The Upside of Fear

July 30, 2010

There can be no courage without fear.
–Jimmy Wofford, Olympic rider and coach

I think about fear quite a bit, possibly because I am afraid of—or at least intimidated by—many things. You name it, I’m afraid of it: pain, death, economic collapse, failure, success, change, no more cranberry orange scones at the grocery store, etc. It wears me out, having to gear myself up to face so many things. Lately I’ve been thinking, wouldn’t it be great if I wasn’t afraid of anything? It sounds wonderful on the surface, but…

Fear can be good.

That’s right. Fear can be good. Here’s why:

Fear makes you more compassionate. If you’re never afraid, you’ll find it hard to impossible to understand and empathize with those of us who are. From lack of understanding and empathy, it’s only a step or two towards contempt or belittling others. If you’ve been afraid and conquered your fears, you can offer kindness and encouragement to others. I’m much more likely to listen to someone who’s felt the way I do and worked through it, than I am to someone who can’t understand why I’d be afraid of that.

I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t try to overcome our fears. We’d never learn or grow if we always remained safely ensconced in our comfort zones. I am saying that we shouldn’t come down too hard on ourselves or others if and when we’re afraid. Instead, offer kindness to ourselves, and gentleness and understanding to others. Then perhaps we can all walk courageously forward together.

Fear makes us feel our humanity.
–Benjamin Disraeli


Make Me Laugh

July 26, 2010

I love to laugh. Who doesn’t? What makes me laugh might not be what makes you laugh, but that’s one of the things that keeps the world interesting. I love older authors like P.G. Wodehouse, James Thurber, and Jean Kerr as well as contemporary writers Dave Barry, Bill Bryson, Celia Rivenbark and David Sedaris to name only a few. There’s a whole world of funny bloggers out there for your quick fix of daily humor, too.

Here are a couple of the things that have made me laugh lately. Hopefully you’ll find these funny, too:

This blog post from Rocks in My Dryer.

Just about any post at all from CrazyAuntPurl.

Bill Bryson’s book I’m a Stranger Here Myself. If Mr. Bryson doesn’t make you laugh at least once, I’m afraid we can no longer be friends.

Brian Regan’s Live CD. Brian is a G-rated stand-up comedian. My family constantly quotes lines from the two CDs (Live and I Walked on the Moon) we play on every road trip. Look him up on YouTube for a taste—one of my favorite routines is “Stupid in School.”

What makes you laugh? Please share it with me—I'm always looking for some new funny.  I'd rather laugh than cry, wouldn't you?


Attention: Your Peppers Are Shriveled

July 23, 2010

This is what happens when 95 degrees meets inattentive gardener:

Here’s the same plant after a drink of water and a good night’s rest:

This little ornamental pepper is amazingly resilient—I’m sorry to say this is not the first time she’s wilted in the heat. Still, she survives, even after freezing temperatures in the winter and practically dying of thirst in the summer.

If you look closely, you’ll see a few peppers still a bit wizened from their lack of water. Just like the peppers, we often wear the battle scars of what we’ve been through—in our faces, in our eyes, in our hearts. Yet still we come back for more, still we reach upwards toward the light—even though sometimes that light scorches us. For us, a drink of water and a good night’s sleep may be only the beginning of what we need to recover. We may need a box of assorted chocolates, an hour of solitude, a friend’s ear, or even professional help.

If you’re struggling right now, wilting in the sun, reflect on what you really need to get through today, and the day after, and the day after that. Be an attentive gardener—don’t wait until your leaves are drooping and your peppers are shriveled before you give yourself that cool drink of water that makes all the difference. I promise you’ll feel better in the morning.

Everyday adventures

Memory Making 101

July 19, 2010

What memories are you making this summer? What do you think your kids will remember from their childhoods? What do you remember from yours? We returned Saturday from our annual effort to make happy memories: a family vacation at a rented lake house in Georgia. We go with another family from our neighborhood: the parents, who shall be known hereafter as P & G, and the sons, C & G the younger. C and my son are good friends and attend high school together.

The view from the dock to the lake house...

This is the third year we’ve rented the house with them, and we still remain friends despite hard fought battles of dominoes, Yahtzee, rummy and other card games, and the efforts of my son, C and G the younger to drive each other insane. The wives (P and myself) spend as much time possible reading on the screened porch, and the husbands devote much of their time to keeping the boys from killing themselves and each other. (Who has the more relaxing vacation, do you think?)

...and the view from the house to the dock

We haul up inflatables and fishing gear for the kids to play with in addition to the slide on the lake house dock. I don’t know what he was thinking, but this year, my husband purchased a used jet ski for the boys’ (well-supervised) use. As is the manner of jet skis, this one promptly proved to be a lemon. Four days and $200 later, we towed it to Georgia, where it continued its stubborn habit of breaking down, until the dads rigged it for action with duct tape. It became affectionately known as the Clampett Mobile.

The Clampett Mobile in action

These lake visits can prove to be a lot of work for the parents, but we hope we’re building memories our sons can happily look back on, the way I do my visits to Grandma’s house, and my husband does to his summers swimming and fishing at his grandparents’ house.

At work on the Clampett Mobile

I hope they’ll remember the hours spent with family and friends—sharing meals, playing games, watching movies, swimming, fishing and jet skiing. I hope they remember how hard the dads worked to keep the jet ski running and filled with gas, and the round of golf the teenagers and their dads shared (my son got his first birdie!). I suspect the mishaps will be remembered as well or better than the uneventful hours spent flinging themselves off the dock into the water. For example, one night while we were playing games (adults: cards; teens: Xbox), G looked out the window and noted that the inflatable Cube was gone from the dock. My son and C took that as a combat challenge, had their bathing suits on and tore down to the water before you could say, “Hey, it’s raining,” which it was. They retrieved the errant Cube and returned wet but covered in glory.

The Cube

Another day, the dads determined that we should all go to the Rock—a large granite outcropping the kids jump from into the lake. Three would ride the jet ski, and tow the other four of us in a large, inflatable raft. P and I were skeptical—how would they keep the tow ropes from ripping holes in the raft? After a test run around the dock it was deemed safe, and at first all seemed to go as planned. Then I heard a suspicious hissing noise…sure enough, a hole had formed in the raft near the tow rope. We were two-thirds of the way to the Rock, so we limped on, taking turns hanging on to the tow rope and holding the hole in the raft closed. The Clampett Mobile ferried us back home.

We have so little time left to make the childhood memories our kids will take with them through life. Here’s to making the most of every opportunity. Even if it involves the Clampett Mobile.

What I did this summer...


Baby Pictures!

July 09, 2010

We have a new arrival at our barn:


I am soooo tired...

Uh-oh, I have an itch. Wonder if these long legs are good for anything?

What can we learn from this little guy? Take a nap when you're tired, and scratch where it itches...

Have a great weekend!


Happiness is a Warm Project

July 05, 2010

One of my favorite recent reads has been Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Like most of us, Rubin wasn’t unhappy—but she wondered if perhaps with some attention and effort, she could become happier. “I had everything I could possibly want—yet I was failing to appreciate it. Bogged down in petty complaints and passing crises, weary of struggling with my own nature, I too often failed to comprehend the splendor of what I had. I didn’t want to keep taking these days for granted,” she writes on page two.

Rubin decided to devote a year to seeing if she could improve her level of happiness, and “The Happiness Project” was born. She turned to scientific research, age-old wisdom and popular culture for ways to do this—focusing on a different subject each month. “A ‘happiness project’ is an approach to changing your life,” she writes in "A Note to the Reader." “First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions.”

As she compiled her subjects and resolutions, she found “overarching principles” emerging. These she dubbed her "Twelve Commandments" and her "Secrets of Adulthood."

I enjoyed this book so much that I’ll be sharing several posts about it with you over the next few months. I’m not choosing to pursue a formal Happiness Project of my own right now, but I couldn’t help coming up with my own “Twelve Commandments.” They are, in no particular order:
  • There is time enough.
  • Live joyfully.
  • Be Kathy.
  • Put on your big girl panties and deal with it.
  • Pause before you say no.
  • It is what it is.
  • Rise to the occasion.
  • I am enough.
  • Slow down—faster isn’t better.
  • Progress, not perfection.
  • Help is everywhere.
  • What would I do if I wasn’t scared?
If you want to start your own Happiness Project, or just learn more about Gretchen’s, visit her fantastic blog at http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/ or hunt up the book at the library or bookstore —and please come back here and share what you learn!

Word of the year

Knock, Knock

July 02, 2010

It’s been six months since I chose “open” as my word of the year. How is it going?

To be honest, I chose the word and promptly forgot about it.

However, I was in a favorite store a couple of weeks ago and came across this decorative tile:

…and I began to think about how I was and wasn’t putting “open” into practice, and what I’ve come to see it has been teaching me to do:

Open my eyes. Actually see what’s around me. Notice the details of life. Taking the Artful Journaling class helps, because to draw or paint something, you have to learn to see it.

Open my ears. Hear the frogs in the pond behind our house (it’s hard not to when they really get going). Hear the birds singing. Hear what my husband and son are really saying. Even hear what my own heart and intuition have to say.

Open my mind. My default answer is no. I can tell you all the reasons why whatever you’re suggesting isn’t a good idea, or can’t be done, or why I don’t want to do it. “Open” makes me bite my tongue. I may be thinking no, but maybe if I don’t say it right away some new thought or idea will sneak in. If it takes up residence, well, maybe my mind will open up just a little more.

Open my heart. When I pay attention—see and hear—I am touched by others. I can give the kind word, the money, the time or the good thoughts. If I’m not open, I don’t even know those things are needed.

I’ve begun to see that even when I’m not thinking about it, “open” is working on me subconsciously. I recognize how tightly wound I’ve been, how rigid and closed my ideas of what I should do with my time, how I should run my household, how things “should be.” I think I’m afraid that if I let even an inch of control slip from my hands, my carefully constructed life will fall apart—I’ll fall apart.

“Open” is about much more than trying new things. It’s a philosophy of life. I have quite a ways to go before it’s my philosophy, but at least I’ve opened the door a crack.

If you’ve chosen a word of the year, how is it going for you? What have you learned? What has surprised you?