Saturday, January 31, 2015

Exclamation Points Then and Now

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Do you remember your grammar school lesson on types of sentences? Declarative, Exclamatory, Interrogative -- those are the three I remember. Differentiated in part by their closing punctuation mark. Ah, it was simple then. A few rules, easy peasy.

Over the years, I have noticed myself using more and more exclamation points in my electronic communication, especially in texting. The other day, my daughter remarked completely as an aside, "You don't even need the exclamation point." Just like that, I had a serendipitous realization that I had begun to rely on the use of exclamation points to communicate the upbeat feeling of my text. Truly, I was the frog in the cold water of regular punctuation who didn't even realize I had been gradually boiling in the scalding water of overuse.

Turns out, this is a thing. Not just with me, but people in general have begun to rely on the exclamation point to communicate enthusiasm in e-communications. That's fine, if your sentence is "I could not believe what Felicia Sue wore to Esmeralda Ann's wedding!" But, we have begun to use it at the end of sentences like, "Thanks for your note!" and "I got your email!"

Seems that some regard the lack of exclamation points in e-communication to be communicating brusqueness. Until my daughter's text this week, I certainly did. And where I didn't put a (!), I added a smiley emoji.

I've quit cold turkey. And so far, no one has expressed their concern that I am being brusque. Of course, I also replaced the exclamation points with adverbs, adjectives and carefully chosen words that communicate a little more subtly.

Do you overuse exclamation points? Well, do you?!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Baymax is the Gold Standard for Customer Service

I've been down with a respiratory infection for a couple of days. While I lay in bed yesterday, practicing "accepting what is" I was also thinking about what I might post about today. Big Hero 6 popped into my head because Kepler is all about Baymax these days, which put me in mind of patient care, which reminded me of ...

Customer Service. The very phrase can bring about heart palpitations from frustration, anger, and irritation. As good as some CSRs can be, anyone who calls Customer Service will usually need extra patience and understanding, as well as a willingness to tell the same story to multiple people.

My most frequent customer service interactions are with the good people at Verizon, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. They, and several others, usually finish their conversation with a yes/no question: "Have I addressed your concerns completely today?"

I always say yes, even if the answer is yesbutno or nobutyes. By the time this question arises, I've been on the phone for ages and am ready to bid them adieu.

But Baymax, the lovable nurse bot from Disney's Big Hero 6, KNOWS how to give the best customer service. You can read more about Baymax's story here. As a nurse bot, Baymax is equipped to diagnose and treat the conditions he encounters in his patients.

Among the many things that I love about Baymax is his penultimate statement to each patient: "I cannot deactivate until you say you are satisfied with your care."

That's what Verizon, and Anthem, and Time Warner, and the IRS, should say. "I cannot disconnect from this call until you say you are satisfied with your experience on this call." It's kind of similar to someone saying, "I'm sorry for all the hassle on this call; will you forgive me?" and responding with, "I forgive you."

Like Don Henley says in his song The Heart of the Matter, it all comes down to forgiveness, letting them off the hook. And rather than carrying my frustration from the call into the next portion of my day, I'm going to accept the imperfections of the system, and move forward in peace.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The peace of accepting what is

I have felt the resistance of the canoe paddle slicing through water a time or two. Sometimes I've even steered, j-stroking, dragging the paddle to turn, switching sides. The idea is to work with the river, with its currents and eddies and shallow bits and white water stretches. To get down river without capsizing, you must be attentive, flexible and aware of what's ahead.

Many days when I "paddle my canoe" through life, I fuss about every little change in depth, unexpected rock, and swift current I'm not ready for, and I'm tense and worried

My 9yo son, born with Down syndrome, is very often the source of new and unexpected turns in the river. I feel like I can never be prepared enough when I'm on the river with him.

When I slow down long enough to ponder this, I love to imagine myself slipping into the water, buoyant and relaxed, as I trust the river to guide me. I have the choice to believe this is an option.

When my son and I drive somewhere, he often wants me to "Wook, Mom!" He simply does not understand how there could be any reason I can't look back at him while I'm driving. I get frustrated when I sit rigidly in my "canoe" and wish wish wish he would stop asking me to look.

But to really embrace what is, I allow the river, and Kepler, to be what they are. I trust that his repeated asking for my attention is somehow the best thing that could happen to me. Saying yes to the fact of the asking ignites my creativity, and opens new doors of possibility. The genuine acceptance of his entreaties coexists with me slipping into that river, buoyant and relaxed, trusting.

What do you face in your life that you could begin to say yes to?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We are Meant to be Hungry

Just finished a book by Lionel Shriver today. Titled Big Brother, it's the story of a brother and sister who are reunited for a time in their 40's. I chose the book because I had recently watched the movie version of her book,  "We Need to Talk about Kevin," a powerful story starring the sublime Tilda Swindon.

Near the end of the book, the main character, Pandora, is reflecting on her story and she says, "We are meant to be hungry." That sentence stopped me right in my tracks. Am I hungry?

When I'm hungry for authentic expression, I write.
When I'm hungry for the joy of movement, I run.
When I'm hungry for intimacy, I try again to overcome obstacles to it.
When I'm hungry for novelty, I reach beyond my comfort zone.

Hunger is different from deprivation. Hunger is different from greed. And hunger is different from boredom. Hunger is a truly legitimate need reflecting a condition in which we recognize we want more of something that will sustain us, nourish us, refresh us.

What are you hungry for today?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Old Person Mumbles and Grumbles about Autographs

Back in my day, sonny, getting an autograph was special. We treasured those moments with our heroes and kept their autographs in scrapbooks, on bulletin boards, or under glass.

Somewhere along the line, you young whippersnappers have perfected the sport of "signing."

Back in my day, dearie, the sport and art gods only signed occasionally. None of this sportsfest business where person after person stands in line to get the scribbled signature of that guy. After the curtain call, actors in Broadway and off-Broadway shows weren't armed with sharpies, tunneling through throngs of excited teens holding out their playbills for all the actors to sign.

Somewhere along the line, you young upstarts have turned into collecting collectors of collectibles.

Standing outside after Newsies, in NewYork last May, there was a grown woman (quite grown, by the looks of it) holding some sort of stretched canvas that she was intending to have signed, and as she said, to SELL.

Where is the value in the autograph anyway? Let alone if so many others have the exact same thing.

Because the autograph is so ubiquitous now, it has lost a great deal of its intrinsic value, even though people keep on buying the opportunity to own someone else's signature.

Sign. What is the world coming to.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Great Chicken Pox Crisis of 2015

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You've all heard by now that there has been an outbreak of 59 confirmed cases of measles at Disneyland recently. This has fanned the flames of  the embers of the debate between the vaxers and the antivaxers, which meant the topic was right at the front of my brain this morning.

Twenty-two years ago, when I was about to become a mother, I had a limited viewpoint. Sorry. I just didn't realize. I think at least part of it was just from being egocentric. All I could see was my own special snowflakes. And what I heard about vaccinations and their dangers scared me a lot. So, I took my time on getting the kids vaccinations. They got them, but not usually on the timeline of the doctor.  I was mostly unaware about the existence of children who would not be healthy enough to tolerate the vaccination and/or the disease.  Having a child with special needs was my entrance into the world of understanding that those who choose not to vaccinate can put those who do not have the choice at grave risk.

Fast forward to today. My phone rang. Whenever my caller id says "Primary School," I brace myself for bad news. They don't call me unless there is a problem or Kepler is sick (also a problem). Sure enough, the nurse tells me she thinks Kepler has chicken pox. Kepler, the kid who has had his vaccinations, and who really does NOT qualify as a good candidate to get the pox.

My inner volcano erupted. What does this mean? Greg is out of town. How long will Kepler have to be off school? Didn't I get him vaccinated??? (Nurse said I had not) OMG, what if he is miserable with the itching? What if he has terrible complications because he has Down syndrome? And, OH YEAH, why didn't my sisters get their children vaccinated, since three of Kepler's cousins just had chicken pox very recently? The molten lava poured out in tears of fear because I have been with Kepler when he is sick. Like most kids, he doesn't really understand why he is in pain. In two minutes, I had created quite the worst-case scenario.

I am a card-carrying Judger of All Things and People, although I am losing my card more and more often. Apparently, I had left my card elsewhere this morning, because I suddenly calmed myself. The eruption stopped; the lava slowed. I didn't even know if he had chicken pox. I was borrowing a boatload of trouble. I was crying about difficulties with itching that maybe weren't even going to materialize. The presence of chicken pox in my child did not mean my sisters were mistaken in their vaccination choices, because it is not up to me to decide what is best for someone else.

Two lessons learned:

1. Expressing my feelings as I did, allowing the tears, got the intense feelings out, instead of keeping them inside where I would turn them inward and get depressed (anger turned inward). And once they were expressed, I had the emotional space to then think about the next thing.

2. Saying yes to what is sure feels better than saying no to what might be.

And the rest of the story: I arrived to pick him up at school expecting to find him all weak and puny and sad, curled up on the nurse's couch, absolutely covered in spots from head to toe. Reality: Bouncy, happy, glad to see his brother and me. One spot on face, two on back. Doctor diagnosed strep and thought the spots were related to the strep. He'll miss school tomorrow. Time will tell for sure that this is not chicken pox, but for now, I believe the Great Chicken Pox Crisis of 2015 has been  dismissed for lack of evidence.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tigger's Top 15 Tiny Steps to Minimize Depression in Eeyore

Hey, depressed person who may be reading this. Thanks for reading. Try one of the things on this list TODAY. 

A. Listen to music that you LOVE! There may be more sad songs out there than happy ones, lyrically speaking, but look for songs that energize you, that lift you up a little or a lot! I took my daughter to a My Chemical Romance concert a few years ago, before I was into them, but I am now, and every time I hear a song by them, I remember the huge adventure of that concert and it just lifts my spirits. 

B. Exercise! Most people who are feeling depressed are definitely not feeling the love for getting up and getting moving. This is where the concept of having an exercise appointment comes in and can sometimes be enough motivation to get going. If it's in the budget, get a personal trainer! Part of their job is listening to you and finding positive things to say. 

C. Medication! For me and many others, it helps tremendously. My brain knows when it is on the med that works with my brain chemistry. Lots of people are able to take it for a period of time and then wean off of it. Many others take it for the long-term. 

D. Offer yourself compassion! Depressed people are well-versed in listing all of their failures, shortcomings, mistakes, errors, blunders, oversights, bumblings, and overall general personal suckage. Try thinking kind thoughts toward yourself -- the kind you would extend to a child who had just skinned their knee, or a beloved pet dog or cat. 
E. Read! Enjoy different kinds of books. Read books that allow you to escape into a fantasy world where you can use your imagination. Read books that teach you something about life. There are literally hundreds of resources to help you find books that will interest you, not the least of which is your local librarian. 

F. Watch interesting movies and television shows! This could be expanded to include YouTube videos. Trick here is not to get hypnotized by the one-eyed monster and end up even less motivated. Watching things should be done judiciously, and should bring you at least a smidgen of joy.

G. Maintain a normal day/night routine. Experiment with going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day. Seems that turning off screens 30 or 60 minutes before bed is a very good idea for your brain, which needs to settle down to sleep. Don't check Instagram if you wake up in the night!

H. Drink some water! Eat some fruits and vegetables! Depression demands Tostitos, coke, Froot Loops, and ice cream. Yeah, that's because Depression wants to intensify itself and junk food does the trick. Eating REAL foods helps strengthen the REAL you. 

I. Find a pal you can text when you are feeling down and let them know how you are feeling. Depression wants us to sit alone, in a dark room, and focus on how we have no friends, no one cares, and it'll never get better. Not true. Even if you don't feel close to anyone right now, there are a lot of people out there who would be willing to provide this type of support. 

J. Clean up something, or declutter for a few minutes. Choose one square foot to clean up, or one small task, like clearing all the trash and dishes from your nightstand. Even a tiny step like this is able to improve your mood, in many instances.

K. Spend a bit of money. A bit. Don't impulse spend on anything more expensive than $6.34, but go shopping or even window shopping. It gets you out of the house, gives you the opportunity to greet and be greeted by another human, and shifts your state, even if only a bit.

L. Go through the door of your house to the actual outdoors. Whether it is to walk to the end of the driveway, walk or drive to the local library or coffeehouse, or just let the sunshine pour onto your head, do it. Even five minutes outside is better than 24 hours inside. 

M. Pet your cat or dog if you have one. Or even your son's stuffed Baymax character. Baymax is soft and soothing. 

N. Laugh on purpose. Even if there is nothing funny. Lie down on the floor and just make a belly laugh occur. You'll probably feel sheepish at first, since you know the laughing doesn't match how your insides feel, but you will be amazed at how laughter, even fake laughter, can make a difference.

And a bonus route: Set a time for 15 minutes to get yourself started on a task, any task. Taking a shower. Washing the dishes. Writing. Walking. 

And a bonus bonus! Sometime when you feel more like yourself, create your own list of routes to minimize your depression. Seems like making choices while depressed can be extremely challenging, so make a plan in the light for the darkness that may come again. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Top Ten Must-do's for Credit Card Users who Abhor and Loathe Debt but Can't Keep Track of Cash in Envelopes to Save Their Life

All the smart financial people tell you to "cut up your credit cards." If I was so inclined, I'd even put some links here to prove it. Dave Ramsay for sure advocates this. Suze Orman probably does. Warren Buffett most likely says this, but easy for him to say, amirite, since he can buy the entire credit card company multiple times over. 

Well, I'm here to tell you that credit cards are a boon to mankind. If I get a $100 atm, I will keep track of $57.00 of it and the rest will typically have to go under the "miscellaneous" category. If I use my credit card, I can account for every penny spent. If you look at the statistics, I think the credit card companies are probably making out better than the consumer (imagine if I had an actual statistic for you), but the point is, you can work the system.

Must-do #1 for Smart Credit Carding

Remember credit card companies are not your friend. They are not your enemy, but they are not your friend. Their business is making money, and money they do make. Balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, over-limit charges, interest, late fees -- savvy business people, these companies. If you decide to call them and ask them to reverse a charge, or cut you some slack just this one time, remember that they may do so, but just as likely they won't. If you are going to use a credit card, know their policies and follow them.

Must-do #2 for Smart Credit Carding

Utilize your smartphone. Most banks and credit card companies have apps. Use them! There are multiple budgeting apps (Mint is a good one). Wunderlist is a fantastic list-making app, which has revolutionized our family grocery shopping (an area we tend to overspend if not careful). We are able to share the list between multiple people so anyone can add or delete an item. 

Must-do #3 for Smart Credit Carding

Understand the time frame your bank or credit card needs to process a payment, a charge, and a credit. This gap can make the difference between staying on budget and accidentally going over in your "hot" categories. My hot categories are groceries, restaurants,  and entertainment. YMMV. Nothing more irritating than getting a late fee because you didn't set up the payment long enough before the due date. Be aware when a credit is not going to appear until your next statement as that can impact your monthly payoff amount.

Must-do #4 for Smart Credit Carding

BE ON TIME. Plan ahead! Set a reminder on your phone calendar. Write it on a desk calendar. Set up auto-pay. Whatever it takes. Be consistently on time, as this is one of the best ways to demonstrate to yourself that you are managing your cards wisely and responsibly.

Must-do #5 for Smart Credit Carding

Absolutely, positively have a monthly spending plan that you create before the month begins and live by the entire  month through. Do not use a credit card if you do not have a spending plan. A monthly spending plan should take into consideration all of your projected income, your fixed bills, your one-time bills, birthdays or special occasions, and any other spending you may need to do that month. Your spending plan must have zero as the bottom line. That is, you take your projected income, and identify where every single dollar is going to go, be it savings, retirement, debt reduction (for the days before you got it together), expenses, or identified spending money. 

Must-do #6 for Smart Credit Carding.

Do not impulse buy anything over $6.34. That means no plane tickets, no fancy dress for the upcoming soiree, no new furniture marked down just for today. If you have plane tickets, fancy dress, or furniture in your spending plan, by all means, go for it. But NO impulse buying anything over $6.34. Also be aware if you are impulse buying multiple items under the $6.34 limit. Might need to lower the limit. 

Must-do #7 for Smart Credit Carding

Keep things as simple as you can. Five different financial institutions (banks, credit unions, credit card companies) are going to be way harder to keep track of than one or two. If you currently have five or more, look at them and see if any can be eliminated. For every institution you do have, be absolutely clear on what your username and password is to simplify the process of paying a bill or checking a balance. I once broke up with Kohls' because their online system was so difficult to use, but it really boiled down to my failure to be absolutely clear on what their policies were, and what my username and ever-changing password were.

Must-do #8 for Smart Credit Carding

Be accountable to someone. Your spouse, significant other, parent, child, friend, someone. It is the exact same principle that you learn about in AA. When you go off on your own and think you can handle the temptation of alcohol (or spending, in this case), you are putting yourself in danger. If you are not willing to truly be held accountable by someone else, do not use credit cards unless you have an established track record of paying your balance off every month. 

Must-do #9 for Smart Credit Carding

Take the time you need to set up your system. Install your budgeting software and understand how to use it. Have your accounts registered online and know the logins, passwords, websites, and policies. Figure out your preferred method of keeping abreast of your spending and how your spending is coinciding with your plan. Excel (and Numbers, on Mac) are great programs for keeping track of your spending in your "hot" categories. There is simply nothing like knowing exactly what you are spending in a category that will help you stay on top of your spending plan, and your spending.

Must-do #10 for Smart Credit Carding

Always be ready to revise your plan to meet your current needs. Be aware of sound financial planning advice. Do build an emergency fund as soon as possible of $1000. (Dave Ramsey's baby step #1) Be intentional about paying off any current debts. Save up for large purchases. Stay on top of your monthly plan and notice areas that need closer attention. 

Credit cards can and do get people into debt. So, you have to go into using them with eyes WIDE open and enough humility to realize that it can happen to anyone. But, when you can use cards wisely and judiciously, you can realize some true benefits. 

What other must-do's do you have in place for using credit cards wisely? 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Top 10 Ways to Keep Your Blog at Catblog Readership Level

My blog is about 5 years old. When I began, Blogger allowed me to set up a sort of distribution list so that certain people would receive my posts via email. A sort of reverse subscription system. In five years, I have had small spurts of growth, but have basically maintained a very small readership and even smaller commentership. So, I am an expert at this topic.

Here, without further ado, are the Top 10 Ways to Keep Your Blog at Catblog Readership Level

1. Post occasionally, with gaps of months between posts. That way, anyone who has been lured in by your wit and wisdom will fall away in the interim because there are many, many other shiny things to see.

2. Don't post about current events. That way, your blog will not get found in the search engine for anyone searching for the hot topic of the day.

3. Remain uncontroversial. Just be your sensible, conscientious, non-swearing self in your posts and see your loyal readership appreciate you.

4. Write about stuff personal to you that doesn't have really any connection to many other people. That way, you'll be able to avoid that "niche" that might increase visitors, readers, and comments.

5. Be boring, as far as the virtual world sees things. Don't have any extramarital affairs; don't kill anyone; don't boldly go where no [wo]man has gone before.

6. Really be concerned about what you write in case your parents or your children read something that they will find scandalous. This keeps things nice and safe.

7. Don't drink a weird green smoothie (almond milk, kale, spinach, protein powder, crushed ice) while you post, because that is just weird. Not trendy at all. Get with the program.

8. Channel the spirit of Eeyore while you type and as you consider your blog overall. Poor Eeyore is just pitifully thankful for the slightest amount of attention. Consider this interaction between Pooh and Eeyore which I brazenly cut-and-pasted from

"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he.
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it."
"Can't all what?" said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
"Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush."

9. Review non-mainstream books and movies that gave you all the feels but don't transfer well to the bloggerverse of readers.

10. Finally, use a picture of your cat as your avatar. This keeps anyone from looking at you and laughing, or admiring, or feeling they can connect with you.

So, la la la, here you have it. All the things you should not do! And in the words of my very favorite Pooh character, TTFN!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to be a Kick-ass Mother of Actual Children

First, you have to acquire some children of your own. You may adopt, foster, or give birth to your babies. Make sure they are yours. Having one more child than you think you can comfortably handle will be the thing that absolutely demands the best you can give. At times, it will demand MORE than you can give, which in turn increases your abilities. Sometimes it takes awhile for the abilities to increase. Ask me how I know. :-)

Believe in what you are doing. This includes discipline, nutrition, healthcare, social development, education, religion, exercise, and love. It's really awesome when you can be consistent about these things, but there is also value in being open to learning new ideas and implementing them judiciously. I recommend that if you want to change the type of bread your children are eating, that you NOT angrily throw out all the Wonder bread and then present them with seriously firm whole wheat bread at dinner, homemade or not. :-)

Do what you believe in. This requires you to make more effort than you want to, go places, put the mittens and coats and snow pants and boots on all the little hands and legs and feet, drive to places you haven't been, notice what is around you and teach your children "in the way." Every minute is an opportunity to teach your children, but you must be intentional about this. I remember once we went to a local greenhouse to draw a picture of a bird of paradise plant. Just for that reason.

When my 4 big kids were little, I didn't even own a cellphone, let alone stare at it for minutes/hours at a time. I have one little kid left, and he knows all about mommy's phone and how much she likes to use it.

Delight in your children. Celebrate their joys. See the world through their eyes, and share their excitement about the small things. One of my favorite memories is of shucking corn with one of my children on our back porch. Apparently, he was just putting some facts together in his mind, because as we pulled the shucks off, he said in a reverent yet excited voice, "Mommy, I wonder what is inside here!"

Keep some tangible records of your experiencesMake memories together doing things, and take pictures of what you do. Make some of your records old-fashioned things like notebooks with handwritten memories in them, Again, no cell phones back in the day, so while it is very easy now to take photos of every single moment of our lives, it is important to be intentional about how we preserve memories for our children. I managed to attend a popular scrapbooking home party one time, but never managed more than a couple of scrapbook pages. I'm actually glad about that, as I have come to understand the value of having less "stuff."

Apologize and ask for forgiveness. No parent ever does it all right. Think of the most perfect parent you know, and then realize that their children are still going to have issues to work through as they grow and develop. That is just the way life is. Asking for forgiveness is one of the most important relational skills I know about. Saying the words, "Will you forgive me?" is POWERFUL. Granting forgiveness to someone who is asking genuinely is POWERFUL.

Learn about natural consequences and let your children experience them. In my opinion, this is MUCH, much harder to do these days. We are all basically on record for everything we say and do. So, this one may need some thoughtful consideration of how to implement it in our digital world. But, trust me; when you fail to do this; when you fail to let your children fail in a safe way, you are not doing them any favors.

Have a good primary relationship, ideally with the father of the children. I know, I know, kids are growing up just "fine" coming from divorced homes. But there is something brilliant about modeling a relationship for children; a relationship that includes mistakes, forgiveness, joy, laughter, tears, anger, and figuring out how to deal with irreconcilable differences (because every single relationship has them). I realize that there are situations where divorce is necessary. I'm just saying that whatever the relationship status is of the parents, make it a good one.

Stay current with trends, language, media, and habits of the generation of your children. It keeps you young, for one thing. For another thing, it can be easier to communicate with a child when you understand what a "meme" is, or when you know what kind of clothes most of the kids are wearing, or when you stay somewhat abreast of slang!

Believe that you are a kick-ass mother. My first baby was born in 1993, and from 1993 to about 2006, I felt I was doing a great job as a mother. From 2006 to about 2013, I felt more and more like a failure, partly because I had unrealistic expectations about what the word "teenager" means. See, I had only my own teenage experience which was alarmingly bereft of rebellion and acting out. Turns out, not many go that route.

What would you add to this list? 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why I Like the Drunk Ex-Pastors and Their Podcast

Does anybody else care where they heard about a book or a movie or a podcast? I often like to know this because consuming the particular media may give me a connection with the recommender. Most often, I can't remember where I heard about books, and I certainly can't remember how in the world I came across Drunk Ex-Pastors, but I'm glad I did.

The DXP are Christian Kingery and Jason Stellman. Both migrated northward to the state of Washington from California, where they had met in high school and followed a similar path together, becoming pastors for the "Calvary Chapel." Together they went overseas and became Calvary Chapel missionaries, but were ultimately fired as missionaries. 

Their podcast is a glimpse into their 25-year friendship, which has as a standing appointment, a Thursday evening get-together to share a few drinks and watch some TV. Jason's brother suggested last summer that the guys might find an audience for their musings, humor, and appreciation of liquor. Seems his brother may be on to something there.

Although both are ex-pastors, Christian is also an ex-Christian. Jason is an ex-Protestant, having converted to Catholicism a couple years ago. So they have some very interesting conversations. I think it is very cool that their friendship has been through thick and thin and is still as strong as it is.

Listening to them talk and laugh reminded me of being with my sister. I suggested to her that we start our own podcast. She thought we should call it drunk ex-fatties. I haven't checked with DXP to see if they mind, but I'll remind them that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Here's their latest podcast. It is number 26, and the whole series is quite a ride. NOT for the faint of heart or those bothered by profanity. But, boy, if you ever walked down the aisle at church because you were nearly scared to death by someone YELLING about hellfire and damnation, you might just appreciate these guys. I sure do.

Give them a listen. If you dare!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book club with the sweet old biddies

Books clubs are ubiquitous in this day and age, right? Meetup groups, branches of the public library, online clubs with Mark Zuckerberg right now, Oprah's book club, church book studies, etc.

I remember being in a church book study group years ago where we studied Jerry Bridges' Trusting God, shown here (see left) with its extremely intense front cover, which matched perfectly the intense prose inside. As I was looking for an image of this book for my blog, I discovered the newer version (see right) of this book. I guess the publisher realized that if they were going to publish such an intense and terrifying book, they better at least make the cover look less terrifying. But I digress.

So, what with the all-consuming nature of my parenting experience the first 20 years of being a mother, book clubs were just a fond daydream, something I could maybe pursue one day when I was no longer doing seventeen things at once.

I've been wanting to be in a group for awhile now. But the time finally came in 2015 when the stars aligned; my parenting intensity had lessened, the difficulties of 2014 were seemingly in the past, my brain was available to look around for a book club, and voila, there was a club scheduled near me reading a book by an author that I thought I would enjoy at a time I wasn't already scheduled to be three other places. Sign me up!

My take on library book clubs is the daytime clubs are populated by an older generation of women, and the evening clubs are populated by younger, working mothers, or women who otherwise can't get free until the evening.

So, after I completed the multiple tasks of signing up, checking out the book, reading the book, going online to discover whether there were book study questions I might prepare, and managing not to double book myself with a doctor visit for one of the kids, I got in my little Camry and drove me and my book to my First Book Club Experience of 2015. It was actually my first experience of this century!

Indeed, the group of ladies there were mostly grandmothers, and were lovely. I tried the mnemonic trick of associating something beginning with the same letter with the names of the participants. I thought Breta was beautiful. Helen had memorable hair. Things got a bit dicey when all I could think of for a rather heavyset woman was Wanda is wide. Rest assured I did not write that one down on my list. I did my best to be open to the different ways of reading the book and characterizing the story and the characters. Helen reads the end of EVERY book before she decides whether or not it is worth reading. Dear, sweet, grandmotherly Mary Carol had a sheaf of papers where she had written down her gentle observations. Patricia had interesting comments to make about quite a few of the characters.

I was mostly quiet, observing. I was practicing not judging the women, a new hobby of mine. Also, the leader had instructed us to go around the circle and give our impression so that everyone could share what they thought, but a number of ladies didn't like that idea quite as well as a lively cross-chat where there were lots of ideas being tossed around like juggling balls. My reticence to speak was further fueled by the fact that my response to the book seemed to be qualitatively different than the majority of what I was hearing.

The book we read featured a more minor character called Susan, which is my given name. Susan was a divorced mother of a 19yo son who had impulsively carried out an act which had huge political implications. I felt like I could relate to a lot of what she went through because of my own experiences with a 19yo son who recently carried out quite a few impulsive actions which have had huge legal implications. So, my response to the book was just fine, but very different than the rest of the group who were all repulsed by the character, Jim.

Group members were friendly to me, including me in what was a relatively established group. The leader seemed intentional about guiding the discussion and allowing everyone to speak. There weren't any group-killing members; you know, the ones who dominate the conversation or somehow make the focus of their every comment themselves. (Oops, the Me who Judges slipped in here, I think).

At the end of group, the leader revealed next month's book. Two long rows of copies sat on a library book cart. I hesitated for only a moment before I picked up a copy and committed myself to another book club experience next month!

In an ideal world, my book club participants would each pause a moment before jumping in to respond to someone else, thereby allowing just a smidgen of space for internal processing of what was just said. But it's a busy world, and we all have a lot to say.

Tell me about your ideal book club? Who would be in it? What kinds of books would you read? What role would you play?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: A Deadly Wandering

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that my last blog post was October 23, 2014. I mean, I knew 2014 was a hectic, difficult year, but I didn't realize I had gone quite so quiet. Last week, while browsing on Twitter, I discovered #yourturnchallenge, and it felt like the right time for me to commit to seven straight days of blogging. At least for now, I'm back.

I recently finished the book, A Deadly Wandering, and decided to make my book review my first post in this blogging project. 

Coincidentally, I had recently watched a documentary by Werner Herzog on distracted driving. When I finally started this book, I had no idea there was any connection between Herzog's film and the story in this book. As soon as I started reading Reggie's story, I knew this was the same guy. 

Reggie crossed the center line early one morning back in 2006, causing the death of two scientists who were beloved fathers and husbands. Although not immediately apparent to anyone, the cause of the accident had been Reggie texting while driving. 

I was half expecting a book difficult to plod through, because I read more fiction than non-fiction, and the fiction I read tends to require less mental energy. However, I found "A Deadly Wandering" to be both fascinating and easy to read. I confess I am in the group of people who have texted while driving, and so this is an extremely timely topic not only for myself, but for our society in general.

Some excerpts from pp 215-216:
In the same way we crave food, we crave connection. Not just for its own sake, but because connection is essential for survival. It helps us form networks, understand sources of opportunity or threat, create alliances, fight enemies. It is primal. ... Now come ultra-powerful devices that provide such easy communication that they can, if we're not careful, use our social survival skills against us. ... "We use stone-age brains with space-age technology, and that can lead to trouble." ... Our tech tools let us be "hyper-social," ... which has many benefits, and also costs.
There is much information in this book about attention, and what it allows us to do, and what happens to our brain when we overtax our mental capacities. Anyone older than age 30 has seen the huge influx of demands on our attention over the past 10-15 years. I remember when I was in college. We didn't even have a television in our dorm room. Now, students are attending to twitter, instagram, tumblr, Facebook, email, text messages, Youtube, YikYak, Netflix, video games, and more. And that doesn't include the actual humans in the environment, or less demanding things like books, journals, pencils, reflection, quiet.

As for my own experiences with distracted driving, before I read this book, I had formulated the following motto for myself in regard to texting and driving. "Hands on the road. Eyes on the wheel." Imagine my surprise when my "original" thought turned out to be words from the 1970 Doors' song, Roadhouse Blues.

Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Yeah, we're goin' to the Roadhouse 
We're gonna have a real 
Good time 

Imagine, if you will, my further surprise when the author reported that the issue with texting and driving isn't my hands or my eyes, but my BRAIN. Having had five children nearly all at once (jk), I feel like I had to get really good at toggling between tasks if I were going to be an effective mother. My kids, like most, had a million questions, and I seemed to feel that it was my responsibility to answer every single question. Thoroughly. In order. Correctly. And I think having to do that helped me to get good at switching between tasks, but my brain is still a human brain and has pretty much the same limitations and capabilities regarding attention.

The story about Reggie Shaw in this book is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. By choosing to do a dangerous activity like texting and driving, he irrevocably changed the lives of the families of the men who were killed in the accident, his own family, the life of the farrier who actually hit the other car, and all of the people involved in the investigation, prosecution and defense. To his credit, Reggie used his authentic grief and remorse to fuel a journey of speaking to young people about the incredible dangers of texting and driving.

I'm encouraged to see that more and more cities and states are passing laws about texting, and even about using phones while driving. Richtel has written a timely, and important "tale of tragedy and redemption in the age of attention" and I highly recommend it to everyone who carries around a cell phone.