Archive for February, 2010

My post is a bit later than usual today, because I have been dealing with the business part of life — filing paperwork, paying bills, managing my calendar, and the list goes on.  How appropriate that today’s birthday celebrity would be Charles M. Schwab, the founder of Bethlehem Steel Corporation and a consummate businessman.  ‘Today is the perfect day,’ I thought, ‘for some words of wisdom about managing the nuts and bolts of life!’  And here is what I found:

“Lead the life that will make you kindly and friendly to everyone about you, and you will be surprised what a happy life you will lead”

— Charles M. Schwab

Can you imagine that?  When I look for words of wisdom about managing business, I find another message about bringing kindness to the world.  Mr. Schwab also is credited with this statement:

“A man can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm.”

Here is a man who is seen by all as successful in his business dealings, and his focus is on kindness and enthusiasm.  Could this mean that success lies in the person pursuing a goal as much as it rests in the goal itself?  As living, breathing, thinking beings, each of us seeks the dream we will choose as our own.  Whether it is a dream of financial success or a dream of improving our world in a way that generates no income, it seems that Mr. Schwab would recommend proceeding with kindness and unlimited enthusiasm.  I always knew Charles Schwab was successful.  Now I also think he was wise.  May you walk kindly today and may your enthusiasm for life reach new heights!

“To be yourself in a world that is contstantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I just finished a webcam visit with my grandsons who live in Atlanta.  I think that Oskar, age 3, must have been reading Emerson this morning; because it was obvious that he is striving to maintain his individuality, in spite of his parents’ efforts to teach him to conform.  Isn’t that the way things work?  We’re born blank slates; and from the moment we need something from another person — usually our mother — we begin to learn how to conform and interact in ways that allow our needs to be met.  Assuming that a child has loving parents who hold his best interest at heart, it is probably a good thing that we spend our first three years soaking up the information we need in order to navigate society.  We learn to give and take.  We learn to be kind if we want kindness in return.  We learn to love in response to the love we are shown.  These are all good things.

What, then, is Emerson talking about when he says our greatest accomplishment is in resisting the world’s attempts to make us something we are not?  The first three years of life, so the experts tell us, lay the groundwork for the way we will live the rest of our lives among other people.  Most four-year-olds I’ve met have no trouble at all being themselves and telling us confidently just who they are.  Let’s fast-forward now to the wonderful age of fourteen.  I happen to have one of those at the moment, so I’m very aware of the struggles of the fourteen-year-old to begin to separate from parental influence and move toward the time when she will declare adult independence and strike out on her own.  How do we do this at age fourteen?  We declare our independence by striving diligengly to conform completely to the unspoken standard of our contemporaries.  We never know for certain who it is that dictates what is “cool” or acceptable.  We only know that our survival in the world is dependent on how well we can portray this acceptable image.  We negotiate.  We manipulate.  We learn to hide parts of ourselves from others in order to assure that people won’t see who we are and reject our individuality.

The question is this:  If we’ve left adolescence behind and actually reached adulthood, why is it that we sometimes persist in feeling the need to deny who we really are and continue to hide behind a facade that we have learned to call acceptable?

Certainly, there is comfort in finding common ground with others.  In friendship, we find a sort of acceptance and approval from people who share our values and possibly share our goals.  It is likely that we all received similar input in those critical first three years of life; and for that we should thank our parents.  What Emerson challenges us to do is to see that groundwork and the blind conformity of adolescence as skills for interacting with others.  I think what he speaks about is the more challenging and enlightening work of learning to lovingly interact with and conform to ourselves.  Isn’t that what makes life interesting?

Each of us has something uniquely our own that we can bring to friendship and bring to the world at large that adds a special kind of color to the tapestry of life.  Let’s all think today of what it is that makes our hearts sing.  Find the songs that others bring to the world and look for the places where your own plays in harmony with that of another.  Once that is accomplished, there is only one thing left to do — REJOICE!

On Saturday, I got together with some friends to play our drums and spend some time together.  As we played a rhythm that wove in and out and created a beautiful sound, I realized that I was grinning from ear to ear.  That got me thinking about smiling.  Why do we smile, how do we smile, and why is it so infectious?

The first person who came to mind was my granddaughter, Cheyenne.  She may be only 2-1/2 years old, but this girl is a world-class smiler!

Only 4 months old, and already an expert!

From the time this kid was born, what people remarked most about her was her smile.  Some folks just turn up the corners of their mouths, but Chey smiles so big that her eyes get in on the action, too!  Are you smiling yet?

Trick or Treat! Can't eat the candy, but it sure is pretty!

Well, if you are smiling, that wouldn’t be surprising.  Smiles are contagious, you know!  And I think it’s a good thing!  Did you know that smiles can relieve stress and even boost your immune system?

This sure is fun!

This sure is fun!

Studies have shown that smiling can lower your blood pressure.  Smiling also releases endorphins and serotonin — natural brain chemicals that relieve pain and promote feelings of well-being.  I guess you could say that smiling is good for your health!

I am the prettiest flower of all!

So what are you waiting for?  Smile!  You might find that it lifts your spirits!

We don’t know where Cheyenne gets her amazing ability to smile…

Is it Genetic?

Maybe she gets it from her Dad…

It's Contagious!

Maybe from her Mom and her Dad…

That's me!

or from her Grandma…

Grandpa and Lily

or her Grandpa…or cousin Lily…

I love you, Cheyenne!

or cousin Ivy.

Judy and Al - Thanksgiving 2008

It could be from her great-grandparents…

Ruth Stead -- Great-great Grandma

or even her great-great grandma.

Smiling knows no age limits; and whether it’s genetic or contagious, it seems like a good way to go through life.  What are you waiting for?  Put a smile on your face!  Now you may say that it’s easy to smile when everything is going your way; so I’ll share one more picture of my smiley Cheyenne:

After surgery in December 2007

This one was taken on a wagon ride through the halls of the hospital after one of her five surgeries.

So no excuses!  Put on a smile; and while you’re smiling, just try to think sad thoughts…can’t do it, can you?  Wear that smile today and see how it changes the way you feel.  And while you’re at it, pass it on!


February 15, 1564 marked the birth of Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer credited with the invention of the astronomical telescope and with many discoveries about the way the universe works.  His curiosity and passion for learning brought new understanding about Science to our world.  What I find more interesting is the way his philosophical writing opens our minds and our eyes and teaches us about human nature.  One quote by Galileo that seems relevant for me is this one:

“The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.”

This weekend we celebrated the 30th birthday of my son, David.  We are not the kind of people who make a big fuss about birthdays.  There are no expensive restaurants and no lavish gifts involved.  The birthday boy gets to choose his favorite meal, and the family gathers to share it with him and celebrate another year in his presence.  When David was a little boy, this meant that our usual family dinner with the five children would be one of his choice and that we would linger just a bit longer over some cake and ice cream.  Our children are grown now.  This is the part of life with the Easy Button, right?

David chose a family favorite — Breakfast for Dinner — as his celebration this year.  Unlike most years, though, we actually had Breakfast for Breakfast as we tried to choose a time that would allow as many local brothers and sisters as possible to attend.

When it comes to birthdays, I guess my kids are the planets and I am the Sun.  I get to sit at the center of the celebration, assure that it is planned and executed in an orderly fashion, and see to it that none of the planets collide in any destructive way.  If I am the Sun and the kids are the planets, I guess that makes my grandchildren the moons.  You can see how this grows to astronomical proportions!

This year, our Breakfast for Breakfast included 19 members of my solar system.  It was wonderful to watch my planets orbit harmoniously and enjoy each other’s company!  Even the moons — seven of them age 7 or younger — managed not to become UFOs and caused no alarm.

I’m sure you can imagine that the Sun has many responsibilities at a time like this!  It took a couple of hours to prepare food for so many people.  There were tables to be set up and readied.  There was baby-proofing to be done.  It is hard work, sometimes, when you’re the Sun.

What was it that Galileo said?

“The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.”

There is no question that it can be a huge responsibility when the planets all revolve around your work and depend on you for an orderly and pleasant outcome.  What I’ve learned from Galileo is not to forget to ripen the grapes.  I think of the Sun doing all that constant work at making sure the planets stay in their orbits and the solar system runs smoothly.  Maybe ripening grapes is the part that makes life interesting.  Cooking French Toast for 20 is an accomplishment, but cooking French Toast for 20 and having the time to look at a picture that your grandchild just drew is what makes the day worthwhile.

It is easy, when we are responsible for seeing that there is bread and butter to sustain life, to forget to savor the icing on the cake that makes each day special and unique.  Look up at the Sun today and think of the way you just assume that it will rise each morning and steadily do its work in the sky.  Maybe it takes some grapes now and then for us to remember to appreciate the Sun.

Today is the day that has everyone talking about love; so let’s talk.  It seems that we, as human beings, spend a good portion of our lives seeking love in one way or another.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about love and about how to “be love” as I walk through life.  There are obvious answers that come quickly to mind:

I can be kind and loving to the man I fell in love with twenty-four years ago.

I can be loving and understanding with my children and approach them with encouragement rather than criticism.

I can be helpful to my neighbors and show them kindness.

All of these are admirable things and good examples of sharing love; but I think that “being” love goes a bit deeper.  A little while ago, I shared a quote with you from Albert Schweitzer, the respected medical missionary who I think set a very good example of being love.  He speaks of us having an inner fire — I suppose you could call it a passion — and he speaks of the fire burning low and then bursting into flame due to an encounter with another human being.  Schweitzer said:

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

He also remarked:

“Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.”

If there is an inner fire that is our spirit, and if that fire is sometimes sustained by encounters with others, then I suppose that “being love” might have something to do with opening our hearts in our dealings with other people so that if their flame is burning low it might be rekindled by the fire of love that lives within us.  Who knows?  If we do this “something wonderful,” somebody might just pass it on.

Today is Valentine’s day.  I will try to find ways to express my love and gratitude to my husband and my children for the good feelings of warmth and acceptance they bring to my life.  This is a good thing!

Now I stop for a minute and recall another time in my life, in the innocence of childhood, when I gave Valentine cards to everyone I could possibly think of.  There was such joy in just expressing love to all the people who were part of my life.  There was less discrimination and less need to define the word, “love”, as I opened my heart and lavished small hearts on everyone I met.  I’m thinking that we can learn a lot from the children we used to be — on Valentine’s Day and, hopefully, beyond the limit of a calendar date.  Let us come to Valentine’s Day with our hearts wide open and let the fire of love that burns in our spirits lead the way in our interactions with others.  Who knows?  We just might start something!

Sometimes it takes more than one day to visit an idea.  Footprints is one of those.  As yesterday came to an end, I thought of another instance where walking gently matters a great deal.  Now and then, if we are truly blessed, another person will invite us into their personal space.  It is then that we walk silently and with reverence.  I had an experience like that this week, and I share it with you here.  As I struggled for a title, another dear soul came my way — and I knew what to call my poem.  Thank you to both of you for increasing my understanding and for inspiring me.

Heart Song

I stand in silence

Awaiting invitation.

Come in, you say,

And your heart opens wide.

I look down at my feet;

Removing my shoes,

Pull on a pair of snow white socks.

Only then, barely breathing

I walk over the threshold

And, looking around

See your dreams and your pain

Your hopes and your fears

And the light of your soul

Shining bright as the sun in the sky.

Each footstep is gentle,

Precise and unhurried

Come, join me, you say

And you offer a seat

And I sit in the silence

And hear your heart beating

And open the ears of my own loving heart.

As I sit in your center,

And share in the holiness

Tears fill my eyes

Not of sadness, but honor

To be so invited

In trust and in unity

Hearts beat as one and the universe sings.

© Pamela Stead Jones 2010

As I pulled on my wool socks and headed to the unheated kitchen to make some breakfast this morning, the ice-cold floor made me really pay attention to my feet.  Maybe I should have gone back for shoes; but instead I stayed and washed up a few lingering dishes before measuring out the oatmeal.

Since all of this can be done on autopilot, and since my feet were demanding my attention, my thoughts wandered to footprints.  It must have been the cold floor that did it.  I remembered looking out into the still-falling snow on Wednesday and seeing no signs of life except four footprints from the road to the mailbox.  The mailman had managed to deliver in spite of the weather!  I guess what they say about rain and snow and dark of night must be true.  I thought about how reassuring it was to see those footprints at a time when we felt cut off and isolated from the rest of the world.  Then I thought about the bunny tracks across the back yard and the trail left by a wandering raccoon.  I hardly ever see these creatures in winter, but their footprints tell me they have paid a visit.

I started thinking about footprints and the way they linger after we leave and remind people that we’ve paid a visit and moved on.  What kind of footprints do I want to leave in my world today?  Will I wear my hobnail boots and stomp through life, leaving destruction as my legacy?  Will I track my own dirt through an unspoiled place and leave sadness and regret in my wake?  Will I put on my dancing shoes and leave a trail that will conjure memories of love and delight?  It’s a choice we make each time we raise a foot and prepare to walk.  When I think of the young ones who follow along, I see childhood memories of walking in another set of footprints so that nobody would know there were two of us walking.  What a responsibility it is to leave a trail!  When someone comes upon mine and walks in the prints I’ve left, I hope they will dance.  As for me, I plan to tread gently today.

Yesterday a ton of snow fell on us!  It fell steadily, swirled, blew and obscured our vision.  It accumulated quickly and closed schools, offices and even the interstate highways.  By the time the storm had ended more than 18 inches of snow had fallen.

We awoke this morning to a huge amount of snow and lots of work to be done!

What does this have to do with gratitude?

  • We made it through the whole storm without losing power.
  • We had a nice warm house where we could wait for clear skies.
  • We had plenty of food.
  • Everyone we loved stayed safe.
  • We enjoyed the beauty of undisturbed snow and the excitement of wading through a world turned white.

Now that the storm has passed, I look at the snow piles and think of the way they will melt slowly into the ground and increase the store of moisture to feed the summer’s crops.  Most of all, I’m grateful for the way a good snowstorm slows us down and increases our appreciation of our basic needs being met and our loved ones being safe and close.

Snowbound and loving it!

Alyssa, Ivy, and their new friend, Frosty.

We love you, Frosty!