Sunday, April 6, 2014

Alphabet Soup - Counting My Blessings A to Z

A fun collection of musings on things I count as blessings in my life. Posts written in 2007. Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww (plus THIS) Xx Yy Zz

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Parable of the Carrots, Eggs & Coffee

(Author Unknown)

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed every time one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ' Tell me what you see.

Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, 'What does it mean, mother?'

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

'Which are you?' she asked her daughter. 'When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to let you know joy.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A lesson in Active Listening

For the past several months I've been applying for all sorts of jobs as I seek to find what the next chapter of my life will be. I've been managing a small non profit for about a year. I'm good at it and it has it's rewards, but I really longed to get back into an academic setting. So I applied for both administrative and teaching positions at colleges in several different states. Lately I've been focusing on Idaho colleges since that is where I really want to live.

Way back in January I had applied for a job at the College of Southern Idaho which is in Twin Falls. I never heard back from them. Then a couple months ago I applied for a different job at the College of Western Idaho in Nampa. That one was a senior student services position that sounded like a very good fit for my skill sets.

I was thrilled when I got the phone call from them saying they wanted to schedule me for a phone interview. I spent several days researching EVERYTHING there was to know about the college and this particular position.

I took off work at noon to get home early and be very prepared for my 2:00 PM interview. I was well rested, I was prepared, I was confident. This was my moment. I was READY to give my very best. 15 minutes into the interview I felt like I was IN THE ZONE... I was comfortably fielding questions from 5 different people and felt we were communicating VERY well. I could tell from the way they were responding to my answers that they were pretty impressed. It really did seem we had a match.

At some point I said something about how exciting it would be to be part of a brand new community college and establish a culture of excellence right from the start. Most of my jobs in the past have been targeted at fixing systems that were broken. With this job it would be an opportunity to develop something new from the ground up which would be a wonderful challenge.

That's when the bottom dropped out.

They were confused for a minute and then said, "well, we are not a new community college. That would be College of Western Idaho. We've been here for many years."

HUH??? Now it was MY turn to be confused. I thought I WAS interviewing with College of Western Idaho. I had spent all that time researching and preparing to know all there was to know about them and this particular position. But now they were telling me the interview was not what I had anticipated. For one long, perilous, mind-bending moment I was caught in a twighlight zone of stupor. I had absolutely NO IDEA who I was actually even talking to or what job I was being considered for.

So I took a deep breath and plunged on. I said "oh, my mistake. Could you tell me a little bit more about your program?" Then I just shut up and listened very, very carfully to get my bearings while they described in more detail about the job they had in mind.

Apparently I mis-heard the person when they called to set the interview in the first place. This was the College of SOUTHERN Idaho. In Twin Falls. For the project manager job I had applied for way back in January.

Oh my.

So I faked my way over the gaffe and actually did a pretty good job of the rest of the interview. I am usually quite skilled in interview settings and have talked my way into more than one job I wasn't even particularly qualified for at the time simply by convincing an employer I am bright and could learn the needed skill sets quickly. I did manage to get the conversation back on track to my strengths and how I might be a good fit for them. But the whole time I was feeling foolish, embarrased and confused. How could I have possibly talked to these people for all that time and SEEMED to be connecting so very well when they were not who I thought they were and we were talking about totally different sorts of jobs? How dumb is that?

I can see now how I made the mistake. I had dismissed this job in my mind long time ago and more recently focused on the one in Boise that just closed March 8. So, when they called and said something about "Calling to set up a phone interview for the position at College...Idaho" my brain skipped over the SOUTHERN and heard what it wanted to hear. Add to that the fact that I took the call at work when I was caught up in the midst of three different dramas at once, so I did not have my best focused attention on the phone. Therefore, it IS sort of understandable how I made the initial mistake. But to go on talking to a team for 15-20 minutes and STILL hold onto my false assumption? THAT'S the part I don't get. Surely I should have picked up early on what was up. However, I did not.

There are definitely some important lessons here about how our perceptions can be shaped by our desires and expectations / previous assumptions, etc. I heard what I WANTED to hear, not what was actually said. Then, because I THOUGHT I had accurate information and did not feel confused, I did not bother with the usual clarifying questions one uses in a state of ambiguity.

NOTE TO SELF - ANY time I am communicating with others it is helpful to practice more "active listening", paraphrasing back what I THINK I understand in order to help them feel totally heard and to make sure I don't get my foot caught in a bear trap of miscommunication without even knowing it!

Also, when it is a high stakes communication, it's good to ask them to repeat back to me what their understanding is of what I have said just to be sure we are on the same page.

The long and short of it is I spent all that energy focusing on STUDENT RETENTION when that isn't what I was being interviewed for at all. The interview was for a project manager job that was looking for more fiscal oversite. I have experience managing a 2.5 MILLION dollar budget before, but I never even mentioned that since I was all prepared to talk about my other skill sets. Would I have gotten the job if I had handled it differently? I'll never know for sure.

I'm still more than a little embarrassed that I didn't pay better attention, that I got my wires so seriously crossed. But I'm able to take it in stride now, take the lesson learned and move on. It happened. Life goes on.

The trick is to learn from it and change my approach next time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Substitute Memories

I've been cleaning out a closet full of boxes that have never really been touched since we moved to the farm last July.

Among many other things I found a pack of letters I had written to my father-in-law over the years which I took back after he died.

In one from 1997 I told him about the work I was doing at that time as a substitute teacher in the local elementary school. This is what I shared:

"This past week I have been in Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade and a Special Ed Eighth Grade. What an adventure! I learned many things.

I learned that eggplants are not really vegetables, they are a fruit. (Kindergarten class was learning all about the letter V, and that's what the vegetable book says.)

I learned the value of perspective from a second grader, who when told he really should not eat paste replied very matter of factly, "well, it's better than eating boogers."

I learned to savor the first grade cheer which is gleefully shouted every morning (complete with intricate hand motions) right after the pledge of allegiance. The cheer goes:
"I am SMART,

I think we could all benefit from starting our days that way.

I also learned the tragic consequences of negative labeling in the special ed eighth grade where a sweet fourteen year old boy told me "I can't do that stuff cause I'm learning disabled" even though I had seen him do basically what I was asking in a slightly different context.

This sub teaching has been the hardest work I've ever done. It is very rewarding, but absolutely exhausting. I honestly don't know if I will pursue further work of this sort once I get to Washington, but I do know I will forever remember and cherish these experiences."

Sad thing is...I didn't remember.
At all.

Oh sure, I recall that for a short time I worked as a sub teacher when we were getting ready to move and I'd had to give up my college job. But I COMPLETELY forgot each of those experiences I described.

About the only things I remember from that job is how I completely blew reading time because I had not calculated how long it takes to get 24 six and seven year olds in and out of snow suits and boots for recess only to find a third of them have to undo it all to go pee. I remember how mean fifth graders could be. I remember feeling rather out of my element most of the time.

This reminds me why I capture the bits and pieces of my life as they scramble by. If I don't write it down, I will forget. And I don't want to forget.

For all it's confusion, chaos and complexity, this life I'm living is worth recording.

I closed the letter to my father-in-law with something that had been on one of my classroom walls:

The Rules For Being Human

You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period of this time around.


You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life. Each day in the school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.


Growth is a process of trial and error. Experimentation. The "failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately work.

A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.


There is no part of life that does not contain lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

When you are "there" it has become a "here". You will simply obtain another "there" that will again look better than "here."

You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you.

The answers to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen and trust.



Then I signed off the letter with "I feel truly grateful for all the lessons the universe is giving me right now. Many have been far outside my comfort zone. But each one has been a true gift. I hope whatever lessons are being sent your way are bringing you joy...even if it takes a while to find it. It's worth finding.

I'm really glad I found this letter. I needed reminding. I'm caught up in the middle of some big challenges right now. This helps me remember it's all a process of lessons. Breathe deep and keep learning. And don't forget to dance.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Trash Can Story

Free Picture of Three Metal Garbage Cans. Click Here to Get Free Images at Clipart Guide.comAt church today a woman gave an analogy that was very powerful for me. She spoke of cleaning out a shed and then having a bunch of household garbage to add to all she wanted to throw away. The end result was her garbage can was overflowing with messy, stinking gunk. Cantaloupe rinds drizzled all over discarded papers that were already soggy with dead dirty was this incredible pile of stinking mess. As she was working out in her garden she saw the garbage truck come to haul it away and was feeling very glad to have it all gone.

Then it hit her. It would be down right foolish for her to jump in her car and go chasing down to the local landfill to bring that garbage back. She was just grateful to be rid of the mess and wanted to let it stay gone.

That image became an object lesson for her for how too many times in life when we have personal messes we need to clean up, areas of poor judgment or sin, we have a tougher time letting it stay gone. We may initially go through the motions of changing directions, clearing up some bad communication with someone we care about, or apologizing for some act that may have hurt someone we love. We try to move on, learn from our mistakes, repent. But sometimes (especially when we know the things we've done have hurt others and all the "I'm sorry" in the world can't take that hurt back) there is that ONE certain thing that we just don't stop feeling bad about. We may continue to berate ourselves or to feel unworthy because of something in our past, something that feels just too horrible to be forgiven for.

The woman spoke of the power of the atonement and how this gift of grace takes away ALL our sins, even the really gross and stinky ones, just as surely as the garbage man hauled away her trash. She said she hoped she could have more trust and confidence in that healing power of forgiveness and stop calling up to mind errors from the past.

I could totally relate to this story. Next time I fall into this trap I hope I can stop and think about the trash can story and let my dirty rot stay where it belongs.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cat Scratches

A teacher friend of mine once told me a story about his cats, two precious felines named Jake and Missy. They had an unfortunate habit of climbing inside dresser drawers and wreaking a bit of havoc. Their intent was not malicious. They merely like to curl up and cuddle into a ball in that cozy space. In some drawers it was no big deal, other than shedding hair all over clean folded clothes. But if they got into his wife's drawer it was not so good, because that's where she had all her elegant silk nighties and such. Cat claws and lacy penoir sets and lingerie are not a good combination.

The wife got hopping mad at those cats.

The reason my friend was telling me this story is because we were having a discussion about how anger gets such a bad rap. It is not "nice" to be angry, or so our culture seems to say. It is not kind or polite or ladylike to let fly with that emotion - even when it is utterly justified. For me, it's even more complicated than that. As a kid I learned to believe that it was not safe to express outrage. It was not entirely acceptable to show any discontent. From disappointment to annoyance to hurt feelings to seething resentment...none of those were welcome fare. I was expected to put a smile on my face and act like all was copacetic even when it was very clearly not.

So, not having any opportunity to practice with a bit of trial and error, I did not learn to modulate anger well. I did not learn to paint it in gentle pastels of being miffed. Instead of establishing a tool box of a whole range of feelings in various octaves to go with each situation, all too often I went from zero to sixty in 30 seconds flat, rushing from smile to tantrum with no thought in between.

As an adult I no longer throw tantrums. But I still stuff my anger as "not necessary", "out of line" or "inappropriate" to often and too long. Then, when it blows (usually over something relatively minor) I feel horrified, chagrined, humiliated, ashamed to have let fly at someone I care about with such a nasty outburst.

I honestly haven't a clue about how to appropriately experience, let alone express, my anger.

It's just fine to be torrid with rage over social issues or incidents of injustice. But when I get mad at someone I care about, I am very ill equipped with how to proceed.

There is no "Anger for Dummies" book like there is for so much else.

How do people learn this skill? I think about it, I discuss it, I watch how others act and react. I've not yet found any models who I truly want to emulate.

When is it ok to be really mad? When is it not? How do I seek forgiveness for my BEHAVIOR if I have spoken or acted harshly out of anger without capitulating on my displeasure about what made me so mad?

I think about that red headed lady who was furious at her kitties. She was not mean or ugly or evil or bad. She did not want to destroy them. She was just mad. She did not stay angry for long. But for that little while, she was very, very upset. Yet, according to my friend, apparently it IS possible to be angry and be a nice person at the very same time.

Go figure. Who would have thought?

I'm not suggesting I change all the rules to start going out lambasting everyone right and left indiscriminately because suddenly anger has been declared as permisable. . But maybe it would be more helpful, more healthy, to practice addressing my anger when it first appears rather than bottling it up till I can no longer stand it.

Easy to say, hard to do.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Alphabet Soup - Letter "Z"

*NOTE - Index to full alphabet of my list of blessings can be found HERE.

Finally I draw this exercise to a close, so I can get back to my other ponderous postings on this silly little blog.

For me, the exercise has been worth while. Counting my blessings this way has been a good thing, giving me rich ammunition to reflect back on during dark days when trouble and struggle threaten to overtake.

For this last letter, I'm a bit stumped. Z is little used in the English language. For that matter, it was Z was abolished in Icelandic in 1974.

I love going to Zoos and have seen many: San Diego, St. Louis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Phoenix, and Cleveland to name just a few.

Zip Codes are quite useful, whether for posting a letter or searching for geocache.

Zygotes are the beginning of all of us, our biological acorn.

ZEST for Life is something I seek every day.

There. I'm DONE.

So what are YOU grateful for?

Alphabet Soup - Letter "Y"

Yaks and Yurts and Yellowsubmarines are all Y letters that have tickled my fancy at one time or another. Yogurt is yummy and yarn can be fun. Yardsticks help me to measure and yo-yos can amuse. Yams are a staple at my table and yawning is something I do all together too much of in my current sleep deprived state.

But perhaps the Y word that is most meaningful to me is YEARS.

By this I mean that I value the perspective that comes with the passing of years. Back in the day I could not even have begun to imagine what my life would be like at the ripe old age of 50. I've come a long way to get where I am now. There have been many changes and challenges along the past 12 months. I suspect there will be more to come. But now because I've had enough years piled one on top of another I've learned a thing or two about patience and takeing events in stride. I've learned how to work some and play some and love some each and every day. I've learned a lot, with the passing of years. Perhaps most of all I've learned that I still have more questions than answers and that each year, each day, each moment is a gift to be savored.

I don't know how many years I have left on this crazy old planet, but I'll say thanks for however many I get, in whatever circumstances they may find me. So far some have been playful, some have been painful. But ALL have been worth every minute.

I don't believe in that glass half empty or half full dichotomy. Rather, I believe every person's glass is TOTALLY FULL - just some with fluid and some with air, just as every life as a range of different experiences. I'll take it as it comes and learn what I can from it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Alphabet Soup - Letter "X"

When I first started this challenge of writing out blessings for every letter of the alphabet I knew that some letters would be tougher than others. But isn't that the whole point? Doing this project has prompted me to ponder deeper what things I really AM grateful for that perhaps normally I take too much for granted. As I wind up with these last few letters of the alphabet I look back over all I have listed so far and feel pretty good about the things it has caused me to notice.

So now here I am at the letter X. What can I say? I have no special affinity for Xylophones.

But I am DEEPLY grateful for Xenotransplants - the transplantation of organs, tissues or cells between different animal species. My 12 year old grandson, Austin, has a cow valve in his chest keeping his heart beating. Without that modern miracle of science he probably would not be alive.

I am also grateful for X-Rays, and all the many accoutrement's of modern medicine.

I am grateful for XEROX, (even though the copy machine I have in my house was made by HP. It's is one of those one-size-fits-all printer/copier/fax machines that are so common today.) It was still Xerox machines that set the standard early on and made it possible for us to easily copy so many useful resources.

There is a park in Walla Walla called Xeriscape Park that I have much enjoyed - a small niche of ground carefully planted with succulents, shrubs and flowers that can survive well with very little water. As a child of the desert who grew up in Arizona I have deep respect for landscaping that can survive well on it's own without constant tending. Besides, there is a geocache treasure hidden there that was great fun to find!

Two other X words that have been definite blessings to me are Xel-Ha and Xcaret, two of my favorite places I visited when my beloeved and I were in Mexico last Nov/Dec.
Our walk along the "Path of Consciousness" through the jungle of Xel-Ha was memorable indeed. It was also at Xel Ha that I had perhaps the most joyful snorkeling experience of my life. It was amazing. At Xcaret we spent a wonderful day in the company of Shep & Sue, two fellow travellers who were a delight to meet. From the butterfly house to snorkeling through caves to the show late that evening, everything about that day still brings a smile to my face.

So yes,even letter X brings me much to be grateful for.

Alphabet Soup - Letter "W" REVISITED!

I have some thoughts in mind for addressing that challenging letter X that comes next in my long list of alphabet blessings. But I am just not ready to go there yet.

Rather, I want to take a step back to W for one more spin. I have many things I am grateful that begin with the letter W.

WOODS - I love going on long hikes surrounded by trees.

WASHING MACHINE - Years ago I lived for a while in a two room cabin up in the mountains with no running water and just a wood stove for all cooking and heat. I'm grateful for that experience, but even MORE grateful that now I live with modern conveniences like a microwave, an electric toothbrush and a washing machine. In a lot of ways I still believe in living simply, but carrying water every day and using a wash board over a basin was not all that fun.

WARMTH - I love the feeling of being snuggled up safe in a warm cozy blanket or being outside feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. Inside or outside, I love to be warm! I hate to be cold. I am so glad that winter is ebbing away now and signs of spring are popping up all over the place. I look forward to flowers blooming and longer days, with comfortable temperatures. Call me a weenie if you will, but I am grateful for warmth!

WATER - This is a powerful blessing on so many levels. I love rivers, oceans, lakes and streams. After years of being quite scared of the water following some rather nasty near drowning episodes, I have overcome that old terror to truly appreciate being all wet. Beyond that, water is my drink of choice these days, Having spent time in several countries where it was not safe to drink the water I am deeply grateful to live in a land where all I need to do is turn on the tap for a clear, clean drink. Water is the medium of baptism, the ritual of forgiveness & making a sacred covenant with God that has been such a source of power in my life. Water is also what my faith uses for sacrament to symbolize the atoning blood of Christ. In so many ways my life is richer for having water. The earth is mostly water. My body is mostly water. Water is a very good thing.

WEIGHT TRAINING - This has been the year of me taking action to get myself as healthy as I feasably can manage. Part of that process has been a water aerobics class (ooh - I left that one out up above!) Another significant piece has been a weight training class I took for a while at the college where I work. It has since fallen by the wayside since my new job's schedule doesn't allow the pocket of time when I was going, but those several weeks I spent there definitely helped me tone and firm up some long ignored parts. I may not officially be in the class anymore, but I've learned the importance of resistance training to condition this middle aged body so I will find other ways to keep up the progress I've begun.

WAFFLES I've made some rather big changes in what and how much I eat in my determination to lose the lard that had accumulated around my carcass over the last decade. But every now and then I still love a good "pancake with tread". My husband has a very cool waffle machine given as a gift from our youngest son some years ago. On a few rare occassions we slow down enough to have a lazy morning together that includes a breakfast of waffles with real maple syrup or strawberries and whipcream. The food is quite yummy - but the time we take to savor it is even sweeter.

WARTS - NO! I am not grateful for those small rough bumps that grow on one's skin. (blessedly I have none.) But I think of this word when naming my blessings because of the expression I share with a couple special pals who are willing to love me "warts and all." It's just my way of saying that I have been gifted to know some fine friends with whom I can be completely authentic, not having to hide behind any pretense or false smile. It can feel very scary and difficult to allow one's self to be vulnerable with others - to expose the soft underbelly weaknesses of our lives. But I am blessed to have a couple of folks with whom it is totally safe to do just that. This reminds me of a passage from the book "A Life for A Life" by Dinah Craik that says:

Oh, the comfort --
The inexpressible comfort of feeling
safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts,
Nor measure words -- but pouring them
All right out -- just as they are --
Chaff and grain together --
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them --
Keep what is worth keeping --
and with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.

That's what I mean when I say that I am deeply grateful for friends who accept me, warts and all.

So YES, my life is much richer for all those W blessings. I'm sure there would be more if I gave it more thought. But these will suffice. So now on to the neXt!