Archives For December 2013

Making My New Year’s List

December 29, 2013 — 2 Comments

res·o·lu·tion  (ˌre-zə-ˈlü-shən) n.

  1. The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.
  2. A resolving to do something.
  3. A course of action determined or decided on.

Is it just me, or does the word “resolution” sound a little daunting? Let alone the notion of actually stating one, holding to it, and making life changes or impacting some tiny part of the universe.

When I look at those definitions, though, “resolution” really isn’t such a bad word, but I still tend to avoid it, probably because of the connotations (my baggage) associated with it. In hopes that I’ll engage better with the actual process, I think of it instead as identifying items I want to focus on during the new year — “goals” just seem more do-able.

2014

In recent years it usually goes like so: I sit down on or very near the first of January, reflect on what’s working well in my life and what isn’t, then select three or four of those items I’d like to change and move them to the front burner. I suppose that using the beginning of the calendar year as a prompt for this activity is a somewhat artificial structure, since nothing is actually “new” at the beginning of January: you can count on the weather’s to continue stay cold for weeks and weeks (at least here in the Midwest), we’re only half way through the academic year, and it’s well past my birthday. But despite all that, January 1st still seems to work for me. It must have something to do with the year’s brand new number — 2014, this time around!

Pretty much every time I sit down to the process, there is at least one item (more likely two) that I just didn’t nail during the previous year. I’d have gotten maybe several months into the new year only to discover that my resolve had plum disappeared. Upon examination, I realized that more often than not the particular item was actually more of a wish. I couldn’t really say that I had applied much resolve to the matter at all. I wasn’t ready to put in the effort required to rearrange and reprioritize the components of my life in order to make the thing to happen. I might have had a strong emotional attachment to the way things have always been (there’s always a pay-off of some kind, even in the habits we profess to dislike). Whatever the problem, I figure it’s A-okay to get back on that horse and ride it toward the end of the upcoming year. That is, if it’s still something I’d actually like to accomplish. I figure it’s also okay to decide to ditch a plan when I realize I don’t want to do it, after all.

Recently I got to work for a few months with a life coach who offered me something new to incorporate into my goal setting process. At first glance, the new goal sheet I received from him didn’t seem all that different. But as I got down to really working through it, I realized it contained a new, simple component that could just be the ticket to helping me beyond the barrier with some of my previously resistant goals.

The goal sheet began as expected: 1) identify the goal, 2) identify the reward for achieving it, and 3) identify the consequences for not achieving it. As I read through these steps I was thinking, “Yeah, yeah, been there, done that.” But the next step would prove to be invaluable: 4) identify the obstacle to this goal.

[You might be thinking at this point, “Well, duh, Linda!” However, I assure you, this little trick was completely missing in all my earlier goal setting attempts. I could now see why my goals — primarily those stickier ones that hadn’t been accomplished — were doomed to remain fanciful notions rather than achievements.]

This new step made perfect sense. But I was surprised to see that there wasn’t just one box — there were multiple “obstacle boxes”. They filled the remainder of the page, and spilled onto the reverse side of the goal sheet! Apparently, I could encounter up to seven obstacles while attempting to achieve any given goal.

But this is where it the sheet got even better — after identifying the obstacle(s), the sheet asked for a possible solution(s) to the obstacle(s). And then wanted me to list an action step I would take to apply this solution to the obstacle. Whoa! Now that’s breaking it down into bite-sized components a person could actually manage! I began to see how I could achieve even my more daunting goals. And get this: after identifying each action step, the sheet asks for a date by which you will do it, then directs you to put the action step on your calendar or in your planner. Pretty clever, getting me on the hook like that.

The final steps: list today’s date, the target date for achieving the goal, and finally some affirmations regarding this objective — perhaps about how you’ve been able to accomplish similar feats in the past, or how you know you have the resources to realistically do it.

I’m happy to report that there are now some goal sheets in a paper clip in the back pocket of that binder that I’ve actually accomplished using this strategy — a personal trophy case. There are other sheets that I can’t yet move to the clip because haven’t yet nailed these goals. (But am fairly satisfied to have significant progress on them.) I figure being on the way toward something desirable is better than still being at the starting gate, so I don’t beat myself up, I just re-up. My coach informed me that some obstacles are such big barriers to success on a particular goal they warrant making a new goal sheet just for them. Which might have been the Achilles heel on those goals I didn’t nail. You can bet I’ll be looking into this when I sit down in a couple of days and review my 2013 results.

So if you are the new year’s (non-resolution) goal setter type, like me, here’s wishing you (and me!) much success in achieving your goals for 2014!

P.S. And don’t forget that whole middle step — it’s a winner!

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The Perfect Party

December 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

It was my eighth Christmas. Everyone on my mom’s side of the family had been invited to her sister’s house for a grand holiday gala. Appropriate attire was dressy, so, given my penchant for all things glam, this soiree would definitely be my cup of tea — or egg nog, as the case may be. Mom pulled out all the stops and bought me a to-die-for party dress: black velvet bodice overlaid with a crocheted lace “cumberbund”, and a gathered white organdy skirt with flocked black polka dots. I swooned. Before we left for the party, Dad pulled out the camera. The boys must have had their pictures taken, too, but all that didn’t really register, what with me being utterly blissed out that my “look” would be captured for posterity!

Xmas 1959 LKD party dress

The many guests “fit” nicely in my aunt and uncle’s spacious home: adults could be found chatting it up in the living room, dining room and even the kitchen, while youngsters congregated in the more kid-friendly areas of the home. Oh, how I loved being invited into other kids’ bedrooms and playing with their games and toys!

Another aunt and uncle and their three daughters had come all the way from California for the occasion. I was taken by the fact these (slightly older and therefore automatically glamorous) cousins all wore party dresses of the same pretty mint green fabric, but each one in a unique style. Way cool. With everyone donning such holiday finery, the spread of delicious food and the glittering decorations, it was an altogether splendid affair. About halfway through the evening, the doorbell rang, my aunt answered, and… magic happened.

She swung wide the door to the sight of perhaps a dozen people bundled in overcoats, hats, mufflers, gloves and muffs. She and my uncle called to everyone to gather onto the porch and in the doorway as the callers broke into song. I was completely mesmerized, drinking in the beauty of the a cappella harmonies. The appearance of the carolers sealed the deal in my (barely seven-year-old) judgment: this was indeed a perfect party. Not even a subsequent visit by Santa (if memory serves) could upstage that enchanting music. I don’t believe I could tell you even now what it was about the caroling that had such an impact, nor is it important that I understand it, but just that I cherish the memory.

It would be about 45 years before I revisited that magic. I had an opportunity to join a group who were making plans to carol in our church’s neighborhood. We practiced our abbreviated song list and headed out, battery operated candles in hand and brightly wrapped gift mugs containing cocoa mix in tow. I was particularly eager to (hopefully) replicate the experience I had had for another child. But, to my surprise, it was the expression on the faces of adults who opened their doors to the sound of “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night” that indicated they also felt the magic — just as I had, so many years earlier. Perhaps it’s just something that strikes a chord in our psyches, harking back to an age when folks would have gathered around troubadours and minstrels, when music was shared person-to-person, not via earbuds.

So here’s my vote for creating more music ourselves (rather than relegating it to professionals exclusively) and sharing it with others, face to face.

And too, here’s a big YES vote for my aunt and uncle having created my memory of an utterly perfect holiday party.

One of my professional duties is the administration of student evaluations of our faculty. Each semester I prepare packets containing a standardized evaluation forms (you know, those fun little “bubbles” you fill in with a No. 2 pencil – whee!) and comment sheets on which students can address matters that may not be covered on the standardized questionnaire. I’ve been performing this duty for a number of years, but last week when the evals came back in was the first time it really struck me:

          Very, very few of the written comments are in cursive. 

Granted, one factor may be the awkwardness of penning anything with a golf pencil. But I’m guessing this trend speaks more to the technological developments that have rendered cursive fairly obsolete. Now, I’m not one to bandy about wailing over its demise, nor will I take up a placard and picket to maintain it in elementary curricula. Nevertheless, I admit feeling a little wistful that elegant penmanship seems to have become the domain of the few.

grandpa envelope

Letter I received from Grandpa

I remember wanting to learn to write cursive before it was part of classroom instruction. It was something big people did, and I was all about emulating whatever they did. It was also what one particular big person did in grand style: it is my understanding that my dad’s dad served as an official recorder for his community, whose entries in ledgers and on legal documents can probably still be viewed in the local archives. To be able to write like Grandpa would have been tantamount to arriving.

Then there was my dad’s fancy Speedball calligraphy book that also captured my imagination. I wanted him to teach me how to do that jazzy stuff, but before he’d even begin teaching me, he insisted I practice, practice, practice the rudiments.

lkd penmanship

Third grade assignment – can’t figure out if it was for spelling, vocabulary or penmanship – but no matter: it earned me a robin sticker!

So practice I did, at the dining table, for what seemed like hours. Loop after loop, above the line, below the line, to the left, and then to the right, followed by angled lines and then smooth, slanted ovals. I fully intended to get this handwriting thing down.

Then in fourth grade, Mrs. Carver upped the ante.

We were instructed to use fountain pens to practice our penmanship. She said that a ball point was incapable of producing excellent and beautiful writing. Next thing I knew, my parents and I were off shopping for a fountain pen, in compliance with the new regulation. I think we wound up getting a little Scripto number, complete with refill cartridges, for a grand total of about one dollar (hey, my weekly allowance back then was only about 25 cents!). But I had to agree with Mrs. Carver: cursive writing absolutely flowed using a fountain pen.

You might think that all of this would have put me in hog heaven, but not so. Instead, I spent the year consumed by frustration due to the utter futility of all my efforts to approach the dizzying heights of the Colossus of Cursive Coolness: MarianneTanaka.

Miss Tanaka consistently produced the most beautiful writing I’d ever seen from a kid. Her ovals and loops were p-e-r-f-e-c-t. I mean, the people that manufactured the poster board alphabet cards that lined the top of the blackboard (standard issue in every classroom I was ever in) should have used her handwriting as their pattern!

I convinced myself her mad skills were a result of daddy splurging on daughter’s very fancy Parker pen — a pen as gorgeous as the words that daily filled her sheet of paper. But deep down, I believe I knew that even if we traded pens, her handwriting would still be drool worthy. So I decided to slow down, hoping that if I just focused harder, I might be able to replicate her output. But to no avail. ‘Twas a sad fact, but true: I fell somewhere in the middle of the bell curve, and Miss Tanaka was a couple of standard deviations beyond.

I am unable to report that my take-away from this experience had anything to do with the folly of comparing myself with others or learning to accept my own strengths and weaknesses gracefully. No, I had seen the mountain top and was determined to get there somehow. Whether it was competition or inspiration, I stuck by the practice, practice, practice motto until I had mastery of this thing called cursive.

And eventually it paid off. By the time I was a young adult, I had my own Speedball calligraphy handbook, along with a set of nibs and some India ink, with which I produced some pretty nice invitations, programs, place cards, etc. — even got hired to pen a set of wedding invitations for a small wedding.

Then, a couple decades later, along came our family’s first PC — a total game-changer. Now with the click of a mouse, I can go from a 4-point to a 72-point font, from Roman to Gothic, from sans serif to script! And I can still produce place cards, invitations, and programs — without the messy ink bottles, nibs to wash, or stained finger tips. And lo and behold, I thoroughly enjoy expressing myself utilizing desktop publishing software.

So now I’m conflicted. I still have the Speedball set, and I’m not quite ready to give away just yet, even though it’s about as useful to me these days as a rotary phone or an 8-track tape player. I suppose it’s sentimental attachment — sorta like one might have to a first bike, or perhaps a very first pair of running shoes — as a symbol of one’s earliest stages of mastering a thing.

Come to think of it, I only threw out those college track shoes just a couple years ago…

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The Chinese Dance

I went with my daughter and husband to the ballet last night. The Moscow Ballet was in town to perform none other than the great Russian Nutcracker, and it was fabulous.

I’ve only been to one other classical ballet, a few years ago — that time to see the St. Louis Ballet perform the same program. I don’t know whether this says I’m not much of a ballet aficionado, or whether it says I love the Nutcracker. Probably the latter, because Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite was the very first piece of classical music I cataloged in my memory bank, at about age four or five.

My dad was sitting in a chair next to the hi-fi when I approached. The sounds emanating from the living room had captured my interest and I stood there listening with him for a bit.

“This is some of the most beautiful music in the world,” he murmured, informing the new audience of one. His eyes closed and his head tilted back as the rapturous music played. Meanwhile, I became intrigued by the cover art on the record jacket propped against the hi-fi cabinet.TCHAIKOVSKI_NUTCRACKER-SUITE-EP

“This is The Nutcracker Suite. Composed by Tchaikovsky,” noticing my interest in the picture. (Dad was known to talk above my head, but I think that trait always encouraged me to get up to speed on things.) To my young eyes, that nutcracker dude on the record jacket looked mildly sinister, but I couldn’t deny the captivating beauty of the melodies I was hearing.

“This part is called the Waltz of the Flowers,” he said, waving a hand in time with the 3-4 beat. I especially loved that tune with its gorgeous french horns. A couple of other favorite parts were the Dance of the Reed Flutes, and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I would hear these strains again and again, as Dad played them frequently on the hi-fi, and their appeal never faded.

Something dawned on me as I listened to the Nutcracker yet again last night. The suite’s various segments highlight many different orchestra instruments, but the selections that have always captured my fancy all featured very treble instruments, most notably, the flute. Which presents a which came first, the chicken or the egg sort of question: did my attraction to these melodies in this, my very first classical piece, influence my affinity for the flute? Or did I previously have a sweet spot for the the flute’s sound, which is what drew me to these selections? Who knows.

My dad was too engrossed in the music to relate the story line of Nutcracker the Ballet that day. I would later learn about a Christmas Eve celebration, a little girls’s dream, and toys coming to life, which all seemed pretty far-fetched to me. I mean, really? That scary nutcracker dude becomes a prince? I don’t think so.

Confession: there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the make-believe stories I rejected as a kid, and those I embraced. I just know that I didn’t much care for many of the classic children’s stories (one big exception being The Wizard of Oz — which I read and reread). But then I might go ga-ga over some obscure fairy tale in a library book I dragged home from school.

Like one I discovered in fourth grade: The Tale of Mrs. Nutter. (Never heard of it? Why am I not surprised…) Oh, how I loved the title character in this little story! She was a Thumbelina-sized woman who lived in the woods, was friends with the woodland creatures, and used a walnut shell for a boat to float down the stream. That’s about all I can remember, although I do recall that she met with and overcame some dangerous obstacles. I renewed the book as many times as the teacher would let me, I enjoyed it so much. One day, my mom asked what I was reading.

“It’s a story about this little woman who’s so small she would fit in the palm of your hand. Her name is Mrs. Nutter, and she lives in the woods.”

“Wow, that’s a pretty fanciful story, isn’t it? Why do you think you like to read books about imaginary things that could never really happen?”

Well, now, why did I? I didn’t really have an answer. I just knew that I did. But only sometimes. If the story struck my fancy. But Mom’s question got me wondering, so when it was time to check out another library book, I decided to get one a more sensible one. Maybe all that make-believe stuff was for little girls. So I brought home a book all about horses. And for what seemed like weeks and weeks, I’d come home from school every day and draw pictures of horses. For-real horses. Scads of them. (Go ahead, ask me about withers and “hands”…)

All the while, the image of a little person as big as your thumb never completely left my imagination. I day-dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a secret companion like tiny Mrs. Nutter. I mean, wouldn’t it be neat to take her to school with you and she could stay in your pocket and no one would know. You could even break off tiny bits of your peanut butter sandwich and sneak them to her — I mean, a raisin would be a veritable feast! And in the privacy of your bedroom you’d have this confidante to discuss all the stuff that a girl needs to talk about.

Well, time wore on, and gradually the idea of a Mrs. Nutter friend sort of fell off my radar. I didn’t think of having a tiny little buddy for years. But apparently, she never completely disappeared, because one day, not all that long ago, she sprang to life again in the chapters of a children’s book I wrote. A tiny little friend comes to live with a young girl who, as it just so happens, has things she needs to talk through.

As soon as I finish the rest of the illustrations (one day soon, I hope), I’ll be able to give the book to my granddaughter.

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Sketches of the girl and her new buddy. Stay tuned…penelope button bust 1