solar go
The sun is bright and light is right for powering
Go solar go
Our spirits high, not gonna fry, we’re on our way.
Go solar go.
Our true blue hearts now forever green.
Onward please roooooolllll,
Oh mighty solar panels goooo, go!

Okay, maybe it’s a little corny, but it makes me laugh. And yes, I make up silly songs for a lot of things. When my children were little I had songs for encouraging them to pick up their clothes, finding the hair brush (affectionately named Brushy), getting them to eat their vegetables (especially the green ones) and not picking their noses (also green, but let’s not go there). Now that I am older, I am making up new songs for my granddaughter, Rosannah. Many are recycled songs that I made up for my kids. And yes, they do remember. And sometimes they sing along.

Interestingly enough, I attended a Buddhist meeting the other day. Via satellite, the leader of the organization, Daisako Ikeda, talked about the importance of singing. We have songs about love, peace, going into battle, soothing a cranky baby – any number of things. But for some reason, when many of us get older, we don’t sing anymore. Some would say we don’t have that much to sing about. Of course I disagree.

Singing is an interesting trigger for the emotions. It can lighten our hearts, make us laugh, and bring about a tear. Because I’m a writer, I find it fun to just make up silly lyrics. I remember one year we received a notice from our HOA to remove our weeds or face a fine. The “weeds” were actually wildflowers. CB was very distressed about the notice as we had been very excited about all the wildflowers we were going to have that spring. Each sprout was a celebration in CB’s eyes. I married a real nature lover who sees every tree, every plant and every flower as a gift.

After receiving this notice, CB and I set off for our evening stroll. As we ambled around our neighborhood I made up a silly song that started out something like, “Don’t be a stooping to diss our lupin…” As we walked, we made up additional puns and lyrics about not “picking” on us or our wildflowers. Not all of our lyrics were charitable, but it certainly created a shift in our moods. Before long, we were laughing hysterically. Now mind you, I did not send our song, or sing it, to the Home Owner’s Association. But we eventually had a dialogue with the HOA representative and the matter has been settled amicably.

That was three years ago. Now, during the spring time, our house is known as the “lupin house.” Many neighbors tell us they enjoy the natural beauty of the wildflowers that mirror the County park behind our development. Our lupin song will never be nominated for a Grammy. I doubt anyone will ever ask me to sing a tune (except maybe my grandkids). But, a heart filled with song can go a long way in lifting one’s spirits. And that alone, is worth singing about.