Sunday, April 30, 2006

Glasswing Butterfly

Tell Me Your Dreams....

One of the other blogs that I visit on occasion is written by Barry Moses of Spokane, WA. He has a couple different blogs, one of which is a dream journal.

My first reaction to this, of course, was that all my quirky privacy issues went a bit wacko. I am reluctant to tell people I know and trust about the things I dream. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable putting them out on the net for anyone who happened to chance upon my pages to see. I would feel way too vulnerable, way too exposed.

I have no illusions that masses of strangers, or even that many people I know, ever look at this blog. Still, the fact that they COULD read these words definitely influences what things I will post here and what things I will not. My issues regarding what is “private” and what is “public” remain pretty guarded.

So, I got to examining that a bit closer, looking at the degree to which I live in my head and the extent to which I experience and share my heart with people in my day-to-day life. There were a few lessons there.

In 2004 I attended an experiential training for personal development called Spectrum that was held in Boise, ID. (LT61) In that training, participants were encouraged to “drop the waterline” – meaning to become more authentic with others, sharing our core selves to a greater degree rather than staying in the surface superficial that our culture so often expects. There were several exercises we did in dyads and in small groups to practice giving and receiving honest feedback and taking risks with self disclosure. It was both excruciating and hugely affirming all at the same time.

Spectrum training had three different levels that were each held a month or two apart. Because of the nature of the training, some very strong bonds of friendship and loyalty were forged among the paratipants. I only made it through level two because of the distance between where I live and Boise. The third level, which I skipped, included a ropes course and some other key exercises which brought participants even closer to each other. Several of the people involved have continued to have post-spectrum gatherings and some communicate on a regular basis. Initially I was a part of that, but became less and less so as time went by.

I’ve sometimes wondered if I had done all 3 levels if I would have stayed in contact more with the people from that class. I have attributed my lack of ties to them both to the fact that I live so far away and that I bailed out after level two. But perhaps the truth is more about the degree to which I am willing or not willing to lower my waterline, allowing myself to engage in open, authentic sharing with other folks.

I think we’ve all had the experience of being around someone who dumps WAY TOO MUCH personal information, making us very uncomfortable. Most people have also had the experience of carefully trusting someone with private info only to find out later that it was not kept in confidence. I pull back from saying too much about my emotional landscape to others for both of those reasons. But that’s just scratching the surface…. Today what I am looking at more closely is NOT why I do or do not feel willing to share private things more readily. What I am turning over for closer examination right now is how I decide what is private and what is public in the first place.

I’m more than willing to spill my IDEAS. My convoluted thinking is open, fair game for all. The teacher in me is very accustomed to batting around different theories, concepts and hypothesis. But when it gets into the area of feelings and emotions, I begin to put up some walls. I put on my game face, talk about feeling in a general, philosophical, hypothetical way. But the whole idea of telling others what it is I really feel all too often seems risky and unwise to me. Besides, most times I’m fairly sure people don’t really want to know.

So now I am looking at the assumptions I have made about that and asking myself – is it accurate? Is it valid? Is it healthy? Is it creating the sort of connections with others that I desire?

BALANCE is the trick – and not something I am particularly skilled at. I do not think it is wise or healthy to go around wearing my heart on my sleeve, giving the whole world a bird’s eye view into the dark places of my psyche. I can share the “happy” stuff fairly easily as that seldom leads to any sort of problem. But when it comes to my angst, my fears, my sorrows…that is where my boundaries of privacy begin to get fairly rigid, except for one or two very specific relationships.

But I am beginning to recognize that it’s not an all-or-nothing matter of staying in stepford-wife unreality or spilling my guts to any passing stranger. It’s more about degree, and becoming more mindful about choosing when, where and with whom I might be more candid about my interior world. .

Intimacy = IN TO ME YOU SEE. It is only when we allow others to truly see us as we experience ourselves that meaningful closeness can develop. So perhaps I can work on dropping the waterline a bit more and taking off that game face.

Chuck's Stub

Anyone who has been around fishermen much has heard tales of “the one that got away”. Many of those blatantly questionable stories remind me of a hat my husband has. It says across the front: “How can you tell when a fisherman is lying? Watch his lips. If they move, he is lying.” Stories of close calls and monster fish seem to grow exponentially with each telling.

The tale of Chuck’s Stub, however, is one I can absolutely document.

This past August, Larry and I went to Alaska to do some long dreamed of fishing on the Kenai Peninsula with our good friends from Wenatchee, Chuck & Pat Butcherite. We had a fabulous time white water rafting up by Denali and enjoyed our time exploring around Anchorage. However, the real focus of the trip was to be the fishing.

Now, keep in mind that I am not much of an angler. I’ve been on many a fishing trip with Larry where I spent most of the time with my nose in a book, just happy to be with my man in the great out of doors. But this time we were all scheduled to pull in some big ones. So we went out on our charter boat and started pulling in halibut. We caught several decent sized fish, no real monsters, but some respectable specimens that would give us many a fine dinner.

Then our captain moved the boat to take us to where the salmon were supposed to be. Because we were late in the season, the only salmon available were silvers, and none of those we caught were all that big. But we all had a good time pulling in fish, taking our turns doing battle with the rod and reel.

Then, finally, Chuck hooked into what WOULD have been the catch of the day. It was a beautiful king salmon. The fish’s body was glistening as he brought it to the surface. We were all cheering him on, thrilled that at least one of our party had finally hooked a king. Then, just as he reeled it in closer to the boat, a HUGE brown shadow came following, rose to the surface and BIT THE SALMON RIGHT OFF HIS LINE.

It was a salmon shark, somewhere between five or six feet long, and one nasty looking critter if I do say so myself. Our captain stood there at the edge of his vessel; waving his hands in the air saying: “Shoo! Shoo! Get away!” as if that would do any good. But it was too late. The shark took the fish, leaving us standing there scratching our heads with our mouths gaping. All we had left of it was a mangled fraction we affectionately referred to from that point on as “Chuck’s Stub”.

Larry and I ate remnants of what we were able to salvaged from the stub. It was quite delicious. Too bad the shark got the rest of it. Even though we missed getting any pictures of the shark itself, we did capture an image of the stub for all posterity, and have witnesses to tell the tale. So if any of you happen to be fishing in the waters around the Kenai – beware of sharks.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Change in Direction

I started this Blog about a month ago. It has been an interesting experiment. Initially I thought I’d give it a go as a means of facilitating extended family communication. However, as no great surprise, once the initial novelty wore off, that function pretty much bit the dust. So I was going to just let the blog die and move on to other interests.

However, a few different friends have told me they like reading the stuff (although I can’t imagine why). I find I enjoy the writing and it is interesting to have it open to anyone who may care to comment or suggest new perspectives. So I’ve decided that rather than kill it off, I will simply shift away from thinking of this as the “Pendley Family Blog” and instead allow it to evolve into whatever direction it takes.

To acknowledge that shift, I want to establish a new name for the header and I will change the URL. I plan to experiment with different fonts and formats, and come up with some sort of title to give this blog a bit of a new feel. No telling how many times it will switch as I explore its metamorphosis.

Afterall, isn't change and adapting to new seasons and shifting circumstances what life is all about?

Prize Fight - Robbins vs. Shapiro

Some of you know that for many years I’ve been a big Tony Robbins fan. I’ve got his 30 day program for personal success on both CD’s and Cassettes and have been through the series several times. It includes some very specific goal setting workshops that I have incorporated into my world pretty intensively. I have long attributed several of my accomplishments and achievements to following that plan.

Working the Robbins material has trained me to set very focused goals and then to take specific actions aimed at achieving those goals.

Into that landscape enter Stephen Shapiro, author of the book “Goal Free Living”.
Mr. Shapiro calls someone like me a “goal-a-holic” and insists that being so focused on specific outcomes leads to an overly worried, stressed out life. He says that by their very nature, goals lead us to be so focused on the future that we fail to live in the moment and appreciate what we already have. He writes:

“Being goal-free does not mean having no goals. It means being free from the burden and limitation of traditional goals. Having said that, it is also about avoiding SMART goals — those that are specific, measurable, achievable, results-based, and time oriented. These types of goals limit us even further. Goal-Free Living is best described as meandering with purpose — or, as is the first secret, “Use a Compass, Not a Map.”

So I’m wrestling between thinking he is a blasphemy spouting heretic casting aspersions on my sacred cow or giving room to consider there may be something to his arguments.

One of my all time favorite books is “The Precious Present” by Spencer Johnson. That short but oh-so-profound little tale is all about living in the moment and savoring the juice of life as we live it rather than being haunted by our past or made anxious by the future.

However, does living in the moment mean throwing out my check lists and giving up on my goals?? I DON’T THINK SO!

I’ve heard it said: “today is the tomorrow that we worried about yesterday”.

The reason I am able to do many of the things I can do today is because in some of my yesterdays I was willing to delay gratification and work toward very specific goals – like getting an education, like having lasik surgery, like establishing good credit, etc. etc.

HOWEVER – I do see Shapiro’s point that if we are extremely specific about our goals we leave little room for alternate successes.

For me, the truth lies somewhere in the middle between the preachings of Robbins and Shapiro. By no means am I going to throw away my palm pilot or give up on my check lists. I am a strong advocate of crafting a life by design rather than taking the pot luck of default, accepting whatever may come along. For me, that means creating a meaningful plan and then paying attention to whether I am getting closer to that plan or further away so I can adjust my efforts accordingly.

But maybe, just MAYBE it is time that I start rethinking some of my compulsive drive for “getting it right”. Maybe I could make some room for savoring a bit more of what comes along instead of always feeding my desire for the illusion of being in control of my life. Perhaps I could learn to be more willing to trust the universe to unfold all on its own without my guidance, eh?

Or not.

Pick a Card, Any Card....

I’ve been reading the book “Something More – Excavating Your Authentic Self” by Sarah Ban Breathnach (Author of “Simple Abundance”). The basic premise of her earlier book was that we experience abundance through gratitude – focusing our intent and attention on appreciating what we have rather than longing for what we do not. In this follow up book, she makes the claim that learning how to experience joy is how we move from imitation to authenticity.

She then goes on to distinguish between happiness and joy. She writes:
“Happiness is often triggered by external events, events we usually have no control over-you get the promotion, he loves you back, they approve your mortgage application. Happiness camouflages a lot of fears. But joy is the absence of fear. Joy is your soul’s knowledge that if you don’t get their promotion, keep the relationship, or buy the house, it’s because you weren’t meant to.” (Breathnach, 10 - emphasis mine).

So I’m sitting here wondering if I believe that. And along with it, I’ve been giving a lot of thought of late to how much I believe in “destiny” or things that are “meant to be” and how much I believe in the random nature of life.

Sometimes I think that a lot of the things that FEEL “meant to be” in our lives are just events that happened that we attached meaning to. Maybe they were pleasant. Maybe they were painful. We could learn from them or ignore them or use them to rationalize our own stupidity. Either way, perhaps it was just the cards we got dealt and there is no greater purpose beyond that.

When I am making big decisions in my life, because of my belief system I often pray to try to figure out “God’s Will” so that I will align my choices accordingly. But when it comes to things like where I will live, or what kind of work I will do, does it really matter to any sort of deity? Would I do just as well to flip a coin? I certainly would never ask God if I should wear the green dress or the black skirt and top when I go to worship. Perhaps what portion of geography I land in or what occupation I pursue (while very important to ME) may seem equally trivial to one who creates universes.

Having lived in six different states I have sometimes joked that God was behind a few of the multi-national corporate mergers that caused all of Larry's job transfers in order to put us in the path of a certain person who became very dear to us, or opening up key life lessons that were specific to a particular time and place. But mostly that sounds absurd to me. If I hadn't moved to Ohio I never would have met my pal Alice and if not for Wenatchee I'd have missed out on knowing Pat. Both of these women have enriched my life immeasurably, and have shared freindships with me that felt "meant to be". However, had I lived elsewhere I simply would have formed different relationships. If I'd never lived in Michigan, chances are I might never have completed my Master's Degree and I almost certainly would not have had some of the of the critical experiences I did with certain teachers there. But who knows what other sort of life I might have built if instead we had moved to Arkansas or Nebraska or Maine?

In the grand scheme of the cosmos, would that have mattered?

When discussing this through e-mails back and forth with my pal Johnda, I got back the following reply:

“I think there are very few times when Heavenly Father cares where you physically reside and all of those times seem to revolve around survival issues, i.e. Joseph, take the baby and flee into Egypt or Brigham, take the people out west where nobody else wants the land and you all won't get yourselves murdered. Just look at how Abraham decided where he should go, "OK, Lot. You want the land on the right or the left? Pick whichever you want and I'll go the other way." Abraham was a pretty inspired guy and I don't see anguish over "where the Lord wants me" in his attitude here. For the most part, where you go matters less than how you live.
I also think that it's pretty egocentric to believe that "I am the only person in the universe who could touch that one life the way God wants it touched right now" or to believe that there is only one human that God could use to touch you at the right time and in the right way when you need it. So I agree with your statement that wherever you go, you will continue to touch lives in meaningful ways and be touched by others in ways that continue to shape you into a glorious being.

That being said, I do believe that many jobs end or open in distant geographical locations according to events the Lord set in motion on our behalf to bring us into the situation that will help develop our "glorious being" where the people who will listen and respond to His promptings are present.

It's the fine line between being controlled by God and being guided by Him, offered opportunities from Him. Like the difference between predestination and foreordination. His hand IS in all things: not as controller of our choices but as author of our best opportunities. We seek, He will bring opportunity for us to find. We ask, He will provide the answer for us to utilize or reject. He will partner with us in all our positive endeavors. "It is not meet that I should command in all things..." "You took no thought save it was to ask me...." "Men should be anxiously engaged in good works according to their own free will and choice..." (J.Smith – March 12, 2006)

So some days I feel like I'm just a bit of flotsom floating on the currents, bumping into whatever I bump. Other days I agonize over trying to figure out what is the “RIGHT” path for me to take….do I pursue door #1 or door #2?

Do I flip a coin? Do I listen to the council of others? Is it appropriate or presumptuous to take these concerns to God? Maybe whether I live in Oregon or Michigan, whether I am a teacher or a plumber, is of equally trivial concern.

How about you? How do you find your path?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Honest??

I have been grading discussion postings for my online classes and just came across a blatant case of plagiarism. This is not a matter of a student not understanding how to do a citation. This was direct cut and paste stealing words from another source that the student tried to pass off as his own.

Do I look that stupid?? It always amazes me when someone who can barely write a coherent sentence suddenly inserts prose with a vocabulary far beyond his/her own scope and expects me to buy it. So the student failed that assignment and was warned if it happened again he would fail the class, as stated in my academic honesty policy in the syllabus.

But it did raise the issue for me once more about why people cheat. No matter what some may say that "cheating only hurts yourself" that is not entirely true. Think of the potential consequences of having an airline pilot or surgeon who cheated his/her way through school.
There are far too many settings where someone passing off credentials s/he did not rightfully earn could have serious implications.

In many academic settings cheating is a huge problem. Unfortunately, too many teachers do not hold their students accountable. In an environment where points and grades are given more emphasis than subject mastery, even generally honest people are often tempted to cut corners if they can.

While I may get pious and indignant on this particular issue, I know there are areas in my own life where I could be more honest. That is an issue I've been examining of late...considering my own integrity and trying to "walk my talk" more consistently.

In the "big" areas I am quite clear on following a moral code of ethical behavior. But in too many "little" ways I fear I have slipped when it seems there are no consequences. However, the more I examine this issue the more I am coming to believe that a person's integrity is ALWAYS a big issue, even when the particular example at hand may seem entirely inconsequential.

Here is an example...I've offered to help a friend clean out her garage. We will load the junk in our truck and haul it off to the dump for her. Last Saturday the next town over, Milton-Freewater, was having "Free Dump Day" for anyone who had a M-F powerbill to prove their residency. Now, since we are talking about hauling off several loads, I must admit I was SORELY TEMPTED to simply have one of my M-F buddies ride along with us to make it possible to use her free dump pass rather than paying the $6.00 per load to use my own dump. I didn't do that. But I can't take credit for skipping that choice, since it was largely due to my husband saying there was no way his truck was going to take pirated garbage to an out of town dump. (Stuff like that is very clear for him).

Who would I have harmed had I done this? I'd have cheated my local dump out of the fees they were rightfully entitled to and I would have unnecessarily filled up the M-F dump faster. But more importantly, I would have compromised my integrity for a lousy $18 bucks.

I would never think of stealing $18,000. But isn't it just as wrong to cheat out $18?

So I'm working at taking stock of my day to day little choices to be able to look myself and my maker in the eye with a solid affirmative the next time I am asked "Are you honest?" Is it lying if I say NOTHING but know someone has a false impression about what I have said or done that I do not clarify? Is it dishonest to sell something without claiming attributes, but also not pointing out the deficiencies? Perhaps most important of all to me is the myriad ways that I do not lie to others, but am less that completely truthful with MYSELF in terms of owning my own intentions and behavior.

With student papers there is an easy way to check by running their work through GOOGLE or special plagiarism identifying software. When it comes to how I live my life, both in my head and in my conduct in the word, it takes a lot more soul searching.

This being human stuff ain't for sissies, ya know?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Quote for the Day

"Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong...Because sometime in your life you will have been all of these."

I don't remember what famous person originally came up with this quote, but I really like it. This is the personal message my cousin, Deputy Steve Krebs, has on his "trading card" that his department puts out. These are much like baseball cards - has photo of the officer on the front and personal stats and a message on back. The kids try to collect 'em all (ooh...I'll trade you a K-9 officer for your SWAT, ok? No? Ok - I'll give you a motorcycle cop for your detective!) Program is supposed to help kids view public service officers in more positive terms.

ANYWAY...I lost my trading card years ago but I had been so impressed by what he chose as his personal message that I had written it down.

Do you have a favorite quote or saying that is meaningful to you?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Deja Vu Tunes

The other day I was scanning through radio stations trying to find something decent to listen to. As my trusty FM blipped across the airwaves sampling one format after another, it landed briefly on a station playing the song “Crystal Blue Persuasions” by Tommy James and the Shondells.

I didn’t let it stay there as that’s not the kind of music I was looking for. But in those brief few seconds when I heard the old familiar tune….
“Look over yonder, what do you see? The sun is arising it’s ….” (switch) I was transported back to sixth grade (1968?) when I used to play the record endlessly until my older brother, Wayne, could stand it no more and came threatening deep bodily harm if I didn't stop.

That song triggered such vivid memories for me, conjuring up a complete sensory recap of what my room looked like, what clothes I wore, what our house smelled like, who my friends were, what I was involved in, how I felt emotionally, every detail about what it felt like to be me back at that time. Truly Déjà vu.

What songs most powerfully take you back to your earlier days? What sort of memories do they evoke?

As for my current play list, I’ve been listening to Alison Krauss, Matchbox 20, Bob Marley, early Fleetwood Mac, and some band from the Andes mountains on pan flutes whose name I don’t recall at the moment.

What are you listening to these days?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Holy Pascha - through UN-Orthodox eyes

Today is Pascha, the day the Orthodox church celebrates the resurrection of Christ. I attended services at St. Silouan, the Orthodox church in Walla Walla, with my friends Juliana and Herman. It was quite an experience. My belief system and my personal history of how I typically worship both hold several key differences from Orthodoxy. In some ways, walking into their church is like walking into another world for me. My senses dance with soaking up all the tokens of symbolism and ritual…the icons, the incense, the candles and the liturgy. Still, my heart was warmed by the sincere welcome of the people there and I love hearing the rich acapella cadence of their choir.

The usual Sabbath services at St. Silouan run about the same schedule as my own church, but Pascha is entirely different. Today’s service was to begin at 4:00 AM. So I was a little bit bleary eyed when I arrived. I walked into the church in total darkness. The only light came from a tiny bulb illuminating the text that a reader was chanting out in a sing-song cadence. I found a place where I could see what was going on but didn’t think I would be very much in the way to begin my long vigil of standing.

There are no pews in an Orthodox church. There is one bench along the back wall for the elderly, infirm, or others who are not physically able to stand for long periods. But the general congregation stands through each service, which in this case was about three hours. The ability for all of them to stand for so long in such reverence, even the very young kids, is pretty impressive.

Slowly, in silence, the room began to fill up. Most (but not all) of the women wore head scarves and long skirts. People brought with them decorated candles to be used later in the service and many came carrying baskets of foods to be blessed by the Priest.

Pascha marks the end of Lent, the 40 day fast leading up to it. Every person’s fast is individual, with accommodations made for those with special health circumstances. But in general, faithful members of Orthodoxy do not eat meat, dairy products, eggs, or use any olive oil or wine for the entire 40 days. The baskets of food were things they had fasted from during that time that now could be a part of their celebration feast.

I’m not sure how to describe the service to someone who has never been inside an Orthodox church or around Orthodox people. Definitely high ritual. The officiators wear elaborate ceremonial robes in rich gold or white. At various times the Priest, Deacon and Sub-deacons walk around in a circle carrying sacred objects, intoning things I didn’t always understand. The movements and the words are all very specifically prescribed. There is quite a bit of symbolism and repetition. Much of the service is sung rather than spoken, with some phrases in Greek and others in Russian. On all sides of the room there are icons-- representations of Christ and various saints. Members of the congregation “venerate” the saints by approaching the icons, making the sign of the cross and kissing the pictures. It was all quite amazing to my eyes that are so accustomed to a very different sort of worship.

At one point in the service the Priest came out with lit candles and passed his light to others who in turn went around the chapel sharing their fire until everyone’s candle was lit. Brought out of the darkness, we could finally see each others faces clearly, so there were many smiles of acknowledgement as people spotted each other in the group. Then everyone went outside into the night and walked around the church with the choir singing. The bells that hang in the frame just behind the church were all rung together in an amazing pattern of deeply resonating tones. I imagine the neighbors were not too fond of that part in the wee hours of the morning, and it did start the local dogs to barking. But to me, a long time bell fan, it was utterly magical. (Check out All Saints of America Bells link on the side of this blog to see what these bells look like…sound files will eventually be added but aren’t up and running yet.)

Next we all stood in front of the church under the spreading branches of a tree that was completely covered in pink blossoms, listening to the Priest read the scripture passages about the resurrection. The sight of all those people worshiping in the darkness, with points of light shining from everyone’s candles and from the stars overhead was truly breathtaking.

When we went back into the church for the next portion of the service every light was on making the chapel glow with brightness. Where as the early part of the service dealt more with the death of Christ and the sins of the world, this part was all about the resurrection and the atonement, coming alive to the spirit as we die to our old lives.Communion was administered and the Priest blessed the baskets of food people had brought with them.

After the service was over, there was a gathering feast at the Senior Center and then the little kids got to have an egg hunt. There was much warm association, laughter, hugs as people greeted each other with “Christ is Risen!”

There were parts of the service that truly lifted me and parts that my mind turned away from – the references to the things I flat out do not believe. Yet the overall feeling of the whole service was one of reverence and deeply committed faith. I was honored to be there to participate.

In this post 9-11 world there has been so much animosity and mistrust between people of different faiths. I wish with all my heart that the world could find more tolerance, more genuine desire to understand one another rather than festering with so much ill will.

I do not believe in the concept of Trinity. I do not accept the Nicene Creed. I do not venerate saints. I do not view the mother of Christ, who Orthodox know as “Theotokos”, as one who can intercede on my behalf. Because of those things, there are some in the Orthodox faith who would declare that I am not Christian. But that’s ok. By their particular definition, I guess I’m not. I choose to believe anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as savior and the son of God, and does the best he or she can to follow His teachings is Christian. I have nothing to gain by arguing the point with others who believe differently.

Despite our many differences, I was richly blessed to stand with friends throughout this service to ponder what it is I DO believe. Rather than focus on the things that would set us apart, I chose to be enriched by the many places we have common ground. Like them, I too believe the central purpose of this life is to work out my salvation by coming to know God and by learning to submit my will to His words. Although my general style of worship may not resemble this service in the least, we are united through a faith in Christ that shapes each day of our lives.

However, I’ve also had friends or colleagues who were Buddhist, Moslem, Hindu, Jewish, Pagan or atheist who did NOT share my views about Christ being central to salvation. Even then, in most cases I was still able to find ways to relate to them as spiritual brothers and sisters, and to benefit by working toward understanding their various world views. In my mind, there is an important distinction between having a strong testimony of the truth of ones own beliefs and becoming condescending or arrogant toward others who believe differently.

There is much about Orthodoxy that is entirely counter to my understanding of the nature of God and my relationship to Him. But that doesn’t stop me from loving my Orthodox friends and deeply appreciating their willingness to accept me into their world without expecting to change who I am.

So today, in honor of Pascha, I continue the refrain so oft repeated by their choir:
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy.

I know I need it, sinner that I am.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Making Connections

I am now in week 3 of Spring Term. My two online courses that I teach for Wenatchee Valley College are really beginning to get interesting. I am always intrigued to watch the process of relationships building between my students and with me, even though we do not meet each other face to face. It has certainly prompted me to rethink what it means to "know" someone or to call them a "friend." I know a great many people as colleagues, social acquaintances, or in some other specific context. Some of those I also consider to be my friends. Some I don't. The factors that distinguish friend from neutral acquaintances seem to have shifted for me over the years. What I am willing to give and what I expect to receive in a friendship keep evolving.

How about you? What determines if some you know is thought of as "friend"?

Each week in my Sociology of the Family class the students complete an assignment on a different topic. This week's topic is friendship. Take a look at the assignment questions I've listed below. If you like, pick one (or more) to give some thought to - whether just in your own world or share it here.

And whether you want to write anything or not.... I hope you go connect with a friend and let him/her know how much you value that bond. I know that my world would be a very bleak place indeed if not for the comfort and companionship of true friends.


1. What does "friendship"mean to you?

2. What are the qualities you look for in a good friend?

3. When does an acquaintance become a friend?

4. What makes a friendship become more or less significant / intimate to you?

5. What aspects of yourself do you share with a friend that you do not share with others?

6. What aspects of yourself do you usually hold back in your friendships?

7. What are some behaviors you expect from your friends

8. What are some behaviors you would not tolerate in your friends?

9. How does one's willingness to be vulnerable impact friendship development?

10. How would you deal with sexual and / or romantic feelings (either your own or the other person's) in a relationship you are committed to keeping as "just friends" ?

11. How do you deal with hurt feelings, conflicts, or betrayal of trust is a friendship?

12. How have you changed as an individual due to the influence of friends?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A parable

Once upon a time there was a bird.

It could be a robin, a blue jay, a hawk or a crow. Depends on who is telling the story. Any sort of migratory bird will fit the tale. Fill in whatever you like.

Well anyway, when it came time for all the birds of this certain bird’s group to begin flying south for the winter, one of his bird friends said: “Hey Jake, let’s not go this year. It is such a long way. Our wings get so tattered and worn on the trip. We always arrive exhausted, and all for what? A bit of a change of scenery? How about you and me stay here for the winter this year. It will be great. We’ll hang out. We’ll explore. We’ll have a great time. How about it? Let’s just stay where we are at. After all, this is a nice place.”

After some consideration, Jake decided he would stay with his friend. It seemed like an exciting plan. They would have grand adventures making their own way rather than always following the crowd. The other birds cautioned him against this. But Jake was determined to stay. So when the rest of the flock left for warm southern nesting grounds, Jake and his friend began gathering twigs and string to make new nests of their own inside a barn where they planned to stay for the winter.

At first it WAS fun. They flew in great circles in the sky, reveling in watching the seasons change. But then came the first really bad storm. Temperatures dropped and food became scarce. One week it rained every single day, and then it began to snow. The days got shorter and shorter. Things began to look grim. Predictably, after all his fine talk, Jake’s friend disappeared one day without so much as a good bye or a how do you do. Then Jake was left alone in a cold, dark barn wondering how he was going to survive the winter. He felt stupid for having stayed behind. But now it was too late to try to catch up to his flock. The storm patterns would kill him if Jake tried to fly south this late in the year.

So he hunkered down and did the best he could. He searched each day for food which became increasingly difficult to find. His feathers grew icy at the tips and his poor little beak was crusty with snot from a nasty cold. He was miserable. After a couple weeks of this, finally Jake’s strength gave out. He collapsed in a frozen heap onto the barn floor.

As he was lying in the dirt, preparing his bird mind for death, Jake suffered the ultimate insult with the farmer’s cow who lived in the barn came along and crapped all over him.


However, the cow dung was warm. Slowly, stinky as it may have been, that mess of cow pile thawed out Jake’s frozen feathers. In a little while he found that he could move and he honestly was feeling much better. Still, the poor little guy was covered in cow crap which was not a very pleasant experience.

Then Max, the barn cat, came along to see what was happening. Max spoke to Jake, in a sweet purring voice: “Hey Jake, man, you really stink! That’s terrible what that inconsiderate cow did to you. Some animals just have a lot of gall…here you were struggling with cold, loneliness and a frozen, snotty beak and then that cow does THAT. I’m really sorry that happened to you. How about I help you get out from under there?”

Jake had always been rather suspicious of the barn cat. But Max seemed so sincere. So Jake gratefully accepted the cat’s offer, and allowed Max to painstakingly clean the oozing mess of cow crap off his matted feathers.

Max pawed away the big chunks very gently. Then he began licking Jake’s feathers until the bird was glistening and clean. Now Jake really was feeling MUCH better and he congratulated himself for having gotten through such a close call.

However, as Max got to the final feather, the cat grinned widely and said with a gleam in his eye…”HMMM, bird, you will be my lunch!” He pounced, bit through Jake’s head to crush his skull and then ate the bird in dainty cat bites, fastidiously cleaning his whiskers afterward.

Moral of the story?

1) Not everyone who gives you advice has your best interest at heart.
2) Not everyone who craps on you is your enemy or means you harm.
3) Not everyone who gets you out of crap is your friend.
4) While going off on your own for adventures may be fun, sometimes it makes sense to stay with trusted companions and listen to their council.
5) Never trust a barn cat.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fraction Queen

Well, I'm half way through my GED class. Amazingly enough, the math has been no problem at all. I can find common denominators with the best of 'em! We've gone through fractions, ratios and decimals without a hitch. As it turns out, teaching the reading is the biggest challenge. Math and writing are all about explaining the rules. Teaching reading to adults who come in with VERY diverse skill levels is a tougher nut to crack. But we are making progress.

Of course, I am entirely sleep deprived. Anyone who knows me well knows that "Momma's got the big-eye", meaning I have had chronic insomnia for years. My body can be completely, utterly exhausted, but just as I start to think about sleep my brain will click into overdrive, keeping me up for hours. I will go for days, sometimes over a week at a time on 3-4 hours per night until I really do collapse. Now that I have all these lesson plans to do in the wee hours of the night it just feeds into that pattern. So I'm about ready to drop.

But tomorrow we get our new bed. We've ordered a king size sleep number bed. I honestly doubt that our bed has had a whole lot to do with my discombobulated brain keeping me awake, but who knows? Maybe the new bed will be so cozy that I'll drift off to dream land before that wretched second wind can take over ....

But in the mean time here I will be in the dark late night...Reading, writing, pondering. Who knows? Maybe I'll learn to amuse myself with quadratic equations. There's actually something sorta soothing about the symmetry of mathematics and the flow of the logic of it. Strange how all those years when I was younger I fled in terror of parentheses and brackets, times signs and coefficients. It's really not nearly as complicated as I once believed.

So I can't help but wonder, what other assumptions, biases, predispostions or aversions am I ready to throw out the window with my silly old fear of math? Fear of water mabe? Not bloody likely. But ya never know. I doubt I'll be taking on any of Mark Spitz's world titles, but I might be ready to give another go to some serious snorkeling.... I'm ready for a few days on a beach!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Chained by progress??

This morning I was putting the finishing touches on my Primary lesson, looking for a particular scripture I wanted to share with the kids I teach at my church. Alas, I am not much of a scriptorian. I know the basic stories and I can paraphrase lots of verses. I even have a general idea of where many of them can be found. However, I have not mastered full memorization of very many, and there are even fewer I can recall the exact reference of book, chapter and verse for.

My solution is simply to go to the scripture section of (see link on the side of this blog) and put in ANY word or phrase I want to find a scripture on. The site’s search engine will zoom through the index and pop up every single scripture there is with that word or word combination. So that’s what I did this morning. I put in the word: “resurrection” and found what I was looking for.

It’s a great tool. But I’m afraid I’ve used it so much that I’ve become like the students in my GED class who cannot do even very basic arithmetic functions in their head because they are so used to the crutch of the calculator.

So I am wondering about how much I let this tool (or any technology I rely on, for that matter) be my servant and how much it makes me its slave.

I remain undecided. On the one hand, the important thing to me is that I DO look these scriptures up and study/ponder their meaning. Isn’t that more important that how I find them? Yet perhaps I truly have done a disservice to myself by copping out to the quick search time after time rather than training myself to be more familiar with the books on my own.

I believe it is important that I know my times-tables and that I can adequately add, subtract and divide. Still, I consistently use a calculator when I balance my checkbook. I see no harm done by using a dishwasher and vacuum cleaner rather than washing all my plates and utensils by hand and beating rugs with a stick. Nevertheless, it saddens me that so many valuable homemaking skills are being lost in our world of freeze dried food, microwave cooking and sweat-shop produced clothing that are less expensive to purchase than they would be to make yourself.

At what point does using technology to make things quicker and easier cross the line of “help” to actually become a hindrance in terms of loss of personal skills or circumventing community networking? A lot of good things come out of old fashioned quilting bees and barn raisings besides builidngs and blankets.

I suspect that some of the nostalgia for the way things were done in the "good old days" is seriously misplaced...still the mad rush to modernization that has brought us so much "new and improved" may not be the panacea it claims to be.

What technology or tools do you find most helpful? Which ones do you prefer to avoid?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Holy Day / Holiday

Tomorrow (Sunday) most of the western world recognizes as Easter. For many of you it will be a day of ham dinners, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and brightly colored hard boiled eggs. For some it will be a time of attending church, or simply quiet reflection pondering the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For my Orthodox friends it will be Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week to culminate in Pascha on April 23.

What is Easter like at your house?

When I was growing up it was a time for spiffy new outfits (although sometimes those outfits included really stupid looking hats ….hey Sharon how come I got stuck with the one that looked like a frisbee on my head??)

I remember hiding grapefruits instead of eggs one year when I was a kid…not exactly sure why. Perhaps because they were plentiful and easier to find? I have a few vague memories of a picnic one year with my family out by the old swinging bridge – I remember catching tadpoles and pollywogs in the river and being scared to death when my brothers ran across the ancient suspension bridge causing it to sway. Couldn't find any pictures of the ACTUAL bridge - but here's some others you bridge fans may enjoy:

The first year that Larry and I lived in Ohio (1981) we hid colored eggs in the snow for our kids to find – big change from all our years in Arizona. Judging by the looks of the storm we’ve had here all day, folks I know up on Weston Mountain will be doing the same this year.

For me it will be a quiet, reverent day. I'll go to church and try to teach a lesson on the atonement to a group of 5-7 yrs olds that will no doubt rockin' on a sugar high from early morning raids of candy. Then I will come home and cook a ham, and probably make some phone calls to each of my siblings.

Whatever it is that you believe, or whatever your Easter traditions may be, many blessings to you as you celebrate this sacred time.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Prodigal Dog

Our prodigal basset hound, Morgan Dog, has returned.

The other day the front gate got left unlatched, so sometime in the evening Morgan escaped. Larry and I went driving all over town looking for her, to no avail. Fortunately, by the next morning, the beast was back, none the worse for her adventures.
Her brief absence gave me time to think about the role of pets in our lives, and to consider what it would have meant to me if she never came back.

Over the years when I was growing up, our family had all sorts of critters. In addition to the usual cats and dogs, our menagerie included a vile tempered donkey that once bit me on the leg, a couple of goats, a pony, some rabbits, chickens, various birds, three monkeys, a sheep and even a pig. We did not live on a farm, or even out in the country. We simply had a large enough yard to accommodate our ever changing cast of critters and indulgent parents who went along with our whims. This was long before zoning ordinances began forbidding having such animals in the middle of town.

I still remember the heartache I felt when Terpie (a little white dog) got hit by a car or the fear and worry we all went through when a later dog, Gulliver, got bit by a rattlesnake. (Gulliver survived, Terpie did not).

In one of the online classes I am currently teaching, “Sociology of the Family,” my students have been having a discussion as to whether or not pets should be considered as actual members of a family or as possessions of the family. They have had some interesting comments on both sides, talking about how much expense or sacrifice it is reasonable to make for an animal and why dogs may or may not deserve more grief at their passing than do goldfish.

I have no illusions that we “own” Morgan Dog. We participate in a relationship with this canine. We have accepted certain responsibilities for her wellbeing. I enjoy this animal immensely. But there are limits to the bond. I would have been sad, but not devastated had she disappeared for keeps. I’m willing to pay her vet bills and food bills and buy her the occasional squeaky toy. I would not, however, go into debt for thousands of dollars for elaborate medical procedures to prolong her life as I would for a child. Her first birthday is coming up on April 16 and while I will get her some special doggie treat, I doubt we will throw her a party or keep a photo album of the event. (although I know people who have done that too!)

What animals do you share your world with? What do you think it is reasonable to do or not do for them? What pets do you have special memories of from the past?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Rainy Day

Today makes the third straight Saturday in a row that it has rained. Our lawn was beginning to look like a wild meadow. Fortunately, the weather broke long enough during the week that Larry was finally able to get it mowed. Still, there were many things I had planned to get done today that simply will not happen AGAIN on account of the rain.

So it goes… This rain reminds me of something my dad used to say whenever anyone complained about the weather:

“As a rule, a man’s a fool.
When he’s hot, he wants it cool.
When he’s cool, he wants it hot.
Always wanting what its not.”

So I am trying to simply be grateful for the moisture that will nourish the crops and make flowers and trees bloom more abundantly. I’m trying to see the blessing of this rain rather than the inconvenience.

My daffodils and hyacinths are all blooming. Tulips are putting on fat heads. Many of the ornamental trees around town (dogwoods, crabapple, flowering cherry, hawthorne, magnolia, etc) are either in bloom or putting on buds.

Spring is an amazing time of renewal – as the natural world reclothes itself after the long winter barrenness and spiritually as those of us who are Christian ponder the sacred days of Easter and Pascha.

When I lived in the Midwest I always said that autumn was my favorite time of year because I loved the spectacular colors of the trees changing, the bringing in of harvest, and some of the celebrations of that time of year. But here we don’t have the deep woods that I so loved in Ohio and Michigan, so I’ve come to appreciate spring more than the fall. Either way – I’m glad I live in a place where the seasons do change. After ten years in Phoenix where the concrete and palm trees stay pretty monotonous, having four distinct season each year feels like a real blessing.

How about you? What time of year do you like the best?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Litany Against Fear

I've started putting together lesson plans for my GED class. I was doing ok until I started going through the Math book and saw all those fractions, equations, and yes, even a few square roots.

I will admit for a moment there I had a bit of a melt down. My confidence wavered and I felt almost nauseas.

But then I recalled the famous words of the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert's Dune Book Series:

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. "

Those words hold a lot of power. Whether it is fear of math, fear of looking foolish, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain - WHATEVER - it is all too easy to become immobilized if I stay stuck in a state of fear. If I allow my fear to win then I quit taking risks, I quit learning and I quit growing.

So bring on the polynomials and the orders of operations! Yeah, I'll make some mistakes. I won't have all the answers. But I WILL build greater understanding and I will have the knowledge and skills I need to get these students to where they need to be.

More than that, I will look at other areas of my life where I allow fear to hold me back.

This morning I am asking myself questions about what I might do or say or become if I could be stronger than every one of my fears. What could shift or change in how I live? How I love?

I've been working on a list of the 50 things I want to accomplish, acquire or achieve by the time I hit 50 yrs old..... my Fifty-by-Fifty list. It has been interesting to note the areas where I am willing to pull out all the stops and DREAM BIG and the places I get cautious.

So I am curious. What are some of YOUR goals? What would you like to do in the next 5-10 yrs?? What's stopping you?

What are you afraid of? What could you do to conquer that fear?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Too Much of a Good Thing??

Well, I’m hoping I have not bitten off more than I can chew.

Yesterday when I showed up at the Community College where I work doing academic research and designing programs to support student success, I received a frantic e-mail from the Director of Basic Programs, who is in charge of all remedial classes, GED, Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English and a Second Language (ESL). Apparently they had a GED instructor abruptly resign with no notice. GED classes were scheduled to begin last night and there was no teacher. What to do?

So of course I said, SURE! I can do that!

What was I thinking? Was I NUTS????

What this will involve will mean I will teach a class of 20 students from 5:00-8:00 PM every Monday and Wednesday night for the next five weeks. This is on top of having a very demanding full time job and then teaching two online sociology classes on an adjunct basis for a different college on the side. So I am now officially working three jobs.

My kids are grown and gone. My husband is wonderfully supportive. There is no reason why I can't do this, right? But when I think about what it will mean to have to balance all those commitments (along with church callings, family obligations and just trying to manage my LIFE) I just want to go running through the streets looking like that famous painting The Scream by Edvard Munch. This is just too, too much!

So I keep vacillating between wanting to kick myself for agreeing to do it and being nervous / excited about the opportunity.

Granted, I will have a very busy schedule. But here’s the deal. I LOVE teaching. I am passionate beyond words about being in a classroom working with students. When I am teaching I fall into a groove and it feels like all the planets have lined up. From the top of my head to the tips of my toes I KNOW I am doing what I was born to do. So I could not possibly have turned this down.

But wait a minute. REALITY CHECK! I love teaching SOCIOLOGY - something I know quite a bit about. Teaching a GED class means that along with the reading and writing I will be teaching MATH...not exactly my strong suit. Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! What was I thinking??????

So this will be a challenge for me, to be sure. But I'm up for it. Last night was the first class and it went very well.
Ready or not… I come! Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Wrinkle in Time

Daylight saving time is here again. On the one hand, I enjoy having more sunshine hours when I get home from work at the end of the day. Still, the whole concept of it truly baffles me. Having grown up in Arizona where there is no such thing as daylight saving time, I’ve had to learn to adapt to the custom as an adult. So in some respects, I’m like a person who learned English as a second language as an adult – no matter how fluent I get I still have to translate in my head and will always have an accent. It just plain feels foreign to me. I mean really, who ever started this thing anyway? Was it politicians or golf course owners who got together and said “hey, here’s a groovy idea, let’s change what time it is!”

I was completely taken aback when I did a little research on the topic and learned that “the idea of daylight saving was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin during his sojourn as an American delegate in Paris in 1784, in an essay, ‘An Economical Project.’ Read more about Franklin's essay.” I also did not know that the practice of changing clocks twice a year takes place in several countries. So, it’s not just some crazy American notion to increase recreation and save electricity.

Its really pretty ludicrous that I balk at changing from “real” time to “false” time. Cutting up the flow of moments into 60 second minutes and 60 minute hours is completely arbitrary to begin with.

In pondering the whole notion of time it occurs to me that while we may use the expression of “saving time”, there really is no way to bank moments of our lives. We have the same 24 hrs in each day that was allocated to Christopher Columbus, St. Barsanuphius, Michelangelo, Madame Curie, Frank Zappa, Florence Nightingale, Jack the Ripper, or Coco the Clown. How we each choose to spend that time is up to us. Whether it is in light or dark, we each choose moment by moment what meaning we give to the minutes we get. We choose whether we will spend it in “quiet desperation” or mundane pursuit, whether we will search for spiritual growth or squander it in hedonistic revelry.

Sometimes I feel altogether too much like those hamsters you see going round and round and round in that little exercise circle, being awfully darned busy but not really getting anywhere.

Every now and then I will find some cash I’ve left in a pocket or a book or a drawer and think to myself BONUS and then go out to spend. But I’ve never opened a drawer and found that spare half hour I’d tucked away for later. Sure, sometimes my schedule may free up some time from one expected obligation or another to give me increased choices of how I will spend my minutes, giving the illusion of some “found” time. But I only get what I get. There is no more hiding around the corner. Unlike videogames and pinball, no matter how many points I wrack up, I don’t get another go.
So I’m thinking about my time and how I’m spending it. I’m thinking it is high time that I started making some new choices to make my days more by design and less by default. But, for now, I think I’ll go curl up with the book “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman and lose myself in notions of the fluidity of time for a while…..