#Hope and Spring

Hope is an essential characteristic of the human psyche. It’s a common feeling or emotion, but sometimes we need a reminder, or permission, to believe that hope can help affect outcomes.

While one dictionary states that hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen,” and “grounds for believing that something good may happen,” Wikipedia tells us that “hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.”

I was riddled by hopeful sentiments as I tried to fall asleep last night:

–       Hope that my 18-year-old son would return from a party safe and sound;

–       Hope that my large Golden-doodles would let me sleep in;

–       Hope that my son in California would heal quickly (he had ACL reconstruction surgery last Saturday) and find direction for his next steps;

–       Hope that the weather reports would prove wrong (which is often the case here), and that the sun would shine on Memorial Day. The garden needs attention!

–       Hope that our country would renew its focus on gun control, so tragedies like the one in Santa Barbara won’t reoccur;

–       Hope that friends who suffer from cancer will find serenity, and perhaps miracles.

I am certain that the cup of coffee I ordered in the afternoon wasn’t really decaffeinated.

photo-5This morning, however, I still feel hopeful, and have found some wise, encouraging words on the internet.

I am reminded of the innocent hope that young children feel. Hope that they will feel special on their birthdays, that Santa will deliver on Christmas, that when a new school year begins, they will find good friends in their classes, and hope that they will perform well in sports.

I recall the song my friends and I used to repeat at the corner playground, while climbing the jungle-gym:

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes
He’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie
In the sky hopes…

(To hear Frank Sinatra’s rendition, click here.)

Often, I hear the encouragement my mother offered when I struggled to learn how to read and ride a two-wheeler, repeating the words from The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”

And, of course, I recall the oft-quoted stanza from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man (ca. 1733):

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. 

I am reminded that the swallow is a symbol of hope, as it’s one of the first birds to appear each spring, and I think about the promise that crocuses and chirping birds and budding trees bring each March.

And let’s not forget Obi-Wan Kenobi, who in Star Wars serves as Princess Leia’s “only hope.” We all know how that story turned out.

This morning, I am devouring information on hope in a Wikipedia essay. I learned that Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson argues that hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. Positive thinking like the “Little Engine’s,” she says, “bears fruit when based on a realistic sense of optimism, not on a naive ‘false hope.’ ”

The essay tells me that psychologist C.R. Snyder links hope to the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal.

I read that followers of Hinduism make a strong connection between karma and hope: “In Hindu belief, actions have consequences, and while one’s effort and work may or may not bear near term fruits, it will serve the good, that the journey of one’s diligent efforts (karma) and how one pursues the journey,[41] sooner or later leads to bliss and moksha.”

As I pull weeds today, I resolve to contemplate how hope can comfort and motivate so many of us to move forward, yet in so many different ways. I am mindful that hope is embodied in:

  • The man using the last $10 from his paycheck to purchase a lottery ticket;
  • The feeble widow carrying cups of quarters from one slot machine to another in Reno;
  • The child trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve, anxious about what he will find under the tree;
  • A woman who has discovered she is pregnant, hoping that the little being will grow and thrive and emerge as a healthy baby;
  • The new father imagining his newborn’s future – perhaps better than his own, perhaps following in his footsteps;
  • The proud parents, aunts and grandparents at commencement ceremonies over the coming weeks, hoping that the graduate will find happiness and success in life;
  • The recent graduate, preparing her resume, making connections on LinkedIn and perusing ads on Craig’sList.com;
  • The rainbow that appears at a low moment, convincing a sad, lonely, sick or depressed person that all will turn out well;
  • The crowd at a baseball game, when it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, the home team is losing by several runs, the bases are loaded and the beloved slugger is up to bat;a
  • The brain-trauma survivor, continuing painful therapy;
  • The destitute family in Mexico, watching a team of church-group youth build them a small home. (Thanks to Dylan Sullivan for this amazing video.)
  • The political prisoner or prisoner of war, continuing to believe he or she will be released. I think of Louis Zamperini – the 1930s track star-turned Navy pilot-turned lifeboat- and Japanese POW camp survivor, whose life was documented in Laura Hillenbrand’s amazing novel, Unbroken, and his own memoir, Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II: “Yet a part of you still believes you can fight and survive no matter what your mind knows. It’s not so strange. Where there’s still life, there’s still hope. What happens is up to God.”
  • David Sheff and his son Nic, whose years of drug addiction, sobriety and relapse were chronicled in David’s best-seller Beautiful Boy and his latest novel Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, and who said in a recent interview: “I…realized how lucky we were. After multi-treatment programs when we were hopeful, and then multiple relapses, when we were once again terrorized and terrified, Nic was doing great – now he’s been sober for five years.” 
  • The local friend with Stage 4 lung cancer, who writes witty, heart-wrenching, grateful, honest and hopeful updates on her Caring Bridge website: “I want to meet other survivors in the 5% Club – those people who were diagnosed with STAGE 4 LUNG CANCER, and given very poor odds, yet beat the odds.  I want to speak to these people and get their advice on what to do as I wage this major battle.”

Today, I give myself permission to focus on wisdom from the esteemed writer Anne Lamott: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”

–       Linda Williams Rorem, PermissionSlips, 26 May, 2014
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Take the Wheel and Drive

Last summer, during the phenomenal BlogHer’13 conference, Lean In‘s Sheryl Sandberg spoke at a breakfast, challenging attendees to think about what they would do if they weren’t afraid…and then do it.

While hundreds of bloggers filled out the large cards found at their tables and stepped into a photo booth to announce their new goals, many of us were too afraid to openly share our fears.

Since that time, though, I have contemplated what changes I would make, or how I would live my life differently, if I had no fear.

I think I’m fairly brave and I have taken some risks in my life, but I have to admit, I have let fear call the shots far too often.

For instance, decades ago I set out to write a novel, and was taking a fiction-writing class at New York University when I met my husband.

Bauer driving 4-10I have filled the past 20 years with reporting, public relations, editing and even technical-writing jobs, even though my husband said he would support my staying home to pen a non-fiction book.

In retrospect, I recognize I kept myself busy with paid work, because I was afraid to fail on my own time.

How about the rest of you?

Given the popularity of Sandberg’s book, as well as a new release from former Today show host Jane Pauley and a moving Bing commercial celebrating brave women, let’s call this the year of living fearlessly.

And, in that vein, I’m going to start my year’s soundtrack with a song by the alternative rock band Incubus.

Several years ago, a friend hosted a graduation party for her college-bound daughter, who I had grown close to through our summer swim and dive club.

Instead of presents, my friend urged party-goers to give her daughter a quote that held special meaning or might guide her through the coming years. After much thought, I decided to transcribe a few lines from the Incubus song “Drive” (1999): “Whatever tomorrow brings ill be there, with open arms and open eyes.”

Those words seemed very appropriate for Brenna, who has a beautiful, positive spirit and definitely greets each day with enthusiasm and an open heart.

However, I later realized the song resonated on another level; it’s about taking control of your own life, of not making choices based on others’ expectations: “Lately I’m beginning to find that when I drive myself, my light is found.”

But perhaps most important, lead singer/ songwriter Brandon Boyd is speaking of courage; of not letting fear dictate how we live our lives:
Sometimes I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear,
And I can’t help but ask myself how much I’ll let the fear take the wheel and steer.”

So, this year my goal is to live more courageously, and to stay in the driver’s seat.

I think it’s a valid objective for all of us. Are any fears controlling you?

  • Are you afraid to get out of a difficult relationship, or to give up a dysfunctional friendship? Do you worry about being alone, or about the repercussions of casting out a negative influence?
  • Have you refrained from confronting a friend or relative about something that truly bothers you, for fear of their reaction?
  • Have you stayed in a job too long? Have you stopped growing through your work? Do you dread going to the office each day, or watch the hours tick by slowly?
  • Is it difficult to ask for the promotion or raise you believe you deserve?
  • Are you letting the lack of funds keep you from traveling? Are you waiting for that “perfect time” to see the world?
  • Do you need a push to start over in a new city?
  • Are you afraid to take the necessary steps to give up drinking or smoking, wondering how you’ll live without those crutches?
  • If you need to lose weight or want to get into shape, are you afraid to take that first step with a gym membership?
  • Do you worry that if you are honest with your friends about your struggles, concerns or worries, they will think less of you?

If any of those worries resonate in your life, consider the amazing women who have overcome their own fears to attain goals and reach new heights, several of whom are celebrated in the new Microsoft Bing commercial:

This ode to some of 2013’s bravest women — including Malala Yousafzai, Gabrielle Giffords and Deb Cohen (who danced with her surgical team prior to a double mastectomy) — celebrates “a courageous group of women who have changed the world and shown us all what the human spirit can achieve.”

If they can overcome obstacles and live without fear, what’s stopping you?

Even Jane Pauley has jumped on the “fearless” bandwagon, with a new book that was mentioned in Sunday’s Parade magazine. In Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life (Simon & Schuster) Pauley shares advice for baby boomers – the youngest of which will turn 50 this year. She advises women to “remain engaged and take risks,” stressing that “Life is scary wonderful. It’s great to learn how resilient you can be.”

Okay, if you haven’t reached mid-life and have no idea who Jane Pauley is, perhaps actress Amy Adams might inspire you. In accepting her Best Actress Golden Globe award last night, Adams thanked her young daughter for “teaching me to accept joy and to let go of fear.”

That’s a great goal for all of us, don’t you think? Here’s to a joyful, fearless 2014.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 13 Jan. 2014
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Top-Ten Reasons We Don’t ‘Just Say No’

One of the most-repeated catch phrases of the 1980s was, “Just say no,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to Nancy Reagan’s oversimplified solution to America’s drug problems.

Those of us who have felt pressured to reciprocate favors, take on extra tasks at work, down one more JELL-O shot at a party, perform menial elementary-school tasks, help acquaintances move and/or bleach a son’s baseball pants an hour before the game know that Nancy’s advice is easier said than done.

photo-22My sister and I were lamenting our difficulties with the word the other day. An artist and college-art teacher, she has two exhibitions coming up early next year, and will need to scale back her extracurricular to allow for studio time. She has been practicing her “No” for weeks.

For my part, I’ve had a rough couple of months, and want to keep my obligations minimal so I can de-stress. I also want the freedom to visit the sons who have left the roost.

After comparing notes about our challenges, we contemplated why so many of us have difficulty turning down requests. And so, I came up with 10 different reasons why “NO” can seem the hardest word (sorry, “Sorry”):

1. We see a genuine need and want to handle the request. It feels good to feel helpful and useful, and even – depending on the demand – to be a hero.

2. We think we’ll enjoy the task or opportunity, and it’s worth jamming up our schedule to take it on. Fair enough. We just need to remember not to complain about how busy we are afterwards. No one wants to hear us whine about our own bad choices.

3. We worry that “No” will hurt our careers. Oftentimes, we must say “Yes,” even when the task seems heinous or overburdens our workload. It’s important to appear ambitious, hard-working and part of the company team. However, as Jim Carrey pointed out in the 2008 film, being a Yes Man has its downside, too. No one should serve as a doormat.

4. We fear that if we say “No,” we’ll lose future opportunities. Those with freelance careers understand this all-too-well. If you turn down a job, the potential employer must find someone else to take it. And if that someone else does it better, faster or cheaper, they will get the repeat business. As such, last summer, I completed an editing job at 6 am on a Swedish-hotel computer, just to ensure I would get the next assignment.

5. We over-estimate the time we have available for the additional task, or underestimate the time it will consume. I think most of us have, at one point or another, erred in this area. A few years back, some foreign friends asked me to read their daughter’s master’s thesis, which she needed to write in English. I had no idea that the thesis would top 10,000 words on a complicated subject. I might have said “No” or set a fair price if I had foreseen the favor’s scope.

6. We need to be needed. Face it, when someone asks us for a favor, tells us they value our expertise or could trust only us with the task, we feel flattered. I think this is especially true for those who swap careers for diaper duty.

7. We want to forge a relationship – either business or personal – with the person needing our help. My husband agreed to help me with a fly-fishing article when we were “just friends.” See what I mean?

8. We want to maintain good relations with the person making the ask. Perhaps this explains the high teenage-pregnancy rate. Let’s attribute some drug and alcohol overdoses to this, too. However, it can be true for people of all ages, particularly parents. In fact, my sister just pointed out that my son’s request for a new car falls into this category. (She’s right, of course.)

9. We feel guilty leaving friends/associates high and dry. Here’s where it gets especially tricky. Being asked for a favor doesn’t make us obligated to perform it.  If the friend in need can’t find another sucker, it’s their problem, not ours. Repeat after me: “Sorry, but I can’t do it.”

10. We want people to think we are “nice,” and “nice” people do not say No. Several books have been written on this aspect of “No,” so instead of elaborating, I’ll just link to a few here, here and here.  However, I’ll offer this recent example:

This past Saturday, my daughter and a friend had tentative plans. Since my husband wanted to watch a late-afternoon football game, I suggested Pea, the friend and I go to a movie at that time. She suggested a film we both wanted to see, and the friend countered with a film Pea had no interest in. She agonized over her reply, not wanting to hurt the friend’s feelings.

“Look, if you really don’t want to see that other movie, don’t agree to it,” I coached. “Reply again with the movie you want to see, or another idea, and make sure she knows you aren’t interested in her choice.”

“What if I tell her that something came up and I can’t go?” Pea asked. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

“No, if you come up with a lame excuse of not being able to go out, and then run into her at the multiplex theatre, it will be even worse,” I said. I explained that this way, if the friend was adamant about her choice, she could invite someone else, as could Pea.

Pea and I ended up at the movie alone. (We loved it.) She is just thirteen and dealing with middle-school girls right now. My hope is that helping her learn “No” now will come in handy when she’s dating, as well as later, when she’s an employee, a spouse and a parent.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 16 Sept. 2013

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Permission to Love Swag

Nothing can kill the “had a great time out with my girlfriends” buzz better than returning home to a mess.

When the kids were young, I could literally retrace their – and my husband’s – steps after a few hours away. Sherlock Linda could detect: Dad made pancakes, dripped batter on burners…child spilled syrup on table…child added Nestle Quik to milk (and counter top)…boys used seven blankets to build fort on bunk beds…someone opened 13 video cases to find missing tape…boys learned how to make paper airplanes…toddler “ate” Cheerios for snack, all over house…and so on.

Fortunately, the messes diminished as the kids aged. So, on Friday night, I was shocked to see dozens of small packages strewn across the kitchen counter. And then, upon closer inspection, I realized it was MY stuff.

photo-20Yes, the box of swag I had shipped home from last weekend’s BlogHer 13 conference had arrived, and my daughter had rifled through it for the goodies I had promised.

Every conference attendee received a bag full of stuff – promotions that companies wanted to market to the 5,000 or so, mostly female, primarily aged 35 – 55, bloggers. Other advertisers handed out their wares at alluring booths adjacent to the conference rooms.

Of course, I loaded up on lotions, dog toys, nail polish, lip balm, key chains, coffee packets, almonds, cups and even a T-shirt emblazoned with my daughter’s nickname, “Peapod” (a new grocery delivery service).

When I returned from a GNO on Friday night, Pea and my husband were watching “So You Think You Can Dance” downstairs (one of them CAN dance; the other wants to reincarnate as Gregory Hines). Pea heard my footsteps and shouted, “Mom, your box got here. Dad thinks you have a ‘Free-Stuff’ problem!”

It’s true, I love “free stuff.” And I come by the trait honestly.

My maternal grandmother was the queen of cheap. Although she and my grandfather were financially secure, Nana never passed up a freebie. In fact, she filled the candy bowl in her living room with chocolate covered mints pilfered from their Yacht Club’s hostess stand.

If that isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.

Back in the day, banks offered cool stuff – toasters, dishes, electric blankets – as incentives for deposits. So, my Pop-Pop gave Nana a certain amount of money to move around as the spirit – and swag – moved her. I know that was the source of many Christmas presents.

My well-to-do grandpa wasn’t immune to his wife’s obsession. In fact, Nana and Pop-Pop’s bridge group met in one bank every Tuesday morning for the free coffee and donuts. True story.

After Pop-Pop died, my mom was astonished to discover Nana’s stash when helping her move into assisted living. Apparently, an entire closet brimmed with useless items from banks.

Although the taste for the free treat may have skipped my mom’s generation, it certainly hit me hard. And while I don’t want to “out” anybody here, I can say that when visiting a certain older sibling in Rochester, NY, and Minneapolis, we planned trips to supermarkets known for generous and savory samples.

Here in Seattle, we have Costco. And if you time the trip right, you can enjoy a full free meal. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like or would never otherwise taste the treat offered; if it’s free, you take it.

After that, you buy the multi-pack and watch it grow mold or gather dust in your kitchen cabinet.

Several years ago, my co-blogger Carol and I enrolled our youngest kids in a weekly gymnastics class. Not being the type to hover during practice, ready to advise the coaches on training our budding Olympians, we escaped to the local Trader Joe’s every week.

The class started at noon, so we knew TJ’s samples could serve as lunch. We always circled back for a second helping, hoping the server wouldn’t remember us.

We then purchased the promotional ingredients to replicate the dish in our own homes, and often, at least in my home, that food turned moldy or gathered dust. Even worse, the TJ fare occasionally got pushed to the rear of my deep cabinets and was forgotten.

That is, until the pantry moths started hatching.

This became a multi-month problem, which began with throwing out tons of food (mostly all-natural grains), continued with wiping down the cabinets with ammonia and ended with installing fly-paper like traps from my pest-control agent.

It was probably payback for my “Free-Stuff” problem. However, from the looks of the bag of swag on my counter, I didn’t learn my lesson.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 5 Aug. 2013
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Dirty Girls, Part One

My cheeks literally ached during “Spank! The Fifty Shades of Grey” parody at a small theater in Seattle last week.

The audience of middle aged women (plus a few very brave men or hopeful dates) laughed raucously at the “musical,” which features a Bette Midlar-esque character as the popular trilogy’s author, trying to put the steamy scenes she envisions to paper. Two adept actors represented the book’s suave title character and the inexperienced young woman he takes under his wing for sexual adventures.

The evening reaffirmed that laughter definitely is the best medicine.

The outing for my group of gal-pals was organized by a member of our book club. We had discussed the first “Fifty Shades” installment at one of our monthly meetings, and of course often make reference to the books when we are together. The series has inserted itself into our popular culture.

And so, the parody was timely, and an unqualified hit.

When we entered the theater lobby, wr spotted a well-dressed man whipping a seasoned woman’s derrière as her wrists were clamped to boards above her shoulders. Apparently, after the show we could have paid for photos of ourselves in that position. The line was too long for those of us with kids to return to.

I wish I could remember the hilarious lines and scenes that brought tears to my eyes. They probably wouldn’t seem as funny if I repeated them here, anyway.

What I do remember is the buoyant feeling my friends and I shared as we exited. For two hours we had been thoroughly entertained. We had laughed at ourselves a bit– middle-aged women, like the writer portrayed on stage, with tried-and-true sex lives. We had gawked at the male character’s six-pack (or was it an eight pack?), and reveled in Anastasia’s overplayed innocence.

Most of all we, like the “author” on stage, engaged in some healthy escapism. For two hours we forgot about the laundry, dishes, homework and issues at home. For a short while, we thought of nothing but the drama we had actually paid for, and filled our souls with positive energy and good company.

We all need to remember to spend time with our friends, laughing, more often.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 18 February 2012
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Easing the Downhill Ride

Today, the blogosphere is chock-full of words about tomorrow’s election and the East Coast’s unfathomable woes. Instead of adding my two cents, this Permission Slips post will simply reiterate one of our core messages: give yourself a break.

I found inspiration Sunday morning listening to former Olympic skier Libby Ludlow speak of the challenges she faced, the lessons she learned and her mission to empower middle-school girls.

ImageLudlow’s main message—have compassion for yourself—clearly resounded with the mothers and daughters who gathered for The Lake Washington Chapter of the National Charity League (NCL) annual members’ tea.

Nationwide, mothers and their seventh- to twelfth-grade daughters join NCL to engage in volunteer work together. Last year, some 40,000 NCL members nationwide contributed 1.1 million hours of philanthropic work to their communities.

But on Sunday, local NCL members took a break and learned they should be easier on and kinder to themselves.

Ludlow wishes she had learned that lesson much earlier.

Ludlow, who grew up in the Seattle area, spent a decade on the U.S. Ski team as a downhill, SuperG and GS racer, and was part of the 2006 Olympic Ski Team.

She earned a degree from Dartmouth College, currently is a third-year law student at the University of Washington and recently founded ZGirls, a for-profit organization dedicated to empowering young girls, primarily competitive athletes, with confidence, courage and community.

ZGirls offers mentoring, workshops and camps for 11- to 14-year-old female athletes. Its mission is to help girls with goal-setting, positive self-talk, positive body image, self-confidence and recognizing the importance of support networks.

Ludlow would have appreciated a resource such as ZGirls when she was competing. Despite her extraordinary success on the World Cup circuit and in making the Olympic team, Ludlow faced a fair amount of adversity along the way. First and foremost is her diminutive size; she is on the shorter and lighter side, while the laws of physics dictate that a larger and heavier object will move more quickly down a slope.

“I was outweighed by up to 60 pounds by some competitors, and didn’t have the weight on some of the long flats to carry me across [quickly enough],” she explained.

A related challenge was that ski racing’s governing body sets a minimum length for downhill skis, and super-long skis can be difficult for someone of Ludlow’s stature to manage.

Perhaps more significantly, Ludlow suffered four major knee injuries during her 10 years on the national team, two of which were within months of Olympics games. The second ACL tear kept her off the 2002 Olympic squad; a later injury, which hinted at a degenerative problem with her knee, came 10 months before the 2006 Games.

She fought back in 2005 and, against all odds, was in prime form for the Olympics in Turin, Italy.  “What matters most is not the hand you are dealt, but how you deal with it,” she said.

She didn’t place as well as she had hoped in the Games – she was ranked tenth in the world, but came in 28th. The photographs in her power-point slide show demonstrate the disappointment Ludlow felt. However, looking back, she feels more positive about having attained her goal of competing in the Olympics, overcoming adversity to get there and learning important life lessons through the experience.

Ludlow recalled that at the starting gate atop race courses, she would often tell herself, “I don’t know what to expect, so I’ll have to react to whatever the mountain throws at me.”

Once she began speeding down slopes at 85 miles per hour, though, her intense focus allowed her to tune out the cheers of the crowd, the sting of the wind against her face and the chatter of her skis on the packed powder; she would then “feel an amazing sense of focus and calm.”

“My coaches [often] told me I was trying too hard,” she recalls, adding that she didn’t understand why anyone would instruct her not to do her best.

She now recognizes that “I was [always] too hard on myself.”

It wasn’t until after she retired from racing and became a yoga instructor that she realized that calm is really the key to success in sports — and in life.  “Balancing effort and ease will make for a smoother run,” she explained.

Clearly, Ludlow hoped the room of middle- and high school girls – and their mothers – would understand her allegory about life.  In all you do, she continued, “you need to cultivate a sense of ease and compassion and patience for yourself.”

Instead of being too self-critical, she stresses that “when you achieve a goal, enjoy the accomplishment. Honor your little victories.”

Ludlow’s words rang loud and clear for the local NCL members – both daughters and mothers: whatever you are attempting, no matter how difficult it seems at the beginning, “just take a deep breath, push yourself out of the starting gate and take the plunge. Figure out a way to muster the courage, and just go.”

Perhaps those out campaigning, mopping up basements or wondering how they can help East Coasters could heed that advice, as well.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 5 November 2012
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Dog is My Co-pilot

In the B.D. era (“Before Dog”), I thought the bumper sticker “Dog is My Co-pilot” was really corny. Not that I preferred the original one (a different arrangement of the letters in “dog”), but I just didn’t understand the whole canine-adoration thing.

Okay, right now I can hear laughter from my fellow community members, who see me driving around town with an 85-pound Golden-doodle (half Golden Retriever, half Standard Poodle). He rides shot-gun while my kids are at school and waits in the driver’s seat while I’m in the grocery store or Starbucks.

This was especially striking when I drove a Smart Car; I often returned to that little blue machine to see strangers taking photos of Bauer behind the wheel.

In our three years together, Bauer has become my best friend and constant companion. He sleeps on a large pillow in the bedroom, and when my husband is away (which is often, as he’s a management consultant), I am comforted by the rhythmic breathing of another being.

During the day, Bauer spends most of his time in my home office, where I work as a writer and editor. He has a special place under my desk, in a corner, and literally warms my feet for hours on end. I also teach part-time at a private academy, and while he doesn’t go to school with me, he has made a few very welcome appearances there.

When I’m out and about, Bauer is always by my side—for walks in the park, drives to the store and even trips to Whistler.

Two weeks ago, while the kids vacationed with their grandparents and cousins, Bauer traveled to British Columbia with me. (My husband prefers to use his kid-free time off fly-fishing with buddies in Montana.) Sometime during the week, I realized that because of Bauer, I never felt lonely or afraid.

So, in this post I’ll permit myself to appreciate all that he provides:

Constant Companionship – My teens have great friends and full schedules, so they rarely prioritize time with me. My dog, however, is always game. No matter what he’s doing, he will drop everything to join me if I just ask, “Car?” “Walk?” or “Beach?” (Of course, the range of what he “drops” is quite limited: napping, eating, chasing flies or trying to engage the cat in play.) So, when I’m “alone,” I never feel lonely.

Fresh Air – I love exercise and really don’t need motivation for trips to the gym. Spending time outside in the fall, winter and spring is another story, though; you may have heard that Seattle experiences constant drizzle and low clouds from November through March. Because Bauer needs long walks and loves seeing his “friends,” I force myself to don the rain boots and slicker and head to the dog park several times a week. Yesterday, it was uncharacteristically hot in Seattle, and I would have loved to “chill” in our basement, reading or watching a movie. Instead, I took Bauer down to the beach, so he could cool off and tire out retrieving balls from the lake.

Protection – Although he’s quite friendly and views every human, dog and squirrel he encounters as a potential pal, I do believe that Bauer would protect me against harm. He has alerted us to cars in the driveway in the middle of the night (fortunately, that was just our college-age son), raccoons on the porch (they love cat food) and bears near our condo in Whistler. In fact, he tracks bear scents with his nose to the ground; recently, Bauer was obviously trailing a bear when a passerby said we had missed a sighting by about 30 seconds. When I’m walking with Bauer through the woods, I appreciate this advance warning.

Popularity by Association – Having a cute, friendly dog provides me with a certain social status. In the dog park, other canines run up to greet him and their “parents” always stop to chat with me. Friends call for dog walks because their dogs like mine. In our local dog park and anywhere in Whistler, strangers start conversations because of Bauer. Many encounters never would have occurred without my canine companion:

–       Last summer, a young woman who appeared to visiting British Columbia with her parents, approached me while pointing to her camera. I assumed she wanted me to take a photo of her family. Instead, she explained in very broken English that her mom wanted to pose with my dog.

–       Just a few days later, when my daughter was checking out a playground, another foreign lady signaled that she wanted a picture of her toddler sitting on Bauer. Of course, he was happy to comply.

–       A woman with a wheelchair-bound son struck up a conversation one day, saying she had watched me and Bauer outside the coffee shop several days in a row. After pumping me for information about the Golden-doodle breed, she said, “I have decided that a dog like yours would make a great companion for my son.”

–       During my recent trip, I was walking Bauer home from Whistler Village when a woman passing by on a bicycle hollered, “Hey, is that the dog I saw swimming yesterday?” I replied that yes, I had been tossing a ball off the dock at Rainbow Park. “Oh, I took a brilliant photo of him in the water, with a tennis ball in his mouth. Hey, Troy, look – it’s that dog!”

Right about now, some of you may be thinking, “That woman needs more friends.” In truth, I am blessed with many good friends. However, perhaps I need better ones. Or, maybe we should all give ourselves permission to love and value our four-legged friends.

A while back, Carol wrote about her dog, and that post resonated with moms who agree that dogs can be easier to manage and more pleasant than teenagers. I recently wrote about the similarities between raising boys and dogs. However, my emotions run deeper than that. I now realize that those of us with loyal dogs in our lives are truly fortunate.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 13 Aug. 2012
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Starter Kids

I used to chuckle when young couples acquired puppies, announcing they were “starter kids.” Since I was definitely not a “dog person,” I couldn’t imagine what those needy, slurpy, stinky creatures could teach about parenting.

Now that I’m the parent of a two-year-old dog, I understand.

I never wanted a dog. With four lively kids, including three boys born within three and a third years, as well as a husband who travels routinely for work, I figured a dog would push me over the edge. And, despite my kids’ pleads and promises, I knew that if we acquired a dog, I would be saddled with the lion’s share of the work. My days seemed busy enough already.

Two years ago, I broke down and agreed to the dog. And, yes, despite my kids’ promises, I really am saddled with the lion’s share of the work.

Surprisingly, I don’t mind. In fact, my dog Bauer has become one of my best buddies.

Last week, during a trip to Whistler, BC, Bauer kept me company while my kids, husband and friends skied, as a knee injury kept me off the slopes. As we took our daily walk in the woods, I realized that one of the reasons I adore my dog, is he reminds me of my boys…in their younger years.

Young dogs truly have lot in common with two-year-old boys, and similar “parenting” strategies work with both breeds. I now realize that those couples starting out with dogs were on to something. So, here are 12 tips for dealing with two-year-old boys and dogs:

  1. All you need is love.
    When our puppy arrived, I had no clue what to do. My wise friend Tena advised, “Just give him lots of belly rubs.” Bauer and I start each day with that, and so far, so good. As for dealing with toddlers, another friend once counseled, “Try not to be angry all the time.” So, amidst the chaos, I repeated those three important words often, and with meaning. My three teenage boys still end every phone call and text with an “I love you.”
  2. Keep commands simple.
    Apparently “smart” dogs and two-year-old boys have similar vocabularies. Experts state that both are capable of understanding one- or two-word commands, and will tune out anything longer. I took that advice to heart, and once stunned a friend when I shouted “Boys! Door! Now!” at his home. My three boys magically re-appeared; the friend called me a drill sergeant.
  3. Be clear about expectations.
    When I put on my running shoes, Bauer leaps for joy, and continues doing so until we exit the house. If you tell a toddler you’re going to the park, he, too, can’t focus on anything else until you leave. If you want peace in the present, limit talk of the future.
  4. Give them room to run.
    We all know why dog parks and playgrounds stay in business: both puppies and little boys need room to run. Often. When my boys were younger, I would even select flights with layovers so I could run the kids through the airport corridors between segments.
  5. Positive reinforcement works.
    This sage advice appears in every dog manual and parenting book, and it’s true: praise is effective.
  6. Bribery works even better.
    While praise has its place, most dog owners and parents aren’t averse to a little bribery. After all, what are dog treats for? And, more than one friend has reported that her son’s grades magically improved when an iPhone was held out as a carrot.
  7. Time-outs help two-year-olds and moms regroup.
    Sending my kids to their rooms gives me time to regroup and think about what I want to do or say. My dog gets time-outs, too. In fact, when he escapes, plays in the neighbor’s creek and returns covered with mud, he heads straight for “his” room on his own.
  8. Don’t expect them to want to share their toys.
    At a playgroup gathering, I once voiced frustration about my son’s reluctance to share toys. Another mom asked, “How would you feel if a stranger came to your house and drove off in your car?” It’s true; we don’t come by sharing naturally. And dogs, like kids, need toys to call their own.
  9. Keep their bellies full.
    Many behavioral issues could be avoided with a big, healthy meal instead of a sugary snack. It’s just that simple (for adults, too).
  10. Don’t trust them with chocolate.
    Most people know that chocolate could kill a dog. It probably isn’t a good idea for young kids, either. Just don’t try to keep it from me.
  11. All you really need for a good day is a ball, a beach and a body of water.
    Because my husband’s job requires travel, his frequent-flier miles and hotel-loyalty points have enabled some fabulous family vacations. But no matter where we have traveled, the kids’ best memories are of time spent on beaches. The same is true for my pooch: his happiest days involve sea and sand.   
  12. A good romp in the snow can lift anyone’s spirits.
    Who wouldn’t smile after making a snow angel or engaging in a friendly snowball fight? Last week, Bauer and I both enjoyed our daily walks in the snow. The fresh powder and time together certainly took the sting out of being left behind.

Linda Williams Rorem, 2 Jan. 2012

Helping Hands (and Feet)

Last week, when we learned that a friend had severed his Achilles tendon and would be undergoing surgery, my husband’s immediate response was, “Wow, I’ll need to take him a bottle of Scotch.”

This reaction typifies the way many men “lend a helping hand”; Rich and his buddies gift bottles of booze when a friend undergoes anything from rotator cuff surgery to a vasectomy. They “help” the recently “downsized” and divorced in a similar fashion.

In contrast, after our friend Kimberly’s brain surgery last month, a battalion of some 40 women signed up for duty: delivering lattes, walking dogs, helping with shopping, chauffeuring kids, running errands, cooking meals and, as her recovery progressed, taking her out for brief lunches.

Kimberly’s rapid-response team was not unlike groups of ladies nationwide who organize to help friends who have lost loved ones, endured surgery, undergone chemotherapy or suffered a break up. In fact, an entire industry has formed to help women help others, with special calendars, how-to books and internet-based companies such as Lotsa Helping Hands, Caring Bridge and Share the Care.

So, is the assumption that when a woman is ailing, it takes a well-organized village to fill her shoes, but when a man is bed-ridden, all it takes is a good friend or two to keep his flask filled?

I’d hate to think our society has progressed so little. Do we really adhere to the June-and-Ward-Cleaver stereotype that offers up a husband needing slippers and a stiff drink after work, and a wife who handles every detail of home and family life, all while beautifully dressed and coiffed? (In truth, my husband pitches in quite a bit on the weekends, folding laundry, flipping pancakes and cleaning up after meals. And, in my workout clothes and straggly hair, I’m truly the antithesis of Beaver’s mom.)

Instead, I think that the differing male-female reactions are more indicative of how we relate to and nurture our friends.

Women need to be needed, and when a friend is down and out, we search for ways to show our concern. I know for a fact that Kimberly absolutely appreciated the many friends who lent helping hands (and feet) over the past month.  At the same time, I know that not one of those women helped out because she felt obligated to do so. They all felt compelled to reach out. Women seem to be programmed to nurture and support those who are suffering – either physically or mentally.

Often, we help with “hot dishes.” When I flew home from graduate school for my father’s memorial service decades ago, I was shocked to find our family kitchen stuffed with donated food. At the ripe old age of 22, I wondered if people really thought that casseroles and chocolate chip cookies could ease the pain of what was then the most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing imaginable.

Until that time, I had never known true tragedy, so I didn’t understand the value of friends during crises. However, as life has continued on its bumpy path, I have had plenty of opportunity to experience the kindness of strangers and good friends, and to return the favor many times over.

A few years back, I was driving my kids to school when my SUV was T-boned on a neighborhood street. The car rolled three times – onto the passenger side, then the roof and finally the driver’s side — until it lodged against a split-rail fence. Although my kids and I were quite shaken and the car was “totaled,” we miraculously escaped (through the sun roof) without a single scratch, bruise or sore muscle.

Word spread quickly about the dramatic accident. Strangers combed the lawn where we had landed in search of my wedding ring, which was lost during the ordeal. Friends called to offer support. And one sweet acquaintance, accompanied by her husband and two teenage sons, showed up at my door with a homemade fruit tart.

Now, we all know that a sweet dessert can’t repair a car, cure post-traumatic stress or locate lost diamonds, but it certainly made me feel better, made Barb feel that she was helping in some way and showed me how much she cared.

Of course, the manly “booze cure” isn’t really about the alcohol, either. It’s simply another way to demonstrate concern. On Friday, when asked which brand of Scotch our buddy prefers, his wife texted, “It would be wasted on him… He loves a Duval.” So, that’s what my husband delivered, and both men felt good about the transaction…and their friendship. 

–          Linda Williams Rorem, 24 Oct. 2011

Prom and Circumstance

Senior Prom "THEN"

At most high schools around the country the school year-end  is near and for seniors the biggest American ritual of all is about to take place.  It is not the pomp and circumstance of graduation, it is senior prom.

The planning for prom is especially fun for girls. My daughter, Hailey, who otherwise is a jean-loving teen is happily looking on-line at dresses. The new thing is to post a picture on Facebook of the frock selected in order to make sure no one else steals your runway moment.  And while her generation goes shopping together for dresses on-line it is still the same rite of passage.

Watching Hailey brings back fond memories of my own final months in high school, especially since I spent this past weekend on a girlfriend getaway with my own BFFs.  It was a reunion of the women who were my childhood friends and our last gathering was nine years ago.  At our prom, we had the good foresight to get all five of us, sans dates, in a picture that we now recreate each time we are together. The pictures of us in this blog are “then” and “now.”


We grew up in Encino, Calif. and attended Birmingham High School.

 Since that time we have lived in the East, Midwest and South and we are now all settled on the West Coast, ranging from L.A. to Seattle. We were so tight to begin with that even though life has taken us down different paths; we still love being with each other.

We talked all weekend, and barely took time out for sleep. Although the core of our discussions has changed, the core of our characters has not. Topics ranged from careers to cooking and parenthood to politics, but they were still through the lenses of Smartest, Class Clown and Friendliest.

As is often the case with treasured long-time friends, we can poke at each other’s foibles without being mean.  We laughed more deeply than we have in a long, long time – to the point that our bellies hurt.  Our reading glasses might betray our age, but our sense of humor, at least to us, was ageless.

It seemed as if time had stood still, but we had a stark reminder that indeed it had not. Melanie’s father, Richard, had passed away at Thanksgiving and we had a sobering evening when she shared the tribute that had been played at her dad’s memorial service. We sat silently as she told the life story of this wonderful man that we knew as kids. We cried in appreciation of his long joyful life, and his last days with his family before he died of cancer.

I was particularly moved by the pictures of Richard and his best friend of 65 years, who passed away six weeks after him.  I wondered if it would be the same with us. We know that we have many moments like these to share in the future and it is comforting to know that we have lifelong girlfriends to balance out our moments of joy and sorrow.

While driving back to the airport, we tried to lay a finger on why our girlfriend getaway was so amazingly fun.  Pam offered, ”Your friends know you better than you know yourself.  Friends see things in you that you don’t see.” Melanie pointed out that, “Good friends have a long-term perspective. We have known each other longer than we’ve known our spouses. We’ve seen each other through our traumatic and trying teenage years, when we weren’t fully formed and worked through our issues together.” Finally, Melissa said, “Friends are a repository of each other’s memories – good and bad.”

As we said our goodbyes we vowed to take another trip together in two years, because nine years is too long to be apart from good friends.

Carol Lewis Gullstad April 18, 2011




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