Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lazy Me

I've been a little lazy about blogging lately. Mostly because I've spent the past two weekends here:

Looking at this view:

And enjoying the kids doing stuff like this:

And this:

And this:

This is Camp. A family cottage on Lake Champlain where we spend as much time as possible in the summer. Last weekend, we didn't have cable or internet out there. A liberating weekend it was. We taught the kids how to play euchre, walked the dogs, and set up the badminton court.

This weekend, cable was installed, so the kids watched a little morning TV. Nothing more. No internet, but [unfortunately] we're trying to get it running so we can [fortunately] work out there during the week. The yin and the yang of internet service.

This weekend: Our first chicken BBQ with the in-laws, more euchre, more badminton, checkers, UNO, and a little rock painting. I also finished a book and started another. The dogs and I got another morning walk. Thing is, when you spend a weekend like this, it's hard to think of anything interesting to blog about. My mind isn't racing, and the only thing that fires up is the grill or a bonfire on the beach. So it may be a slow e-summer. Nice and slow...

(212 words)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brain Waves, Part 1

I've been fascinated lately by a couple of cerebral subjects:

First, that positive stimuli have a much harder time being accepted into the brain than negative.

Second, that technology is changing our brains and the way we operate.


Today, I tackle the former.

For me personally, this interest all started a little over a year ago when I heard a presentation by psychologist Rick Hanson who studies the psychology, neurology, and "contemplative wisdom". He co-publishes the Wise Brain Bulletin and speaks about how to consciously incline your brain toward being more receptive of positive experiences. Seems that ol' flight or fight instinct has a pretty strong pull, so our brains tend to emphasize negative experiences over positive so that we can more readily get our spears ready when a sabre-toothed tiger approaches.

But we don't want to spend our entire lives in a defensive mode, always on the lookout for threats, do we? Except that the part of your brain that processes negative stimuli is stronger than the part that processes the positive, so that positive part needs exercise. Dr. Hanson suggests that we need to consciously register positive experiences to help train our brain to receive them and remember them more fully. This, in turn, will incline our brains toward a more wholesome state, which is an inherently healthier place to be. "Use your mind to change your brain to benefit your whole being -- and those you touch" says

To add more grain to the silo, the lead story in the May 2009 The Sun magazine is an interview with Barbara Frederickson, a psychologist who studies positive emotions and author of a new book, Positivity. In tandem with Hanson, she says that "negative emotions are necessary for us to flourish, and positive emotions are subtle and fleeting; the secret is not to deny their transience but to find ways to increase their quantity...balance negative feelings with positive ones."

This task, however, as Frederickson and colleagues have mathematically determined, is not a 1:1 proposition. Instead, they claim is takes three positive events to every one negative event to reach a tipping point.

From her research, Frederickson says she definitely changed her parenting by trying to better balance negative reactions in her sons' days. In the marriage ring, she says that research suggests married couples who share a 5:1 positive:negative emotional experience ratio are in stronger relationships. 1:1 usually means a doomed union.

I knew marriage was harder than regular ol' life...

So what do we do about all this?

"Negative experiences can demand our attention so much that is takes self-discipline, willpower, and practice not to focus solely on them, and to look at all that's positive in our situation, as well. Negativity doesn't always feel like a choice; it feels like it just lands on you, and you have to deal with it. Positive emotions, I think, are more of a choice," advises Frederickson.

Great. Another thing to think and worry about (negative #1).

But, reader, a few suggestions Fredrickson gives to help positivity along naturally: pay attention to kindness (positive #1), go outside in good weather (positive #2), and rearrange your life around your strengths (positive #3).

There. We've hit our 1:3 tipping point. Life is good now. Except that I need do some extra work on my marriage.

(554 words)

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Daughter has recently taken to decorating the doors of the bedrooms in our house. Not with your normal run-of-the-mill door decor, mind you. Being of a pragmatic nature, she has made everyone mail pouches, nametags, and "In" and "Out" signs. Like she is somehow channeling Lucy of the Peanuts.

On her own door, we are all supposed to make appointments to enter her room:

"To make an appointment, write your name the date and time in the correct boxes (below). Once it is time for your appointment, please knock softly and I will check you off and I will let you in. I only make exceptions of mom (sometimes dad), pets, and urgent needs. I will be happy to help even if it's just a visit. Thank you."

Her brothers follow these instructions diligently, but I usually ignore them and just enter her room at will. So up until a couple of days ago, there was another note on her door saying that even parents need to make appointments -- "and that means you Patty Pasley." She apparently has given up on me because that note disappeared today.

This all makes me wonder about her destiny. What in the world will she be? Something that requires instruction and attention to detail, it seems. All I know at this very moment is that it's a good thing for our pets that they don't have to check in. The "correct boxes" would be hard for the cat to reach.

(236 words, some borrowed)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

American Classics

Piano recitals last night. Mia has been playing for four years; Will, three. They both made it through their songs despite the jitters. Mia, in fact, opened the show.

Mia playing The Entertainer:

Will playing The Pink Panther Theme:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pastoral Here and Gone

Husband thoughtfully left an article on my desk for me to read -- a short story in the NY Times Magazine about a professional couple in suburban Georgia who cashed out and bought a 76-acre farm, Nature's Harmony, on which they now raise pesticide- and medicine-free, grass-fed chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, and sheep. He knew I'd seize that concept and start planning our own farm. In my head.

"We need to get rid of these computers. They're ruining our lives. We need a farm."

He looked at me -- like he often does -- with a "Yeah, right" kind of look. "Computers are not ruining our lives. They're paying the bills. Did you notice that the people in the article weren't making much money?"

But they're growing grapes for wine and enjoying their meals like I may never.

Says farm father, Tim Young: "There's this whole way to make money in the world but not really do anything to contribute. I feel like what we do is important. But it's not financially rewarding. Who cares? As long as you can make it on your own. Let me tell you something, we're going to eat well."

If only I had the nerve to break free too. But there's this thing called College x3 that dominates my future planning and sends me back to my daily responsibilities at my laptop...


So I read this article, then go to the laundry room for some housekeeping. I had a load of wet clothes to dry, and I considered hanging everything on the clothesline outside. Drying clothes on the line is one of my favorite pastimes. I get calm with the notion that Mother Nature and I can work together so harmoniously. I give her something to do, and she responds with some warm sunshine and a breeze that dries my clothes. No fossil fuels consumed, and my clothes, sheets, and towel smell really fresh. (Putting this on my list of favorite things to do is a little dorky, I know. But it really does give me peace.)

It's damp outside today from yesterday's rain. So I go outside to check the temps and air to see if the clothes will really dry today. And the air smells like shit. Shit being spread on the dairy farm fields right behind us. It's gross. It's strong. I scowl, and my dreams of being a farmer disappear like an organic, free-range chicken in the jaws of a fox.

And I dried my clothes in the dryer today.
(422 words)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Merrily We Roll Along

Lots of fussing with unruly fourth-grade boy hair yesterday morning, as Will primped for the fourth-grade Beginner Band and Chorus concert. A percussionist, he was to perform two shows, one for his schoolmates during the day, and one for parents in the evening. He was also to sing a couple songs with the Chorus. For the day show, he (1) took a shower; (2) wore his Mother's Day outfit plus a paisley tie to school (with strict instructions on how to hang the clothes on a hanger when he changed into shorts and a t-shirt); and (3) put gel in his hair.

I asked him if he was nervous about this concert.

"No. I'm like the best kid in the band, Mom."

It's good to be confident.

At the evening show, we arrived early so he could set up his xylophone and drum. As I sat in the audience and watched the kids prep, I saw one young girl walk over and fix Will's hair, and he didn't push her away like he does me. Hmmmm....

We went on to listen to such family favorites as "Hot Cross Buns", "Merrily We Roll Along", "Skip to My Lou", and "Bingo". I know these songs were easy for Will, as he has been playing piano for three years. But I couldn't really tell if he was actually the best kid in the band, given that he only had to hit a drum to the beat. I could tell that he thought he was, though, as he played his instruments with ease. He also had the esteemed role of holding up a rubber chicken during "Aunt Rhodie's Appetite", while staying on beat on the bass drum.

So begins our path of parents at band concerts.

Sidebar: When I pulled his nice clothes out of his backpack for the evening show, the pants were folded but not on the hanger. The shirt was on the hanger, but the first button on the left was in the third button hole on the right. Fortunately, I think both were made of low-wrinkling material.

(346 words)