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I’ve drifted away from this blog and have been spending more time on Gossip and Solitude, a blog about reading and writing. I began Mom’s Musings years ago as a forum to post thoughts about any and everything from family to work and religion to politics. I’m a grandmother now, not a “mom” with dependent children. Does Mom’s Musings still fit? Maybe. Like a friend told me last week, “You’ll always be a mom.”

So here goes.

Note to self: No more whining about anything. I’ve got more good stuff going on than the law allows.

Of all the memorable  things I saw, heard, and experienced this past weekend,the prize goes to a sweet image I’ll carry in my heart for the rest of my days.

I went to church in Myrtle Beach yesterday morning, and as I was chatting with a friend before Sunday school began, my attention was drawn to a sweet scene that involved two tiny people, my granddaughter Amelia and her cousin Fern. The tots were leaving the chapel hand-in-hand on their way to the nursery, and I knew that within their little psyches, they felt the power of love and unity. I could see only the backs of their heads, one blond and the other chestnut, but I didn’t have to see their beautiful faces to know they were smiling.

Backtracking a bit, we dined with Amelia and her siblings and parents Friday evening, and although it might have seemed ordinary to many, to me it was anything but. However, if I hadn’t been deliberately observant, I might have missed, or at least not savored, a few of the shining moments.

  • Ethan, my grandson rode with Elizabeth and me to California Pizza, and on the way, he spotted a huge navel orange in the back seat and claimed it as his own. His aunt Elizabeth told him she had brought it for Grandma Jayne, but that was his orange and no one was wresting it away from him. For dinner, he nibbled on pizza but ate the orange in its entirety.
  • Olivia, the first grader, began coloring and playing tic-tac-toe on her paper placemat right away. Always able to entertain herself, she “worked” and chatted until her mac ‘n’ cheese arrived.
  • Amelia Grace ate her pizza and some of her sister’s chips. Generous, she handed several chip pieces across the table to me. Paying no attention to my no thanks, she kept her little arm extended until I took one or two or three.
  • When we left California Pizza, it was pouring down rain, and Ethan sheltered beneath the umbrella with Elizabeth as we hustled towards the car. The other two children were with their parents, and I’m glad I got a glance of the four of them huddled together as they hurriedly splashed down the sidewalk.

Last Sunday, I attended church in Rincon, GA with my daughter Carrie and her five children. I usually leave after Sacrament service, but that day I stayed for all three meetings. My oldest granddaughter, Brooke, was giving her last talk in Primary that day because the following Sunday (yesterday) she was being promoted to Young Women’s. Lovely and serene, she gave her talk like the champ she is, and witnessing the moment was worth the two-hour delay of leaving.

Shining moments don’t have to involve children or grandchildren. One afternoon last week a friend and I were captivated by a small flock of starlings circling and swooping over downtown Camden. Glad I noticed.

What about you? What’s something that’s made you smile lately?

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I really relish the time I get to spend with these three gals, and I’ve just figured out why. They’re all so “outer-directed.” Sure, they care about themselves and their own growth, development, well-being, health, appearance, and finances, but they care about others too. In fact, now that I think about it, all of my friends are that way. That’s why they’re my friends: I need them to “rub off on me.” Attitude, good or bad, is contagious.

Just think about your circle of friends, acquaintances, and family members. Would you rather spend an hour with a down-in-the-mouth, complaining, grumpy person or with one with an upbeat attitude? Had you rather be around someone who has a positive yet realistic attitude nor who feels like the sky is going to fall in tomorrow? Do you prefer the company of someone who feels that things will work out or with someone who just knows that the worst possible of scenarios is going to befall her/him/us.

The women in the picture above, including me, have all had her share of woe, heartbreak, and anxiety. There are actually several other nouns I could add to the list, but why do that? Why add to the negativity??? We all focus on what we have and not what we don’t have. We know enough about relative deprivation to know that we are indeed fortunate, especially when compared to the deprived and downright horrid conditions in which many of the world’s people have to live.

None of us are wealthy, at least not in the ways of the world. We all, however, understand that there’s a relatedness between all life on Earth and that we have an obligation to make life better for others…including ourselves. I added that last phrase so you’ll know that we aren’t completely selfless. Ha ha. That’s a laugh. If we were totally selfless, we’d be at home cooking up a savory meal, scrubbing the bathtub, or volunteering at our local soup kitchens.

We do our share of cooking, scrubbing, and volunteering, but we also take time to feed the inner vessel. In fact, that’s what we were doing that day. We were sightseeing at beautiful Botany Bay, a feast for the eyes and soul that was introduced to me by another “sister” who understands the power of ocean, land, and sky.  Doing it together enhanced our experience and deepened our bonds as sisters.

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“Rise above it, Jayne. Rise above it.” That’s what my friend Murph used to say whenever the two of us would get upset over a work-related issue, especially the ones involving people. She was right, of course. There’s no point in getting bent out of shape because someone is being irresponsible, smart-alecky, bull-headed, or downright belligerent.

There are at least half a dozen other phrases that convey similar messages, and I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit lately. We’re told to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:39, and in Matthew 18:22, there’s that seventy times seven thing. You know what I’m talking about, the reminder of how often you’re supposed to forgive. Sometimes forgiving is easier said than done, and yet I know that being unforgiving can be especially poisonous to the one holding a grudge.

The Bible isn’t the only source of reminders to let things go. “Don’t take anything personally,” reminds Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements. According to Ruiz, if someone hurts you verbally, physically, or emotionally, it says more about the other person than it does about you. If someone tells you to stop that caterwauling when you’re singing your heart out, don’t take it personally. Maybe the other person doesn’t know good singing when she hears it. Or maybe she doesn’t appreciate that particular type of singing. Then again, she could just be tired and in need of some peace and quiet.

Then there are quotes from famous people that often ring true. Regardless of what you’re going though, there’s a perfect quote from someone you admire who’s “been there, done that” that can make you feel okay again. Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Thanks Mrs. Roosevelt. I will not, will not, will not give my consent.

Even among the best of friends and the closest of family ties, there are occasional comments, oversights, or slurs that can break one’s wings. At those times, you just have to rise above it, be forgiving, refuse to take things personally, and decline to give your consent.

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs. Hmmm, now that I think of it, sometimes the criticism and skepticism are right up front.

So should a person go for it or continue playing it safe? I think you know my answer to that! It’s tied into positive psychology, a mindset that emphasizes optimism, personal choice, and happiness in human development and overall mental health. Generally, the so-called lay person thinks of psychology as a field in which people with mental and emotional disorders are helped by talk therapy, drugs, or ECT, and while those things happen, psychology is much, much more.

Here’s a neat story that fits nicely into this topic. A couple of Sundays ago, I attended church in Myrtle Beach and heard a story about an old donkey who fell in a deep, dried-up well. His owner tried to get him out, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, he realized that nothing he did was going to get the donkey out of the well, so he came up with an alternate plan. He called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels so that they could help him fill in the well. After all, it was dry and useless, and the donkey was old anyway.

At first, the donkey brayed and carried on something fierce. He was scared and angry. Still, the men persisted in their dirt shoveling. Suddenly, they realized that the donkey was quiet, and when they looked down into the well to see what was going on, they saw something remarkable. Every time someone hurled a shovel of dirt on him, the donkey shook it off and then stepped up on it. The men continued shoveling, and the donkey continued climbing until eventually he was above ground.

You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see the moral of the story. When life throws dirt on you, shake it off and keep stepping up. You don’t have to get buried by dirt. You don’t have to stay trapped at the bottom of a well. No matter how many people are actively involved in shoveling dirt on you, you have a choice to shake it off and step up…or not.

One of my friends got a rejection letter about a story she had submitted to a magazine. I wrote her on Facebook and said, “Yay! It means you’re actually doing something instead of just talking about it.” Another had a poem of hers criticized for having too many gerunds. Did it bother her? Probably. And yet I know she’ll shake off the dirt and try again. As I write this, I’m thinking of people who are making jewelry, drawing birds, writing stories, writing books, and training for a marathon. I feel certain that in all of their lives there are people with their shovels raised and ready to use.

I hope my friends stay the course. I hope they keep shaking off the dust regardless of who’s shoveling it or how much gets dumped on them. I hope they’ll read this donkey story and that it will help them the way it helped me.

One of the gifts my children gave me for Mother’s day is a photograph book from Shutterfly. I love it! It’s a compilation of pictures of the three of them along some “Momisms” that I’ve preached (oops, taught) them over the years. When I was leafing through it again yesterday, I noticed that Paul is the only one of the three who mentioned “Never give up.” I’m sure my lovely daughters heard, “Keep on keeping on” in a variety of ways, just like their brother, but it just didn’t make their top ten.

Never give up is on my mind this morning because Paul is finishing graduate school this summer and has begun a serious job search.  He knows all of the social networking “stuff” and has tweaked his resume (can’t get the punctuation marks to come up) to a tee. It’s a tough market out there, but I’m confident that with his looks, intelligence, perseverance, competence, charm, human relations skills, and attitude, he’ll find just the right position. Yes, I’m a little biased, but that’s a mother’s prerogative.

What I want to say to Paul and all the other recent graduates is something I learned from reading about Ann Curry’s parents last week (guideposts.org). Gambaru! It’s one of my new vocabulary words, one that Curry’s mother used to tell her when she was on the verge of giving up or quitting something.  It’s Japanese for “Never ever give up, even and especially when there’s no chance of winning.”  Raised as a  Buddhist, Curry’s mother Hiroe couldn’t find a temple in America when she needed spiritual sustenance. She couldn’t speak English very well either and was often ridiculed. A tough lady, she had battled tuberculosis earlier in her life and won. This is the kind of mother Ann Curry had.

Her father Bob Curry was a tough cookie too, a strong man who instilled the values of family, love, hard work, and loyalty in his children.  A  Navy man, he met Hiroe when he was stationed in Japan after World War. Life as a mixed-race child in a poor family was hard for Ann and her siblings, and he often told Ann that trials and tribulations would make her stronger. It bugged him when his children whined, and one day he told them that from then on, whoever whined would have to drop and do ten push-ups no matter where they were. His kids quickly learned that whining didn’t accomplish anything.

Her father was a man who practiced what he preached. Once they were on a crowded bus, and all five of the children jumped into the empty seats before he could snag one. When her father said, “That’s not fair,” Curry and her siblings gave him “the look,” and he dropped down in the aisle and did ten push-ups. What a lesson in character!

Curry’s father encouraged her to do something of service with her life, and she decided that journalism would broaden her choices. She and her father went to college at the same time, he with the GI Bill and she with small scholarships and all kinds of work from bookstore clerk to hotel maid.

So to Paul and all the other job seekers, if you ever get discouraged and  feel like throwing in the towel, think Gambaru! Think of a young, frail Japanese woman recovering from tuberculosis living in a new land struggling to learn the language and customs. Imagine her rising above taunts and ridicule and prejudice to practice what she preached: Never give up. Never. The next time you think about whining or complaining about how hard  or unfair your life is, think of Bob Curry doing push-ups in a crowded bus.

I’ve never met Bob and Hiroe Curry, but I’ve seen their daughter on television many times. I saw her on the Today set one May morning two years ago. She’s a winner. She never gives up, she works hard, and she serves other people. She doesn’t whine either. Gambaru!

Walking can be a form of moving meditation, for me at least. I just got in from a hot morning walk, and my mind is abuzz with thoughts of other people and the trials they’re enduring today. For me, all is well. The sun is shining, birds are singing, my children and grandchildren are all healthy, and today is Braden’s 8th birthday. Except for maybe his Uncle Paul, no one can touch that kid in looks and charm.

But other people aren’t having such a delightful day today.

  • When my daughter Carrie bakes Braden’s cake today, I know without a doubt that she’ll be thinking of Spencer, Braden’s older brother who never had the chance to crawl and walk and talk and go to school.
  • Then there’s my aunt who’s mourning the loss of her husband of nearly 60 years. It was a good marriage, but does that make her loneliness easier or more difficult?
  • I have a friend whose divorce is final today, and I know something that she doesn’t.  Nothing is ever really final. There are always after-effects, many of them some painful, that will continue for years and years.
  • I know a woman who’s happy that she has only two more radiation treatments for her breast cancer. The big C has awakened her to the realities of life and death and given her a new appreciation for each day.
  •  I have a beautiful friend whose husband is sick and frail, and her devotion to him is heartwarming.
  • Another friend is recalling a graduation of eight years ago when her handsome young son walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma. Little did she know that his life would end a few months later. Rather than succumb to pain and heartache with bitterness, she uses her grief to motivate young people to make good choices in their lives.

On the plus side, there are some good things happening to the people I care about too. I have a friend who’s beginning a new decade of life today, and I hope she’s focusing on the new chapter ahead instead of looking longingly at the past. It’s Sarah Beth’s birthday  too; she’s my beautiful young niece who has her entire precious life in front of her. Amanda and Olivia are safely back in Atlanta after visiting her parents in Salt Lake City.

My husband is playing golf with one of his brothers. He’ll complain about the heat when he comes home, and I’ll just smile and gently remind him that, “It’s all good.” If he doesn’t get the hint (to stop complaining), I’ll remind him of the people who don’t have a brother to play with or maybe of the people who can’t walk, much less play golf. He’ll say what he usually does, “You’re right. I have a lot to be thankful for.”And you know what? We all do. Even for those who are hurting today, the sun will shine for them again.

One of the many topics that arose during lunch with Nancy today is the importance of living one’s life to the fullest. Yeap, for those of you who know me, that sounds like a familiar refrain. Nothing new, huh? And yet, don’t we all need reminding of the importance of seizing the day every now and then? For me, the reminder came from a poem that I recently read in a book entitled Risking Everything. The poem, “My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe, moved me. 

I’m posting it here for you to read and ponder.

My Dead Friends

I have begun
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering
  question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive
   a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling–
   whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s
   ashes were–
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and
   he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

What do you think, my friends? Do you want to continue playing it safe? Are you going to keep worrying about what the neighbors might think? Will your relatives disown you? Are you willing to live a safe but boring life, or will you take Billy’s advice and say YES??? You know what I’m doing, right? I’m heading to the circus where’s more life and less worry.

My friend Connie posted a link to a blog on courage on her facebook page today, and it reminded me of how much we all need to be a little braver (or maybe a lot braver) in living our lives. Last week, a former colleague of mine took a HUGE step towards changing his life, and I’ve been thinking of how difficult it must have been for him to step out of the security of his life and literally fly into a new one.

I missed Ray (a.k.a. Mr. Hines) at work yesterday morning. He’s the math instructor who’s been teaching in the classroom next to the room where I keep a couple of office hours on MW’s.  I’ve listened to his math lectures since January, and I’ve often admired his enthusiasm and diligence.

He didn’t call in sick. And no, he didn’t get fired. He’s on his way to Auckland, New Zealand, a beautiful area that he’s always wanted to visit. Recently he and his wife found teaching positions there, and they decided to go for it. They sold their home, cars, and much of their furniture. What they couldn’t sell, they gave away. “Carpe diem” is their motto…or one of them at least.

Some people might say, “Well, it’s easy for them. They probably don’t have a family.” Actually, they do. The parents of two young sons, Ray and his wife have parents and other extended family members who live in the United States. They’ll be missed. Other people might say, “They’re nuts to sell everything they own to go off on an adventure like that. It’s downright foolhardy!” Regardless of what anyone might say, this young family will soon be enjoying some of the sights and sounds of the beautiful South Pacific. They had the courage to pursue their dreams, and if things don’t work out, they’ll move back.

In psychology, we often talk about the paralyzing effect that fear can have. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, and even fear of success (FOS) can prevent people from living their dreams. Sometimes, however, playing it safe is the riskiest choice a person can make.

By this time next week, Ray and his family might be strolling around the viaduct in Auckland trying to decide which trendy café or restaurant to dine in. Where will you be? Will you still be saying, “Someday, I’m going to….”?

Leo Ryan Memorial Park

Is anyone out there old enough to remember Leo Ryan, the Congressman who was shot and killed as he tried to leave Jonestown, Guyana 32 years ago? I heard his daughter Erin’s voice on NPR the other morning, and her voice and message brought the whole, sad story back to mind. Her father and others had flown to Guyana to investigate Jim Jones’ and the People’s Temple, and the congressman never returned.

Erin told of her love and admiration for her father…and of her “gut wrenching” heartache when she heard the news. Evidently, he had been involved in somewhat dangerous situations before, and neither of them perceived this trip as ominous. In fact, they had shared dinner in her Georgetown apartment on the eve of his departure and had talked about topics such as her classes and her cooking skills.

A few days later, Erin heard a flash news report on television reporting that a United States congressman had been shot while attempting to leave the airfield in Guyana. Was it her father? Had he been killed, or was he merely injured? Since this was back in the day prior to instantaneous news, she had to endure some painful hours waiting, waiting, waiting.

As the days went by, reports from Guyana became even more horrific.  Jim Jones, the leader of the cult, had persuaded over 900 people, about 1/3 of whom were children, to commit suicide by drinking a kool-aid type of drink. He was found with a gunshot wound in his head, reportedly self-inflicted.

Erin Ryan says she can still think about the death of her father and be moved to tears. Still, she says to the families of the victims of the recent Arizona shootings, “You can’t make that a defining moment of your life, or of the person who died.” She’s always reminded herself of how lucky she was to have Congressman Ryan as her dad to have had him as long as she did.  “That’s what you have to hold onto.”

When I heard Erin Ryan’s words, I was traveling to see one of daughters and her family, and a couple of thoughts struck me. Love and appreciate those you love.  Look at them, listen to them, read books to them (grandchildren), hug them, and savor each moment of your time together. When and if separation comes, count yourself fortunate to have known the person. Remember those special times, but don’t get stuck in the past like Lot’s wife.  Move forward.

I love little Olivia Jayne. She’s so little and fresh and pure. Her beautiful blue eyes just “pop,” and her chubby little cheeks invite kisses galore. She’s the youngest of my grandchildren. Braden’s the oldest, and I sure love that little fellow too. It seems unreal that seven years have passed since he was Olivia’s age and size.

Every time I see Braden, he surprises me with some new behavior or change. It might be that his hair is getting darker and thicker, or then again, it might be that his body is getting longer and leaner. At other times, it’s his actual behavior and personality development that delight me. Here’s an example. This past week, I heard him say several times, “you should be grateful….” whenever someone complained about something. For instance, when his mother was fussing about changing a particularly malodorous diaper of Colton’s, Braden said, “You should be thankful that you have a baby.” Carrie kind of chuckled and said, “You’re right.”

When I  remarked on Braden’s attitude, his mom said that she didn’t know whether he was just naturally that way or whether her persistent reminders about gratitude had finally taken root. Braden is just like other children (and adults) in that he wants things, and when he gets them, then he wants something else. Aren’t you like that? You might think that if only you had an iPad, you’d be happy. Or maybe if you had a Kindle with a Kate Spade cover, you’d be in heaven. Or if you could just have a new car, a steak, a new house, an exciting job, or a chic outfit, you’d be content. But would you? Not for long.

What I think is that being happy is related more to our attitudes than to our possessions. I used to drive a certain friend of mine crazy whenever I’d say, “It could be worse,” and she’d always remind me that it could be a lot better too. She was right, but then, why go on and on and on about how dire things are when you either can’t or won’t change them (at least not right away)? Another friend once asked me if my nickname was Pollyanna as a child because of my irritating (?) tendency to look for the silver lining. But honestly, of what benefit is it to whine and wail about our misfortunes? Okay, complain once or twice, but then either do something about it or keep it to yourself.

Or here’s a better idea. Follow Braden’s example and try to find some redeeming quality in every situation. When I see him again, I’m going to treat him to a big serving of ice cream. He loves the stuff! And even it’s not completely to his liking, he’ll probably eat it anyway and inform me that there are children in the world who’ve never even tasted the stuff. Yep, that’s my grandson! We don’t look alike, but we sure think alike on this issue.

In case anyone is wondering, YES, I struggle with this issue everyday. At the same time, if you have the audacity to complain about how much higher your taxes are on your lake house than your town house, don’t expect any sympathy from me. When someone mentioned that to me yesterday, I immediately got an image of a man I glimpsed from the window of a tour bus in New York City recently. It was about 35 degrees, and he was propped up against a building with his head down, brown paper bag beside him. Jeanita, Connie, Linda, Tilara, Mary, and I had all complained about the frigid temps that day, and we had coats, hats, gloves, and warm beds to sleep in that night.  The contrast between his plight and ours was stark.

 Lake house taxes, huh?

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Love this picture taken by Allie Bowers and sent to me. It's so awesome that someone as young as Allie appreciates the beauty of our world.

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