Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Inspiration

This weekend I was given a recently released children’s book about the life of Bertha Holt, the co-founder of our adoption agency. The book, “Grandma”: The Life of Bertha Holt, was written and illustrated by 4th and 5th grade classes at the Bertha Holt Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon. I already knew Grandma Holt’s story, but, as I read the book, I found myself looking at her story a bit differently with my almost-fifty-year-old eyes. Grandma Holt was the mother of six children in the mid-1950s when she and her husband revolutionized international adoption by adopting eight Korean war orphans and establishing the adoption agency that went on to become Holt International Children’s Services.

I, too, have six children but I know that we will not be adopting any more children and certainly not eight more. I admire Grandma Holt for taking on that challenge, but what really struck me as I read through the new book is that when these children joined her family, Grandma was 51 years old – just a little more than a year older than I am now. I am overwhelmed at the thought of someone taking on that sort of parenting responsibility at my age! However, even more amazing is all the additional feats Bertha Holt went on to accomplish – all after her 50th birthday: She worked with her husband, Harry to establish an international adoption agency. She moved to S. Korea for two years to help her husband build a childcare center. After Harry Holt’s death in 1964 she became the voice and backbone of the agency; she was known to thousands of children as Grandma. Again, all after her 50th birthday! Bertha Holt also travelled the world, received numerous awards and honors and, as if that weren’t enough, she took up jogging in her 70s! She continued running regularly until just before her death at the age of 96. In fact, my first memory of Grandma was at a Holt fundraising auction. Grandma was asked to come up on the stage to receive a birthday gift for her 90th birthday. I was amazed at this old woman who seemed to bounce up the steps to the stage – I was even more amazed when, after opening her gift of a new pair of Nike running shoes, she jumped up and down with delight.

Reading Bertha Holt’s story with a new perspective, gives me a renewed sense of hope and anticipation for what I still might do, what I still might become. As we approach fifty, I think we worry about what is ending – youth, reproductive years, beauty, usefulness. But, no! Fifty may be a symbolic ending to some aspects of adult life, but it can be an even stronger symbolic beginning of what we still have left to accomplish.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What's Your Story?

I’ve started an on-line class called Awakening Joy and, in conjunction with the class, am reading a book, How We Choose to be Happy. When I told my husband that I was going to do this he chuckled and said, “You with more joy? Is that possible?” This past weekend I started reading through the course material and the book and, while it’s true that I already am inclined toward many of the basic concepts presented, I also see that I can do even more to proactively bring joy into my life. The first few points of both the book and class suggest making an intentional decision to be happy. The idea is the pretty popular point, which I believe and utilize, that it’s not so much what happens to us that matters, but how we deal with what life hands us that makes a difference. One of the stories presented in the book was about a woman who tells herself a story every morning of what her day will be like – a positive story that she says helps keep her on track attitudinally as she goes through her day. I like this idea. So this morning, before I got out of bed, I silently told myself a little story about how my day was going to go. I acknowledged that it was going to be a busy day with many varied errands and tasks that need to be completed, but that I would be able to fly through the day with a positive attitude. I prioritized what needs to be done today, I allowed for time for myself (I’m taking it right now as I write) and in my story I maintained a happy demeanor throughout the day. I’m already off-track, having spent unplanned for time discussing a book and movie with my oldest son, but taking the time to talk with him is definitely a positive, so I’ll just adjust my plans a bit in order to acknowledge that it was time well-spent and that another, more mundane task can simply wait for another day – no need to stress about it. I like that my story not only helped me plan what I will do today, but also how I will feel as I go through my day. What story did you write for yourself today?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Perspective

I’ve been trying to figure out the reason behind this new sense of calm I feel. It’s not that this sense has come over me in just the last few weeks; it’s been building for years. It’s just that now it is at a point where it is very real to me. What I’ve come up with is that the calm stems from a changed sense of perspective. I think that, as we go through life, as we experience the ups and downs, the dreams and realities, we gain a sense of perspective about what matters. It’s not just a clearer picture of what is really important in our lives, it’s also a better understanding of one of the truths of life – that we live our lives making choices, some good, some bad, and, obviously, those choices chart the direction of our lives, but few choices are entirely irreversible. Having a child is pretty much an irreversible choice and that also puts constraints on future choices, but most choices are not irreversible. I think my new sense of calm is from an understanding that how I spend my day today does not have to define what I do with my day tomorrow. I’ve gained the perspective that there are always doors that can be opened, that new possibilities always exist – regardless of the status quo, regardless of expectations, and, especially, regardless of age. It’s freeing!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Expand Your Heart

I love Valentine’s Day! It’s the epitome of all that bursts from within me all year long. But I think Valentine’s Day has become too limited in its application. Sure, there’s Cupid with his arrow – a sign of romantic love, but there’s also the heart – a sign of all the love we feel. In our family, Valentine’s Day is not only a time for my husband and me to focus on telling each other how we feel, but also to let our children know how we feel about them. This year, as I watched our children preparing their school Valentine’s Day cards, I remembered what it was like to give my elementary school friends a special card – not a romantic card, just a ‘because you are my friend’ card. I think it would be nice to expand the idea behind Valentine’s Day so that all of us, not just the school children, look at it as a time to say, “Thank you; I care about you,” to our special friends, to people who have touched our hearts; to acknowledge the value of our friends, just as we acknowledge the value of romantic love. After all, having friends is a pretty special way to expand our hearts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Six-Word Memoir

There is a website, smithmag.net, which features people’s six-word memoirs. At first thought, this might seem silly, even a little commercial; they are, after all, being compensated by the site’s advertisers and their book, which was released last week, will earn them some money, but a six-word memoir is really a thought provoking idea. How do you sum up your life in just six words – what defines you? One of my favorites from the website is by someone named Andie Grace. Her memoir reads, “Wasn’t born a redhead; fixed that.” I like that; I always thought I should have been born with red hair. I tried adding some red to my hair a couple of times, but it just didn’t work. So, I’ve been thinking about my own six word memoir and I’ve come up with a few:

“Always good to the last drop.” This reference to the Folgers coffee slogan ties in the good, honest person I am at my core, with my love of, some call it an addiction to, coffee.

“Always looking for the bright side.” Again, at my core, I’m a positive person. I’ve often wondered if this is innate or if it’s something I’ve learned along the way – that question could be the topic of an entire blog entry.

“Try not to piss her off.” Let’s just say I have a bit of a temper (see my February 1st entry).

And my personal favorite: “Her highness, the Queen of Debbieland.” That really says it all. I was adored by my parents and now by my husband. I preside over this crazy household of people and animals. I’m good at what I do and usually consider my way to be the right way. I’m a benevolent Queen, always taking care of my subjects.

Spend a few minutes today thinking about and coming up with your six-word memoir. It's a good mental exercise.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Spoon Full of Sugar

Yesterday my husband and I went on Portland’s 16-mile Worst Day of the Year bike ride. We signed up at the encouragement of one of our best friends. She got us to agree to go, our son and his fiancĂ© joined us and she even got her husband to sign up (at first he thought it would be better to meet us at the pub afterwards). I’m not much of a bike rider. I’ve only done two other rides and they weren’t enough to convince me that I should seriously take up cycling (that’s actually the preferred term, not bike riding). But I thought this sounded like fun and it’s always great to have an excuse to get together with our friends since both families are very busy and time together is hard to schedule. I was up for the ride…until Saturday night. Then I started hemming and hawing. I wished we hadn’t signed up. I just wanted to sleep in and have a lazy day in my pajamas. But, the others were all counting on me, so I went and, as you have probably guessed, I had a great time. It’s that darn PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) thing again. Put on a happy face, give it a “can-do” try and good things just might happen. Yesterday was so good, in fact, that we’re now listening to our friend’s encouragement about going on a 55 mile bike ride in May! I think I may need to take a dose of Mary Poppins’ spoon full of sugar to maintain my PMA for that one.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

An Ideal World

One of the reasons I love Disneyland is that, when I’m there, I feel as if I’m in an environment that portrays the way the world should be. It’s clean. It’s wholesome. There’s a focus on family, with just the right mix of education combined with fun. Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world looked and felt like Disneyland’s Main Street, USA?

This morning, hundreds of miles from Disneyland, I experienced what the world REALLY should be like. I attended the Bat Mitzvah of a very special friend of ours. It was my first Jewish ceremony and I was intrigued by the traditions, the language and the ceremony itself. But, most of all, I was amazed at the diverse group of people who came together today to watch one thirteen-year-old girl go through the ritual to become a young woman. There were, of course, many Jewish people from our friend’s congregation, but there were also people of many other religions and some with no religious background. We all joined in the celebration; we reveled at, and learned about, the many traditions that are part of such a ceremony. For me, personally, I love learning about a different culture; I love understanding the tradition, the beliefs. I was so pleased to see the respect and tolerance throughout the group. This morning I didn’t need Disneyland to see what our world can really be like. This morning I was part of a group of people who exhibited mutual respect and understanding, a diverse group who came together to support one young person. Now, isn’t that the way the world really should be?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Blog Block

I like “watching” my day, coming up with an idea, thinking about it, seeing where it takes me and then writing about it. Over the last several days I’ve been suffering from Blog Block. It’s not a case of nothing to think and write about, but rather a case of way too much running through my head. At the same time that I’m reading about the benefits of meditation and once again committing to make time to meditate, I’m running through my day with a To-Do list too long for three days – and the meditation never happens.

I’ve noticed that this run, run, running scenario is almost a constant for me (and I’m sure for many other people reading this). I get too busy and have too many things to do, but I tell myself that I just need to get through this holiday, finish this project, get past this deadline and then things will calm down and I can get to all of those other non-priority items on my list. The problem is, once the holiday or deadline has passed or the project has been finished, there’s always another holiday, project or deadline that takes its spot at the top of my To-Do list.

I listened to a book on tape earlier this week that had an entire section on stress and its negative effect on our bodies. I do so many things to keep myself healthy: I try to eat well, I exercise almost every day, I nurture relationships, but like many people, I live in an almost constant state of elevated stress. Sure, I can stop myself during the day and take a few deep breathes, feeling the tension tingle my toes and fingers as it leaves my body, but while those few seconds feel wonderful, they are not enough to give me the overall sense of calm that I think is necessary for optimal health and happiness. As I try to figure out ways to make that calm a more focal part of my day, I realize that the act of sitting here writing has not only exercised my mind, but has calmed my soul. Perhaps, just like the downward spiral of a dieter who eats too much because she feels bad and then feels bad because she ate too much and then again eats too much because she feels bad, I’ve been on the same type of spiral without realizing it. I’ve had Blog Block because there’s too much to do, too much running through my brain, so I don’t write and then more stuff gets added to my list and I have more to do, so, again, I don’t write. I guess that writing doesn’t actually erase items from my list, but it does help clear my mind a bit and makes the list feel easier to tackle. Perhaps the lesson here is that, in the overall time constraints of a day, it’s worth making myself take the time to sit down and do this that I love in order to prepare myself for a happier and more productive day overall. Blog Block, be gone!


Note: My friend Barbara sent me this little "thought for the day": After we turn 50, it's not how old we are, but how we feel that counts. I feel good!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Calm, Temper & Humility

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found a new sense of calm. That’s not to say that I don’t still get emotional or lose my temper, but I’ve found that it’s easier to just let problems and irritations roll off my shoulders. For example, I used to get totally involved with sporting events. Back in the 80’s when The Blazers were making a run at the playoffs, I remember sitting in front of the TV on my knees hoping that my behavior would somehow help the team to win. When they didn’t, it was devastating! I moped for days. I also used to be really diligent about writing complaint letters when I felt the service I had received was less than expected. I still watch sporting events and I still like to see my team win, but when they don’t, well, I just look forward to the next game or the next season. I also still write a complaint letter now and then, but normally I stop and ask myself if going to the trouble will really make me feel better or will doing so just increase my irritation. I’ve also started writing compliment letters to let managers know about exceptional service received.

Since I’ve come to acknowledge this new sense of calm, I’ve been walking around feeling a little bit haughty; like, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m calm.’ Then, out of nowhere, something comes up that just sends me over the edge and I find myself right back in that emotional, temper mode. That’s what happened Wednesday as I was preparing to leave the house to pick up our cousins who were flying in from Australia. I had told the kids that I wouldn’t be home when they arrived from school, but that I wouldn’t be very late as long as the plane was on time. Then, just as I was flying around the house picking up keys and cell phone, the telephone rang. It was my ten-year-old son calling to say that he’d heard that the school buses were going to be on snow routes that afternoon. That meant that the children would have to be picked up by a parent about a mile-and-a-half from our house. True, the buses had been on snow routes that morning, but there was no longer any snow on the ground and on the last two snow route days the buses had dropped them off at home. My son was worried about whether or not he should get on the bus, about whether or not anyone would be at the snow route stop to pick him up. I called the bus company to confirm what was happening and was told this was “district policy”, even though it hadn’t been followed the last two times. I started calling all three schools to tell them to have my children stay at school until I could find someone to pick them up. At the first school I called, the kids had already gotten on the bus so I had to ask them to get them off. This was my first call after being told this practice, that hadn’t previously been followed, was “district policy”. I was completely flustered and irritated and, much to my shame, I took it out on the woman I spoke to at the first school. I started off by saying, “I know this isn’t your fault,” but that does not excuse the anger I directed at her.

After I had figured out how to get everyone home and I was in my car rushing to the airport, I took a deep breath and wondered where my sense of calm had gone. How had I let one little incident raise my blood pressure, and my voice, in that manner? I felt humbled.

Today I called the school to apologize to the woman who’d taken my call. I explained that we have regular problems with the school bus service on our route, that the “policy” hadn’t been followed in the past and that the adherence to it took me by surprise. But mostly, I just said, “I’m sorry.” I tell my children that, while it’s nice to say you’re sorry, the words don’t take away the negative action. Being willing to say you’re sorry doesn’t make it okay to do something wrong in the first place. I now realize more clearly than ever that, regardless of our age, there’s still so much to learn, so many ways to improve ourselves. I will continue to enjoy my new sense of calm, but I’ll also remember to think about letting irritants roll off my shoulders, to hold my tongue, to take a deep breath and relax.

Paul & Joanne - A Follow-up Story

A friend sent me this story about Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward: While appearing on a talk show a number of years ago, they were discussing how they had managed to stay married for so many years. Joanne Woodward gave an example of a problem in their marriage. It turns out Paul Newman likes to eat grapefruit in the shower – go figure! Anyway, every day he would leave his grapefruit rind on the shelf in the shower. It drove Joanne crazy! Finally, in order to solve the problem, she had a garbage disposal installed in their shower drain. After that, Paul just put his rind down the drain and no more problem. Her point: instead of trying to change or “fix” the person, just fix the problem. Not bad advice!