Sunday, December 23, 2012


'Tis the season!!! The season of rushing around, worrying about what to get for whom, dreading dinner with people you would rather not spend time with ... oh wait ... is that not what it's about?? Of course I'm writing this 2 days before Christmas when it's been in my head for a month. Let's just say I'm following my own advice. Mostly.

Tips for mentally healthy holidays:
  • Don't fight it.  Especially if you're an introvert (and I don't mean shy or antisocial, I mean energetically pointed inward) the Holiday season is taxing.  Parties every weekend, less down-time . . . it's TOUGH!!  Know what you're doing.  Know that if you plan to attend a gathering every weekend, you'll be tired.  Here's a great article about how to manage the holidays as an introvert!  Personally, I have used the bathroom option MANY times!!  Shopping, activities, etc. take a huge toll.  Pace yourself.  I have started a sticky note list that I use to write down all the times I think "next year I ought to . . ." and stick it on next October.  I did this for the first time a couple of years ago and it really has made a difference.  Of course last year's note suggested that I have the Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving ..... maybe I should stick that note to July.
  • Avoid a hostage situation:  You will not die because you don't go to Aunt Sally's house for her homemade fruitcake on Christmas Eve.  Everyone involved will survive.  However, expect some backlash if you suddenly decide to forgo the family traditions.  Eventually, even that will fade.  Seriously.  Your mother will only mention it in every conversation for a couple of months.  You have to make a choice:  which is worse?  Sitting at Aunt Sally's for hours chewing the same bite of fruitcake in hopes it will at some point become swallow-able or dealing with the backlash from your mother?  If you decide to skip it, accept the backlash.  Be prepared to have really great boundaries with your mother, and extend your sincere regrets to Aunt Sally.  This might sound like "Hey Aunt Sally - I am just not feeling up to a bunch of people right now.  How about I give you a call next month and we'll get together for dinner?"  (you can leave out "without fruitcake") "Mom, I understand that Aunt Sally is disappointed.  I have just come to the realization that I need to conserve energy so I'm not so worn out, and this is a place I decided to cut back.  I hope you'll understand and respect my decision."  If you decide to go, don't sulk.  Be aware that you have chosen to attend the gathering, and be gracious.  Awareness of our choice in a situation helps us feel empowered.  Empowered is good when dealing with mothers and Aunt Sallys. 
  • Avoid gift extortion!!  Closely related to not being a hostage to events is not being a gift hostage.  Don't spend money you don't have on gifts for people you don't genuinely want to give to.  Again, there is no HAVE TO.  Instead of spending a bunch on something they will throw away, why not get something small (everyone loves lip balm and pens!) and attach it to a certificate letting them know you've made a donation in their name to ABC charity!  Bonus points for donating to a charity that you think THEY would support.  Here's a website to get you started.  How often do you get to say "I gave my boss a camel for Christmas??"  If you give someone a gift card for their local supermarket and they get irritated, shake the dust off your feet.  However, be aware of the fine line between frugal and stingy, and between busy and lazy.  Be honest with yourself.  If you're going to give, be generous and genuine.  If you're strapped this holiday season, don't be afraid to say so.  Announce ahead of time (see, this should have come a month ago) that you will not be giving lavish gifts this year.  For those you'd like to give to, offer coupons for services:  babysitting, housecleaning, yard work, toilet scrubbing . . . any of those would be more than welcome at my house!!  Give a gift that will make a difference, not end up in a closet.
  • Practice good boundaries!!!  You do NOT have to tolerate Uncle Monty's off-color jokes or wandering hands.  You also do not have to show Uncle Monty the error of his ways, or elicit an apology from him (odds are you won't get one).  You can exit stage left in a number of different ways.  Excuse yourself to the restroom.  Go help with the dishes.  Quietly just leave the room, or better yet, just roll your eyes (internally) and remind yourself you only have to tolerate this for a few hours a year and think of anything you like about Uncle Monty.  Notice I'm not advocating sending a message with the exit.  We would call that passive-aggressive behavior.  If cornered by Uncle Monty about why you're not laughing at his jokes, you can simply say "I guess I just didn't find it that funny" or "I guess I didn't get it" and then exit stage left before Uncle Monty has a chance to have to push back on you calling him on behavior he knows is inappropriate in the first place.  If you're going to take it on and push for permanent change, do it privately at another time.
  • Don't make a pre-emptive strike.  Don't sit around thinking of what zinger you're going to lay on your brother Hubert when he chides you about those 20 pounds you haven't taken off yet.  Don't spend your energy fashioning cutting remarks designed to peel the skin off his body.  Think about ASSERTIVENESS.  Think about ignoring it.  Think about not responding at all - just smile at Hubert, let the uncomfortable silence hang in the air and remember that those 20 pounds are YOUR issue, not his.  His mentioning it is about power, not concern.  (Concern sounds like "Hey sis - please don't hear this as judgment, but I've noticed you've gained some weight.  I love you so much and with your diabetes I'm worried about you.  Is there anything I can do to help??"  And by the way this conversation does NOT take place at Christmas dinner.  It happens privately.  )  You can even say, if needed "Hubert, I'm not even going to acknowledge that." 
  • Don't be a brat:  If you're reading this, I'm assuming that you are an adult.  In fact, I'd apply what I'm about to say to anyone over the age of about 15.  There is NO EXCUSE for creating drama at a family gathering.  If you can't play nice, stay home.  If you're going to act out and create a big mess, you might as well put on your big-kid assertiveness skills and piss everyone off in a healthy way.  Yeah, I get it.  You don't like the way so-and-so treats you.  Be descriptive.  Say "it is not OK for you to make fun of me," or "even though you say you are trying to be 'funny,' I find your comments very hurtful.  Please stop."  People who are used to walking all over you generally aren't going to congratulate you on your new found boundaries.  Christmas dinner isn't the time to insist everyone change their behaviors.  Wait till January 2.  If you're not willing to create a healthy scene, then smile inwardly and plan for the quiet, respectful conversation you'll have later.  Don't shout something nasty and run out of the room and slam the door.  You can get away with that up to about the age of 8.  And that's pushing it.
  • Give a nod to your bod:  This holiday season, I have decided I could live the rest of my life very happily eating only gingerbread cookie dough.  I bake the cookies for my friends, but I don't usually eat them after they are baked.  I think that's just a waste of good dough.  During the holidays we eat (and drink) more than we need to, and differently that we usually do.  We put all kinds of toxins IN to our bodies . . . and spend January in detox mode.  Lessen the impact on your body by maintaining some regular exercise, and throw in a few salads here and there.  Believe me - I'm not going to be the person with the plate of vegetables while everyone else is eating pecan pie, port wine cheese and Swedish meatballs, but I am working on trying to find balance on my plate.  I don't need to keep going back to the tray of pigs in a blanket.  I don't need 5 of those delicious canapes.  I can snack on celery.  No, it's not as fun, but I will be happy about it later.  While you're at it, throw in some exercise.  Relax now, it's not that bad.  Think about 10 minutes of stretching, or 20 jumping jacks.  The more we keep blood moving through our bodies, the more efficiently it can clean out the 10 pounds of peppermint bark we can't believe we ate. 
I'm going to take my own advice now, and move on to my next task instead of finding lots of pictures to fancy up this post.  Get out there and enjoy your holiday :)

Tis the Month Before Christmas

Lovingly Lifted from the "Appleseeds" website.  CLICK HERE for lots more fun versions of Clement C. Moore's Famous Poem!
Tis the month before Christmas, we're all going nuts;
With so much to do, there's no ifs, ands or buts.
Buy presents, hang tree lights, pop cards in the mail,
Send gift packs, thread popcorn, find turkeys on sale.

Decorations need stringing up all through the house.
And you haven't a clue what to buy for your spouse.
School concerts, receptions, open houses with friends,
Long lineups, short tempers, tying up the loose ends.

With all our mad dashing, we're reeling from shock;
Let's stop for a minute and really take stock.
It's crassly commercial, the cynical say;
If that's true, that our fault-it's us and not they.

Take time for yourself-though hard as that seems
Enjoy your kids' laughter, excitement and dreams.
Take a moment out now, don't get overly riled,
Instead make an angel in snow with your child.

The shortbread can wait, and so can the tree;
What's important to feel is a child's sense of glee.
The holidays aren't about push, rush and shove;
They're for friendship and sharing and family love.

Hear the bells, feel the warmth, light up with the glow
Of a message first sent to us so long ago:
Peace, love and goodwill, and hope burning bright.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Happy Holidays!! (And I mean that!)

I just decided I don't have a problem with wishing people "Happy Holidays!"  I went in to my local corner convenience store to buy the Diet Coke I'm not supposed to be drinking because it is sooooooo bad for me, and as I was leaving, I started to wish the cashiers a Merry Christmas . . . and that's when I realized that I had absolutely no idea if that would be meaningful to them.  I mean somebody could comment on my blog in Swahili, telling me that my blog saved them from the depths of despair and they think I'm the best thing since sliced bread, and it would mean absolutely nothing to me because it's not within my frame of reference. 

I found myself leaving the convenience store thinking of the term "Namaste."  The light in me recognizes and honors the light in you.  Happy Holidays is a way of saying "I don't know what your tradition is, but I wish you happiness in it."  Sounds like good boundaries to me.  I have decided that I want to wish people happiness in whatever holiday they find it - not just mine. 

Photo Courtesy of
My wedding was held during Hannukah once upon a time, and my very dear friend lit the menorah every night and we all celebrated together.  This is one of my favorite memories of the weekend, being able to celebrate with him in HIS holiday.  Last year, one of my clients gave me a little dreidel for my kids and we had a blast learning how to play. 

I love Christmas.  I love the lights, and the music, and the nativity scene.  This is my tradition.  I have to say though that I get possibly even more gushy when I hang the same bells up on my door that hung on my parents door, and my grandparents door.  I love the sense of connectedness to those who came before me, and those who will come after.  I don't have the same connection with Kwanzaa.  I'm pretty sure that someone who has celebrated Kwanzaa feels the same way about their holiday.  I don't know any Kwanzaa songs.  And I don't have a problem with Kwanzaa in general, even though in writing this blog I learned that it was developed as a slap against Christmas.  That gets into my soapbox about visiting or living in another country and expecting that culture to adapt to yours, which I like to call the "Ugly American" syndrome.  Another blog, another time.

Photo Courtesy of
I'll tell you what I do have a problem with though.  I have a problem with having to worry that my celbrating my holiday traditions will step on the delicate toes of someone else trying to celebrate theirs.  I remember growing up and thinking it was cool to see wrapping paper with a menorah on it.  Currently, I mildly resent having to go into a special "Christian" store to buy wrapping paper that has anything to do with CHRIST.  Looking my local supermarket for wrapping paper, I found Santa, I found trees, I found Mickey Mouse, and I found puppies.  I found a winter scene with a country chapel.  Nowhere to be found was the word "NOEL."  No stars, no wise men, not even the word "Christmas."  And not enough of it is green.  But that's probably just my issue, so I'm thinking I won't make a fuss over it.  Now granted if I were able to find Christmas wrapping paper in the supermarket, it probably wouldn't have dawned on me that there wasn't paper for Hannukah, or Kwanzaa.  There's a word for that.  It's "ethnocentrism.

Here's my REAL beef:  My 9 year old was in a "Winter" play at school last week.  The subject?  All the different holidays and how they are celebrated.  They talked about Hannukah, the festival of lights and I have to admit I was messing with trying to figure out the camera on my new phone, but I'm pretty sure they mentioned the Jews.  For "La Fiesta de la Posada," they talked about Mary and Joseph going house to house searching for a room.  For Kwanzaa, they outlined the 7 principles.  When it came to Christmas, the question was "What is Christmas about?"  Not one word about Jesus.  Not one.  Not even a socio-cultural reporting of the traditional aspects.  Christmas, according to this elementary school production was about presents, and santa and wrapping paper.  Even my 9 year old noticed the slant. 

We are so all-fired afraid of offending someone that we water everything down.  I'm not going to.  Out there in the world, I'm going to wish people a Happy Holiday - cause most cultures are celebrating something this time of year.  I might just start year round, wishing people a happy Arbor Day . . . or what the heck?  How about Happy TUESDAY!!  I'm going to think about it every time though, and not let it become rote and insincere.  Every time I wish anyone ANYTHING, I'm going to take a moment to really wish it.  Throw a little goodwill out there, just willy nilly.  

When I'm at Church tomorrow, where I am surrounded by people who share my traditions, I will wish people a Merry Christmas.  Because I know it is meaningful to them.  And if someone wishes me a happy holiday, I'm going to say . . . "THANK YOU."  And be grateful they cared enough to wish me anything at all.

So Happy Holidays.  Happy Hannukah (except I missed out on that really) and Happy Kwanzaa.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all ....
a good night.  :)  Namaste.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


This post might not make me very popular. 

It's taken me a day to get to the point where I can even put thoughts together. 

Yesterday I just had a sick, empty feeling in the pit of my stomach and didn't know where to file this in my head.  I cannot imagine (thankfully) the horror being experienced in Connecticut right now.  I cannot imagine sending my kids to school and getting a call that they have been shot.  I cannot imagine the mind of a person who would do this.  I hope he was psychotic.  I hope he was on drugs.  I hope he was absolutely "bat-shit crazy."  Because if a "sane" and "sober" person did this? 

Unpoplular point #1:  Folks, we're in trouble.  We are pretty comfortable blaming terrorism on this religious sect or that political group, but the way it's happening here in this country is way more scary.  I can't help but think about countries around the world where this is the norm.  We sit in our nice, safe little houses and think "oh golly those poor people in Afghanistan - never knowing when the bus they're riding will be blown up . . ."  Guess what?  That's US now.  That's America.  Land of the FREE and home of the brave, where we dare not limit anyone's freedom to ... well, do whatever the hell they want, including walk into a movie theater or elementary school and shoot fish in a barrel. 

The presumption of innocence in the legal system has been RAPED and EXPLOITED.  You can't get a restraining order until someone has done something harmful.  You can't limit a person's contact with a child until you have PROOF they have done something that damages their little psyche forever.  God forbid we limit freedom - but it's hard to legislate responsibility.  I'm not advocating the return to a society that burns people at the stake or forms a lynch mob, but the pendulum has swung too far.  You may be thinking about all my posts against judgement and drawing exclusive lines.  There's a limit.  Killing people is WRONG.  It's BAD.  If there were ever a black and white, this is it.  I'm stopping short of evil, for those who would like to hide behind the whole "Satan" thing.  It's not evil.  It's the result of the permissive, narcissistic society we've created.  We've done it to ourselves.  We're so afraid of offending someone that we let people get away with . . . MURDER.

Unpopular point #2:  Plain and simple, assault weapons need to be illegal.  I'm not some anti-NRA wacko.  I have guns in my home.  They are for keeping the coyotes away from my chickens.  But there is absolutely NO reason for the average person to have a weapon that will fire 15 or 30 rounds without reloading.  Want to know what it sounded like in that school?  Take a listen.  Click Here.  There is NO WAY you need this for hunting turkeys or deer (which I support - and anyone who wants to send me some venison is WELCOME to do so.  I have recipes and am not afraid to cook it.).  Now is the time, folks.  How many movie theaters?  How many malls?  How many ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS??  Oh - but what about our precious freedoms?   What about people who are responsible with their guns?  I beseech you, responsible gun owners, to make the sacrifice for the safety of the rest of the country, to surrender your semi-automatic weapons.  Every morning you wake up and don't see headlines about 28 people being gunned down, you can feel proud of your contribution to the effort. 

28 people. 


It's worth it.  In fact, let me know who you are and I'll send you a personal thank you note on behalf of my children who are 6 and 9 and attend school.  Frankly, it would make me feel better to know that some kid who got pissed off at his mom could only get hold of a gun that shot a few rounds.  And I'd hope that some of those MISSED. 

One argument against gun control is that if we ban the legal sale of these weapons, only the bad guys will have them.  I don't claim to be an expert on such things, but in my experience, the bad guys typically kill each other.  Occasionally, one or two innocent people get caught in the crossfire.  I doubt this number would change much if assault weapons were banned.  Maybe this is naive and over-simplified.  I just can't help but notice that the people who are slaughtering rooms full of innocent people aren't "the bad guys."  These aren't gang members and criminals, these are college students and people of relative affluence.  Let the bad guys kill each other off with the assault weapons.  Make it harder for everyone to get their hands on them.  I'm wondering if any of the recent shooters would have made it past the background check.

THIS is ridiculous

When the theater shooting happened in Colorado, someone posted a response to my aching heart status on my facebook page that they wondered how things would have been different if someone in the theater had been "packing."  (Seriously?  PACKING??)  I wonder what that person is thinking now.  Then again, if one of those 6 year olds had been "packing . . . "  Eventually I gave up with the debate, because there is no reasoning with someone on their self-righteous high horse.  I love it when opinionated, short-sighted, judgmental people get some comeuppance.  Funny that there hasn't been a bunch of pro-gun propaganda on facebook after this one.  (UPDATE:  That lasted about 72 hours) Go figure.

And returning to my softer self, unpopular point #3:  There are a lot of parents out there who aren't paying attention, and even the ones who are don't have any idea what to do with a kid who they're afraid of or worried about.  No doubt the view is pretty good from the cheap seats, but I hope I'd notice if my kids were building bombs in my basement.  Teenagers are sullen and withdrawn.  Yep.  I get it.  My 9 year old is already giving me flack about having the password to her email account.  The deal is, I don't have access, you don't have email.  I don't check often, and I'm not going to address what I find (DRAMA) unless I need to.  I respect her privacy, but you can be DAMN sure I'm going to monitor my kids.  And the more withdrawn they get, the more I'd monitor them.  I've got it easy right now.  My kids tell me more than I want to know about their day at school.  When that stops, I will snoop.  I will be all over their space because it's my JOB to know what's going on with my kids.  I will be honest about it, and careful about how I use the information.  They will hate me from time to time, especially when I catch them about to do something they're not supposed to do, but I didn't sign on to be their BFF, I signed on to be a PARENT.  Sometimes that means kids tell you they hate you, but I'm not going to put my 6 year old (the one who balls up her fists and says she hates me - to be honest it is just so darn cute because in 5 minutes she is sobbing and wants to make sure I know she doesn't really hate me) in charge of my self-esteem. 

Here's the bigger problem:  There's nothing to DO with a kid you're worried about.  The mental health system has been cut back to the point where it's hard for anyone to get help.  And these aren't kids, they're adults, so there's no way to MAKE them get treatment.  The legal system won't touch them until they've done something, and what we're seeing with this new breed is that they don't get in a lot of trouble.  They don't give much warning, other than maybe being seen as a little weird.  Raising a child like that is a huge challenge for parents, and most don't have the resources to provide the counseling and monitoring they really need.  All I can say is that from my vantage point, I see a lot of parents who would go to the ends of the earth to make sure their child gets their needs met - but can't find any services for them.  And I see a lot of parents who sit by and blame others for their child's behaviors.  They blame the other parent.  They blame the kids at school.  They say they just can't seem to impact the kid.  I spend a lot of time convincing parents of entitled teenagers that their child will not actually DIE if they are without their cell phone/electronics/car for a few days.  Then there are the kids that need more than limits and consequences (notice CONSEQUENCES not PUNISHMENT - there's a very important difference and it has to do with power.  Future blog).  Read "I am Adam Lanza's Mother

This blog is so long because the answers aren't easy.  The most simplistic summary is about the imbalance between freedom and responsibility, and the lack of connectdness in community. 

We've gotta turn this bus around, people.  We're in danger here. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I Miss "NZ Nancy"

I'm not much for publicly baring my personal soul (no, not even on Facebook - ESPECIALLY NOT ON FACEBOOK!)  I've gone back and forth about whether to post about this, but decided my blog - my rules. 

I've lost one of my faithful readers this week.  My amazing aunt, "NZ Nancy" died last Thursday.  She was a hilarious lady.  Once told my mother to look in the end of the garden hose to tell her when the water was coming.  Word on the street is my mother did it.  She lived by her own rules - as far as I could tell without apology - which I always admired.  For the last 20 plus years, she lived on a sheep farm in New Zealand.  For years, she had a rooster for a pet - and he lived in the house.  She had a beloved dog named Ben,and a horse named Star.  She adopted ducklings.  She was considered an expert in the field of Mastyocytosis, founded "MastoKids" and helped countless people in their struggle with this disease.  She will be missed by many. 

When I heard she went into hospice, I thought I should write her a letter about how much she meant to me.  I got interrupted.  Over the last month, I thought about it many times.  I got busy.  Composed it in my head, but never quite got around to writing it.  I got distracted.  I didn't want to email.  I wanted to write.  With a pen.  And mail it.  With a stamp.  And now this note paper sits where it has for a month, with no one to write to. 

Don't wait. 

Tell people you love them.  Tell them today because there aren't enough tomorrows. 

Aunt Nancy, I want to be just like you when I grow up. 

Love, Karen


While I'm at it, maybe I'll do another book review.  Terrence Real, mentioned in my last post, has written an amazing book about relationship in today's world.  It's not 1950 anymore, folks, and marriage is struggling to change with the times.  This book is full of GREAT tips, techniques and exercises to turn your relationship around.  Not just for the married, I kindof wish Terry had called it "The New Rules of Relationship."  Don't let the "M" word scare you off. 

Terry's straightforward, brass tacks style goes right to the heart of the matter.  No wasting time on fluffy feel-good psychology here, just straight up help for relationship packed into every page.  Find your bad habits and FIX them.  Yeah, I'm a groupie.  But I didn't drink the Kool-Aid!!

More Boundaries . . . Since we have some time

Terry Real says (something like) "Contact over time creates connection.  Connection over time creates relationship.  Relationship over time creates intimacy."  You may develop a relationship with the barrista at Starbucks who makes your coffee every day.  One day, you might go in at a slow moment and have more of a conversation than "Grande Bold please."  If that conversation goes well, you might have another . . .  and then you might get together outside Starbucks.  By that time, enter the possibility of conflict, because your relationship is deeper than "Grande bold please." 

Conflict in a close relationship is inevitable.  Get that?  It's gonna happen.  It's not if, it's when, and how well we'll work through it.  Confllict doesn't equal fighting.  Fighting is ONE way to respond to conflict.  Not one that works well, might I add, if the goal is to RESOLVE the conflict.Conflict doesn't have to be scary though.  It can be simple.  Boundaries make conflict safe. 

Boundaries is being able to say things like:
  • "I understand that my actions stepped on your toes.  I'm sorry" without dying of guilt and shame, needing to defend yourself, or needing to outline 57 reasons why the behavior wasn't your fault, or was somehow expectable.  Fact is I hurt you.  Fact is I care about that.  We'll just assume you know that I am not the kind of person who maliciously does that on purpose because if I were, you wouldn't want to be in relationship with me. 
  • Image courtesy of Carlos Porto
  • "I would like to have Chinese tonight" (trusting that if the other person has a REEEEEALLY strong objection, they will say so instead of agreeing to Chinese and then complaining about it all through dinner)
  • "I enjoy spending time with you.  I get that you're looking forward to some alone time.  I'm wondering if there's a way I can spend time with you AND meet your need for a conversation-free TV coma?"  Respecting the person's right to say NO. 
  • and the grandaddy of them all . . . "Have I done something to upset you??"  Anticipating that the person will be honest, but allowing them the freedom to clam up and continue to act out without re-ACTING to their acting out. 
Boundaries is being able to call first, say "I love you" first, and let someone know how much they mean to you without fear of being engulfed by the relationship or being somehow vulnerable because now they KNOW you like them.  It's about being able to be fully you in relationship, with the knowledge that YOU  may or may not be the person the other person is looking for - NOT BECAUSE THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU, but because it's not a good fit.  And recognizing that if you're not the peson they are looking for, then they are not the person you're looking for either.  And you acknowledge that fact respectfully and part ways with neutrality.  Boundaries isn't about the other person, it's about you. 

There's no drama in good boundaries.  No fights at 3am, no calling all your best friends instead of talking to the person with whom you have an issue.  There's no anger, no pouting, no throwing things, and no stomping out and slamming doors.  There will never be a blockbuster movie about a relationship with good boundaries.  No one would go see a movie about that.  However, out here in the real world, life has developed a tendency to imitate art, and that's why I have a job.  I often joke that the title of my future best-selling self-help book will be "Being Healthy is Really Boring."  But it's a good kind of boring.  I'll take it any day over angst and drama. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Father's Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children

I thought this was so great I had to repost.  Author unknown, unfortunately.  All I know is that the author is NOT me!
My daughter turned sixteen years old today; which is a milestone for most people. Besides looking at baby photos and childhood trinkets with her, I took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the choices she would face in the future.

As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and determined woman she would soon be. I started thinking about some of the girls we knew in our town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to no-where, seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem.

The parents of these same girls have asked me why I "waste" the money on horses so my daughter can ride. I'm told she will grow out of it, lose interest, discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current generation's "slacker" label on my child. I don't think it will happen, I think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no "days off" just because you don't feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of getting dirty and that appearances don't matter to most of the breathing things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes, jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within his natural world, he doesn't care if you're wearing $80.00 jeans while you do it. -

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned about sex and how it can both enrich and complicate lives. She learned that it only takes one time to produce a baby, and the only way to ensure babies aren't produced is not to breed. She learned how babies are planned, made, born and, sadly, sometimes die before reaching their potential. She learned how sleepless nights and trying to out-smart a crafty old broodmare could result in getting to see, as non-horse owning people rarely do, the birth of a true miracle.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money. Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and to make sure her standards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge grows.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own. She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond body language and reactions. She has had to learn to "read" her surroundings for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regard- less of who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and buildings. And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot day. When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can honestly say that I haven't "wasted" a penny on providing her with horses. I only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Cover image, Pop

Have to say, WOW and double WOW. 

My 9 year old has been talking about this book for weeks now, and had reserved it at the library.  She brought it along on a car trip today, and finished it early in the drive.  I commented that I wished I had time to read all the things she reads, and she handed me the book, insisting I would love it.  I reluctantly put down the other book I'd brought, in the name of gaining mom points.  (Reading for pure pleasure and not work is such a rare luxury for a mom of 2 with a more than full time job!)  She was so right.  This is a must-read for parents and kids about the true meaning of "gifted," and the need for balance as we educate our kids.  Loved it!!

Friday, November 30, 2012

More thoughts about boundaries - but still not a series or that insures the Myans will be right.

If we know our own boundaries, we can identify what makes us uncomfortable.  Boundaries are impacted by a multitude of factors like self-esteem, past experience, and (my favorite) COMMUNICATION SKILLS.  Since we are not perfect mind-readers, it is inevitable in relationship that someone will step over that invisible and often changing boundary line.  When we make our boundaries known, we set LIMITS.  Limits have a volume knob, and can be turned up or down depending on the needs of the situation.  Some people keep the volume on 27 all the time, and the slightest boundary infringement is met with LOUD AND AGGRESSIVE LIMITS.  Some people don't turn it up enough and their limits are often ignored.  I feel like I need a flow chart.  (Aside:  I actually tried to make a flow chart.  Yeah.  I have 2 kids, 4 horses and a full time job.  Not enough brain cells left over to make one.  See blog post on reasonable expectations)

Limits too strong says "SCREW YOU, YOU DID IT ON PURPOSE AND BY GOD YOU'RE NOT GOING TO DO IT AGAIN!!!"  However, this is just one violation met with another.  Tit for Tat.  You violated me now I'm going to violate you.  Then the other person reacts to having their boundaries violated and so on, and so on, and so on . . . Strong emotion (see previous posts on the addictive nature of strong emotion and endorphins!)

Not strong enough says "I'm worthless, you don't care about me, I'm a hostage."  The violatee feels helpless and resentful, unable to take care of him or herself and frequently responds with passive-aggressive behaviors or avoidance.  The violat-er is totally clueless most of the time, and has no idea why all of a sudden they're getting the cold shoulder.  More strong emotion as our amygdala responds to a perceived threat. 

Reasonable limits say "Hey, I care about myself, and about our relationship and I need to let you know that you crossed the line.  My expectation is that you will accomodate my need for you to step back."  With a good sense of boundaries and reasonable limits, there is no need for strong emotion.  It's emotion on the level of "please pass the salt."  The expectation is that your needs will be met, if at all possible.

Let's play this out in real life:
You're dating someone, and they ask you to get together.  You are feeling tired, and looking forward to a quiet evening at home.  Panic ensues as you decide how to proceed.  Do you do what you want to do and risk the other person getting irritated about it?  Or do what they want you to do and ignore your own needs??  Is there a compromise to be found?  Boundaries mean you face this situation without anxiety.

Hey - want to get together later?
Actually I was looking forward to crashing on the couch and being in a TV coma.  How about Tuesday?

Good boundaries looks like no one getting their feelings hurt, no one feeling rejected, and no one taking the information as a personal attack.  We leave the situation with the same emotional neutrality as if we'd asked someone to pass the salt.  We expect the response to be a positive "Sure!"  or at worst "Hang on one sec."  Point is, we go into the situation anticipating that our need will be met, so we have no anxiety in asking.  If we were to ask "Could you please pass the salt?" and hear instead "ARE YOU KIDDING ME????  I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU EVEN SAID THAT!!!!   I DON'T HAVE TO TAKE THIS S&^*!"  We would clearly identify that the OTHER person was out of line, wonder who peed in their wheaties, and fear for their sanity.  Goodness.  A simple request treated as if we'd shown up naked for Christmas Dinner AND asked for a kidney.  However, when we make that request for something else . . . like "excuse me, but I believe I was next in line . . . "  Filled with terror.  Often leading to reacting with ANGER and nasty glares without saying one darn thing.  In relationship, we often don't ask, and get resentful because we didn't get our needs met.  

Ask, and ye shall receive . . . at least an answer.  What I know is that if you DON'T ask, it's a sure thing you won't get it.  Worst that can happen is someone says no.  Actually WORST is that they don't know how to say no, and get pissed at you for asking.  But you don't have to own that :)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Everything I need to know about boundaries, I can learn from my horse.

It's fairly common that I write a post and then spend the next few days thinking "I wish I'd said ______!"  I've been thinking about boundaries in relationships and thought I'd continue on that subject.  I'm tempted to call it a "SERIES" but that implies intent to come up with some sort of coherent plan.  Here's a shout out to all the magical thinkers out there when I say I'm not going to call it a series because that will insure that something crazy happens so I can't finish it.  So we'll call it "another thought on the subject of boundaries in relationship."

I've been hanging out with
 this tree for 12 years.
 In my humble opinion, the number one thing that makes relationship work is boundaries.  Now I'm not talking about just dating here, I'm talking about relationship with any other person on the planet, but it's especially important in an intimate relationship, mostly because this is the place where the stakes are highest.  We have relationship on many different levels.  I often say to clients that I have a relationship with this tree outside my office window.  I am quite attached to it in fact.  We spend a lot of time together and it brings me joy.  The relationship isn't very deep, and I don't think it's reciprocal (I think I get more out of it than the tree), but the tree hasn't made any needs known to me so I can't really be responsible for that.  I have a relationship with the bank teller, the grocery store clerk, and my mailman in addition to the close relationships

So boundaries. 

This word gets tossed around willy-nilly out there, but it's another one of those words that has been over-used and mis-used so often it isn't all that helpful (like "codependent" and "alcoholic."  Try to get an objective definition of those out there in the world.  Ugh.)  Boundaries refer to where your space is, and how much your space gets to mingle with someone else's space.  In relationship, it is important to have a sense of our own boundaries, as well as a sense of the boundaries of others.

My horses have a supreme sense of boundaries.  Their relationships are well defined.  Max is in charge.  Interestingly, he tolerates Josie eating out of his same pile of hay rather than the other two mares and NEVER the other geldings.  I'm guessing it's because Josie is the herd whipping girl.  Low man on the totem pole.  Not any chance she will challenge Max for his throne.  At this point, they have figured it out.  Recently, we added another horse to the mix.  He's another gelding, and came from a herd where he was the boss.  Max, my docile, sweet 900 pound golden retriever chased the newcomer through the pasture at a dead run.  Teeth bared, ears pinned any time that youngster even looked crosseyed at one of the mares.  Mr. C stopped even trying to join the herd after a few minutes, and picked a clump of grass far away from Max and his girls.  C tested the boundaries, Max set limits, and they all settled into the relationship. 

Order is restored.

Animals know how much emphasis to put into setting boundaries.  I'm looking at the newcomer in my pasture and knowing he's one heck of a horse if Max had to convince him that thoroughly that he's still the boss.  C's owner is one lucky human.  :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm Jealous of my Cats.


As I'm sitting here on a chilly Saturday afternoon procrastinating about work, realizing that I could realistically work all the time and still not get caught up, the family cats are keeping me company (see, you thought I just learned from horses!).  Frankly, I'm a little jealous.  They throw themselves into grooming each other with complete and utter abandon.  I'm struck by the ease with which they accept nurturing from each other:  eyes closed, no worries about whether they're doing it right or enough or whether the other will get up and leave. 

I'm sure there's some sort of formula for reciprocity going on here, but from the outside it doesn't seem like they're worried about matching each other lick for lick, it's just pure heaven.  What would this sound like in many relationships out there?

(We enter the scene as both are sleeping soundly, paws entwined)
Shadow: (flips over, grabs Cali's head and licks her enthusiastically)  IT'S SO NICE WAKING UP WITH YOU!!!  I LOVE YOU!!!
Cal:  (doesn't budge) Hey that feels awesome, thanks.
Shadow:  How come you're not licking me back?
Cal:  Ummmmmmm . . . I guess I was soaking up the love. 
Shadow:  You're so selfish. (pouts)

When one or the other has had enough, they just move - or bite.  There's no hurt feelings, no pouting, nothing.  Imagine people saying "Ok, I'm done with you now" with no backlash!! 

That's what a world full of boundaries would be like.  We could go to one another and say things like "I really would like some affection, " without worrying that it makes us VULNERABLE (shoot.  that's supposed to be a sound effect . . . someone screaming NOOOOOOOOO!!!!).  Because God forbid we ask for something and the other person says NO.  That must mean we should never have asked, right?  No, good boundaries means anyone can ask for anything anytime they want.  And anyone else can consider any request and decide, based on a number of factors including quality of relationship, available energy level, etc.  And no one has to get their feelings hurt, because "NO" is not a commentary on one's goodness and worth as a person, it's just an answer. 

I'm working on being more like my animals.  Tons easier.  So get out there and love with abandon.  Communicate fearlessly.  Quit worrying so much about what's going on in someone else's head.  Say "I REALLY LIKE YOU" or ask for something without worrying if you're going to sound stupid, or if the other person is going to think you're up to something (which they may).  Yep.  Sometimes it won't be reciprocated, sometimes it will fall flat, and sometimes it will feel downright weird.  But vulnerable?  Vulnerable to what?  Hurt?  Disappointment?  The only way to avoid those is to never take a risk.  But then we're just alone.  My cats think alone is not the way to go.  I'm with them. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Check Out!

The following story is chapter 85 in the book entitled "Look How Things Work Out!" 

A few months ago, I got a call at my office from someone claiming to be from the web hosting service I was using, saying that my domain name was about to expire and asking if I would like to renew . . . by giving them my credit card number. 

I tell you what, I felt so SMART when I recognized this as a scam and told the guy I'd renew online!   He called back a month later saying my domain name HAD expired.  Once again, since I hadn't received the notification emails the caller said I should have gotten, I just KNEW this was an attempt to steal my identity!  I am just so savvy!!

One step short of starting a new career with SCAMBUSTERS, I checked my website.  Shockingly, I discovered that my domain name had expired.  Then I checked my "junk" email folder.  Yep.  There they were. 

Guess I'll stick with my current job.

The up-side of all this is that I got a chance to reconsider my domain name . . .  (drumroll please) and was delighted to learn that was available and is now all mine!!   

This is a good time to officially and effusively thank the King of the (usually groan-inducing) pun, who came up with the title for my blog in about 5 seconds flat, and Juliette Kohrs for still being my friend AFTER designing my website. 

LookAtMeee!  I'm a DotCom! 

What Week is it?

Did I mention my kids were going back to school?  Holy Cow what an ordeal!!  It's not the parenting that's tough, it's coordinating all the schedules!!! 

Anyway, that's what's been going on.  So I've been thinking a lot about time management, and how to orchestrate this production without losing my job, my mind, or most importantly for the self-esteem and well-being of my children, MY TEMPER. 

The rotating schedule:  I often say that in my life, there is time to take care of my kids, do my job, and one more thing.  That one more thing rotates.  Sometimes, it's friend week.  My friends start to get cranky that I haven't surfaced in any form for weeks, and I start getting texts and emails like:  "Are you dead?"  "Are we not speaking??" and the like.  And I set aside some time to spend with friends.  Often, after Friend week is sleep week.  I get tired and run down during friend week and spend a week making sure I get 8 full hours of sleep.  I'd settle for 7.  Sometimes, there is horse week, when I remind myself that spending time with my horses feeds my soul and that I NEED to do that.  It's not just a nice thing to do if I have time left over, it's a priority for me to be most fully ME.  Usually the last week of the month is paperwork week.  It used to be called billing week, but that was when I had the flexibility to keep up with my paperwork more regularly.  Interspersed in there somewhere is usually cleaning week.  Which (who am I kidding?) isn't a week. 

Case in point:  I started this post a month ago.  Sigh.  A few strategies to mention here:

  • Accept where you are:  I am BUSY.  I am a mother of 2, have a full-time (plus) job and a farm to run.  There just flat aren't enough hours in a day to do everything I "need" to do.  I have chosen my life.  There are things I could do to simplify my life.  I could move off my farm and live in an apartment, drive less, use less gas . . . but I think those are some big changes to make.  I'm choosing to hang on a little more and see how things turn out before doing that.  The PRICE TAG on that choice is that sometimes, I'm running around a lot and have to bring in my crack team of babysitters to help me be in 2 places at once. 
  • Recognize it won't last forever:  While I am actually NOT convinced of this, what I know is that my amazing marvelous brain will habituate over time, and the same amount of insanity will SEEM like less.  I'll keep you posted on how that turns out.
  • Do what you can:  I have an awful habit of wanting to do things thoroughly, and the right way, and completely.  HA HA HA says the universe!!!  What ends up happening is that I spend a lot of time ruminating about how I don't have time to do _(it)__ right and I obsess about how it's going to feel to not get ______ done.  Funny thing though, if I spend that time actually DOING something?  Who would imagine that I make more progress than I think!!!  This is especially true with exercise.  My fabulous exercise inspirer Heather Ann and I came up with the brilliant idea that I could set my sights on a ridiculously small number of pushups, situps and squats.  I have a reminder on my phone every morning.  It says "you can do this."  Sometimes, I actually manage to do it.  What I know is that if I try to get all enthused about working out for an hour, I won't even get out of bed.   
  • Be kind to yourself:  don't waste energy beating yourself up for what doesn't get done.  Pick the important stuff, give it your best shot.  The hardest part is getting over the power of momentum.  My favorite phrase is "it doesn't matter WHERE you start, it matters THAT you start."  Then I consciously DO something.  There's something that happens in our brains that equates obsessing about something with doing something about it.  Use that energy to think about how great it will feel to have done that 5 minutes of whatever it is you decided to do. 
The effect of using these strategies will decrease the overall level of stress, resulting in less physiological stress and reactivity, less toll on your body, and less toll on those around you. 

 Maybe soon, it will be BLOG week!!! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Follow this!!

I just figured out how to put a button on here to follow this blog!  First of all, I'd like to thank my current followers.  I share DNA with 2 of the 3!  Click and follow!! 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Looking farther down the trail.

Oh you are all going to be so sad when my daughter gets her cast off next week and I no longer have time for introspection on my endurance rides because I'm too busy riding 2 horses!  
Sangre de Cristo Mountains
- Did I mention I love this sport?)

I rode the Sangre Scenic Endurance Ride last weekend at Music Meadows Ranch, in Westcliffe, CO (they are a guest ranch - check it out!  You could go there!) and I am pleased to report no injuries to horse or person.  It was fabulous quiet time, just me and my horse. 
When I first began in endurance, I never imagined myself a top competitor.  Since having children, this belief has been strengthened as I have little time to train, and am afraid of pushing my horse too fast.  However, I have grown up in this sport, the motto of which (officially) is "To finish is to win."  And we live that motto.  There's a place in the sport for every person from the first place finisher to the last place "turtle" (who usually gets a special award!).  The sub-motto (is that a word?) of endurance would be "ride your own ride," meaning don't get sucked along at a pace that you know is too fast for your horse, ending up in getting pulled (disqualified) or worse hurting your horse.  Ride your own ride is a pretty good motto for life too, if you ask me, but it's not what came up on this weekend's ride so I'll save it for later. 
Music Meadows Ranch

So I rode my own ride.  I used to think that the way to be really safe was to start way behind the "front-runners" and stay back there all day so as not to get sucked along at a faster pace than was comfortable.  Within the last few years, I learned that the big gaggle of riders up front spreads out after the initial melee, and it is quite possible to ride your own ride and start in the front.  You end up riding pretty much the same ride, but you achieve a higher placing.  It is, in the words of Will Farrell in a parody of an ever-so-well-spoken former president, "STRATEGERY."  So Strategery it was.  And thanks to my work with Louis Wood about responsiveness and leadership with my horse, I could be confident that I would survive the start.  Soon, Allie and I found a comfortable spot in between two groups.  By this time, she had forgotten that she was worried about leaving her pal Morgan back at the trailer, and settled into her crazy big 10 mile an hour trot (we believe that Allie and Morgan actually share a brain.  It appears to be wireless, and has a range of about 20 feet.).  Well this ended up with us passing the group in front of us.  The first place group in front of us.  Were we really riding in first place?  ME?  Nah, I'm the one with the two kids who is just happy to complete!!!  But, as I tell my up-and-coming endurance rider daughter, "ride your own ride" means you get out there and do your best on that ride, and compete with yourself, not with the other riders.  Sometimes that's last place.  Today, maybe it was first place!
Home away from home.  That's Allie. 
The tent is for the kids!
Riding out in front means you actually have to watch the trail.  You can't just follow the riders in front of you and figure that THEY are watching the trail. Fortunately, the ride managers marked this trail superbly and it was easy.  Still, much of the ride was through sagebrush meadows, where things to attach markers to are low to the ground and hard to see.  As I rode through one particular meadow, I found myself having to slow down and look carefully for the next ribbon tied to a sagebrush.  This is not an efficient process.  So I thought I would try to see if I could tell where the trail went back into the trees on the other side of the meadow.  Lo and behold, once I found that spot in the distance, I saw a lovely trail of pink ribbons clearly visible!  I thought "I need to remember to look farther down the trail."  And I was struck by how true this is for life in general.

We get so stuck worrying about all the things that are happening RIGHT NOW.  Things we don't like, don't want to do, aren't working out . . . and we don't stop to think about the fact that these are moments.  They pass and resolve.  It works out . . . sometimes it just doesn't work out the way we had pictured in our heads.  Sometimes it works out in a way that is difficult.  But it always works out.  Most hardships are temporary and transient.  Temporary may mean 10 years, but it's still temporary.  We could get into some existential philosophy here, but I'm trying to make these blogs shorter.

So look farther down the trail.  When we see events in perspective of our whole lives, they represent a really small piece.  Learnining to accept the ups and down of this grand life experiment leads to a whole less anxiety.  So ask yourself a bigger question:  not what percentage of my life has been spent in this event, but what percent of my life has been spent worrying over events that come and go?  That's a bigger number.  We can't control events.  We certainly can control how much energy we give them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Anger Dare

In the wake of the Aurora Theater Shootings, as the world goes crazy with judgment and fear, I have a challenge for you. 

Let's do this without anger.

That's right, I dare you. 
Eliminate anger from your vocabulary for the next month. 
(There are those darned crickets again.) 
Anger: (Webster) a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.
            (Bing Dictionary) a strong feeling of grievance and displeasure. 
That doesn't sound that bad, does it?  It's not.  I'm talking about the common use of the word "angry" which usually leans more in the direction of antagonism.  I tend to talk a lot about what words mean vs. how they are used, and anger is a big one.  I think it is very rarely used in the dictionary sense, which is pretty mild.
No, in it's purest sense, there's nothing really wrong with anger.  It's just that the word anger, and all it's synonyms, are worn out from overuse.  Many people in the
world today know how to have one of two feelings:  Happy and Mad.  No one really has a problem with happy.  Rarely do people come to therapy with joy management issues.  If we're not happy, we're mad.  Except mad goes nowhere.  Mad is full of adrenaline and while it feels powerful, it merely masks whatever else we're feeling.  So we get mad, and we act out . . . and then eventually it ends, the adrenaline goes away, and nothing gets resolved, because whatever the issue was, it was moot because people are desensitized to anger.  Either they don't hear an angry person because they're so entrenched in their own flight response or they don't hear the person because they are entrenched in their fight response.  Either way, the message is lost.     

So let's give it a rest.  For one month, don't use any of the following words:  mad, angry, pissed, furious, ticked-off or annoyed (especially at the end of the phrase "he/she/it MADE me _____").  I would be tempted to add irritated and frustrated, as they are frequently synonyms for angry as well, but I will allow them, with some strict limitations that they be used according to Webster's Dictionary.  I'm picky like that.  For the record, I'm only letting in things that are physically irritating, like the scratchy tag on your shirt collar, a flickering fluorescent light (actually I would go for ANY fluorescent light), or the whining tone in my children's voices as they tattle on each other in the back seat (what, did you think I was immune to that??).   

In that time, let's learn to identify the underlying feeling instead, and broaden our vocabulary.

Step 1:  Let's start with identifying feelings.  Any time you notice that you're tempted to describe your feeling as "angry" or one of its derivations, pick a different word.  Anger is ALWAYS a secondary emotion.  There is ALWAYS another feeling underneath it.  Find it.  See the chart at the right for some suggestions.  I'll be posting more about what to do with those other feelings throughout the month.  You can't do anything helpful with angry.  Angry turns people off.  Angry sends people away.  Angry doesn't think very clearly and tends to say things in an overly dramatic and hurtful way.  Often, you have to spend time after angry repairing the damage until you get back to a place where you can move forward.  In the dance of one step forward and two steps back, angry is two steps back. 

Join me in this challenge!  Let's make it viral!  I want to hear your stories!  Comment!  Email me!  Speak up! 

Think I'm crazy?  Ok, maybe that's a topic for another time.  My clients LOOOOVE this exercise!  After a while, you won't miss these words.  Possible side effects:  better relationships, less stress, improved communication . . . and less botox because you won't get those little frowney lines between your eyebrows. 

*Photos Courtesy of

Monday, July 23, 2012

We are Powerless . . . or are we?

A tow boat floats offshore from the scene where a small plane crash landed on the beach of Palmetto Dunes along Hilton Head, S.C.

It's been 4 days since I woke up to find my community in chaos.  MY life has been pretty normal.  I didn't know any of the victims.  I know only a few people who were in the theater that night, all of whom are safe and sound.  As far as I know at this point, my immediate circle is ok. 
But it's not ok.  The uproar has begun.  Debates over guns.  Mayor Bloomberg of NY calls for people to demand that gun control be debated in the upcoming elections.  (He has what to do with Aurora, Colorado exactly?  Go pimp your politics somewhere else, Mike.)  I read about plans to increase security at movie theaters.  I guess pretty soon we will have armed security guards posted in every public venue just in case someone decides to open fire.  Good for the economy, perhaps unemployment will go down as more and more people attend 6 weeks of training to handle deadly force situations and watch me eat my dinner in a restaurant, but not so good for my appetite. 

 The bottom line is that events like this shatter the illusion that we walk around the world knowing for sure we are safe.  We don't know we are safe.  Robert Gary Jones went out for a run one March morning in 2010, along a beach in Hilton Head, SC.  An airplane crash-landed on him.  A colleague of mine lost a family member to a lightning strike last year.  That person was out for a run too.  Regularly in our world, people out for some exercise are hit by cars, attacked by mountain lions or bears - or people.  In line with current reasoning, it would follow then that you shouldn't go out for a run, and then you'll be safe.  In fact, we shouldn't leave our homes . . . 
Dominique Thomas

In September, 2011, Dominique Thomas was sleeping on the couch in her living room when a car crashed through the front wall.  She died. 

We live in a society that doesn't know how to accept.  Anything.  We are a society founded on the idea that if you don't like something, CONTROL IT.  We didn't like the rules in England, so we made our own nation.  We build better houses, come up with more technology.  We fight to have control over our environment.  Emissions testing, Ozone alerts, pollution advisories.  We fight biology.  I tried to find a ballpark figure for the number of medications available on the market today.  It wasn't easy, so I'll settle for "A LOT."  We devote A LOT of our resources to fighting biology.  Have a cold?  Whatever you do, don't rest and drink fluids.  Take a couple of (insert favorite cold medicine here) and get to work.  Injury?  Forget RICE, tape it up, take an ibuprofen and keep on going (admittedly, I have to totally own this one).  I have recently heard two stories of parents who CUT A CHILD'S CAST OFF EARLY so they could participate in some sporting event.  And forget accepting death.  We fight it to the end.  Please, tell my kids that if I am 96 years old, have been sick for years, and have a stroke, let me go.  No life support.  Direct them to my copy of "Five Wishes."   

We are powerless in many ways, and we don't like it.  Instead of working to accept our powerlessness, and to develop skills for being able to live in the fragile uncertainty of life, we play tricks on our minds.  When faced with a tragedy like 9/11, like the Columbine Massacre, like the Aurora School Shooting, Virginia Tech, Hurricane Katrina, the collapse of the 1-35W bridge in Minnesota . . . the list is long . . . we don't want to believe it could happen to us.  We don't want to believe it could happen ever again, in fact, so we spend our mental energy figuring out a way to prevent it. 

Let's go back to biology.  This is an adaptive response.  Let's say our pal Joe Caveman and his crew decide to set up their little hunting village in a beautiful valley.  Looks like some nice real estate, and just around the bend is a small river where the deer come for water.  Easy pickings for Joe and the rest of the hunters.  Fat times to come!  Except the first time it rains, that babbling brook becomes a raging torrent and washes Joe and whoever survives from the village miles downstream.  It makes a lot of sense for Joe, in that instance, to spend some time thinking about the factors that created the tragedy.  Heck, it might take centuries for humans to decide that they are safe to build civilizations on the banks of rivers again, or on beaches, or on the sides of mountains.  By then, humans will have perfected the art of BLAME.  And it will be the engineer's fault when the levvy breaks, or the house on the mountainside gets taken out in a mudslide.  If we can point a finger and figure out whose fault it is, we can get mad at them.  Anger feels so much better than powerlessness.  We can wave our hands in the air and proclaim indignantly that if only so-and-so had or hadn't done such-and-such . . . well this wouldn't have happened. 

I agree completely that there is fault in this tragedy.  However, might I suggest that if ONE PERSON hadn't decided to go shoot people at a movie theater, we wouldn't be having this conversation?  That person is in court this morning.  If you HAVE to be mad at someone, be mad at him.  Then again, you might consider he is a victim too, and have some compassion.  I'm not sure how I feel about Gov. Hickenlooper refusing to speak his name during the vigil last night.  I would be interested in the thinking behind that, and I am currently going to give the guy the benefit of the doubt that perhaps since James Holmes hadn't been formerly charged yet, he didn't want to step into that minefield.  What bothers me is that he presented it in a way that indicated Holmes wasn't worthy of being mentioned by name.  At best, Hickenlooper manipulated a gullible public. 

When I first started as a therapist, I had a whole list of people I just KNEW I could NEVER work with.  Sex offenders, batterers, ANYONE who had EVER hurt a child . . . what I've learned over 15 years wading through the horrors of people's experiences is that you can be pretty sure that most of the time, the more egregious the offense, the more pain the offender is in.  I guarantee none of us would want to have been in this kids's head.  Of course, perhaps he managed to get himself firmly rooted in anger and hatred, which doesn't feel bad.  It feels powerful.  It's charged with adrenaline and endorphins, which are highly addictive, sought after by many in the form of alcohol and drugs. 

Over the next few weeks, if other tragedies are any example, we will see lots and lots of blame.  We will see anger, and outrage, and indignant proclamations about how to make the world right.  And we will see public figures show up, put in their two cents, smile for the camera, and go home to their million dollar lives. (by the way, public figures, PLEASE come up with something else besides "Shocked and Saddened."  Warner Bros. is saddened.  The President is "shocked and saddened"  Mitt Romney is "deeply saddened."  Cinemark is "saddened."  Even Queen Elizabeth is "saddened."  Get out a thesaurus, folks.  Saddened falls a little short of what we're experiencing here.)   President Obama was in Colorado visiting the injured.  Thanks, B.  Where will you be in 2 weeks when the victims are out of the hospital and the medical bills start coming in?  Camp David?  Martha's Vineyard?  Oh yeah - that's why we have lawsuits.  Wouldn't it be cool if Warner Brothers, or Christian Bale, or anyone on the planet out there who has way more money than they will ever use kicked in a couple of million for hospital bills?  Or helped the families whose incomes will suffer because their wage-earner is in the hospital?  Just out of the goodness of their hearts?  But that's a whole 'nother blog.

What we won't see is any focus on the real issue, which is the fact that we have become so disconnected as a society that someone can see PEOPLE as target practice.  Fish in a barrel. THAT is the real tragedy.  So you can look at this in 2 ways.  You can get mad and blame, and nothing will change.  Or, you can experience it, and think of ways you CAN make changes.  We ALL can.  Present company included.  And things might start to get better. 

Do me a favor?  Don't get angry.  Don't politicize, don't blame.  Sit in the powerlessness for a moment, and really feel it.  It's scary isn't it?  Then a) consciously recognize that fortunately, these things don't happen very often, so you don't have to be afraid every time you leave the house . . . or stay in the house . . .  b) ACCEPT that sometimes these things do happen.  Sometimes there is fault, sometimes there is not.  Most of the time, it's our own fault and we don't want to admit it.  c)  fight against that powerlessness by doing what you can.  Let me break it down a little more.  Be nice to people.  Willy-nilly.  Be understanding and give people the benefit of the doubt.  Someone was nasty to you at the grocery store?  Well, maybe they had a bad day.  A smile might help them more than a dirty look.  When you need to say something, be assertive, not aggressive.  Use good communications skills and have good boundaries

My best guess is that either this young man has been wounded in some way that drove him to need that wall of anger and hatred around him all the time or he's got a mental illness. People aren't born like this, in my opinion.  Either way, the answer is compassion, not outrage.  (and before you write me off as a bleeding heart, you will probably at some point hear me rant about the justice system not being tough enough, and how I believe people should have significant consequences for their actions, up to including losing their own lives)  Even in circumstances where I'd support some outrage (most of which has to do with politics) I do have to take a step back and admit that assertiveness and collective action is a better answer than outrage. 

Anger and outrage are the way we can avoid the reality of our powerlessness.  Do what you CAN.  What we can do to keep this from happening again is start building a community.  Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan has been quoted as follows:
"We’ve got to start that process; we can’t let this guy win. We have to start healing and we have to start creating a better Aurora today."  "We will take this experience and use it to strengthen our commitment to each other. We will reclaim our city in the name of goodness, kindness and compassion. Let our city be a place where our vulnerable our supported by our strength. We will care for the families and we will care for each other,"
Awesome, Steve.  Got a plan for that?  I'm all ears.