Sunday, February 28, 2010

Be Ridiculous



It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridic- ulous that you realize just how much you love them.
--Agatha Christie


My happiness commandment #4 is "Have Fun." Other ways I remember that commandment are:

"Be silly."
"Make jokes."
and
"Lighten up."

Anyway, after finding this quote, maybe I'll start telling myself, "Be ridiculous." more often.

It made me smile to think back on little moments of ridiculous-ness that make me love my friends and family. Here are some that I hope my friends and family won't mind me sharing!

Robi racing an ostrich at the zoo.
Kelley with curlers in her hair (in public!) before homecoming
Alex doing karaoke.
Dana with paint on her hands, jacket, shirt…everywhere.
My mom dressed up for Halloween to pass out candy.
Rachel wiggling her teeth.
My 6’2’’ dad sitting at the kiddie table coloring with my niece.
Padme (our dog) standing on her hind legs begging for food.
Rachel by the naked man art at her baby shower.
Mema letting Flannery squeeze her face while she kisses her.
Julie getting flour all over her making the cake for Christy's wedding shower.
My sister sleeping on the edge of her bed to make room for her huge dog.
My mother-in-law sliding down the kiddie slide at the bouncing place with the kiddos.
Robi and Shaun dressed as chefs on junior prom night.
Randi walking in her garden dressed as a cat.
My mom dancing to music while she cleaned the house when I was growing up.
Kelley playing ring around-the-rosie at Chili’s with the princess-dress-up girls.
A mom of one of my clients bouncing on the trampoline with her kiddo.
Holly & Christy pretending to be articulating arytenoid cartilage during one of our study sessions.
My brother-in-law enthusiastically hunting Easter eggs at 20 years of age.
So many adults wearing pointy birthday hats at my daughter’s birthday party.
Kelley after getting her hair done by my niece.


What ridiculous thing will you be remembered (and loved!) for?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Clean up, Clean up, Everybody, Everywhere





Does this ever happen to you?

Since I went out of town for a few days, things have gotten a little out of hand. I fell behind on the laundry. I still haven’t unpacked my bag (from about a week ago!). I have stacks of pictures that I printed through snapfish but haven’t mailed to people like I’ve been meaning to. Junk mail stacks were piling up. I haven’t gotten my tax stuff together. And now it’s almost March already!

So, today, I told myself, “Do what needs to be done.” That’s one of my happiness commandments, which I stole from Gretchen Rubin (the brilliant author of the book The Happiness Project). I conquered two areas in my kitchen that had been bugging me for weeks, and made them beautiful.

First, the hooks where we hang Flanna’s lunchbox and backpack. Somehow all of the coolers and lunchboxes and backpacks we own had gotten hung in that spot, which I was trying to designate for stuff we use on a daily basis. And also (I’m a little embarrassed to admit) there were 2 cans of bug spray and sunscreen from SUMMER that were still sitting atop the shelf. Yup. From summer. Anyway, I goodwilled 5 bags that we never use, and stored the rest where our spare bags are supposed to go. And, voila! A space that doesn’t stress me out as I walk past it!

Then I focused on my mail bin. The bottom bin is for bills, which my husband takes care of, so they obviously stay neat. The top bin is for stuff I need to either file or respond to. Guess I hadn’t filed or responded in, oh, about 5 months. I’d been thinking I needed to look through this stuff but kept waiting until I had “time” to do it. Turns out, it only took me about 10 minutes to sort through everything and then file it in the 3 files it all needed to go into. I had really overestimated the amount of time that project was going to take, which I guess is why I had waited so long to do it. Now, I have room to grow again. Hopefully I won’t wait 5 months to sort through it again!

I’m still behind on laundry. But, those two tiny spaces now bring me a little bit of happiness when I walk into my kitchen. It’s a nice start.



What little nagging projects have you been waiting to tackle?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Be a Know It All


It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
~Attributed to Harry S. Truman


Learning new things is fun for me. Not exactly the whole process--I actually really hate the hard work it takes to get started when learning something brand new. But once I'm on my way to learning something new, when the ball gets rolling, and I start seeing a little progress, it really boosts my happiness!

I enjoy a challenge. Not everyone does. But the moment I stop feeling challenged, is the moment I get bored and am ready to move on. (Which is probably why I've changed jobs every 2 years since I graduated! I'm working on that!)

Maybe it's also why I love working in early intervention, with those tiny clients who are such a puzzle to figure out. And why I love working with children with autism so much. These complex kiddos teach me something every time I'm with them, and I'm constantly having to scramble to figure out a new way to do something when the old way stops working.

Here's a website I've been learning a ton of information from: Autism Games. I also like to watch videos on the Autism Speaks website, especially the personal stories from families of what has worked for them. Oh, and have you watched any of the amazing videos on TED about "ideas worth sharing"? Here's one by Temple Grandin that's pretty interesting.



What are you learning right now?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Restorative Walk and What Babies Teach Us


About once a week or so, I'm trying to post interviews with amazing and insightful people who inspire me! This week's focus is Emily.

Emily was our daughter's nanny for a while, and was such an amazing partner for us in caring for Flanna! From the moment I met her, I knew that she was the right nanny for us, and I've never had another caregiver who's ever come close to her in the intuitive and thoughtful way she treated our daughter. Emily has a spanish degree, lived in a yurt once upon a time, has compassion for all living things, is a rescuer of animals, is married to a kind artist, is a doula, and is now a mommy to an adorable little son. She has a quiet confidence that I wish I had, and I was really thrilled that she agreed to answer my happiness questions! Here are her responses:


1. When you're feeling blue, what do you do to make yourself happier?

It depends on the shade of blue. Sometimes I like to take a walk...
actually, a walk almost always helps, but sometimes it's more
difficult to get myself out and doing it than others. If I'm stuck in
the house, I like to take a hot shower and envision all my stress
being washed out (or sometimes I imagine the water is irrigating me
with good vibes, if I'm just "down" for no identifiable cause). If I
have enough time to myself, I'll turn off the lights in the living
room and practice yoga by myself -- I don't turn on a dvd or follow
any routine, I just move and stretch until I feel better (or until the
baby wakes up).

2. What's a little thing that you do regularly that makes you happy?

I wove this little basket that hangs by my front door. It's my worry
basket. Whenever I come back home, I mentally leave my worries in that
basket. Sometimes I take a trip outside just to "put" my worries in
it! It helps that I think the basket is really cute, and I'm pretty
proud that I actually wove a tiny basket.

3. What's something you've discovered that you'd you like your
child to know about happiness?

Well, for right now, my son's the one teaching me about happiness.
He really knows how to enjoy the moment and how to let the upsetting
moments float on by. Once he's done crying, it's like it never
happened.. he can go right back to being happy, as soon as the
situation has improved. He doesn't dwell on that uncomfortably wet
diaper he had an hour ago. When someone is funny and friendly with
him, he enjoys their presence without guarding himself. When he wakes
up in the morning, he smiles and squeals and meets the day with
excitement. It truly is a brand new day for him, another opportunity
to play and explore and learn. I'm trying to wake up with that kind of
attitude, too.

----

I agree that kids are able to wipe the slate clean much more quickly than we are, and that we old folks should work toward that again. Also, a good walk does more for my happiness than a hundred dark chocolate Hershey kisses. I think that was one of the reasons I was so happy in Athens…we had such a walking lifestyle that I got exercise and sunshine and social experiences without really trying. Also, I’m super jealous of anyone who can weave anything. And while jealousy might not increase my happiness level, I do think the visualization of leaving my worries at the door is a great idea. Thanks, Emily, for your insights!



What have children in your life taught you about happiness?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Resolutions? What Resolutions?

2010 is slipping by at breakneck speed so far. Really, it just can’t be the last week of February already!

I had fully intended to do a monthly review of my progress on my happiness resolutions. But here we are two months into them. Hmph.

Better late than never?

Just to review, my happiness resolutions for 2010 are:

MY HAPPINESS RESOLUTIONS:
1. Learn Something: Read in Spanish at least 15 minutes 5 times per week.
2. Be social: Start a girls’ night by June.
3. Really listen: Interview at least 5 past clients about happiness amidst struggles.
4. Cut the chaos: Tidy up the house for 10 minutes each night, every night.
5. Exercise: Dance with Flannery on Mon, Wed, Fri afternoons.
6. Eat Well: Bring a lunch on Tues/Thurs.

And my progress on those goals (this is so like IEP/IFSP Progress Reporting that it’s making me laugh!) is:

1. Learn Something:
Yep, I’m pretty much doing this one! Yay! That’s probably because I just love Spanish and choose to do it long before I’d choose other stuff like, oh, say, laundry or cooking. Right now, I’m reading “Spanish Verbs for Dummies.” And as much as I thought I’d hate the whole “For Dummies” take on learning Spanish, I have to admit it’s been pretty enjoyable.

2. Be social:
Good thing I gave myself a lot of leeway on this one. The three women I’ve connected with so far in Durham seem to have completely opposite schedules than I do. But I’m holding out hope, because I really think hanging out with other women boosts my happiness really quickly.

3. Really listen:
Um, no progress yet. I haven’t been brave enough to bug my past clients. But I think their stories are so interesting that I should push through my discomfort. It can also be therapeutic to write or tell your own story, so maybe I should think of it that way. Okay. This one will happen.

4. Cut the Chaos:
My house has seen a pretty drastic change in its crazy mess level, so that’s been good. I can’t say I’ve cleaned up every night, but I’ve been more consistent about doing dishes and laundry, and I’ve decluttered a TON of stuff, thanks to my friend Dianne’s Clutter Therapy challenge. So, yes, we’re moving in the right direction here. Hooray!

5. Exercise:
This one has happened probably once a week instead of three times a week. But, hey, that’s progress.

6. Eat well:
The therapist in me wants to put “50% accuracy” here. ☺ When I plan ahead the night before, I do take a lunch and don’t eat a McDonald’s snack wrap in between clients. I’ve even managed to pack a thermos of coffee a few times. Which saves me money and keeps me from getting some calorie-rific latte from Starbucks so I can make it through the day. (Seriously, did you know a Vanilla Latte has 320 calories!!?!! Yikes!)

So, has my mediocrity inspired you yet? I haven't even kept all of my happiness resolutions very well, but I can still honestly report that I'm feeling happier so far in 2010 than I have in quite a while.

Here's to growth!

And not the kind that comes from my (darn-I-wish-I-didn't know-they-had) 320 calorie lattes!


What were your new year’s resolutions? How are you doing with them?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Look Good, Feel Good


My current hair mousse is not cutting it. But I've been too busy to go buy a replacement mousse. So, I've been putting up with frizzy and flat wavy hair for the last 3 weeks or so. And it's really bringing me down.

Yep, I'm a little shallow.

Turns out, if I don't feel like I look my best, I don't feel my best, either. So this frizzy flatness has got to go.

I mean, as soon as I have a spare moment to sneak away to Target.

On days that I pick out my clothes the night before, and actually wear flattering clothes that fit me well, and that I put on make-up (especially if this process doesn't happen at the stop lights during the drive to my daughter's preschool), and that I wear my contacts and pull my hair up so the frizzy flatness isn't so noticeable, I feel more confident. More together. More organized. More in control. More me.

Which is a good thing. A happy thing.

Look good, feel good. Sounds shallow, but I really think it's true.

Oh, by the way, I found this neat blog called Fashion Advice from Audrey, and I've been learning a lot from her advice so far! For example, it seems that now's the time to go find your perfect boots, because they're on sale right now. Her advice for picking a great boots: find a comfy pair (flats perhaps), that come just about an inch below the knee, and that aren't too tight on the calf, for maximum versatility (from pants to skirts, etc). See, you're learning already, and you haven't even visited her blog yet!



Any ideas for good wavy-hair hair products that won't leave my hair either a) crispy, or b) sticky?

Monday, February 22, 2010

I'm ba-ack! With songs!


Yay, I'm back from my internet hiatus!

It's really funny to me that I actually missed blogging! I really did! I kept noticing things that were interesting, and jotting myself a note to write about them when I was back home. More on that in the coming week!

For today, I wanted to share with you some music artists who make me happy. I was thinking of this as we were driving back from our vacation. We stopped to eat at a Moe's along the way, and it was actually nice enough to sit outside in the sunshine as we ate. While we were waiting on our food, Flanna heard a song on their radio, and just had to get up from the table and dance to it. (The pic is taken at that Moe's, by the way!) It was such a neat moment, that the music just forced her into a happy mood, so happy that she had to dance!

Music does that to me, too. But I'm old now, so I don't usually jump up and dance to it. I do smile, though, and maybe tap my foot. Music can really lift me out of a dark mood.

Also, I think good music boosts my productivity. I'm sooo much more productive with Pandora playing in the background as I work. Good music also occupies my brain so that I don't get sleepy while I'm driving, and sometimes makes me drive too fast if I'm not careful!

Anyway, here's my list of artists that make me happy. Check them out if you're interested!

1. The Weepies - Contrary to their sad name, this husband-wife duo sing happy folky pop with lots of harmonies and thoughtful lyrics. Their album, "Hideaway" is one of my favorites.
2. Elizabeth Mitchell - Yes, I know this is a kids' songs artist. But her acoustic "You are my Sunshine" album is something I love to listen to, even when Flannery's not around.
3. Counting Crows - I have no idea why these guys make me happy, when their music can be melancholy. But they do.
4. Great Lake Swimmers - So peaceful! Beautiful stuff.
5. The Indigo Girls - The perfect driving music. And singing music. You know, with the windows down and the wind making your hair all crazy.
6. Mates of State - They push the limits of what two musicians are capable of doing. You'll never believe it's just the two of them making all that gorgeous racket. Spot-on harmonies. And they're married and have a little girl named Magnolia. Doesn't get much happier than that.

There are way more artists that I really love and would highly recommend, but not all of my favorite artists make me happy. Joni Mitchell, for example, is probably my all-time favorite recording artist, but she makes me sad. In a good way. Like how the Cranberries were the perfect fit for the first time I ever got dumped by a boy. I still can't listen to them without feeling a twinge of teenage angst.



What songs or artists make you happy? Really, I'm getting stuck in a rut with music and would love suggestions!

Friday, February 19, 2010

My 3 Things

My daughter and I are spending a few days with my sister and my 6 year old niece, and I've been paying a lot of attention to the mood we create for our time together. So far, I think we've managed to be lighthearted, and even downright silly, most of the time. Which has made for some fun times. And for some pretty well-behaved kiddos. And also, my daughter and niece won't let me forget to keep a little happy tradition every evening that I think is not only boosting our happiness, but that hopefully is also helping the girls shape a positive view of themselves.

Every night as we tuck them into bed, we tell them their "3 things" for the day. These are just 3 things that they did well that day. The 3 things usually range from things like,

"You shared your toys without complaining today. That was so generous." to

"You ran really fast to catch the dog when he got loose on our walk. That was athletic." to

"You tried 2 new foods you'd never tasted before at the restaurant today. That was super brave."

It's amazing how much these 3 little things puff up the girls with pride before bed. And how they will nod in agreement with each specific little statement like it's a secret they've long known about themselves that we are just discovering.



What were you really good at as a child? Did those strengths become things that make you happy now? (Like, I used to be pretty good at art back in the day, and I still really enjoy making something beautiful, like a well-wrapped gift for a friend.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Long and Winding Road


Tomorrow I'm going to be brave and travel by myself for 7 hours (at least) in the car with my 3 year old. Don't worry, the portable DVD player and VTech handheld game are charging up as we speak.

Which buys me, um, maybe 1.75 hours of peaceful driving.

For the other 5.25 hours (or more, depending on traffic and restless toddler legs), please say several, er, um, many, intense prayers for my sanity tomorrow.

I'm going to visit my fabulous and wonderful extended family, and to spend a few peaceful days in a house in the woods.

Ahhhh. The woods.

I really can't wait!


What fun time are you anticipating?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Get Your Sleep On


I don't think I've mentioned yet that sleeping is my hobby. It's one of my all time favorite things to do. And I also love reading about sleep. It's SO interesting! But the bad thing about reading about sleep, is that I start being convinced that I really really need to get to sleep, right then. So it generally takes me forever to finish sleep books. It's sort of hilarious, in a sad I'll-probably-never-learn-as-much-about-sleep-as-I'd-really-like-to kind of way.

Anyway, I just read an article in the Carolina Parent magazine about the "New Epidemic of Sleep Deprived Kids" in America.

Yikes! An epidemic!

So, I've decided to do my part by heading to bed. ASAP.

Nite!


Have you been getting your 7-9 hours of sleep, as recommended by the CDC, each night? Well, then, go get your sleep on!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Speechy Sunday - Silly Song Games


Some of you have requested some speech ideas and tips, so I'm trying to honor that. These ideas are just general strategies that work for me, and should in no way to be taken as medical advice. If you have a child or grandchild who needs speech and language support, there is no better way to get it than in person with your very own SLP. You can find a certified SLP in your area by going here.

Today I wanted to share a little game I like to play with kiddos with autism to help them become more flexible in accepting changes to routines they've learned. (I also play this game with kids who may need help with vocabulary, and with my daughter, just because it's fun!)

Here's how it works.

First, you teach a child a simple song. You can teach it with or without hand motions. Me, I can't stop myself from using hand motions. Repetitive songs are really good, because they're easy to learn. For example, we'll start with Old McDonald. So, you teach the child Old McDonald, and maybe you limit it to 3 verses to begin with (ex: cow, duck, pig). Once you've sung this song with the child, say, 15 times in a row, and you think the child really seems to get how it works, then you throw in the fun part.

You start changing up the song a bit, until it becomes a really silly song. So, maybe you're singing,

Old McDonald Had a Farm, E-I-E-I-O
And on that farm he had a .......

Then you pause very noticeably and insert a funny or absurd word into the song using a silly voice. Like this:

And on that farm he had a....... Snowman!?! E-I-E-I-O
With a........ brrr...brrr here and a ....brr brr there, here a brr, there a brrr, everywhere a brrr brrr,
Old McDonald had a snowman!?! E-I-E-I-O!

Then you explode with laughter, and say...."A snowman?!" "How silly!" and try wait to see if the child can tell you, "No, snowmen don't belong on the farm!" Or, even better, if they offer up another silly word to add to the song the next time.

Another take on this game is to change the song completely, rather than just one element. But it's smart to start with small changes if your child is a kiddo who likes predictability. Anyway, if you think they're ready, you might try something like:

Old McDonald had a.....BOAT!?! ....E-I-E-I-O
And on that ...boat...he had an....Octopus!?!....E-I-E-I-O
With a "wiggle wiggle" here, and a wiggle wiggle there, Here a Wiggle, there a wiggle, everywhere a wiggle wiggle,
Old McDonald had a boat...E-I-E-I-O!
And again, the exploding with laughter part is a great idea to let the child know that you're being playful, not trying to teach a real new song.

Some kids may need visual cues (like a couple of toys nearby that they can choose from to use as silly words to throw into the song), but some children very quickly catch onto the silly song creative process. I've had some kids with autism make up their own cute songs rather quickly, even when novel sentences were still hard for them to create. The structure of the song and the silliness factor makes this activity pretty motivating for kids to participate in, so it's much easier to teach what we call "carrier phrases" in this silly song game than without the game structure. (By the way, the term "carrier phrases" is just SLP technical talk for sentence pieces that are really useful like "I want a ___", or "I see a ___", phrases that can be used to make a zillion different sentences just by changing one word in them.)

I remember one child I used to work with who made up the cutest song one day about her mom, using the silly song game. We had been singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song, and this child substituted her mom in for the "sun who dried up all the rain". "Out came....Mama!! ...who dried up all the rain, so the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again!" It was really sweet that she made her mom the problem solver in the song.

My daughter loves the silly song game, which we've played pretty much all her life. Today, she was singing "Bold BacBonald Bad a Barm, Bee Bye Bee Bye Bo". Which is a whole different type of silly song game. But this is what I think is so neat about the whole silly song game. (Warning...nerd alert here!) It seems to me that once a child learns that they can substitute new words into songs to change up the meaning of the songs, then, logically, I think this could be a precursor to lots of phonological awareness skills. Like, how we can substitute new sounds into words to change up their meaning. You know, how, if you replace the /p/ in "pot" with an /h/, the new word becomes "hot." I haven't found any research about this possibility of word substitution in songs leading to the ability to do phoneme substitution tasks later, but if any of you SLP friends out there have ideas on the subject, I'd love to hear them.

In any case, the silly song game is fun for kids and for adults, and can be used to address skills ranging from flexibility in routines, to use of carrier phrases, to vocabulary building. If you have kids in your life, I hope you get to play the silly song game this week. It definitely gives me a little happiness boost when I do!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hold This Picture in Your Head

It snowed again! We made the biggest snowman on the block, as you can see. Actually, it was the only snowman on the block, can you believe it? As Flannery says, "We live in a snowy place now." So I guess the locals are bored by the snow and don't play in it like we Georgia natives do.

Today was a my-cup-runneth-over-with-happiness kind of day. We woke up to beautiful snow, had heart pancakes for breakfast, made a snowman, had cocoa, did art, I got to take a long hot bath, and then I went for a massage.

See? Cup overflowing. With marshmallowy chocolatey snowy relaxing happiness.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about today was visual images. I started thinking about this as I was getting my massage. I tried to do some mindfulness meditation while I was lying there getting massaged, but it was too complicated to try to focus on recognizing my thoughts while someone was kneading the tension out of my shoulders. So, I decided to try focusing on visualizing to increase my relaxation.

I learned about using visualizing for relaxation as an undergrad student in my Abnormal Psychology class. In class one day, we paired up with a friend, and while we took turns massaging one another's shoulders and necks, the instructor used guided imagery to help us relax. The instructor said that the more you visualized a certain scene while you were in a relaxing situation (ex: getting a massage, taking a warm long bath, etc.), the easier it would be later to just call upon the visual image to bring you the same feelings of relaxation. A little associative learning process.

So, back to the massage table. Me, lying with eyes closed, picturing people I love, places I love. Breathing. Trying to think of only the image in my mind and my breathing.

I'm sure the massage therapist thought I had fallen asleep or taken a heavy sedative before the session, because I'm generally a really chatty massage client. But I really didn't care what the therapist thought. I was getting my money's worth of relaxation!

And it really was one of the most relaxing massage sessions I've ever had. Which made my heart feel super happy. (Can you tell I've been watching Ni Hao Kai Lan a little too much?)




What pictures do you bring to mind to make you feel happy or peaceful?

----

By the way, I've also been using visualizing during my daily prayer times (usually as I'm driving in my car) as a way to increase my attention and focus while I'm praying. I'll try to hold the picture of whoever I'm praying for in my head for the whole time I'm saying a prayer. It's really a lot harder than you'd think it would be! Try it! And let me know how it goes! (Unless it's super easy for you, in which case, you should really keep that to yourself so I don't feel like a weird inattentive crazy person. Which I am. But still.) ;)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love your Pet


My daughter's favorite pastime right now is to hold our little dog, Annie, on her lap while sitting on the couch. (That's them in the photo). It is so adorable. And it makes Flannery soooo happy.

Which reminded me of a study my friend Beth once mentioned to me. She told me about a study that found that when we pet dogs, happy neurotransmitters like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin are released by our brain. No wonder my daughter loves to pet and hold little Annie dog!

I did a little bit of research, and besides making us happy, it turns out that our pets are good for our health in many ways! For instance, dog-owners generally get more physical exercise than non-dog owners, regardless of whether they report taking their dogs on regular walks. Pets can also help us reduce our anxiety and stress levels. I also found a neat article that discusses how our blood pressure drops while we are quietly petting dogs. Visits with dogs can help reduce loneliness in nursing home patients. There's even some evidence that owning a pet can make you more likely to be alive one year after a heart attack, controlling for severity of the heart attack. I'm sure there are tons of researchy-flaws in those studies that my husband will be thrilled to discover, but I still think it's pretty cool that there are scientists out there researching how dogs make us healthier and happier.

So now I"m off to the couch to have some neurotransmitter release time with the puppies!



How do your pets make you happy?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Remember Screw-ups who Became Bible Heroes, and other Wisdom


About once a week, I'm trying to post interviews with amazing and insightful people who inspire me! This week's focus is Amy.

I grew up with Amy. We went to church together at the Hampton United Methodist Church when we were growing up, and also went to school together from preschool to high school. We went to different colleges, and she moved back to our home turf after getting her master’s and getting married. She’s a full-time mom now to an adorable little toddler, and she also works as a Minister of Christian Education at her church. She’s always been one of those people who just seemed to me to have it all together. She stuck to her morals even when it wasn’t cool, and some of the best most thoughtful conversations of my life were ones I had with her in middle school. Seriously, she was just thoughtful about life from an early age. I hope you’ll be as inspired as I was by her replies to my happiness interview questions.

1. When you're feeling blue, what do you do to make yourself happier?

I frequently struggle with anxiety and depression, so this is a question I ask myself often. When I start to feel a bout of depression coming on (and it does, like waves) I try to do two things. First, I try to re-center my life around God. When I see myself as the world sees me, I get depressed. I'm not wealthy or gorgeous and I spend more time changing diapers and cleaning house than doing fun things. My first impulse to combat depression is to drink more (which helps a bit, hah!), spend money I don't have on clothes I don't need, or buy more makeup. When this doesn't help as a long-term solution, I open up my Bible and remind myself that I am of great worth and that God, fully knowing what an incompetent adult I've turned out to be, still loves me. I enjoy reading Bible stories about screw-ups who turned out to be important people: David, Paul, Rahab, etc. This helps immensely.
The second thing I try to do is focus on other people. When you try to help someone else out, it's easier to forget how crummy you feel about your own life. Plus, it helps you feel grateful for the many blessings you do have. My new mantra is "I could be in Haiti." I'll get all bent out of shape about sitting in traffic when there are people in Haiti who are hungry and homeless and looking for loved ones. My problems are so small in comparison!

2. What's a little thing that you do regularly that makes you happy?

I lose myself in a good book.

3. What's something you've discovered that you'd you like your child(ren) to know about happiness?

I want my daughter to know that happiness isn't something you get from other people or from any tangible objects. When we have a relationship with God, we can have happiness (peace) regardless of our circumstances. I'd also like to tell her that this process isn't as easy as it seems. It takes constant work to remind yourself of this truth. Please remind me of this if you run in to me at CVS with a basket full of makeup. : )

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I love the idea of remembering that we are of great worth, and that many pretty royal screw-ups turned out to be biblical heroes in the end! I've also heard a lot of my friends say that comparing themselves to those in Haiti has made them appreciate their lot in life more these days. Sometimes contemplating sadness can actually lead us toward happiness, or at least toward noticing good things. And I also agree that we have to work at it to be happy or at peace. Here's to working at it...that's what this whole blog is about!



What about yourself do you think is "of great worth"?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Be Dead to Both the Praises & the Curses of Men


I read a book a few years ago that I think about a lot when I think about trying to live my life well. It's called "Ascending the Heights," by Father John Mack. It's basically a guide to pursuing virtue (and it's the easy version to a more complex book called "The Ladder of Divine Ascent.") Anyway, in this book, there is a story I really like about a Saint named St. Macarius of Egypt (that's him in the picture);

The story goes that there was a young man who wanted to become a monk. He went to Saint Macarius of Egypt and asked him, "St. Macarius, how can I become a monk?"

St. Macarius replied, "You must become dead to the world." But the young man did not understand.

"What do you mean?" he asked St. Macarius.

To which St. Macarius replied, "Go to the cemetery, and stand all day giving praises and honor to those buried there."

So the young man went to the cemetery, and stood all day saying beautiful, honorable things about the people buried there.

The next day, he went back to St. Macarius, and St. Macarius said, "Now you must go to the cemetery, and stand all day cursing and defiling the names of those buried there."

So the young man went back to the cemetery again, and this time shouted curses and insults at the people buried there.

He then went back to St. Macarius. "I don't understand how this will help me become a monk," he asked.

Then St. Macarius asked him, "What did the dead do when you praised and rebuked them?"

The young man replied, "They were silent to both praise and reproach."

Then St. Macarius replied, “If you wish to be saved, be as one dead. Be dead to both the praises and the curses of men. Do not become angry when insulted, nor puffed up when praised.”

The book goes on to explain a gazillion fantastic ways to be more virtuous, with such chapters as "remembering our mortality", "letting the past be the past", & one of my personal favorites, "keeping our mouths shut."

After reading this book, "Be dead to both the praises and curses of men" became one of my all time favorite quotes. I try to remember it when I've had a bad day and feel like people think I'm doing a bad job with something.

But it's also a good reminder that I shouldn't need praise in order to feel good about myself, either. I'm one of those people who just love to be praised. I really do appreciate it when my husband comments on how good the kitchen looks after I've cleaned it! But shouldn't I be able to get that same satisfaction without anyone noticing?

I'm working on it.



Are you driven by praise and criticism at work or at home? Try to notice your response to them this week, and see if you can "be dead" to both. Let me know how it goes!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Embarrassing but True


I’m trying to keep my happiness commandment to “Be Authentic,” and it’s tougher than I had first thought.

Turns out if I’m honest with myself, I’m not half as cool as I’d like to be. The real me is kinda dorky.

For instance,

I love to walk around Target and just look at things, as, like, a pastime. Who, besides me, does that for fun? I wish I loved jogging or kickboxing or knitting. You know, real hobbies. But I like to look at stuff. It reminds me of when I was young and would buy Vogue magazine just to flip through it for hours on end. I like to see the newest stuff people are selling. Strange, I know.

I love poppy country music. (You know, Taylor Swift, the Chicken Fried guy, that one about how “It won’t be like this for long”). I have even been brought to tears by songs like, “You’re Gonna Miss This”. Yes, I’m old now and have gotten sentimental. I even like Christian music. I've tried really hard to be modern and really get into the instrumental math rock bands my hubby listens to, but, alas, I am just not that cool.

I love reading books about disorders and their treatment in my spare time. I’m especially interested in autism, OCD, and attachment disorders. I also like to read child development books and books in Spanish. And sometimes child development books in Spanish. For fun. Sigh.

I don't like to be negative. I'd much rather say something nice about someone than gossip. This has really limited the number of people who want to be my friend, because a lot of people seem to bond over sharing the same contempt for someone or something. You know, those girls who just want to go out and complain about their husbands all night? or those coworkers who just want to hang out and bad-talk the boss all evening? At one job, I actually had a coworker tell me (in a half-joking way) that she just couldn't talk to me because I'd never complain about anything. I hate to be seen as a Pollyanna, but I guess if I'm honest with myself, maybe I am.

When no one else is home, I love to watch Mystery Diagnosis. Soooo interesting! I recently forced Robi to watch it with me, and he pretended to enjoy it, which I really appreciated! I wish I liked normal shows that I could talk about at work the next day, like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or, um, that big football game that's on right now. But I just don't. And if I try to bring up Mystery Diagnosis with coworkers, it really doesn't boost my street cred.

Yup. Embarrassing.

But true.

But I think it's progress to be figuring out what I'm really like, and what it means to be authentically me. I may not like what the rest of the world likes, but, hey, that's just me.

You know, the nerdy redhead walking aimlessly through Target with a buggy full of Taylor Swift CDs.



When did you realize that you might never actually be cool?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tell a Lame Joke


This morning, while Flannery was taking a bath, I found out that the child loves lame jokes. I think she must take after my dad (that's him with Flanna in the photo), who is the king of lame "dad" jokes. (I've always loved that about him. :))

In an attempt to follow through with my happiness commandment # 4 -- Have Fun, I had learned some silly knock knock jokes earlier this week. Here's the one I used this morning at bath time:

"Knock Knock
Who's there?
Boo.
Boo who?
Don't cry--it's only a joke!"

Flannery thought that was comic gold. And it was really fun to be so silly. She'd practice telling me the joke, and then we'd switch roles. She loved it!

Then, I found out that she actually knew a joke. She said, "Mommy, here's a joke I just learned:" and then proceeded to say:

"Knock knock.
Who's there?
Cargo.
Cargo who?
Car go beep beep."

I couldn't believe she actually knew a whole little joke, and that this was the first I was finding out about it. Apparently her teachers or dad beat me to the silliness punch! Which reminded me again that I often don't make time for silliness, and I need to more often!

Anyway, some of you with little kids in your life might enjoy these other knock knock jokes I've added to my repertoire this week:

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Woo.

Woo, who?

Don't get so excited, it's just a joke.

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Who.

Who who?

Is there an owl in here?

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Little old lady.

Little old lady who?

Wow! I didn't know you could yodel!

Knock Knock
Who's there?
Ach
Ach who?
Bless You!

Knock, Knock.

Who's there?

Police. 

Police who?

Police stop telling these awful knock, knock jokes!


How can you make time for fun this week?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Words Have Power


As I was driving the icy roads between the thousands of speech sessions and IEP meetings I juggled today, with a crazy long mental to-do list that was in serious need of being written down, and therefore, with a pretty huge degree of worry that I'd forget something important, I realized something.

My stressed out moments weren't making me as insane as normal.

And I think I figured out why.

Instead of my normal thoughts like, "I'll never get all this done." or "How in the world can I meet all these deadlines?", my brain was saying little phrases from my happiness project, like,

"Do what needs to be done."

"Do your best and be done with it."

"Do it now."

"All you can do is what you can do."

Now, I'm trying not to get too "Dr. Phil" on you, but the power of these little phrases really struck me. They're actually changing my response to stress somehow. This is kind of groundbreaking for me.

So now I'm off to battle a mountain of paperwork. But somehow, thinking of it as "Doing what needs to be done" makes it a little more noble and a little more manageable.


What phrases keep you motivated when you're overwhelmed?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Work Hard to Make a Connection


Sometimes it's hard work to connect with other people.

Seriously, I have a best friend who lives in California (She gave my daughter the humongous pink horse in the photo, which you can see my dog, Padme, loves as well!), and I am absolutely horrible at connecting with her, even though I think about her about every day. I use our different time zones as an excuse, and it really does present a challenge. But, really, how hard is it to e-mail? Apparently, very.

Ugh.

Anyway, today I'm remembering to focus on my Happiness Commandment #5: Work Hard to Make a Connection.

When we care about other people, it's not enough to just care. If we want to be happy in those relationships, we've got to do the hard work of keeping the relationships strong.

So, today I called my mom...which made me immensely happy. And last weekend I called my mother in law, which (surprise surprise!) also made me happier! (I'm soooo lucky to have a super sweet mother in law who has never seemed judgmental or overbearing as long as I've known her!) And I'm sending a package to my sister today...fun!

And in a minute, I'm actually going to send an e-mail to my L.A. friend! (Gasp!)

I know! She's going to be shocked!

And hopefully pleased. Which will make me pretty darn happy.




What cherished relationship have you let slide in the "connection" department? Go forth and reconnect! :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mindfulness Meditation, TriYoga, and Orchestrating a Fulfilling Life


About once a week, I'm trying to post interviews with amazing and insightful people who inspire me! This week's focus is Lisa.

Lisa is a friend and mentor of mine from grad school, who is now a professor and researcher in language and literacy. She is one of the best, most creative speech therapists I’ve ever seen in action. She’s also just a genuinely kind person who takes the time to connect with people around her regardless of how busy she is. And right now, I’m super-excited for her, because she and her husband Jon just started the process of getting ready to adopt! I can’t wait until they get the chance to be parents, because I can just imagine what an intuitive and thoughtful mom Lisa will be.

Anyway, here are her answers to my happiness interview questions:


1. How do you cheer yourself up when you're feeling blue?
I think there are two levels of feeling blue - there are the short term times when I feel blue - the days when things just don't go right or I feel overwhelmed or sad for some reason. I know they are short lived but they are still unpleasant. In those times, there are lots of things that I can do to cheer myself up - baking cookies and singing to music I love, going for a walk and noticing all the wonderful things in nature - to look deeply outside of myself instead of inside at my own negative feelings, exercising, reading an inspiring book, praying - just telling God all about what's making me sad and letting God feel that with me. I also meditate but I think that gets into the longer term response to feeling blue...

Then I think there are the times in our lives when "blue" is sort of a pervading feeling - something that spans more than a few days and seems to be related to bigger issues in our lives - it could be a family member with a serious illness, a blow to some aspect of our professional or personal life or dreams, problems that are not solvable perhaps for a long time, hurts that will take months and years to truly be felt, experienced, and moved beyond. And I don't necessarily mean clinical depression here - although that certainly counts - if we've lived enough years, we've had times like these whether we needed therapy and meds to deal with them or not!

I think those bigger periods of feeling blue are something we can prepare for by taking a proactive stance toward the short term blues we experience - having ways to respond to small hurts and sad days. But we also need to have some overarching way of orchestrating our life to handle the bigger difficulties. For me a huge part of that has been mindfulness meditation, yoga, and looking to build my life in ways that allow me to pursue my dreams. And those things seem to innoculate me so that when I DO experience a big setback or hurt, my life already has the things in it that help me cope. I've been knocked down before b/c those things were not in place and I've coped much better since I got them in place. Mindfulness meditation was something that changed my life - I learned how to be IN the moment, to not always be thinking about the past or what I needed to do next week, but to be in the moment with whatever I had in front of me at that moment - whether it was my cookies, my dinner, a student having a meltdown, a parent struggling with their child's disability, my husband, a friend on the phone, whatever. It took a lot of practice, and I find times when I forget to practice and something reminds me to get back into the habit. Yoga goes hand in hand with this - and I'll say I've done yoga for 15 or more years now but TriYoga has changed my life. It is a very mindful yoga and based in flows of movement - a lot of yoga I've done involved getting into a posture and holding the posture - but TriYoga has taught me to be mindful throughout ALL movement - and that has helped me find the subtle ways my body works and to focus on expanding my body's abilities in ways that other yoga practices never did.

Finally, I've changed my life in ways that fit my spirit and my dreams much better. I think mindfulness meditation helped me be present in the moment - rather than being disappointed with what life was presenting at that moment, just accepting that this is what the moment held and to experience that rather than to fight against it (this is why mindfulness meditation is so useful for pain patients and heart patients). But mindfulness meditation also taught me that I don't have to stay in situations that are unhealthy for me - I can be mindful in the moment AND I can plan to make bigger changes in my life that help me to reach my dreams and provide a better place for my spirit to grow. I think that was the whole reason WHY I was able to take the chance and leave a REALLY GOOD JOB at Chapel Hill and come to a place that offered much less in terms of prestige and glamour - but where I certainly FIT better - a job that feeds my soul instead of draining it - a place where I am able to truly use my talents in ways that help students learn to be good with children with special needs and help parents and children reach their potential. I have never felt this energized and fulfilled by the various roles I get to play - as teacher, supervisor, mentor, model, collaborator, researcher. But that would not have come if I had not been able to notice my spirit in the moment and consider what it needed to be whole. And of course, I also believe that God had a whole lot to do with it. It was a divine plan; however, I don't think a few years earlier I would have listened to that. I think we have to be intentional about the big choices we make in life, and that can set us up to be happier. And we have to be able to listen to ourselves and to God to know what choices to make.


2. What have been the happiest experiences of your life so far?
Wow, so many... recently it's been getting married to a wonderful man, the kind of man that I did not know could exist. He has helped me see myself in different ways, and shown me a different way to live - to value what's really important and to seek the best in myself and others (and "best" does not have to mean "achievement" which had been my focus all my life). He is just fun to be with and I am so happy that we can pursue life together.

My career brings me a great deal of happiness - I love showing students how to work with children, teaching them the principles of interacting in trustworthy ways to help kids be successful. I love watching them "get it" and watching the children respond to that. I love teaching in ways that make students enjoy the topic even if they thought they'd hate it. I love being able to figure a kid out with the help of their parents and then helping them achieve the skills to communicate in ways that make life a lot easier for the whole family. My career brings me a lot of joy.

My gramma has brought me a lot of happiness - to have a gramma close by is wonderful and a first for me. She sometimes feels like a burden b/c she needs people to take care of her, and I wish that I could somehow impress upon her how much joy she brings me -- how much she has taught me about family in the last 6 months and about what is important in life.

I think it's interesting that you ask for what our happiest experiences have been so far. I immediately started to think of some of the saddest experiences in my life and how those also helped me to find happiness - like my mother's illness and death which was so hard - but out of that came some real blessings, things I learned that have been instrumental in helping me move forward in my life. Our inability to have children - which has also taught me so much about accepting loss and pursuing dreams and building a family. That story still has more chapters, and I don't know what they will look like yet - but although it has been very painful and difficult, it has also taught me so much. In big ways but also in very small and practical ways - it helped me understand one of my clients much better and his family and my work with them looked much different b/c of my growing knowledge about the difficulties adopted kids have. Some of the training we are doing is helping me understand some of my own childhood traumas and how to "parent" in ways that can make a difference for the child. I also think my childhood traumas put me in a position of being able to understand an adopted child much better - so although those experiences were not "happy" to say the least, they have given me such a gift to be able to offer a child we bring into our home - knowledge and understanding that I would not have otherwise had. So, the experiences we have that are not happy can also provide us with the tools to build happiness.

3. What is something small that you do regularly that makes you happier?
I guess I've already said this - spend time with my husband and family, meditate, yoga, read, cook, go for walks, work with kids, teach my students, looking for the very small things in life (snowflakes, my gramma's face on Christmas) that are the building blocks of happiness if you notice them, rather than looking for something big to come to me and make me happy.

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I guess you can probably see why Lisa was such an exceptional mentor to me when I was in grad school. I think I could write 35 blog entries on this interview alone.

I definitely agree with her that the little things we do to make us happier are like strategies we can have in our happiness toolbox when something big and scary comes along in life. And she’s right-- sad and painful experiences can sometimes reveal insights to us and open us up in a way that happy ones never could. To know ourselves well, and to know what makes us happy, is not a small thing.

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By the way, here’s a link to a really cool video about the cognitive neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. It’s SO interesting!

And, a friend of mine told me about an article in the Wall Street Journal about Happiness Coaching in the Workplace. Check it out if you're interested!

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What hard times have ultimately led you toward a happier life?