Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - GROWING OLD IS NOT FOR SISSIES, Part 2: Saying it to Seniors

Saying it to Seniors 
"You can't shake hands with a clenched fist."
Mahatma Gandhi

I was headed to Mississippi to help talk with my mother-in-law about the need to move to a nursing home. On the way out the door I grabbed my well-worn copy of David Soleil's masterful book, How to Say it to Seniors. Flying along in the early morning darkness, I re-read it and prayed for insight and understanding. I knew I needed wisdom beyond my own for this situation.

How to Say it to Seniors explains that the elderly feel as though the world is closing in on them. They struggle, against relentless pressure, to maintain a measure of control and freedom in their lives. They've lost the ability to drive. They aren't allowed to cook. They can't go anywhere by themselves. They feel trapped. Their natural, instinctive urge is to push back, to attempt to retain or re-assert control in any way they can. To succeed with seniors, Soleil says, you need to stop pushing and try to align your approach with that urgency. Locking horns and bullying your way forward will only create greater resistance.  

My prayers for insight and wisdom were answered in mid-air, and I understood I had to do two things. First, my task would be to identify and present a rationale from her viewpoint for the wisdom of this move. I would need to provide a "why" that would resonate with her view of her world. Second, I would have to find ways to give her the greatest possible say-so in the "how" of this transition. While many options were off the table, my responsibility would be to search for choices she could make. I would need to push back when others tried to take more control than they needed to. With this game-plan coming together in my mind, I turned off the reading light and took a little nap to get ready for the long day ahead. . . .

To be continued. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Growing Old is Not for Sissies, Part 1

Seeing the World Through John Smith's Eyes
"Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action."  
Daniel Goldman 


How do we persuade aging relatives to cooperate with our recommendations for their care? That was the topic of a recent chat I had with a client and friend about his 87-year-old mother in Toronto and my wife's 90-year-old mother in Mississippi. I was agonizing over an upcoming trip to the Magnolia State to help deliver some bombshell news: she would have to leave the house where she had lived her entire life and move to a nursing home. For several days thereafter I was all wrapped up in resenting my assignment and feeling sorry for myself for getting stuck with this dreadful responsibility. This was going to be ugly, I thought.

And then, out of the blue, a little ditty from the past - seemingly unrelated to the task at hand - popped into my head: "If you would sell what John Smith buys, you must see the world through John Smith's eyes." Hey, wait! Where did that come from? So this is about her and not about me? Forgetting briefly my own anxieties and self-pity, I allowed my heart and mind to reflect on my mother-in-law and what this would mean to her. I began to ask myself: "What does the world look like through her eyes?" I pondered the question again and again, turning it over and over in my brain, exploring its many facets. It felt as though I had stumbled upon a rare and valuable gem, the gem of empathy.

Changing my focus from my problems to her problems completely changed my attitude about traveling to Mississippi. I tried to imagine how gut-wrenching, how life-shattering, this would be for her. I tried to consider what explanations or information would make sense to her. What could I do or say that could soften the blow to her? Those were my thoughts and prayers as I boarded the plane to meet my brother-in-law at the New Orleans airport and then drive to southern Mississippi. . . .

To be continued.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Life Lessons from the Blackberry Patch Par Three

Part Three
I'm back one more time with three more insights that came to me while picking wild blackberries, plus a little bonus at the end.

7. I'll double my efforts for some blackberry cobbler with ice cream.
I've found that I can work twice as hard if I keep an image of the anticipated reward in mind as I pick. For me that's a big bowl of warm blackberry cobbler (see recipe below) with a couple of scoops of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream. Mmm, mmm, good! As with other parts of life, having a clear vision of the fruits of our labors keeps us going when things are tough. It assures that we don't give up short of our goals. When we can picture it in our head - or taste it in our imagination - it motivates us to finish the job, no matter how hard.

8. Save the shady spots for the heat of the day.
The heat and humidity are intense during the Harmony blackberry season and the picking process can be pretty steamy. Some parts of the blackberry patch are shady and others have full sun. I've learned to pick the sunny spots early and come back later to the ones under the trees. There's no need to be a hero when you don't have to be. Pick your battles. Use a little common sense. Don't make your job or your life any harder than it has to be.

9. When you're picking last, pick the sweet berries first.
Late in the season, when many blackberries are fully ripe, they fall off the vine easily. When you pick one berry in a ripe cluster, the movement of the branch can cause the rest of them to fall off and get lost in the briars below. In that case, go for the sweetest ones first, then turn your attention to the others. Setting priorities is crucial, both in picking blackberries and in life. Some jobs and some relationships are more valuable than others. Some projects must be done in sequence. Some tasks must be tackled first before addressing the others. Don't squander important opportunities by doing the wrong things first.
10.  The reward: a delicious and simple blackberry cobbler recipe!
Blackberry Crumble
4 to 6 cups blackberries
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Juice of ½ lemon
2 cups flour                                    
1 cup sugar                          
1 cup butter                                                

Put blackberries in a 9 x 13 glass pan. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg over berries, and squeeze lemon juice over berries. Mix flour, sugar, and butter together until mixture is crumbly. Pat flour mixture evenly over berries and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom: Life Lessons from the Blackberry Patch Part Two

Part Two         

Last week, I shared some of the insight and understanding that came to me as I was picking wild blackberries in the Harmony woods. Here are some additional lessons I've learned.

4.  A Mental Mini-Vacation

Some of my best thinking happens when I'm engaged in physical activities like walking, gardening, or picking wild blackberries. Those activities don't occupy all my mental bandwidth, leaving the rest of my brain free to reflect on whatever subject I choose. It's like a mental mini-vacation. Sometimes I just "de-frag" my mind and try to put the pieces back in order. Sometimes I come up with completely new and intriguing topics to ponder. Sometimes I achieve major breakthroughs with issues that have resisted solutions when I "had to" think about them. For me, a little walk in the woods or a couple of hours in the blackberry patch is the perfect catalyst for great thinking.

5.  Only pick 'em when they're ripe.

Blackberries ripen one by one, not by the bunch. Part of the art of smart picking is knowing when each berry is fully ripe. Even when a berry looks ready, it may still be sour and pithy. The best way to know if a berry is ready is to see if it comes off the vine easily. If you have to tug, you need to leave it for tomorrow because it's not ready yet. In a similar way, there is a time and season for life's offerings. Opportunities sometimes need to develop and mature a bit longer before they're ready. An idea before its time just won't quite come together, no matter how great it seems. Leave it alone for a while. Pushing too hard can lead to frustration and wasted effort. Better to slow down, be patient, and let the fruit ripen at its own pace.

6.  Don't waste your time with small berries.

The size and quality of berries vary widely in the woods. In some spots, fully-developed blackberries ripen no larger than blueberries. In others, they grow as large as cherries and you can fill a bucket in no time. Since it takes the same amount of effort to pick each berry regardless of its size, it makes sense to avoid the small-berry spots and devote your attention to the big ones. Life is like the berry patch. Some tasks deliver huge pay-offs, while others provide minimal returns. Wise people focus their time and attention on areas likely to produce larger and longer-lasting results. Unwise folks squander their resources on trivial matters and end up wandering through life with mostly empty buckets. 

To be continued . . . 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Life Lessons from the Blackberry Patch Part One

Part One         

Early this Memorial Day, I was out in the Harmony woods picking wild blackberries. I love the challenge of gathering them, and I like to think I've gotten pretty good at it. People ask me, "Why do you go to all the trouble when you can buy them at the store? It sure seems like a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for a small reward." Well, besides the berries themselves, I love the insight and understanding that come to me as I'm picking. Here are some important life-lessons I've learned while picking.    

1.  Having the right tools is critical.

The crucial tools in the case of wild blackberry picking are the right clothes. My tools include a thick, long-sleeve shirt; long thick pants; high rubber boots (no laces, they get stuck on the briars); a non-cloth hat (caps get stuck on the briars); and my special invention: Scott Farnsworth Wild Berry-Pickin' Gloves! - thick work gloves with the end of the index finger and the end of the thumb cut off to grasp the ripe, juicy berries. This "outfit" isn't much to look at, but it sure does protect me. I've seen people try to pick wild blackberries wearing what they wear everywhere else in Florida: t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Ouch! That was ugly, and the picking didn't last long. Tools matter, folks!

2.  Don't move on until you've looked around; sometimes the best berries are right behind you, above you, or below you.

I've learned that when I think I've finished picking all the berries in a spot, I need to step back, slow down, turn around, and examine the area from different angles. It never fails: when I look again, I find some of the largest, plumpest, ripest berries hiding in plain sight. Wild blackberries are like many of life's best opportunities-you don't see them at first glance and if you're in too big a hurry, you'll miss out. Look around another time or two before you move on; you may find a hidden treasure right under your nose.

3.  Fast is slow and slow is fast with blackberries.

Picking blackberries is slow, tedious work. You can't rush. If you try to hurry, you end up hurting yourself and not picking many berries. Working with people is like that too. If you try to be too "efficient" in the human dimension, you can do a lot of damage. "There is nothing faster than the speed of trust [but] ironically it comes from the speed of going slow. With people, fast is slow and slow is fast." Stephen R. Covey
To be continued . . .