Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Generous Spirit

My son Jack recently received a nice set of dominoes from a friend of mine.  From the time he was two, he has loved dominoes passionately.  He doesn't play the game, but rather he makes fabulous structures from them.  Knowing how much he treasured his new dominoes, I was pleased and surprised this afternoon when he graciously shared them with his younger brother, Joshua.  Joshua has a habit of being a bit destructive, so Jack understood the risk when he let Joshua play with them. This act of generosity on his part made me happy because for me, it is an indication that my husband and I are doing something right in raising our children. It also got me to thinking about generosity in general and how very important it is to raise children with an understanding of why having a generous spirit is so valuable.

Generosity is the act of giving freely without expecting anything in return.  It means to give of oneself unconditionally, no strings attached. This habit is essential to a happy life.  When people share with one another, it doubles the joy and pleasure derived from what is being shared.  Generosity fosters human connections, empathy for others, compassion, and a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself.  It is a gratifying feeling to help someone out or provide a need for them, whether it be material or emotional.  Basically, engaging in generous acts justs makes for a better person.

Generosity doesn't always mean meeting material or emotional needs of people, however.  Having a generous spirit in regard to one's outlook toward people in general creates a more fulfilling life as well.  Being able to think the best of others allows a person to focus on the positive aspects of one's life and of the positive aspects of the world around them.  It creates a mental and emotional environment that acknowledges the good in universe and the divine spark in all people.

It's not always easy to be generous. Generosity of spirit requires a person to be happy for other people's successes without indulging in envy.  It demands that a person give other people the benefit of the doubt regarding their intentions and actions.  It makes a person see situations from another's perspective, and to appreciate a difference of opinions and ideas.  Crafting a consistent generous mindset can be taxing and tiring, but just like exercise, it gets easier the more a person does it.

I challenge everyone who reads this to commit to becoming a more generous person and to perform acts of generosity on a daily basis.  I want to have a life of meaning and connectedness to the world around me, and I know that having a generous spirit comprises a huge part of that particular recipe.  I hope that others recognize it too. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Not Fit For Human Consumption

Tonight  my brother-in-law celebrated his 43rd birthday with a backyard barbecue.  He invited his friends, some of his family and my family.  Eleven adults and eight children attended.  The kids swam in the pool and played on the trampoline while the adults chatted and mingled.  Because I am somewhat of a worrier, I kept an eye on the my two boys while they were swimming.  At three and five years, I get nervous when they swim with bigger children because the older kids play roughly and don't pay attention to the little ones.  I also kept a close watch on my boys when they played on the trampoline.  This is primarily due to the fact my husband is an insurance agents and reminds me frequently of the statistics regarding trampoline injuries. 

Therefore, I somewhat isolated myself from the adult conversation to go sit and watch over the kids.  By the same token, no one came over to talk with me either.  I think they thought I was too overprotective. I also got the feeling that my brother-in-law's other guests got the impression that I am either snobbish or standoffish, which is not really the case.  I am  usually a very polite, sociable person.  Especially if I enjoy the company of the people with whom I am socializing.

Unfortunately, tonight I could not get comfortable enough to just sit at the table and talk.  My discomfort stemmed from needing to watch the children, but also from feeling a lack of connnection with the other guests at the party.  Several of the people I knew well and liked, but when one or two others are thrown into the mix, the entire balance becomes offkilter.  I suppose I should have persevered in my attempts to join in the conversation but tonight I decided I just did  not have the energy to expend in pretending to be interested in people who make uncomfortable for one reason or another.  My tolerance for this type of "faking it" grows less and less the older I get. 

It is times like these that I determine I am not fit for human consumption and it is best to remove myself from whatever situation I am in.  If I cannot be jovial and participatory, I think I should just leave.  That's what I did tonight.  I made my excuses, said I had a headache, which truly was the case, and left with the boys.  I worry sometimes that I am not stretching myself enough and I am becoming too comfortable in doing the things I have always done.  I wonder if not making more of an effort tonight in talking to these people means that I am slowly losing my flexibility and patience with people and situations where I am outside of my comfort zone.  I certainly hope not.  I do not want to become a person who is not open to new ideas, experiences and people but I also don't want to waste my time on things I don't enjoy. 

I guess I need to think about it some more.  The jury is still out regarding my behavior tonight. I don't want to become an curmudgeon, but I also don't want to just sit there and take it.  I guess I will just shoot for a nice balance of things and call it a day.  I am probably overthinking the situation anyway.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Birthday Wishes: It's Not About the Money, Money, Money

Birthday Banner For Jorgen
Made by The Kids

Today, my husband turned forty-three.  The children and I planned a small family party for him and decorated the house to create a festive atmosphere.  He works very hard everyday to support us and he deserves to have a wonderful birthday.  However, the budget for his shindig constrained what we were able to do.  I knew quitting my teaching job three years ago would limit our income, but with the economic recession hitting right on the heels of my decision to stay home, I never realized that it would be reduced so drastically.  My husband owns his own business, and while he has not lost much business, it has not grown at the rate we expected it to grow. Everything we do now is done with an eye towards making the experience or situation as good as possible for as little expenditure as possible.  We have to get creative in our financing of almost everything we do.  This income restriction provides both frustration and many opportunities for thinking outside the box.

The children decided to draw their father a banner wishing him a happy birthday and expressing their love for him.  They drew and colored the banner as well as hung streamers around the house. It pleased me to see them decorate the house using only items from our craftbox.  It is a large 20-gallon tub filled with odds and ends I pick up at yardsales that provides the children hours of creative entertainment at very little cost.  I also made him a special Swedish dinner that he appreciates (as he is Swedish) and baked and decorated a cake for dessert.  We bought him black licorice, hard caramels, and two books for his birthday presents, and he couldn't have been happier.  All of this, including the presents cost less than forty dollars.

My father, my sister and nephews, and my friend came to dinner and to share cake and icecream with us.  Jorgen enjoyed himself, and I consider this evening a successful birthday.  It may not have been an expensive one, but he knew at the end of the evening that we love him, respect him, and wish him only the best.  Hopefully in the years to come, the economy will improve and after the youngest of my children starts school I will go back to work.  I am certain our income will increase and be sufficient for us to spend money freely on the things we want and not necessarily need.  On one hand, I look forward to this because the lack of financial stress and fragility will be a relief.  On the other hand, I hope that having more things and more stuff in our lives does not provide too much distraction from what is really important.  The time we spend together playing games and doing crafts, conversation just for entertainment, and being truly present in one another's lives are wonderful and necessary ingredients for a healthy, connected family.  Knowing that we are all well-loved and that we love well is the most important lesson I want my children to gain from their childhood.  Being financially challenged right now remains difficult at times, but I do sincerely believe it is helping my children understand what is truly valuable--family and love.

Monday, July 18, 2011

We Aren't Hurting Each Other, It's Just Feelings

This morning my son Jack and my daughter Abby began arguing with each other.  It was already another long summer day with not too much to do, and so they began to mutually ride one another's nerves.  I could sense the tension escalating between my sarcastic nine-year old and my verbally gifted five-year old when the smart remarks began flying fast and furiously.  I knew how quickly words could lead to smacking each other with whatever they could reach, so I interjected, "Don't hurt each other, be nice."  My daughter responded with, "We aren't hurting each other."  And my son piped up, "Yeah, we are just hurting each other's feelings."

I chuckled at that, but then began thinking that this particular situation provided a good learning opportunity for my kids.  Many people don't realize how words do hurt and how they can have long-lasting effects on a person.  Every adult I have ever met has some childhood memory where their feelings were deeply hurt. They hold onto those memories sometimes more strongly than the happy ones and for some, it defines how they operate in the world today. Some words can damage people for a lifetime. They become the basis for insecurities and shame that plague a person throughout adulthood.  I wanted my children to know that they were hurting each other, especially because they were hurting one another's feelings.

A person will generally hear six to eight times more negative comments about oneself than positive ones throughout their lives.  Sarcasm, picking on faults or flaws, or just plain meanness in the name of humor constitute the majority of these damaging remarks, but they still hurt nonetheless. I've noticed that negative talk starts early and usually by the time a child reaches kindergarten there is a noticeable change in a child that is not solely due to natural maturation.  It is due to the fact that they've come into contact with other kids who use words that hurt and demean.  If a child attends daycare or preschool, this happens even earlier. Children then create their own defenses by sharpening their skills in verbal sparring and sarcasm.  It has always happened, it still happens, and it will always happen, because I believe that this constitutes part of our human make-up.  However, I think as parents, we can mitigate how snarky our children become. 

I strive to create a positive atmosphere in my home.  Lord knows I don't always succeed, and I myself have been known to have a sharp and biting tongue when it comes to sarcasm and facetiousness.  I do, however, ride herd on my children when they start deliberately picking on one another.  I put a stop that that immediately and make them apologize for what they have said.  I also have certain words which are banned in my house.  They may seem innocuous, but they do more damage than many other types of words.  My children are not allowed to say, "stupid", "dumb", or "shut up."  These words negate a person's self-worth and invalidate their opinions and beliefs.  Not being allowed to use these words force my kids to clarify their meanings when they disagree with something or to clarify their feelings when they become angry and upset.  Another thing I do to ameliorate negative talk is to counteract it with something positive.  When my children call each other names or make rude remarks to one another, they are required to say something positive about each other before I'll let the situation end.  I think this is also helpful for them to see the good things about the person they have just demeaned.

Somedays I feel like I am making headway in this.  In most instances, my children exhibit kindness, caring, and respect for one another.  They are, for all intents and purposes, happy, well-adjusted children who get along well the majority of the time.  When one of them becomes upset or unhappy, the other two try to do things to make the one feel better.  They do have a good dynamic with one another, and I am pretty satisfied with how they treat one another.  However, room for improvement always exists, as evidenced by today's little exchange between them, and I am going to continue to try my best to make them realize that a person's feelings should be seen as important and should very definitely be respected.

Friday, July 15, 2011

An Electrified Life: Living Decisively

A hawk that flew into a powerline while getting some breakfast.
The hawk's breakfast with the hawk's claw still embedded in it.

This morning, when I went to pick my daughter up from a week-long summer camp, my sister and I discovered this gruesome sight in the church parking lot.  At first, we couldn't figure out what had happened to the bird.  Our suprise at finding a deceased hawk in town matched our consternation about its mangled state.  Then we noticed less than a foot and a half away, the smaller dead bird with the hawk claw embedded in it.  That's when my brilliant sister, who loves watching CSI, figured out the mystery.  The hawk must have spotted its prey on a telephone wire, swooped down to snatch it up, and hit a live wire immediately after grabbing the bird.  That explained why the hawk's face had been burned away completely and why the smaller bird looked as if it had been cooked as well. 

At first I felt badly for the two birds, to end in such an electrifying manner, but then I continued to think about the situation.  I looked at the center of the issue and came to the realization that in fact, this type of death was not so terrible after all.  This hawk, a majestic, high-flying raptor died doing what it did best, coming down quickly from incredible heights and grabbing its prey.  Unfortunately, this time it didn't end with him swooping back into the blue, but with him dead upon the ground.  Nonetheless, it died after making a decision to get what it wanted and he pursued his goal to the end.  Us humans should be so lucky.

Many people get stuck into ruts in which they begin to drift lazily around their own lives.  Instead of making decisive and determined choices about where they want their lives to go, they let life make decisions for them.  Sometimes the choices life makes are serendipitous and lucky, but more often than not, the lack of action on the part of individuals leads a person's life into discontent and lack of fulfillment.

Being goal-oriented and motivated to positive action requires a person to make committments to identifying what it is they want from life.  It also demands that a person take action to achieve those goals and then follow through until he/she has met his/her objectives.  The work can be difficult, time-consuming, and draining, but the effort is worth it.  Someone once told me that everything in life worth having is worth working hard for.  I truly believe that.  I also believe that to have a fulfilling life a person must make those decisions that are necessary to achieve that kind of life.  The world does not hand out wonderful lives capriciously. People create their own fantastic lives by paying attention to what they want and what they do,by fostering those things that make life worthwhile, and by finding what it takes to reach the right level of inner satisfaction.

With all decisive action comes some inherent risk.  The risk for failure accompanies every decision to step outside one's comfort zone and to do those things that are essential for the creation of a happy life.  It is the fear of failure which holds so many people back from embracing what they need to do.  Living life to its full potential, however, brings rewards that outweigh those risks.  Sometimes a person will die (figuratively and literally) in his/her attempts to achieve their goals, but at least he/she, much like the hawk, will die will fully living.

While creepily interesting from a scientific perspective, the dead birds this morning were more fascinating for me from a philosophical standpoint.  I am going to engage in some introspection and think about what I want for my life and what I need to do to effect positive change.  Life is a journey towards fulfillment and self-knowledge, and I am determined that I am going to choose how I am going to reach my goals.  Hopefully, I will be like the hawk, and when my time comes to pass into the next realm, I will be thoroughly living when I die. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Singing in the the Rain

It rained!  It rained!  It rained!  Can you tell I am excited about this?  Living here in the desert, especially during this drought, rain is a precious, scarce thing.  It has rained in Alamogordo exactly twice since October 2010, so I wholeheartedly welcomed this rainshower.  I love the smell of rain, the way it tastes on the back of my tongue, the way the dust dances up into the air as the droplets sting the ground.  I love the patter of the rain on my windows and the fat, plopping sound it makes as it hits puddles. 

The clouds have been gathering for the past few days and all day today I could see the rain hit the mountains that surround the basin.  The winds picked up, the clouds looked ominous, and still nothing for hours and hours.  The weather here can be such a tease.  Then finally, after dark, the skies opened up and the beautiful rain started.  I hold a lot of good memories in which rain or thunderstorms provided the backdrop.  It reminded me of some poems I wrote about the rain.  Instead of advice, I am going to share those in this particular post.

Mudpies and Tennis Shoes

Small feet ran, higgledy-piggledy
through the woods, catching puddles in their tennis shoes.
It collected between toes and squished next to chilling skin.
A natural scent of wet sun and forest floor
intoxicated the children, interrupted their exodus.

Each bent low to the ground, scooped handfuls of wet earth
and slung it at one another.
They laughed at the slapping sound it made
when mud connected with flesh.
They reveled in the feel of slick, thick dirt
that slipped liquid between their fingers.
Small hands struggled to keep bits of it contained
before launching chunks through the air.
The clods arced in raindrops, melted in their descent
and then plopped against
an arm, tummy, or leg.

Mother was displeased
and put the wet shoes out to dry.
But she couldn't stay mad for long
when white smiles showed through dirty faces.

Raindrop Nirvana

Cradled on the wet asphalt scent of city rain,
thoughts settle under my skin, fill my nose
and burrow into my brain.

I refuse to regret the rain--for I too,
am a big, fat, tear-shaped drop
that slides along life, gripping tightly
against anything smooth and easy.

Someday, gravity will garner my attention
and potential will pull heavy at my center.
Then with natural force, I will mingle in chaos.
I will drop down into the patterned puddle of humanity.
Out of many-one.
Here I am, and now I'm gone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If All Dogs Go To Heaven, Please Send Me To Hell

I grew up surrounded by pets.  We had several dogs throughout my childhood and teen years, cats galore, gold fish, mice, and even snails.  My family, with the exception of my poor, beleaguered father, adored animals.  I wholeheartedly included myself in this menagerie-loving crowd.  Currently I have two cats who rule the roost, and I am completely okay with this because my kitties are glorious, loving, mature creatures. Tibby is seventeen and Bingo is eight.  I also have one dog.  One miserably misbehaved, rambunctious, mannerless lout of a dog named Gus, whom I secretly call Dumb@##.

I always thought I was an equal opportunity animal lover.  Upon bringing Gus into our home, I realized with a ferocity of hard-won truth, that I am definitely not dog people.  I don't know how this realization escaped me for thirty-seven years.  As an adult, I only owned cats, but chalked up my poochless state to either working long hours or being in the midst of having three babies in a row.  I kept the idea in mind that when the kids were older we would have a puppy who would seamlessly meld into our family as some kind of canine soul mate. We could take the dog for walks, roll around on the floor together, play fetch, and have late night snuggles on the couch.  Sadly, this pet dream turned out to be a pipe dream.  Our dog, Gustav Ketchup-Head Hallbeck (proudly named by my five-year old, Jack), does none of these things. 

His primary pasttimes are chewing, farting, barking, and chasing my poor cats.  He is a one-pup wrecking machine.  He doesn't listen, he has a very shallow learning curve, and remains completely oblivious to any type of positive instruction to become a decent, God-fearing (or at least Momma-fearing) dog. So far, he's eaten trash, diapers, a library book, a gameboy, dvds, the knobs off a bedstead, a chair, countless stuffed animals and Barbies, the corners of my couches, my lawn furniture cushions, our tree in the backyard, and even my daughter's homework!  I have never before said this about any other animal in my life, but I hate this dog!

I say that at least once or twice a day about Gus, and then I immediately feel badly about it.  I feel badly because I really, truly don't hate him.  I actually have warm feelings for Gus, and I take good care of him. I am his primary caretaker because my kids forget and my husband reminds me on a daily basis that I absolutely had to have this dog.  Nonetheless, I hate his youth.  I hate his pure puppiness.  I hate his neediness when I am  already needed by my children all throughout the day.  I am needed by my husband, my father, my nephews and my friends.  I don't have time to be needed by a dog too.  I think that's where my problem lies with dogs in general.  They do give unconditional affection, but this constant loyalty and love comes at a high price, at least for me.  The cost is total dependence upon the owners, the continual demands for affection and attention, the consistent "look at me, look at me, look at me!" attitude.  It drives me crazy!

Cats, on the other hand, share their love selectively.  A person knows the true affection of a cat because the animal gives it sparingly and only to those the kitty trusts and loves.  Cats will comfort you when necessary, but leave you alone for long portions of time. The independence of cats appeals to me.  They don't need you, they want you.  That is the big difference between cats and dogs. 

I wonder what my dislike of dogs says about me as a person.  Does how I feel about the general nature of cats and dogs translate to my feelings regarding people?  Upon reflection, I actually think it does.  I prefer my friends to be independent and to want to be with me because they enjoy my company, not because they need something from me.  I prefer my children to develop independent attitudes so that they do things on their own and are willing to try new things without being scared.  I like the room that my husband gives me to do my own things, and the room that I give him for his own hobbies and activities.  We come together because we want to, not because we need to.  My love for cats and their personality traits comes from a very deep place inside me which also informs my feelings about the people I choose to share my life with and how I in turn, treat them.  It is interesting to think that I learned this about myself by bringing a dog into my life.  Even a dog as disgusting, rude, and mannerless as Gus.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wheezing on My Sister's Gig:The Power of Alone Time

This morning I took my nine year old daughter to the church to drop her off for her week at camp up in the mountains.  This is the first time she's been away from home for an extended period of time, and of course I began missing her before she even left the parking lot.  My nephew went to the same camp as well and I met up with my sister's family. Afterwards, instead of returning home, my two boys and I went to my sister's place to hang out for awhile.

Before I get into the heart of my tale, a  little backstory is necessary. My sister and I are very close.  We are one year apart in ages. My father being in the military, we moved often when we were children so we automatically turned to each other for friendship and support.  We are best friends and as one of my other friends like to tease, we practically live in eachother's back pocket.  We went to the same college, live in the same town a block apart, got married the same year, and our families go on vacation together.  If you become my friend, you have to take my sister too and vice versa.  We are a package deal.  So, you can imagine, much to my surprise, how I felt when my sister made pointed hints for me to leave.

How is it possible that she did not want my gloriously entertaining company this afternoon?  Did I offend in some fashion?  Had I made a faux pas of gargantuan proportions which caused her to shun my charming, witty person? What could possibly have made her not want to spend the day with me and my kids?  Could she possibly have wanted alone time

So, after quite a bit of teasing and strenuous efforts at trying to induce guilt in her for telling me to go home, I left with the boys.  My feelings weren't hurt and I didn't mind.  This is primarily because I totally get needing, wanting, and craving alone time. 

As a mother, wife, sister, and daughter, activities, chores, and caretaking fill my days from start to finish.  I am almost never alone, except when I'm in the bathroom, and that's because I started locking the door after my third child was born.  I had way too many visitors in there and now the bathroom has become my impenetrable fortress and my sanctuary. My sister's situation is much the same and also requires her to constantly go, go, go.  She works outside the home, takes care of her two boys and her husband, and engages in hobbies that keep her constantly in the company of people.  This level of interaction can be both stimulating and draining.  Therefore, when the opportunity presents itself, alone time should be taken and thoroughly used.

Alone time allows a person to get back in touch with oneself, to rediscover all the wonderful things that he or she did, and felt, and thought when they had the time to do so. Being by oneself grants time for introspection and deep-thinking, engaging in personal hobbies that fill one with pleasure or joy, taking a delicious nap in the afternoon, or just doing the stuff that is only important, fulfilling, or necessary for oneself.  It is such a wonderful feeling to be free from responsibility and obligation to other people, whether they are your family, friends, or co-workers.  The liberating sensation created by being alone reenergizes the soul, especially if a person enjoys his or her own company.  An added benefit to having time for oneself is that when it ends, people generally enjoy spending time with friends and family more.  Alone time does not constitute a negative type of social isolation, but it fosters better relationships and a deeper appreciation for others.  I totally get why my sister kicked me out of her house with not so subtle hints, such as "Aren't you gone, yet?"

Once I get my five-year old and my three-year old to bed this evening, and my husband safely ensconced in his man cave with his cigar and movie, I plan on enjoying some serious alone time myself.  I am going to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, read, and gorge on reality television.  I am looking forward to it already.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Conversation with Myself: Super-Ninja of Self-Talk

Many people hold the idea that if a person talks to him or herself, then he or she is slightly nutty or at the very least eccentric.  Nonetheless, the majority of people at some time or another engage in self-talk.  It can be motivational, critical, therapeutic, or humorous, and some people are definitely better at it than others. I consider myself the super-ninja of self-talk. One thing I have come to understand, however, is that talking to oneself does constitute craziness.  It is just normal, healthy self-expression.

Today I had a great number of things to accomplish and very little motivation to achieve any of the goals I had set for myself.  My father, who suffered a stroke six years ago, lives alone and I clean his house every Sunday. I missed last week due to the holiday and I knew it was going to be a bigger job than usual. I had also planned on shampooing my own carpets which had been artfully decorated by my three piglets who manage to spill, saturate and stain almost every inch of it.  In addition, making homeade enchiladas awaited me at the end of all this housecleaning.  When I woke this morning my motivation managed to sleep in and refused to be roused in any way, shape, or form.

After two cups of coffee and the equivalent in cigarettes, I could still hear my motivation snoring away.  I started what I always do when I don't feel like accomplishing anything....I began to repeat out loud the things I needed to get done. This is one of those habits that drives my husband crazy.  We've been married almost fourteen years and it never fails to amuse me that he must comment on my particular behavior in this regard every single time.  Even with his snarky comments, my method of motivation began to work for me, and I roused myself to go to my dad's house and get it cleaned.  I then came home and continued to repeat out loud the list of things I needed to finish.  Lo and behold, I managed to get everything done and then some.  This is a perfect example of how self-talk can motivate.  I also find that it helps me to organize my thoughts and gives me some clarity about the priority of my goals.

I also talk to myself when I am angry or frustrated about things.  I have a tendency to mutter under my breath, and occasionally yell at the top of my lungs to no one inparticular when I am very upset.  This also has a beneficial function, it relieves my stress.  In addition, it helps me to avoid unneccessary conflict with my spouse or other friends and family, as well as to again, clarify my exact thoughts on the situation.  It can be very productive, but I do have to be careful about what I say.  I need to remind myself that my children constantly observe my behavior and then sometimes repeat it, much to my chagrin.  I already have two very well-developed self-talkers out of the three kids.  I can hear them muttering down the hallway when they are sent to their rooms for being naughty.  My husband usually just shakes his head, smiles, and puts all the blame on me for this.  To rat him out, however, he does the same exact thing.  Our children come by this trait honestly.

The most harmful self-talk consists of the critical variety.  Everyone has audio loops that play in his or her head of all the negative things that people think about themselves.  Sometimes this internal audio becomes external and we actually speak outloud all the horrible things we believe ourselves to be.  It can be an immensely difficult behavior or habit to stop, but when a person recognizes it for the damaging thing it is, he or she should quit engaging in that personal criticism immediately.  It never helps a person and it always hurts.  If a person is going to talk to him or herself, it should be positive.  Pats-on-the-back, congratulations for a job well done, or just verbal affirmation of one's own special abilities and talents are important for strengthening one's self-worth.

I have one other form of self-talk that I actually thoroughly enjoy.  I have a tendency, when I am alone and bored with no outside distractions to verbalize my dreams for the future.  I speak out loud all of the things that I would like to be or to have accomplished in my life as if I were already there.  Usually it is in the form of an interview where I am both the interviewer and the person being interviewed.  It sounds silly and slightly schitzophrenic, but it is amusing and it actually makes me feel good.  It also helps me to bring into focus those things that I want that are truly important for me and my family.  Besides, a little wishful thinking, especially in its more active form such as this, can actually draw positive forces into a person's life to help him or her achieve dreams.  I have never mentioned this peculiar habit to anyone, but the older I get, the more comfortable I am in sharing my eccentricities. 

So, everyone, remember that if you can't find a good conversation with someone else, you can always start one with yourself.  You might be surprised at how much you enjoy your own company and how much you can learn from yourself.  Besides, you might even have a laugh or two at your own expense or make one or two dreams come true.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Everything I Need to Know I Learned At Karaoke

A couple of nights ago, my sister invited me to go to a karaoke bar with her.  Normally, I just stay home in the evenings, but the children had been, as my friend describes them, "butt barnacles" all day.  It was hot in my house and my husband didn't care, so off I went.  Back in my single days, I used to go to karaoke quite often.  I guess I could have been considered a regular, and I had a set of songs I enjoyed singing, although I never quite cut loose even to thoroughly enjoy myself.  I have always been somewhat shy and reticent to really behave crazily in public, so while my voice was pretty good, I never had what anyone would call a passionate singing style.

So,  once there, I perused the books, found a couple of songs that I thought would be fun, and waited for my turn.  Back in my twenties, I would have a couple of beers, sit nervously until my name was called, and then tensely sing my song. Amazingly, this time, I realized I just didn't care what other people thought of me when I sang.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and tried songs that I never would have considered when I was younger.  That night, I talked to really interesting people I wouldn't have given a second glance when I was younger. I laughed, I sang, I drank, I had a ball. The liberating effect of age, marriage, and being comfortable in my own skin coalesced into one heck of a night of karaoke and it got me to thinking about the benefits of growing older. 

I am 38 years old and will soon be 39.  I am completely middle-aged, and it doesn't bother me at all.  Of course I would like the energy of 22 or even 27, and the stamina to stay up really late and be alert the next day like I was in my mid-twenties, but I wouldn't trade what I have now for any of that.  I like being in my 30s and I am not afraid of my 40s.  I know who I am, I appreciate all of my talents and gifts in a way that I never did before, and I am secure about who I am.  I am old enough now to know myself.  I know what I want, how I want things done, what I am capable of, and what I like in other people.  Aging to me is not an unpleasant thing like it is for many people.  I don't view my life as being half over, but moreso being halfway to perfection.  Every day I get older is another opportunity to become the best me and to know myself better than before.

I left the bar that night feeling really good about myself and with the realization that I am truly happy to be where I am right now with myself.  I enjoy my life more because I don't have that shyness that came with being younger and being more concerned about what other people think of me.  Right now, I don't particularly care because I know what I think of myself and I am happy with that.  Besides, someone once told me and I truly believe this that a person should never be concerned entering a room and believing that everyone is focusing on that person.  Ninety-nine percent of the people are thinking about themselves and whether or not other people are thinking of them to even be remotely interested in the new guy.  Truly amazing insight on that one, I think.  Generally, karaoke provides good times, good friends, and good drinks, but the other night, it provided some wonderful introspection.  To think I learned that much about myself at some dive bar singing "Love Shack" by the B52s!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Beauty of Being Bored

In this constantly busy world, today my family shared a lazy, stay-at-home kind of day.  We recently returned from vacation and a thousand things needed my attention at the house.  My husband returned to work, and the kids had to amuse themselves.  Rather than running around town, visiting my sister to go swimming in her pool, hanging out with my friends who have children the same age as mine, me and my three were left to ourselves and I must admit that even though I had tons of laundry to finish, we all became somewhat bored.  Personally, it didn't bother me much.  However, my kids rarely have time to be bored and this seemed like it could become a problem early in the day.

My two boys began arguing with each other shortly after breakfast.  When faced with nothing to do, they start to irritate one another as only a three year old barbarian and his equally barbarous five year old brother can do.  My godsend of a daughter, however, averted catastrophe by getting out the water colors and markers and had everyone start to do crafts.  Crafts later then led to playing with Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs, and then culminated in the making of home videos where the kids playacted for the camera. My kids occupied themselves all day long by coming up with fun things to do on their own.  I was quite proud of their ingenuity and this got me to thinking about how boredom can actually be a very beneficial state to be in once in awhile.

Usually people are too busy to be bored.  In today's constantly moving world, most people are too busy to even think deeply.  Some days it seems as if I am running on autopilot and when I finally get to the point in my day where I have nothing I have to immediately accomplish my brain is too fried to engage in any real creative thought.  Between our jobs, taking care of children and parents, keeping up the house, and doing the million things required of us every day to keep things running smoothly, we are not given any down time.  Down time is necessary for recharging one's mental and physical batteries.  I believe that boredom is also a necessary state for creative thought to grow in.  It is fertilizer for the brain.

When people become bored, the mind wanders, and it is during those times that the brain begins to think of things to do for amusement, education, or improvement.  Having nothing to do allows the mind to come up with ideas that require more effort and attention than the normal person has throughout the day and it really becomes the breeding ground for some fantastically creative thoughts. 

My children really impressed me today with how creative they were, and even better, they impressed themselves.  They discovered again how much they enjoy making art and using their imaginations to create things for themselves.  This is the beauty of being bored.  It is a staging ground for excellent things to be done and to be made.  It is a wonderful place to be for awhile because it allows us to move towards something better, brighter, and more interesting.  Something that we have created on our own.  We tap into our creative, generative selves and this is truly a beautiful, wonderful thing!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Art of Being Nice

So, here's my very first blog.  I called it Sister-in-Law's Advice because I seem to fill the role of unpaid therapist for my family and friends.  Even my crochety brother-in-law occasionally asks me what to do when he's in a jam. I generally provide a good ear for listening, a shoulder to cry on, validating murmurs and then sound advice.  Whether or not they apply what I tell them is a different story, but most of my ideas are sound, solid, and pragmatic.

Recently my family and I came back from vacation where we spent a week in my childhood  home. My husband, my three children, my sister, my brother-in-law, their two children, and my father were there celebrating Independence Day.  Such closeness for seven days with ten people in 2500 square feet triggered my thoughts regarding manners, tact, and being nice to one another.  We had a really good time together, doing all the traditional things we do for the Fourth of July such as barbecuing, playing darts and board games, going to the parade, wandering around our tiny town and sharing childhood memories with our kids.  Nonetheless, there were moments throughout the week where I realized had we used more manners, taken less for granted, cooperated and did our fair share of chores, and saw situations from all perspectives and not just our own, things would have gone more smoothly. 

Thus, I began to think about what it takes to move smoothly through the world.  I've always believed that a person could tell another person was a gentleman or a lady by how they made other people feel when they were around him or her.  Ladies and gentlemen move smoothly through the world because they use their manners.  They consider what their words mean to other people.  They think before they speak and really try to go out of their way to ensure that whomever they are with feel good.  They are tactful when they give criticism, they are appreciative when they've received hospitality, they are accomodating when it is necessary for the good of the whole environment, they are assertive when they need to get their point across, and above all they are nice.  I try to strive for being nice every day.  I want people to enjoy my company, my home, my hospitality, and to feel good when they are with me. 

If more people said "please" and "thank you" and "you're welcome," this world would be a better place to navigate.  If they cooperated with each other, tried to do things that made other people feel good, contributed what they could for the betterment of situations, and in general gave their best efforts in regard to others, life would be much easier.  These are the basic rules for being nice.

Even with the rules, there is an art to being nice.  It takes raw talent, but it also takes practice and perseverence.  Niceness takes time to cultivate into second nature, but once it becomes a part of a person's behavior patterns, it is much ingrained like the skill of riding a bike.  A person will always remember how to do it.  The trick to elevating the artform is to keep the idea of being nice in the forefront of one's mind and to apply it to all situations where other people besides oneself is involved.

I constantly try to perfect my artform.  I tried really hard this past week to let others see and feel my niceness.  Somedays I am better than others.  At the very least, if I keep at it every day, my world will continue to be a lot more smooth and even than if I did not.