Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Day is It Anyway?

I woke up before my alarm this morning. A small treat for my husband who has the pleasure of a completely inconsistent morning experience. Some days he sleeps soundly as I quietly roll over, turn off my alarm before it has sounded and happily begin my morning routine. Other days, he has the pleasure of listening to me hit snooze for about 30 minutes as I grumble about how fast the morning has come.

This morning as I walk over to pour my coffee (which by the way usually tastes terrible), I begin to think about my blog. A side note on the coffee, I have traded taste for convenience as Dave and I don't like our coffee the same strength, but since Dave prepares it in the evening and sets the auto brew, I am welcomed each morning with the amazing scent of fresh coffee. I have decided the scent and convenience of not having to make it myself outweigh the fact that it tastes like dirty water. Perhaps I will blog about that trade-off on another day.

Back to my morning....

I glance at the calendar and realize it's Thursday. Oh my, I am a Wednesday-blogger and it's Thursday! How did that happen?

The intellectual side of my brain starts rationalizing. I've been busy... I was off on Tuesday as I was supposed to have jury duty so my schedule is all off... blahh, blahh, blahh... I begin to think about all the ways I should apologize to Iris for missing my Wednesday slot and then I simply stop all the crazy talk in my head and ask myself a single question: Why do you continue to not deliver on your commitments in any part of your life except work?

Did I really forget that it was Wednesday yesterday? Why don't I schedule reminders for myself about blogging or being home on time from work or calling friends I told I would call? How do I make decisions about what I "must do" verses what I "will do" verses what I "have time to do" or I "say I will do and don't do". For some people it's crystal clear; they always do what they say they will do for others or they almost never do what they say they will. For me, I am completely inconsistent on the topic of commitments.

The more I think about it, the more disorganized my thoughts. I am an out-loud thinker, so one idea is that I am not clear with myself or others about what it truly a commitment verses what is an idea. I am idea person. I love to generate numerous possibilities for everything. Many more possibilities than I can commit to. What does that have to do with keeping commitments? More food for thought. What do you think?

Love to all,

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bring It

He stares at the cracked concrete floor trying to focus. Where is he? How'd he get here? What's going on?

He flirts with unconsciousness like an alcoholic considering a double of Kettle-One on the rocks. Just a sip and you'll feel so much better. Close your eyes and rest. Just for a few moments.

His arm stretches forward, his fingers skimming the thin layer of dust that clings to the floor like Saran Wrap on a melon. The blackness closes in on him like ferrel dogs circling wounded prey. What's the use? There's nothing you can do. You gave it your best shot.

As he surrenders to the darkness, an image floods his mind. He sees her brandishing a rusted pipe with her left hand, her right hand swinging a thick-linked, steel chain in broad circles above her head. Her gaze arcs from left to right. She occasionally glances behind her, but there is nothing to see. Her back is to a corner.

Three silhouetted figures stand before her. Each occasionally takes a step towards her and then withdraws, held back by her tenacity and ferocity. She has no where to go. No way out. It's a stand-off, at least momentarily.

He sees her features harden. All hesitation, fear and doubt drain from her face. She taunts them and says, "Bring it!"

A rush of air races up his nostrils like a blast of smelling salts. His heart pumps madly, driving the oxygenated blood to his brain. His synapses fire bringing clarity to his mind. He'll be damned if he's going to let her stand alone.

He bolts upright, steadies himself against the cinderblock wall and takes a step towards the door. There are no guards, no one watching. They've counted him out. Three paces and he's at a full run.

He says to himself, "Yeah, bring it!"

There are times when you feel as though you've spent all you have. There's nothing left but surrender.

Yet some times, just as we reach that point of giving in, something magical happens. We find the key that opens the door to the hidden storeroom that resides in each of us, and we are renewed. The key can be the vision of a brighter future. It can be a sound or a smell. It can be words of commitment you uttered years before. It can be the wonder of someone with even less than yourself standing firmly in the face of adversity. It can be love.

With that key, we find the resources we need to stand, to look adversity in the eye, and to say, "Bring it!"

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Third Choice

Faith's post, Much Ado About Nothing, really got me thinking about choices and how we make them.

Recently, Faith encountered an educational dilemma when confronted by the NYC Board of Ed's requirement that children being home-schooled routinely take and pass standardized tests. Faith's concern was that her method of teaching her kids is not optimized to whatever the Board of Education considers to be age-appropriate proficiency, but instead to providing her kids the richest educational experience possible. As such, while her kids are doing well, that might not be evident on a standardized test. The question before her was: Do I teach to the test, or do I continue teaching in the manner I have thus far?

My first response was complete agreement with Faith's concerns and perspective. I believe that both age-appropriate curricula and standardized tests are, well, the technical term would be "stupid".

While often of great concern to parents, the fact that a child learns to read sentences at three or five or seven is largely irrelevant to the child's longterm academic success. What is more important is the sequence in which a child acquires new skills (a.k.a, crawl, walk, run) and how others respond and support her in the acquisition of those skills.

Age-appropriate curricula mitigate against this. Parents will actually brag: Johnny never crawled; he just got up one day and started walking. They don't know that by skipping crawling, Johnny missed out on important developmental steps that will later on undermine his ability to learn.

Standardized tests are fine in-and-of-themselves, yet they're rarely used effectively. When written well a standardized test can be a great diagnostic tool. It can help you identify the building blocks that are solid and well-positioned and the ones that are missing or not strong enough to support others that depend on them. The problem is that many use standardized tests as a rating system, not a diagnostic tool. This is pure folly. A child who scores poorly on a standardized test may be missing just one key building block on which many depend, or she may be missing many building blocks. Age-appropriate standardized tests offer no way of discerning this.

Given my beliefs about standardized tests, I found myself resonating with Faith's dilemma. Yet, something inside me was saying, "Hey, wait a minute! You don't buy into the the notion of dilemma. There is no such thing!"

I responded, "Oh, yeah. I forgot."

Teflon's Axiom of Choice
For every set of choices A consisting of N elements (possible choices), there exists at least 1 additional choice that has not yet been considered:

except in the case of the empty set (zero choices) in which case there exist at least 2 additional choices.

Teflon's Axiom of Choice is essential to ensuring that you never paint yourself into a corner, even after having painted yourself into a corner. Basically it says that you always have at least one more option than the ones you've considered. It's application is quite straight forward; whenever you find yourself saying, it's either A or B, you stop and say, "Hey, remember Teflon's Axiom of Choice? It can never be either A or B! There must be a C around here somewhere."

That's it!

The exception is when you believe you have no choice. Then you can be assured that there are at least two.

Faith's Pseudo-Dilemma
As I reconsidered Faith's pseudo-dilemma (for those of you paying attention, that was redundant), I applied Harwood's First Rule of Doing ("How hard could it be?") and came up with a third choice: Teach beyond the test.

To apply Harwood Rule #1, I asked myself, "How hard could it be to run circles around a public school system?"

The answer was, "Can't be hard at all."

Then it occurred to me, "Why wouldn't Faith simply teach her kids to ace the standardized tests AND continue learning the things that she found most important? Shoot, why wouldn't Faith just get her kids to ace the tests for students three-years ahead so that the Board of Ed would leave her alone to do as she would?"

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Faith's really smart. Her kids are really smart. With about twenty minutes a day of focus over the next six months, they'd probably be scoring in the high 90's percentiles on tests designed for kids three or four years older.

The more I thought about Faith, Simonne and Zachary beating the crap out of the standardized tests, the more excited I got. I started thinking of ways to reduce arithmetic to the smallest set of things that you need to know to do everything, about ways to develop language skills that are fun and more productive than anything else.

My Pseudo-Dilemma
All this brought back to me an experience going to night school while first working at Bell Labs. I needed one more course to get my degree, a course in Operating Systems. I'd left it for last because I knew it would be easy. I'd been part of small team developing the next version of the UNIX operating system and I knew it inside and out. The course was based on the UNIX operating system so how hard could it be?

I failed the first exam. During the next session, the professor returned the exams to us and walked through the questions to explain the answers. The problem was that he didn't know the system very well, had no direct experience programming it, and relied on a dated textbook for his information. The "correct" answers were wrong.

By the fourth time I'd raised my hand to explain why he'd misunderstood how the system actually worked, he stopped calling on me altogether. It appeared that I wasn't going to educate him any time soon. I had a dilemma: Answer the questions wrong and pass or answer them right and fail?

And then it came to me: Answer them both ways!

Through the rest of the semester, I learned everything as he taught it. On the exams, I would answer questions in a manner that said, "The answer you're looking for is... However, the way the system actually works is..."

We never became good friends, but I did ace the course.

What pseudo dilemmas have you concocted for yourself? How would Teflon's Axiom of Choice change things? Have you ever tried applying Harwood's First Rule of Doing?

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stepping Up

I hear the birds sing brightly. They seem happy that the sun is out this morning. Beautiful blue skies and luscious green flields are stretched out in front of me. The last sips of hot tea are still lingering in my mouth. I feel good. I feel satisfied. I feel proud.

Today is day three of our little WillPower tour. Finally we are showing off the months of practice we did after we came back from Las Vegas. On Saturday we drove down to Woodbury and performed at a benefit for Hurricane Victims. When we arrived at destination it turned out that the benefit was held at an absolute stunning property with glowing fields, a lake in the middle of the fields and rock formations all around the property. A methiculous landscaper (which also turned out to be one of the owners of the property) had rigorously cut every last grasshalm, even around the horse cradle.

An gigantic tent roof held us dry, while the view was not obstructed. I love singing with the band. While the wind moves my hair and I can smell the grass.

We were the house band for the day, and started off the event with an hour long set. You had to be there to see it, but we were ready. We all had big smiles, we had lots of energy and were so eager to perform that it seemed to rub off to the visitors of the benefit. Think about formal dressed people standing with their glass of wine in a group, and then slowly turning more and more towards the band slightly moving along with the beat. Imagine faces turning to their neighbors when the song is finished to discuss what they heard and then to focus in again to the music when we started playing. People were mesmerized. They were digging it!

During our first break an older lady in white, her hair manicured, her make-up expertly applied, walks up to me and says friendly "your band is great... And you know I am not easily satisfied!" I thank her graciously and think surprised that something has changed. It seems that we went from a band playing some cool music, to a band that people love. We stepped up...

So, since that first day the and has been talking about stepping up. What is it that we improved on? What is it that we do different and where are we going next?

We concluded a lot of things, but on of our main lessons was that when we really love what we are doing, the public will love what we are doing too. For example, they loved our choice of music, and we believe they loved the music we chose because we loved delivering the songs we picked to perform.

Do you think it can be as simple as that? Are there things you love to do, and because of that people like to support you with it? Are there things you try to get of the ground, but you seem not to be able to motivate anyone around you? Could it be that your enthusiasm has everything to do with it?

We will continue to step up. Why don't you join us...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

I hate tests.  There.  I've gotten it out.  If you want to know how much I know about something, talk to me about it, see me in a relevant environment, talk to people who know me.  Don't give me a set of questions on paper (or a computer screen, or orally) that try to artifically assess something that can be assessed in the natural environment.  I can go on and on about assessment strategies.  But I won't do that today...

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, the time for NYC board of education mandatory testing of school aged children had arrived in our household.  Home-schoolers are told that if their children fall in the lower 33% of kids based on the test, your right to homeschool may be revoked.  I wonder who revokes the boe's right to keep kids in school if they keep falling in the lower 33%.  Anyway....   For weeks, I had been stressing, thinking about how much I do not teach to the test, how much I don't want to have these unnecessary conversations about how my kids are doing, what they are learning, how much I would like Simonne to just ace the test, yet how much I deeply believe such assessment instruments are not even worth the paper they are printed on.

I was really happy to have found an un-timed, homeschool friendly test that was accepted by the boe.  When it came in the mail, I looked through the questions and panicked.  54/9?  Explained in english, Simonne understands that quite well, but our use of symbolic notation is in its more infantile stages.  Plus, we haven't done traditional times tables.  I decided on a combination of counting by whatever number, and having to do the repeated addition to figure out multiplication.  My thought was that the more she had to do it the long way, the more the idea of a short way would make sense.  Such figurings take time, though and there is no guarantee that it will be sorted out by the May of  the school year in 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. grades.

My kids also don't have the healthy respect for tests that would have benefitted us in preparation for this projects, and they definitely don't have the stamina to do 40+ questions of any kind, no matter how simple!

So the test days arrive (determined by the 2 weeks it will take the scoring company to send me the results, and the latest possible time the boe can get the results).  I give Simonne a few brief instructions and set her on her task.
S: Mommy?  What's an adjective?  I haven't covered that.... one of my rules...  Zachary, you could take this pencil and I could use... sure, Easter Bunny could sit here with....
F: Zachary, could you leave Simonne alone for a little so she can finish the .... test we have no choice but to do?
S: Mommy, can I stop now?  And so it went for about the four days it took us to finish the 3 tests.

I was relieved to finally send the little pink paper with pencil shaded dots to the testing company.   We celebrated: No more of that for another 2 years!  Zachary won't see that for another 3!  And maybe we will move to a state that doesn't require testing before that time.  The importance of the test faded as soon as it had been completed, and virtually dissapeared when the stamp got on the envelope and it left the house.

10 days later, we had the results in the mail.  What an anticlimax!  Simonne did reasonably well, in approximately the 75th percentile of kids testing at her level nationwide.  The results  were pretty detailed, with suggested follow up goals, etc.  As I looked at her lower scoring areas, I was reminded again about the inadequacy of assessment instruments.  What do they mean by composition?, Isaiah asked as I read the information to him.  Oh, Ok, well she can definitely do that was his follow-up comment, so we dismissed their assessment. In other areas, she just didn't know because she didn't yet know, and we were ok with that.  Some of it, I hadn't even introduced, or just hadn't come up during the natural course of our life.

I can now say, no big deal.  But what if the results were different? If she had been in the lower one third of test takers, what then?  I'm not sure what it would mean, but am pretty clear about what it wouldn't mean.  It wouldn't change my view on assessments or of what I think would be important to learn.  During the weeks leading up to the test, I did change my more free flowing methods to a 'let's do math from the work book every day' strategy.   We didn't enjoy it as much.  I see how stressed teachers become about testing (and the possible loss of funding and jobs due to a school's poor performance) and how stressed students become as early as 7 and 8 in preparation for these assessments.  That's a life I definitely don't want.

The question is not one of prepare vs not preparing.  It's simply a matter of enjoyment.  I somehow decided that since I don't agree with such assessment strategies, I will not enjoy engaging them, my own form of protest with no audience.  Now that the tests have passed,  we have returned to a more natural, fluid, doing what comes up during the course of the day.  It's definitely a more joyful way to be.  Giving up my joy for the test that proved to be of little consequence was really much ado about nothing.  I'm hoping I remember this in 18 months when I'm ordering the next set of tests!

Whatever you decide to do today, enjoy it to the max!

(Here are some photos of things we enjoy more in the Clarke homeschool)

Figuring out how lip gloss works

Making a dragon from zoobs

Art! Art! and more of it!
Crocheting doll's clothes

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A road never traveled...

Driving home from work on a beautiful Tuesday evening, I encountered some traffic in a curious spot. Although it is a route I take regularly, it would be unfamiliar if you described it to me. Given the traffic, the beautiful weather, and a desire to stay happy even though my evening would clearly be altered, I looked around to enjoy my snapshot of life in Barkhamstead, Connecticut.

The first item to catch my eye was a large handwritten sign placed haphazardly on a front lawn. As I got close enough to read the large red block letters, I laughed out loud as I read "#4 OUT THE DOOR. CONGRATS MARIA". I began to wonder how Maria felt about her congratulations banner.

Next I noticed a treadmill on a covered front porch. Now this I thought was a great idea given most treadmills I know are in a basement moonlighting as a clothes hanger. You can have the experience of running outside regardless of the weather. I began to wonder if that treadmill actually gets used more often than the clothes hangers.

As a few of the cars in front of me turned around seeking an alternate route, I found myself behind a black Audi convertible with a bumper sticker. I can honestly say that I have never actually seen a bumper sticker on an Audi. Even more fun was that the bumper sticker said "My other car is a sleigh". As my eyes rose from the bumper sticker to the driver, I saw a full head of white hair, a bushy white beard (I could see when the driver turned to talk with his passenger), and wire rimmed glasses. Minus the suit, it really could have been Santa Clause. After all, it was 85 degrees and sunny so the red, short sleeved polo shirt he wore seemed more practical.

Sticking with the Christmas theme, I then passed a house who still had their Christmas decorations on the front lawn. Another laugh out loud moment as I gazed at a white mesh reindeer decorated in American flags. Another interesting idea, all purpose holiday decorations, how fun!

As I passed through the center of town, another banner caught my eye. "Celebrating 75 years" with bright colors and balloons sat outside a local bank. I began to wonder if anyone who works at the bank is actually experiencing a celebration and if they are, do they know why they are celebrating 75 years and... 75 years of what?

The last fascinating observation I will share with you is the large bin sitting next to a pile of "spring clean up" in the front yard of a beautiful big white colonial home. You know, weeds from the garden, old tree limbs, maybe some leaves. Sticking out of the bin were a set of fake legs designed with denim jeans and Reebok sneakers. Yes, you read it correctly, fake legs designed to look like someone had actually fallen into the bin of spring clean up. The bin, the pile of stuff, and the legs, all staged with the likely intention of making all those who pass by and notice, laugh. It worked!

See how much fun you can have when you are stuck in traffic.

Love to all,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing a Novel: Week IV

I've been at this novel business for about four weeks now, and I must say that it's going, well, pretty much like I thought it would, except perhaps a bit easier. I mentioned last time that, once I saw the plot laid out in my mind, the thought of writing it all down seemed a bit cumbersome and drudgerous. However, I managed to reignite my enthusiasm for the novel by applying two basic principles:
  1. Just write!
  2. Hone your craft

Just Write!
I've heard Napoleon referenced as having said, "No battle plan survives the first incursion."

Although I haven't drawn up or executed any battle plans, I have developed business plans, marketing plans, vacation plans, system architectures, furniture designs and the like, and I believe the Napoleonic principle applies. If you're any good at execution or if you're not perfect at planning, you always end up doing something other than what you anticipated. Once you dig into a project you discover better ways of approaching things that you couldn't have anticipated until being there or you find gaps and challenges in the initial plan that require the plan to be reworked. It's par for the course.

That being the case, when I write software, I tend only to think through the architecture long enough to provide myself a framework that lets me begin coding. I don't think through all the details or exactly how the pieces all fit together in the end; I just think about what all the pieces are and what each of them must do, then I start writing software. I don't worry about the parts I haven't yet figured out, but instead believe that I'll figure them out when I need to.

The thing I've enjoyed so much about writing has been just writing and seeing where the story takes me. As I write, I have a general sense of direction, but no idea of what specifically will happen next. It's as though I were telling myself the story. I'd made the assumption that writing a book was somehow different, that I needed to lay the whole thing out before starting, but it's not. So, I threw out most of my plan and kept the general framework for my book. I have an idea of who the characters are, what their goals and challenges are, and where the book is going generally. That's it. Now I just write. It's fun and interesting.

Craft Honing
The other component of my reinvigoration has been honing my craft. Over the past months, I've stocked a workshop full of writing tools that I've picked up from Jenny Laird. I've explored the use of each of them. The novel provides me the opportunity to hone my skill.

For example, one of the things I've been learning to do is to make everything vivid with the fewest words possible. I've found that one of the easiest ways to do this is to incorporate all the senses when describing a situation. For example, rather than viewing someone leaning against a wall, you can describe the cool marble pressing her sweat-drenched t-shirt against her back. It's amazing how often we stick to the visual domain and ignore sounds, tastes, feelings and smells. However, when we incorporate them into our writing, it can make the writing pop.

A second tool I've been thoroughly enjoying is dialog. The basic principle is: never tell your reader something that could have been said by the characters. To develop this skill, I spent weeks writing nothing but dialog. Each time I found my self wanting to express something in narrative, I started again and express it through my characters. For me, the writing becomes much more interesting and I get to better know my characters. Further, the characters help me filter superfluous description by only sharing what would be important to each of them.

A third tool that is simple and easy, and yet makes a profound difference in writing is to put everything in the present tense. Even if a character is describing something that happened on the way to work, he can do so in the present tense.
"I got onto the bus and went to pay the driver,
when I noticed that my wallet was missing."

can become

"So I get on the bus and go to pay the driver. I notice that my wallet is missing."

Try it out with something you're already written and see what it does.

On Track
I have to thank Jenny, Jonathan and Iris for guidance and inspiration. This book-writing stuff is really fun.

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rushing In to Help

Oh my god, Henry, he's going to fall! I just know it!

Would you please relax Martha. If the boy doesn't fall every once in a while, he'll never learn what to do when he does. What happens if he falls for the first time and you're not around to help him through it? Better he falls now, than later.

Henry, how can you be so callus? You know what's going happen. He's gonna fall off that thing and hurt himself. He might even break a leg or arm. We can't just sit here and watch.

Martha, first of all, the base of the thing is filled with sand. Second, the top of the thing can't be more than four or five feet off the ground. If he does fall, and I emphasize the word "if", then it's highly unlikely that he'll hurt himself let alone break something.

Unlikely you say, but not impossible. It could happen.

Yes, Martha, it could happen. A meteor could drop from the sky an smash the whole thing to bits, but it's not likely.

You think that could happen?

Look Martha, there are twenty kids on that thing. There isn't one parent standing up there waiting to catch his kid if he falls.

Henry, if twenty kids were standing on top of the Empire State Building ready to jump off and no parents came to stop them, that wouldn't make it right.

Uhhhhh… Yeah, but this ain't the top of the Empire State Building we're talking about here, Martha. It's a kids' jungle gym. It's designed for kids to climb. It promotes development of gross motor skills and balance. It's a good thing.

Sure, they say it's safe, but I mean, really, how do you ever know for sure?

Martha, the answer is: you don't. You can never know for sure. For sure is not a luxury that any of us can afford.

So you're saying that he's not worth it!

No Martha, I'm speaking metaphorically. All we ever have is possibilities. We never have guarantees. Nothing in life is certain.

Oh my god, Henry, look, he's trying to stand on the top of that thing. He's gonna fall for sure. Tommy! Tommy!

Martha, would you relax. You're gonna scare the hell out of him. Shoot, he's not paying attention to what he's doing, looking around to see who's calling his name. I think he's gonna...

Oh Henry. I can't bear to look. Is he OK. Would you please go help him. He's may be unconscious. He's probably balling his little eyes out. Please do something.




You can open your eyes now. It would appear that he's not unconscious or hurt.

He's not?

No. And further, he's motioning for you to look at him.

He is?


Henry, oh my god, he's standing on that thing again. How'd he get up there so fast. Why's he waving like that? Oh my god! Henry, I think he's gonna...


Henry, did you see that. He jumped right off the top of that thing! I think he's gonna do it again. What are we gonna do?



Yeah, we're gonna watch.

When Joy was born, Rene and I were both twenty-two. We felt utterly responsible for her well-being and utterly powerless to protect her from all that could possibly go wrong. As she learned to crawl and then to walk, we provided a steady stream of cautionary advice. Be careful not to... if you do this, that will happen... you never know when...

By the time Eila came along, we were much older, twenty-four, and with those years of experience under our belts we relaxed a bit. We provided Eila fewer warnings and even encouraged her to embark upon dangerous activities such as climbing on the couch. By the time Luke came along (we were twenty-six), we were pretty chill with most activities.

Since the kids are each just two-years apart, you would think that they were subject to pretty much the same parenting and that the effect would have been similar. However, it's remarkable to me how differently the kids grew up based on the changes in Rene and me over those first few years. Granted, there are other factors involved; I don't believe in the "blank slate" theory. However, even at early ages, Eila was much more fearless than Joy, and Luke more fearless than Eila.

I remember watching Eila and Joy playing one morning at a local park. A balance beam stretched across a pit of sand about three feet from the ground. Joy, who was three-and-half, pulled herself along clinging tightly to the beam as she went. As she approached the far end, Eila, who was eighteen-months, climbed onto the beam, stood upright and walked casually across.

Luke would later approach such beams full-throttle riding skateboards, roller-blades and bicycles.

Sure, there are many possible points of attribution for these differences, but I believe strongly that kids are innately fearless and that they mainly learn it from us.

Happy Monday,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tomorrow is a new day.

Yesterday evening I sat myself on the couch to write this article. A headache was pestering me and I could not think about anything. I turned on the television for some inspiration and found a show about Albino people, and how they make their lives work with their special handicaps. I didn’t see the beginning of the show, but it seems that most albino people have sight issues. In the show one girl had the challenge that her eyes constantly move from one side to the next. She was trying to become an actress. Another guy, just starting college, was playing football. Both represented a new generation of kids that do not let their handicap decide what they can or cannot do.

I opened my laptop and wanted to write about this, but my headache was still pounding and after a while I gave up. I put the laptop to the side, slid down on the couch, pulled a blanket up and tried to relax. I must have fallen asleep, because Mark woke me up to go to bed.

At that time I told Mark, remind me that I can write about “tomorrow is a new day!”

I might have written about this before, because this belief is one that helps me get new inspiration, no matter where I am in life.

Tomorrow is a new day is an expression full with possibilities. It closes today and gives us a fresh new start in the morning. We can make tomorrow a continuation of today. “I had so much fun, I don’t want it to stop. Yeah, tomorrow is a new day”. We can also use it to make a change “This day sucked. I want it to be over. Yeah, tomorrow is a new day.”

Tomorrow is a new day is what the albino girl used when she got rejected from her auditions. Her dream didn’t happen today, but tomorrow was a new day. She used it to stay motivated on her goals. The boy used the same expression when applying for his driver license. Because of his visual handicap he had to go through a special procedure and it was a challenge. But every time he had a rough day, he got over it.

And I used it when I decided to no longer cram on this article and instead let my body take the rest it said it needed. And now I am in tomorrow, I am easily and quickly write what yesterday seemed so hard!

I wish you a great day today. And remember: Tomorrow is a new day!

Love Iris

P.S. Happy fathers day ☺

My Pop

"Why'd you move your pawn there? Do you see why that was a stupid move?"

Even at five I was pretty sure that it wasn't really a question. It was Saturday afternoon and my dad was "teaching" me to play chess. My dad's teaching philosophy was not compromised by misguided notions of allowing a novice to win every once in a while so as to bolster his confidence. He felt that one should learn to play in "honest" competition.

I looked down at the board, up at my dad, down at the board and back up at my dad. I'd just finally got down where all the pieces go and how they each move. The idea of strategy hadn't occurred to me.

"I don't know."

My dad moves one of his pieces, one of mine, one of his, one of mine, and finally one of his, and then says, "See, you set yourself up for checkmate in just three moves. It's called a Fool's Mate."

I look at the board and then at my dad with no clue as to what he just showed me. I say, "Can we go play baseball instead?"

My dad was born in Finland on July 17, 1928. His dad was an itinerant preacher who traveled the world establishing Finnish-speaking churches. My dad didn't see him all that much as a kid, spending most of his time with his mom and two older sisters.

Although no one in the family showed any penchant for math and science, my dad took to them like a Finn to drinking. His parents and sisters showed little interest in his school work (dad once told me that no one at home ever looked at his report card), and yet, by the time he'd reached the eighth grade, he was three years ahead in school.

My grandfather was outside the country at the outbreak of World War II and wasn't able to return until the war ended. To support the family, my dad tutored calculus to college students. He was thirteen.

When his fellow graduating classmates were drafted into the Finnish army, he went with them. An intake doctor suspected my dad was not as old as the others and asked, "Does your mother know that you're here?"

He replied, "Yes", and was inducted along with his friends. He hadn't told anyone in his family what he was doing or where he was going.

Dad's math abilities made him useful in calculating the trajectories for antiaircraft guns. Rather than using their codebooks, pencil and paper, the gun operators would simply give him the data; he'd close his eyes for a few seconds and then tell them where to aim the guns.

A few months passed and one day my dad's uncle, who'd been searching for my dad since he left, showed up to take him home.

After the war, my dad, his mom and his sister Salme came to the US, settling in Worcester, MA. Finnish friends helped him to get a job at a local steel mill and he enrolled in the electrical engineering program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He didn't speak English and was denied enrollment by the English department chair. The chairs of the Math, Physics and Engineering departments overrode the decision. The English chair provided my dad no special consideration. His first English course was Shakespeare.

Looking back now, it's no surprise that the design of my first chess course was: play a grand master and figure out why you loose all the time. My dad took that approach with pretty much all of parenting. If I were to codify it, it would be something like:
  1. Here's the task.
  2. I'll show you once.
  3. Now you do it.
  4. If it doesn't work, figure it out.
As I think about it, there are lots of worse ways to teach your kids and although it might not have worked for others, it seems ultimately to have worked for me.

What I learned from dad is:
  1. The fact that something seems impossible at the time you begin learning it is completely irrelevant to whether or not you can learn it.
  2. You don't need teachers to learn. There's nothing you can't figure out for yourself, once you decide to do it.
  3. When you teach yourself, you learn things that they never teach in classrooms.
  4. The one who seems weakest at the beginning is often the strongest in the end.
  5. The better you become at figuring out things, the less you have to know.
  6. When you don't speak the language (or know the technical lingo), people will often assume you're dumb. So what?

All in all, not too shabby. Thanks, Dad!

Happy Father's Day,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Teflon's List of Shoulds

Here at Belief Makers, we tend to avoid the word "should". For most of us, "should" means obligation, duty, and/or correctness, and is typically used when criticizing the actions of yourself and others, as in "You should never, ever use the word 'should!'"

However, "should" has several definitions, one of which is: to emphasize to a listener how striking or significant an event is or was, as in, "You should have been there; you would have loved it!"

It is in the light of this alternate definition that I would like to present you with Teflon's List of Daily Shoulds, daily activities absolutely guaranteed to change your life for the better.

1. You Should Be Writing
Each morning, I tiptoe out of the bedroom to the kitchen, brew a cup of coffee, and then head downstairs to my office. I flip open my MacBook, scroll to an email folder labeled "Jenny", and open the day's writing prompt that Jenny Laird sends to each of us who are part of our writer's group.

The exercise is simple and takes just ten minutes. You launch a text editor or grab a notebook and pen, read the prompt, and write for ten minutes without stopping. You don't look back. You don't edit. You don't pause to figure it out. You just write.

Examples of Jenny's prompts include: Nine times out of ten..., or For a split second, I think it's..., or You are standing on one side of a closed door.

I've found that the experience is best for me when I don't think before writing. Instead, I start by typing the prompt and by the time I've reached the end of it, I'm airborne. I follow the prompt where it leads me and before I know it, ten minutes has passed.

What do you do if you don't know what to write? Simple, you just write, "Huh... I'm looking at this prompt and I don't know what to write. Why can't I think of anything to write. I wonder if..."

Before you know it, you'll have written for ten minutes about your process and what makes you tick.

Ten minutes of writing can leave you feeling clearer and more centered than an hour of meditation or working out.

2. You Should Be Running
One of the nice side-effects of being with Iris is that I get to pick new daily habits as she explores new activities, habits that I maintain long after she's moved on to the next activity of interest. A couple of months ago I decided to join Iris in a half-marathon. Since Iris had already completed a couple half-marathons, I started training every day to get in shape.

Our travel plans changed so that we missed the marathon and Iris is now spending more of her workout time on strength training than running. Nonetheless, I'm still running four to six miles a day and it feels really good.

Of course, your exercise of choice need not be running, but I must say that there is something to daily exercise that changes how you feel (not to mention how you look).

Although you'll often hear people suggesting that you need off-days to give your body time to recover, I've found that you only need them if you're not paying attention to your technique. If you run or bike or roller-blade in a manner where you pay attention to your body and find your flow, you can do it every day without issue.

The beauty of exercise is that it's one of those things in which you can engage your kids. I can remember doing hill-climbing workouts on my bike with my son Luke calling out from the child seat, "Hey, why are we slowing down!"

If you want to feel really good, workout every day.

3. You Should Be Juicing
You ever feel hungry even though you've had plenty to eat? Do you find yourself feeling rundown at certain times of the day? Do you get sick more often than you'd like? It's likely that your challenge stems from missing nutrients. When you lack essential nutrients you feel tired and your immune system suffers. Your body responds by telling you to eat and its often only by chance that you consume what's missing.

Supplements can be helpful, but it's unclear as to how helpful. The specified potency of a supplement is typically determined by the ingredients used to create the pill, tablet or powder. However, potency is lost over time as nutrients oxidize. I've yet to find any meaningful information on the potency of the supplement at the time it's consumed.

So, what do you do? You shorten the time between creation and consumption. How? By juicing.

When my friend Jonathan was diagnosed with lung cancer in November, he was placed in the population of people with a 15% survival rate. He was prescribed an aggressive regiment of radiation and chemo therapies, therapies that while killing cancer cells also beat the crap out of your body. To beef up his immune system, Jonathan started juicing daily. Iris and I joined him.

Jonathan went through the radiation and chemo like no one I've ever seen. He lost no hair. He lost no weight. He continued working without anyone knowing that he had cancer or was undergoing treatment. After the treatment, Jonathan's doctors found no traces of cancer.

When Jonathan started juicing, Iris and I joined him. Each day we make juice from fresh organic vegetables (no fruits because they have too much sugar). We use carrots, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, broccoli, greens and kale. We add lemon, ginger and spices for flavor.

So, what does it do for me? For the first time in years, I didn't get even a sniffle in the winter. I never get hunger pangs or cravings. I have energy that lasts all day without dips. My body recovers quickly from hard workouts.

If you want energy that won't quit and to never feel hunger cravings, you should be juicing every day.

4. You Should Playing Music
I've played music pretty much every day since I was a kid. Over the last couple of months, I've been learning about music and neurology. It turns out that music is one of few activities that fully engages both sides of the brain. When you play music, you build and reinforce neural pathways that can't be built or reinforced with other activities. However, once they're in place, the ease of communication between left and right hemispheres will literally change how you think.

If you've never played an instrument or only played as a kid, I would suggest drumming as a great starting place. In particular, I would suggest the Djembe, an African drum that is inexpensive, versatile and easy to play. You can find them in most music stores or online and there are hundreds of YouTube videos that will show you how to get started. Whether your an analytical left-brainer or a creative right-brainer, playing the Djembe will make you a better thinker and, it's fun.

Playing Djembe provides lots of opportunity for social interaction. You can buy some hand percussion instruments for your kids to play along, join a drumming group or sit in the park and see who'll join you.

Teflon's Shoulds
Come to think of it, I have a bunch of other daily shoulds, but I don't want to overwhelm anyone. Just let me know when you've got the four listed above into regular rotation and we can start adding others.

Happy Saturday,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Inspiring Reading

I was having a conversation with my friend Josha. We are living somewhat parallel lives, on opposite sides of the country. She is a homeschooling mommy of 2 boys and a girl, like me, and trying to figure out the new normal life with autism, like me. I feel like she’s ahead of me in many ways, maybe because her kids are a few years older than mine.

So in today’s conversation, we were talking about the various things we want to be doing with our sons. One of the things on my list is teaching Jaedon to read. As a backdrop, Jaedon is 12, with an autism diagnosis. He communicates with single words and some 2-3 word combinations. He is visually very strong, so could learn to recognize and match words if taught, but has shown no interest in the value of words for reading. I don’t want to train him to read. I want to inspire him to read.

To figure that out, we thought about the other things we have inspired Jay to do. One of them is that we have inspired him to talk. Jay started using 1 word at 4 years old, and gradually, became more interested in using words. We worked hard to show him how useful words were, to help him use them clearly, and to reward that use.

So, how do we peak his interest in reading these words? Well, the first words he learnt to speak were high interest words, like food words, and favorite game words. These will be the first words he learns to read as well.  We came up with a few ideas, and they do need to be filled out.  Here are the fledgling games.
  1. Hide his nuts around his room and put the word 'nut' over the various hiding spots, with the word 'shoe' in various other spots. 
  2. Put the words of his favorite song on the string, then take the word out that we are learning.  Pause the song when we get to the missing word and put that word back on as we say it.
  3. A matching game: Use a pocket chart to hold matching word cards and picture cards. Put a choice of words on the ground, you or he jump on the word he's learning, as well as possibly the wrong one, to distinguish it. When we jump on the right word we match it to the picture, put it in the chart and do enthusiastically do whatever the word card says.
  4. I’m the tickle machine and I eat words. Feed me with the body part word to get a tickle.
  5. Integrate Ipad apps into games.  I'm still investigating, but possibly apps like:
    • Ispyphonics, iComm
    • First words
    • Apps at this site
    • Language Builder, etc
I think our starting 3 words will be 'nut', 'head', 'kiss'.  If you have any other reading ideas, please share!  I'll tell you how its going once we start.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Free Spirit

When someone says they are a "free spirit" what do you think? When someone says you are a "free spirit" what do you think? When someone points to a beautiful woman with long curly hair the color of buttered corn, a hint of blush on her cheeks, and a smile that lights up the room a "free spirit", what do you think? When someone describes a long haired, unshaven, brilliant musician as a "free spirit" what do you think? How about a seven year old, incredibly happy, significantly different, little boy with autism... "free spirit". What do you think?

To me, "free spirit" is a descriptor of people who enjoy life just the way it is. They live in the moment. They express gratitude with each breath. Their attitude towards the world exudes energy and beauty. They are "free" as a result of freeing themselves from the judgements and beliefs of others. They love who they are and have no expectations of the world around them. I am on a journey towards "free spiritness".

Interesting that throughout my entire life and even now, most of the people in my life use the term "free spirit" as a descriptor for lazy, without accountability, selfish, and meaningless.

Love to all,

If Today Were Tomorrow

I plop down on the couch, toss my head back, close my eyes and massage my temples with my thumbs as my hands shield my eyes from the overhead light. I breathe out a deep sigh. The familiar strains of the evening news' theme begin playing on the television.

It can't be 11:00 already. I raise my head and look to see the news anchor scribbling notes and then through the kitchen doorway to assess the mound of pots and dishes arrayed by the sink.

Another sigh. The dishes can wait til tomorrow.

I return my attention to the news anchor who says, "Good evening! It's Wednesday, June 15, 2011 and here's what's happening in your world."

I think aloud, "As if you know."

The news anchor's demeanor changes as he says, "Oh, but I do know."

The ceiling lights dim, then brighten, then dim, then brighten, then... darkness. I stand straining to bring anything into focus. I peer out the window and see that the entire neighborhood has lost power.

As my eyes adjust, I notice that the moon is nearly full, so I pull back the curtains and the room is flooded with cool, blue light that provides ample visibility to navigate the toy-strewn family-room floor. As I take a step toward the kitchen to retrieve a flashlight, I see however that the toys are no longer there.

I search blindly through the catch-all kitchen drawer seeking the definitive cylindrical shape of the emergency flashlight wondering when the last time was that I checked the batterie. Just as I find it, the lights blink on. Squinting, I drop the flashlight into the drawer as I raise my hand to shield my eyes from the now too-bright ceiling light.

My headache is gone.

Back in the family room, the sounds of the evening news' theme begin again. Did they reset to accomodate the power outage?

I decide that I'd better tackle the dishes now rather than waiting until morning, but the sink and surrounding counters are completely empty. The news anchor begins his spiel, but his voice is wrong; it's female.

I walk back to the family room. Leaning against the doorjam, I see the alternate anchor as she says, "Good evening! It's Tuesday, June 14, 2011 and here's what's happening in your world."

I say to her, "OK, you've got my attention."

She says, "Tonight's top story: at a press conference held just moments ago, scientists at MIT announced that due to a miscalculation in an experiment being conducted in nuclear fusion, as of 11:00PM Eastern Daylight Time, today will have become tomorrow. Although the event will go unnoticed by most, a very small portion of the population will retain their knowledge of the previous twenty-four hours, effectively being able to see into the future. And the question on everyone's mind is, 'With that knowledge, what will they do differently?'"

If today were suddenly to become tomorrow, what would you do differently?

With whom would you spend less time? With whom would you spend more time?

Whom would you treat differently? How?

What would you not have said? What would you say that you didn't?

What lies would maintain? What truths would you reveal?

What would you do that you didn't do? What would you not do that you did?

If today were to suddenly become tomorrow, would it make any difference at all?

Happy Wednesday, err... Tuesday

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

If Today Were Tomorrow

You plop down on the couch, toss your head back, close your eyes and massage your temples with your thumbs as your hands shield your eyes from the overhead light. As you breath out a deep sigh, the familiar strains of the evening news' theme begin playing on the television.

It can't be 11:00 already. You raise your head and look to see the news anchor scribbling notes and then through the kitchen doorway to assess the mound of pots and dishes arrayed by the sink.

Another sigh. The dishes can wait til tomorrow.

You return your attention to the news anchor who says, "Good evening! It's Monday, June 13, 2011 and here's what's happening in your world."

You think aloud, "As if you know."

The news anchor's demeanor changes as he says, "Oh, but I do know."

The ceiling lights dim, then brighten, then dim, then brighten, then... darkness. You stand straining to bring anything into focus. You peer out the window and see that the entire neighborhood has lost power.

As your eyes adjust, you notice that the moon is nearly full. You pull back the curtains and the room is flooded with cool, blue light that provides ample visibility to navigate the toy-strewn family-room floor. As you take a step toward the kitchen to retrieve the flashlight, you see however that the toys are no longer there.

You search blindly through the catch-all kitchen drawer seeking the definitive cylindrical shape of the emergency flashlight wondering when the last time was that you checked the batteries and as you find it, the lights blink on. Squinting, you drop the flashlight into the drawer as you raise your hand to shield your eyes from the now too-bright ceiling light and you notice that your headache is gone.

Back in the family room, the sounds of the evening news' theme begin again. Did they reset to accomodate the power outage?

You decide that you better tackle the dishes now rather than waiting until morning, but sink and surrounding counters are completely void of dishes. The news anchor begins his spiel, but his voice is wrong; it's female.

You walk back to the family room. Leaning against the doorjam, you see the weekend anchor as she says, "Good evening! It's Sunday, June 14, 2011 and here's what's happening in your world."

You say to her, "OK, you've got my attention."

She says, "Tonight's top story. At a press conference held just moments ago, scientists at MIT announced that due to a miscalculation in an experiment being conducted in nuclear fusion, as of 11:00PM Eastern Daylight Time, today will have become tomorrow. Although the event will go unnoticed by most, a very small portion of the population will retain their knowledge of the previous twenty-four hours, effectively being able to see into the future. And the question on everyone's mind is, 'What will they do differently?'"

If today were suddenly to become tomorrow, what would you do differently?

With whom would you spend more time? With whom would you spend less?

How would you treat people? With whom would you be more direct and forceful and with whom, less?

What would you do that you didn't do? What would you not do that you did?

Who would you be?

Happy Tuesday, err... Monday

Monday, June 13, 2011

Love It or Hate It

The lighting strike is so close that it coincides exactly with thunder that shakes the house.

We look at each other and without a word each turn to unplug our gear. Best to delay rehearsal until the storm passes.

Sitting around the kitchen island, we do what comes naturally. If we can't play music, we can talk about it.

Sometimes we share what we've been listening to or our latest musical discoveries. Sometimes we talk about gear. Sometimes method. Tonight we talk about process.

How does one learn to play so tightly in the pocket that she can replace a clock as a timer? How does one become so relaxed with his instrument that playing is effortless?

I love these discussions because each time you think you've uncovered the foundation, you discover a trap door that leads to yet another level, another question that leads to an entire series of questions.

To play a groove as constant as the rotation of the planets around the sun, you have to be totally relaxed.

What's it mean to be totally relaxed? How do you achieve that?

Hmmm... to be relaxed is to be completely present with whatever it is you're doing. Not distracted by the past or future. Not concerned with how well you're doing. Just there.

No, that's not it. To be relaxed requires you to be keenly aware of your body. How's your left shoulder feeling? Is it tight? Is it loose? What about your right wrist?

No, that's not it. It's about being totally aware of the music and forgetting about your body.

We play with ideas and methods and states of being. We try them on. What would that mean for me? How would I do things differently?

Invariably a single theme emerges: it all comes down to rudiments. The high-level abstractions of being present or focused or relaxed are concepts that we apply to people who appear to be embodying them. They are not methods. They are not even goals. They're just characterizations of people who are doing what we want to do. The question still comes down to: how do I learn to embody those abstractions? And the answer always comes down to: increased frequency.

If you want to do something well, do it every day.

It's an obvious answer that many of us will go to great lengths to avoid. There must be some other answer, some magic potion, some trick, but there's not. Or at least, there's none as effective.

Doing something every day is the absolute best way to become good at something. However, there are caveats.

If you don't love what you're doing. Doing something every day won't work. In fact, unless you take delight in what you do every day, you will eventually come to hate it. It can be reduced to a simple algebraic expression:

H = d * f

Hatred (H) equals the amount of dislike or disdain (d) times the frequency (f) at which it is encountered. If you have great disdain for something, then you need only encounter it once to hate it. If you have even the smallest amount of disdain for something, if you repeat it frequently enough, you will come to hate it.

Alternatively, if you enjoy something, even just a bit, and you do it frequently enough, you will come to love it. The greater the delight you take in it, the greater the love (and passion).

Pretty simple and, if you're honest with yourself, unavoidable.

So, by extension, if you want to have a day filled with activities that you love, you can one of two things:
  1. Decide to enjoy the activities that you must do every day and make no room for not enjoying them.
  2. Begin to daily do the things you most enjoy.
A byproduct of either is that you can't help but become skilled.

If you do things repeatedly and take delight in the activity (whether it be washing dishes or collecting tolls or playing music or writing or running or cooking), you can't help but to become great. If you find yourself reluctant to do things every day, then the issue isn't about frequency, it's about enjoyment (or the lack thereof).

Happy Monday,

Saturday, June 11, 2011

So What's It Worth to You?

"Look, man, I gotta get to Boston right away. It's really, really important."

"So what do you want from me?"

"Well, I could really use your car. You know, it's like two-hundred-fifty miles and I don't know how else to get there."

"Look, I'd like to help you out, but I need my car to get to work. How about I drop you off at the train station and you catch a train to Boston?"

"Train station? I can't take the train!"

"You can't take the train? Why, are you allergic or something?"

"No man, the train cost like fifty bucks and I haven't got fifty bucks?"

"Well, then how were gonna get to Boston in my car? It's gotta cost at least that much in gas."

"Yeah, whatever, I mean, I figured you at least got gas in your car?"

"Sure I've got gas in my car, but... wait a minute. Forget about the gas part. I already told you I need my car. Look, if you really need to get to Boston, I'll buy you a train ticket."

"Uhhh… Yeah, but I can't take the train."

"You said you couldn't take the train because you couldn't afford a ticket. If I buy you a ticket, then what's the problem?"

"Why can't you just lend me your car and then you take the train to work if you're so all about trains?"

"First of all, the train schedule doesn't… Wait a minute, it's my car we're talking about here. I don't have to justify why I get to drive it. Look, I can get you to the train station and I'll buy you a ticket. Otherwise, I could take you to the bus station and buy you a a bus ticket. Either way, you could be in Boston in no time."

"The bus! I can't take the bus."

"Why not?"

"You seen the kind of people that ride the bus? You saying I look like one of them?"

"What the heck are you talking about?"

"Look man, if you don't want to help me, just say so."


"You people with your cars and your money, you've got no idea what it's like to be poor and carless. Sheesh, I can't believe I thought you were the type of guy who'd help someone in need. Keep your stupid car. I'm sure I can figure something out. I'll just tell my poor old mom that I can't get up to see her cuz all my friends are too self-centered to help me."

"Your mom? What's up with your mom?"

"As if you'd care."

"No, man, please, tell me."

"Not that it's gonna make any difference, but she's been admitted to Mass General and tomorrow they're gonna operate."

"Wow, I had no idea. What kind of operation are they going to perform?"

"It's complicated. I just hope she's gonna be OK. I don't know what I'd do if something happened and I wasn't there."

"Look man, I'd really like to help you but, I need to get to work."

"So, you're saying that work is more important than family?"

"No. I mean, well..."

"I know, you guys with careers are all about work. Work. Work. Work."

"It's just that, well, I'm just barely paying my bills as it is. I really can't afford to miss work and I for sure can't afford to lose my job."

"You sure got some screwed up sense of priorities man."

"If I lend you my car, when could have it back?"

"Does it have gas in it?"

"Yeah, I just filled it up."

"Can you lend me some money to get gas for the trip back?"

"Yeah, sure. Whatever you need. Just go see your mom."

"Cool. I'll have your car back to you on Thursday. I knew you'd come through for me. I wish more people were like you."

Happy Sunday,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Love Gift

She's going to do what?  Isaiah looked at me in disbelief.  Her fiance as advanced kidney disease and needs a transplant.  She is going to be a live donor for him.  I told the story once more. Bwoy! She brave sah! (Isn't she brave?)  Isaiah shook his head in further disbelief.

Nicky has been a close friend since 9th grade in high school.  This conversation took place the night she told me about her plans to give her left kidney to Junior, her husband-to-be.  I told her Isaiah's kudos to her bravery and she was very matter-of-fact.  Junior will die without a kidney and I can live with one.  It's a no brainer.

So today, my friend and her (now) husband went into to surgery.  She lost a kidney and he gained one.  By all reports, she is doing well and there is a large crowd of people all over the world pulling for Junior, for them both, as they navigate the next several days to months.

The story prompted me to think again about love.  Would I be a live donor?  I shuddered at the thought.  Honestly, I hope Isaiah would donate a kidney to me, but I understand his hesitation... I felt the same.  Yet, when I thought about the kids, something shifted for me.  I realized I would give one of them a kidney in a heart beat.  I know I love my children and am constantly challenged by the presence of this love, to love others.  I'm shown to be a liar when I say 'I just can't...' because that can't changes to can for them in so many ways.  Does that mean I love them more than anyone else?  No, I don't think so, but I think they have my deepest love without conditions.  For many other people, my love can fluctuate, depending on what they do.  In many ways it's a contract.

As I root for Nicky and Junior, I think about my own conditional love and challenge myself to generosity in love.  Who would you give a kidney to?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What's luck got to do with it?

I do a lot of career coaching in my work and personal life. One of my most favorite pieces of advice is "when you accept the fact that most careers are built as a result of dumb luck and timing, you relax a bit and enjoy each experience a little more." At the core of this belief is how we respond to the opportunities presented to us. Our judgements about those opportunities have an even more profound impact on our response. Learning to drop beliefs about fairness, equity, deserving, and right and wrong and collecting beliefs about gifts of opportunity, the value of the journey, and life is as you create it change the game and how much fun you have playing it.

For me, I feel it most in my energy level. When I slip back into fairness, deserving, etc. my current life experiences feel exhausting. For example, we just received our homeowners insurance cancellation notice. Working in insurance, I knew this was coming given we lost our home and all our belongings to a fire in November. After a "total loss" most people no longer meet the criteria for insurability by their current company. Ironic given we are likely a better "risk" now that we have a brand new house with all updates wiring, etc. and let's face it, what are the chances that our house burns down again. That said, my first response of frustration with the idea of shopping for insurance on a house that hasn't even been fully rebuilt yet, was quickly replaced by gratitude as those crazy insurance rules enable insurance companies to make a lot of money and ultimately keep me employed enabling me to afford to find another company. In the two minutes it took me to go from "pity party" to gratitude, I could actually feel my energy level change.

OK, so the letter came on Saturday and on my drive to work Tuesday morning, I was rear-ended causing a bit of damage to my car. Again, my first reaction was "you've got to be kidding me" and I felt all of my energy tighten in my chest and move down to my feet as I thought about having to call the same insurance company with an auto Claim and envisioning that one pager dropping our auto insurance too. The minute I shifted from frustration to gratitude (after all me and the other driver were fine and it was a beautiful morning to be waiting on the side of the road for the local police to arrive) my energy radiated throughout my entire body, shot out through the windows and laughter replaced anger. It was a wonderful experience to actually observe the energy differences in my body. My goal is to skip the frustration and move straight to gratitude so I never waste my energy. Any suggestions?

As I share this story, I often hear, "gosh Kathy, you have the worst luck". Do I? Do you believe in luck? Perhaps luck is neither good nor bad, simply a set of experiences that if evaluated, create happiness or sadness depending on your beliefs.

Love to all, Kathy

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Developmentally Speaking: Motivation

My grandson Logan, who'll be four this summer, had a stroke somewhere near or during birth. The stroke left his right side paralyzed and over the years my daughter Joy has spent countless hours with doctors and therapists helping Logan to recover the use of his right arm, hand and leg.

As you might imagine, Logan was decidedly left-handed. Each time Joy placed something in his right, he'd immediately snatch it away with his left.

Similarly, Logan favored his left leg. Rather than crawling using both legs uniformly, he'd curl his right leg under him and pull himself along with his left, scooting along as though his right leg were a skateboard.

Joy had to get creative and develop strategies that encouraged Logan to use his right side.

Of course, the beauty of helping a child who hasn't yet developed speech nor a moral compass is that you can't motivate him with guilt and obligation, nor with promises of reward; all motivation must occur in the moment, non-verbally. Logan had no problem with only using his left-hand; everyone else did. So, to get Logan to use his right, Joy had to find at least two things that Logan wanted to hold simultaneously. His left hand fully occupied with one cookie, he had no choice but to use his right for the other. To get him to use his right leg required activities that couldn't be accomplished with just his left; activities in which he wanted to participate.

Almost four, Logan is doing great. He walks. He runs. And although he's still decidedly left-handed, he uses both hands.

The one thing that hasn't changed is the basic premise: If you want Logan to do something, then you need to think about what's in it for him. For example, one day at the beach we began playing with a couple of foam water cannons. To load them, you place the end of the barrel into a pool of water and then pull back on the handle sucking in the water like a hypodermic needle. It's an activity that absolutely requires the use of two hands, and although Logan was not particularly interested in loading the water cannon, he was definitely interested in shooting water at Grandpa. Before you knew it, he had both hands working together, no problem.

This led to another opportunity. In addition to the paralysis, the stroke played some games with Logan's neurology and sensory systems. His tactile system (sense of touch) is hyper-sensitive and he can become inconsolable after certain tactile experiences. For example, he doesn't like the feeling of sand on his feet, especially wet sand that doesn't shake off. Although he likes wearing his bathing suit, he doesn't like to wear it once it's become wet. If it does, he'll immediately run to his mom and insist that she give him a dry one, that is, unless running on sand and getting wet is a prerequisite to shooting Grandpa with a water cannon.

After a few minutes of loading the cannon and shooting me with it, I decided that it might be fun to raise the level of the game; I ran away from Logan before he could shoot me and after just a moment's consideration, he decided to chase me. We zigzagged up and down the beach, I'd slow down just long enough for Logan to catch me and shoot me, and then we'd head back to the pool of water to reload and begin again. By the third time if I didn't run immediately, Logan would shout, "Run away!"

Our zigging and zagging brought us closer and closer to the water's edge. By the fifth iteration, Logan was happily splashing through six to twelve inches of salt-water, pausing occasionally to stoop and reload, never concerned that his bathing suit was soaked or that he was covered in sand.

Did Logan's neurology change? I don't think so. What I believe happened is this: the additional activity fired up other parts of his neurological system stealing stimuli away from his overloaded tactile system and making him feel comfortable.

The best part was, Logan didn't need to know any of that. He didn't need to know why he "should" be using both hands or that "big boys" aren't afraid to get their bathing suits wet. He just needed something that he wanted to do, something that was fun.

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, June 6, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

As a stimulus-junkie, my experience last week sharing a beach house with 10 adults, 2 teens and 4 young children was a bit different than that of Iris who tends to overload on stimuli just about the time all my systems quiesce. In particular, as Iris would find solas in the quiet of our bedroom, I would find it in the midst of the chaos that followed the kids like a dust cloud following a pickup truck down a country road. From this calm and relaxed state, I made several observations that I'd like to share with you.

1. Subtlety Lost
At the age of two, children appear to miss the subtle distinction of the rhetorical question and answer it as though it where not rhetorical. Each time Luke would say to his son Jack, "OK, you ready to get going?", he would be surprised when Jack matter-of-factly replied, "No."

It would appear that, when addressing a child age two (or for that matter, a child age thirty), one would do well to express imperative statements as imperative statements.

2. Kids Know
On Friday night, fourteen of us pile into cars and drive to Barefoot Landing for dinner. The waitress plops three cartoon placemats and crayons on the table. Before you can say, "OK, boys lets...", Noah and Jack dive across the table, grab placemats and crayons, and return to their seats as if attached to them by bungie cords. Logan looks up to see the lone remaining mat and single blue crayon, turns to his mom, (my daughter Joy, whose expression is pleading, "Oh no, not here, not now!") and explodes into a tantrum of screams and tears.

Joy launches into a well rehearsed rapid-fire succession of statements ranging from consolation to bribe to promise to maxim, all to know avail. I look at Joy. I look at Logan. I stand up, lift him from his seat, and walk out the door, saying over my shoulder to Joy, "I got this."

Outside, I set Logan down and say, "Hey Logan, I brought you out here so that you can cry as long and as loudly as you want. Once you're done, we can go back inside if you like. For now, let's walk a bit so you can cry undeterred."

About the third step, Logan points and asks, "Is that a real camel, Grandpa?"

I say, "Yes. Do you want to go see it after dinner."

Logan says, "Uh, huh. I'm done crying. Can we go back inside now?"

Thirty-seconds later, Logan and I walk back into the restaurant and return to our seats. Joy asks what I did. I tell her. The next three times Logan cries, Joy stands up, picks him up and walks out the door. On the third time, Logan asks her, "Are we going to do this every time I cry?"

Joy says, "Yup."

Logan says, "OK, if I don't cry anymore, can we please stay inside?"

3. Little Sociopaths
There are different theories as to when and how kids develop "empathy", the ability to feel or experience something as another person might. Before they do, they're effectively sociopaths. That's why god makes them small to start. Until they develop empathy, child management techniques that employ morals and obligations as motivators are useless. They may appear to work when accompanied by dyer consequences, but they don't in-and-of-themselves.

When I start hearing Logan saying, "I'm sorry", just before he hits Jack, I realize that perhaps he hasn't quite got the whole empathy thing down yet. I pull Logan aside and launch into a standard explanation of why we don't hit people. From word one, Logan nods his head in agreement, emphatically (if not empathetically), every once in a while saying, "I'm sorry."

Being a relatively quick study, I abandon the speech and say, "Hey Logan, I'll make you a deal. If you don't hit Jack between now and lunch time, I'll give you a horsey back ride."

Logan's glazed-over can-we-get-done-with-this expression disappears. He smiles and says, "OK, Grandpa! I won't hit Jack."

4. Just Because They Speak Well
Jack, Noah and I stand at the top of a dune looking out over the ocean. In the distance I see a parasail towed by a powerboat and point saying, "Hey guys, look at the people flying behind the boat!"

Jack, who's two and just getting the language thing down, immediately follows my outstretched arm and locks on to the rainbow colored sail. Noah, who's four and wonderfully verbal, looks around frantically, left and right, up and down, unable to find the parasail. I place one hand on his shoulder, the other just in front of his face, and extend my hand towards the flying trio as I say, "Look Noah, it's over there."

Again, Noah's head turns like a weather vane encountering a passing stormfront. Conclusion, one can be remarkably strong on one developmental front and have completely missed steps on another.

5. Young Guys Dig Older Women
My grandson Jack is a man of action and of few words. The sounds that emanate from his larynx are often those of automobiles, crashes and explosions as he plays with his matchbox trucks. When he does talk, it's often to express dialog among the myriad characters that fill his imagination.

One night at dinner, Jack sat next to Anna a friend of my cousin Rebecca who just turned twenty. After watching her for a few minutes, Jack began telling Anna about his day. She listened politely expecting a short exposition. After about twenty minutes, Jack was still talking, telling her about the time he and his dad went to Walmart to buy his Batman doll, using different voices to reenact the various characters, and stopping to laugh after having said something that he found particularly amusing.

It's amazing how inspired men can become when in the company of a beautiful woman, even one who is ten-times his age.

Happy Monday,

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rock in the Surf

My laundry is tumbling in the basement; the groceries are in the house; I had breakfast.

It’s the first morning after we got home from a fantastic family holiday in Myrtle Beach. Mark is mowing the lawn while I sit myself behind the computer to write you.

We stayed in a beautiful house at the beach. If I say we, I mean 10 adults, 2 young ladies and 4 young children. Every morning I went for a run or a walk over the beach. I hang out with the family, read books and enjoyed the weather. I also curiously and enthusiastically observed human behavior in a group structure. You never know what will happen in a group of people, and group-dynamics are very intriguing to me.

What we believe...

One of my beloved persons to observe in a group setting is myself, and how I respond to the group. I think I like to use myself as a subject, because I can look into my head and unravel my beliefs, while if someone else is the subject I am depending on the information I get from them. I have the tendency to want to withdrawal when things get too much. But what does too much mean? And why do I set my boundaries there, and not somewhere else?

This week I realized that I make a difference in my tolerance towards children and adults. Kids can cry and whine and complain as much as they want, and I see that they do the best they can. I will guide and lead to give them the opportunity to grow and learn. But when adults whine or complain I mostly do not go there. It is interesting, but in those instances I activate the belief that “they should know better”. The response to that belief is that I let the adult swim in his misery instead of showing other ways of dealing with the situation.

And so I give children more opportunities to grow and learn than adults. With children I engage, while with adults I might decide to put on my bikini and go for a walk on the beach.

During the holiday I have seen myself turn on and of this particular belief and have been able to observe how this made a difference in my actions. During the moments I had it deactivated, I might share with the adult an story about how I dealt with a same kind of situation before, or maybe even just help the tired parent by taking care of their child for a bit. In other moments, when the belief was activated, I might withdrawal to the bedroom to get rest or start whining or complaining myself.

This morning I realize that during the week I created the belief that adults also look for support and help, and that there is a lot I can do to help by just being there and being open to the opportunity to be a rock in the surf. I want to engage and grow this belief by spending more time being helpful to adults.

So reader, how can I be your rock in the surf?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I'm Ready Now

From the time he was fourteen until he was twenty or so, Luke spent most of his waking hours playing video games. Sure, there were brief interludes of mountain biking, pot smoking, and just hanging with his friends, but his heart and soul were about the highest score.

Ask Luke about helping around the house or doing his homework and you'd swear the boy had the resourcefulness of the proverbial damsel in distress. Slow down his response time on a networked game, and he'd show you a complete analysis of all the Internet router hops and where the latency bottlenecks were likely to be.

He eventually settled into a single system, XBOX and a single game, Halo, a shoot-em-up, multi-player sci-fi game that became his raison d'etre. He and his friends formed a Halo club at school and played anytime they could. They'd link two XBOX systems together, each with its own TV attached, and play four-on-four. I'd walk in the door at 7:00AM after taking a Red Eye from California to Boston and find eight-to-twelve teenagers sleeping on any available horizontal surface, pizza boxes and individual two-liter bottles of Dr Pepper scattered among them. Walking in from the garage, I'd look down the steps and see half of them strewn across couches and chairs in the basement, a lone cable climbing the steps and winding its way up to the living room where I'd find the rest of the crew.

Luke and his buddies got really good at Halo. They entered competitions. They won. Luke decided that he'd make his living playing Halo, why bother with things like school, or, well, anything else. Indeed, trying to get him to do so was an exercise in futility, that is, until he met a girl named Sarah, or more specifically, until they decided to get an apartment together and she told him, "Not until you get a job!"

What hadn't been accomplished in twenty years of encouragement and admonishment, of angst and effort, was rendered easily by six little words spoken in the right moment, by the right person. More powerful than Dorothy's ruby-red shoes were the words, "Not until you get a job", and suddenly Luke was back in Kansas.

That was seven years ago.

Since then Luke has worked consistently moving from job to job and gaining a better understanding of how he might have better invested some of his Halo time. Two years ago, Luke and Sarah had a son, Jack. They got married. They bought a house. Sarah developed a rare blood disorder, a form of cancer, that is treatable, but requires her to visit the hospital frequently for treatment. They're expecting a second son in October. And now, Luke is ready again, this time to invest in learning some skills that he can transform into a career that he will enjoy and that will make him money.

A few weeks back, Luke called to explain that he'd been writing software to help automate his job and the jobs of his colleagues in the call center where he works answering phones and providing technical support. Although writing software was not in his job description, the management liked what he'd done and asked him to do more. As Luke explained what he was doing, he said, "Dad, I feel so guilty getting paid to write software, it doesn't really feel like I'm working. It's too much fun. I start typing and before I know it, four hours have gone by."

I thought, "Hmmm... sounds ready to me", and then said aloud, "Hey, you want me to teach you some coding techniques?"

It was a rhetorical question.

Happy Saturday,