Thursday, December 25, 2008

A baby changes everything

Faith Hill has released a new Christmas album. In addition to traditional Christmas music, she's added a new treasure. She recorded this song recently written by friends of hers. It's my Christmas greeting to you.....

Teenage girl, much too young
Unprepared for what’s to come
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything

Not a ring
On her hand
All her dreams and all her plans
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything

The man she loves she’s never touched
How will she keep his trust
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything

And she cries, oh she cries

She has to leave, go far away
Heaven knows she can’t stay
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything

She can feel it’s coming soon
There’s no place, there’s no room
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything

And she cries and she cries O she cries

Shepherds all gather 'round (Shepherds all they gather 'round)
Up above the star shines down (Star shines down)
A baby changes everything
A baby changes everything

Choir of Angels say
Glory to the newborn king
A baby changes everything, everything, everything, every day
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah....

My whole life is turned around
I was lost and now I’m found
A baby changes everything

Songwriters: Nichols, James Timothy; Wiseman, Craig Michael; Wiseman, Kim
Recorded and performed by: Faith Hill

Photo: Evilin @ (Image #3211472)

Saturday, December 13, 2008


"Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others." Barbara Bush

I'm getting practical here! Our house is in escrow so I'm evaluating what to pack, what to give away and what to throw away. I've always enjoyed giving but it's been an especially interesting adventure this time around.

I discovered a thrift shop in my town that is connected with a nursing home home run by nuns. This organization sells their donations and uses the income to help enhance the facility. When I would take things to the women who work in the shop I'd wonder "Is this going to get thrown out? Will they really want this?" Apparently, they do. My junk is a treasure for them and brings more smiles and money for them than what I'd ever get at a garage sale. That's a great feeling.

Giving is a focus in this season of celebration. It's all over the media. People giving their time, money, love, possessions, and skills to come to the aid of others. Wouldn't it be great if we always had the "giving" mentality!

Photo: istockphoto
Copyright: Anne Clark/bloodstone

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mired in Materialism

I feel like I'm in the middle of this maze trying to find my way out to the wide open spaces where I can breathe deeply again. The maze in my life right now consists of all my earthly possessions. After 32 years in this home we are moving. My husband and I realized the other day that this is the first time we've actually moved a typical sized household. When we originally bought this home we were young marrieds with very little materially to our name. I wish I could say that's still true. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm thankful for the things surrounding me. But I realize I don't really need half of it. And now that we are actually packing, alot of it needs to go. Trying to decide what to keep and what to get rid of is no easy task.

There are things that are difficult to throw out like birthday cards sent a few years ago by my step-mom who has dementia and is now in a care facility. She wrote so eloquently on each card. Or how about the glass plates my mom used when entertaining her friends for lunch in the 50's. The memories associated with my mom using these plates are really vivid. But some of the plates are chipped and I don't use them myself. I now know why people were much slimmer in the 50's. When you went to lunch, you actually ate off an 8 inch lunch-sized plate. Portion control was no problem then.

Then there are the gifts my children made in pre-school like handprints on potholders or Mother's Day cards they made just for me. I think I'll be keeping those. I won't even count the number of CD's we have! Now with ipods, do we really need all these? And how many do we still listen to? Our local library takes donations. Thank goodness!

I keep wondering what would have happened had I not periodically cleaned out closets. At least I went through and got rid of clothes, books, etc. that I didn't need anymore on a fairly regular basis. You hear about people who never throw anything away. A friend of mine actually had to clean out a relative's home who never threw anything away. My friend found a note written by my mother in the 40's...something very insignificant, but this homeowner had saved it along with hundreds of other pieces of paper. I can't imagine having the job of cleaning out a home like that.

My friend, Anne Bauman, a Professional Organizer, reminds me there is a mindset one should have when realizing you need to radically downsize possessions. She says she encourages people to remember they got some use out of the item they are parting with and now someone else will love it and use it too. Somehow it doesn't seem wasteful if you are passing it on to someone else for their benefit.

There is something very freeing about not owning too many things. I'm realizing that in some cases the memories mean more to me than the object. "That was a great book. I remember how much I enjoyed it." Will I read it again? Probably not. I'm feeling the load lightening each day.

Photo: Alexander Rivosh/

Friday, November 21, 2008

Living Beyond Our Circumstances

Our thoughts can swim in two extreme pools, one is fear and the other is gratefulness. We all have a biological instinct of fear. It's what has allowed our species to survive. Fear warns us of eminent danger or reminds us to be cautionary in certain situations. But if allowed to dominate our minds, fear can cripple our lives and limit us. There needs to be a balance between love and fear.

Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth, in their book, What Happy People Know, discuss this concept and observe, "Appreciation is the purest, strongest form of love. It is the outward-bound kind of love that asks for nothing and gives everything. Research now shows that it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. Thus appreciation is the antidote to fear. "

We are living with many unknowns. There is insecurity in the future of our economic system. With seemingly negative news all around us, it can be a challenge to choose to live in appreciation, to look for ways to express love and to be grateful for the aspects of our lives that are in line with our values.

In this season of thanks, what can we choose to appreciate? How can we step out of the chains of fear and find freedom? In the Old Testament in Isaiah 51:3, we read the words,

"The LORD will surely comfort Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing."

In this passage, Jehovah God promises to care for Israel in the midst of the hardships and tragedy they face. Not only is comfort and care promised, but there is an, celebration and thankfulness.

No matter what we are going through, we have the choice to be grateful or to dwell in fear or bitterness over any sorrow we may be experiencing. I hope and pray that you will know the freedom of living beyond your circumstances and dwelling in a place of celebration and joy.

*Baker, Dan and Stauth, Cameron, What Happy People Know, Rodale, Inc., 2003

Photo: Marlene Cabais,

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is there such a thing as "Fall" in California?

Yes, there is. You might have to hunt for it a bit, but Fall seems to be here now. Today Rich and I drove across Highway 46 from the Central Coast of California into the wine country. Certain varieties of grapes are being harvested right now and their foliage flowing across the hillsides in neat rows show off beautiful hues of reds and purples.

Jack Creek Farm located along Highway 46 is a great stop this time of year. They have displays of scarecrows and hay bales decorated with more kinds of pumpkins, gourds and squash than I've ever seen. It's fascinating to look at all of them. I even saw zucchini similar to ones I picked in my garden this summer that were close in size to a baseball bat. Somehow they hid beneath the large green leaves and I missed finding them when they were the edible size. But the giant ones here had some pretty hefty price tags on them. And I have to admit they looked pretty artsy. And I threw mine in our compost bin! I had no idea they were worth so much.

Fall reminds me of my childhood in Michigan where we romped in big, very big piles of maple leaves. There were apple stands scattered across the colorful countryside and the apple cider they served up tasted so good. I always hated that we had to wear jackets under our Halloween costumes because it was often cold and rainy by late October. It wasn't cool fashion-wise to have jacket sleeves extending beyond your poofy Cinderella sleeves. But somehow having those bags of candy stashed under our beds for weeks made it worth it.

Stopping in See Canyon south of San Luis Obispo is a reminder of those childhood days. Several of the ranches tucked back off the road grow and sell their apples and cider this time of year.

So you really can experience "Fall" in California. You might have to get off the freeway and hit a back road or two, but it's worth it.

Photo: Sheryl Bullock

Friday, October 24, 2008

Because "nice" matters

"But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."
Psalm 86:15

A couple weeks ago I visited a friend who recently moved to Santa Barbara. Her husband passed away from cancer about a year ago at a "way too early" age and she just sold her spacious home in the burbs and down-sized to a little cottage. When I entered her living room my eyes caught the image of a frame on her end table. It held a message which simply reads, "Because Nice Matters." "Where did you get this?" I asked. She said, "I made it up."

Wow...something very simple and yet so profound. What a great reminder to read every day! Is being nice or having someone be nice to us something we value? How can we communicate that "nice" matters to us? I was thinking about it in terms of our upcoming election. It seems we are hearing campaign rhetoric and some "not so nice" situations as people express their opinions about who they want to be the next president.

The simple act of choosing to react in a nice manner or choosing to do something that demonstrates kindness and consideration sends a powerful message. That message says something about us and it also delivers something powerful to the other person. Being nice to someone says to that person, "you matter." When we choose to act with kindness it also says something about us and what kind of person we are. Better yet, it can also influence people to change their crabby attitudes. When someone is kind to you, you take note, and are more apt to pass on that graciousness of attitude toward the people you come in contact with. Kindness has the power to deflect anger. It's not always easy to take the time to be nice, especially since we are so rushed or frustrated with life on any given day.

I'm looking for ways to show people they "matter." The more often I do it, the more it will be become a habit.

Photo: Massimiliano Pieraccini/

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taking the plunge into leadership

There are a number of ways we can end up in leadership. Sometimes we volunteer for a position which requires some leadership skills. Other times someone might identify us as someone with the ability to be a leader and an invitation comes our way. Or maybe we see the chance to go from being a follower to a leader and that excites and motivates us. So we apply for a job that will mean stepping into a leadership role.

Going from follower to leader may feel like you are taking a plunge into unknown waters. Scary! Remember you have already walked in the shoes of the follower. From that vantage point you watched other leaders take a group of people or an organization toward a destination. At times you probably didn't agree with all you observed in your leader. You may have thought of other ways to accomplish the goal. Maybe you even pictured yourself in the leader's role and thought about how you would lead in a specific situation.

Some of our first "leaders" in life, other than our parents, are teachers. Did you have a teacher or two who had a positive influence on you? Chances are if you did, they were people who held themselves to a high standard of accountability in their profession and also showed an interest in you as a person. Maybe they gave you compassion and encouragement when you needed it. Did they go the extra mile in helping you when you struggled academically with schoolwork? You knew you were not just a grade in their gradebook. You knew they cared about you.

This is one of the most fundamental concepts of leadership. Serving people by showing them you care, listening to them and wanting them to be the best they can be, will provide a good segue as you go from follower to leader.

Whether your opportunity to lead is now or down the road, don't hesitate to dive in. And as you do, think of yourself as a servant, a listener, and a developer of the people you are privileged to lead.

Photo: Steve Johnson/

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Before we can lead, we must learn how to follow.

Have you ever been part of an organization or any kind of group where you just didn't jive with the leadership? It happens all the time. Maybe you have a different personality than the overseer. Or perhaps you have a dramatically contrasting opinion on how the the group should proceed.

"Following" comes very naturally for some people. For others, it can be a frustrating experience. Most people have probably been in both scenarios.

There are advantages to being a follower. As one who follows you don't have the ultimate responsibility for the outcome. Although it could be said that a follower definitely contributes to the outcome on some level. The level of contribution is often based on our response to the challenge given to us. Wouldn't it be great if followers saw themselves as sharing in the responsibility for the outcome? It would definitely make a difference in the direction, enthusiasm and end result. So much can be accomplished when the followers contribute rather than passively tag along.

As a follower you respond to the direction given by the leader. And that is very much a choice for someone in the follower position. You can rebel, be supportive, be apathetically compliant while silently annoyed, be an enthusiastic advocate, or creatively contribute new ideas to the cause in a non-threatening way. Sometimes we run into obstacles with leaders who don't want to consider other options. This is where the frustration can appear for a follower.

If you are in that situation, what are the various creative and positive options open to you? Think of as many as you can whether they seem realistic or not. Now narrow them down to your favorites and determine your first course of action. If you try something and it doesn't work, move on to some of the other options on your list.

Whatever your experience may be, following is a journey of learning. It's a walk down the path of "trial and error." As followers we can learn from the mistakes and flaws of imperfection of those in command. And we can take note of and even share in the triumphs and successes of their leadership. These observations become part of our leadership education. We sort through all of it and decide what we want to keep and use in the future and what we'd rather minimize or throw out.

It's essential to walk in those "follower" shoes before we step into leadership.

Photo: Daniel Wiedemann/

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Inspirational Afternoon

Yesterday Rich and I went to the Reagan Presidential Library. It's located several miles from our home and we hadn't been there in awhile. This past week the original Emancipation Proclamation was on display at the library and we were privileged to view it for a minute (literally) along with hundreds of others who were there. It was a great opportunity to see this document, reflect on Lincoln and his courage, and view the latest additions to the library.

We toured the presidential aircraft, Air Force One, used by six presidents, including Reagan, which, as of several years ago, is now permanently displayed at the library in this magnificent glass pavilion.

As we browsed the various exhibits depicting Reagan's life and presidency, I was again so moved by his sense of personal responsibility to his nation, whether he was in office or not. The sense of entitlement, so present in our culture today, was not a part of his thinking. Instead he viewed government as something to be kept in check.

In his first inaugural address on January 20, 1981, Reagan said,

"Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price."

John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech contained the oft recited quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

When Americans sink into entitlement mentality, we put a ball and chain on ourselves individually and as a nation which pulls us down into a mire of restriction and regulation. Isn't this what our founding fathers were trying to escape?

On a personal level, I know there is dignity in work. There is a sense of contribution in being able to accomplish something with quality and significance. I've experienced that and want to cultivate that concept in others.

Related links:

Photo: Sheryl Bullock

Monday, September 15, 2008

Creating "the day"

So, have you considered what a day would be like without duties, demands, and deadlines? Creating a day like this for yourself is not the same as "pampering." A trip to the spa may be wonderful, but what would happen if you went somewhere where it was really quiet except for maybe some occasional wistful sound of nature in the background?

Our world is filled with sound...maybe it's music in the grocery store, the TV in your home, the coffee machines at Starbucks, or engine noise, yours and all the other vehicles around you, as you drive home from work on the freeway. Whatever it is, we are definitely conditioned to noise. Given that we live in that state so much, silence can be uncomfortable and almost scary!

Great things can happen to you in the midst of extended silence. What can happen in silence? We have time and space to think! What a novel idea. In an age where our brains receive continual rapid fire information, we have opportunity to, as the dictionary* says, "use one's mind actively to form connected ideas."

Try taking a notebook and a pen with you and spending an extended period of time (a few hours) in a spot out in nature where you are away from people and noise. You may be surprised as to what comes to mind and makes its way onto the paper in front of you. Creative ideas, reflections on life, or some very imaginative plans may visit you...thoughts that would never surface in a typical day filled with routine activity. When we step out of the craziness of a frenzied pace and spend some time in the "quiet," our lives can come to a crossroads of change and growth.

That familiar Bible chapter, the 23rd Psalm, gives us some images that start us pondering. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul." It doesn't get much better than that. And its effects linger much longer than a day at the spa.

*Oxford American Dictionary

Photo: Stanko Mravljak/

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ever have one of those days?

I know, you're sitting there saying, "yes, yes, I have!" But I'm not talking about the kind of day where you are frustrated, going too many directions, and just plain overwhelmed with your life. I'm talking about a day with no duties, demands or deadlines. "What was that again," you say? Okay, I'll repeat it for you...."When was the last time you had a day with no duties, demands, or deadlines?"

I was recently asked this question. Hmmm. It stopped me in my tracks! I attended a women's event recently where Dr. Sharon Norling spoke about the effects of stress on our bodies and the prevalence of disease resulting from that stress. Did you know that over 70% of disease is directly related to the stress is our lives?

I think we tend to make the assumption that if we do not have a major crisis going on at the moment then we are not living with stress. Not so. Her implication was that a constant lifestyle of duties, demands, and deadlines is stress. So it's important to set aside regular days where we block out the day on our calendars and devote that space to something that will give us a break from the daily grind. This is a fantasy, you say? Yes, it does seem like it.

My question for you is, "What would it take for you to create one of those days for yourself?" What steps would you take to begin to create this day?

I snapped this photo yesterday of the courtyard outside Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles, California. I was walking down the sidewalk and there it was....a perfect picture of tranquility right before my eyes. So gaze on it for awhile as you begin to create your day without duties, demands or deadlines. and we'll continue this conversation. I'll be back with more suggestions and inspiration.

In the meantime, take a slow, deep breath and enjoy creating!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sunrise, Sunset

Writing in my last post about the simple lifestyle in the mountain cabin renewed my curiousity about our daily schedules and the rhythms of nature.

While at the cabin we turned off the generator each evening when darkness fell. Then we all went to bed. We had our book lights which was kind of "campy" and if we had to use the restroom, we had our flashlights within arm's reach on a nightstand. With no electricity in the vicinity of the cabin, when darkness fell, it was really dark with only the moon and stars offering traces of light. We tended to get much more sleep than at home as we went to bed as soon as it was dark outside and fell asleep earlier than at home. We were awakened slowly and gently by the sun's rays streaming in the cabin windows rather than the buzz of an alarm clock or ipod music.

Randy Frazee, in his book, "Making Room for Life: Trading Chaotic Lifestyles for Connected Relationships," speaks about the Hebrew Day Planner. This is the author's term for the relationship of daily activities in the Hebrew culture to day and night. Hours of daylight, 6 AM to 6 PM, were devoted to work and productivity which was mostly agrarian (land related or agricultural) in nature. After dusk (6 PM) people ceased their work and spent some time with family before going to sleep. Also, according to Hebrew tradition, one day a week, the Sabbath was observed, a day which gave the Hebrews time for spiritual refreshment and required rest from labor.

With the invention of the light bulb this natural calendar ceased to govern the way we work, play and sleep. We now can work pretty much whenever we want because we no longer rely as heavily on sunlight. And although we're told we need to get 8 hours sleep each night, the presence of electricity well into the night hours allows us to convert sleep time to work or play time. No wonder most of us are sleep-deprived. I must admit that late evening is some of my best work time!

I'm always looking for ways to simplify my life. Although I doubt I'd be able to adhere to the Hebrew Day Plan system, I can choose to incorporate parts of it into my life. Now that the Summer Olympics have ended I may have a a chance at a good night's sleep!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Leaving Her Mark

"No love, no friendship, can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever."
- Francois Mocuriac

I'm blessed to have some incredible friendships. One person I don't see too often, but whose friendship I value greatly, is Connie Kennemer. Connie and I met thirty years ago. We were both pregnant with our boys at the same time, shared the joys of motherhood, and kept in touch periodically. Something just "clicked" with Connie and I when we met. Now we just pick up where we leave off even if it's been a couple years since we've seen each other.

Over time, Connie, whose smile and glowing countenance is contagious, has experienced some heartache. Multiple Sclerosis has been her constant companion for quite a few years unwelcome visitor upon someone who thrives on activities like playing the piano. Yet Connie has welcomed this illness, hesitantly, but with the confidence that her life still flourishes with opportunity and purpose. She has participated wholeheartedly with others who share the MS journey in the yearly MS walk in San Diego.

In recent years, Connie's adult son, Todd, her only child, suffered with mental illness. Todd took his life almost three years ago. Connie's grieving has compelled her along with her husband, Rex, to delve into a world most of us avoid. Rex volunteers with students who walk on the wild and dark side of life. Together, Rex and Connie comfort those who share their mourning and seek to educate all of us about what it's like to be so very close to a loved one who is plagued with mental illness.

She said to me today, "My life isn't what I thought it would be. It's not what I would have chosen, but it is good." The reason she can say this is because of God's love and His work in her life which gives her strength and courage to see beyond the difficult places. Each day she moves ahead in faith that God has a plan for her. A joyful contentment is a part of Connie's life along with the weariness. Joy prevails in her statement, doesn't it? Connie's serenity, perseverance and hope has left its mark on me.

Related websites:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Launching your kids to greater independence

My friend, Suzanne, a 6th grade teacher, says many kids in today's culture haven't developed basic problem-solving skills. Now what could possibly be the reason for that? Could it be that Dad and Mom solve all the problems? The students, when faced with a dilemma in her classroom, rather than dialoguing with her...there they are...standing at her desk in a tizzy calling Dad or Mom to ask for help. As parents we are just a cell-phone call away. When our kids don't know what to do, they call us. If this becomes a habit, it's a recipe for life-long dependency.

Weak children can grow into weak adults who are unable to cope with problems of daily living. Granted, sometimes the situation does warrant a phone call, but the majority of the time, it doesn't. Irresponsibility, mistakes or even an unexpected complexity provide an opportunity for our children to figure out what to do with their quandary.

So what can we as parents do to encourage our kids to develop their reasoning skills and step out into greater independence by making decisions on their own? It means parents have to step back and resist the urge to always come to their aid. Don't tell me this is hard....I know it is!

I love the saying, "Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child." We do want our children to be prepared, not just to cope in the world, but thrive. Thriving means that we have to be able to weather the challenges as well as experience and recover from setbacks and failure. When things don't go right, is your child capable of thinking through their options, using their reasoning expertise and choosing their next course of action?

Developing problem solving skills is an important process for our kids. This doesn't happen if parents always step in to mediate or rescue. A better option is for parents to bring up a possible situation when talking with their children and ask them questions about what they would do if they were in that situation. Get your kids thinking. As parents we are then in a place to offer guidelines and encouragement that re-enforce the values we want to pass down. Role-playing is another good technique for practicing reasoning competence and decision-making. The more practice a child has the more equipped they will be at handling the inevitable unknowns that will come their way.

A very wise mother with grown children said to me, "I gave my kids a bit of a longer leash in some areas when they were still living at home. This allowed me to see how they handled difficult situations." And it gave the child the experience of working through their predicament. She did this so if they made a poor choice, she would still be there to walk through the aftereffects with them. She said she'd rather they experience consequences or disappointments early enough in their life so they would be prepared to deal with bigger crisis on their own once they arrived on a college campus. She knew that "rescuing" would leave them vulnerable to greater mistakes later on.

It's about time for another school year to begin and there will be opportunities this year for you to step back and let them try their wings in a storm. Just remember they are developing "muscles" for thriving down the road.

Photo: Marzanna Syncerz

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lifelong learning at the touch of a key

Did you know you can take classes right in the comfort of your own home from schools such as Yale University or the USC Thornton School of Music? And many of them don't cost a dime. Welcome to iTunes U.

You can go into iTunes, enter the iTunes store and then iTunes U. You can now browse the great array of classes available to you through iTunes U. Classes cover just about anything you can imagine.

Have you always wanted to play the piano? You can take free video online piano lessons. Do you work in the field of youth counseling services? There is a lecture discussing the prevention of conduct problems in at-risk youth. Or how about a class on endangered sea turtles from the University of New England? Maybe you've heard about the best selling book, Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell and want to know more about it. There are audio book reviews available. Some of the classes offered are video classes. Others are audio.

My initial thought might be that I could download these onto my iPod and listen to a class whenever I a car, on an airplane, or maybe while sitting in the jury duty assembly room. But I was also thinking about other possibilities.

What about people recovering from an illness or surgery who are confined at home? Daytime TV gets pretty mundane after awhile. And home schoolers can study astronomy, physics or biology via a high school science video class on their laptops. Do you want to study about Italian history before you take a trip to Florence? How about using the classes to brush up on a subject you'll be tested on for entry into a new job field? The possibilities are endless.


P.S. Once you enter iTunes, make sure when you "search" you specify "iTunes U" under the "Results" dropdown menu. That way you won't get iTunes songs mixed into the classes that come up in your specific search.

Photo: Daniel Wiedemann/

Monday, July 28, 2008

Simple Gifts

One of my clients brought me a gift she bought recently when she was in a third world country. It's a small triangular carved wooden box representative of the handmade crafts of this Central American culture. One of the things that make this box special to me is what she said to me when I unwrapped it. Her words were, "this is triangular in shape, like the Trinity." She was referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because of my Christian faith, the Trinity is a vital part of my belief system. So each time I look at the box it reminds me where my faith and hope rest in these uncertain times.

I loved the box for what it is...beautiful hand-rubbed wood, symbolic of her passion to live and work compassionately among people in a simpler society. But her words when she gave it to me make it even more significant in my life.

Words can be a gift as much as tangible objects can. They can lift, renew, give hope, express love, passion, grace....and the list goes on. Taking the time to use our words, either in written or spoken form, to enhance the lives of others may be a simple gift we give, but one which has eternal value. Our words have the power to transform a life or to tear it apart.

So my box is a precious gift, not just because it is beautiful to look at, but because of the words that came with it and how that affects me.

What words can you speak or write to encourage someone?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Giveaway Bride

My wedding dress is on a great adventure. It's been sitting in a box for 30 something years, aging slowly and hasn't been functional since I wore it for a bridal fashion show about 20 years ago. And now it's just completed a journey to the country of Uganda. Did you know there is a wedding gown shortage in Africa?

I love to give things away. I guess at this age I realize that stuff isn't all that important to me anymore. I get more satisfaction and joy from giving something of mine to someone else who might need it.

Lifewater International is a non-profit organization that trains teams of volunteers who travel into third world countries. They partner with the nationals to help them set up sanitary water systems and teach them hygiene so they know how to handle the pure water without contaminating it. I got word that one of the teams going to Uganda wanted to take a few wedding dresses with them because many African women don't have the money or resources for beautiful dresses to wear on their wedding day. They can rent them for the exorbitant price of $100. It's a stretch to pay that amount for the use of a wedding dress for a day. So some women actually don't marry because they don't have a dress. I guess the dress is everything when it comes to the ceremony...almost as important as the groom!

I was thrilled to learn that my dress received a warm welcome and will be passed around to many different brides until it becomes like the velveteen rabbit...worn out from being loved so much.

I can't remember when I felt so much happiness about giving something away!

© Bogdan Lazar |

Friday, July 11, 2008

Drifting in Indecision

I have a family friend who is well into her 80's and has macular degeneration. She is at a point where she's having a harder time living independently. Not only can she not see too well anymore, but she has a more difficult time just keeping up with life. Memory issues are starting to be much more noticeable. She has looked at some assisted living facilities and says she really likes them. In fact, sometimes she says, "You know, I'm going to live there." But she hasn't made the move yet. It's been probably 5-8 years now that she's been considering this decision.

Being that our family members love this lady dearly, we encourage her along the way and offer to help her with the move. But we just continue to hear her talking about the fact that someday she's going to move. That is a very true statement. Someday she is going to move. But will the move be of her choice or will the choice be made for her?

Often by postponing our decisions, we drift for awhile. That's fine as we need to give time to weighing the pros and cons. But making the "leap" can be difficult. Sometimes we have reservations or fears about moving ahead and we take time to process those.

We assume that by waiting to make a decision we remain in a neutral place. But is this really true? Eventually, don't we drift in one direction or another? If we put off telling a family member about a difficult situation because we are afraid they might not receive the news well, does that guarantee they will not learn about it? If we keep saying we need to exercise more as we get older but don't do it, are we any closer to maintaining good health than someone who has no intention of exercising? It's easy to get stuck in indecision.

By not taking action we can actually drift unknowingly toward some event which will eventually choose the outcome for us. Sometimes they are inconsequential matters. Other times they are life-changing occurrences.

What decision have you been thinking about making and what is preventing you from moving ahead?

A coach will help you figure out what you really want and assist you in determining what steps you can take to achieve the desired outcome.

© Lars Christensen |

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Living in America

The 4th of July is tomorrow. It's a day of refreshing celebration, food, family, friends and fireworks! My memories of the 4th go way back. I'm remembering various fireworks celebrations I've attended around the U.S.

One year Rich and I and our kids were on vacation and happened to be in a very tiny town in Montana. We went to the local fireworks which erupted into some flames so they stopped the celebration and the volunteer fire dept. put out the small brush fire. End of show!

We're here at our house in Cambria, California and enjoy walking down the hill to the fireworks show at the beach. The fireworks are shot off over the waves so chance of fire is pretty slim. This is good since half of California is on fire at the moment!

This year I'm thinking about Austin Overholt, a Marine, who came home safely from Iraq in the fall. In a little over a week we'll watch him declare his love for Megan, in a lovely outdoor wedding.

I've only seen pictures of Tim Klibbe. He's the son in law of a friend. Tim's wife is Regan and they have two little girls, Aria and Lily. He was injured in Iraq (he'll receive a Purple Heart) and is home after a 15 month deployment and doing well. While he was gone, Regan held things together on the home front as well as being the squad wife which meant she had some leader responsibilities with that position as well.

I'm thinking about Neil Bullock, a fire captain with the Bakersfield Fire Dept. who hasn't had a day off in awhile and is working hard on the California fire lines along with hundreds of other firefighters.

The reason I enjoy the 4th of July is because there are people out there who have gone the extra mile for America. This love of country and loyalty to the cause goes back a few centuries now. There is a noble purpose here and a call to bravery that gets passed down from generation to generation. It makes it possible for you and I to enjoy the simple things in life and on this day to remember all who have made it possible. Only in America......

Thank you Austin, Megan, Tim, Regan, Neil, and millions of others!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Asking questions is the other key skill a coach uses.
The art of inquiry is about discovery. Not only does a coach learn more about their client when they listen to an answer, but the client learns more about who they are. They consider their answer and then articulate what they are thinking and feeling. Obviously, as a coach I'm looking for honest responses from my clients, so how I word my questions is really crucial.

When someone asks me a question it can generate various emotions. Depending on the question, I might feel like I'm being interrogated. A question like "Why did you do that?" may cause me to react with discomfort or defensiveness. Or I might be pleased to answer a question because it allows me to express an opinion or give a statement about how I feel. "What did you think of the movie?" generates that type of emotion.

Other questions may be pretty neutral. Being asked, "What time is it?" doesn't stir up much emotional response for me.

The way we word a question can make all the difference in the world. Our questions greatly determine the direction of the conversation. If someone says to me, "How did you go about making that decision?" or "What thought processes brought you to that decision?" I will no doubt have less anxiety and feel more free to give an answer without fear or embarrassment.

Coaches place great importance on developing their inquiry skills so they can learn as much as possible about their clients. And the client benefits too.

Check out my previous blog entry about the other key skill of a coach....listening.

© Anatoly Tiplyashin |

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thanks for Listening

I just spent a couple hours listening to a friend. I wanted to gain a better understanding of something she's going through so I asked questions and listened to her responses. When I left the appointment I realized some of my assumptions had changed. I had a greater understanding of what she was experiencing and her thought processes.

Listening is hard work. I have to set aside uttering my thoughts and focus on what they are expressing. That means I hold off on responding to them immediately and just let them talk. When I went through my coach training, listening was one of the two basic skills (asking questions being the other one,) that we studied and practiced.

I realized fairly quickly in my conversations with friends and acquaintances, that there are few people who know how to listen without interjecting their thoughts or giving advice. Many of us are programmed to comment after someone says a few sentences. Every day I realize what a discipline it is for me to really listen to someone without throwing in my "take" on their situation. Breaking old patterns is a challenge.

In my coaching business I have to be careful not to give advice. To do so would be crossing the line into therapy. Instead I ask questions of clients which allow them to break down the issue into manageable pieces and to come to their own decision. Questions like "What would you like the end result to be?" or "Which of the options you've talked about are you most comfortable with?" help people move ahead when they are indecisive about something in their life.

If I have an observation I don't think they have considered, I should ask, "Would it be alright if I shared an observation with you?" People have always said "yes" (so far) when I submit that question. When I ask permission it shows I have a respect for their feelings and intellect and doesn't put me in a place of "talking down to them" as if I'm an expert on their life.

So I continue to hone my listening skills, both when coaching clients and with my friends and family.

Reflections on Tim

I'm still thinking about Tim Russert and his impact in the world. God allowed him to be taken in the prime of his life. Sometimes I wonder about God's timing. Tim could have lived another 30 years but would we have heard the same message we're hearing now?

It was an election year so people were paying more attention to Tim's words. He had published two successful books in recent years, just watched his son graduate from college, enjoyed a few days in Rome with his family, and suddenly his life on earth is over. But the lasting fragrance of Tim's life is lingering in the hearts and minds of many of us. It's interesting that his media friends thought he was a great colleague. But what they are really talking about is how much they will miss their friend, Tim. They recall the little things he did for them that showed he cared...little stuff like visiting their sick family members, a hand on their shoulder, a good laugh, and the list goes on.

His wife said she had a fleeting thought when saying goodbye to him as he left Rome, that she needed to hug him one more time because she may not see him again. Thank you God, for giving her that nudge to just love him one more time. Interesting how God can prepare us for things and we don't even realize it at the time.

I want people to know I care in those little ways that add up to a lifetime of demonstrating my love for others. I want to make each moment one of expressing my faith. God, help me not to miss those little opportunities.


© Alain |

Friday, June 13, 2008

Influence...leaving an impression

"The older I get the smarter my father seems to get. Hardly a day goes by when I don't remember how much Big Russ taught me."*

Tim Russert (1950-2008) speaking about his father who he affectionately referred to as "Big Russ."

I was sitting in the Main Street Grill today in Cambria, California when across the large mounted TV screen came the message that NBC news journalist Tim Russert had died. It was sudden and so untimely. I'm not much of a TV network news person. I watch cable news shows most of the time. But I was always fascinated by his interviews. He asked really hard questions but managed to ask them with a smile and a respectfulness seldom present in other journalists. Even though I thought his questions often intensely searing, he always managed to seem warm and agreeable.

Tim had a high regard for the "Greatest Generation," especially his own father, Tim Russert, Sr. He wrote a book about his relationship with his Dad and the things he learned from him called "Big Russ and Me."

Tim Russert was in a position to influence many millions of people with his words and demeanor. We may not have a high profile job as Tim Russert did, but we do have an influence on many people during the course of our lives.

You and I have touched the lives of the old, (our grandparents,) from our birth on and in our later years we will touch the lives of the very young, (our grandchildren or great grandchildren.) I find that concept very fascinating. We impact the world we touch with our smiles, our words, and how we invest our time and our money.

On days like this I think about my impact in the world and what it could be.

*Russert, Tim, Big Russ and Me, Miramax, 2004


I'm still thinking about transitions and the ones people are in currently because of the gas prices. I know people who are re-thinking jobs and even careers based on the price of gasoline. Others may find themselves changing their spending habits. They may choose to eliminate or cut down on other expenditures such as their gourmet morning coffee drink, eating out, having their shirts cleaned and pressed by a dry cleaner, weekend getaways or giving to charities. My driving habits are being impacted. I don't drive anywhere for just one outing/event anymore. I make multiple stops and re-arrange my schedule to minimize driving.

We in Southern California are also talking about the water supply and the "R" word..."Rationing." Cutting back on our water usage probably should have been put into practice a few years ago. Those of us who live here are listening to our state officials talk about rationing being something we must take seriously now.

In other words, the transition needs to be immediate. This means we all have to change behaviors which isn't easy to do in a short frame of time. Transitions involve letting go of something and embracing some type of new beginning. Instead of looking at transition and change as though it were some type of doom, what would happen we if viewed it as the beginning of something good? It could not only be "good for us" but something we might, in reality, enjoy? We tend to view transition with a sense of loss because of having to let go, but could there be an upside waiting for us?

Photo: Ian Britton,

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What NOT to say about your ex-boss

Scott McClelland burned his bridges big time last week when his book criticizing the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq was released.

At first the media pounced on the news from a former White House insider with great glee. However, now the burning embers are cooling quickly as people assess his underlying motivations for writing the book. While his willingness to give his opinions will most likely be used to fuel the growing anger with the current administration, how will history define Scott McClelland? What will the war critics do with Scott McClelland once they are done with his insider knowledge? That remains to be seen.

There are a number of ways to deal with a manager you don't agree with.
1. Arrange to communicate with your employer in an attempt to get them to see issues from a different perspective. Apparently, McClelland didn't go for this option as his book surprised everyone in the administration.

2. Assess your boss's personality and leadership style and look for ways to effect change in a manner which will engage them positively. Being a team player can earn you the right to speak up and wage your argument in a rational manner.

3. Resign your position accepting the fact that there is no way you can stay "on board" with the status quo.

If your attempts to encourage change in the workplace have failed, it can be a challenge to leave with grace. Giving an appropriate length of notice, cooperating with the training of your replacement, and exiting with a spirit of gratitude and good will are positive ways to leave a position with nobility.

It might be good to re-think criticizing your boss once you exit the door. You may need to call on them for a reference at some point although you can't anticipate ever doing so at this moment. And even though you may not envision it presently, you may want to use their services in the future. Who knows, your former employer may re-think matters and seek your expertise on some level in the future.

Wearing sour grapes is never becoming, nor is trading your integrity for the dollar sign.

Photo: PaulPaladin/

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Oh, the places you'll go!

A couple years ago when my daughter graduated from college, my sister gave her the Dr. Seuss book, Oh, The Places You'll Go.

In typical Dr. Seuss style it talks about the adventure point of launching out on your own. There will be times of flying high and times where life becomes a challenge. But through it all there is the affirmation that you can live a life of success and significance.

Some friends of ours are in Bangkok, Thailand for the next 4-8 weeks to assist with the coordination of transporting relief supplies to Myanmar. Being empty nesters and in job transitions themselves, they decided to take on the challenge of living and working for a period of time in less than comfortable conditions knowing they are being of help to people in need. Transitions are never very easy. They always seem to take us out of something we've become used to (whether good or bad) and force us to grasp tightly to the learning curve set before us. This couple is referring to this as "an adventure outside their comfort zone." They are not afraid of wrestling with change and refuse to let fear trap them in a rut.

What places could you go if you are willing to step outside your comfort zone?

As Dr. Seuss would say....."Your mountain is waiting so get on your way."*

Oh, The Places You'll Go." by Theodore Seuss Geisel, Random House, 1990.
Photo: Dace Pjanova/

Friday, May 16, 2008

Adventures in the kitchen with a rapidly aging baby-boomer

I had a "first" at breakfast this morning. I was at the stove tending my eggs, and after placing the finished work of art on a plate, I left the skillet and spatula on the stove and neglected to turn off the gas burner underneath the pan. I took my eggs and tea upstairs so I could enjoy breakfast in bed while I checked my e-mails. My daughter-in-law, Erin, (she and our son are staying with us in between "moves") found the outcome about 30 minutes later. I now have a pan with a spatula molded firmly in place creating a puddle of melted plastic in the center of the pan and the addition of another handle attached to the side of the pan.

My reaction to this incident? Well, I have many choices. Here are some of them:

  • Deny I did it
  • Blame it on something
  • Resolve never to take a sleeping pill again (I do, on occasion, and did so last night)
  • Fear the future
  • Trade making hot breakfasts for milk and cereal
  • Have a post-midlife crisis
  • Cook with a "buddy"
  • Eat only in the kitchen with the hope that I'd discover the problem sooner.
  • Set a timer when I turn on a burner so I'm reminded to turn it off when I'm done cooking
  • Go on a cruise
  • Have a pity party

I've already eliminated denial, the pity party and fear of the future.

My siblings and I are very familiar with Alzheimer's Disease. We buried Dad almost three years ago after his journey of several years living with this illness. We lament now and then about our spotty memories and how we're concerned we might be following in his footsteps.

My pastor, Tom Stephen, and his wife, Ginny, have written a book entitled, "Fearless." It's about different types of fear and how God is with us and speaks to us in the midst of our fears. He says: "People often stress out over a situation before they have an actual problem. Most of us have a tendency to cultivate fear by worrying about what could happen instead of confronting the actual problem. "* I know God is very active and present in my life so I don't have to be captive to fear. However, that doesn't excuse me from being smart about my choices and facing truth.

In the meantime, I'll be cooking eggs again a new skillet, of course.

*Fearless, by Tom Stephen & Ginny Starkey, Regal Books, Ventura, CA, 2006.

© Ed Isaacs |

Monday, April 21, 2008

Donuts and "The War of Art"

Steven Pressfield's book, "The War of Art" is about the power of resistance.

Pressfield says, "Most of us have lived two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance."

Can you relate? You may have a book you've wanted to write, a painting you've wanted to put on canvas, a non-profit foundation you've wanted to create, etc. You've given considerable time to developing the idea in your mind, yet there is no action.

The author goes on to say, "If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius."

"The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it's better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot."*

Is it time for you to turn pro?

*Pressfield, Steven, The War of Art, Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY, 2002.
Illustration: Copyright: Cheryl Graham/

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Miss Rose

I was a shy 2nd grader. It was one of those years every child has when they don't connect well with a particular teacher. Mrs. Bowman was big, scary, and past retirement age. She had a reputation for being what children refer to as "really mean." Even at the end of the school year, she was still calling me an assortment of girls' names which start with "S." Shelly, Shirley, whatever. She didn't know my name or didn't remember it. My self-esteem registered at zero. Mid-year a student teacher was assigned to our class.

Enter Miss Rose. When Miss Rose was there, Mrs. Bowman didn't yell and her demeanor changed. And Miss Rose, well, she was wonderful! When Miss Rose came into my life, I stood on a level playing field again with the rest of the world. She would look into my eyes, smile at me, and always had a positive word about my accomplishments.

One day it ended. Miss Rose was leaving, her student teaching duties complete. She also announced she was getting married, and soon an engagement notice appeared in the newspaper with her picture. I cut it out, put it in a drawer, and kept it until it was tattered. While walking home from school after giving her a goodbye hug on her last day, the tears came forcefully. How would I ever go on without Miss Rose? But I did....the grief passed, and the faded newspaper clipping disappeared with the passage of time. I still recall so vividly what a gift her kindness was to a young girl who felt quite insignificant.

Kindness has a remarkable effect on people. It's more than the opposite of "mean." It's an intentional act that can be life-changing.