Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thank You Veterans!

It is Memorial Day Weekend. I know this is a special holiday to honor the men and women in the Armed Forces who died while serving their country. Of course it is important to honor all veterans, living or dead, who have sacrificed so much to ensure our freedom.

My father was a veteran in World War II. Dad wanted to fly airplanes and was in the middle of his aviation training when it was discovered he had polyps in his nose. The Army Air Corp gave him a choice. He could forgo flight school and pursue other military training, or he could have the polyps surgically removed. He chose the latter.

Unfortunately he developed a staph infection from the surgery and spent the rest of the war (three years) in the hospital. The infection spread throughout his face. The Army doctors tried a variety of treatments, mostly surgery. When all was said and done, they moved part of his skull, inserted a specially-designed metal plate in his head, removed cartilage from his nose and made long incisions in his face.

Penicillin was an experimental drug at the time. My father was one of the first to receive the antibiotic. It worked. The infection subsided. My dad lived to tell the tale. And believe me, he did tell the story – over and over again. He talked about the doctor, the price tag for the metal plate in his head (thousands of dollars, but I don’t recall the actual figure) and his never-ending bouts with the nurses.

What my father never spoke of was the psychological after effects of his scarred face. He had been a handsome man. When his sisters showed their friends his pre-surgery photo in his cadet uniform, they swooned and commented on how he looked like the actor Errol Flynn. Although he never said so, my father’s direction in life changed after the war. He was a brilliant man who had talked about attending law school. He never manifested that dream. He went to work managing a tavern in Chicago with his older brothers. His stepfather became ill and could no longer work. My dad and his brother, Irv, (perhaps other brothers as well) gave their earnings to support their mother and younger sisters.

We always suspected that Dad was ashamed of his appearance. It was one thing to work in a dark tavern and quite another to butt heads with sharp and caustic legal eagles in law school. Dad talked – a lot, but never about his fate. He should have died, but he didn’t. Even decades later when he battled Alzheimer’s disease, my father’s desire to live was extremely strong.

He told me (and anyone else who would listen) about a vision, or drug-induced dream he had while undergoing one of the risky surgeries he endured as a soldier. The visage of a strict, old man came to him. He challenged my father to beg for his life. My father refused. The stern man (who dad assumed was the ghost of his own deceased father and not God) confronted him again.

“Why should I let you live?” the voice demanded.

“I am not afraid to die,” dad answered. “My only regret is that I never married or had children. If I did, I know I would be a good husband and father.”

My father awoke from the anesthesia and later recovered. His long-time girlfriend, Shirley, broke off their engagement. I’m not sure if it had to with my dad’s appearance or not, but it seems that it probably played a role in her decision.

In spite of his disfigurement, my dad was undeterred that he would meet the woman of his dreams. Three years after being discharged from the Army, he met a beautiful woman named Peggy. She was a young divorcee with a small, tow-headed toddler named Denny. Dad fell in love with the woman who would later become my mother. More importantly (at least for my mother) he equally fell in love with little Dennis the Menace.

My mother had many suitors, but she later confided that only my father seemed sincere in his love of her only child. Mom and dad married and dad adopted my brother. The three of them are happily captured for eternity in their professional wedding photo. Years later four more children followed: Diane, me, Terry and Tina.

There were times when our family struggled financially. However, I never once doubted the love and devotion of my parents. We were literally their dream come true.

My father passed away in 1996 at the age of 79. He lost his handsome face, his innocence and eventually his keen mind to Alzheimer’s disease. But he left behind a devoted wife (who passed away in 2000) and five children who loved him dearly.
My dad’s sacrifice is just one small tale. Brave men and women continue to suffer and even die in their valiant quest to ensure our freedom. And for two days a year, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, we are asked to remember and honor them.

We all have demanding lives, but we should never be so busy that we cannot express our gratitude to those who have sacrificed so much so that we can be free. To all the veterans out there, I salute you. Please come home safely and enjoy the freedom that you have fought so hard to maintain.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Million Dollar Thinking Even When Your Wallet is Empty

I learned a valuable lesson from my three-year-old granddaughter, Rosannah, the other day. My daughter, Alicia, was trying to fix my laptop and it was taking longer than suspected. Why this should be a surprise I don’t know. Do computer problems ever resolve quicker than you expect?

Anyway, rather than sit by my daughter’s side and watch all the technical messages, endless restarts and tapping of F-12 on the keyboard take hold, I decided to take Rosannah to the store. I had planned on taking her younger sister, Briannah, as well, but she was taking a nap. However, I was pleased that Rosannah cared enough about her sister to remind me to include her in our little excursion. The nap took precedence over the outing, but at least Rosannah was thinking of her younger sibling, which is more than I can say about my attitude about my siblings when I was her age.

I’m not going to go into details about what a ratfink I was as a child. If I ever become famous and my brothers and sisters want to write a “Sister Dearest” expose, I don’t want to encroach on their material. But let it be said I was not an ideal sibling. I irritated my oldest brother, Dennis; sold peaks at my older sister, Diane’s diary to her friend, Linda; talked my brother Terry into several misadventures and I forced my little sister, Tina, to recite my attributes based on current lyrics from Hubcap and the Wheels songs. I would sing, “Let’s really hear it for…” then Tina would pipe up, “Sally. She’s worth a million!”
I’ve never outgrown my enjoyment of conditioned-response praise. My daughters, Alicia and Brittany were trained to tell everyone I was 21, even when I was well into my 40s. Both of my grandkids will say “Grandma!” when I ask who is the greatest. Rosannah will exclaim “millions!” when asked how many books grandma is going to sell. I’m not sure how long I will be able to elicit these responses, but I’m going to go for it as long as I can – or until there is another generation of relatives I can persuade.

Anyway, Rosannah and I trotted off to the store. The little tyke, unlike her mother, loves to shop. We stopped at the vitamin store where this ole grandma purchased digestive enzymes. I know, I’m starting to sound like an old fart, but better to sound like an old fart than smell like one. So, in the best interest of my gut and the people around me, I take the digestive enzymes. Rosannah suggested I take the dinosaur vitamins like she takes. She seemed genuinely sad when I told her they didn’t make dinosaur vitamins for grownups. Sigh.
The toddler behaved like a champ, so I decided to make an unplanned trip to Target. I was hoping to find a reasonably priced piggy bank so the girls can learn how to save money. Rosannah has an old wallet of mine and sometimes I give her small change to carry. She likes holding this wallet and having her own money - even if it is only 12 cents and she usually loses it in minutes.

Rosannah was attracted to the Hello Kitty shirts, but I pointed out how the best place to shop is the clearance rack that is a little off the beaten track. Rosannah quickly found a floral-print dress. It is not a style I would ever pick, but she seemed convinced that it would be the perfect addition to her wardrobe. I pointed out a stripped t-shirt that was only $2.86. Rosannah said that the shirt would be a fine gift for Briannah, but the dress was definitely a good choice for her. She didn’t whine or carry on. She just seemed so sure of herself that I had to concede. Besides, the dress was only $5.99 and it DID look cute on her.
We went to check out and Rosannah was going to show the cashier her money. When she opened it, her wallet was empty. No doubt the 12 cents was lost in the parking lot. The cashier joked that his wallet looked that way too. Grandma used her credit card, made her $8 purchase and the cashier gave Rosannah a sticker for being such a good girl. After the prompted “thank you” Rosannah asked for another sticker for her sister. The cashier (and the shoppers in the line behind us) were impressed that a little tyke would be so considerate of her little sister.

Whether it is a sticker, a t-shirt, or going on a trip with grandma to the store, I was impressed how my little granddaughter is so quick to think of the needs of someone else. She doesn’t put the needs of others before her (a big problem with a lot of women I know) but she does consider the merits of considering the needs of others.

In my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, there is one chapter on developing compassion and several chapters on how we need to learn how to erase the abuse we direct at ourselves. The average person has 40,000 to 65,000 thoughts a day and a whopping 95% of those thoughts are negative. We may not be able to control others (although we will keep trying to do it anyway) but we CAN control ourselves.

So in conclusion, let’s try to be generous toward ourselves and others. A kind word, a smile and a compassionate act can go a long way toward paving a happier future for ourselves and others. Do it today and you’ll find you’ll feel like a million, even if you don’t have a penny in your wallet.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Expect the Best

This month I have a guest post. Vanessa had written a comment for last month's blog, but I thought it had the legs to warrant a special post. So hear you have it, the first guest post for the Erase Negativity blog from valued friend and blog reader, Vanessa Girardi.

Last Tue 4/26 on my way home after league, 11pm+, the squealing from under the hood of my car was louder than normal. Upon entering the highway it abruptly stopped and the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree.

The car still responded to the accelerator and brakes so I kept going, it got me home, although during the trip I learned what a difference power steering makes, because I now have none.

I wasn't overly concerned, in fact I was amused because I had already made an appointment to have my 20 year old Mazda in for "whatever it could possibly need" to last another 50K miles, and if you could do something about the squealing I'd been living with for many miles now, so much the better. So I was amused the car "knew" it was going to the mechanics the next day.

Friday 4/29 I had a neighbor swing me by the mechanics to touch base. Knowing I had given him carte' blanche, sometimes it's easier for them to show you what they're finding and decide together to keep going or skip over that or ????

Well the mechanic comes in. . hands me the Mazda key shaking his head "no". . it's not worth fixing. That wasn't simply the drivebelt that broke, but a pulley had broken off the engine and would require thousands of dollars in repair on a 20 year old car with 167K miles on it.

He didn't charge me a dime for his time or energy in getting to that realization. Me and neighbor limped the car home. . . with a push from the neighbor at the final turn which enabled me to coast it into it's final resting place.

Determined to find a $5000 wonder with less than 100K miles on it I hit the internet hard. Craigslist, AutoTrader, Edmonds . . . I ran the gammut.

Sunday afternoon I come across an ad for a 1999 Mazda Protege (the one that died was a 1992 Mazda Protege) with 36,000 ORIGINAL miles on it!!!! Mechanically speaking that's like a 3 year old car! For. . . . . $4850.

Made all the arrangements and headed out there today. Now this doesn't mean it will go without snags. . . the license plates on the 92 Mazda had to come off. . . I had put a "locking nut" on each plate which requires a special socket to remove. You think I could find that thing from ohhhhhh 7 years or more ago. . .NO!!!! So I had to cut the old plates off the 92 Mazda!

Neighbor hauls me out 20+miles to inspect this 99 Mazda. It looks clean. . . the rubber on the clutch, brake and gas pedal do not betray the odometer. The seat, same, no betrayal of the 36,000 miles on a 12 year old car.

The "story" behind ownership and how these people whose native language is Farsi, acquired the 99 Mazda and why they're selling it did not set squarely with me, but that was the people, not the car. The car DID seem like the gem I had set out to find. There were a couple of concerns, but nothing notably egregious. I offered them $4500, they accepted and the car is now at the mechanics getting "whatever it may need" to last another 50K miles trouble-free.

Through all this I consistently kept my eye on the blessings:

* The 92 Mazda got me home in the late hours of the night, when by all rights it should NOT have!

* I had (HAD) $5000 in savings to throw at this problem.
* I have a good job, which I should be doing at this very moment, but instead I'm writting this.
* I have a trustworthy mechanic I can rely on.
* I have a neighbor who, like me, works from home and can blow 4 hrs to run me out 20+ miles, to the mechanics and home.
* Ultimately I have my health.

The kicker, on that Friday when I got the news of the '92 Mazda. . . . crossed paths with a neighbor who was walking her dog. Just BS'ing. . .she's probably about 10 years older than me. . . she's discovered the cancer she thought she licked 10 years ago is back, and infiltrated two additional areas in her body.

I don't know HOW a person musters the strength to address something like THAT upon waking each day.

Mind you, this car fiasco, has taken it's toll. . . . it really does come down to a form of strength that is somewhat diminished after each "battle". I call it mettle fatigue, and I feel it. It's taken ALOT of strength to get where I am now, and just because I'm "here" and have had a chance to restore myself to some degree, it never fully comes back.
So, the flood in 2008 or my partner's cancer in 2009 and even having to unexpectedly replace my car here in 2011. . . . each of these out of the ordinary occurances take their toll.

When a person says they're tired, it's mettle fatigue.

Knowing that 98% of the people you encounter are dealing with "something" other than their daily obligations should enable each of us to be a little kinder, gentler and more patient with the person who cut you off or whatever. They may very well be doing the best they can. Life doesn't come with a pause button so you can take care of the out of the ordinary and then come back to the regular programing, you're expected to do it all whenever it hits.

Through it all though. . . it will always serve you to think, imagine and expect the best without attachment to the outcome because YOU"RE not in a position to know what's best.

When I left my mechanics on that fateful Friday I had muttered aloud, well lemme find another $5000 wonder with less than 100K miles on it. . . he laughed. He was like GOOD LUCK! So today. . . when I brought in my $4500 wonder with 36K miles on it. . . he was absolutely flabergasted.

All along I counted my blessings, continued to be generous of spirit. That Friday at the mechanics when he didn't charge me for the news/diagnosis. It was 11:30am. . . I got home, barely, and called in a couple of large pizza's to be delivered to his shop with sodas.

Who knows the mechanic may have a new customer in the person at Pizza Hut who heard the whole story.

If nothing else, you can be assured there is good in this world because you put it there yourself!

Think, imagine and expect the best and the good in life. While you're at, it put more good out there so you're assured there is indeed good in the world because you put it there yourself so you know it's there!

Vanessa Girardi

Monday, May 2, 2011

Victim or Victorious?

I was recently at a Buddhist meeting where George Nakamura quoted a story from Daisaku Ikeda. In this story, Ikeda asked the audience to imagine their biggest dream or heart’s desire was within reach. However, there was a catch. Separating them from their heart's desire was a big river. To make matters worse, there was no bridge, no boat and the dreamer (you) can’t swim. What do you do?

Many of us believe we can just imagine, or pray that the river dries up or changes course. However, how often does that work? Another option is to give up or complain about the situation. It’s a common practice, but does it ever improve the outcome? Ikeda said the answer was you either learn how to build a bridge, learn how to build a boat or learn how to swim.

In our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, there is the story about Chloe, a talented and intelligent physician who stopped short of her goals due to her victim mentality.

A person with this mindset fails to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, they blame others for their circumstances. The victim’s list of who to blame is as diverse as the population itself. Common culprits are: race; religion; society; parents; a bad economy; inferior genetics and an unhappy childhood. This mindset is as dangerous as a double-edged sword. The victim not only feels negative about their current situation, they feel powerless to change it. To make matters worse, they also develop an expectation that things will continue to go wrong. You often hear them whine, “bad things always happen to me.” With this expectation of failure and defeat, they actually draw more negative influences into their lives. Coupled with their passive mindset that “nothing will ever change,” they become hapless bystanders in their own lives. It’s as if their life is a car and they hand over the keys for someone else to drive it.

A significant factor in overcoming a victim mentality is to take responsibility for your actions and circumstances. While it may seem difficult at first, in time it is actually empowering. In one mindset you are at the mercy of others. When you take responsibility for your thoughts, actions and environment, you possess the power to change things for the better. While you cannot control all of your circumstances, you can, control your reaction.

Here are a few tips on how to overcome this debilitating mindset:

•Don’t blame others for your problems.
Lose the victim mentality and take responsibility for your life – bumps and all. Life is not something that is handed to you, it is something you create. Adopt a proactive approach that shifts from “What can I get?” to “What can I contribute?” Next time you find yourself wanting to point a blaming finger at someone else, take note of your hand. While your finger and thumb may be pointing at someone else, three fingers are pointed right back at you!

•Align yourself with people, situations or organizations that can help put you on a successful path.
Ask yourself, “What am I focusing on?” If it’s not positive, redirect your thoughts.
Focusing on negative thoughts and situations is like counting your neighbor’s money. Sure, you can do it (if they allow it) but what good will come of it? It’s not going to increase your bank account one bit, no matter how much time you put into it.

•Take responsibility and find ways to succeed.

If people put more energy into solving problems instead of whining about them, all of our lives would be easier. When Thomas Alva Edison was experimenting with the correct filament for his light bulb, he was unsuccessful more than 1,000 times. Rather than becoming discouraged he is quoted as saying, “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb”. What an enlightened concept!


Victims are often shackled by their inability, or unwillingness, to forgive others or themselves. Harboring resentments, even those that seem justified, do not help the situation. In fact, it makes it worse. Corrie Ten Boom said, "Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.” We cannot change the past. Forgive others, or yourself, and move on. Your heart will be lighter and you will be able to pursue happier endeavors.

Remember you can learn how to take the necessary actions to build your happiness, or simply let it crumble away. Either way, the choice is yours.