Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reflections from the Neutral Zone

We've been in our new town (having moved to California's central coast) for ten months now. It's been long enough I can now have some perspective about the changes I've experienced over the past months.

Being that this is a much smaller community than I've ever lived in, there have been some adjustments. I've realized that when you leave a place that's been familiar for 34 years, you don't assimilate to your new "digs" overnight. I felt like a fish out of water for quite awhile.

Most of the population of my new community is well over 65. We have to drive about 40 minutes to get to movie theaters or Home Depot. Dress is very casual. If you dress up, people stare. I know this because at times I still like to don a nice outfit with jewelry, etc. I now live amongst farmers, vintners, retirees, old hippies, song writers, surfers and coastal environmentalists. And the place to connect with people is the Post Office. The hustle and bustle of Southern California is gone and has been replaced by people who don't wear watches, ever.

William Bridges, in his book, *Transitions, Making Sense of Life's Changes, talks about the "Neutral Zone"...a place between what "used to be" and supposedly arriving at your destination of being fully acclimated. I'm definitely in the Neutral Zone.

Bridges says we tend to look at transition like crossing the street. We leave one curb and make our way across the pavement with the goal of reaching the other curb as quickly as possible. Stopping in the middle and sitting down in the road is not acceptable. This viewpoint of leaving one place and arriving at another in a short amount of time really doesn't exist. The Neutral Zone is a non-negotiable passage in the land of transition.

In real life, transitions have an "in between" place where things seem to stop. We feel alone and empty. Nothing around us seems familiar and we long to get to the other side. Bridges refers to two traps that people fall into when they want "out" of the Neutral forward and reverse.

There is no way to advance through transition like the energizer bunny. And to turn around and go back....we can't do that either. You see, transition alters and transforms us. We are not the same people who began this journey days, weeks, months, or years earlier. We've had experiences along the way that have tweaked us and caused us to change.

To avoid the traps, "do keep moving," Bridges says. If we continue to seek our way, to discover, to take small steps, we will get to the other side.

There are now days I forget to put on a watch. I am adjusting to planning a day of errands in the next town, and I'm starting to run into people I know at the Post Office. I think I'm officially "tweaked."

*Transitions, Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges, Da Capo Press, 2004.

Photo: Carlos Caetano |

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chasing Happiness

"The meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul." Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In their book, "The Lost Virtue of Happiness," * J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler distinguish between the classical understanding of the term, "happiness" versus the contemporary meaning of the word. There is a huge difference. People like Moses, Jesus, Aristotle and Plato held to the concept that happiness comes from living a life of virtue and character, a life that demonstrates what Christians refer to as the "Fruit of the Spirit", joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith and self-control.

Over the course of the past century, the cultural understanding of happiness has evolved into one of pleasurable feelings gained from exterior circumstances. While there isn't anything wrong with this type of happiness, if it's all that happiness is for us, we are only happy for a short while. The pleasure of attending a World Series game, basking in the sunshine on a vacation, achieving a promotion at work or purchasing a new car may bring us satisfaction or exhilaration. But what about next month, next year or even tomorrow? Is it realistic to believe that we can feel happiness on that level every day?

Moreland and Issler observe that "if character and deep well-being is our goal, we will learn to see ourselves in light of a larger cause: the outworking of God's plan in history. We will be preoccupied with finding our role in that cause and playing it well."** It is beneficial if the day to day structure of our lives contains some measure of giving ourselves away to a belief and ideal greater than our own inward desires. This isn't something that comes naturally to us. We have to choose it.

Scholar John Gardner says, "Existence is a strange bargain. Life owes us little, we owe it everything. The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose."

Does your life contain a measure of outward focus to a mission greater than yourself? If it does, you have tasted happiness...the kind that lingers for longer than a brief season.

*Moreland, J.P, Issler, Klaus, The Lost Virtue of Happiness, NavPress, 2006.
**Moreland, Issler, The Lost Virtue of Happiness, NavPress, 2006, pg 31.

Photo: Paul Paladin

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Building Inspiration

One of my favorite childhood pleasures was to be on my hands and knees in the sand creating something. It was more fun working with a friend. I think it started with cookie cutters, plastic shovels and buckets in the little sandbox in my backyard. From the sandbox we moved to the seashore. Sometimes each of us modeled something on our own and other times we began creating collectively. But inevitably we ended up joining forces to build an extraordinary structure with towers, tunnels and trails, all the while secretly wishing it were possible for us to shrink in scale to the size of our creation.

If you've observed people building sand sculptures at the beach, you've seen teamwork in action.

The World Sand Sculptures Academy conducts training to show groups of people how to work together to sculpt some magnificent pieces of art.

Team members learn to value one another's capabilities and qualities and to implement them. The synergy of collective success creates an enjoyable and productive working environment.

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, has identified 5 ways to energize your team.
  1. Assume others are smart and working hard.
  2. Listen intently and ask thoughtful questions.
  3. Acknowledge the sacrifices others have made on your behalf.
  4. Express gratitude for their effort and their results.
  5. Remind them why their work is so important and the difference they are making.
Whether people are building a sandcastle, interacting in a marriage or working on a project in a job environment, these 5 concepts foster healthy progress. There is a goal and an interactive acknowledgment that things move ahead productively when people give as much as they receive.

Read Michael Hyatt's article on energizing your team at

More information about the World Sandsculpting Academy

Photo: Lars Christenen,

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Birds, twigs and twigspiration

Did you know 73% of people say they were never taught anything about goal setting in their youth? This explains my avoidance of goals, I guess. The word makes me cringe a little. It just isn't something that comes naturally to me. Maybe that's because I wasn't taught much about goal setting or had accountability around me that prompted me to complete goals.

I have set goals and actually crossed the finish line though. One of the big ones that comes to mind is finishing my Bachelor's Degree. I went back to school after my kids went to college and completed my Organizational Leadership degree. But it's more the daily things that seem to fall by the wayside for me. I'd like to be able to set more goals for a short period of time, like a day, and get to sunset and say "Wow, I completed this today."

One of the new goals I've set is to get in better shape physically by way of fitness. I used to be an avid walker, walking almost 4 miles a day, 5-6 days a week. But that was twenty years ago. I keep thinking it was "yesterday" and that getting back into a routine won't be that hard. Actually, the reality of that has hit me recently and I've realized it's going to be a bit like starting over.

I have to make adjustments now because, after all, I am twenty years older. My body needs a recovery day here and there throughout the week depending on the intensity of my exercise. Adjustment is necessary when working toward a goal. My parents and my mother in law needed to be moved into extended care homes while I was finishing my college degree. This necessitated me taking a 2 month break in my classes to allow me to focus on helping my husband and siblings with packing and moving them to a new location. Life happens and goal adjustments are necessary much of the time.

My inspiration is the memory of watching a bird building a nest in the birdhouse in our backyard. I found it fascinating watching a little bird fly up to the 1 1/2 inch hole in our birdhouse with a 3-4 inch twig in its beak and observe all the contortions necessary to get the twig into the hole. It would try all different angles, hopping around, turning its head up, down, twisting to one side or the other, until....finally, after multiple attempts, one end of the twig went into the opening of the house and the bird could maneuver the rest of it inside. Mission accomplished! This process would often take quite awhile. When the bird finally succeeded in getting the twig inside, I felt like cheering for their little victory.

In thinking about all the labor involved for the bird to accomplish just this one feat, I realized the ultimate goal, the big picture, was to complete the nest so there would be a place to hatch and nurture the offspring. But to finally realize the goal, my little feathered friend would have to go out everyday and not only look for twigs and get them into the nest, but find its own nourishment, avoid predators and look after its own welfare. Some days were better than others, I'm sure.

So it is for me with my fitness goals. In order to be able to walk/run a 10K at some point, I have to get outside regularly a few times each week and push myself to move. I need to increase my pace or intensity at regular intervals so I remain challenged and motivated to continue to my goal of getting more physically fit. I will have obstacles...apathy, inclement weather, a busy day, etc. These are all things that will attempt to divert my motivation. But I need to remember the big picture. It will be the little daily victories that get me there. One day at a time...just like the twig gatherer. Then one day I can cheer when I cross the finish line.

Photo: Ingrid Perlstrom -

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why you can appreciate change, good or bad.

"If you are finished changing, you are finished."
Benjamin Franklin

When I look at photos I took many years ago of various trips and activities I participated in, not only do I note the physical changes in myself after decades, but I also think about the other changes. What was I like at age 25? How did I perceive life at that time when my experiences and observations were much more limited than they are now? I realize how much change takes place in all of us with each passing year.

I find it encouraging that my worldview has changed and has greater insight than it did many years ago. As a younger person my worldview was defined but lacked understanding and wisdom which only years of life experience can bring. I now know why I believe something. I don't ever want to stop learning because I still have so much to grasp. My life is full of foibles and flaws. And I don't ever want to stop changing. I don't want to be the same person today as I was yesterday. Thank God for sunsets and sunrises! We can leave behind the mistakes and foolishness utterances of yesterday, make the needed amends and move on. We don't have to repeat it.

I was thinking about the concepts of Al-Anon, the organization that provides support to people who live with someone controlled by alcohol or drugs. The goal of the organization is to promote change in the sober family members, not the one who is the substance abuser. Often the Al-Anon member, coming from a place of despair, finds hope, freedom, and a new way of life even though their loved one continues to "use." The hope is that the change one experiences when they learn to let go and live without worry, suspicion and anger, will have an effect on the person struggling with addiction and it often does. The thing that causes someone the most pain can actually be the catalyst for something good.

When someone realizes only the addict can, with God's help, choose sobriety, it releases the loved one from the burden of feeling they have to protect or change the addict. This is a whole new world for someone who has spent much of their life worrying about "what if" or feeling they are caught in the chaos of the addicted person's world.

If you know someone who has a friend or family member who struggles with addiction, let them know about Al-Anon and encourage them to check out a meeting in their area.

"When we long for life without...difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in a contrary wind and diamonds are made under pressure."
-from a prayer by Peter Marshall

Photo: Sheryl Bullock

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Happy days are here again!

A sunny Saturday afternoon in Nashville...a lovely Nordic bride and a gallant man say "I do." This is no ordinary wedding day. For two people who come out of sadness to find each other, this day is glorious.

My husband and I were privileged to be among the witnesses to this joyous event in May. We are just getting to know the bride, Solveig. We've known her new husband, Jim, for over 30 years. He and his first wife, Janice, were long time friends of ours. We sadly said our goodbyes to Janice over two years ago when Multiple Myeloma cut her life short. Solveig, leaving behind the upheaval and abandonment she experienced and willing to hope and trust again, said "yes" to Jim's proposal of marriage and recently moved her three children to Nashville. Jim's two grown sons live in Boston.

This couple, now all smiles on their new journey, go into the adventure of blending a family. Jim, after a few years in a quiet abode in the woods, will have the vigor of children under his roof again. These three children will come to know his love for them as he adores their mother and keeps them laughing with his prankishness. Jim still knows how to be a kid. He can shoot a rubber band with great accuracy.

Solveig seeks, not to replace Janice in the lives of her sons, but to complement her. I sense she will do that quite well. These young men will once again be blessed by the nurturing maternal love of a woman as they continue on in their adult seasons. Her sweet strength and compassion will quickly win their hearts.

Witnessing this joyous occasion influenced me for the better. I share in their happiness as we do when we watch a couple join together in this most sacred of unions. I also found myself considering the way a marriage can become lost in the frantic fray of life. After 38 years of marriage it is easy for Rich and I to drift aimlessly in our own self-absorbed currents unaware of the growing distance between us. It is easy to lose the newness and anticipation of being together so often felt in the beginning of a relationship. I am reminded by Solveig, Jim and others who've walked the road of loss, not to forget the gift of a mate, to enter into each day thanking God for the privilege of sharing life with someone who said to me, "I will" and meant it.

"Now this is the sum of the matter: if ye will be happy in marriage, confide, love, and be patient; be faithful, firm and holy." Martin F. Tupper

Photo: Nicole Carpenter

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Aging is not a disease. It's a privilege.

Recently I was part of a "virtual" four day seminar via the web (also known as a "webinar") called, "A Woman Inspired." Shelley Ballestero taught a course on caring for our bodies, inside and out. These words from her seminar stuck with me. "Aging is not a disease. It's a privilege."

Okay, here's a different perspective. Aging is a privilege? Wow. I like that. Living in a culture where youth seems to be valued above all else, what is there about aging that deems it a privilege? I decided to think on this one a bit. I just had a birthday and I can use some thoughts on the benefits of aging.

Somewhere along the way, aging was given a negative label. Sure we all know that certain things decline...but some of that can be prevented, which was precisely what her seminar was about. We have remarkable bodies, no doubt about it. Our Creator designed us with a mind-boggling precision. With multiple systems, all working at once and functionally intertwined, our bodies are amazingly crafted. But there are other parts of us too, not just the physical, that deserve equal attention, our emotions and our spirits are part of who we are and play into how we live on this earth.

My mom died at 45 and I realize how much longer I've lived than she did. I've watched my children graduate from high school, college and get married. What a gift! Everyday I get up and have a chance to take care of and make the most of what God has given body, emotions, and my spirit. I have to admit that I don't always view each day as an opportunity. People who have had near death experiences say they cherish each new day in a fresh way unlike those of us who may take rising each morning for granted.

One of the things I like about getting older is that I have more perspective. I've noticed how things play out over the course of time. I've observed cause and effect and have learned from that.

There is a verse in the Bible, Proverbs 2:10-11 which says, "For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you and understanding will guard you."

Perspective is something I wouldn't trade for my youth (most days!)

Photo: Marzanna Syncerz

Monday, May 4, 2009

Participating with the inevitable is the opposite of denial.

I was listening to a re-play of one of the Dave Ramsey shows, the financial guy on Fox Business News. On this particular broadcast Dave was giving advice to a woman who was irritated with her live-in boyfriend who'd obviously enjoyed playing with all the toys she'd purchased during their six year engagement. She finally was taking steps to get herself out of debt and to stop paying most of the bills and has begun letting him pay his share.

The caller was making statements about the fact that if her fiance doesn't change by the time she pays off her debt, the relationship is over. During the course of the conversation, Dave made the statement, "we need to participate with the inevitable." His point here was that the boyfriend has already shown himself to be who he is and the fact that she continues to wait 6 years for a marriage (no wedding date in sight,) to wait for him to begin to show concern about his quickly growing debt (now that she's not taking care of him anymore) and to wait to see him take some action is not "participating in the inevitable." He said "the opposite of denial is participating in the inevitable."

How often do we postpone the inevitable rather than facing it for what it is! I think we can all relate to that in some way. Whether it's a money issue or some way that we need to take action to change a relationship, an unhealthy lifestyle, a spending habit, a job...the term "participating" means taking action and refusing to dwell in denial any longer. Something for all of us to think about.

Money continues to be the factor that contributes to the majority of divorces. The pressure of financial issues takes its toll on relationships.

Dave Ramsey promotes the concept of living debt free. It's like getting rid of a ball and chain!

You can check out Dave's website and his resources at:


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How's your pain tolerance?

This week most of us have seen clips of Miss California, Carrie Prejean, answering a question posed to her during the Miss USA pageant. One of the judges gave her a "zero" because he didn't agree with her answer and went on to make some vulgar remarks about her.

Though we may not find ourselves in a position like Carrie Prejean, where we are asked on television to give our opinion on a subject and then are publicly ridiculed worldwide, similar situations on a smaller scale can happen to any of us.

In the workplace we can be surrounded by people with opposing opinions and tactless or curt personalities. We can find ourselves being backed in a corner by someone who wants our job. Maybe they feel threatened in some way and resort to "bad behavior" in order to gain attention.

How we respond to something painful like this speaks volumes about our character. Carrie Prejean chose to respond calmly and actually state that she forgives Mr. Hilton for his degrading remarks. She had a choice as to what she would say or even if she would say anything. She chose the path of responding with kindness even though she disagreed with him.

I think it's great that she wasn't silent in response to his remarks. She chose to use the opportunity to further defend her position and explain her beliefs in greater detail. She continued to have a calm attitude toward her offender. In fact she expressed care and concern for him. Carrie took what could have been a "downward spiral" and stopped it before it plummeted into a heated exchange. Instead, her reply diverted the tone set by Mr. Hilton. He now basks in the aftereffect of his own words. People on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue don't necessarily want to be associated with him because his comments were so hurtful and extreme.

It took a high pain tolerance for Carrie to choose to be, not just civil, but courageous and courteous in her response. Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." It takes a high pain tolerance to feel the sting and turn it around gently. Carrie paid a high price by stating her views honestly and also responding kindly to Mr. Hilton's insults. I think the crown of her future will be much greater than the one she narrowly missed wearing as Miss USA.

Photo: Dmitry Maslov/

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What I'm reading.....

"Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the handcuffs of hate." William Ward

A few weeks ago on CBS's news program, "60 Minutes," I saw a moving segment on the story of Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, two people whose lives became forever linked through a case of mistaken identity. In addition to telling their story, the segment took the viewer through the experience of identifying someone from a photograph or a line-up and demonstrated how difficult it can be to remember with accuracy the head and facial features of another person.

This subject is of particular interest to my husband, Rich, and me because Rich has long known that he has a disorder known as "Prosopagnosia," also known as facial blindness. It's the inability to recognize a face to some extent. People with this disorder have a hard time distinguishing facial features which give them the capacity to know one person from another. Rich realized many years ago that some people are easily recognizable to him if they have distinct features or a voice which has a unique characteristic. Other people, if he doesn't see and converse with them regularly, seem to fade into a vague category where they look similar to any number of people he may see in a given day. There is nothing extraordinary about them which tips him off as to their identity especially if he hasn't seen them in years. This "60 Minutes" segment displayed how easy it is for anyone, whether they have Prosopagnosia or not, to pick the wrong person.

My current read is the recently published book, "Picking Cotton," based on Ronald and Jennifer's story. I was fascinated by this segment because miraculously, Ronald and Jennifer are very good friends now even though Jennifer mistakenly picked Ronald from a line-up of possible suspects in an attempt to arrest and convict the man who raped her at the age of 22. Ronald, also 22 at the time of the crime, went to jail for eleven years based on Jennifer's mistake.

The subtitle of their book is "Our memoir of injustice and redemption." Now in their late 40's, Jennifer and Ronald, devote their time to efforts which they hope will prevent this tragic type of mistake from happening to others.

I'm only about a third of the way through the book. And I must tell you it's not the kind of light reading you may typically enjoy before bedtime. Both of these individuals experienced brutality that none of us want near us. I am reading this book because I want to read about the kind of forgiveness that allows two people to somehow not just politely reconcile, but actually become dear friends.

Forgiveness like this is rare. It requires two individuals to embrace humility. They must forego vindictiveness which seems very justified. It requires the faith to believe that somehow God has the power to redeem the most tragic of circumstances and make something good from the ashes of brokenness.

Jennifer and Ronald are two people who were handcuffed by hate and have now been set free.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Power of Vision

"There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less."
Kurt Hahn, founder of "Outward Bound"

Rich and I just spent a couple days with our daughter and son in law. They just purchased their first home. It's a very unique home, to be sure. Built sometime near 1920, the home is made of stone and mortar. At some point in time it was occupied by immigrants from Holland who ran a dairy farm on the acreage surrounding the home. Now it's encompassed by middle class suburbia. But it has somehow managed to survive and shines like a gem with its individuality. But yes, it does need some work. The house has great bones but is the object of some puzzling alternations. Its history of residents brought some unskilled creativity to the structure along with some unusual modifications. So our offspring have taken on the task of restoring and modernizing it in keeping with the original character of the house.

Vision is required before they can take action with a hammer in hand. Actually, vision was necessary for them to develop the commitment to purchase this house. When they looked inside the home, vision began to flourish. They know what they want the home to look like. So the current state of the house is quite different from what they envision down the road.

They are both creative people with design skills. But they are also attempting some new challenges. They are both learning to use various tools, trim large trees, re-key locks, etc....thing's they've never attempted before. They've learned some lessons already and continue undaunted toward their goal. It might be easy for them to give up. But keeping the vision of their dream house at the forefront of their mind, gives them inspiration and encouragement as they do the numerous mundane and often annoying tasks required to bring their dream to completion.

The yard, untouched, for many months, will eventually have an intentional look to it with the evidence of their labor and newly-acquired skills. But first they have to cut down the weeds. They will figure out what to do with a 1920-sized closet in the master bedroom. These kinds of things have the potential to overwhelm us and freeze us in a state of discouragement. I have to admit that Rich and I have sometimes questioned their vision. Often those closest to you are the ones who express doubt about your dream and whether it's possible for you to achieve it. Now that we've been watching their progress we find we are inspired by their dedication to their vision.

Are you frozen in a situation where you feel overwhelmed? What dream do you have that has been buried in a mire of challenges? Have you looked at the obstacles and decided your dream probably won't happen?

Working with a coach can move you beyond the frozen state and into the reality of actively working toward your goal. Coaches provide perspective, feedback and creative planning. It's easy to get side-tracked when you work alone. The strength of the coaching partnership provides forward-thinking and will give you the tools to move ahead with your vision.

Is it time for you to begin working with a coach?

Photo: Galyna Andrushko/

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Take the cookies when they are passed

So what life lessons can be found in a cookie (other than too many can add unwanted pounds?) Well, quite a bit actually. I recently heard the saying, "Take the cookies when they are passed." This is a "seize the moment" message. It's easy to fall into procrastination and postpone taking action on things we say are significant to us.

Some cookies only pass by once in a lifetime. If we're honest, all of us usually have some things we'd change if we could. Maybe they are not monumental issues, but generally we can look back and wish we'd done something different. There may have been conversations we wish we'd had with someone who is no longer alive. Or maybe there were educational or career opportunities we would take now that we passed up years ago. It may not be possible to return to that specific opportunity. Those of us who have raised children often look back wishing we would have handled something differently. For that particular moment in time, we cannot go back and change the situation. It's in the past.

Not all cookies are good for you. Be selective about which cookies you take. Some will wreak havoc with your life. It's best to let those go by. In fact, stay away from the plate. Taking risks or making choices that threaten your health or moral integrity can inflict devastation on yourself or others. Things such as substance abuse, cheating on taxes, adultery, or betrayal are best left alone. Though they may be tempting, the payoff isn't worth it. Passing up these cookies may mean you have a seemingly difficult road ahead, but in the end, you'll be very glad you didn't take one of these cookies. They are akin to poison.

Some cookies may come around a second time, but on the other hand, they may not. It's easy for us to have a mindset that says "I can do that later." I find that as I get older, I'm realizing that "later" may be sooner than I envision. Phrases like "Someday let's help build a Habitat for Humanity house" or "Let's go visit Aunt Maria in Italy some year" are plans that are dependent on certain events over which we have little control. What action do you need to take now to move toward the things you intend to do? Losing weight or developing an exercise routine, reviewing for an upcoming exam you know you'll need to eventually take for a promotion, or re-establishing a connection with someone you no longer have contact with, but wish you did, are all things that have a ticking clock alongside them. I'm taking the cookies more these days because I'm not sure they'll be offered to me again.

If you passed up some cookies you wished you'd taken, look for others. Maybe it was best we didn't take them after all. There are valuable lessons in passing up some cookies. If you have regrets, what can you do to create new options for yourself? Opportunities always exist around us. Maybe it won't look quite the same as what you passed up, but it will bring into being something similar or even better than you thought possible. Don't dwell in regret. You may be able to significantly improve a relationship by owning up to imperfection or past mistakes. Your business failure may provide a springboard for you to help someone else or it may lead you to finally researching a new profession you've always been told by others you'd be good at.

So here's to following through on those good intentions today.

"Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great."
Orison Swett Marden

Photo: © Dawn Hudson |

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are you ready for some good news?

I noticed that the celebration and interviews after the "Miracle on the Hudson" went on for over three weeks. We just couldn't get enough of hearing about heros, bravery, humility, kinship, and teamwork.  People are hungry for good news.

In a very dismal economy with so many losing their jobs and homes, is there an upside? I don't know if you've noticed but there is a sense of community emerging. When things get tough, it provides opportunity to reach out to others in new and creative ways.

Having just moved to a small town I am keenly aware that those "in community" take care of each other. There's a family here who just lost a teenage son in an accident and had already been dealing with job loss. People in the town have come together to do what they can to encourage and support this family in some very tangible ways.

Just today I heard about a handful of people who have decided to help a widow with a piece of property she owns. Her husband, Andy, had created a sort of garden and sitting area on the property. It was even used a few times for weddings. His widow couldn't keep it maintained after he died. People began to inquire about it as they saw it begin to deteriorate. Six people are each chipping in $5 monthly so the lawn can be mowed regularly. And others are showing up to trim shrubs, plant flowers, etc. The activity is contagious.  People who didn't know each other before taking on this project are now friends.

As John McCain said, "People long to be part of something bigger than themselves."  There is great satisfaction in joining together with others for a common cause.  

As a coach I get to watch people identify ways they can contribute their time, talents, and treasures to something they are passionate about.  When they take action, good news happens!

Photo:  Ionut Dan Popescu/

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Alternatives to Chocolate

Are you kidding, you might be thinking? Well, yes....I'm not suggesting you eliminate chocolate from your life. I've just been doing some thinking about Valentine's Day and the expressions of love we give to those around us. It's easy to get in a rut and do the same thing each year when February 14 rolls around. Although moms may relish an evening of fine dining without the children, those of you who enjoy new and creative ways to celebrate, may be wondering what your beloved has in mind for 2009's festivity. This year the 14th falls on a Saturday which gives you a wider range of time to celebrate rather than having to cram your fun into a busy weeknight.

For those who may be stressing over what to do, (you have a few days left!) there are many ideas out there. We've all got talents and hobbies. You'll be surprised what you can come up with. Are you musical? artistic, athletic, even engineering-minded? Don't discount your can lead to the best ideas ever.

Valentines Day isn't just for couples. You can make it a family event. Children are so energized by surprises and creativity when it comes to giving to others. Make use of your child's fun-loving spirit and tap into their ideas if you are wanting to include them in the celebration. You can make valentines, cookies, a special dessert (or take them with you to buy it if you are short on time) and include the kids in that.

Have the kids help you write a poem. With a little inspiration you might be surprised what you can come up with. You can even add music and sing it. If the kids want to dress up, go for it!

Make a list of a few people you know who are alone this year on Valentine's Day. What could you do for them to bring a smile to their faces? The joy of giving is hard to top.

Having been married 38 years, my husband and I are always looking for ways to add some creativity and new ideas to our relationship. Both our children are recently married and live several hours from us, so its just the two of us.

I have to say that I have enjoyed the dinners and the flowers I've received over the years. But this year we are planning something different for our celebration.

Being that we are now living on California's Central Coast, we decided we'd spend Saturday, the 14th, together with an opened-ended day. We're starting out by heading 20 miles north to a restaurant located in a scenic spot for a mid-late morning breakfast. We're dressing casual because there are some great walks in this area. You can hike trails which take you through hillsides or down to the water's edge. Tidepools abound so watersocks will be in order. Because we have a Jeep Wrangler we can explore some new territory in the hills. I'm looking forward to seeing things I haven't seen before. We're skipping the fine dining in a restaurant for this year, but will celebrate in some other unique environments, I think.

What activities are in your area you have never checked out before? You know they exist but have been too busy to stop and experience them. Saturday, the 14th, may be the time.

Whatever you do, enjoy the opportunity to do something nice with those you love. They are your greatest treasure. And you can even include a little chocolate in some ingenius way!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Under the magnifying glass

No doubt the issue of character is before us on a daily basis. Our own, and reports of everyone elses! Some decisions we make are very cut and dried in our mind when it comes to what's right and wrong. Other decisions may be more problematic to sort out.

Most everyone wants to be viewed as having a high level of moral character. Words which claim our high integrity are easily spoken. However, when one digs below the surface they may find our integrity lacking.

Our news reports are full of stories of character-related issues. Today we learned that some of Obama's nominees for cabinet positions withdrew their names due to questions about their honesty in declaring income and taking deductions over the past few years. When the magnifying glass was placed over their tax returns, it was brought to the attention of the world that some things had been omitted, tweaked, minimized, etc. With most Americans wanting to see our government leadership conducting themselves at a higher level of honesty, this is not good news. Each political party wants to point fingers at the other side, but it seems to be indicative of the whole spectrum of public servants no matter what their ideology.

I have to ask....with so many people without adequate healthcare, what kind of person do we want heading the Health and Human Services Department? With multiple natural disasters in our country over the past five years, what kind of person would be most effective leading a department overseeing these misfortunes?

There is something to be said for a leader not only saying they are passionate about an issue, but living in a way that demonstrates it and attracts others to follow their lead. Leaders who connect in a tangible way to the people they serve are usually the most effective in achieving their goals and bringing others on board to serve enthusiastically alongside them. Leadership often involves sacrifice and denial of personal fame and fortune in order to bring advancement to those who need it. Our comfort levels are often challenged. There are no shortcuts to good leadership. Honesty and humility in service energizes people and builds trust for the road ahead.

Given what happened today, I wonder if the nominees feel it was worth it to declare less income and take deductions which were questionable. Did the revelation of their actions build a higher level of trust and connect them to the populace they serve?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a new era..what defines yours?

Yes, it just happens to be Inauguration Day here in the United States. And it is a new era. We just watched the first black American take the presidential oath of office. This image is astounding to me, especially when we watch the inhumane film footage of the civil rights struggle in the 60's. Finally, the long era of "whites only" discrimination is quickly diminishing. But like the Holocaust, for our own good, it should never be forgotten.

The term "era" is used to describe a period of time with a particular distinction or feature usually with historical significance. We learn major lessons when looking at eras of the past.

We're all waiting to see what the Obama era will be like. He has plans and aspirations, but looking at his predecessor teaches him that there is only so much he can predict or control. We won't know about the Obama era until down the road. Former President Bush had ideas of what his era would hold, but 9/11/2001 changed much of it.

Entering a new era gives me opportunity to ask questions of myself. This era of moving to a new community is rather unknown and unfamiliar and the distinctions haven't been documented yet. But I have some choices before me as to how I can use my time, talent and treasures. Those choices will help form my new era. I'm thinking about what ideals and convictions I can choose to act on that will help to shape my era. Some of it will be a surprise, things beyond my current visibility, but some of it will be my deliberate choosing.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose...most times you choose between the two"*

In the backyard of the home I just moved from, I had a birdhouse mounted on a tall post. My husband, Rich, made it for me for a special occasion one year. I had flowers planted in pots hanging on the post along with the sign, "To everything there is a season." This phrase comes from a verse in in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes. Having these words posted in a garden was appropriate, don't you think? But that phrase refers to so much more than flowering plants going in and out of season. Our lives are made up of numerous seasons because we live in an ever-changing world.

This morning I read the phrase:
"Whatever the season of life, attitude makes all the difference."

I was thinking about one of my coaching clients who called yesterday to tell me he had to re-schedule our appointment because his 90 year old grandmother had been hospitalized and he needed to help his mom with some issues related to his grandmother's condition. "Grandma" refuses to leave her home even though she struggles to adequately and safely care for herself there anymore. My client is in one of those seasons we all encounter which challenges our comfort and contentment level.

I'm in one of those seasons myself. I don't do well with chaos and moving tends to be chaotic most of the time. It's easy to let frustration, disappointment and maybe even anger pull us off-track. We can get so irritated we lose perspective.

I don't want to let the frustration of a season hinder my ability to see and experience other things which can bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart. What things could you be missing today due to a difficult season? How can you look past the discomfort and take full advantage of your day? I don't want to miss a thing!

"The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstances."
Martha Washington

(If you want to check out the nifty hidden pot hangers I used in my backyard, look at

*lyrics by Carole King, "Sweet Seasons" from the album "Music" originally released 1971 Ode Records.

Photo: Yuriy (image #3697348)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Saying goodbye to a happy house.

Yesterday I said goodbye to our house of 33 years. Unbelievable! Yes, 33 years in one place. That doesn't happen too often in our transient world.

Saying farewell to this house was a departure of choice for us. With our two children both married, my husband and I decided we wanted to opt for living in a smaller, simpler place. The realization that time passes so quickly brought us to the crossroads of deciding how we want to spend our time. Tending a quarter acre lot was never-ending. Although doing so brought great satisfaction at times, it left us feeling drained and longing for time to pursue other things. So many families are facing departures right now and they have no other choice. Honestly, I don't know what it feels like to face foreclosure. I'm thankful for this house...a treasured shelter for so many years.

Like any family, we had our times of light-hearted play, joy and celebration in this house and also our moments of conflict, chaos and struggle to hold it all together. We remember both the good times and the hard times as it is part of who we are. The tapestry of our relationships is woven with both the pleasure and pain we all experience.

Time to leave...I got into my car and slowly backed out of the driveway. I paused there in the street waiting to drive away. I found it very difficult to put my foot on the accelerator and proceed up the street. It was like I was frozen and unable to move forward. But the inevitability of doing so eventually gave me the courage to face the realization that it was time to move on. It felt very unreal.

As I left the neighborhood I thought about the fact that in moving, I leave the structure...the shelter that was our physical haven. With me I take the tapestry...the experiences, the memories, and the relationship our family has created in dwelling together. My children are now weaving their own tapestries in new places. Rich and I will continue to create more relationship in a new physical location.

A friend recently commented to me that in seeking new adventure, we find it is always accompanied by some type of loss. I found that true yesterday. Leaving brings unfamiliarity, discomfort, and uncertainty. The flip side is I get to take the relationships and the recollections with me. Home is not just the physical dwelling place, but the true sense of being connected with our families and experiencing life together.

When we listed our house for sale, our real estate agent said that we had a happy house and prospective buyers can sense the emotion of a house when house-shopping. Apparently some homes are sad and lack a warmth that attracts people. I'm glad to know the people who now inhabit our house are anticipating a positive experience living there.

Life coaching is often about transitioning from a "known" to an "unknown." This journey of leaving will take me to a place of greater understanding and empathy as I coach others on their path of change.