Sunday, November 30, 2008

Moving On

It's been an enjoyable few months writing posts on this blog, but I've decided this will be the last on this blog. I enjoy writing, and I could probably do it all day. But there are other priorities I've decided to dedicate more time to in an attempt to simplify my life a little and focus on the things that are most important.

There are other blog posts I hoped to write and never got around to. Like "Whisper School" -- how to help those members of society that seem to have a megaphone lodged in their vocal chords learn how to communicate in quiet tones. Maybe I'll get to those some day. In fact, my dream semi-retirement life would be to have enough funds set aside that I would not HAVE to work at a regular job and could spend time being with my family, doing things we enjoy, and writing in my spare time.

Whether that day comes in 5 years of 25 years has a lot to do with those "more important" things that I need to focus my attention on. Here's hoping for five!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shattering the Scale

As I stepped on our bathroom scale yesterday for a daily (or more often) check-in, it literally broke. Broke as in cracked, shattered-inside, busted. The irony is my family has been doing a "Biggest Loser" contest and I was checking in to see how I was doing. I had to laugh out loud -- not many people can say they have broken their scale in the midst of a dieting program.

I have been trying to decide what the message is my scale was trying to send me. I think it could be any one of the following:

1) The weight charts are correct -- "morbidly" obese.
2) You are great just the way you are, overweight or not...so quit worrying about it and live your life.
3) Maybe if you quit weighing yourself so much and actually started exercising, you'd see some results!
4) Let's pick this diet thing back up after the holidays
5) Learn to laugh at yourself.

I don't know which message the scale intended to send. But it is not everyday I can say that I feel "smashing." :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Someone Knew

A few weeks ago, I did something I regreted as soon as I offered. There were some boxes at my company's office that needed to be delivered to Phoenix, and I offered to take them there because I was heading to a meeting in Phoenix a few days later. When the day to deliver them came, I realized what I had volunteered for...I was thinking of 3 or 4 lightweight boxes, and instead it was at least 10 very heavy boxes full of booklets. The place they needed to go was on the 4th story of a building and the parking area was a long way from the entrance. Even if I had wanted to move them, they wouldn't all fit in my car. So, I ignored it and told myself I would do it later. A week or two passed and every day I noted that I needed to get that done. But I have been so busy and the task frankly felt overwhelming to work into my schedule. The pile of boxes was unsightly at my office, and reminded me daily of the need to fulfil my obligation. But one day, I arrived and the boxes were gone. I still don't know who moved them for sure, and they probably don't realize what a relief that was to me, but in my crazy life, they were the angels in my life this week.

This is an Angel Friday post submission http://realangelsreallife.blogspot.com/

Electronic Idol

While we waited in a 20 minute line at the entrance to Disneyland last month with my family, I noticed a father with his wife and two young kids in the line next to us. He was working on his cell phone/PDA while they waited. The kids looked excited and, like most others, were busy playing with each other, laughing, and doing the things kids do. Without looking up from his PDA, the father would periodically call out "stop that", "hold still", or other prompts to his children. After about 10 minutes of doing this, he had enough and really let them have it. This time, he put down his phone, grabbed them by the shoulder, and said "we are at Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, and you are acting terrible. I wan't you to stop it right now and act appropriate." Then he want back to work on his phone.

He wasn't the only father or mother I saw similarly engaged with his cell phone over the next few days. I saw people checking e-mail on the Peter Pan ride, surfing the Internet while in line for lunch and making palm pilot notes while waiting for the parade to start. I also heard more than one of them scold their children with a firm, "We are at the happiest place on earth, now behave!"

I've been that kind of dad before. In fact, I check e-mail so compulsively on my Blackberry, that I decided to disable it before going on vacation this year so that I wouldn't be tempted to pull it out during a break in the action to do some business. Still, I found myself using the Internet feature to check the weather or updates on the election coverage. More than once, my wife has had to remind me that when we are out on a date, it is not the right time to send text messages, update Facebook or check in on a baseball game. More than once, I've heard my wife say she is ready to throw my laptop into the trash so that I will pay some attention to the kids or to the family. More than once, I've stayed up too late into the night returning e-mail or working on a proposal, or worse, mindlessly surfing the internet to catch up on the latest sports stats, political polls or weird news that happens in the world. And more than once, I've sat on the sofa, yelling at my kids to get back in bed while I work on my computer.

But that day at Disneyland, it really hit me. I watched the faces of the young kids, anticipating what was next in their "happiest place on earth" expeirence, only to be tuned out by their parents. What could have been so important that it kept that father's full attention from being paid to his kids? I could make the justifications for him -- if he didn't work, they wouldn't get to go to Disneyland because they wouldn't be able to afford it. The only way he could get the day off would be to answer a few e-mails while he was in line. They were only waiting to get into the park--that was not the important part of the Disney experience, etc.

I could make excuses for him because I've made the same ones myself. But it all became so clear to me at that moment what an act of self-betrayal that was. It has nothing to do with making a living or sacrificing time. Instead, it has to do with worshiping the electronic idols of the world. By worship, I don't mean that any of us would intentionally choose our Blackberry over our children if given the choice (although, there are certainly days that would be a tempting trade). But, what are we giving up by being connected to the online world, and what does that say about our devotions? Who is being cheated out of our time and full attention? How many kid's bedtime stories have been rushed or skipped so a parent can get online and get caught up with world? How many have stayed up too late too often by being too distracted by the never-ending world of information? How many marriages have been deprived of time that could have been spent talking or doing something together? How many better things could have been done with time that has been wasted in cyberspace?

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I worry that we are facing a plague. A plague of deterioration of marriage and family that has never seen the likes of the damage the online world has to offer. Anyone can publish a website these days, write or read opinions on any topic, conduct nearly any type of business, and could literally spend all day and all night on the Internet without running out of interesting things to do. To complicate matters further, we sometimes get fooled into thinking we are truly helping others by our online presence. We give someone a needed lift through an encouraging e-mail. We take time to promote the cause of freedom through an inspiring blog post. We fulfill our civic duty by keeping up with current events. We reward ourselves with much-needed "me" time by relaxing and exploring some areas of interest on the Internet to unwind from a busy day. And sometimes those things are true.

Take away, however, the justifications and look at what is really happening. Is a person really more uplifted emotionally by staying home and reading an online note from a friend who understands what it is like to struggle with depression than to get outside for some fresh air and a walk with people he/she loves? Is being caught up with the current news really more important than helping a young child with homework? Have we really worked so hard at the things that are important in life to justify an hour of mindless web-surfing, or are our lives relatively easy compared with the physical and emotional burdens some of our ancestors faced?

There is a saying about good, better, best. If we can get diverted into spending our valuable time doing "good", we sometimes never get to the better or the best. Consequently, "good" diversions can be just as destructive as bad ones. And the scary thing is, we all can see pretty plainly the evils of the online world -- identify theft, pornography, hate speech, etc. But maybe we never saw this part coming -- keep us all so engaged and tangled in seemingly nobel things that we disconnect from the real world around us.

I find that easiest to do in the evening. Which is why I've stopped pulling out my computer after work unless abosolutely necessary. I know if I pull it out I will not exercise, I will not lay by my kids to help them wind down at night, I will get distracted by something on my computer that will take me away from my family.

I've got a long way to go, but I have had an awakening. Instead of seeing my Blackberry and my laptop as my friends that I long to return to whenever we are apart, I now see them for what they are -- electronic idols, trying to zap away my time, my life and my real relationships.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Making a Difference

I was driving through our neighborhood the other day, in a hurry, and felt particularly annoyed by the speed humps on the road between my house and the local elementary school. Then I remembered how they got there.

When we moved into the neighborhood about seven years ago, my wife decided that vehicles were going too fast on the road that passes by our house. It was hard to argue with that...some went speeds that must have been around 60 mph.

The unusual thing about it was what my wife said she was going to do. "I'm going to get speed bumps put in on this road," she said. Now, she didn't know anything about how to get speed humps put in, but she wasn't very worried about that. Instead, it might as well have already been done...she would figure it out and make it happen.

We found out it wasn't an easy process. It required petitions by the home owners (who are often different from the people living in the house at the time), securing city funds, street map checking to ensure the road isn't classified as a major passageway for emergency vehicles, and many other requirements. Undaunted, and with little help from me, she went around the neighborhood and began collecting signatures. Not everyone thinks getting speed humps is a good idea. And tracking down owners of rental properties takes quite a bit of persistence. However, after a month or so, she had the needed signatures and paperwork into the city. And shortly thereafter, we had speed humps strategically placed up and down the road between our house and the school.

They have become such a natural part of the subdivision now that I sometimes do not even think about them. But when they stood out to me the other day when I was in a hurry, I had almost forgotten my wife had anything to do with them. When I remembered, I smiled. I thought about how neat it was that she had put her mind to it and got it accomplished, even though it was quite a project.

That is how my wife is. She decides what is going to be done and doesn't really care what logic says about it or what the odds are. She just figures that she is going to find a way to get it done.

Sometimes.

There are other things she sets her mind to that don't happen, even when the odds are not nearly as stacked against the thing as they were with the speed humps. For example, she has a list, as I'm sure many people do, of things she wants to get done, many of which are things that she feels need to become daily habits. Some may be new years resolutions. Yet, unlike the speed humps, they never get conquered. One of those items has been, for nearly as long as I've known her, exercising. You would never guess it to look at her. She can eat whatever she wants and hardly gains a pound. Even after seven pregnancies and getting a bit older, she is still very trim and is very attractive. But she has never, in the 20 years I have now known her, made exercise a regular habit, even though for much of the time she has talked about it (for non-weight related reasons, such as overall fitness, strengthening a weak back, etc.)

I imagine we are all like that a bit. We get some things done that we put our minds to while others go unaccomplished. But not everyone has what it takes to get impossible things done with such persistence as does my wife.

So, what makes the difference whether something is a "speed hump" or whether it is an "exercise habit"? I wish I knew the answer to that. If someone can do anything they set their mind to, why do they then decide not to do some of those things, even after making a big deal about how they are going to accomplish something new.

It isn't ability. It isn't focus. It isn't strong will.

I think it has to do with who we care most about. The speed humps affected our children and others in the neighborhood. The speeding cars represented a current and future threat to our children. That is easy to rally around, to make time for, to beat the odds for.

But how about when it comes to ourselves? Do we care about ourselves as much as we do our children? Are we worth taking care of? Can we beat the odds for our own benefit?

Sound selfish? I don't think so. Fail to take care of yourself, and think about how many people will be worried, how many people will suffer, how much less good you will be able to do in the world.

But set those aside for a while. You are someone else's child. You come from parents, whether still living or deceased, who care just as much about you and your well being as you do about your own children. Would you do it for them?

You are a child of God who loves and cares about you and wants you to love and take care of yourself, whether emotionally, physically or spiritually. Would you do it for Him?

It's our choice--when things enter our minds that we know we need to do, that we even want to do or promise ourselves that we will do. But when are the times we treat them like "speed humps" and conquer the odds? And when are the times they conquer us?

If your answers are like mine, the person we most often let down is ourselves. We are the last to get much-needed attention. We suffer on with conditions that limit us while we go about trying to help others. But the concerning part is that it may have nothing at all about being self-less and service-oriented. It may have to do with refusing to do what it takes to take care of the one person who we ought to love because so many others dear to us depend upon-- ourselves.

The next time we drive over a speed hump, I hope it jars something within us to heal and nurture that part of us that is in the back of our minds as needing attention but always gets put on the back burner. For me, that is my weight and cholesterol. What is it for you? Whatever it is, I hope we can garner up whatever it takes to get it done and make it as lasting a part of our lives as the speed humps on the street between my house and the local school.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Throw Me an Innertube

Back to the penguins on my shower curtain...one of the most curious of the bunch was floating in an innertube. Sure, it was cute, but what was it doing in an innertube? Now, me in an innertube would make a lot of sense...I might sink (I know they say fat floats, but for some reason I am quite capable of sinking). But a penguin can swim like ... well, a penguin.

That made me think about how we are sometimes like this penguin -- we tell ourselves we need something artifical, something additional, to survive, when we really have the ability to do so already within us.

Ever think about how many times a typical person tells himself/herself daily that he/she needs something artifical in order to make it? Listen around you for a while and you'll hear it everywhere:

1) I need a cup of coffee to wake me up and help me focus
2) I need some tylenol to take away my headache
3) I need an anti-anxiety pill to calm my nerves
4) I need a cigarette to help me cope with stress
5) I need a Pepsi for an energy boost
6) I need some alcohol to help me loosen up (or celebrate, or help me sleep, or help me get through the night)
7) I need some study snacks to help me get my homework done tonight (one of my favorite lines while I was in school...which means doughnuts, icecream, cookies, etc.)
8) I need a sleeping pill to help me fall asleep/stay asleep
9) I need a diet pill to help me lose weight
10) I need some chocolate to ... (just about anything can fill in this blank)

Now, I am certainly not against using medicine to help treat diseases. But, it really is fascinating how many times we send ourselves messages in a single day that we cannot do something without the artifical help of something we eat, drink, inhale or swallow.

"I can't do this myself...I need to take/eat/drink ___________ in order to _________________"

For some of us, this involves consuming a steady stream of stimulants, depressants, other drugs and junk food from sunrise to sunset all based on a schedule of needs we feel we cannot meet any other way. I worry about what all of this does physically to our bodies. But, I worry even more about the message we send ourselves by doing this:

"I cannot do this without..."

You can't wake up without coffee? Yes, you can. Millions of people do it everyday. Debate all you want about whether coffee helps or hurts the human body, but I believe that convincing yourself that you can't wake up, be alert or be nice to others without a morning cup is a dangerous road emotionally. Yes, you can wake up...your body and your mind have the power to do it and you don't need coffee to do it for you.

You can't calm your nerves without a cigarette? Yes, you can. You did it before you started smoking. Millions of people around you do it every day. You've fallen into the mental trap of telling yourself that, long-term harmful effects aside, you need a cigarette in order to get through the day. But, you don't. And don't tell me that you smoke becuase you like it and you choose to do it. You may tell yourself or others this on the surface, but you know deep down, when you face the real you, that you do it because you believe you need it...it is scary to face the world without it. You don't know if you really can stop it. Afterall, if you really believe yourself when you say you smoke out of choice, then why have you tried to stop before? It may be nice to tell yourself that you smoke today because you want to. But, when no one is looking, you have to admit that you don't believe you can live without it today. The amazing truth, however, is that you don't need it -- you are strong enough to make it without cigarettes. YOU can calm your nerves and be just fine. YOU can deal with the stress life presents. Many people with weaker wills than you have done it. You have the power within you to do it too.

Can't quit eating ice cream when you are stressed? Yes, you can. While nothing may help make it through a difficult finals-preparation study night (or fight with a significant other) like an entire carton of Ben & Jerry's, you can do just as well tonight without it. There are people all around the world who make it thorugh stressful nights without downing a carton of B&J--it is just the "innertube" you've convinced yourself you need because you won't let yourself believe you can do it on your own. Allow yourself to really look at what you are thinking and believing, and you'll see that it likely goes something like this:

"Something bad is happening, and it is really stressful."
"This is scary/sad/terrible, and I can't deal with it."
"What can I do to deal with this?"
"I need Ben and Jerry's"
"But, I probably shouldn't...it's got 200% of the daily value of saturated fat in one carton...and I always eat a whole carton. Plus I had a cheeseburger for lunch, so I definately don't need any more saturated fat."
"But, what is more important to me right now-- fighting off heart disease that could come 20 years from now, or getting through tonight?"
"That is a hard call...I mean, I could develop cancer or get in an accident 5 years from now, in which case the heart disease won't have mattered all that much, and I could definately use the escape into Ben and Jerry's tonight. And, how much plaque can one carton cause?"
"I can't handle all of this decision making and gloom and doom"
"Where is the Ben and Jerry's...maybe I'll just eat 1 serving's worth."
"(One serving later) How can anyone say that 1 serving of Ben and Jerry's is 1/4 of this carton...it must be mislabeled, and I'm feeling better already, so I better keep going."
"I probably shouldn't have eaten the whole carton, but I'll resist the temptation next time..tonight it helped me get through the stress."

So, here is a call to ditch the innertubes, whatever shape or form they may take in your life. You don't need them. They don't really help you, in fact they hurt you more than just physically. For, every day you pull out the innertube and float on the surface while the other penguins swim, you further convince yourself that you are not strong enough to make it without artifical help. You believe that if you swallow some "liquid courage" (or pill-shaped, or smoked-courage, or ice-cream courage) for just another day, maybe you will be strong enough tomorrow.

But the truth is that most people who eat becuase of stress today will do it again tomorrow. Most who smoke their "last cigarette" today, smoke their next one tomorrow.

How do you ditch the innertube? No one knows but you, and it comes one decision at a time. I've seen people get off of terribly-addictive drugs in a day without ever having a relapse. I've seen others fight it for years before making it clean for a whole year. But the strength is in the battle. And it all begins in the mind, one decision at a time.

The next time you reach for your own personal innertube, saying "I need _________ to do _____________", think about the penguin on my shower curtain. Toss it aside with a vow to do it yourself. Tell yourself, "If this is the best life can throw at me, then I've already won." We can wake up, we can be alert, we can manage stress, we can relax, we can fall asleep, we can face confrontation and discouragement ... all of our own power. Don't give that power away for another day.

Toss the innertube, and swim.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

10 Things I Never Wanted to Know About You

When I was entering college, I didn't even know what the Internet was (apparently, Al Gore hadn't done a good enough job yet of advertising his invention :). I remember sitting in the University library trying to navigate my first Web page, telling my soon-to-be wife, "this thing will never catch on." It was too slow, cumbersome, and difficult to find things.

How things have changed in a decade or two. Now, we do most of our shopping for birthdays and Christmas on the Internet and actually going somewhere, rather than doing it online, is kind of a pain.

And we all have Blogs. I swore I'd never read one when I first heard the name. Not knowing it was a combination of Web plus Log, I was convinced if someone couldn't think of a better name than "blog", it wasn't worth looking into. Now, I write in one and so do more and more people every day. It's kind of nice...you almost don't have to talk to people anymore...just check into their blog every few days and you are instantly caught up on their life. And sometimes you know more than you may have ever wanted to know about their life. I guess it's the Jerry Springer effect--somehow it is easier to share things with the entire world that you would normally be too embarrassed to tell anyone privately.

In this spirit, here are 10 things I hope to never find on your blog(my apologies to any friends or family who have actually posted any of these things in their blogs...I assure you this is not written about you ...I'm talking about all those other weird people out there).

10) How many pimples you popped on your spouse's back, face, or any other body part yesterday.

9) Anything about body parts, for that matter. Or how smelly you or someone else you love is.

8) Pictures of your naked children, especially if they are placed in cabbage leaves or other strange things.

7) Anything that mentions your affiliation with, support of or sympathy for Oprah or anything she endorses.

6) Thanks for posting your favorite music on your blog. If I would like to listen to it, I will click on it, but please give me my agency so I can read your blog in peace rather than force-feeding me music I would never choose to enjoy. After all, I may have vowed never to listen to Enya again, and I wouldn't want to be forced to break my promise just because I'm visiting your blog (I know I could mute the sound, but even with the sound muted, some really repulsive artists somehow magically get their music waves into your system...probably through your fingers or something).

5) All of your pet peeves, spelled out in great detail. Come on, give us something uplifting to read. This one guy went on and on about hating camping and stuff...it was like he couldn't say anything positive...

4) Things that make my wife feel like she is not as good of a mother as you are. So, please keep it real and post lots of pictures of your over-piled laundry, dirty rooms, and messy children. Also, mention how you yell at them occasionally, ignore them while you do self-indulgent things and any other parenting imperfections you can think of, so that we will know you are human too.

3) That someone else MADE you write a blog. You know, like the following entry:
"There I was, minding my own business, when the entire country of China called and demanded that I create a blog. I really didn't want to do it, but since they insisted, I will now begin writing about all my personal business for all the world to see.(By the way, when they called, China did mention what a great writer I am, which is why then INSISTED, I create this blog)".

2) Anything about your new multilevel marketing company, how it sells itself or you'd like to help me become rich, for a small startup fee.

1) Entries that should have been marked: "Warning: For women only", but weren't. I'll go ahead and make you a promise: If you'll mark it that way, I promise I won't read that entry. This, more than maybe anything else, may help solve the "Wow, I REALLY, REALLY didn't want to know that" syndrome.