Positive Thinking and All That Crap

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We are so bombarded by meme’s with inspirational quotes on all of our various forms of social media, they become white noise after a while.

Yeah, yeah, “I’m great and wonderful and I can do anything.”

Yeah, yeah, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone-it, people like me.”

As you more intuitive readers may have guessed, I’m afraid I’ve become a bit jaded by it all. Maybe it’s because I did all that. I ordered the Anthony Robbins tapes. I read the books. I said the affirmations. And maybe all that work did the trick because (not to brag or nothin’ but) I spend most days working my patoot off and feeling capable and confident. Maybe I just have the luxury of yeah-yeahing when I hear yet another amped-up, overly enthusiastic person jumping up and down and telling everybody they need to snap out of it because I’m no longer sufficiently down in the dumps.

But sometimes I can get a little negative about being positive. It’s more rare these days but it still happens once in a while. I just decide to let myself wallow in unpleasant feelings, as if I need to give them reign for a while so the me I like better can emerge even stronger again later. Let the wildfire of negativity burn the old, dead, fallen ground cover so sunlight can touch the soil again and allow for new growth. Something like that. Then again, I could be full of doggy doo-doo. I am not immune to the verbal gymnastics people do to protect their comfort zones, no matter how miserable they are there. 

Anyway, I was in that yeah-yeah mindset yesterday when a talk show came on TV with another motivational success coach guy. (I wish I could remember his name but I didn’t write it down.) I thought, “Ah, Jeez. Not another one” but I was in the kitchen so I couldn’t change the channel, which is a good thing.

Then he said something that made sense. Something I hadn’t heard before.

He said every day we should do three things upon waking –

  1. Repeat positive affirmations tailor-made to what we’re trying to accomplish. (He didn’t have me yet. Same old same old. Yawn.)
  2. Prayer and affirmation. Pray for what we want, then say thank you to God for sending it, the same way we would thank Amazon for getting a package mailed out quickly. (Even this didn’t win me over yet. Telling people to pray isn’t exactly unusual. It was the next one that got me.)
  3. Think of the things you know you must do but fear the most, then DO THEM FIRST. (Wham-o. That one alone is huge, but as a follow-up to the previous two, it’s humungous.)

The problem is most people who use positive affirmations and prayer don’t do anything else. They expect what they want to land magically in their lap. They don’t do what they know they should because, well, that stuff is hard! And prayer without action is as useless as pennies under a miser’s mattress. 

I’m going to stop before I’m accused of trying to be a junior Tony Robbins. I’ll just leave you to it if this sounds good to you. Here’s a good article to get you started on picking the affirmations that best apply to your life and goals. I hope (you make) all your dreams come true. 🙂

http://liveboldandbloom.com/09/quotes/positive-affirmations

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New Publishings

Hey Friends. Here are three new Chicken Soup for the Soul books featuring stories of mine. One is in stores (online and off) now and two will be available soon. They are:

The Dog Really Did That? – 101 Stories of Miracles, Mischief and Magical Moments. (In stores now.)

My story in this one is about my dog Charlie, a German Shepard mix we rescued so we could have a “guard dog” but who turned out to be so sweet, he wouldn’t hurt a fly (which is the title of the story.) We’ve learned a lot about tolerance and patience from Charlie, especially after adopting a second dog, a vastly smaller Morkie who spends the better part of most days chewing on some part of Charlie’s anatomy. He could end the torment any time he wants with one snap, but he doesn’t. He loves the little monster. She’s the mob boss and he’s the dopey bodyguard. 

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My Kind (of) America – Stories About the True Spirit of Our Country. (Available October 3rd.)

My story The American Team is about a Physical Education teacher in 7th grade who took a few minutes to reveal to all us kids, very artfully, how unique America is in the world. 

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Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Stories about Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears, and Broadening Your World. (Available October 31st)

I feel a sense of providence at being included in this book because I once paraglided over the Swiss alps exactly like the person on the cover is doing. My story More Kindness Than Danger is about how we’re all just a little poisoned by entertainment, which is necessarily rife with conflict between people, and how that skewed reality can make us nervous about venturing out into the world. But once we get out there, even on the extremities, we find mostly what we have inside and what we give to others. Except for rare and extreme circumstances, the world is as open and loving as we allow ourselves to be. 

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If you’d like a signed copy of any of these books, please message me here. (The Dog Really Did That is sold out. Sorry!)

Here’s a favorite poem of mine that perfectly illustrates the message in my story in Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

The Right Kind of People
by Edwin Markham

Gone is the city, gone the day,
Yet still the story and the meaning stay:
Once where a prophet in the palm shade basked
A traveler chanced at noon to rest his miles.
“What sort of people may they be,” he asked,
“In this proud city on the plains o’erspread?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” the packman scowled;
“Why, knaves and fools.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.

Another stranger in the dusk drew near,
And pausing, cried, “What sort of people here
In your bright city where yon towers arise?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” The pilgrim smiled,
“Good, true, and wise.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.

 

Books, Nooks and Hiding Places

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When I was a kid and still today, I loved to find the most obscure, abandoned, neglected book in a library, then look for an equally obscure, abandoned and neglected place to read it. If no such place could be found, hiding under the bedsheets with a flashlight would do nicely. 

There’s something about knowing I’m the only one on earth reading that particular book at that particular time, and feeling that reading it is breathing new life into the words of some long-gone author. I also like to believe that artists somehow know when someone down here is appreciating their work, and they stop whatever they’re doing for a moment and smile. I hope so. 

When I first got on the internet and accepted the fact that it wasn’t a passing fad, and when I first read a book on the Internet, I concluded that a Nook or Kindle device has exactly none of the charm that an old, musty book has. All my fellow book-sniffers will know what I mean.

Have you ever picked up a book from the 1800’s and held your face deep into the inner binding, imagining your smelling not only the book but that time? Some remnant of a Little House on the Prairie-esque scene, with a family gathered around a solid oak table, saying Grace together, the kids peeking at the delicious meal and wishing dad would hurry up. Sure, it’s usually just paper and maybe a little mold, but the mind, like the eyes, has it’s own pareidolia, completing mental pictures and fantasies from very little information.

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Of course, there’s also the charm and romance of wondering who else might have owned the old book, seeing their names and the date written on the first page, or maybe the indentation of some note they wrote on the cover, and playing secret agent by placing paper on it and making it appear with a pencil. Even a mundane note about groceries can be exciting if it’s over a hundred years old.

 

Then there’s the ache. An actual ache I get when I look at those old, deteriorated books and think of all the time, effort and passion that went into writing them, how the writer labored over every line and the book as a whole, and how unfair it is that after so much work, he or she wasn’t magically granted a extra few hundred years of life on earth to enjoy seeing the delight it gave readers. I mean, it’s only fair.

For this reason, I don’t think ebooks will ever completely displace real books. The only “Nook” I’m interested in is the hiding place I read actual books in. But there is hope even for those of us who have succumbed to the ease of internet reading, in the form of obscure and forgotten archived pages deep in the internet’s basement. I usually find them when doing research on some obscure detail of a script. For instance, I found this page today while trying to find out the name of a newspaper in Coloma, California, in 1880, for research on a western TV show. 

https://archive.org/stream/california00giff/california00giff_djvu.txt

And as I knew I was the only one reading that particular page at that particular time, that old feeling came over me again – “This is mine for this moment.” Nerdy, I know. It’s the same feeling I got while exploring an old ruin alone on a lesser-known Greek island, or when I found an out-of-the-way corner deep in the Colosseum in Rome that none of the other tourists were interested in seeing, then settling in there and feeling history engulf me. Of having one thing for one moment in this overcrowded world that is mine alone. The humbleness and lack of importance of the thing (such as that forgotten web page up there) only makes its allure stronger. 

The internet has already become mankind’s greatest storehouse of knowledge. It’s a library with countless caverns, filled with everything human beings have figured out. Old books will always be loaded with charm, just like old houses, old cars, old music and old people, but cold technology can have charm once in a while, too, if we’re sensitive enough to divine it. 

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The Liebster Award

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Thank you, A.J. Reeves, for the nomination for the . . . (insert trumpets here) . . . Liebster Award! (Dang, spellcheck keeps trying to call it The Lobster Award.)

Being new to blogging (at least regularly), it was a nice surprise to win a “major award” (A Christmas Story fans will get the reference).

A.J.’S 11 QUESTIONS FOR ME

1) What movie would be greatly improved if it was made into a musical?

Tombstone. Here, I’ll start writing it now –

DOC
I’m your huckleberry! That’s just my game!

COWBOY
Doc, your awful scary! Live up to your name!
Your name’s holiday so why don’t you try it
instead of shooting us to protect that Wyatt!

DOC
I’ll blast you and say “you’re no daisy at all”
then continue to annoy you as I watch you fall!

2) What inanimate object do you wish you could eliminate from existence?

Cell phones so people can talk to each other again while waiting for haircuts.

 

3) What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?

A lion tacked onto the wall. The lion wasn’t weird. The fact that insecure men need to kill them is.

 

4) What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever worn?

When I was about 21, I bought baby blue corduroy overalls because a girl I was dating liked them. I wore them once then came to my senses.

 

5) What part of a kid’s movie completely scarred you?

When Indian Joe threw the knife at Tom Sawyer in the courtroom.

 

6) If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends and family assume you had done?

Got into a fight. I have a black belt and no tolerance for men who curse around children or bully others. It’s a volatile mix.

 

7) What secret conspiracy would you like to start?

Certain flowers have developed the ability to talk and sing, but you must get very close to them to hear because their voices are very soft.

 

8) What mythical creature would improve the world most if it existed?

The Kraken, because the world never runs out of bad guys we could unleash it on.

 

9) You’re a mad scientist, what scientific experiment would you run if money and ethics weren’t an issue?

Cell rejuvenation experimentation to extend human life indefinitely. I just can’t get used to this death thing.

 

10) What’s the most imaginative insult you can come up with?

I like to stay with simple and direct insults. For instance, if someone is yelling at me, I’ll usually say, without movement or change in facial expression “you’ve been eating onions” or “your mouthwash ain’t makin’ it”, inspired by two of my heroes – Bugs Bunny and Clint Eastwood, respectively.

11) If you were wrongfully put into an insane asylum, how would you convince them that you’re actually sane and not just pretending to be sane?

I would ask them to take a test with me and compare scores. Whoever scores lowest is the crazy one.

 

11 RANDOM FACTS ABOUT MYSELF

  1. I read to my daughter every night and enjoy her kid books as much as she does.
  2. I am the most annoying dad in the world, but the kids enjoy it.
  3. I revel in innocence, mine and theirs.
  4. As a kid, I would purposely dress nicer when my mother took me to department stores so I could stand in display areas and pretend to be a mannequin, then scare people when they got close to me.
  5. I always stick my tongue out slightly when making a peanut butter sandwich.
  6. I love Brazilian, Greek and French songs even though I don’t understand a word of it.
  7. I once slept in a cave at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens.
  8. I like the artificial smell of bananas and strawberries more than I like bananas and strawberries.
  9. I gaze at light refractions and rainbow glints, trying to see secret, hidden worlds.
  10. I harbor wild west-like thoughts of violence against evil criminal types.
  11. I choose friends based on their sense of humor and lack of ego more than social standing.

MY QUESTIONS TO MY NOMINEES: (As you can see, I’m big on why’s.)

  1. What’s your favorite scent and why?
  2. What’s the craziest thing you believe in and why? (Bigfoot, aliens, Loch Ness Monster, etc.)
  3. Describe the plot of a TV show you’d like to see.
  4. What would you say to your seven-year old self if you could talk to him/her?
  5. What was your happiest day and why?
  6. What is standing in the way of your happiness now, if anything?
  7. What is your favorite song and why?
  8. What is your favorite book and why?
  9. What is your favorite poem and why?
  10. What is your favorite painting and why?
  11. What fact or personal experience gives you the most faith that God exists?

RULES:

  1. Acknowledge the blog who nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
  3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 11 blogs (with under 200 followers).
  5. Notify these blogs of the nomination.
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer.

His response – https://milesofpagesblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/liebster-award/

Nominations:

https://amanpan.blog

http://littlefears.co.uk

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/50166732

https://dirtyscifibuddha.com

https://milesofpagesblog.wordpress.com

https://bensbitterblog.com

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/62618666

https://bookemjanoblog.wordpress.com

http://adamharkus.com

https://sarainlalaland.wordpress.com

https://abravemess.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/Vegetarianrecipesbypooja/

https://lifesfinewhine.wordpress.com/about-2/

Two Worlds (poem) – Childhood and Charlottesville

Here’s one of my first attempts at poetry, written during my (overly) dramatic and (unnecessarily) tumultuous late teens or early twenties. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t just a choice between serenity and strife. In fact, life always fluctuates between the two. It’s how we handle the episodes of strife that matters most. Wayne Dyer said we all need to have an “insular Tahiti” – a place inside ourselves the world can’t touch. Otherwise, pain will invade us completely and overwhelm our ability to cope or even imagine being happy again, like thinking a storm will last forever and the sun will never shine again.

As a kid, I loved a toy called the 3D View-Master.

I didn’t have video games or an iPhone. We only had a couple of TV channels, and except for afternoons and Saturday mornings, only adult shows were on, so we kids back then were much more easily entertained. I would crawl inside those View-Master slide worlds and live there, so much so that my mind today is a panoply of the idyllic scenes the geniuses behind this toy created. My childhood wasn’t perfect so this escapism was a blessing and a relief. I suspect the mental vacations into the View-Master slide worlds must have been even stronger for kids living in worse circumstances than I did. The fantasy inside the little binoculars versus the real world they were born into.

I’ll be using 3D View-Master slides in part to illustrate this poem. Enjoy!

Two Worlds

Two worlds have I known along the path of this life –
one of serenity, the other of strife.

The first world I knew was a magical place
of warm smiles and laughter and kind-hearted grace.

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Of meadows and tulips, wood shoes and white blouses.
Of bread trails and bonnets and gingerbread houses.

Of blind mice and windmills and Little Jack Horner.
Of Winnie and Tigger and the tree at Pooh Corner.

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Of fun-loving pirates and billowing sails.
Of serpents and mermaids and friendly, blue whales.

My young eyes saw the world as a sweet, gentle place
without hatred or killing over nation or race.
There was no better or worse, only different from me
and it made life enticing, a grand mystery!

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I remember gazing in wonder, unexamined and pure,
at the indigo sky. Oh, the thoughts it allured!
So many places someday I would see!
So many people to share it with me!

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But the wind-spinning freedom which was my young world
grew shrouded in darkness as adult years unfurled.
And the strangest thing is I never noticed peace die.
I just knew it was gone and I didn’t know why.

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Thus began the long years of searching for answers,
questioning poets, musicians and dancers,
politicians and teachers, gurus and sages,
spending my youth between dusty pages
to recapture a feeling, stolen or lost,
and hold it again, no matter the cost.

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Many years have passed now. I’ve grown old and gray
and I watch the games that my grandchildren play.
I can hardly recall how my youthful heart yearned
and I won’t bore you with stories of the lessons I’ve learned.

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But I will tell you this – joy isn’t somewhere “out there.”
It cannot be studied or found anywhere.
It’s something you’ll either let in or you won’t,
something you give to yourself or you don’t.

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Do you hear what I’m saying? All the searching’s for naught!
All that you need, you’ve already got.
There will surely be pain. That’s life’s one guarantee.
But how much we suffer – that’s up to you, and to me.

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Post-Script: Not to end on a negative note, but as I was looking for photos to illustrate this, the domestic terror attack in Charlottesville yesterday was heavy on my mind. Maybe that’s why I chose this poem to post today. Nobody starts out hating. May we all retain the joy and appreciation of differences we had as children, and create an America we can be prouder of. 

 

Is Faith Strengthened by Tests?

My journey with faith has been labyrinthine, to say the least. I believed unquestioningly as a child, when I would recite The Lord’s Prayer with my mother at bedtime every night. But as the years passed and I encountered atheistic college professors, read books by atheist philosophers like Bertrand Russell, and saw horrific things happen to good, God-fearing people enough, the pristine beauty of my early faith was chipped away at until barely anything was left of it. I’m currently working to build it back. Like innocence, I don’t know if the natural hue of youth can ever be fully restored. I have seen too much. But I think we can access that original faith, and innocence, which to me are very similar. It comes in fragments and moments, like savoring something sweet carried on the wind from far away until it dissipates again. But oh, the majesty of that moment, when we remember how pure it was, how sure we felt that good would be rewarded and evil would be punished, how comforting it was to know our prayers were heard and taken seriously. 

I had this conversation today on Facebook with a friend. I was at our local church/preschool to turn in my three-year old’s registration papers when I saw this – the community library exchange box with a book about zombies and another about witches (Roald Dahl’s The Witches.)

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I thought it was funny so I posted it on Facebook. This is the conversation that ensued.

Friend: It doesn’t hurt to learn something new.
Me: I can’t agree with you on that one. Some things are better left unlearned. Innocence needs to be protected sometimes, even in adults. Although I will say one’s faith should be so strong, he can watch any movie, read any book, and walk with the biggest sinners in the world, and still have his faith completely intact afterward. Faith should withstand any test. The questions are do we want to put our faith through all that unnecessarily, or taint our souls more than life already does? Things seen and heard cannot be unseen and unheard. Nobody who wants to live would put poison in their body, but most of us will carelessly poison our minds in the name of worldly knowledge. I used to like gory horror films, but after I saw actual horrors in the world, I didn’t like them as much. I feel better when my mind is clean.
What do you think? Is faith strengthened by tests, or should we keep our minds and spirits pure? Does watching a horror film or reading a horror story invite dark spirits into our lives? Does anything return to us void, or does everything we do have consequences one way or another – spiritually or psychologically?

The Illusion of Control

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An elderly, divorced woman lives across the street from me. In the ten years we’ve lived here, she has never said hello or even looked over, not even at our two girls, who are three and six years old. I can understand adults not trusting other adults, but it takes a special kind of misery to be unfriendly to children. Fortunately, they don’t care. Neither do I really. The only time I get upset is when someone is blatantly rude to my kids. If someone is nasty to me, I’ll let karma take care of them. If they’re nasty to my kids, I become karma.

My family and I get along with all of our other neighbors. In fact, they’re more like family to us. We watch their houses and pets when they’re on vacation, and they do the same for us. We buy each other gifts on holidays, etc. So in such a friendly neighborhood, this lady really stands out. I was oddly comforted the other day when I found out that her strangeness was not limited to me and mine. One would think everybody would want to be courteous to neighbors because they’re the ones who are going to call the cops if they see someone climbing in their window. (Or not.) But, sadly, that is not always the case.

For instance, her neighbor two doors over is a retired fireman. My wife calls him a “cuddly grouch” to his face because he pretends to be grouchy but really isn’t. He always laughs. He picks on me with firehouse humor constantly and is delighted when I fire back. But I found out the day his dog died that he’s a softy on the inside. First of all, it was a Bichon Frise,  probably the least masculine dog in the world. He was destroyed for weeks when it died. He walked that dog every morning. Anyway, the point is, he’s a very kind man.

The strange neighbor, knowing how kind he is, asked him to take her garbage cans out on trash day because she was going on a business trip. She probably knew better than to ask me. When she came home, not only did she not thank him, she chewed him out for putting her trash cans back in “the wrong order.” There’s a black one for trash, a blue one for recyclables, and a green one for garden waste. He was apparently supposed to memorize what order they were in. She was actually livid about it, even though she left no instructions regarding trash can order. 

Clearly this lady has an OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) or three, but I think many of us are guilty of this kind of behavior, albeit in smaller ways. I know I am. If we have a real problem in the major areas of life – relationships, money, career, health, parenting, etc. – and feel like we’re out of control, we fixate on smaller things that are controllable.

I once saw a guy freak out about not having enough whipped cream on his latte at Starbucks. Not just, “Hey, can you put a little more whipped cream on this for me, pal?” No, no, no. It was, “Is there a goddamn whipped cream shortage or something? What’s wrong with you?” I would be willing to bet big money that his life was out of control in some other way. But that latte was controllable. He could get that right. Others obsess about their lawns, or parking their cars in the same spot, the same way every day, or being obsessively neat. 

The government is also guilty of low-level OCD’s. They can’t stop gang violence, drug trafficking or street crime, but dang it, they can drive those smokers into the ocean! That’s something they CAN do, then they won’t feel so impotent about that other stuff, and people may actually stay off their backs a little about wasted tax dollars.

Fortunately for my conscience, I’ve never been unfriendly to my “mean neighbor.” After all, she may be buried in pain about events in her life and I’m only seeing the symptoms. When we first moved in, another senior widow who lives next door seemed unfriendly and would sometimes yell over the fence about minor noises. At first, we dreaded the years ahead, but we kept saying hello and inviting her over for dinner until she said yes. Over time, we unearthed a great personality and learned that she was just sad, not mean at all. Her husband passed shortly before we moved here, and her son lives out of state so she was probably just very lonely. I’m proud to say we have alleviated that loneliness considerably, and she filled a terrible void for my wife when her mother died suddenly of a massive stroke at the age of 52 eight years ago. She loves our kids like they’re her own grandkids, and she and I even have the same sometimes scandalous sense of humor. We visit back and forth constantly. What seems like grumpiness is often just sadness in disguise I hope the same thing happens someday with the lady across the street, but so far, she has left me hanging when I’ve waved to her. She doesn’t even look over. I find it pretty humorous usually.

Not to play junior psychologist here, but it seems to me that my neighbor would feel a lot better if she rose up against her own inner tyrant and put the damn trash cans in the wrong order on purpose, if she accepted the fact that life is messy and always will be. If she would have surrendered to that immutable fact earlier, her marriage might have worked out. A house should be clean enough to be healthy, and messy enough to be happy.  So should a mind. 

There are things we can and should control, and things we can’t. Christians say, “Let go and let God.” Alcoholics say, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That philosophy is so old and overused, it has become a cliché, but cliché’s become cliché’s for a very good reason – because they’re absolutely true. 

I once started to get upset with my girls when I discovered them digging a hole in the middle of the front lawn because the X on their “treasure map” (the one they just drew) said the treasure was “RIGHT THERE!” I almost yelled, “No! Stop! What are you doing? You’re ruining the lawn!” But I didn’t. I took a deep breath and remembered I’m raising children, not grass. I even helped them dig the hole in the new lawn I had just planted. And when they weren’t looking, I went and found an old brass box in my office I knew they hadn’t seen yet, loaded it with coins and covered it with dirt in the hole so they’d have actual treasure to find. The look on their faces when they discovered it was worth fifty holes in the lawn.

So tomorrow, I’ll keep my girls from doing backflips off the roof, but I’ll let them run as fast as they want to, while praying they don’t fall and chip a tooth. I’ll do my best with my career but probably won’t get half as much done by the end of the day as I wanted to, as usual. Then I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that I did something – moved a little closer to the goal – which is better than nothing. I’ll straighten up the house and be okay with the fact that it will be a mess again a few hours later. 

Besides, even if I did get all my ducks in a row, they’d just wander off again anyway. I mean, because, you know, they’re ducks.

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