We Do Our Best With What We Know

We do the best

The above photo was a recent Facebook post from Sister Hugs. I shared it because I’m fond of saying something similar. “We do our best with what we know at the time.”

Think about something important that you originally thought strongly about, but now think totally differently about it because NEW information influenced you to change your view.

I’ll give you a for-instance. When my babies were infants in 1983 and 1986, our pediatrician advised us to vary the sleeping positions from back to side to belly. We were told that it was better for babies to experience various sleep positions. Their cribs had bumper pads and they slept covered with a blanket. And they slept in their own rooms.

In 1992, after research around the world showed increased SIDS deaths from stomach sleeping, the official US recommendation came about that babies be placed ONLY on their backs while sleeping.

Jump to 2021. Not only should babies sleep on their backs, but also nothing else goes in the bumper-pad-free crib with the baby. Room-sharing (but not bed-sharing) is also strongly recommended for the baby’s safety. Firm bedding, not soft, is safest for the baby.

So all of the best advice today runs contrary to how I mothered my babies. Was I a bad mother? Unfit? Negligent? No. I did my best with what I knew at the time.

When I see people fighting about getting vaccinations and mask-wearing, I think about the premise of changing our minds because of new information. Some people believe Dr. Fauci waffled on the subject of mask-wearing. Do you know what actually happened? He did the best with what he knew at the time.

In the early days, no one knew just how fast the virus would spread. He was concerned that people would buy masks (like they later bought toilet paper) and hoard them so that the medical providers who had the primary need for them would go without.

And according to a fact check, Dr. Fauci explained that originally, “We were not aware that 40% to 45% of people were asymptomatic, nor were we aware that a substantial proportion of people who get infected get infected from people who are without symptoms. That makes it overwhelmingly important for everyone to wear a mask.”

Per BusinessInsider.com, Dr. Fauci is quoted as saying, “I don’t regret anything I said then because, in the context of the time in which I said it, it was correct. We were told in our task force meetings that we have a serious problem with the lack of PPEs.”

New information, new decisions. “We do our best with what we know at the time.”

Be kind to yourself and be kind to others as we make our way through this ever-changing world.

~~~~

Changing advice on how babies sleep

NIH dateline of recommended sleeping positions

https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/safesleep/index.html

Group Help 101

group help

Have you ever considered that, on paper, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) shouldn’t work? Think about the concept: In an unfamiliar setting, let’s assemble a group of strangers who share a serious health problem and have them take turns acknowledging their personal issues.

I’m part of a group that, similar to AA, doesn’t sound like something that could produce effective results. But, also like AA, it does.

Ignite Fauquier is a free community group that will resume its post-Covid monthly meetings in September. Each month one owner or representative from a local business or non-profit is invited to present their organization to a gathering of other community members. The person shares a particular challenge that their business faces. Members then offer suggestions to overcome the challenge.

Here’s a sampling of the challenges from the past:

  • One owner’s circle of clients included personal friends. That was great until they were slow about paying their bills. How was he to collect his money without ruining the friendships?
  • An owner of a small, limited menu café was working non-stop hours because he was challenged to find employees.
  • A natural food store found it tough to broaden its customer base in a small town. They felt that too many people still associated the term “natural foods” with 1960s hippies, 1980s yuppies, or even 1990s hipsters!

The people in the audience for these three presentations didn’t include anyone who had friends as clients, any other restaurant or café owners, and zero other natural food store owners. And yet, each of these presenters came away with over a dozen suggestions for each of their challenges.

You see, at Ignite Fauquier we open up both our hearts and minds to find a connection to a similar problem we have solved. Since I used to be a credit manager and needed to collect money from clients while maintaining their business, I had some ideas for collecting money and maintaining friendships.

Audience members thought back to times when it was difficult for them to find and keep employees and provided both short-term and longer-term solutions. And the natural food store event produced lively conversation. My final suggestion was to rebrand their message as, “Natural Foods…not just for hippies anymore!”

Our helpful audience doesn’t consist of Mensa member billionaire business owners. We’re town and county employees, small business owners, shop owners, insurance agents, realtors, bankers, interior designers, marketing company owners, life coaches, chiropractors, or employees of the Chamber of Commerce. And you would be amazed at the variety of ideas that bounce around that meeting room.

Just as my post from last week noted, asking for help is a positive step to overcoming a problem. I noted that it’s scary for an individual to say, “Hey, I’m personally in over my head here. Can you help me?” And asking for business help can be as intimidating as seeking personal help. We don’t want people to know we’re stumbling. We want to come across as having our acts together. Put on a happy face and pretend it’s all OK.

Our kind members don’t make judgments or point fingers. We simply offer up an abundance of ideas and support to help overcome challenges. And we usually share a lot of laughter.

So if your business is struggling with a challenge, I encourage you to find a local group like Ignite Fauquier and find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone and that there are ideas out there that can help.

Rainbow Music

rainbow music

Indoor rainbow – Photo by Norma Thatcher

A signature song. That phrase captures the imagination. It’s defined as the ONE song a successful artist or band is most closely identified with. Some examples are

  • What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
  • I Left My Heart In San Francisco – Tony Bennett
  • YMCA – The Village People
  • Piano Man – Billy Joel
  • Moon River – Andy Williams

Judy Garland’s signature song was Over the Rainbow from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. (Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. (Yip) Harburg)

Do you suppose there is anyone reading this post who is NOT familiar with that song? In 2001 Over the Rainbow was voted the greatest song of the 20th century by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry of America.

Why is it so popular? What is it that makes us like it so darned much? How can it have not only endured but prospered after 82 years?

Professor of music Walter Frisch (who wrote a book about the song) believes, “The song’s mix of hope and anxiety has allowed people to read into it their own concerns.” It’s a universally appealing song.

Based on the comments found on YouTube for various covers of the song, people have their own interpretation of the emotions the song brings forth. Here’s a partial listing: Hope, sadness, loss, yearning, escape, a leap of faith, optimism, happiness, courage, daring, healing, solidarity, and reassurance. Quite the diverse list!

Over the Rainbow has been sung at weddings and at funerals. People play it at graduation parties. And it has been on NASA’s playlist to wake up astronauts!

Katherine McPhee sang it sitting on the floor as an American Idol finalist in 2006.  And she and her husband David Foster just uploaded a new informal version of it in April to help raise funds for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County, Texas.

There is a light and upbeat version of it by Hawaiian singer Israel (Iz) Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole that has smashed records. It has been in the top ten on Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales for 541 weeks! The video, which is a mashup of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World, has been viewed on YouTube over a billion times.

But my favorite cover is a soulful rendition by a once relatively unknown singer named Eva Cassidy. She was local to the DC Metro Area, and the link below is restored footage of her singing live at the Blues Alley Jazz Club in DC in 1996, ten months before she died at the age of 33 of malignant melanoma. If you click on only one of my links today, make it hers.

The “words guy” for Over the Rainbow, Yip Harburg, had this quote that sums it up: “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”

~~~~

Israel (Iz) Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole, mashup of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World

Katharine McFee Foster, Over the Rainbow April 2021  (Note: The song starts at 1:42.)

Eva Cassidy, Over the Rainbow January 1996

PBS clip on why Over the Rainbow endures (you’ll need to scroll down the article to the video and then endure an ad)

Petals of Our Lives

swirling petals

Photo by Julie Busony

I’m convinced there are many astounding views of life we miss seeing simply because we’re not paying enough attention.

Case in point: Stop and watch this 26-second video I shot at the park last week so that the rest of this post will make sense. (But come right back or my feelings will be hurt.)

We had just finished making the rounds at the park, and my dog Grace wanted to walk in the park’s creek. As she was snooping around in the shallow water, I stood still. That’s when I noticed the swirling eddy of flower petals with several green leaves nestled in on top.

And this thought came to me: Surely this is a metaphor for life. The petals represent the people in our lives. Some closer to the center stay near to our personal orbit as our days turn to weeks, months, and years. Their actual position may change but they remain in our inner circle.

Some farther out toward the edge may be with us for a shorter time and have less impact, and then they drift away to influence others.

And some touch our life for just a moment before breaking off. Only on the periphery, perhaps having a marginal influence on us, still…for that moment they were a part of our individual world.

Regardless of the length of their stay or their closeness or distance, we should not underestimate the influence that any of these petals, er, people have on us. I’m hoping that right now your mind has jumped to images of people who made a positive impact on you, and that’s good.

But I’m sure we can all look back and find people in our past that we wish we hadn’t encountered. That terrible boss who couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag? The supposed friend who betrayed a serious confidence? The business acquaintance who stole an idea, claiming it for her own? I’m sure you can add your own list of nefarious folks.

We don’t like to remember those people, but guess what? The impact they left helped shaped us into the people we are today just as surely as the wonderful people have.

About ten years ago a community program tagged me to help a single mom with a teenager who had some special problems. I did my absolute best and believed I was making a positive impact on both of them. That blew up when the mom made accusations that I was trying to sabotage her, that I put her down. Even though she was accusing some other community members of similar actions, I couldn’t find solace in numbers. I was devastated that I had been falsely accused.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful mentor at the time. When the story came pouring out of me (I was mad, hurt, embarrassed, ashamed of failing, etc.), so did the tears. When I ran out of words, my mentor paused and said, “What a gift that woman gave you…the opportunity to triumph through an adversity. Let it go.”

I hadn’t thought of that story in years. When I started writing this post, I had no clue it would end up here. I write where the Spirit leads, and so sometimes I’m just as surprised as my readers!

How Do I Love Thee?

love language

It seems as if some people I don’t even know love me. Maybe it’s happened to you too.

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe I’m a fairly lovable person, and I’ll take all the love I can get. But the person saying it needs to really mean the words for it to count. Otherwise, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth since I know (because how could they?) that they don’t actually love me.

To whom am I referring? I’ve noticed that the last few newsletters / training updates I’ve subscribed to have come with an email signature of “Love, (the writer’s name).”

As in, “Thanks for subscribing! Love, Bob.” Or “I hope you found these writing hacks helpful! Love, Janet.”

And every single automated “touch” from these folks ends the same way: “Love”

Sometimes that automated touch is once a week. Sometimes it’s several times a week.  More often than that and I hit UNSUBSCRIBE.

I think I understand how these businesspeople believe they can get away with saying love. We love everything from a story on Facebook to a photo on Instagram. We say we love the smell of coffee in the morning and watching a sunset. We love our friend’s new outfit as well as a just-read book. And Heaven forbid, don’t forget that I love dark chocolate! But when we love so many things, it’s difficult for a true I love you to stand out from the crowd.

Dr. Gary Chapman, marriage counselor and best-selling author/speaker, is famous for his Five Love Languages. He discovered in his earlier counseling years that how we prefer to be loved can be identified in five ways: “Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Each individual has at least one language that they prefer above the other… and this is where it gets interesting.” (According to his website!)

For instance, it seems I favor “acts of service” as a demonstration of husbandly love. When Richard asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I responded, “The front porch and its furniture cleaned for spring.” And he was happy to oblige! If he had instead bought me a $5 card tucked into an Edible Arrangement, I would have pretended to be excited. But I was truly thrilled to have a clean front porch without having to do the work myself.

As always, differences make for an interesting world. Someone who needs the affirmations as a display of love would have been very dissatisfied with a clean porch.

Love and how we prefer to receive it does make the world go ‘round. Except in an email from a stranger.

~~~~~

Five Love Languages

Lend Me A Hand, Please

Lend me a hand

Have you ever given much thought to how important your hands are?

Last week I taught a class on the effective impact that body language has on a successful presentation. One aspect that novice speakers seem to have the most difficulty in managing is their hands. Those body parts at the ends of our arms can help us relay our message, so why stuff them into your pockets or let them dangle by your sides?

And that got me thinking about all the ways we use our hands.

We wave both hello and goodbye. We make a heart shape to signal “I love you.” We touch our lips and extend our hands outward to throw a kiss. In non-COVID times, we shake hands with our customers. During COVID times, we make the 1970 hippy peace sign during the “passing of the peace” at church.

Unofficial sign language can be read by our hand motions to come forward, to stop, to speed up, or slow down.

Gardeners plant seeds and pull weeds. Costume designers feed material through on a sewing machine. My friend pieces together the clothing of a deceased loved one to produce a memory bear. A waiter or waitress writes down our order and then places our food in front of us.

Players throw a baseball, catch a football, and shoot a hockey puck. Jugglers juggle. Magicians amaze us as they perform sleight of hand tricks.

If we don’t want to see something, we cover our eyes with our hands. And if we don’t want to hear something, we cover our ears.

I can think of some contradictions: We can use our hands to write a message of love on a Mother’s Day card or use them to hold a phone while we spew a text message or Facebook post filled with hate. We can lift a baby into the air or lift a rock and throw it to break a window. We can carry a bouquet of flowers or a weapon. We can strum a guitar, play Beethoven’s 5th on a piano, beat on drums, or beat down another human being. A maestro uses his hands to conduct a symphony, and a rioter directs an insurrection by holding a bullhorn.

Use your hands to apply sunscreen on yourself or to peel someone else’s sunburn. (Or am I the only person who likes to do that?)

Fingerpaint, paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (oh wait, that’s already been accomplished), or spray paint graffiti on an outside wall.

Babies hold a security blanket and drivers hold the steering wheel (preferably at 10 and 2).

We use our hands to care for ourselves from brushing our teeth, lathering up in the shower, toileting tasks, combing our hair, buttoning our shirts, and tying our shoes.

Our hands are instrumental in both writing a children’s book and illustrating one.

We wring our hands when we’re in distress, and we use them to wipe the tears of someone else in distress.

Our hands come together in applause for a speaker we enjoy, and they take notes so we may recall the speaker’s message.

These are just some of the ways our hands have a language of their own. Why then, when we’re giving a speech, would we NOT want to take advantage of enhancing our message with our hands? Let your hands help deliver your message.

And please,  let it be a kind one.

~~~~

Adorable nine-year-old girl named Nandi playing the drums on Ellen. If you don’t like drum music, at least watch the interview!

M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands from 1948

Beethoven’s 5th 

 

Heave-Ho to Upheaval

heave-ho to upheaval

Photo by Norma Thatcher, April 2021

This has been an unusual year in America in many ways including weather. In the mid-Atlantic states, we saw some winter days hit the low 70s, and then we endured recent spring days in the low 30s. My husband just noted that the weather channel is predicting that Denver will get five inches of snow today. Our poor plants, bushes, and trees have every right to be a bit confused.

We had one upsetting issue over the winter with frost heave. You may know that pressure from alternating freezing and thawing conditions can actually lift the soil and plants right out of the ground to produce the condition termed frost heave.

We had a lovely Viburnum bush at the corner of the house that also had sentimental ties; it was a transplant from my sister-in-law Alice’s yard and replanting it in our own yard was one of the last landscaping projects in which our son Tim assisted.

The power of nature is awesome to behold even when we’re unhappy with the results. That Viburnum bush now sits at a very odd angle, roots and ground heaved up from the earth, as you can see below.

frost heave

The most common English definition of heave is to lift or move something heavy. We can also produce a long breath by “heaving a huge sigh of relief.” It can mean an attempt to vomit as in retching.  In nautical vernacular, it means to pull, raise, or move a boat or ship by hauling on ropes.

Heave-ho is a nautical anachronism and was a command to sailors to pull hard in unison on a rope or cable. Today we might say someone was given the heave-ho if he was dismissed, rejected, fired from a job, or forcibly ejected.

Upheaval is closely aligned to heave. It’s a sudden change or disruption to something; a radical change. The pandemic was surely an upheaval to our way of life. But though we may have endured radical changes to what we perceived as normal, at our core, we are still US. We remain the kind and thoughtful people we were, and perhaps are even more so. Our capacity for compassion has grown.

Just like my Viburnum that endured the violent upheaval from the ground during the winter and yet has just blossomed and has hearty “fuzzy” dark green leaves, we can emerge from our upheaval with more beautiful souls.

~~~~~~

A post-Covid prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Putting Stuff Away

putting stuff away

I can’t stand not being able to find stuff. Since I consider myself to be a highly organized individual, it’s an affront to my mental well-being to be unable to locate something.

Case in point: A couple weeks ago my husband asked, “Where is the soil analysis the Co-Op did a month ago?” I knew what he was referring to and what it looked like. I recalled that I had intended to file the papers in the “landscaping” folder because that seemed to be a likely home.

It wasn’t there. Nor was it in the “to be filed” stack or the 2021 paperwork box. I called the Co-Op, and (with exemplary customer service) they scanned and emailed me another copy within minutes. So problem solved. But still, I was upset with myself for misplacing the test results.

Intending to write this post on how to improve organizational skills, I was surprised to find that a search of “best organizational skills” first brought up a slew of work-related and resume-related answers.

The employment listing company Indeed says that: “Organizational skills are some of the most important proficiencies you can have as an employee. Being organized will allow you to meet deadlines, minimize stress, and carry out your duties more efficiently.”

But when it comes to personal organizational skills, I’m willing to bet that most of my readers have heard of tidying expert Marie Kondo. Her premise is that we’ll be happier in a tidy, uncluttered, simplified home and life. One of her oft-repeated phrases is to keep an item ONLY if it sparks joy.

Just looking at her website has a calming effect on me.

I don’t recall where I read it, but I believe it: Clutter is the enemy of a peaceful home. And, as it turns out, it’s also the enemy of good mental health!

An article in Psychology Today cites studies that show clutter at home and the workplace can cause us to be less efficient in visual processing and thinking as well as spur a deterioration in good mental health.

Clutter and disorganization can spark a sense of uneasiness in me. And it can happen even when I’m watching something. I recall the (now canceled after nine seasons) tv sitcom The Middle about the Hecks, a middle-class family in Indiana. I loved the show, but their cluttered house gave me anxiety. Seriously.

And even watching a one-man bell ringing performance of the Lord’s Prayer (wow, that’s a mouthful, right?!) made me nervous because the guy didn’t systematically put the bells down in the same spot where he picked them up! I found I could enjoy it more if I just listened and didn’t watch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and tidy up.

~~~~~~

Marie Kondo

Trailer for The Middle where you can see snatches of their home

The Lord’s Prayer in bells on Facebook

or another way to watch the bells if you’re not on Facebook

Psychology Today article on clutter disrupting mental health

Have You Found It Yet?

Found it

Who knew that finding your own voice could be such a joyous discovery?

I could see the understanding dawn on the adult students’ faces last week as they grasped how important each individual voice is in the spoken symphony of life. And they also experienced a little fear in the realization that if your speaking voice isn’t interesting enough, your listeners may tune you out or change the channel.

My blog post from March 6, 2018 (link below) identified some common issues that cause our voices to be less receptive to listeners.

I often find that men drift into the grey zone more than women do. A “grey zone” speaker contains one (or several and sometimes many!) of these aspects:

►monotone    ►flat    ►dull    ►boring    ►safe    ►neutral    ►predictable    ►ambivalence   ►cautious  ►forgettable

In my opinion, the #1 positive aspect that can help a voice be more receptive to an audience is what I term “vocal vitality.” This is a voice that uses some variance in rate, inflection, and pitch.

RATE – This is how quickly or slowly we speak. If you speak too quickly, your audience may not catch everything you say. Conversely, if you have a tendency to speak quite slowly, your audience has time to daydream instead of listening to you. The best pace is a medium one AND then to say some words quite quickly and others (such as a main point) more slowly. That creates the variance in rate.

PITCH – This is how high or low our speaking voice range is. Very high-pitched voices can be grating and sound childlike. Think of a two-year-old whining for a cookie. And when we speak in a very low pitch, it can easily turn into a mumble or at the least, cause our last word or syllable in a sentence to drop off into an indistinguishable sound. A lower voice is often interpreted as more professional. When we vary our voice range in a speech, it creates interest. Top-rated voice coach Roger Love does a super explanation of this by using a piano. I’ve included the link below.

INFLECTION – This means giving stronger emphasis to words that help our audiences understand our message. I’ll use the phrase “I didn’t say he stole the money” as an example. If you emphasize the word “I” the meaning will be Hey, I’m not the one who said it; it was Betty. Not counting the word “the” that phrase can have six different meanings! Try it; say it aloud and put emphasis on various words.

So treasure your own speaking voice and improve by making sure you add vocal vitality to it!

PS – The “Grey Zone” was first identified by author Ron Hoff in his book I Can See You Naked, which is hands-down my favorite speaking advice book! Contact your local bookstore and have them order you a copy!

~~~~~~

Blog post Find Your Own Voice from March 6, 2018

Bradley Cooper on purposely lowering his voice for the movie A Star is Born

Roger Love — The piano portion is around the five-minute mark if you don’t have the time to watch the entire video  

See You Down The Road

See You Down The Road

When it came up in conversation half a dozen or so years ago that my husband had never ever been to a circus, I knew I had to remedy that. The next Christmas, he found front row, center arena tickets to the Ringling Bros. / Barnum & Bailey Circus for the following spring in his stocking.

We both thoroughly enjoyed the entire show. From the crazy clown antics, to the animal acts (elephants, tigers, and horses, oh my!), and then to the balancing, gymnastic, dazzling feats of the performers, there wasn’t a single moment where we were left to wonder what might be coming up next. The following act began as the prior one was exiting stage left.

Citing diminishing ticket sales, after 146 years Ringling Bros. / Barnum & Bailey Circus closed down in May 2017. For years, animal rights activists had fought them over the mistreatment of animals. And in fact, elephants were removed from the show in 2016. An animal lover myself, I would never defend any person or any business that mistreated animals.

But that left me to wonder, what with the variety of entertainment and non-animal acts, why couldn’t the show go on? I’m sad that this feature of American life is gone. Up for consideration is whether the diminished ticket sales were affected by our own and our children’s ever-increasing screen time.

We are mesmerized by what we can find online instead of being fascinated by real life. There was just something unbelievably magical about the circus performances happening before us.

It was a magic that cannot be duplicated by staring at a screen.

I have to believe that the success of the movie The Greatest Showman, released seven months after Ringling Bros.’s last performance, was in part due to theater audiences remembering with awe the last time they attended the circus. The movie grossed $435 million worldwide and became the fifth highest-grossing live-action musical of all time.

Yes, there are other circus companies around (see link below). And Cirque du Soleil, in its various forms, with what they dub “theater circus,” is certainly captivating. But for young children, there’s nothing like the proverbial three-ring circus.

I hope as America recovers from the pandemic that the circus (even without the animals) will rise from the ashes; that people of all ages will once again sit underneath the big top tent and simply be amazed at what unfolds before them.

Circus folk hate to say goodbye because of its finality. Instead, they offer, “See you down the road.” I like the sound of that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Clip from The Greatest Showman

 

A Ringling Brothers farewell video

Other touring circuses