Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reminders from the Constitution on the Blessings of Liberty.

By Kim Bauer

Today’s home school lessons consisted of an all day adventure with my parents and children to the splendid Huntington Memorial Library and Gardens in San Marino, California. For five glorious hours, we pretended to be Henry E. Huntington who earned his fortune as owner of the Southern Pacific Railroad during the pioneering days of the Gold Rush. Notably absent were period costumes and horse drawn carriages—never the less, we were fully engrossed in our fantasy as we strolled around the 120 acre paradise which showcases his vast assortment of botanical species. One of the most important business magnates of his time, Mr. Huntington became a collector of fine art and purveyor of rare books. His world class collection now adorns the walls of the Beaux Arts Mansion and several extraordinary galleries dotting the property with understated elegance.

The timing for our adventure was impeccable. We are learning about the American Revolution, the US Constitution and the larger than life, principle driven personalities of our Founding Fathers. We just memorized the preamble to the United States Constitution which promises to “secure the blessings of liberty”. But what does that really mean to the average American citizen? As a ‘homeschooling-mama’ living in a state ranked in the bottom 10% of American public schools, I am grateful for the blessings of liberty granted to me to educate my children in the manner I see fit which often includes outings like this.

I have learned to set an agenda and then remain open to the possibility for small miracles to manifest. The first miracle of the day appeared when my daughter spotted an original portrait of George Washington hanging proudly over a fireplace in the Huntington family dining room. We’ve been greatly inspired by the selfless service of our first leader, and it seems the Huntington’s also found inspiration in his image. I pictured the Huntington family seated around their exquisite dining table, thanking God for their food and George Washington for their freedom. And for a moment, we bowed our heads in homage to this great man who at the tender age of 21, led the Battle of Trenton, guaranteeing future generations the blessings of liberty through a series of selfless, high-minded choices.

In the Huntington Library, we pored over the personal records Washington kept in an effort to organize the scrappy Continental Army. Miracles continued to appear. We were delighted to find a printed transcript of the US Constitution which was given to the delegates as a “keepsake” commemorating the event. We even discovered an original version of Thomas Payne’s renowned pamphlet, “Common Sense.” We imagined what it must have been like to purchase one exactly like it in those gloriously unsettled times in our nation’s history.

Our education continued at home by taking the US Immigration and Naturalization test—the same test that immigrants are required to pass in order to become a US Citizen. Even though we hadn’t prepared for the test, my intention was to demonstrate that all US citizens, not just those who enter this country as immigrants, should thoroughly understand the content and meaning of the great documents that govern our nation. We will study until we can pass the immigration test with flying colors. We will understand the seven articles of the Constitution and 462 words of the Bill of Rights. We will become familiar with the intricacies of our government and how we, as citizens, can effect legislation. Most importantly, my children will be taught the blessings of liberty and all the rights granted to us by one of the most profound governing documents ever written.

Daily, I watch our precious freedoms, born of the blood and principles of our forefathers, being replaced by policies that drive us further and further into personal and national debt. At a time of such pivotal importance to our country, I wonder why we have stopped teaching our children to value the blessings of liberty above all else. Are we so far removed from the world of our founders that we have forgotten the hard earned lessons of the past?

With the teaching of American History being systematically “written out” of the curriculum in our school system, we begin to slide down a slippery slope. If we continue to take the blessings of liberty for granted, the very freedoms granted to us under the Constitution will quickly and quietly disappear. It’s no wonder self-reliance of our founding fathers is being replaced by a sense of entitlement that now seems to dominate the “American Mindset”.

I fear that we Americans are at a profound turning point in our evolution in which the continual devaluing of our freedoms are giving rise to a nanny state that will make us third rate, credit poor nation. Will we shamefully pass the legacy of our insatiable need for instant gratification to our children in the form of insatiable national debt? Just for fun, check out the international debt clock at http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/ to see “the blessings” our children stand to inherit. Is this Liberty?

Copyright, 2009: Kim Bauer, wife, mother, and writer www.homeschoolin-mama.blogspot.com.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sometimes You Just Have a Squeaky Eyeball.

Moms are amazing multi-taskers! Evidently, we’re also worth about $508,526.32 per year according to one source who decided to translate ‘the typical mom’s’ daily task list in a monetary remuneration just for fun. Ouch…Salt in open wound hurts! But since we are not paid, we’re often labeled, simply… ‘miracle workers.’

If you inventoried a typical house full of items, I’d venture to say there are well over a million trinkets and treasures of various shapes and sizes. Why does everyone assume that moms can keep track of each and every one of those million things with her one, overly tired, nearly menopausal mind? Probably because we can, and we do and when we don’t, we blame it on dog or the maid making it absolutely essential for the average mom to have both.

Today, I agreed to make Pac-man sugar cookies with my son who loves the kitchen. Tears welled up in his big brown eyes upon his discovering that the round cookie cutter was missing. I patiently dug through the garbage, retrieved the smelly dog food can, washed off the crusted gook, cut off the bottom with a can opener and voila—one round cookie cutter. Big smile. Pack man sugar cookies materialized. “Mom, you are really creative in the kitchen,” he commented. “Years of practice son. Years of practice.” I chuckled thinking to myself, I should be paid for this level of resourcefulness. But I am a mom. I am a miracle worker.

I asked my daughter to put out the salad for dinner tonight, you know, as a small gesture of cooperation and gratitude for driving her to dance camp for three weeks straight. After all, I was simultaneously baking sugar cookies, preparing scallops that would impress Chef Ramsay, thickening Alfredo sauce, and tossing salad and arranging her social calendar. It wasn’t too much to ask.

“But where is it, mom?” my daughter whined while staring blankly and helplessly into the open fridge. I kept stirring, tossing and talking. “Raise your chin about an inch, look slightly to the right, tilt your head a little, squint one eye, and it should come into focus for you. Now, look for the green bowl, behind the cottage cheese and the ham shank. Take them out carefully, now. Got it?” Yes, she got it, because it was exactly where I said it would be. We are mothers. We are miracle workers. And off she ran to the hammock…my additional request to set the table trailing in her dust.

Two minutes later I heard a muffled scream from outside. All stirring stopped instantly so I could determine if they were screams of pain or pleasure—decidedly pain. Two seconds later, burners were off, pans removed and I was sprinting to the hammock. How did I know that pain had been caused by one dad swinging two children wildly on a hammock strung precariously between two trees by an undersized rope? I am a mother. I am a miracle worker. Two kisses and a reassuring word later I was back to the burners, scallops saved, dinner preparations resumed.

Later that evening I sat down to check email and make plans for our 17 year wedding anniversary. An actual evening alone required an elaborate strategy of pawning my darling children off to two different families, trading favors that I’d have to keep track of in another part of my over crowded mind and then obligingly return at some undetermined future date. My daughter, interrupting my email negotiations, said with genuine concern and elevating panic, “Mom, how come my eyeball is squeaking?” She had me on this one. I thought about it and gave it my best answer. “Well dear, sometimes you just have a squeaky eyeball.” I tiredly replied. She was quiet. Problem solved. I am a mother. I am a miracle worker.

Not so fast…

Later that evening as I was tiptoeing quietly out of her room, thinking she was asleep, and she said… “Mom, I just pushed my eyeball back into my head. I fixed it.” They were words of wisdom, uttered sleepily from a next generation miracle worker. Life is good, even when we don’t get paid.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Frankie and the wonderfully awesome, fabulous, very good day!

“This is a really great day, Mom,” my son announced to me as we were driving home from the grocery store with a few odd grocery items we needed for our ‘date night’ project of baking cinnamon rolls. The words were music to my ears. For every great day my son has, there are five bad ones. There is a really great children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (Author), Ray Cruz (Illustrator). I am reminded of this book when son is having one of what he calls his ‘worst days’.

Don’t get me wrong. My son has a GREAT LIFE! I have often worried that he just doesn’t have the perspective to realize it. “There are starving children in Africa who would love those (fill in the blank)” is a phrase that escapes my mouth more often than I would like to admit. There are many instances, when I hear my son utter the words, “This has been the worst day of my life” that I pray for God to grant him a little ‘perspective.’ Today, I was blessed enough to discover that his nine year-old mind is getting it.

As I mentioned, we were beginning our date night. It’s a tradition my husband and I began when our kids were two and three, and it has survived our busy chaotic schedules without interruption every Wednesday night since then. It’s a tradition that trumps even the biggest holidays like Christmas and Halloween in our family. We alternate children and let them choose the events of their special evening. It was my night with my son. He was in one of his chatty moods which usually indicates that things are going great.

I asked him why it was such a good day. “Well, I got to garden and cook on Runescape.com, I had a good day in school, my tomato plants finally sprouted, I got more plants to plant in my garden, and we’re going to make cinnamon roles on date night and watch the American Idol finals. It’s just a really great day!” he said.

I love the fact that his ‘perfect day’ involved the simple pleasures of life. When I really think about it, mine are too—breakfast in bed, a long walk in the morning with only my iPod and the dog, yoga, time with the family, an afternoon under an umbrella on a blanket at the beach with a good book, a simple dinner watching the sun set, and sitting by the campfire with my husband drinking a great glass of wine. That’s my perfect day. It’s true that the best things in life are free, and yet it took me 40+ years to discover what my son understands so clearly at nine. (And I thought he was the one who needed perspective).

Then, in a sort of nine year old encore, he said this in response to yet another piece of depressing news resounding from the radio about the state of the economy. “Mom, in some ways I think this bad economy was a gift from God. It’s making people more aware of the things that they do have. Its making them find ways to save money and scale back on stuff that they don’t need. When they have to take care of things themselves, and find simpler ways to do things, that’s good. Sometimes I think God wanted it… No, I know He made it happen that way so that we would all realize what is important. And I think some of the crazy stuff going on with the politicians is making people remember some of the important things about our country and the way our Founding Fathers wanted it to be. I mean, it’s bad because I know some people are really hurting and losing their jobs and stuff. But, if they can just stick it out, they’ll see that this is really a great thing. They’ll be happier when it’s all over.”

This is what he said, almost verbatim. And I was stunned…Stunned at his perception and interpretation of world events. Stunned that he could see such trying times as an opportunity from God. Stunned at his awareness of the gift of change. Stunned that at nine years old he understands that the simple pleasures are the most important things in life. And relieved, that in all his pessimism, he can recognize and appreciate a wonderfully awesome, fabulous, very good day!

Copywright, 2009: Kim Bauer, wife, mother, and writer

Sunday, May 10, 2009

This Mother’s Day, May You Celebrate Your ‘Interdependence’

I watched a movie with my family last night that left a deep impression. It was not a huge box office success and it went quietly to video with no awards or fanfare, but it left a tremendous impression on me. The movie was Marley. Maybe you have seen it. If not, here is the basic story line.

A young married couple embarks on their lifelong journey together with promising careers as journalists. They are young, happy and in love, and she, the more disciplined and ambitious of the two, systematically checks the boxes in her 7 step plan for life. They are approaching the ‘children box’ at a different pace, so the husband decides to stall the inevitable by getting Marley, better known as ‘the clearance puppy.’

Marley is ‘the worst dog in the world’ and destroys nearly everything he touches except their hearts. Surprisingly, the husband finds his voice and his fame as a columnist in writing about everyday adventures of their life with Marley. His career flourishes. The couple is eventually blessed with children, three of them in fact, and life changes. It is not bad. It’s just not at all what they expected. Upon the arrival of child number two, she decides to sacrifice her career to be a full time mom and discovers that motherhood is more challenging than she could have possibly anticipated. At one particularly stressful period, they are all ready to throw in the towel.

In a defining moment, she admits to her husband that it is all more overwhelming than she imagined. “I have given up so much of what it is that made me, me,” she confesses. This is the turning point that every mother reaches. We have lost our self. Or at least we think we have, because we are looking in the wrong places. We are measuring our lives in terms of our ‘independence’ instead of our ‘interdependence’.

The great Stephen Covey writes about this in his book, “The seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He reminds us that we come into the world dependent on others, then transition to a phase of independence and eventually, through maturity, we reach our most important and meaningful phase—that of interdependence. Interdependence is the power curve of life, in which we realize that our contribution, gifts and relationships create and shape our life much more than our ‘independence’ ever could. This is the essences and beauty of mother hood. I bet almost every mother can remember the exact moment in which she realized this simple truth. And even though it seems we have given up our independence, we really find ourselves in our ‘interdependence’.

To most, the movie Marley was about the joys, sorrows and unconditional love that our pets provide and the unforgettable imprint they leave in our hearts. To me, this movie was much more. Mother’s Day is a celebration of our interdependence. On Mother’s Day, our loved ones engage in a valiant and heartfelt effort to create for us “the perfect day.” This mother’s day, I got breakfast in bed compliments of my son and received a beautiful necklace he made from herbs from his garden. I am wearing an exquisite pair of beaded earrings made by my daughter, and received an early morning surprise from my husband of 15 years. They even allowed me an hour of writing time so I could make this tribute to the mom’s of the world. My family is giving me the perfect day!

As Mother’s, we must embrace these tributes from our loved ones while remembering that while Mother’s Day is special, each day is a perfect day. For it is in the journey, not the destination that mothers make their biggest impact and are at their interdependent best. May God bless all the mothers on the planet and allow them to enjoy their perfect day!

Copywright, 2009: Kim Bauer, wife, mother, and writer

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Great Aspect of Home School—Self-Taught Side Yard Science Class

My heart pounded and I hastened my pace to a frantic jog while searching the house at 7:00 am for my 9 year old son. “Did I forget to lock the doors last night?” I wondered as I mentally recounted my nightly house closing procedure. The irrational side of my brain repeated relentlessly, ‘he’s been kidnapped’, ‘he’s been kidnapped’. I pushed aside the thought of that possibility while continuing to search his favorite inside hiding spots to no avail.

And then, by remote chance, I glanced out the second story window to the yard below and witnessed a sight that will be forever engrained in my mind. There he was, (in stark contrast to my state of near hysteria), sitting cross legged and peaceful on a small bath towel, posture erect with his science notebook on his lap. He seemed to levitate in the glow of the early morning sun and he had managed to find inspiration in a place I seldom visit--the side yard of our home. I was overcome by a feeling of relief and gratitude as I watched, completely intrigued by the forces that were holding him captive.

He gazed repeatedly towards the rising sun and then down to his science notebook….up at the sun, and then down at his book, scribbling furiously each time. I left him there a few moments in his state of “divine inspiration” before daring to join him. I approached cautiously, attempting to mask my combined sense of panic and awe. “I do this sometimes, mom,” he casually responded to my inquiry. “I climb through my window with my towel and my notebook to think about chemistry and nature. It’s just so beautiful out here in the morning. I wake up looking at the sunlight coming through that tree and it’s like it’s inviting me outside,” he explained. “I think about the plants, and how we can keep the pollution from hurting our planet,” he shared.

My grandfather, an artist and great observer of human behavior, used to comment that my son seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. After witnessing this early morning attempt at “pollution resolution”, I couldn’t help but think how accurate his observations were. I also couldn’t help but recall fond memories of my grandfather’s very similar endeavors as he sketched intently in his sketch book. “It must be deeply engrained in the genetic code,” I thought.

My inquisition continued. Evidently, these sessions allow my son to study nature and theorize about the chemical structures and processes that exist in delicate balance in our world. He shared pages and pages of chemical theories and equations that he had been calculating, and theories he was developing that might lead to resolution of the problems as he understands them. Were his equations correct? Maybe, maybe not, but it didn’t matter, because the process of self-directed learning was ultimately more valuable than correct answers.

I was dumbfounded but not surprised. We have been reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and my son is learning first-hand through examples and stories of Franklin’s own telling, how he relentlessly pursued self-education throughout his entire life. From this, my son was able to connect the dots and realize that one doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom to learn. School is wherever you make it—even if it is a self-taught side yard science class.

He proceeded to show me a drawer he had cleared in his desk to hold “his required materials” and demonstrated his methods for escaping the confines of his room to embark on these early morning adventures. I was inspired beyond words at the mental capacity and gestalt learning children are capable of when given the chance to explore and develop their interests.

Of course, I am proud of what I am seeing, as all parents are when their children uncover a new talent or reach a major milestone. I share this story with great humility. The expanded moments of inspiration happening with both my children now that we are home schooling, are contributing to an emerging theory I have about self-directed learning which is that children need structure and repetition, but they also need freedom to pursue their own emerging interests and challenge their creative and problem solving abilities.

This, for me, is one of my favorite aspects of home schooling—fanning the flames of creativity and inspiration and watching them become an intense, raging fire!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wanted! A little good old-fashioned, genuine authenticity!

“Authenticity” has been at the forefront of my mind for a few weeks and I have been thinking about its role my life. This week in home school, we are learning about “success” and “failure”. The speed at which the proverbial “rug” has been yanked out from under many unsuspecting folks due to the global economic crisis has left more than a few of us confusing bad luck and extenuating circumstances, with personal failure.

As our economy crumbles and our government continues to abandon common sense and founding principles, my world has been shaken to the core like a 10 point earthquake. As a result, I have stopped trusting what I once trusted, I have stopped believing in things I once believed in, and stopped assuming that everything will be okay if I work hard and plan well. The last time I remember feeling so “shaken up” and uncertain about the future was after 911. That’s a scary place and many of us, unfortunately, are here again.

We all have our own ways of dealing with crisis. I have found myself resorting to my favorite coping mechanisms; protectionism, personal accountability, and self-reliance, topped off with a healthy dose of prayer and positive thinking. I am creating my own personal “stimulus package”. At the coverage of the nationwide tea parties, I noticed a woman with a protest sign that read, quite simply, “I can stimulate myself, thank you!” It was just priceless and so well stated. And what must one do to stimulate oneself? I know what you are thinking, but this is the G rated version.

About two years ago, I realized that the lifestyle I had spent decades creating, wasn’t working for me anymore. My habits, my focus and my day to day life no longer reflected my AUTHENTIC priorities and values. In fact, the gap between the two resembled the Grand Canyon. What could I do? I decided to be like Madonna, and reinvent myself. After a thorough and “authentic” self-audit, I was left staring dazed and confused at a blank canvas called “my new life”. This confronting scenario triggered a temporary onslaught of fear, panic, anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, nausea, procrastination, denial and avoidance topped off by a strong (but unfulfilled) craving for brightly colored little pills.

Being an artist by nature who has faced a few of these blank canvases, I have learned to view them as divine opportunities to create something of beauty that will inspire others. This requires a certain mindset about success and failure and a belief that life is simply a reflection of a series of choices.

The words “success” and “failure” are the labels of meaning that we assign to the results we produce in our lives. Sometimes, the results are tremendous and we delude ourselves into thinking we are “da bomb”! Sometimes those results are horrific and we delude ourselves into thinking we are deserving of “da bomb.” Either way, the danger of labeling a result as either a “success” or a “failure” is that it directly influences our often fragile egos. If we have “succeeded”, it may go to our heads which causes a false sense of security and complacency. Likewise, when we fail, it goes to our stomachs causing discomfort and disease. We become paralyzed with fear, and have a difficult time functioning. “Analysis paralysis” thrives in this environment. That is the state in which many of us have found ourselves. Deep breath…

In order to bypass my own delicate ego, I am learning to remain emotionally detached from the results I produce. I don’t mean to imply it is okay to deny or avoid the consequences, (especially the negative consequences) of my actions. Ultimately, to be the best I can be, I must accept full responsibility for what I create in life. I simply mean, that I am learning not to view my own results in terms of “success” and “failure.” When I manage to do this, I can take a more “authentic” look at my life, make better choices for myself and progress confidently in a new direction.

A business associate who is reinventing himself recently asked me for some coaching on how to best position himself during his own “reinvention”. He was of the opinion that he needed “smoke and mirrors” to enhance his credentials. My advice to him felt very “Faith Popcorn-esque” as I shared my observations about the growing trend towards authenticity that is appearing on everything from food labels to cleaning products and the clothing we wear to the books we read.

It went something like this… “Almost everyone, from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest of the wealthy has been affected by this crisis. Having been cheated, deceived, beguiled, mislead, and duped; either by ourselves or by others, we are now wary of formerly “trusted advisors”. Nowadays, if people sense even the slightest hint of personal misalignment, confusion or lack of clarity in another, they will “dis” (disengage and disassociate) and move on. In other words, if they can’t clearly understand what is on the label and inside the package, they simply don’t want it.

We are skeptical and impatient, desiring a return to simplicity and truthfulness. We are being challenged by deteriorating personal and global circumstances to rise to a new level of authenticity. While this may be painful in the short term, it’s a glorious chance for redemption in the long term. Don’t let a good crisis go to waste. Be authentic, beginning with yourself!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

If Everyone is Talking, Then Who Exactly is Listening?

This week was an education for me in more ways than one. I jumped head first into the world of social media, specifically, micro-blogging. Yes, I am officially “face booking” and “twittering”. Experts say that upwards of 208 million people belong to these sites now (April 2009) and they project as many as 1 billion users by 2011. As a twenty year marketing veteran, I admit that I am shamefully behind on this. I am still evaluating the pros and cons of social media, but my immediate observation is that there is an awful lot of talking going on and not a lot of listening.

Our home school lesson on listening couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Being deeply engrossed in the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which recounts 50 years of the life of a man with great capacity to influence and persuade others, I wondered what he would think of “social media.” What would Benjamin Franklin tell his son about listening, and what advice would he impart about the role of social media in our 21st century culture?

I believe he might begin by telling his son that “listening” is a precious gift that we give to one another. Think about it… when someone wants to be heard, what they are really craving is significance. For just a moment, they desire the attention and acknowledgment of another human being. When we choose to actively listen, devoting 100% of our focus to another person, a positive exchange begins. And respectively, when someone really hears us, we recognize and appreciate that gift. Before we know it, we are ready to return the favor. This reciprocation can continue ad infinitum and real honest communication takes place. It is the very foundation for genuine and lasting relationships.

Benjamin Franklin might tell his son that active listening requires that one be in an ideal “listening state”. Being angry, impatient, worried, or distracted is not conducive to listening. One must be calm, present and open to really “hear” someone. Therefore, learning to listen means we must first learn to control our emotional state. Someone much wiser than me said “seek first not to be understood, but to understand.” This statement, to me, epitomizes effective listening. It suggests that a better result will be obtained if we silence our mind and open our ears before engaging our mouth. Even when we are in disagreement, we will be better able to manage our state and move to a positive resolution if we follow that advice.

Next, I think Benjamin Franklin might share the idea that listening, like writing is a learned skill which must be practiced regularly in order to gain mastery. Give and take is an essential component of conversation. This is where the nourishment of the soul and strengthening of bonds occur. If you have been caught in a “one sided conversation” with a “listening leach”, I imagine it has left you speechless, empty and unfulfilled. True relationships are founded on give and take, verbal and otherwise.

As humans, we have an inherent need for significance and will go to great lengths to get it. On this crowded but often lonely planet, is it possible that the need for significance is driving the explosion of social media? What are the long term repercussions of a world where so much of our effort is focused on personal branding and so little on authentic listening? Will talking AT each other heal the planet or hurt it?

For me, the jury is still out on the long term consequences of social media. It’s difficult to ignore a potential 1 billion user trend. However, I believe Benjamin Franklin might advise us to partake at our own risk, to maintain a healthy distance, and to allocate the lion’s share of our time and energy to opening our ears and connecting with one anothers’ souls. He would suggest that we aim to build the kind of genuine relationships that can withstand MUCH more than a power outage, computer viruses, and technical difficulties.

What role is social media playing in your life? Is there any genuine listening going on in your circles?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Benjamin Franklin and the Art of Persuasion. (Part one)

My children and I are reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin as part of our home grown leadership program. His writing style is simple, elegant, concise, and humorous. This manuscript is written to his son, and he shares the story of his life as if he is sitting in the room with him, casually conveying the intimate details of the defining moments of his life and the lessons he learned from them.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Benjamin Franklin and his achievements as an inventor, a diplomat, a printer and an author. I was not aware however, that underlying his undisputed genius, was an intense, self directed passion for the art of persuasion. I am inclined to believe this provides a simple explanation as to why his talents and contributions were so vast and legendary and why, during his own time, and even to this day, he is viewed as one of our most pre-eminent “thought leaders”.

The guiding principles of his life seemed to be to observe, to listen, to improve and to persuade, and he enthusiastically applied these principles to each of his notable endeavors. The first three principles, while significant, would have been fruitless without the fourth. He could observe, listen, and improve, but if he hadn’t developed his powers of persuasion, his improvements (i.e. inventions, literary works, and diplomacy) might not have been embraced.

I am finding it invaluable to encourage my children to see beyond the significant accomplishments of the leaders we study to the underlying principles which guided them. In the case of Benjamin Franklin, exposing my children to the persuasive part of his nature is like studying the basic ingredients for life mastery. Instead of following the lessons of a poorly written 5th grade reading and writing primer, they are learning first-hand, from the words actually written by him, in context of a the past which has shaped our culture as we know it.

As a mostly self-educated man, his autobiography reveals that he was an excellent listener and observer of events around him and that, having no formal curriculum; this is what motivated and directed his education. When he saw awkwardness, failure, or shortcomings in human nature or process, he called upon his guiding principles. The stories of his ingenious and self-directed methods of learning, and his sly attempts to get published, provided humor and examples of pure ingenuity. I could see the wheels turning in my children’s heads as they were listening with intensity. Instead of minds closing from boredom, they were opening from inspiration. It was a poignant lesson that they should move beyond “writing for the sake of writing,” striving first for thought leadership, and then for the mastery of persuasion.

Persuasion, whether written or spoken can be used for good or evil, to create or to destroy, to hinder or to heal. God has given us the gift of thought, and I believe we have the responsibility to take great care in crafting what we say and choosing the ideal communication format, be it poetry, prose, oration or conversation. I have spoken before about the importance of helping our children transcend knowledge to gain wisdom. For me, this kind of learning (straight from the source, so to speak) bridges the gap.

Regarding his view on the power of persuasion, Benjamin Franklin wrote…

… “and as the chief ends of conversation are to inform, or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well meaning sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive assuming manner that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us”…
And of his methods for learning he wrote…

“I continued this method for some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence, never using when I advance anything that may possibly be disputed, the words, certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive, or I apprehend a thing to be so or so, It appears to me, or I should think it so or so for such and such reasons, or I imagine it to be so, or It is so if I am not mistaken.”

There are memorable lessons to be learned in these passages that apply to forming compelling thoughts and then arranging our words into persuasive communication. Benjamin Franklin confesses he didn’t naturally possess these skills. He studied, practiced and mastered them, and the stories he shares convey important concepts such as:

Repetition is the mother of skill.

Seek first to understand, not to be understood.

Men should be taught as if you taught them not.

My intent is not to recount the entire autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in this essay. If you are interested, I highly recommend this edition from the Easton Press for it was carefully and beautifully printed from the manuscript as Franklin wrote it, including his preliminary outline. Thank you, Mom and Dad for the beautiful gift!

The important message is that without his propensity and mastery of the powers of persuasion, this great man as he was known by his contemporaries, and as we remember him generations later, owed much of his success to his communication skills. Even when we are all grown up with our degrees adorning our walls and our business cards, it is my feeling that the world would become a better place if we would all continue to improve upon our communication skills. And, we cannot ignore the fact that in a world where “noise” comes at us from all directions, our children, even more so than ourselves, need to master the art of persuasion, for they are the thought leaders of tomorrow.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on how Benjamin Franklin would view our new world of social media.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Failing Table Rules in our House! What Do You Do to Make Mealtime Special?

Wisdom of the Ages has been weaving through our home school studies in the subject areas of leadership, world history, American history and science. I have been amazed that, while aspects of day to day life have changed dramatically over the centuries, the basic philosophies pertaining to human nature are remarkably consistent across continents, cultures, and civilizations. Sometimes, I believe we have lost all connection with and respect for the wisdom our predecessors. Either that, or the rules of modern culture are changing so quickly that we often put aside basic decency and forget how to treat each other. I know this is true in my house and now that I have become more conscious of it, we will work on bringing back some good old fashioned values—beginning with table manners.

Today, we were reading aloud a poem entitled "Table Rules for Little Folks" from William Bennett’s Book of Virtues. I asked my daughter to read it aloud and watching the look on her face as she uncovered the error of her mealtime ways was just priceless. But, the transgressions at dinner time in our home do not solely exist with my daughter. Our whole family has put my mother to shame when it comes to adhering to acceptable table rules. And I should know better, because my mother was a master of protecting the sacred ritual of the family meal!

The poem goes like this…

In silence I must take my seat,
And give God thanks before I eat;
Must for my food in patience wait,
Till I am asked to hand my plate;

I reflected on the fact that our family has meal time is riddled with ADHD-like behavior and members rarely enjoy the food over which I have slaved. As I often sit alone in wait, I begin picking at, and then inhaling my food, rationalizing that at least one of us should enjoy it while it’s hot. By the time everyone has staggered in, the act of “giving thanks” has gone by the wayside. I am not proud. I have seen the error of my ways, and meal time is going to take on a much different tone around my house beginning this evening.

I must not scold, nor whine, nor pout,
Nor move my chair or plate about.

My daughter, head still down, peeked through her bangs with a priceless expression of guilt. She suddenly recognized that game of musical chairs that usually ends in ferocious “negotiations” and sometimes tears, left much room for improvement in our house.

With knife, or fork, or napkin ring,
I must not play, nor must I sing.
I must not speak a useless word,
For children should be seen, not heard:

This elicited a sarcastic side comment from my son directed at my daughter who is notorious for dancing and singing her way through life, often to the extreme annoyance of my son.

I must not talk about my food,
Nor fret if I don’t think it good.
I must not say, “the bread is old,”
“The tea is hot,” “The coffee’s cold”;
My mouth with food I must not crowd,
Nor while I’m eating, speak aloud;

She jumped on this cue, for it was readily available opportunity to retaliate against my son who is notorious for “food whining” and “speaking with crowded mouth.”

Must turn my head to cough or sneeze,
And when I ask, say “If you please”’;
The tablecloth I must not spoil,
Nor with my food my fingers soil.

Another volley from son to daughter, for my daughter is often called by her middle name –“Viking girl”, when she bypasses the utensils and opts for her fingers during our mealtimes.

Must keep my seat when I have done,
Nor round the table sport or run;

Game, set, match and Mom wins! There was an audible silence from both of them as they reflected upon their personal contribution to this problem.

When told to rise, then I must put
My chair away with noiseless foot’
And lift my heart to God above,
In praise for all his wondrous love.

The power of the family meal has been somewhat lost in our chaotic, overscheduled culture. I was embarrassed that it took a children’s poem to remind me that I needed to raise my standards in this area. Togetherness at mealtime, even one meal a day, is an opportune time to take a step back and focus on how fortunate we are and to connect to our family members over a lovingly prepared meal. I believe our predecessors had it right—and good manners are simply an acknowledgment of the importance of the ritual. If the quality of your mealtime experience has been diminished, don’t settle anymore as I have been doing. Reclaim and enjoy it!

How does your family do at mealtime? Please share some of your mealtime traditions and rules with those of us who still need help!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lives Intersect on the Patio of a Ski Lodge.

I am not particularly fond of crowds, but every once in a while I am up for a good “people watching” experience. I love opportunities to sit as a quiet observer in a crowd of people to catch a glimpse of others lives. Was it merely a coincidence that thousands of strangers paths crossed on a beautiful day in Snow Basin, Utah?”

The word coincidence has dual meaning. In one sense, it describes a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance. In another sense, the purely mathematical sense, it describes the perfect intersection of angles. I figured there must be something to learn from this “perfect intersection” of so many lives, so I set up camp and took the opportunity to polish my people watching skills.

The patio of a ski lodge provides a fascinating cross section of life—it’s like looking at the rings of a tree. In Ring 1, the center, are kids 10 and under. I love watching the toddlers barreling down the slopes focused solely on keeping up with mom and dad, and the "tweens" flying over jumps with enviable ease. Mindset: “Just keep skiing.”

The teens, members of Ring 2 were noticeably absent. They made their appearance at the lodge for the obligatory parental check-in before disappearing again to the upper peaks of the mountain as far away from supervision as they could get. Their pimple faced mission was simple…seek “their own kind” and dare each other to accept challenges that make us more experienced types shudder. Mindset: “No fear.” Or maybe it’s “no clue”. I can’t decide.

I was positioned near a very vocal group of young individualists, the members of Ring Three. It was difficult to ignore the fact that twenty something’s have attitudes much larger than their experience. Watching them, I couldn’t help but notice that their gear probably cost more than their monthly rent payments. Designer labels and looking good were the dominant themes as they actively checked each other out. Predominant mindset: “I’m hot.”

Ring 4: A group of “thirty something’s” who had recently traded their expensive “twenty something” gear for more practical, pocket ridden “parental gear” were noticeably outnumbered by their broods. They were lugging more weight in ski gear than they had in children and often required two complimentary wheelbarrows to handle the logistics.

As a recent member of this “ring”, I could really relate. One family in particular held my interest for quite some time. They had four, two year olds and two, four year olds. I couldn’t help wonder if they had their own reality show. Mom and Dad had distinct roles. Dad dragged two kids at a time, up and down the bunny slope. Each time he returned to the base of the chair lift, he passed the twenty something’s. I couldn’t help wonder if thirty something Dad was yearning for his more carefree twenty something days.

Thirty something mom was truly at the end of her rope and had resorted to using her voice as a bull horn, barking out orders to everyone including her husband. She was the designated bathroom matron. In the 60 minutes I sat on the patio she made four trips to the bathroom. During one particularly overwhelming moment, she produced two giant boxes of pretzels and donuts. My first reaction was decidedly judgmental as I thought, “Way to fill em’ up with sugar, Mom.” Thankfully, I regained my good sense and I realized health food was not what the situation called for. She needed a little sugar coated leverage and a strong drink! Dad’s job was more tiring. Mom’s job was more frustrating, and this was clearly and endeavor of unconditional love. Mindset: “Divide and Conquer.” I was in awe!

Moving on to the forty something’s…my crowd. This group was noticeably more relaxed than the 30 something’s, enjoying family time and their new found freedom with children who were almost entirely self-sufficient. They were reaping the rewards of the hard labor of the thirty something years and bracing for trials of the fifty something years. Mindset: “I Can Rest For a Moment.”

In Ring 5 were the fifty something’s, primarily men who seemed to be out for a day of adrenaline induced fun. I caught a few of them popping Advil’s mid-day, masking their pain and holding out for a few more runs. They bonded with other fifty something’s in ways that only adventure seeking men can. And I noticed several groups shaking hands with departing words of “It was nice skiing with you. Hope to see you again sometime”. Mindset: “All by Myself.”

Ring 6--the 60+ crowd. I hesitate to label this group “senior” because they exhibited a display of energy and athleticism that would put many of us to shame. This group overwhelmingly projected a sense of inner peace, gratitude and wisdom and I found myself thinking, this is how I want to be when I am sixty something. They were clearly unhurried, impervious to others opinions, and had no apparent agenda other than to relish and enjoy the experience at their own pace. Mindset: “I’ll Do It My Way.”

This coincidental gathering of thousands on a beautiful day in Utah provided a snapshot of the timeline of life. It reminded me that we are all on our own paths, and we are exactly where we need to be at the moment. There is nothing more to do than take it all in, enjoy it, learn from it, and look forward to the next stage.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Don’t worry, Be Happy! Lessons on Finding our Own Inner Peace!

This week we are studying the concept that “nothing can bring you peace but yourself”. While this is attributed to the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, spiritual masters have taught this principle since the beginning of recorded history. I believe it might be one of the most difficult concepts to incorporate into our own lives with any level of consistency. This may be especially true in today’s society, in which we are bombarded, 24/7 with more information than we know how to process. Finding inner peace requires the ability to instantaneously tap into the unlimited “kingdom of your mind” and to rise above the negative influences around us. Ego-centric emotions like vanity, worry, judgment, self doubt block our access to inner peace. Around my house these days, “worry” seems to be the most disruptive emotion, so I’ll focus on that for purposes of this essay.

As human beings, we’ll go to great lengths to distract ourselves from anxiety and worry. We create schedules and routines designed to “fill up” our lives. We engage in repetitive mindless tasks that create a false sense of “certainty.” We wile away countless hours on pointless activities, or we partake of the “digital noise” designed to “entertain” us. We become experts in denial and blame. We may even try to dull our senses using alcohol or pharmaceuticals. These learned habits distract us from the practice of “turning within” to find peace.

For about 10 years, I have been an occasional practitioner of meditation. As I get older and wiser, and the world gets more chaotic, I am now beginning to understand the importance of daily meditation. It breaks these destructive patterns and forces us to clear our mind of distractions so we can connect to the deeper intelligence and intuition that we all possess. I believe this is critical for human beings of any age, including children.

An important milestone to attaining inner peace is to realize that worry serves no purpose in our lives other than to temporarily immobilize us and keep us from realizing our optimum potential. I have often turned to the very popular “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebhr when worry creeps in. I have even gone so far as to have my children memorize and recite this poem on a daily basis hoping that by “osmosis” it will become embedded in their subconscious minds.

I am sure you have heard it…

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

And so it eloquently continues. I heard some very sage advice on worry recently that has given me an even deeper perspective. I will paraphrase… “Don’t worry about what you can’t control because you can’t control it, and if you CAN control it, there’s no need to worry about it, because YOU ARE IN CONTROL.”

I love this quote. Its humorous irony brought back memories of a lush tropical paradise where I was drinking margaritas while dancing to the popular song, “Don’t worry. Be happy”. Arguably, I was “tuned into” some version of “inner peace” in my intoxicated state, but this type of temporary escape wasn’t really strengthening my “inner peace skills”.

These words, in a different context are very powerful and lend themselves perfectly to introducing to my children to the power of the peace that lies within us. “Don’t worry”, I will teach them, “because worry is a pointless waste of time”. As so eloquently stated in the Serenity Prayer, we must ACCEPT what is beyond our control and instead focus our thought energy on finding the COURAGE to change those things we can change.

WISDOM is found in the next phrase-- “Be Happy.” I believe this is one of the most powerful and underrated phrases in the English language. Happiness is a choice. When faced with lesser alternatives, we can simply choose this positive state. To be happy suggests the present, and the present is a place we should all strive to spend more time in. As my friend and intuitive counselor, Tricia Brennan often says in her guided meditations, “Let go of the past. Let go of the future. Be still and present in the moment.” In other words….just BE and do it with happiness!

If you think about it, the quality of our lives isn’t created in our past or in our future. It is created in “the present.” If you can be happy in the present, life will be good, worry will subside and we will learn that in spite of events around us, or things happening to us, a better place is immediately available if we tap into the power of our mind.

“Don’t worry. Be Happy!” is the new mantra in my house. I introduced it last night during an opportune moment at the dinner table when my son was pointlessly obsessing about something. In a very low tone, I began singing the words, repeating them about every minute or so until it broke his state. Before I knew it, he was laughing hysterically and singing along with me. I wasn’t even aware my children knew this song.

Going forward, when we are having a “worry emergency” I will use it as a catalyst to help us break our negative state and regain control by taking a moment to “self sooth” and find our own inner peace.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Are Our Children Getting What They Need? Acquiring Knowledge versus Gaining Wisdom.

One aspect of home school that I value immensely is the freedom to partake spontaneously in alternative opportunities for learning. Our very wise piano teacher invited her students to attend a dress rehearsal of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This was a very special opportunity, and she highly encouraged attendance of this event, even if it meant missing school. She must have realized that the true value of the experience would take her students into a realm beyond knowledge. We gladly accepted the invitation and spent the better part of a morning in musical immersion!

The kids and I sat in the beautiful Segerstrom Concert Hall while billions of music molecules danced around us in perfect harmony. The situation was ideally suited to practice identifying individual instruments in an attempt to understand their unique sound characteristics. We listened to the beautiful syncopation of the orchestra as the emotion of the music flowed through their instruments to our ears. We listened intently to the conductor as he spoke quietly and passionately to the musicians about the emotions the composer was attempting to communicate to the audience through the music. For the first time, I think my children realized that each orchestra member played a vital role in bringing the music to life. Then, it struck me. This was much more than a backstage glimpse into life as a member of the symphony, it was a LESSON on life and how we each fit into the universal whole.

We begin our life with an ego centric existence completely dependent on our primary caregivers for our very survival. As we grow, we struggle for individuality, independence, recognition, significance, achievement, a sense of purpose, growth and contribution. We experience our own personal trials and tribulations as we learn our place in life. We discover that while our identity comes from our individuality, we are not complete without an intimate connection to family, friends, groups, our community, our country and our world. Eventually, we learn that in spite of our earthly accomplishments, we are nothing more than a miniscule part of a universal whole. The best we can hope for is to “share our music with others” while we are here, and to leave our legacy in the hearts of those who knew us when we are gone.

It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Lives of all great men remind us we can make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.

The experience reminded me that whether our children are home schooled or part of the traditional school system, it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that they have ongoing opportunities that will enable them to transcend knowledge and acquire wisdom. They may gain knowledge from any situation or educational experience, but are they really acquiring wisdom? Wisdom is the ability within each of us to link broad concepts across subject matter, time and personal experience. Wisdom appears in our ability form hypothesis, experiment, draw conclusions, invent, and create in a manner that will positively advance society. Wisdom is the act of searching for the deeper meaning in things, confronting errors, and learning. Imparting wisdom in our children requires that they have a broad variety of experiences, study of core subjects, participation in the arts, mastery of sports, and acquisition of life skills. Children need time to play, think and create, to fail and rebuild, to learn moral and ethics, and to solve complex problems.

Norman Cousins, the much beloved athletic coach who used laughter to cure his cancer, once stated that “Fortunately or otherwise, we live at a time when the average individual has to know several times as much in order to keep informed as he did only thirty or forty years ago. Being ‘educated’ today requires not only more than a superficial knowledge of the arts and sciences, but a sense of inter-relationships such as is taught in few schools. Finally, being ‘educated’ today in terms of the larger needs, means preparation for world citizenship, in short--education for survival.”

I am afraid that our current education system, due to budget cuts, administrative demands on teachers that distract from teaching, large class sizes, and time constraints, has been reduced to a system of preparation for standardized testing with optional after school childcare, rather than, as Norman Cousin’s suggests, education for survival.

As I sat in the symphony with my children, I realized that this is precisely the kind of supplemental learning experience that facilitates the kind of wisdom Mr. Cousin’s finds essential. As parents, we must seek out these opportunities for our children.
The symphony was powerful and awe inspiring. My kids connected recent science lessons about atoms and molecules with the sounds of the music that literally danced around them. They studied the mechanics of the lighting and marveled at the state of the art acoustic system. They figured out how many octaves could be played on the organ that filled an entire wall of the music hall. They witnessed how vital each member of the orchestra is, even if their part, played in solo is seemingly insignificant. They realized how important a leader is to implementing the vision. They each spent an hour lost in their own thoughts and inspirations—awed by the power of live music.

And yes, there were even a few moments of napping, but I didn’t object. How many people can claim that they napped (or shall I say, committed the music to their subconscious memory) during a dress rehearsal of the London Philharmonic Orchestra? Awesome!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Tiny Dancer Gets a Lesson in Self-Worth!

There are moments of profound wisdom offered up to us from our precious children. I am often left awe inspired when I open myself up to seeing and hearing the treasures of their conscious and subconscious minds. The essence of the “tween” is fascinating to me since I happen to have two of them. There are remnants left of the little babies I doted over and rocked to sleep, but mostly now, they look and act like miniature adults, capable of thoughts and deeds often far beyond my expectations and comprehension. The challenge lies in warding off the “learned indifference” that sometimes comes with this. I find myself taking for granted the miracles that must happen in order for them to do what they do. And then, as fast as I have forgotten their miraculous nature, I am reminded of it in some endearing act that they spontaneously commit.

My daughter recently competed in a dance competition which provided a few of those moments. When we were backstage, marking her dance, her shoes came untied. Her coach sat with her, patiently providing both of us a lesson on the subtle art of tying a point shoe, and marveling at the fact that while in a few moments she would perform one of the most difficult classical ballet numbers ever choreographed, she still hadn’t mastered the basics of tying her shoes. She performed like a pro under enormous pressure, to the best of her abilities. And when she finished dancing, she grabbed her teddy bear, and requested a trip to Dairy Queen and “Bounce World” subtly reminding me that while she can dance like an adult, she is indeed, only 10. These are the moments that reveal the truly profound nature of what our children are capable of and the delicate balance of transitioning from child to adult.

According to her coaches, this is the “competition of competitions” in the ballet world. It is a vital step to securing her place, as she will “be seen” by just the right eyes that will potentially open doors for her along the way. I don’t know enough about ballet to know if this is true. I trust the advice of her coach. But there’s nothing like a little pressure for a 10 year old to get her off to a great start! And thus begins the struggle as a parent to balance the innate love for dance with the “hysteria” of over achievement.

Dancing spreads joy instantly. On the positive side, it teaches her grace, poise, self confidence, discipline, how to deal with success and failure, staying “on center”, inner strength, physical strength, and the pride that comes from achieving ones goals. It will allow her to be fully self-expressed in a world where so many of us aren’t. And being able to touch others through artistic expression really is a gift to be shared. So, for the most part, I am supportive of this endeavor.

And then there is the dark side…politics, inequities in judging, abusiveness, mental games, the potential for obsession with self image, and the hype. Fortunately, the company my daughter dances in embraces and promotes the positive side of dance! It is during competition time that we are exposed to the dark side. Seeing her on stage melts my heart, as it would with any parent. But the thing that makes me most proud is that my 10 year old daughter, in all her ultimate wisdom and practicality, sees right through the BS!

She was fortunate enough to make it to the finals in New York, but she realizes that others in the company, who did deserve to go, (even more than her), were overlooked. The sadness of that fact stifled the joy of her accomplishment. Even at 10, she was well aware of the politics involved and the inequities in the judging! I didn’t have to explain it to her, she explained it to me as she recounted, (quite accurately I thought) who should have placed in the competition versus who did. As we were driving home she said, “Mom, don’t waste your money taking me to New York. I can see that they have already decided that I am one of those kids who will make it into the top 12, but has no shot of ever placing. So if you send me, you’ll essentially just be paying a lot of money to watch me dance on a big stage. We could do something better with that money, like save it!”

That is profound wisdom! She doesn’t need a dance competition to define her self-worth and she is willing to sacrifice her own dreams for the greater good, (in this case, the family finances). Her ability to quickly size things up and her willingness to see things for what they are will carry my child gracefully and decisively through her life. That’s the bright side, and I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mastermind Groups for Mastery of the Mind.

Last week, I pulled another book out of the archives for some spiritual stimulation—Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. To me, it is the original version of the recently popular pop psychology phenomenon, “The Secret”, and like most originals, far superior to the copy. It is a classic motivational book which reveals the spiritual secrets of success and riches per Andrew Carnegie. It covers such topics as the laws of attraction, faith, desire, visualization, strategy, planning and discipline and has provided inspiration and practical strategies for millions of people since it was first published in 1937.

One principle in particular, the principle of the “mastermind group” was something that I used extensively in my early career. I thought I was using it effectively, but looking back now, I realize I had misused the concept and then prematurely abandoned it. I viewed it as simply a form of networking, or creating proximity to powerful people with the expressed goal of meeting as many “potential customers” as possible. That was very one sided of me. No wonder it wasn’t that effective. Now, I understand that I had completely missed the point! Had I utilized it as suggested and intended by the author, I might still be using it today. I plan to reacquaint myself with the concept while simultaneously teaching this idea to my children. It will be interesting to see who they pick for their Mastermind groups. I am sure the creator of Pokemon will be on my son’s list.

A “mastermind group” allows one to select an “ideal” group of mentors, real or imagined who possess individual character traits that you value most. Members should be chosen carefully and studied intensely. He even suggests that you journal, “conversation style”, with your mastermind mentors on a regular basis to witness how they would approach opportunities and solve problems if they could speak to you. I think this is absolutely brilliant and it reminded me of some training I acquired recently in a seminar. It required that we “call upon” popular archetypes such as the “powerful magician”, the “fearless warrior”, the “stately King/Queen”, and the “wise sage” to help us find more creative solutions to problems.

It works like this…

Pick a personal problem or a challenge that has defied resolution, and then step alternatively into the character of the four archetypes mentioned above. See and analyze the problem (objectively) as if you were that character. It may seem utterly ridiculous, but it works! It’s even more powerful if you find music suited to those archetypes and meditate while doing this. Keep a journal of your thoughts after each meditation and then analyze your entries upon completion.

My theory is that the “mastermind group” will enable you to expand and intensify this process because the mentors you choose will reflect the qualities you determine are most important in creating the life you really, really, really want. Calling upon their wisdom through your own powers of imagination and visualization will unlock solutions and opportunities that you might not have otherwise unlocked. Selection of your group is critical because these members will help shape your destiny.

In these times of great uncertainty, I believe it is important for each of us to call upon our internal resources and use our imaginations to expand our thinking. The same level of thinking that got us to where we are now, will not take us to where we want to be. Remove the limitations in your life--call upon the Master Minds to create an inspirational Board of Directors for yourself.

I would love to hear who you’ve appointed to your Mastermind Group!

I offer mine:
Love/giving/contribution: Mother Teresa
Passion Benjamin Franklin
Growth and Education Ralph Waldo Emerson
Communication Intuitive Counselor, Tricia Brennan
Coaching Tony Robbins
Creativity/Ingenuity Leonardo DaVinci
Intelligence Albert Einstein
Persistence Helen Keller
Spirituality Dr. Wayne Dyer
Wealth Warren Buffet
Integrity/Ethics My Grandfather and Abraham Lincoln
Courage Ghandi

Friday, March 6, 2009

The 7th Thing I Love About Home School—School is Where You Take it and Make It!

“Do you mind if I get dressed real quick and just go check on the kids to make sure they are not killing each other?” I said to the mammography technician as she released my right breast and told me to get the left one ready. “You see, we’re homeschooled, so I brought them with me and left them by themselves in the lobby. I just want to check on them.”

“Excuse me? She remarked. I guessed this probably wasn’t a common question in her world. But boob smashing wasn’t common in my world either so I considered things “even Steven.” I suppose the pleading look in my eyes (which might have been the result of severe pain after having my breast smashed to ¼” pancake between two cold plates), told her not to deny my request. She reluctantly conceded. I grabbed my clothes and bolted.

20 minutes earlier, I left my children in the lobby with a backpack full of school work and strict instructions to complete 3 math pages, 2 grammar pages, 1 vocabulary lesson, 1 American History lesson, 3 chapters in science, free reading and foreign language by time I returned. I figured if I piled on enough in the expectations department, they were less likely to get into trouble. This elicited some interesting looks from patrons in the lobby. “Oh, and try not to kill each other, either.” With that, I turned on my heels and proceeded to my exam room. I smiled at the condescending old lady sitting who was disapprovingly watching this scene unfold and remarked, “Don’t worry, they probably won’t hurt each other too badly,” as I passed her.

For those of you who are concerned about child abandonment, I assure you that before I began “setting expectations” for the school day, I introduced them to all the ladies behind the desk and made sure the environment was safe. And, what I found when I reentered the lobby to check on them warmed my heart. They were helping each other with math and eating apples. No, they hadn’t completed even 1/3 of the work on my list, but I was satisfied that all was good. I kissed them proudly and proceeded back to the “torture chamber”. Disapproving old lady was more at ease at this point.

With one annual procedure crossed off the “to do list”, we headed down to the corner of Ocean and Broadway near the Santa Monica Pier and enjoyed a lovely lunch that I will remember for years to come. We had the best corner window table with an ocean view all to ourselves! We had missed the business lunch crowd and were pretty much alone. I quizzed them on what they had learned that morning, we talked about the animals we learned about on our field trip to San Diego Sea World the day before, and it struck me, this is my 7th favorite thing about home schooling!

I reflected on the past week and realized our bean bags were cold and lonely. We hadn’t been in them for 5 school days. Our “extenuating circumstances” had included a field trip to Sea World, taping of a podcast at my daughter’s ballet studio, a school performance, extra coaching in preparation for a dance competition, and a boring doctor’s appointment that was turned into a really memorable experience for all of us. Our books and our bodies had been in the car all week and the amazing thing is that we hadn’t skipped a beat. We were a little light on the core subjects, but we had made up for it with all the enrichment activities and time spent together enjoying each other’s company.

It really opened my mind to the fact that school doesn’t have to be contained within four walls. In fact, I am beginning to believe that within 3-5 years, a significant percentage of education will be delivered this way. It just makes sense with the high cost associated with providing an education for children and budget cuts that most states continue to face. Most top universities including Harvard, Stanford and MIT offer online programs and some even have programs for gifted children at the elementary and high school levels.

It’s a brilliant move on the part of the universities to “hook” their future patrons at an early age, and I think it demonstrates how powerful the option of learning beyond the class room really is—school truly is where you take it and make it!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Are Your Defining Moments Defining You or Defying You?

By chance, I saw the movie, SlumDog Millionaire this weekend. I say “by chance” because I wasn’t planning on seeing it. Since it got so much “buzz” at the awards ceremonies, I was somewhat resistant to see it and therefore neatly “filed it” into my mental archives of over-rated Hollywood films. Within 10 minutes, I realized this masterpiece will probably be remembered as one of the top 100 movies of all time due to a great script and powerful storytelling. It’s my new favorite movie and one that revolves around the story of a young man’s defining moments and how they liberate him from the prison of his life.

I walked out of the theatre, I grabbed the the only scrap of paper I could find in my purse and began furiously scribbling notes about my own defining moments. I couldn’t wait back to become the “objective observer and look back at my life.” I wanted to know if my defining moments were actually defining me or defying me? My husband looked at me rather strangely, but has learned not to question these fits of inspiration.

Slum Dog Millionaire is the story of two brothers (Salim and Jamal Malik) orphaned early in their lives. They struggle daily for survival and learn about life through a series of compromises, challenges, and the occasional small triumph. One brother ultimately chooses a path of corruption and destruction and the other chooses a life of love, purpose and hope.

The story is simply told from the point of view of Jamal, as he sits center stage under the bright lights of scrutiny on the Indian version of the game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Each question he is challenged to answer, forces him to recall one more of the defining moments of his life. Through this mechanism, the movie unfolds.

I drew an interesting parallel to my own life as I realized that some of these events were thrust upon him by fate, and others he created through his own choices. I began to consider the age old question of whether our lives are more influenced by free will or destiny. Is our destiny written, as Jamal believes in the story, or do we “sit in the driver’s seat”, shaping our lives through a series of choices, good or bad? Who really knows? I certainly don’t, but I am ever fascinated by that question and I change sides of the argument as often as I change my clothing. But, by witnessing the recount of his Jamal’s life’s defining moments, I began to lean towards “destiny”, at least for the time being.

IF so little is directly in our control, aren’t we better served by focusing our energy on creating an empowering meaning for the events of our life rather than assigning blame, feeling shame or wallowing sense of failure when things go horribly wrong? I can see why people so often turn to prayer or a higher source for faith and strength. I can also understand why discovering our own sense of purpose in life, can help guide us through good times and bad, and better cope with the challenges we might be presented as our life unfolds.

Back to Jamal….

In a strange twist of fate, the last question of the game show happens to be an unanswered question lingering from his childhood—a question to which he has never known the answer! Instead of crumbling under the pressure, he smiles in disbelief that his entire fate is hinges on this unfortunate question. He throws caution to the wind, trusts his instincts and chooses the answer required to secure the grand prize!

I believe this is a powerful metaphor for our own lives. Sometimes no matter how well you are prepared, you just don’t have the answers. There is nothing left to do but to relax and have faith that things will work out. If I may borrow a phrase from the movie, “It is our destiny—it is written!”

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Maybe We Should Spend a Little More Time Channeling our Inner Rockette!

“Stay focused girls. Picture the feather head dress and beautiful costume. You have big eyelashes, your make up is glowing and your hair is shining in the stage lighting. You are in perfect unison with the dancers around you. You are unique and gorgeous, but working together harmoniously as if you were one. Now, transcend beyond your outer beauty to the core of who you are. Stay focused! Channel your inner Rockette, girls! See her in all her glory. Now step into her shoes and BE HER!”

Five girls and I partook in this spontaneous meditation during tap class today. I am coaching a very talented group of dancers between the ages of 10 and 14 and we are learning a classic tap number set to “Let’s Misbehave.” Technically, they were getting it, but they weren’t GETTING IT! They needed a strong vision of what was possible in order to take it to the next level.

The three pound gelatinous mass that crowns our being is a very powerful and underutilized asset. What we create in our mind is not trivial. It forms the very foundation of our lives. Never underestimate the power of visualization.

The girls’ performance after this visualization showed a marked improvement over their prior performance. During class today, these girls needed an introduction to their inner Rockettes. I think we all do, ladies. That powerful Goddess inside can “rock the room” in any situation. As mom’s we are pulled in so many directions and we cater to the needs of others so willingly, it’s easy to lose sight of her. Her image grows dim and that is reflected in our appearance.

In your daily health and beauty routine, are you going through the motions, or are really connecting with your higher self? She’s in there. I swear she is. She’s a reflection of who you can be when you believe in, respect and honor yourself as the Goddess you are. But you need to take some time to SEE her. We’ve all had those moments (or maybe even days, or years) in which our higher self is with us in full force. She’s a powerful force. And suddenly, we lose her. Well, I miss my inner Rockette. I am filing a missing person’s report and sending out a search and rescue team to find her.

I am convinced, with meditation and visualization, and a commitment of just a little time per day, we can find her again, and transform ourselves, inside and out. I know this to be true, because I had a profound experience with this during my milestone year, 40--that dreaded birthday in which we suddenly define ourselves as “old.” Well, as Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “we can’t let an old person get into our bodies”. They take up residence and start leaving their stuff everywhere.

Tap class today was a strong “kick in the pants” for me about our influence as mothers. Self image is fragile and dangerous territory for our daughters. I see no reason why they can’t begin practicing self image meditation while they are young. If they have a strong connection with their inner goddess, they’ll be less likely to lose touch with her later in life. (That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m sticking to it). So ladies, don’t forget that you MUST see more that what stares back at you in the mirror. In your mind, you can give yourself the same advantages that top models and actresses have—a beautiful setting, perfect lighting, hair and makeup, a gorgeous (to die for costume) a softening filter if you are over 30, and incredible music to elevate your mood. Don’t forget airbrushing and cropping.

The visual images you can create in your mind are as powerful as the images you see in real life. It just takes a few moments a day. And before you know it, that vision you create in your mind of the goddess you are, will be staring back at you in the mirror!

To channel your inner Rockette and find the goddess within, I highly recommend the guided meditations of Tricia Brennan. http://www.triciabrennan.com/. Look specifically at Body Transformation for this topic, but all her products are wonderfully enlightening.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Sixth Thing I Love About Home School--Even the Teacher Gets a Final Exam.

Some of you who are following my blog might know that I am developing a leadership program for children. My laboratory is our home school and my children are the lab rats. This week we finished our “first unit” of study in Leadership. Even though I regularly test “my rats” to measure their progress, I decided that a “final exam” was unnecessary since leadership skills are best developed and tested in real life.

But, today I was presented with a “final exam” of my own when I encountered a situation that challenged me to “practice what I preach.” The situation was a direct result of my entre’ into the dangerous and scary world of “political blogging”. I don’t go there very often since my focus right now is decidedly “spiritual and documentary”. But the contents of Obama’s first congressional address left me feeling compelled to comment. Upon completing my final spell check, I broadcast my “polito-blog” into the cyber universe in a big way—to 45,000 unsuspecting members of cafemom.com.

I quickly discovered that “political blogging” attracts a variety of moms, desirable and not so. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I suspected that I might be in the minority on the topic I selected. I learned that the internet can have the same effect on people as drinking too many margaritas at Marti Gras. Folks lose their inhibitions, their manners and their sense of decency. One response really sent me into a funk, and I harbored negativity for a full hour before I regained control of my emotions.

To clear my head, I took my morning walk and it suddenly it hit me—I had it all wrong! This virtual stranger who had so voraciously attacked me was in fact, just testing me. My “final exam” was neatly packaged in her five paragraph response, and it was up to me to step up and take it. This test forced me to utilize and master each of the five topics we have studied to date:

Lesson 1: When You Rule Your Mind, You Rule Your World!

“How can I craft my verbal retaliation?” was the first question that popped into my head. Since we create our reality with our focus, the questions we ask ourselves are critical. Mine was leading me quickly down the wrong path. To ameliorate my thinking, I crafted a better question. “How can this help me?” This answer put me in a position of power instead of a place of negativity and anger.

Lesson 2: Without Vision, the People Perish.

No amount of words on a page would change her point of view. I needed to remain focused on my own long term vision to find the appropriate response to the situation. Verbal sparring wasn’t the answer. But searching for meaning was. It didn’t take long to find it.

Lesson 3: Love Can Endure the Fault We Cannot Cure.
My natural response was to put on the gloves and come out fighting. I think this is often what we do when we find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue. But when I thought of Lesson 3, it was simple. I couldn’t cure her faults and she couldn’t cure mine. The best resolution we could hope for was to agree to disagree. I put myself into a state of “unconditional love” and crafted a simple, gracious response.

Lesson 4: There are More Possibilities in the Universe than One Can Possibly Imagine.

This became crystal clear as I read her answer. I hadn’t imagined a point of view such as hers, (but I stoop to sarcasm). The real lesson for me was that it is essential to explore the possibilities before responding if you want to create a positive outcome. We always have more than one choice, even when we think we don’t. When dealing with a challenging situation, we must call upon all our internal and external resources to create many options so we can produce positive outcomes and improve our lives.

Lesson 5: As You Give, So Shall You Receive.
My opponent’s opinion was 100% different than mine but that wasn’t the issue. Instead of presenting her point of view in a positive manner, she opted to respond with personal insults and bad language. She intentionally chose her response, and it was incumbent upon me to choose mine. My initial inclination was to unleash upon her with equal vengeance. As you give, so shall you receive. But thankfully, my higher self suggested I think about it and respond with love. I don’t know how it was received on her end. I am guessing it neutralized the situation. Regardless, I know that I did my part to break the cycle of negativity.
In 5 or 10 years, it will be interesting to observe what my children retain from this leadership encounter. As a teacher, I was extremely grateful to have a test of my own. I just hope I passed!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

(Still on Giving)… Lord Send me a Sign that I am making some progress!

My kids and I are wrapping up Unit 1 in our Leadership program although I am going to spend one more week on “giving”. This is mostly for my own benefit because I think it is such an important concept and I believe I have a lot to learn in this area.

Over the last six weeks we’ve covered a variety of topics including “what you focus on you get”, “unlimited possibilities” and the importance of “vision and purpose”. We’ve studied the role “unconditional love” plays in our lives, the concept of “unlimited possibilities” and why “the secret to living is giving”. Mother Teresa embodies the qualities we have studied, so naturally, our leadership report for this unit centered on her life, her philosophies, her challenges and accomplishments and how we be more like her in our own lives. My children each wrote a beautiful tribute to Mother Teresa as the “final exam” for this unit. Reading each essay in its final form was very rewarding!

The humbling thing about home schooling is how much I am learning because of my kids. I am now fascinated with Mother Teresa, especially with regard to her selfless giving and her relentless commitment to her guiding principles. Her mission was to help one person at a time and in helping, she sought a personal connection with the abandoned and hopeless. When she sensed the connection was missing, she considered herself “off course”. Mother Teresa’s giving well never ran dry. Her internal resources remained in an eternal state of abundance, and that abundance allowed her to remain “on purpose”.

As I mentioned in a prior blog, the concept of giving is surprisingly challenging to teach to children. I am finding the “KISS” principle (keep it simple sweetie) to be most effective. Coincidently, as I was cleaning a closet this week, I ran across a book that I hadn’t read since my kids were little—“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. I imagine most parents have read this book, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. It is a timeless and ageless story of selfless giving.

It’s the story of a boy and his favorite tree—The Giving Tree. He has a relationship with the tree through his entire life and depends on it for comfort and solitude. As the boy matures from toddler, to young man, to middle age and then his golden years, The Giving Tree always has something to give to the boy. The moral of the story is that no matter what how exhausted, tired or “spent” we are we always have something to give to others.

This “grand leadership experiment” of mine has been fascinating so far! And it’s only just begun. My education specialist asked me if I think it’s working. I am hopeful that it is, although I am well aware of the fact that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. My kids have been mostly receptive to my cause. Their emotions have ranged from extremely bored to wildly inspired (and a lot of in between). So, is it working, you ask? Evidence is mounting that it is. I say this as my children are yelling insults to each other while making cookies. I am choosing to believe that this temporary setback is due to the amount of sugar they are ingesting at the moment.

But, overall, the seeds that have been planted through 30+ hours or so of training are starting to sprout. I see it in their interaction with each other and towards my husband and me. We are definitely closer. I catch sound bites of conversations they are having with each other that include “little tidbits” from our lessons. I get continual requests for “calming meditations” and “visualizations” before we go to sleep. While these seem to be positive indications, a simple sign from God would be beneficial to my ego!

I believe children are very close to God, and while they may not “get” everything we discuss on a purely intellectual level, they get it spiritually. My delusion is that because of this time we are spending, they will understand the power of choice and how their thoughts and decisions affect the quality of their lives. Ultimately, they will incorporate these tools to create a spectacular life!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Womanly Parts, Seam Splitting Farts and Oliver Twist at Bed Time!

Raucous laughter erupted for the third time in the nearby game room. I repressed the undercurrent of anger brewing inside me. Now that we are home schooling, I am attempting to replace some of our marginally acceptable bed time reading material with “the classics”. I was thrilled earlier in the day when I happened across a copy of Charles Dicken’s beloved classic, Oliver Twist. Anticipation of sharing my discovery had been building throughout the day. I envisioned the looks of joy rivaled only by Christmas morning that would adorn my children’s faces when I announced “Kids, we’re going to read a classic tonight, Oliver Twist.” I was so excited that several times I had almost divulged my secret, but somehow, I managed to withhold it until exactly the right time.

Completely opposite of my expectations, my “surprise” was met with screams of belligerence instead of squeals of delight. “CAN’T WE READ GIRLS RULE?” they wailed in perfect unison. I wondered where I had gone wrong. It took ten minutes of negotiation, deep breathing and verbal “conditioning” to get the energy in the room back to a state that was conducive to reading.

And then came the laughter…

I persisted and resolutely commenced reading, deliberately raising the volume of my voice to cover the laughter coming from the game room. Within three paragraphs I was losing my voice, questioning my judgment and doubting my literary selection. This was way over their heads, I thought to myself. Maybe I should acquiesce to Girls Rule and just forget the classics.

My son saved the moment by offering to venture out to the game room to tell my husband to lower the volume. Thankfully, this broke my pattern of negative thinking. Thirty seconds became two minutes. My daughter volunteered to “go get them”. Two minutes became four minutes. I heard my husband say “Check this out Frankie, this guy farted and split the seams of his pants right open.” More raucous laughter, only this time my children were partaking.

How did we digress from reading one of the world’s best literary works to seam splitting farts? And how was I going to regain control of this situation? It was pretty clear that viewing strange bodily functions on the big screen was much more appealing than what I was offering. Even a fluffy down comforter and the promise of backrubs couldn’t turn this situation around. My plan for enlightenment… my calming and enriching bedtime routine was being sabotaged by none other than my "other half". Where was the “unified front”. Weren’t we in this together? Aren’t the classics going to take our children much farther in life than farting? I felt overwhelmingly alone.

I took a few cleansing breaths and convinced myself that it was going to be okay, and before I knew it, I heard my son say to my daughter, “we better go back with Mom or she’s not going to read.” Had I hooked them in three confusing introductory paragraphs? Probably not, but my kids really love story time, so thousands of prior nights of reading were working in my favor.

Ten minutes later, we were back to where we started...at the very beginning. I decided correctly that if I was to have even a slight chance of making this work, I had better stop every three or four sentences to translate the starkly different English of the mid 1800’s to the English of the early 2000’s. My translation was questionable, but I persisted and before I knew it, they were engaged.

Then my darling husband, in a decidedly disruptive fashion, entered the room, ready to share commentary about another gross bodily function he had just observed. In his awkward attempt to crawl into the tiny twin bed with all of us, my tween daughter screamed, “Dad, you’re hurting my womanly parts.” Womanly parts? She’s 10. She doesn’t have womanly parts. Dear God, what was happening to my family?

I took three more cleansing breaths and waited patiently. Things eventually settled down and somehow, we managed to get through a whole chapter of Oliver Twist before my son drifted off to sleep. I guess great writing is great writing and a great story is a great story, no matter how poorly translated by me!

I wouldn’t yet call us a “classics family”, but there was a glimmer of hope this evening as I realized that even when I have to compete with “womanly parts” and “seam splitting farts”, we can still enjoy a little “Oliver Twist” at bed time.