Jumping a Little Deeper into Yoga: YogaMOOC

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      The benefit of regular yoga practice has slowly been developing within my personal and professional world. Good living involves evolution . . . I CHANGE.  

     The digitalization of our planet is forcing us all to become global citizens. It seems ironic that the power to connect easily through all forms of media can also be the very cause of a deafening disconnect. Overuse of our ‘devices’ has contributed to psychological attachment issues . . . the very essence of being human, attachment to one another and to all living things.

My career as a counselor began in 1994 during the early days of internet connection and cell phone capabilities. The percentage of individuals suffering from complex developmental trauma and attachment disorders has risen significantly since the early 90’s. It is my true hope that as I take care of myself through yoga, meditation, mindful self-compassion and connection with others that I can be part of the solution to disconnection. Disconnection to other humans seems to be the root of hate, violence, cruelty, suicidality, and hopelessness. Time to shine some light!                  

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Posted in flow, Transisitons, yoga, Yoga MOOC | Leave a comment

Life is a Series of Beginnings and Endings

So breathe it in and breathe it out
And listen to your heartbeat
There’s a wonder in the here and now
And I don’t want you to miss the miracle of the moment

Steven Curtis Chapman

     In a recent yoga class, the fantastically beautiful, kind, encouraging instructor said something that resonated deeply with me “don’t loose your breath during the transitions” (https://theyogaproject.com).deep-breath

If you are not familiar with yoga, it is a series of movements and positions all connected with mindful breathing. Purposeful breathing is the most significant element of any yoga practice. When practicing yoga focusing on yoga breathing or ‘Ujjayi’ breathing keeps you in the moment, forgetting the ‘self’.  As Mihaly  Csikszentmihalyi  states “the self expands through acts of self-forgetfulness”.  This concept . . . not loosing your breath during the transitions . . . can be directly applied to the art of living well and navigating life’s transitions with grace. Learning to appreciate and respect the full spectrum of human emotions with less fear is a challenge; however, recognizing each emotion and listening to the direction it is leading is an act of self-acceptance and conscious living. I remind myself often that emotions need to move or be expressed.  My latest transition proved more challenging than I imagined . . . my precious daughter getting MARRIED!

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Emotion wheel: the vast spectrum of human emotion

Finding Peace in the Role of ‘Mom of the Bride’

     It is with the hope of giving another Mom permission to accept and feel the entire experience of the transition of your daughter becoming a married women that I am sharing my experience. Interweaving my daughter’s love story  with some bits of ‘wisdom’ that I discovered through the process. Any major transition is best approached with the idea that opening a new door requires grieving the door you are closing. This blog will describe this transition through interwoven stages of grief, acceptance and joy!

 

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Mackenzie, Chris and Liberty. Engagement pictures by Tim Kolczak @ http://www.timkolczakimagery.com

When your daughter’s meets the love of her life and tells you ‘Mom, you know when you know’  . . . . then you meet your future son-in-law  and you agree, it seems like the emotions surrounding this change would be more on what most of us would consider the positive side. You know what I mean . . . joy, happiness, excitement anticipation, love, contentment. After all, what more could you want for your daughter than a man who loves her completely, helps her find balance, loves life, can cook, laughs with a full heart, and has faith in the Creator of all things great and small? Like many significant transitions in life, your daughter getting married might have a bitter sweet quality. For me some unexpected emotions like sadness, futility, anxiety and a kinda floating around feeling (untethered?) came and went throughout her engagement and wedding. 

Grieving (it is okay and normal!)

As your children grow, you delight in their accomplishments and try to savor every moment. After  pouring everything you have . . . . love, constant adjustments through child development, patience, physical energy, emotional turmoil,  and pride . . . you realize that your role as a caregiving parent is almost complete. You will always be her Mom,  but her highest loyalty will be to her husband. How can you be the Mom that you daughter needs during this season of change while being on the stepping stones of a new phase in your life too? Somewhere in this process, I decided to be willing to feel it all and remember to stay in the ‘miracle of the moment’.  What is there to grieve? 

And If it Brings You Tears, Then Taste Them As They Fall

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MacKenzie’s first birthday!

  • Until now,  your daughter’s care and protection was entrusted to you and her father (or in our case, her Poppa).
  • A new ‘we’ is being created. .  . . although her family of origin will hopefully remain significant, her highest loyalty will be to her husband and the family they create.
  • There is something weirdly archaic that feels like you are ‘handing over’  your daughter or as the traditional wedding vow says “who gives this woman to be married”.  This stems from antiquated times in history when women really were their father’s property and a dowry was given to the groom or the grooms family. 
  • Her life flashes in front of you from her first moments . . . . it went by so quickly . . . you want a rewind. Remember and cherish it all!
  • Let’s face it . . . your daughter getting married is a reminder that you are entering a new phase of your life. Your role of ‘Mom’ has been changing all along and with a marriage being planned. . .a true test of letting go is underway.
  • In order to truly ‘let her go’, to encourage her to walk into a new forever, requires that an invisible  door is closed so that a new one can open.

Acceptance .  . . it Comes in Waves! 

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MacKenzie and Chris’ engagement at Restaurant 58 Tour Eiffel. Fantastique!

From your daughter’s announcement of ‘I have found the one’, to her engagement, showers,  bachelorette celebration and her joyful wedding day . . . acceptance comes in waves. When Chris asked my husband Chuck to go to dinner alone in May of 2014, I told Chuck that Chris asking him to go to dinner alone could only be for one reason . . . he was going to ask for Chuck’s blessing to marry MacKenzie.  Chuck continued to be skeptical and in a fog of disbelief yet this was indeed the purpose of the ‘man to man’ dinner. All went smoothly. Chuck and I were fortunate to be part of Chris and MacKenzie’s engagement at the Eiffel Tower in Paris in July of 2015. What a wonderful evening and joyful event! A little more acceptance . . . our tomboy Mackenzie has grown into a beautiful young woman who is ready to begin her life with her closest friend. 

You may find yourself with a strong dose of surrealism as the wedding date nears. Perfectly normal. You may have a little difficulty staying in the moment . . . normal again . . .just refocus on the here and now, practice deep breathing with two feet planted squarely on the ground!

Joy and Celebration

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Tour Eiffel, Paris, France Photo credit: Mark Bethany

When MacKenzie was quite young Chuck and I put money in savings for MacKenzie’s possible future wedding.  Remember that bit about letting go . . . giving your daughter and fiancé a budget that they manage allows you to stay out of the details of planning. MacKenzie and Chris found a great venue in Fort Worth, in the fall of 2014; however, in the early Spring of 2015 Kenzie announced to me ‘Mom, I think I want to get married in Paris’. No not Paris, Texas but Paris, France! WOW . . . . this was very unexpected!  My response, ‘honey you must be tired. Take a nap and call me back’.

It took both the bride and groom’s families a little while to adjust to this change BUT Mackenzie and Chris had their budget and were able to stay within those financial limits. My daughter is quite persistent and creative. She decided she wanted a very small wedding and heading to Paris, France for the “I do’s” accomplished this goal. 

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Bar Du Central. Photo credit: Mark Bethany

MacKenzie choose Fête in France (http://feteinfrance.com) as her wedding planners and they attended

to every detail with professional excellence leaving the bride, groom and their guests free to enjoy all festivities.  Happy Hour at Bar Du Central (http://www.barducentralparis.com) was arranged prior to the rehearsal dinner which took place at Restaurant 58 in the Eiffel Tower (http://www.restaurants-toureiffel.com/restaurant-58-tour-eiffel-paris). All  went smoothly throughout the evening  of the rehearsal celebration. The wedding party and many guests stayed at Best Western Trianon Rive Gauche (http://www.hoteltrianonrivegauche.com). The hotel staff took extra care to accommodate guests and support the wedding party on the day of the wedding. 

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Chris and MacKenzie Kohler’s wedding 12/30/2015, the American Church in Paris

The wedding ceremony took place at the American Church of Paris (http://acparis.org) which although a large sanctuary, still felt intimate for a small wedding. The Church was already decorated for Christmas, so not many additional decorations were necessary. 

The reception venue was a small yacht with Yachts de Paris (http://www.yachtsdeparis.fr) which toured the River Siene through Paris on a beautiful December night . . . seeing Paris at night in this fashion was truly spectacular. The reception began with a lovely Apéritif, followed by a fabulous dinner, toasts to the honored newlyweds, cake cutting (along with celebratory flames), a bottle of Starka with special meaning (http://cr.middlebury.edu/bulgakov/public_html/starka.html), dancing and many special moments to be cherished for a lifetime. It’s a love story!

 

Suggestions for a the “Mom of the Bride”

  1. Be willing to feel the full range of emotions regarding your daughter’s engagement and wedding.
  2. Do go down memory lane, reliving all the magical moments of raising your amazing daughter. 
  3. Talk, talk, talk to your supportive friends and family.
  4. Let the tears come, don’t be afraid . . . share them with your spouse, close friends and family.
  5. Let your daughter know that you are available to help and stay supportive.
  6. Remember that the role parents play in weddings has changed . . . be flexible!
  7. Provide a budget for your daughter and future son-in-law then ‘let go’. This takes much of the emotion out of the planning and places the responsibility of budgeting in their court providing an intimacy building experience for them.
  8. When tempted to get overly involved, tell yourself  ‘this is my daughter’s wedding’! Trust her to make wise decisions with the money you have entrusted to her and her future husband.

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    Wedding reception on the Siene River in Paris (http://www.yachtsdeparis.fr).

  9. Finally . . . enjoy every moment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in flow, Mother of the Bride, Parenting, Paris, Transitions, travel, Weddings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Cowtown Marathon: I Choose Joy!

The 38th Cowtown Marathon 2016

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Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

On February 28th, 8,344 individuals participated in the 38th half, full , or ultra marathon in my newest home town . . . Fort Worth (aka Cowtown). Although I have participated in this race before and I have had the joy of running in a race with my adult children who have caught the running addiction, this one race felt different!

Three things made this race special. 1. It was the 38th annual Cowtown Marathon and the 38th year of me running personally. 2.  I choose to feel joy throughout the race to honor a special young woman who showed us all that joy can exist in every circumstance (https://www.tcu360.com/2016/02/tcu-sophomore-remembered-for-her-joy/).

 3. Getting to share the love of running with my daughter, MacKenzie. As is often the case, our children far exceed their parent’s accomplishments. MacKenzie finished 6th in her speedy division of 20 to 24 year olds with a 1:38.07. MacKenzie also helped me with several coaching points for the race . . . eat something carb loaded at mile 7, take a few tums before the race . . . thank you Kenzie!

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MacKenzie’s running view while living in Paris, France . . . not bad! Please note the French key to her apartment.

For me, running  for the past 38 years has been a part of my life sorta like brushing your teeth. In 1978, I took a running class at Cal State Fullerton learning that I could run over three miles and enjoy that sense of accomplishment. Along side my fellow classmates, I ran my first 5K in what then were considered appropriate running shoes. Sports bras (or as originally called Jog bras) were non-existent. Check out my blog “When Weirdness Becomes Welcome” to get the scoop on the history of the current sports bra. Even the first women marathon winner in the Olympics did not wear a sports bra!

If you already have a running base, it takes about 8 weeks to prepare for a half marathon which is probably the furthest I will ever run again. So I prepared somewhat diligently but not too seriously . . . I knew I could finish. As you age, somewhere in your brain you believe you can still perform the way you once did. But as C. S. Lewis says: ‘experience is the most brutal of teachers, but we learn, God we learn!’.  So I too have learned to adjust my expectations and have a reasonable hope for a finishing time. For me, anything under a 2:10 for the half marathon  would be fine with me and anything under a 2:06 time for the half would be a pleasant surprise.

But this race, as I said earlier was different. I enjoyed every single moment of the race. Fort Worth residents lined the streets cheering every runner on. Bands reflecting the cultural diversity of Cowtown motivated me and others throughout the race. Each friendly volunteer who handed me a cup of water, cool towel or held out their hand for a high five meant so much . . . I felt truly connected to each one. Thank you to all of the volunteers!

Remembering the influential life of Taylor Helland (http://www.checkupnewsroom.com/i-have-cancer-sorority-sisters-share-their-stories) brought a sense of joy as tears fell down my face throughout the race. When I felt discomfort, I thought this is nothing compared to what many go through during treatment for cancer. . . this is nothing! Somehow Taylor’s mantra “I choose joy” lifted me to a finishing time I could have never imagined . . 2:02:36. . . significantly faster than planned. I finished 7th in my old lady division; the “super master group”of 55 to 59 year old women. RUN COWTOWN IN 2017!

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2015 Half Marathon Finisher Medal

I will end with one of my favorite verses.

“So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” Psalms 90:12

Everyday we each have a choice of what our focus will be . . . I choose to find JOY in the small things.

Posted in culture, diversity, flow, inspiration, running, Transisitons | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Until We Meet Again

Farewell to Switzerland for Now

 Lac Léman

Lac Léman

A fabulous expat ride in Switzerland is coming to an end for me and my family. Like many expats know, moving to a foreign country is loaded with waves of opposing emotions. However, after assessing our ride thoroughly it has been completely worth the blood, sweat, and tears of moving to Switzerland. Three things stand out for me: enjoying Switzerland’s unparalleled natural beauty, opportunity for personal growth (even if somewhat painful), and friendships forged in mutual ups/downs of adjusting expatriate life.

Beautiful Switzerland

I think my fellow adventurers would agree that our number one joy of living in Switzerland is the unbounded beauty of this small country. I actually have a Pinterest board named Beautiful Switzerland. Almost everywhere you look, there is a feast for your eyes. Only while in Switzerland, I become a professional photographer! It is an amazing transformation. You don’t believe me? What about these pictures taken from my IPhone.

Pully, Switzerland

Pully, Switzerland

Lavaux in the fall.

Lavaux in the fall.

Everywhere you look in Switzerland God’s amazing grace is seen in majestic nature. The beauty of Switzerland can almost be surreal. Make your trip across the big pond to be reminded that their is a Creator of us all things great and small.

Opportunities for Personal Growth

“If you want to change, you will have to be willing to be uncomfortable”

Moving to Switzerland has given each person in my family an opportunity for growth and change. When you reflect on your life, the most difficult circumstances that are mixed in with adventure and joy caused the most change. So even though Switzerland is like a postcard at every turn, moving beyond your comfort zone to take a huge leap across the big pond created many learning opportunities. The culture in Switzerland is a challenge for me and at the same time a joy . . . . I will start with the challenges and end with the joys!

Challenges

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This is the disapproving look! Ah là là!

  •  Random lectures from complete strangers for a multitude of wrong doings that you are unaware of . . . at least I learned quickly that it was not only me that was receiving  random lectures; other expats and locals where subject to lecture giving. I was lectured for using the communal laundry incorrectly after repeatedly asking the process, for my dog urinating on the street, for popping my knuckles on the bus and many more.
  • The Swiss are QUIET! Sundays is the super quiet day when no laundry, vacuuming, laughing loudly or recycling glass is allowed. One Sunday evening, a car drove up to our neighborhood recycling area and began recycling glass. . .the horror!  A neighbor ran out yelling at the couple and filming them! WOW . . . Sundays in Switzerland are super seriously quiet!
  • Swiss are private and socially closed. While we live in Switzerland,  I sorely missed my friendly state of Texas where you can speak with anyone . . . make connections with strangers easily.
  •  The three F’s . . .missing family, friends, familiarity!

Joys

  • Clean! Switzerland is one of the most pristine countries in the world. Clean air, clean streets (you would surely get a lecture for throwing down any trash), and clean water. In Switzerland, you can drink the water anywhere . . . seriously. Communal water fountains are everywhere known as Fontaine d’eau in French. This is one of the fountains in the small village where we lived, Pully . . .fill up your bottle and drink!

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    Water Fountain, Pully, Switzerland.

  • Public transportation. We lived for almost three years without a car. You can get almost anywhere in Switzerland on a train, bus, boat or funicular (cog and wheel train). All transportation is clean, timely and cost effective. In addition to public transportation, people walk! I waked to church, to the grocery store, to friends flats and for exercise.
  • Five Food Groups. Like most humans, we adapted to our new environment enjoying the five food groups in Switzerland: bread, cheese, cooked sausage, wine and finally chocolate.
  • The view!  You simply can not repeat the fantastic views in the small world called Switzerland.
  • Side walk cafes (la brasserie). A chance to slow down and watch the world walk by with an excellent cup of coffee, a beer, or glass of wine. In Switzerland, and most of Europe having a beer or glass of wine at 10:00 any day of the week is not frowned upon . . . actually quite normal! I wish we could relax a little in the USA.

It has been over a year now since I moved back to Texas from Switzerland.  At odd and bizarre times, my heart longs for the parts of Switzerland I love. Switzerland will always be my home away from home.  I end this blog with a picture of the central area of Lausanne, Place Saint-Francois.

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Café in Lausanne, Switzerland. My home away from home.

 

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Trippy Barcelona

     Placa George Orwell in Barcelona was once known as Placa Trippy due to the high rate of drug use in this area of Barcelona. When Barcelona hosted the Olympics of 1992, the city underwent a major ‘clean up’ including the Gothic Quarter. After visiting Barcelona, I still think it has a ‘trippy’ and relaxed atmosphere.

Barcelona the Heart of Catalonia

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         A recent and fortunate visit to Barcelona, Catalonia has left me filled with a new appreciation for this area of our shrinking world. Now full of passion, tolerance, and hope for a brighter future, Barcelona is a city with a tumultuous history (www.lonelyplanet.com/swwwpain/barcelona/history).  The current residents of this beautiful gem in what most of us consider northern Spain rather than Catalonia are inspired to dream of a richer future of independence and prosperity.

Government building flying a flag of many colors!

Government building flying a flag of many colors!

       When arriving in one of the most visited cities in the world, you will instantly feel the vibe of friendliness, casual grace, acceptance of all people, and a blend of the old world and the push towards a future world for Barcelonians. Barcelonians time frame is different from most westerners . . . . breakfast at 10:00, lunch at 4:00, and dinner somewhere between 9:30 and 10:00 pm. Then around 11:00 pm, maybe out for some sangria, laughter, dance, and the communion of accepting friends new and old. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?? Actually, it is a rhythm I could get used to, and you?

       Two of my favorite tourist enjoying conversation and a caipirinha.

 

As for clothing, almost anything goes which is somewhat freeing. Bathing suit tops are optional on all beaches for women and several beaches require no clothing (still a little much for me).  At first, I have to admit the optional tops for women was a little uncomfortable, but then I began to rather like the idea of taking away the stigma of naked breasts and the ‘sinful’ nature of uncovered ta-tas. In Barcelona, topless is simply no big deal! Another important fashion trend I noted in Barcelona is cut off jean shorts . . . and when I say shorts I mean butt cheeks hanging out short. Not an exceptionally attractive look to me, but it was really hot the weekend we visited (?). In drastic contrast to this clothing freedom is the forced covering of shoulders and thighs (especially for women) in most cathedrals. Again, adjusting to the rules of cathedrals in Spain and other southern European countries reflects an appreciation and respect for cultural norms.

Sangria, Mojitos, Tapas, and Popsicles

I had to steal a picture of the appropriate sign in Barcelona . . . sangria vs. salad . . . sangria!

I had to steal a picture of the appropriate sign in Barcelona . . . sangria vs. salad . . . sangria!

Sangria is found in the bars, restaurants, and on the beach in Barcelona. It is not a bad choice especially on a toasty summer day; however, you can live like a local and order a glass of Cava. Cava is the ‘unofficial’ drink of Barcelona and similar to the bubbly champagne of France. Reasonably priced at 4 to 6 euro per glass!

Mojita on the beach at Barcelona!

Mojito on the beach at Barcelona!

In addition to Cava, the Barcelonians seem fond of mojitos especially on the beach. Even though they may not be my favorite beachside cocktail, after enough cries from vendors on the beach I gave in . . . very refreshing! Oh, and the beaches. Yes the beaches in Barcelona are a creation of the 1992 Olympics with imported sand from Egypt but they are beautiful and extremely popular none the less. The beach atmosphere reminded me some of Rio de Janeiro; however, the water is more attractively clear and blue on the Mediterranean.

      Tapas are found everywhere in the tourist sections of Barcelona. Although most locals find restaurants serving tapas a tourist trap, I must recommend a tapas restaurant in Barcelona, the Sensi Bistro, that is nothing short of a small piece of foodie heaven. To me, the Seni Bistro is comparatively as great as Oliveira (www.oliveira/restaurant.com) in Nice, France.  The Sensi Bistro (www.sensi.es/bristro) in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona is a must . . . .do make a reservation and make time to visit this wonderful restaurant. It is one of those restaurants where everyone at the table is amazed with the quality of food, the presentation of the food and the excellent service.

Finally, just to fit in Barcelona, you must have a popsicle or ice cream while walking the picturisque streets. I recommend the popsicle stand in Placa George Orwell.

Beachside Barcelona

Beachside Barcelona

     So open your mind to trippy Barcelona. It seems to me that life might just be too short without a trip to Barcelona. Relax and enjoy a freeing adventure!

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Two Sides of One Coin

Duplicitous Expatriate Living

5 franc piece

5 franc piece

Take a coin out of your pocket or your purse. It can be a US quarter, a 2 Euro piece or a 5 Swiss Franc piece.  I currently live in Switzerland where change matters just a little more with coins representing 1 Swiss Franc, 2 Swiss Francs and 5 Swiss Francs . . . they add up! Same with 1 and 2 piece Euros especially considering the exchange rate. Now, rub your coin in your hand then look at both sides closely. Both sides are composed of completely different engravings, yet are the same coin. Like so many other things in life, living as an expatriate forces you to first differentiate (make or become different in the process of growth or development) then integrate (to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole). Moving to a new country can be quite disconcerting; however, you slowing notice that the uncomfortable differences melt into one world . . . your world.

Duplicitous is defined as being deliberately deceptive by pretending one set of feelings and acting under the influence of another. This might seem like a harsh adjective to describe the experience of expatriate living; however, those who are or have lived as an expatriate might understand this conflictual internal turmoil.  As for me, I spent many of my first days in Switzerland feeling certain emotions and acting like I was feeling completely different emotions. As they say, ‘fake it to you make it’. While in the mist of assimilating to a new culture, you might have a nagging feeling that you are betraying your native soil (the far reaching state of Texas for me).  Simultaneously, you try to focus on the positive aspects of your new home while missing your special creature comforts of the home in your rear view mirror.

Frio River, Texas.

Frio River, Texas.

You see both places are beautiful to me; my native soil of Texas and the incredible sight of the Suisse Romande (the French speaking area of Switzerland). We humans, like other animals, are highly adaptable. Things that seemed odd, frustrating or almost unacceptable in a new location become things that you participate in, embrace and yes, will miss when you leave.  So eventually, rather than having a duplicitous nature, you again feel integrated and whole. It really is okay to love two places with your complete being. Those of us who have more than one child, might remember struggling with the idea that a parent can truly love more than one child differently yet equally. It is a miracle after the overwhelming, all encompassing love a parent feels for their first born that another child also steals your heart completely. After living in Texas for the majority of my life, I have a strong attachment to the Lone Star State and now I truly love so many things about the Suisse Romande.

Evening storm with sunlight reflection. Lac Lemàn

Evening storm with sunlight reflection. Lac Lemàn

Returning to Texas from beautiful Switzerland is in my immediate future. As I have contemplated this move, I know that I will have to re-assimulate to living in the states and that my view of Texas and the US will never be the same. After time, I have grown accustomed to life in Switzerland. Things like: easy recycling, public transportation (imagine a Texan without a car!), living in an apartment/flat rather than a rambling ranch house, crystal clear water everywhere, unmatchable views, and the five Swiss food groups of cheese, chocolate, bread, sausage and wine. Most of Switzerland would rate a 90 -100% for walkability as much of the rest of Europe does. I will really miss being able to walk almost everywhere or hop on the bus, train or metro. My son and I recently skied in Zermatt and the train from  Lausanne took us to the heart of Zermatt which is a no car village. Simply brilliant!  In addition, the Swiss as well as most Europeans have a much different and relaxed view of alcohol . . . you can drink alcohol almost anywhere except behind the wheel of a car. It is nice to be treated as an adult!

There are things of course that I will not miss in Switzerland like the random Swiss imposed lecture . . . I have received quite a few! Let’s see I have been lectured for unknowingly using the wrong laundry day in my apartment building, my dog peeing in the street, trying to take a picture of white asparagus in Globus, and running to catch a bus (the driver waited for a nano second and opened the door) to name a few.  Curiously enough though, the longer I am here the closer I get to giving a random lecture to a complete stranger . . . scary! Even though I do not totally understand what is behind the Swiss lecture, I believe it is more about holding on to cultural values and less of a personal slam. One time on a bus, I was receiving a pretty good lecture from a relatively strange looking woman. When I told her that I did not understand what she was saying and asked if she spoke English she said “don’t crack your knuckles, it is bad for you”.  Wow! Then she launched into the things she does that are not good for her like eating  too much chocolate . . . la vie en Suisse.

In addition to not missing Swiss lectures, I will not miss wine being measured in restaurants . . . very carefully measured. I will not miss some unfriendly merchants when I am attempting to speak my best French and to spend money in their store . . . rude.  I will not miss the closed nature of many Swiss people in public. It is not in their general nature to be talkative and friendly in public. My best guess is that the Swiss regard privacy as paramount and it is against their nature to ‘intrude’ into another person’s privacy. Gosh I miss the easy-going spontaneous friendliness of Texans!

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

So I am leaving the Suisse Romande in less than a week with excitement to return to a meaningful career and be reunited with family and life-long friends. At this same time, my heart holds a great fondness for the fantastically beautiful Switzerland and the many wonderful friends who have shared in the ups and downs of expatriate life. So for now, au revoir Suisse Romande!

 

Helen H. Thomas, Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing E-therapy via http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Helen_Hobart_Thomas_LCSW_Fort+Worth_Texas_197844

“You express your own divinity by being alive and by loving yourself and others.”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (http://www.amazon.com/Four-Agreements-Practical-Personal-Freedom/dp/1878424319/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416333771&sr=1-1&keywords=the+four+agreements+by+don+miguel+ruiz)

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Help . . . . My Teenager Has Been Abducted!

By Aliens

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The abduction of your teenager might happen all at once in a sudden swoop (like your arm getting chopped off) or it may happen in a more slow and painful fashion (like your eye lashes being plugged out one by one).  Overt physical changes are defiantly occurring in your child during adolescence . . . you can see this! However, the tremendous transformation of your child’s brain during adolescence is covert and answers some of the reasons why teens can seem so Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-ish.  Teenage years are full of wonder for parents as you are witness to your teenager’s transformation into adults; however, there are also periods of great exasperation, frustration and confusion while parenting through the sometimes rocky road we call adolescence.  Never fear! There is hope because your teenager’s brain will be returned and completely transformed . . . but is a complicated process that apparently only aliens know how to complete.

The Signs

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The clearest sign that your child’s abduction has begun is that suddenly you as the once all knowing parent now know nothing. It is quite ego deflating that according to your teenager you have completely lost all intelligence regarding, well . . . pretty much everything.

Next, you have become a true embarrassment to your adolescent especially in public. It kinda creeps up on you though and even if you have heard about this phenomenon it can come as a surprise.  Around 10, 11 or 12 years old, your child might start with, “Mom, you really don’t need to come eat with me at school anymore”.  Then by 13 or 14 years old you might hear “Mom, if you and Dad come to the orchestra concert can you sit in the back and act like you do not know me”. Really? Yes, even after you have paid for the instrument, lessons, and listened to their practice for heavens sake.

Thirdly, communication becomes a bit complicated. Your child rolls their eyes at you several times a day, they go straight to their rooms when returning home remaining there for hours at a time, your simple requests are met with sighs, hands on the hips, or a whispered ‘whatever’.  One of the most confusing parts of communicating with your teenager is when they say, ‘why are you yelling at me?’ when you know that your voice is calm.  Or they might say ‘why are you looking at me like that?’ . . . like what? Several reliable and valid research studies have shown that teenagers really do misinterpret facial expressions (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/todd.html).

teen-rebellion

Fourth, your teenager makes a completely uncharacteristic impulsive decision as if they have lost their brain. Oh, wait a minute, their brain has been abducted. The duplicity of teenagers is revealed when they make an impulsive, irrational decision and then they are  able to explain to you why it was not a great plan (either before the event or after).

And finally, their choice of clothes, hair, music, friends, piercings can become quite alien like and frightening; however, these drastic choices are necessary to differentiate from you.  In this stage of human development, teenagers must push against their parents to become adults.

What is Really Happening?

A work in progress, the teenage brain

A work in progress, the teenage brain

Your teenager’s brain is still under major construction. In fact, neuroscientists now know through the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scans that the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties.  The brain developments from the back (the more primal regions) to the front of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system of the brain is responsible for primal emotions (anger, fear and pleasure) is almost fully developed during adolescence. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex is the CEO of the brain in charge of decision making, planning, impulse control and social understanding lacks far behind. What a disastrous combination, right? Think about it . . . the center of the brain responsible for primal emotions is far ahead of the CEO of the brain. No wonder it seems as if your child has been abducted by aliens! Teens are truly at a disadvantage in processing emotions effectively; therefore, they sometimes make very poor, unfiltered, and impulsive decisions . . . no fault of the own. This excellent video explains adolescent brain development in detail: http://youtu.be/hiduiTq1ei8

Tips to Survive the Your Teens Temporary Abduction     

Remember that your teen NEEDS you despite what they say or how they act. They need more than ever your unconditional love, affection, supervision, and true compassion. Even if they bristle, still hug them (in private of course). Look for what they are doing right and encourage them . . . remember how fragile they are at this stage of development and how susceptible they are to peer influence. Your love and firm boundaries will see them through this rocky yet exciting stage of life.  Even though they might be simply maddening  at times; their teenage idealism, inventiveness, extreme dedication to a cause or relationship can be so inspiring!

Talk to your teen about the tough subjects before they are a teenager. This would include your future expectations, the consequences of certain behavior, and what you will be willing to do to help them in certain situations. Topics might include sexuality, alcohol/drug use, supervision (for example, I need to meet and talk to the parents of your friends), possible arrest (yes), and expectations in your home (chores, mutual respect, limits of privacy).  Thoughtful, purposeful supervision of your adolescent is paramount! When they ask the inevitable question, ‘why don’t you trust me?’, the easiest answer . . . ‘I trust you, but not your brain’.  Boundaries with Teens by Cloud and Townsend is an excellent resource for setting healthy boundaries with your teen. (http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-Teens-When-Say-Yes/dp/0310270456).

Don’t take anything your teenager says personally.  Miguel Ruiz’s describes the spiritual concept of not taking anything personally in his wonderful book, The Four Agreements (http://www.amazon.com/The-Four-Agreements-Practical-Personal/dp/1878424319). When your teen makes a cutting remark, yells at you, slams the door, etc. attempt to remember that you are receiving this treatment because you are the safest person to push against. . . in alien and strange way it is a compliment.  Avoid emotional responses to your teenagers outburst and with empathy follow through with discussed consequences for disrespectful communication.

Create a comfortable, fun, welcoming home for your teenager and their friends.  Even though it might cost a few extra bucks developing a teen friendly home, you really want your kids to bring their friends to your home whenever possible. Believe me, it solves a lot of worry! We transformed our living room to a game room which was semi-private and  geared toward our teenagers. Both of my kiddos played basketball, so we invested in a great outdoor ‘gorilla’ basketball goal (http://www.goalrilla.com/basketball-hoops). Food is always a central theme to hosting teenagers. A willingness to feed the masses will pay off in the long run. The beauty of being a welcoming home to your teen’s friends is that you get to know who they are associating with and honestly (for the most part) teens so much fun to be around!

Rely on your honest support system.  Raising teenagers requires the support of friends, family members, and yes . . . possibly a therapist. Surround yourself with other thoughtful, honest and healthy parents of teenagers .  . . you are not alone!  I asked my wonderful late father once ‘how did you survive my years as a teenager?” His response: “it is like a tight wire, you have to convey unconditional love while at the same time providing firm discipline’. Thanks Dad-E-O! Miss you and love you forever.

Love will See You Through

Sometime people care too much, I think it’s called love.” Winnie the Pooh

The bottom line to parenting teens is to remember that you love your child with all of your heart. Let love motivate you to learn as much as you can about the developmental phase of adolescence and to be kind to yourself during the roller coaster ride of parenting your adolescent! One day, like me, you will be able to call your adult children your friends. Yin.Yang_

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When Weirdness becomes Welcomed

Sport Bras

“Why isn’t there a jock strap for women?”  Victoria Woodrow

Typical Sports Bra

Typical Sports Bra

When you relocate to a new country, you begin to notice different customs, behaviors and norms of the area. Although blending in and respecting cultural differences in your new surroundings is of significant importance, you may find some behaviors, attitudes, or cultural differences that are somewhat bizarre and perhaps even bothersome to you. Like the vast under utilization of sports bras in the Lavaux region of Switzerland.

I will freely admit to being an athletic equipment snob sometimes basing the ‘seriousness’ of the athlete by the quality of their athletic clothing and equipment. Athletic equipment and clothing is designed to improve your performance and comfort whether it be running, biking, yoga, snow skiing, tennis, volleyball, etc. In my mind, a sports bra qualifies as a necessary sport equipment item for women. Wikipedia defines a sports bra as “A bra that provides additional support to female breasts during physical exercise. Sturdier than typical bras, they minimize breast movement, alleviate discomfort, and reduce potential damage to chest ligaments. 

Joan Benoit winning the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984. A giant step for women athletes even if without a sports bra.

Joan Benoit winning the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984. A giant step for women athletes even if without a sports bra.

Running Requires a Sports Bra

Running around Lake Geneva is when I first began to notice the lack of sports bra usage in Switzerland as I observed my fellow female runners. Running shorts, check; running top, check; running shoes . . . .sorta a check BUT sports bra . . . not so much. It appeared that most women runners were wearing a lingerie type bra which would not provide their breasts the support and comfort needed for running. . . .so strange.

In fact, the invention of the modern sports bra has its origins from the world of female runners and the beginning of equality for female collegiate athletes in the United States. The first modern sports bra was invented by a frustrated long distance runner, Lisa Lindahl.  In an unlikely fashion, Lisa literally attached two male  by sewing them together thus inventing the ‘jockbra’.  The first  modern sports bra quickly improved and became know as a jogbra.  Kelly Bastone’s interesting article entitled The History of the Sports Bra gives a detailed account of this 37-year-old wonderful creation.(http://www.ladiesonlysports.com/sports-bra-history/).

Being a Female on a Yoga Mat; Sports Bra Please

So for me, women running without a sports bra seemed like such a step backwards for women athletes. When I began attending yoga classes on a regular basis, I noticed the same thing regarding sports bras.  The female yoga participants are all sports geared up with quality yoga pants, yoga tops, yoga head bands, lululemon yoga mats (http://www.lululemon.ch/home.jsp) . . . but strangely missing . . . sports bras.  Again, my observation is that many of the women in the yoga studio I attend in Lausanne wear lingerie type bras. For some unknown reason, it was irritating for me to see women in yoga clothing with lingerie bra straps showing.  Yoga, of course, does not require the same level of control from a sports bra as running; however, a sports bra still would serve women yogis well providing maximum comfort and freedom.

Sports bra in action.

Sports bra in action.

Et Voilà

Then, the moment came when the perceived ‘weirdness’ of missing sports bras became ‘welcomed’!  Arriving to yoga in time to change into my valued sports bra . . .I discovered I had forgotten it! Horror, then relief. Having an epiphany, I simply wore my lingerie bra and my undergarment tank top without shame, embarrassment or a single strange look from any of my fellow yogis. So be careful about what irritates you because in the very near future it might be what you welcome . . . so much to learn so little time! Even though I completely believe that a sports bra is indispensable for female athletes, it was wonderful to be able to relax and feel a different type of freedom. La vie en Suisse!

zen-quotes-4

Helen H. Thomas, Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing E-therapy via http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Helen_Hobart_Thomas_LCSW_Fort+Worth_Texas_197844

“You express your own divinity by being alive and by loving yourself and others.”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (http://www.amazon.com/Four-Agreements-Practical-Personal-Freedom/dp/1878424319/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416333771&sr=1-1&keywords=the+four+agreements+by+don+miguel+ruiz)

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There is no Ice in My Drink

Quest for Ice Leads to Change

Fancy ice tray bought in Lausanne, Switzerland. Release one ice cube at a time!

Fancy ice tray bought in Lausanne, Switzerland. Release one ice cube at a time!

It is truly the small things that bring us the most joy. For me, I just really love loads of ice in most of my drinks. Living away from your country of origin will reveal to you your particular small creature comforts. In Switzerland, as in all of Europe, ice is not really a sought after item. Most refrigerators do not have an automatic ice maker which is the norm in the US. In European restaurants your drink may have one ice cube if you are lucky. Most expatriates in Europe simply adapt to drinks being less than ice cold, but this Texan is “holding” on!

So for my unadaptable ice vice, I have been foraging for a proper ice tray to supply my need. After quite a bit of searching, I found the above ice tray at a local department store at the price of 14 swiss francs (14.60 USD). . . wow. It is actually pretty handy with the ability to release one ice cube at a time. Apparently, one ice cube per drink is the limit in Switzerland. Researching why ice is a rare commodity in Europe proved to be interesting and also lead me down a path to to becoming more environmentally responsible. At first, I thought that the lack of ice was related to the energy conservation and thus no automatic ice makers. However, it turns out that the majority of Europeans simply do not like their drinks extremely cold or watered down by ice.

“Sometimes it seems like the universe wants to be noticed.”  John Green

Café in Lausanne, Switzerland. My home away from home.

Café in Lausanne, Switzerland. My home away from home.

While I was researching the reasons why Europeans are pretty much indifferent to ice, another topic with immense gravity slammed onto my radar. A dear friend of mine recently shared a video produced by the organization Green World Rising:  http://greenworldrising.org  (2nd episode).  This video describes in layman’s terms the grave danger our planet is in due to all of our human careless and reckless behavior. I too have been so careless with our amazing planet.

Although I have been well aware of the true threat to life as we know it, this video stopped me in my tracks and frightened me to the core. Up until now, I have been able to push away or make strong attempts to ignore the present threat to the existence of all life on the planet we humans call home. The phenomenon of global warming and the possible extinction of 95% of life on planet earth is supported by 97% of scientists around the world! This video and accompanying transcript left me feeling rather helpless to do anything to help save our planet and future generations of humankind that would actually matter.

“No one can do great things, only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

Thankfully my quest for ice gave me some renewed hope of making a difference! I found out that the automatic ice makers that I miss so are actually huge energy guzzlers. In Jeffery Kluger’s recent article, How the Ice in Your Drink is Imperilling the Planet (http://science.time.com/2011/04/14/how-the-ice-in-your-drink-is-imperiling-the-planet/), he explains why the ice maker uses so much energy . . .the tiny motor that allows the ice to be dumped is the culprit. There are over 111 million refrigerators in the United States using 8% of the electricity in an average home. Time to turn off the ice makers. It is a small convenience to do without and I am certainly capable of filling ice trays. My quest for the perfect ice tray while living in Europe has lead me to research and rethink my carbon foot print. Although changes must be made at the macro level, I believe true and meaningful change can begin at the micro level if we all commit to small changes . . .like turning off your ice maker. What else am I doing that I can commit to change that would help slow global warming? During the weeks and months to follow I will and I encourage you to research and commit to the changes that must become habit. Let change begin!

Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change. B. Mikulski

Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change. B. Mikulski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Respect is one of the greatest expressions of love.” Don Miguel Ruiz 

 

Helen H. Thomas, Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing E-therapy services http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Helen_Hobart_Thomas_LCSW_Fort+Worth_Texas_197844

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Home on a Mat

“There is only one happiness in this world, to love and be loved.”  George Sand

Home at last

Home at last

     Life is a series of beginnings and endings hopefully including many opportunities to love well and be loved indeed. Our desire to feel at home, to know as well as to be known is universal. As the world shrinks, the question of what is home or how can we create a sense of home is being challenged.  Pico Ilyer’s fantastic Ted Talk entitled ‘Where is Home’  (http://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_where_is_home?language=en) addresses this growing issue brilliantly.

     The concept of home has a transient quality due to predictable, chosen, or tragic endings. After a period of normal grieving as a chapter ends in our lives, a new beginning or chapter can open.  Please remember it’s okay to feel sad even during positive transitions because most likely a chapter in your life is closing. Transitions both positive and the negative in this life on planet earth can leave us topsy-turvy for a while as we find our footing and redefine our sense of home. Think about one of your most difficult transitions.  What helped you find some equilibrium or sense of home?  In an uncertain world in which anything can happen, knowing how to help create home for yourself is an essential life skill.

     The primary concept of home for me is the ability to create the feeling of being grounded and connected . . .safe. Here are a few suggestions for creating the sense of home especially if you find yourself feeling a bit lost or untethered.

Practice a ‘flow’ activity on a Regular Basis

     For me, home is on a mat anywhere I am in the world. There may be differing styles of Yoga but in the end it is all about breathing and a series of flow movements on a mat. The practice of Yoga is the same around the world even when taught in a language you do not fully understand . . right now, in French for me! So when everything else around me may feel chaotic, unfamiliar, and out of sorts the yoga mat has a tremendous grounding affect and facilitates the ability for me to face whatever is out of sorts.

“The self expands itself with acts of self forgetfulness”  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

     Any activity that you can lose yourself in is a flow activity. Basically any activity where you can turn your brain off for a while and just be. Playing instruments, art work, praying, sewing, knitting, meditating, running, martial arts, walking, or simply practicing deep breathing. For an activity to become ‘flow‘ movement a person must practice until the activity becomes almost unconscious. In other words, you become the activity.  Practicing your choice of a flow action will make it readily available to you when you need it to calm down, refocus, feel safe. and at home.  A quote from Haruki Murakami’s fascinating novel 1Q84 sums this up: “I move, therefore I am”.

Journaling 

Emotion wheel:  the vast spectrum of human emotion . . . beautiful.

Emotion wheel: the vast spectrum of human emotion . . . beautiful.

      The emotion wheel above displays the array of human emotion. At the center of the wheel are our most intensely felt emotions or our primal, survival emotions. When you find yourself going through an adjustment that has you feeling quite anxious, angry, frightened, questioning, or despairing . . . time to reach for a pad of paper and a pen. Journaling can be considered a flow activity; however, journaling is especially noteworthy! Journaling seems to calm humans down almost magically. Why? Hand writing forces you to move from the more primal part of your brain, the reptilian complex with the amygdala at the helm, to the frontal cortex of the brain. The frontal cortex is considered the CEO of our brain in charge of logic, reasoning, filtering and analytical decision making. So hand writing gives us the opportunity to think about what we are feeling.

     When you are going through a major change there might be moments or days when your lizard brain kicks into high gear causing you to respond in a more ‘life or death’ manner when it is not truly necessary.  Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ (http://www.amazon.com/Emotional-Intelligence-Matter-More-Than/dp/055338371X) has named this phenomenon ‘amygdala hijacking’.  Hand writing or journaling will assist you to name and therefore tame your emotions. Also, hand writing requires the use of the left hemisphere of your brain which is more analytical and often used for problem solving. The really cool thing is when you are hand writing the left part of your brain is occupied freeing up the more creative, intuitive right side of your brain. The right hemisphere of your brain can help you find unexpected solutions to difficulties or problems even when a situation seems impossible. Eureka!

Community and Food

It is more fun to talk with someone who does not use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like 'what about lunch?" Winnie the Pooh

It is more fun to talk with someone who does not use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘what about lunch?” Winnie the Pooh

     Finally community is essential to establishing and re-establishing a sense of home. Although the concept of community is somewhat elusive, I am focusing on a sense of belonging as community. The sense of belonging within a family, group of friends, or a collection of people with a similar purpose or cause creates the feeling of ‘a safe place’ to exist. Gerda Wever-Rabehl states, ‘our need to belong to a group is, and always has been, essential to our survival’. Just like practicing a flow activity, building your circle of community is ongoing and not to be underestimated. With the endings and beginnings in life that we all experience, our sense of community and belonging changes. When we lose someone who provided a significant part of our safe place of belonging it can rock our world! Be ready to adjust and give to others what you want to receive.

     Now I end on the positive note of food and eating with others to whom we belong. Think of our ancestors who needed their community to hunt and gather food for their survival. Sharing food was a celebration often around a fire. No wonder I love camping!  Sitting around the table to eat and commune with family, friends (old and new) creates a magical sense of belonging. Do it as often as possible. Bon appétit!

“Like when you sit in front of a fire in winter-you are just there in front of the fire. You don’t have to be smart or anything.  The fire warms you.” Desmond Tutu

 

Helen H. Thomas, Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing E-therapy services http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/name/Helen_Hobart_Thomas_LCSW_Fort+Worth_Texas_197844

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