Bouncing Back from Life’s Challenges and Disappointments

An Inspirational Article by Author Linda Graham: Hiccups and Hurricanes

Bouncing Back by Linda GrahamWhen you read (or hear) the words “bouncing back,” what do you think of? I suppose it’s because I’ve had three daughters, but when I see/hear the words, I initially think of “bouncing back” from a 9 month pregnancy, labor, and recovery.  I imagine the time and effort it takes to “feel whole” again.

This imagery can actually accompany anything that we need to “bounce back” from.

I remember when my husband’s mother passed away.  When we went to a ballgame soon after and my husband was taking business calls as he ate popcorn and got ready to throw out the first pitch, I thought “he’s returning to a type of normalcy.”  Put another way, he was “bouncing back.”  All of us who have lost loved ones know that, at some point, you have to get up and carry on. You have to find a way to smile again and look at the future with hope as you make peace with the past and present.

Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a health set-back, financial thunderstorm, or relationship disaster – we either bounce back or we stay down.

Staying down just isn’t an option, right.

A very talented author, Linda Graham, MFT, has written a fascinating, thought-provoking, and challenging book wonderfully titled Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being.

From the Back Cover of Bouncing Back:

Resilience is the ability to face and handle life’s challenges, whether everyday disappointments or extraordinary disasters. While resilience is innate in the brain, over time we learn unhelpful patterns, which then become fixed in our neural circuitry. But science is now revealing that what previously seemed hardwired can be rewired, and Bouncing Back shows us how. With powerful, time-tested exercises, Linda Graham guides us in rebuilding our core well-being and disaster-proofing our brains.

Below is an article that was written by Linda Graham. It sort of “sets the stage” for the book.

Hiccups and Hurricanes: Bouncing Back from Life’s Challenges

By Linda Graham

We are all called upon to cope with hiccups and hurricanes in our lives — losing our wallet and car keys, discovering mold in the bathroom, missing three days at the office to care for a sick child — and we do. We are resilient heroes in our own lives every day as we skillfully navigate the disruptive, unwanted changes of the washing machine going on the fritz or the car needing a new transmission.

Occasionally we have to respond with grace under pressure to greater troubles and tragedies: infertility or infidelity, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, losing a job, a son wounded in combat overseas.

The way we can bounce back from such everyday disappointments and extraordinary disasters is through resilience – capacities innate in the brain to respond to the inevitable twists and turns in life flexibly and adaptively.

Modern neuroscience is revealing how we can harness the brain’s capacities of neuroplasticity to rewire our habitual patterns of response to strengthen what I call the 5 C’s of coping:

  1. Calm: You can stay calm in a crisis.
  2. Clarity: You can see clearly what’s happening as well as your internal response to what’s happening; you can see what needs to happen next; and you can see possibilities from different perspectives that will enhance your ability to respond flexibly.
  3. Connection: You can reach out for help as needed; you can learn from others how to be resilient; and you can connect to resources that greatly expand your options.
  4. Competence: You can call on skills and competencies that you have learned through previous experience to act quickly and effectively.
  5. Courage: You can strengthen your faith to persevere in your actions until you come to resolution or acceptance of the difficulty.

More than 80 exercises in Bouncing Back allow you to do this rewiring safely, efficiently, effectively.  The tools and techniques drawn from mindfulness practices and relational psychology create and accelerate brain change and strengthen the parts of the brain we need to cope.  You recover a deep resilience and well-being that will last a lifetime.

An example: Keep CALM and Carry On

The fastest way to regulate the body’s stress response and return to a sense of calm is to activate the release of oxytocin in the brain.  Oxytocin is the neurostransmitter of safety and trust and is the brain’s direct and immediate antidote to the stress hormone cortisol.  Oxytocin can be thought of as the neurochemical foundation of resilience.

The fastest way to release oxytocin and mitigate stress is through safe touch in a soothing relationship.  Fortunately, neuroscientists have demonstrated many times that even remembering or imaging someone we love and by whom we feel loved is enough to release small but regular doses of oxytocin.

Exercise: Hand on the Heart

We come into steady calm by experiencing moments of feeling safe, loved, and cherished and letting those moments register in our body and encode new circuitry in our brain. This exercise offers a way to evoke those feelings.

1. Begin by placing your hand on your heart, feeling the warmth of your own touch. Breathe gently and deeply into your heart center, taking in a sense of calm, peace, goodness, safety, trust, acceptance, and ease.

2. Once that’s steady, call to mind a moment of being with someone who loves you unconditionally, someone you feel completely safe with. This may, of course, be a partner, child, or parent; but if the dynamics of those relationships are complicated and the emotions mixed, you may choose any true other to your true self: a dear friend, a trusted teacher, a close colleague or neighbor, a therapist, your grandmother, a spiritual figure like Jesus or the Dalai Lama, or your wiser self. Pets are also great for this exercise.

3. As you remember feeling safe and loved with this person or pet, see if you can sense in your body the positive feelings and sensations associated with that memory. Really savor a feeling of warmth, safety, trust, and love in your body.

4. When that feeling is steady, let go of the image and simply bathe in the feeling itself for thirty seconds. Savor the rich nurturing of this feeling; let it really soak in.

The Neuroscience:

Breathing deeply, gently, and fully activates the calming branch of our autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic branch. The parasympathetic modulates the body-brain’s fight-flight-freeze response when we feel threatened or agitated. Breathing, or pranayama, has been a core practice in yoga and meditation to relax the body and steady the mind for over 3,500 years.

Breathing positive emotions into the heart center steadies the heart rate, restoring the equilibrium of the body so that we can remain present and engaged. In evoking a memory or image of feeling loved and cherished, we evoke a sense of safe connection with others; the oxytocin immediately
reduces our stress.  That evocation also activates the prefrontal cortex, which triggers the hippo-campus to search for explicit memories of moments when we have been held, soothed, protected, encouraged, believed in, times when we have reached out for help and received comfort and support

Through safety and trust in connection, we come back into our baseline equilibrium. From there, with our higher, thinking brain calm and alert, we can mobilize quickly, act skillfully, and take care of business.

Based on the book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. Copyright © 2013 by Linda Graham. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.

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Linda Graham, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and meditation teacher in full-time practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. She integrates her passion for neuroscience, mindfulness, and relational psychology through trainings, consultations, workshops, and conferences nationally. She publishes a monthly e-newsletter, Healing and Awakening into Aliveness and Wholeness, and weekly e-quotes on resources for recovering resilience, archived at www.lindagraham-mft.net.

Find Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being on Amazon!

One Small Step Can Open a Whole New World

Don't Let Life Slip Away from You!

No Line Bifocals

I know, better than anyone, that my advice isn’t worth pure gold. Even on my best day, I’d never suggest that anything I have to say is worth a $20 bill. Someone once suggested that I charge people to read certain articles on Self Help Daily. I was relieved that he suggested it in e-mail, so he didn’t have to see me throw my head back and laugh as I said, “Oh, that’s a good one!”

I don’t have an over-inflated sense of myself or anything about me… well, I take that back. I’m beyond cocky about my cooking. I’m pretty sure that if anyone ever told me something I cooked or baked was less than a 10 on a scale of 1-10, I’d grab them by their neck collar and throw them out of my kitchen, all the while asking them how they managed to live to this point with absolutely no taste buds.

I’d offer to set up a fund and solicit money to buy them a new tongue – one with taste buds that actually function. I’m just charitable like that.

In all seriousness (an area I seldom visit), the advice I’m about to lay on you is golden. It’s the best advice you will get all year.

I’m not being cocky.

I’m not being grandiose.

I’m simply being honest.

If you have anything in the world that stands between you and enjoying the world to its absolute fullest, I plead with you to take the one small step to navigate around it.

I have been needing new glasses for years. YEARS. But, like most people, I kept seeing other things that I’d rather spend time and money on. Looking back, I know just how ridiculous I was. I’d even go as far to say that I was foolish.

Since I’d last gotten a pair of glasses, my vision has changed a great deal. I could tell when driving or riding in a car, for example, that I couldn’t read signs I was pretty sure I once read. When reading a book or the back of a cereal box, for that matter, I always had to take my glasses off or peek over the top in what I always termed my “annoyed librarian look.” The kind of look a librarian throws to kids who aren’t talking with their “indoors voice.”

The vision change happened so gradually I wasn’t fully aware of just how much I was missing. I knew that I had been slacking off on my writing and reading, but I guess (somehow) I never attributed it to the simple fact that trying to SEE the words I wanted to type and read had become such a challenge.

I knew I needed stronger glasses and I knew I needed bifocal lenses. But I kept putting it off – for years. And years. It wasn’t vanity because thanks to AMAZING technology, today’s bifocals look exactly like all other glasses. “No Line Bifocals” look the same as all other glasses. It boggles the mind, but NO ONE knows you’re wearing bifocals except you. You know it when you can actually read without taking off your glasses, you know when the text on your phone is clearer than ever, and you know when you don’t whip out your annoyed librarian look while reading small print.

More than anything, I think I was afraid of being able to adjust to bifocal lenses. I envisioned myself getting seasick just walking through the room. I pictured myself floundering in a distorted world that suddenly seemed like a house of mirrors.

I got my beautiful new No Line Bifocal glasses this weekend and am relieved to say I’m neither seasick or floundering. What I am is amazed.  Absolutely amazed.  A whole new world has, literally, been opened up for me and I realize, now, that I didn’t even realize, then, just how much I was missing.

As soon as we left Lenscrafters, I found myself reading billboards and restaurant names from FAR away.  Because my vision had deteriorated slowly, the world had, in a sense, slowly slipped away from me.  But the story has such a happy ending, I can’t even feel sad for the time lost – I’m too excited for the time saved!

If you need glasses, bifocal lenses, hearing aids, or anything else that will help open a whole new world for you, again, I’m pleading with you to simply take the small step needed to walk through the door.  The world may be slowly slipping away from you and, because it’s been so gradual, you may not even completely realize it.

My mother experienced gradual hearing loss beginning at a very young age. Although everyone needed to repeat things to her several times, she always seemed to think that people were mumbling.  Everyone, thinking of what all she was missing, kept telling her to get her hearing checked because she needed hearing aids.  No one did it in an ugly manner, of course – only jerks do that.  Personally, I never even minded repeating myself.  If someone actually cares enough about what I say to ask me to repeat it… I’m flattered!

However, my mom (who was such a character, I can’t even tell you – she was the very definition of a PILL!) did what just about everyone with hearing loss did. If she’d already asked someone to repeat themselves several times – she didn’t want to keep on asking, “What?” or “Excuse me?”  She’d simply kind of guess at what they’d said and either laugh or or answer with something she hoped would fit the situation.

Sometimes she’d be so off base I’d have to laugh.  She’d answer my dad at times with completely off the wall responses and I can still see the befuddled expression on his face.  One time he told her that the heat needed to be turned up “a couple of notches” and she said, “I’m going to the store later.”  He said, “Okay. Let’s go with that.”

To which she replied, “Of course you can go with me.”

He then looked at me and whispered, “Help.”

While we sometimes laugh at moments that surround vision and hearing – at ourselves as well as others – let’s be honest. It’s not all that funny, is it?  While we may tell ourselves, “I’m as blind as a bat!” or while someone may tell us, “You can’t hear a lick!” – I don’t think anything that stands between someone and life is anything to laugh at.

My mom, to her credit, did make an appointment for a hearing test. She got a couple of hearing aids and, honestly, tears kind of come to my eyes when I remember the look on her face when she heard birds singing for the first time in what must have been 20 or more years.  We were in front of her house and she said, “Listen!  The birds are singing!”

I thought, Momma, they’ve been singing all along.

So often, she’d ask us, “Have you always been able to hear that?”

She started calling her hearing aids her “ears” and would often say something like, “We can go in a minute… just let me put my ears on.”

The world had slowly slipped away from her and she didn’t even know it.   You, while reading these words, may be in the same boat as my mom (hearing loss) or with me (vision problems).  The world could be slipping slowly away from you, and that really breaks my heart.

If the only thing standing between you and hearing aids, glasses, reading glasses, or bifocal lenses is vanity – let me give you a wake up call.  No one cares. They really don’t.  I think a lot of people are afraid of looking “old” or of being perceived as “old” when it comes to glasses and hearing aids.

Duh!  There are grade school kids who require glasses and hearing aids.  Besides, I’ll give you another little wake up call.  If you’re in your fifties, you aren’t keeping that a secret from anyone, no matter what you may think.  The world will know you’re there and, guess what… again, they don’t care! Fifties and sixties, today are like the yesterday’s forties.

Never be ashamed of your age… be proud.

Besides, let’s be honest, who will be perceived as older, the one who has to do the “annoyed librarian” move or the one who simply sees what they want to see.  Who’ll be perceived as older, the one who says, “What?” or the one who gives a perfect answer every time, right on cue?

Today’s glasses and hearing aids are made so stylish, anyway.  With people living longer, companies are making sure that these products are as fashionable and discreet as ever. Trust me, you’ll be blown away.

You’ll want to kick yourself for not taking that first step sooner. When you’re seeing or hearing everything you’ve been missing, you will feel like a whole new world has opened up right before you.  Think of the scene in the movie Avatar when Pandora opens up for the first time.  It’s like that… only better.

You’ll find that you have more time to actually LIVE and enjoy life. You may not realize just how much effort it takes to try to do things others take for granted. I spent so much time taking glasses off, putting glasses on, walking closer to see what I needed to see, etc. I never realized how much effort I was having to put into life!  The same is true for those who have hearing loss. They have to ask others to repeat what they said (and subject themselves to some people who get annoyed when they have to repeat themselves), they have to try to read lips (my mom mastered this trick), they have to, nervously, throw out an answer and hope for the best.

That’s a lot of effort. It’s also a great big fat (and needless) barrier between yourself and life.

Please don’t live on the sidelines any longer. Make this the week you call for an appointment. There is LITERALLY a whole new world waiting for you to step into it. You just have to make that first step.  As I’m typing these words, I see my computer screen more clearly than ever. The words are sharp and clear.  Every now and then, I glance out of the window my my desk and window and see the birds and trees that I love so much. They had been slowly fading away from me and I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am to have them back.

When things fade away gradually, you never realize it fully until you have them back again.  I stopped reading the signs on the way home because it occurred to me, my husband has seen them all along. He doesn’t need me to read them to him!  So, I silently read them to myself and felt so much joy that I had trouble containing it.

The world is a joyful, beautiful thing. Please don’t let it slip away. I feel so strongly about this that it hit me this morning – if my words and our story (mine and my mom’s) can make just one person take that first step, every minute I’ve ever put into Self Help Daily will have been more than worth it.

 ”Listen!  The birds are singing!“  (Momma, they’ve been singing all along.)

Like It Or Not, Priorities Shape Our Actions

These Actions Go On To Shape Our Lives!

Funny, isn’t it, how oftentimes the answer to our problems is ridiculously simple. As you know, I work full-time from home as a web publisher.  My husband has a full-time job, but as for my own personal income – what I make online is it.  I may never be rolling in it, but I’m wild about the whole coffee in my pjs until the mood to get dressed hits me thing and my cats consider the arrangement the deal of a lifetime.

Nine lifetimes, even. Priority vs Option

I recently had an issue with one of my websites.  I won’t bore you with the details because my website and I aren’t what’s important here.  You are. And if you can glean anything from our hassle, then the hassle would have been worthwhile.

I was starting to get a little stressed out over this particular website and felt like our relationship was about as strained as a jar of baby food.  When I have something on my mind and want it resolved quickly, I always do one of three things:

  • I take the problem to the shower with me.
  • I take the problem for a walk.
  • I Swiffer the house as the problem rides shotgun.

It was cold outside and I didn’t want to get wet (a given in the shower), so I shot my computer an “I’m out!” look and headed for the Swiffer Wipes.  Without fail, when I concentrate on something menial, like walking or cleaning (me or floors), my mind figures things out for itself.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey

The weird thing about my mind is that when it comes up with the solution, it doesn’t speak to me in long, poetic prose.  It seldom even adds pictures to its message.  Truth be told, the answer I need is very often simply a short sentence or even just one word.

As I pushed and pulled the Swiffer across the kitchen floor, wondering how I ever lived before these things were invented, it came to me, “If you want something to be as good as it possibly can be – you have to make it a priority, not an option.”

I literally uttered the word, “Ouch.”

I hadn’t really been making this particular website a priority.  I guess I really hadn’t been making a lot of websites a priority if we’re being totally honest.  The holidays have this effect on me.  All I seem to want to do around November and December each year is bake, look for new recipes, bake goodies, watch Christmas movies, bake more goodies…  You get the idea.

Basically, I was expecting everything to be sparkly and golden without putting in any elbow grease.  What can I say, sometimes I’m a very clever girl.

After finishing the floors, I sat back down at my computer and vowed to make the website a priority. I’ve done so for a while now and our relationship has improved by leaps and bounds and, wouldn’t you know it, the website is now performing exactly how I wanted it to.

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This same common sense approach can solve just about any type of problem you can think of.

  • relationships
  • weight
  • health
  • work
  • school
  • housework

Taking any of these from bad to good or even from good to great may be as simple as making it a priority as opposed to an option.

Priorities shape our actions and our actions shape our future. – This Side of the Swiffer

Negativity is Sneaky Toxic…

It'll Infect You, Then Make YOU a Carrier!

Quote About Negativity

Day 8 of November’s National Health Blog Challenge Month!

I remember, vividly, a trip to the dentist when I was 7 years old. I was in the second grade and it was my yearly dental check up. My mom was like clockwork when it came to keeping monthly and yearly dental, eye exam, and doctor visits for her only child. Looking back, I admire that and am very grateful.  At the time, I thought she just delighted in finding fresh ways to annoy me.  On this particular visit, I remember two things in particular:

  • Something being put over my mouth and nose that smelled like Dentyne. I thought that was pretty cool and made the entire thing almost worth it.
  • I remember a huge, heavy, weighted blanket being put over my little second grader-sized body before they took x-rays of my teeth.

When they put the heavy blanket on me, I wasn’t expecting it to be so heavy. I nearly slid out of the chair. Even then I had a flair for the dramatic.

I thought about this moment recently when thinking about negativity.  I’ve always despised negativity of any kind.  I think my husband has possibly the best “code word” for negativity. He calls it TOXIC. I think I’ve written about it before on the self help blog, but I’ll briefly re-tell the story. He had gone out of town for a two day golf outing with a business acquaintance. When he came home, I met him at the door and he practically ran inside, shaking  “off” something – like someone shakes off snow or rain.  That’s when he told me that he felt like he needed to de-tox after being with this guy because he was just a constant source of negative energy and toxicity.

Every since I first heard him describe it that way, I’ve associated the negativity and toxicity together.

The world is full of a lot of fear and a lot of negativity, and a lot of judgment. I just think people need to start shifting into joy and happiness. As corny as it sounds, we need to make a shift.  – Ellen DeGeneres

Negativity = Toxicity

In the way the dentist’s assistant draped the heaviest blanket in the world over me to protect me from the x-rays, I try to throw up a virtual blanket to protect myself from toxic negativity.

Here’s the thing. I realized a while back that we generally despise in others things that we, ourselves, aren’t guilty of.

  • People who have worked hard all of their life detest laziness.  If they thinks someone’s getting a “hand out” when they could be and should be working for it (like they do), they don’t just get angry – they get HULK angry!
  • People who don’t have a racist or judgmental bone in their body see red when someone else has more than a few such nasty bones.
  • People who are grateful for everything they have – and aren’t bitter about the things they don’t have – tend to have zero patience for ingrates.
  • People who are positive want to run… not walk… away from negativity.

I happen to be a very positive person. It’s not that I haven’t seen my share of loss, heartache, and disappointment. I most certainly have.  However, I have enough sense to realize that it’s all part of life and I don’t, for a second, consider myself “mistreated” by life.  Some people groan, sigh, and complain so much I want to tell them to just go shut themselves off from the rest of the world if they have it so bad.  They seem to think they, somehow, deserve more than they have.

I really lose patience with people who complain and gripe about their lives when there are people out there right now suffering through unimaginable circumstances and just trying to learn how to smile again.  Just recently, Hurricane Sandy ripped people’s lives and families apart.  I’ve read stories of  people who have lost their homes, and far worse their children.  So, no, I really don’t want to hear anyone complain about not being able to get all the Christmas gifts they want to this year because times are so hard.

Negativity creates an air of defeat and misery. When exposed to it, it can seem overwhelming and you all but find yourself gasping for breath!

The best thing to do is protect yourself from as much negativity as possible.  Like a heavy blanket protects a small child from x-rays, common sense can protect us all from the effects of negativity.

Why Guard Against Negativity?

Simple – because if you expose yourself to something long enough (or if you, yourself, take part in the sport), it will become commonplace.  It WILL become your normal.  It’s the same with just about everything – not just negativity.  Ever see someone who dresses or behaves in a socially unacceptable way and wonder, “What are they thinking?!

They’re thinking they’re normal.

The way they look, the obnoxious way they act, their constant stream of negativity…. it’s their commonplace.

That’s why it’s so important to take inventory of your behavior, your life, your habits, and the way you treat people on a regular basis.  If we were all as honest about our own shortcomings as we are everyone else’s, we’d be able to recognize the mistakes we’re making before they cement in and become our normal or our commonplace.

I run a web publishing business from home, which means I write for, create, publicize, decorate, and/or maintain around 20 websites and blogs.  To say I spend a great deal of time online wouldn’t just be an understatement, it’d be a gross understatement.  Someone was talking about something that happened on Twitter one day and they asked me, “Did you see…..”  I had to stop them with, “Of course I saw it on Twitter… if it’s online, I see it. Just try to sneak something by me online!”

Because I’m online a great deal of time, I see a lot… a lot a lot a lot… of negativity. It seems like people think of online communities, forums, blogs, Twitter and other social media sites as their own personal place to spread negativity.  They’re like, “YEAH, BABY… I CAN MAKE THIS TOXICITY GO VIRAL!!!”

And, then.. so often they do.

There’s a domino effect to negativity – online and off. If you don’t guard against it, you won’t just become infected, yourself, you’ll become a carrier.  Forgive the bluntness, but crap spreads.  Think about reality shows. Some of the ones on today are disgusting, offensive, reprehensible, and downright embarrassing to humanity!  They didn’t happen overnight. They snuck up on us because, slowly but surely, they became our normal – our commonplace.

If you’re a bundle of negativity today – you didn’t start out that way. However, over the years, it became your “thing.”  Don’t let it identify you anymore. Shake, shake, shake, shake it off!

Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one. – Dr. Hans Selye

Ways to Guard Against Negativity

I, myself, have unfollowed extremely negative people on Twitter.  Some complaining and venting will happen – it’s perfectly natural. But when every single tweet reeks of misery and hate – I’m out. I don’t need that in my life, quite frankly.

I’ve also stopped reading a few blogs because the author or authors weren’t people I’d want to sit down and have lunch with.  In fact, if I saw them coming in the front door, I’d head out the back! They say misery loves company… so I’ll just leave the miserable to one another. I don’t need their black clouds hovering over me.

I’ve heard of a few people who deleted their Twitter and/or Facebook accounts because they couldn’t handle all of the bickering, complaining, and negativity.  Personally, I think it’s easier just to distance yourself from the offenders.  Having said that, however, it’s far better to delete them than to let them have a negative effect on you.

I’ve also heard a lot of people complain about forums and health-related communities.  I don’t visit forums often – only when I need help with a certain blog theme or plugin – but I have to admit, there are people on forums who seem to have one goal for the day: To rub as many people the wrong way as possible.  There is a female moderator (ironically there to help people… the last thing she ever seems to want to do!) on a particular tech-related forum who is so hateful, rude, and disrespectful that people have started asking for one of the other moderators in their topics!  Basically, they’re saying, “I don’t want to deal with the she-devil..”

If you find that a certain website, blog, forum, or community is uncommonly negative, my advice is to avoid it. Don’t let them rub off on you.

I have NEVER missed any negativity that I kicked out of my life. In fact, I’ve always asked myself, “Why’d you wait so long?!”  Whether it’s a mean-spirited blog or someone on a social media site who does nothing but complain, I find that, oddly enough, I never miss toxicity.

That’s my gift. I let that negativity roll off me like water off a duck’s back. If it’s not positive, I didn’t hear it. -  George Foreman

Driven to Distraction by Gnarly Gnats

Brought Back to Normal by a Four Letter Word

Perspective Quote

Most people list flies, mosquitoes, ants, bees, and spiders as their least favorite “pests.”  Spiders even pull double duty and find themselves high on lists of phobias.  I don’t understand that one, personally.  I kind of like the creepy little buggers.  I could watch one working on its web for hours. Such skill and showmanship.

I don’t really have anything against ants or bees either. In fact, I admire any species which answers to the queen.  I also admire each group’s enthusiasm and work ethic.

As for flies and mosquitoes – I’ll admit, they’re pretty bothersome.  Worst picnic guests EVER.

However, you know where you stand with flies and mosquitoes. They aren’t as deceptive, underhanded, and vile as the pest that I call the worst of the bunch: GNATS. Seriously, is anything as annoying or as hard to get rid of?

Our house is outside of the city limits. We’re, literally, surrounded by trees – many of which are apple or pear trees.  Normally, I’m crazy wild about this arrangement.  However, toward the end of summer, gnats can be a bit of a problem.  In the past, they’d make their presence known and I’d wipe out their population in no time flat. However, the army of gnats that attacked us this year have proven to be a very formidable opponent.

I wipe out one battalion and three more take their place.  You don’t see spiders or bees doing anything like that.

It’s almost funny, isn’t it?  Sometimes we can stand up valiantly to the big things in life…. only to wind up in the corner shaking and crying over something extremely small.  Okay, maybe I didn’t cower and cry in a corner, but the gnats didn’t exactly bring out my best side.  I did, however…

  • ….ask God what He had in mind when he created gnats
  • ….threaten to chop down each fruit tree with an ax
  • ….wonder just how cold it is in Alaska
  • …. hurl a word that’s normally reserved for stubbed toes

Toward the end of summer, I came across something that worked like a charm for me.  I’m not talking about a magical potion to trap or kill gnats (although I could now write a book on the subject).  I’m talking about a little sanity preserver when things are  driving us all kinds of crazy.  When we’re stomping around, making a face so ugly it’d frighten small children, and reaching deep into our bag of four letter words for one that rises to the occasion.

Thanks to a colony of gnats that kept gathering around our outside cat’s water dish, one day I came across the best four letter word of all.

There I was, swatting like a woman possessed as our cats (Hannah and Fatima)  took turns watching me exchanging bewildered looks with one another. You know… the kind of crazed expressions all kids make behind their parent’s back.  I also noticed that our inside cat (Alexa the diva) was watching me from the kitchen window.  If she had a “thought bubble,” it would have read “Poor thing’s finally snapped.”

She wouldn’t have been entirely wrong.  Angrily swatting through the air with my fly swatter I must have looked like a band leader on crack.

In the middle of great annoyance and anxiety, a reasonable inner voice finally spoke up:  “It’s just gnats.”  Yes. JUST gnats.  Somehow, the simple little word J-U-S-T calmed my psyche and made the world a more reasonable place again.  Instead of just seeing tiny flying demons taunting me as they dodged my wrath with gracefulness I almost admired – I, once again, saw the beautiful world around me.  I didn’t hear my grumbling and mumbling any longer. I heard birds singing and the wind blowing through the leaves.

One word! And a four letter one, at that.  They have such a bad rep.

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8 Overlooked Factors to Overcoming Failure – in Sports, Business, Relationships, and Beyond

A Guest Post from Author Garret Kramer

Failure quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When it comes to this wild and wooly game we call life, have you ever stopped to wonder why some people “make it,” while others stumble?  More mystifying, of course, is the question, “Why do less talented and seemingly less gifted people sometimes go further than those who are infinitely more gifted?”

As you know, my husband and I are huge sports fans. It never fails to amaze us when a less-athletic, less-coordinated, and less-gifted athlete outperforms one who was, seemingly, touched by God, Himself.  There are some athletes who it would appear God favored with speed, agility, strength, and a multitude of strengths.  So why is it that, sometimes there’s a little guy who it appears God overlooked with a better on-base percentage an stats that make the bigger guys green with envy?

Those of us who watch a lot of sports know that this sort of thing happens a lot.

Naturally, the same situation is found in every walk of life – on the field and off. I’ve had nurses who seemed to know twice as much as the doctors who held them accountable.  I’ve met housewives who know more about what’s going on in the world than any 5 people you could pluck off the street.  And we’ve all met people who are working for a boss and wondered, “How is it NOT the other way around?

Do those who are steps ahead of others know more than the rest?  Is the awkward little baseball player who’s batting .500 a better athlete than the mountain of a player who’s trying to get to .200?

Obviously these people have something going for them.  Personally, I’ve always thought that it comes down to one thing: They work harder. If a baseball player is 5’5″ (on a proud day), weighs in at 145 and happens to be slow, he KNOWS there are bigger guys, faster guys, and stronger guys.   So he works harder.  Maybe, deep down – in  an inward desire to prove himself – he wants it more than the big guys with little to prove.

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Adaptability: The Ability to Keep Oneself from Going Bat *bleep* Crazy

Because No One Wears Bat *bleep* Crazy Well

Iced Green Tea From Starbucks

Adaptability:  Being able to adapt yourself to situations as tea adapts to the container it’s poured into.

Adaptability is a right pretty little word, isn’t it? It’s a word you don’t see very often and an art form that few seem capable of practicing.  If people were more adaptable, you’d see fewer emotional outbursts in traffic, fewer scowls in long grocery lines, and fewer people searching for “Stress Busters” on Google.

Life is filled with changing circumstances. Nothing, absolutely nothing, stays the same. In fact, situations change as often as the weather.   As we adapt our clothing to the weather, we have to master the art of adapting our actions, thoughts, and emotions to circumstances. If we allow new situations to throw us into a tailwind, we’ll look as ridiculous as we would wearing flip flops in snow.

A few weeks ago, I was stuck in traffic on one of the main roads here in Owensboro.   There was nothing but the back ends of cars as far as the eye could see. I popped in one of my classical music cds (I thought the situation called for Tchaikovsky) and thanked God for the Venti Iced Green Tea I’d just bought at Starbucks.  As a small voice inside my head said, “Um, I really don’t have time for this. I need to get these groceries home, fill bird feeders, start supper, do laundry, and add a recipe to my food blog…” a louder, wiser voice said, “Wow, with that much to do, you should enjoy this still and quiet time while you can.”

It’s simply better for the psyche to look for a pretty face hiding behind an ugly mask rather than focus all your energy on the ugliness of the mask.

Speaking of ugly, a man to the right of me kept yelling “Come On!” and “Are you kidding me?!”  Tchaikovsky and I wondered who, exactly, could “Come on!” and who, exactly, he thought was kidding him. As far as we could see, the stop lights were in charge of the situation and I’m pretty sure they aren’t the kidding type.

A woman in front of me had her head hung on her steering wheel and looked so dejected I thought she’d burst into tears at any moment and the woman to the left of me just kept shaking her head and clinching the steering wheel. I kind of wanted to thank them for the show they were putting on but, deep down inside, I kind of felt sorry for them. If something like traffic rattles their cage, their cage isn’t set on a very firm foundation.

Could these three people have had pressing matters and important places to be? Possibly. But the point is, their response to the situation made the situation worse, not better.  They allowed their neck (and face) muscles to tense and their pulse to race. Each one’s central nervous system must have thought something far worse than traffic was going on!

Adaptability, which you can think of as flexibility, means being able to change when the circumstances (or the situation) require it.  Like all good traits and healthy habits, your ability to be more adaptable (flexible) will become stronger the more you practice.  Make it a point to adapt to situations in a mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy way as often as possible.  Before you know it, it’ll be your default mode and you might just find yourself sipping iced tea, listening to relaxing music, chilling like a villain, and watching others come unglued.

Let’s just say, it’s a healthier approach.

Thinking is Cool. Thinking is Hip.

But Over-Thinking Can Sink Your Ship

One day, a centipede walked by a tree where a wise old owl was perched. The owl asked the centipede, “You have so many legs! How do you know which one to move next?” The centipede froze in his tracks. He started thinking. He didn’t know which leg to move so he couldn’t move any. He cried to the owl, “Help me! I’m stuck!” The owl said, “My little friend, you are stuck because you are too focused on yourself. When you are focused on what is going on in the world around you, you have no thoughts about how to move. You simply move.” The centipede looked out to the horizon and saw the sun setting. “How beautiful,” the centipede said. Just then, his legs were freed and he began to walk again.

Quote about Overthinking

The story above has been told and re-told countless times, with countless outcomes.  The owl is sometimes a hawk, a dog, or a wolf. In one version of the story, he was a frog and, in the end, the centipede got run over by a jeep!  This animal lover wasn’t about to go with that version. I liked the version, above, much better.  I got this version from a Christianity.com newsletter (Homeward with Jim Burns) from a year or so ago.

The only thing that stays the same with each version of the story is that the centipede remains a centipede and the fact that he’s rendered immovable by over-thinking.

When I first read the story, I thought of words my husband often uses with sports, especially golf, “Paralysis by analysis.”  Baseball is another sport when it seems that players over-think sometimes. They’ll step away from the plate, seem to give themselves a little mental lecture, step back up to the plate… then watch the ball go right down the middle!  When my team’s at the plate, I find myself begging for them to, “Just hit the darn ball!” When my team’s in the field, I (with cruel intentions) encourage the batter to watch all the strikes he wants to.

When the angel on my right shoulder says I’m not being very nice, the one on the left says, “She ain’t even trying.” She doesn’t have the best grammar – but what do you expect from that one?

Over-Thinking, of course, happens in more places than the sport’s world.

  • How about the bride that nearly cancels (and often does!) her wedding because she can’t afford all the details her mind conjures up?
  • Sometimes entrepreneurs and inventors will keep kicking something around in their mind while someone else jumps in front of them and walks away with the fortune and fame that could have been theirs if they’d gotten their plans out of their head and into the world. Anything left inside your brain is of zero use to anyone.
  • In the world of blogging and website design, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people sit on great ideas while waiting for the “perfect design” or “right time.”  Like the bride who cancels her wedding because everything isn’t perfect, their happily ever after might just slip away.

To bring over-thinking into a situation we can all relate to, think of the times when a spouse is a little late for supper and we’re all but ready to start calling local hospitals! Once, years ago, we were living in the Louisville, Kentucky area.  Wrecks happened on a daily basis because, basically, Louisville’s a city where every driver is convinced they’re the only car on the road.  My husband was an hour and a half getting home.  I was pacing the floor, looking out the window each time I saw a light. I couldn’t reach him on his cellphone.  Naturally, my brain decided that he’d been in a terrible wreck.  When my oldest daughter reassured me that we’d have heard something if that’d happened, I thought, “Not if it happened on a cliff,  in a ditch or in a remote area.”

Because there are so  many cliffs in Louisville.

With six eyes on me (eight if we count the cat), I tried to act casual and nonchalant.  Then the phone rang.  I walked to it, singing, “Well, there he is now.” (Must be cool for the girls, must be cool for the girls…)  I looked at the caller id and it said the name of our local hospital.  I saw my cool sail by me as I said, “Oh my God!”  I answered the phone with a shaky voice as a chipper voice on the other end said they were calling to conduct surveys.   With emotions that ranged from relief to annoyance, I told her that I didn’t believe in surveys.

Seriously?  That’s the best I had

As it turned out, he swears he had told me about a stop he had to make. As the mother of three teenaged girls at the time, he may have told me – I lived in a state of shock for a period of time there.

I wish I could say that this was the only time in my life my mind has ever played director and taken a normal story into the realms of a horror story, but I have the most vivid imagination in the world – so this is just a drop in the bucket.

Over-thinking has probably led to more broken dreams, unrealized potential, arguments, and good old-fashioned ulcers than anything in the world.

Personally, I’m only guilty of over-thinking when it comes to my loved ones. I suppose my efforts to keep them safe from harm causes my brain to conjure up every foreseeable harm, so I can try my best to eliminate it. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

I’ve found, over the years, a solution that works for me.  When worry about my husband, daughters, sons-in-law, or cats creeps into my mind, I simply ask myself, “What’s in the room with you right now?” This odd question reminds me to look around and see reality as it is right now. It serves as a reminder to take things as they are rather than how they could be.

I will say this – if, like me, you’ve seen your fair share of losses (loved ones, etc.), you will be more susceptible to this type of over-thinking.  Those of us who have lost people very close to us – sometimes completely unexpected – will, to a certain degree, be thinking three or four steps in the future for the rest of our lives. It seems to be the brain’s way of protecting itself and bracing itself from having the world pulled out from underneath it again.

Asking yourself, “What’s in the room with me right now?” will help you refocus and realize that everything is safe right now. Take a deep breath and remind yourself of this when your thoughts are running amok and you’re over-thinking things.

How to Overcome Over-Thinking in Other Areas of Life

If we could all eliminate the Over in front of Think and simply Think, we’d be a lot better off.  For those who’s over-thinking prevents them from getting anything done, I’d say they need to eliminate OVER before THINK and add AND DO after it!  Think and Do will get you so much further than Over Think.

I think the first step is… well, to take the first step.  Pull your thoughts out of your head where you’ve been chasing them around (possibly for years) and proactively take the first step.  If you have a book in your mind, open Wordpad  or Microsoft Word and allow the words to finally see the light of day.

About six years ago, a woman contacted me through e-mail. She wanted to know if I’d help her set up a food blog.  I’m a pushover when it comes to helping people, so I told her that if she’d buy the domain name, I’d set the blog up for her, design it, install plugins, etc. I told her she didn’t have to pay me anything, I’d just do it because I felt like paying it forward.  She was over the moon excited and thankful…. Then… then… she tried to think of a domain name.   When I finally helped her come up with one she loved, she got stuck on the colors she wanted on the blog…

This sweet, sweet, sweet woman never got off the first step. She was like the caterpillar in the story above – she just couldn’t move!  She finally apologized for taking up so much of my time and said that it was all “overwhelming” to her and “taking too much time.”  And she hadn’t written a word!

She had an obvious love for recipes and a need to make a little extra money.  If she hadn’t over thought everything, she cold conceivably have a very active food blog today.

Not only will letting the thoughts out of your mind help you get things done, you’ll find that you have a lot more room in your brain for other things.  Did you know that a lot of over-thinkers often experience minor memory problems simply because they have too many things vying for attention in their minds?  It makes sense, doesn’t it? Dump some of these things out and see how much clearer your thinking will become, almost immediately.

In addition to…

  • Taking a realistic look at the situation
  • Turning thoughts into actions

… a great way to overcome over-thinking is to realize that there is no such thing as perfection.  There will never be the perfect job, the perfect WordPress theme, the perfect opening paragraph, the perfect tie, the perfect food blog colors (!!!), etc.  Perfect only exists in your brain and, ask yourself, where’s that getting you?  Like the bride who’s still a bride-to-be because everything doesn’t live up to her thoughts, you’re postponing joy and putting off success with each thought you mull over.

Things don’t have to be perfect to be perfectly wonderful.  Besides, when you jump in and start working, you may just exceed your own expectations and cause your brain to just say, “WOW!”

Stop thinking about magic and get out there and make some magic!

Easy Ways to Overcome Loneliness

You Can Be Happier Than Ever, So Party On!

Polar Bear Rolling in Snow and Playing With Feet
Being the only one in the room (car, house, snow bank…) doesn’t mean you can’t have a party all by yourself!

I’m not entirely sure why, but loneliness… or, more to the point, the thought of anyone suffering from loneliness breaks my heart more than just about anything else. You’d think this effect was because I was familiar with loneliness, but au contraire. I honestly don’t remember experiencing the feeling! Maybe it’s because I was an only child? I remember hours and hours and hours of playing by myself in my room. Hundreds of Barbies, Barbie clothes, cars, houses, planes, etc surrounding me.  And while I always had friends, I also remember a lot of times I’d just ride my bicycle through the neighborhood (as far as my overly protective mother would allow me to go, that is) – with my German Shepherd Lucky close by.

I don’t recall it ever bothering me in the least.  In fact, when a friend would join me on the ride, I’d think, “Well, I guess I won’t be singing Delta Dawn or Brand New Key out loud any more.“  (“I gotta brand new pair of roller skates, you gotta brand new key..“)

I don’t know, maybe my early experiences (pre-marriage and pre-3 little girls!) with being alone taught me that it’s not such a horrific thing.  Maybe my childhood gave me an edge when it comes to realizing that quiet isn’t the least bit unattractive.  Maybe it’s because I always have some form of a much-loved pet nearby. Or maybe I’m simply predisposed to never feeling lonely!

And yet, in spite of it being unfamiliar territory with me, personally, my heart breaks into a billion and one pieces for those who feel lonely.   Sometimes I read e-mails from people who are asking for tips on battling loneliness and I feel my eyes filling with tears faster than a sink fills with water.  I simply don’t want anyone to have that feeling… EVER!

This post would, then, be my attempt to make this feeling go away – to free those who battle loneliness.  As with all of my efforts on my self help blog, I only hope that, somehow, something I say can be of help.

How to Overcome Loneliness

First of all, here’s a philosophy that’s always served me well: When you find yourself in an unpleasant, or even remotely unsettling, position – MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU. Sit the situation across from you and demand something from it that’s of worth to you.  Flip it! For example, sometimes my husband has a lot of yard work waiting on him when the weekend comes. Combine a very large yard with a very meticulous man (sometimes I think he counts the blades of grass) and you have a recipe for a lot of yard work.  However, Mother Nature doesn’t always appreciate the situation. Sometimes it’ll rain all weekend, leaving Mr. Meticulous indoors and the lawnmower and weed eater in the garage…. all watching the rain from a window.

Most of the time, although crest-fallen and heart-broken, Mr. Meticulous will say something like, “Well, this gives me time to catch up with…. (paperwork, reading…).” He takes a negative situation and squeezes something positive from it.

A Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus) Rolls Through the Snow

Anyplace is a good time waiting to happen if you’re in the right frame of mind.

Become an expert at “flipping” situations in your life. If a situation seems unattractive, give it a makeover.  Turn it into something that benefits you and makes you feel like you snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

 

How can this apply to loneliness? 

  • Use your time alone to improve in areas of your life!
  1. Is improving your physical fitness a personal goal? If you’re the only one in the house, you have a gym all to yourself! Pop in a dvd, buy an exercise book, or simply put on Motown and give the cat a show.
  2. Improve your mental fitness and memory by playing brain games. You can find a ton of them online as well as in books.
  3. Read more! All that blissful quiet time means you won’t be interrupted. Pick a favorite author and make your way through each of their books. You can even find online book review blogs and websites where you can talk to others about the books you read.  If you read Agatha Christie, cookbooks, books about birds, Max Lucado, or self help books, e-mail me! We can have some great in-depth conversations.
  4. Have you always wished your house looked like something out of a magazine? Go room by room and make it happen. Begin buying pretty little extras from throw pillows and new curtains to dish washers and dressers. Redecorate, change your colors, have a ball.
  • Have fun!
  1. Have you always wanted to try a new hair color? Who’s stopping you?
  2. Buy bird guides, a couple of bird feeders, and fall in love with bird watching. It’s one of my own greatest joys in life.
  3. Buy a treadmill or other piece of exercise equipment. Not only will you get a workout,  you’ll have a blast.
  4. Carve out an hour or so each day and watch a favorite television show. Buy the seasons on dvd, start at the first and go to the end.  I can practically recite I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith, Sanford & Son, Little House on the Prairie, and Beverly Hillbillies episodes by heart. I’m working on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman!
  5. Take up a craft-y hobby like soap-making, candle-making, and/or jewelry making. I’m actually wanting to do all three! I keep trying to narrow it down to one to start with, but I can’t decide.
  6. Find your BLISS. To me, this means finding things that make you smile, inside-out. Then fill your days and nights with them. Surround yourself with things that make you smile. You are in charge of your own happiness. No one else controls your bliss. It’s in YOUR hands. Use it wisely!

Improve Your Vocabulary

Although this would certainly be a great way to use your time alone, I’m not talking about literally improving your vocabulary.  I’m talking about changing the way you think, and talk, about your time alone. Words are incredibly powerful. The more we say something – whether it’s to ourselves, others, our pets, a plant – the more power it has. If we put a word or words on “repeat,” we give them the power to become Hulk-like in size and strength.  They can, in the end, be our undoing.

Given the fact that words have such super powers, it’s obvious how important it is to say the right words – words that’ll lift us up and put us in a better place.

  • Instead of whining about the house being too quiet, say, “How peaceful!”  Peaceful is one of the most beautiful words in the world – so is her twin, Serenity.
  • Instead of thinking of yourself as being all alone, think of it as “Me time!”  Me time rocks.
  • Instead of sighing, sing!
  • When someone calls and asks how you are, don’t you dare say “lonely!” Say you’re doing great, thank them for asking, and ask how they are. (more on this one in a minute)
  • Delete “lonely” from your vocabulary – being alone does not mean you have to be lonely.

Just promise me you’ll never say the words “I fell lonely” again. Promise? Okay, good. Thank you.

Self-Pity Caution

Self-Pity is a one way ticket to loneliness. Not only will constantly telling other people that you’re lonely cement the fact in your own mind, it’ll be prophetic. Think about it for a minute, if , when you called someone in your family and, every time you cheerfully said, “How are you doing today?!?!” they dragged on and on about how lonely they were… well… how long before you just quit asking?!  People are not drawn to moodiness or misery. It brings them down.

Literally, in fact. Research has shown that humans pick up on the vibes others send out.  Mr. Negative Pants can, literally, bring you down.  Mrs. Bitter can leave you feeling angry and unhappy. Next time you’re around someone who’s angry, notice how the muscles in your own neck tense up.

This reaction is why it’s palpable when someone who’s charged with negative energy leaves the room. It’s as though the room breaths a sigh of relief right along with you.

Whether people even realize it, they are put off by situations in which other people “bring them down.”  I’m convinced that many times (not all) the main reason a son or daughter doesn’t call/visit mom or dad more often is this: They don’t like the way they feel afterwards.  If they get an earful of how sad, lonely, and depressed their beloved parent is (especially if they get the feeling that they, inadvertently, contributed to this misery) – they’re going to feel really down when they get off the phone or leave.

When the calls and visits begin dwindling, he or she may not even realize, themselves, why.  But the bottom line is a lot simpler than most people realize: No one wants to feel down.

Be upbeat and as positive as possible when talking to others.  Obviously, if you feel sick, you HAVE to say so – just don’t go on and on about being lonely.  After all, you’ve promised not to use that word again, remember?! You’re enjoying “me time,” and basking in peacefulness and serenity, right?! You’re finding your bliss for crying out loud! This is you loving your life…..

And don’t you forget it. ;)

A Polar Bear Rolls About in a Snow Drift

By all means, use some times to be alone;
Salute thyself–see what thy soul doth wear;
Dare to look in thy chest, for ’tis thine own,
And tumble up and down what thou findest there.
- William Wordsworth

+++ The ridiculously gorgeous polar bear pictures in this post are actually ridiculously gorgeous art prints, available online. Click through the one(s) that catch your eye and check them out.  You know me, I want one of each. For each room. I’m polar bear-obsessed like that.

Empty Nest Syndrome: Do More than Just Cope

There's Coping... then There's Cavorting!

Red Tail Hawk

If you’re looking for a new hobby, nothing – absolutely nothing – beats birdwatching.

This is interesting. At least it’s interesting to me. Women tend to prepare and brace themselves for Empty Nest Syndrome years before the last bird has left the nest. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be two or three “back and forths” into an e-mail relationship when it turns out that the very sad mom I’m talking to still has at least one child at home.  The last time it happened, I tried to wrap myself around the fact and I think the explanation is simple: The relationship between mothers and their children is a very intimate one. You can’t spend the majority of your life nurturing, protecting, and caring for a cherished little person without developing a bond that’s stronger than any single member of the justice league.

Because of this bond, a mother knows the pain and sadness that she will experience when “the day” comes.  That’s what most of us call it, isn’t it? The DAY.   Boom-Boom-BOOM- BOOM (accompanying doomsday music).

It’s sort of like bracing yourself for a flu shot.  You focus so much thought and energy on the needle that, before you know it, that thing is 3 feet long.  You grimace and tighten your arm because a 3 foot needle is going to hurt like the dickens of all dickens.  The problem is, bracing for it makes the pain that much worse.

I’m sure you see where this one’s heading. I’m about as subtle as a 3 foot needle.

When we focus all of our thoughts on “emptiness,” it won’t be long before our room, home, car, or even the very world we live in seem as vacant, quiet, and deserted as a school’s playground in July.

Focus, instead, on what IS – not what ISN’T, and certainly not what you fear will be missing down the road.  Remember the 3 foot needle. If you still have children in your home, begin to fill your life, home, and yard with so much that the thought of “emptiness” never crosses your mind. If your nest is already empty (or in the process of emptying!), you haven’t any time to waste, begin filling it immediately.

Even when my husband’s at work and all the beloved young people we love so much aren’t in the house, I never, ever feel alone.

For example, right now I’m the only human in the house.  But alone? Far from it.  I have two cats sleeping by the back door, one in a chair basking in the sun, and one lying on the desk right in front of me (I have to move her tail out of my way like a billion times a minute… a billion and one).   My front yard is filled with birds, oblivious to the chubby sleeping cat two feet away. I put bird seed on the windowsill by my desk, so I have the constant companionship of doves, goldfinches, sparrows, and cardinals.

A squirrel was at his corn station for about an hour and has now ascended to the top of his favorite tree.

Lonely? Far from it!

The only things I’m thinking about at the moment are:

  • Watching the NFL Draft later today.
  • Baking a cake.
  • Getting more birdseed at the store (doves eat more than any teenage boy ever thought about eating)
  • Updating 3 more websites.
  • Swamp People is on tonight! Choooot!

Someone who read about how I used to walk every day with a few of my daughters asked me if we still went for our walks and talks. I told her that it had dwindled to a few days a week when we could all walk together. She asked what in the world I did without daily “walks and talks.”  I told her, “Silly goose, I still walk and I still talk every day.  The only difference is now I’m always right!”

Chaos vs Calm

I think a lot of people (men and women) have trouble rolling with the flow of life. In my opinion, there are different stages of life and to truly enjoy each one, you have to embrace it.   Not just accept it, not just hug it… you have to wrap your arms around it and squeeze it like it’s a long lost pet.

When our children are little – even teenagers – we’re at an age and place in life where we “fit” the situation.  We’re up to the task! As years go by, we enter the years when we have the luxury of being able to slow down a little. Make no mistake about it, these years don’t mark old age.  40s, 50s, and 60s are far from old age – especially these days. Today they’re like 30s, 40s, and 50s.  What a wonderful age in which we live.

To try to illustrate my point, I’ll use a popular (and outstanding) tv series: Parenthood.  My youngest daughter Stephany and her boyfriend got me seasons of Parenthood for Christmas. Every now and then, on my lunch break, I’ll pop an episode in and my cat and I laugh, cry, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

Zeek and Camille Braverman, played by eternal hotties Crag T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia (Ha!  My spell-check wants hotties to either be “potties” or “hogties.” To heck with it I’m sticking with hotties. Bonnie Bedelia is not an eternal potty, nor is Craig T. Nelson a hogtie  no matter what my software says.).  Zeek and Camille have grown children who have children of their own.  During just about every episode I’m struck by the stark contrasts between chaos and calm.  You’ll have a scene of one of the adult kids rushing to work while dropping off a small child at school… all while battling the dramas of each.  Then it’ll cut to a scene of  Camille cutting flowers in her garden.

Chaos…. Calm.

You’ll watch as a tense scene unfolds between one of the grown children and her teenage children (cue that doomsday music again!). Drugs, boys, girls, parties… Then it’ll cut to a scene of Zeek in his kitchen drinking a cup of coffee.

Chaos…. Calm.

I happen to be at a place in my life (even if the 40s of today are yesterday’s 30s) when the calm looks infinitely more attractive to me. Infinitely.  Is there a word that means infinitely x 2,000? If there is, insert it here.

If you are currently circumnavigating an empty nest or your children are approaching the age where you see it on the horizon, I’m here to tell you that your world will only be as empty as you allow it to become.  Fill your time with hobbies, pets, trips, passions, interests, and pastimes.  DO NOT focus on what’s missing, focus on what’s there right in front of you.  Remember, calm isn’t such a bad thing and quiet is probably the most underrated word in the entire dictionary.

Find things that make you excited to get out of bed in the morning. If you can’t think of anything that has that effect on you at the moment, it’s simply because you haven’t found it yet. Keep looking! One of the secrets to being happy is surrounding yourself with things that make you smile.

Now if you’ll excuse me. That cake isn’t going to make itself and God knows the birds aren’t going to feed themselves.

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