Monthly Archives: February 2008

Sudbury Valley School

Sudbury Valley School is a fascinating example of “alternative” learning. I say alternative only in the sense that it is different than mainstream, but after reading about the school, their method of “teaching” seems more normal to me.

There are no classrooms, no curriculum and no lesson plans. Teachers exist but not in the same way that we know teachers. From a very early age, students define what they want to learn, how they will learn and when. Some choose to play for years. Others learn algebra not because they have to but because they want to overcome their fear of it. Others study music, but all seem to come out of the school educated and highly balanced individuals.

Apparently 80% of the graduates of the school go on to get university level degrees and become highly successful in their chosen fields. The premise of the school is that every student knows better than anyone what they want to be, what they enjoy doing, how they learn best and the timeframe for their studies. The children here have the freedom to choose at every moment the direction that they want to go.

I find reading about this school very inspirational. It gives me hope that there are some solutions to our educational challenges in this country. There is a lot of information on their website. Please spread the news about this school and others that are listed there.

Have a great day!


Unconditional Acceptance

Total, unconditional acceptance of yourself is the first step in building a positive self-image. – Nido Qubein

Don’t you find this interesting? Unconditional acceptance of yourself is the first step of building a positive self-image, not the end result. As I think about this quote, the more it makes a lot of sense to me.

Anything you can’t accept about yourself keeps you in a place that holds you back from that positive self-image. Most of us have trouble accepting the parts of ourselves that we don’t like or judge too harshly. I know that sounds very obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated out loud to shake us up and make us think a bit. Unconditional acceptance means we accept or like every single thing about ourselves; all of our physical flaws, our choices, our behaviors, our heritage and our actions to name a few. Remember you cannot change anything until you accept it. Once you accept something, you can then move past it and make changes if you so desire.

Sometimes, consciously recognizing things you like about yourself is a good start for accepting things you currently don’t like. You can do this out loud or use your internal dialog. Once you get comfortable with this practice, start on something small that you don’t like about yourself. Find ways to accept where you are with it. In other words, don’t view the “problem” as a permanent thing but something more transitory. Once you find ways to accept these things about yourself, you will find that the realm of possibilities for change increases, solely due to the shift in your attitude.

Good luck with this important personal work.


Pursuing Happiness

Recently, on the CBS Evening News Morley Safer reported on “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  He quoted the main scientific survey on international happiness conducted by Leicester University in England, noting Denmark is the happiest country in the world with the U.S. ranking 23rd (above Iraq and Pakistan).  Many topics are discussed as to why the United States ranks so low and Denmark so high on the list.

Among others, Safer interviews Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches Positive Psychology – the Science of Happiness at Harvard University about this study and about how American’s view happiness.

A 2006 NPR article also interviewed Ben-Shahar, who lists his six tips for happiness.  Although in the article his best advice is #4, it would do us all some good to consider this list, and figure out how we’d like to implement it daily.


Judging Others

When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself. – Wayne Dyer

Judging others can happen quicker than we may realize. Most of the time, we judge others in small ways, sometimes as simple as just labeling someone. See what you think of these examples:

  1. We see someone driving “poorly.” We label the person incompetent, stupid or idiotic.
  2. We get poor service while in a check-out line. We think the person is rude, mean or apathetic.
  3. A person you work with seems to be always trying to “upstage” you or put you down. You label them as petty, arrogant, mean or egotistical.
  4. We don’t like someone’s choice of music. We label them stupid, silly or crazy.

We don’t have to judge people in big ways like by “attacking” their religion, race, heritage, intelligence or etc. I believe that more judging happens in these small ways than in the big ones. I don’t know about you, but it seems like people have a tendency to label people’s personalities instead of discussing their behavioral issues. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who do “bad” things or make bad choices. My point is that we’re not perfect either and as long as we judge others we cannot possibly keep an open mind to the possibility that the person can change. I also think that if you are around someone whose behavior you don’t like, then just leave. No need to judge, just get out. Find people that treat you differently.

Judging others only limits our view of the world, affects our actions/behaviors in negative ways, limits our possibilities and prevents us from being as happy as we can be. Be aware of what you are thinking and saying in situations. Watch for judgmental comments so that you can stop them before they grow.



Last Sunday night, I was pleasantly surprised to watch Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova win the Academy Award for their song called Falling Slowly. Both Glen and Marketa were the stars in the movie Once. It’s a great story about making music, collaboration, budding relationships and following your dreams. This song also has a very special meaning to Erica and me.

According to Glen Hansard, the movie was made in 3 weeks, for $100,000 and shot with two handy cams. What’s amazing is how much the success of the characters following their dreams in the movie was paralleled by their real success outside the movie. Their success should be an inspiration to many artists and others following their dreams.

I really enjoyed Marketa’s comments after accepting the award:

Marketa Irglova:
Hi everyone. I just want to thank you so much. This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this, it’s just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are. And so thank you so much, who helped us along way. Thank you.

Dare to dream and don’t give up. This song was written from a perspective of hope. Great words to live by, don’t you think?

Watch the movie. Hope you enjoy it as much as we have.


Dear Mr. President…

Sometimes I find that I am unable to let go of things in my mind.  It’s as if I have some tendency toward obsessing.  In order to resolve that, today I took the time to write a letter to the President.  Don’t get your hopes up.  It’s not particularly appropriate and won’t be printed here.  You see, my nephew has now gone to Iraq and ranting at the President felt like a good thing to do.  It allowed me to express the emotions that I was holding inside, and then move on.

This is a technique I’ve used for years in journaling class and one-on-one with clients – “the unsent letter”.  I’m not sure where I first heard of it (surely a book) and it is highly promoted online .  The idea is to write a letter expressing everything you need to say, knowing you will never send the letter.  There may be many reasons you won’t send the letter, i.e. the content is too hurtful or too painful; the recipient is unreachable (for instance, deceased).  You get the idea. 

Give it a try and then gently, move on.


Appreciating the Small Things

Today, Nat talked about appreciating the small blessings in that come our way. It’s really a fantastic skill to learn and then use constantly. I like using this technique because it is a great way to get through tough days. It helps to bring your focus back to things that are more important and can very quickly lift your attitude.

I got to practice appreciating the small things over the last seven days as I dealt with the flu virus.  Here are 20 things I appreciated during my illness:

  1. Calls from my parents.
  2. Calls from Erica.
  3. Calls from my daughter.
  4. Realizing I hadn’t coughed for about 15 minutes straight.
  5. Watching Seinfeld.
  6. Catching up on some reading.
  7. That really great cup of tea.
  8. Not having a fever when I checked it.
  9. The neighbors bringing me homemade chicken soup.
  10. The positive mood of the nurse at the hospital.
  11. Falling snow on my second worst flu day.
  12. Oranges. (Not sure why. They just tasted really good.)
  13. Catching up on some To-Do items.
  14. Playing with my new iPhone.
  15. A hot shower.
  16. Sleeping for six hours straight.
  17. Chatting with my friends in London.
  18. Erica cleaning the snow off my car.
  19. Not having to go to work.
  20. Kleenex.

What are some small things that you appreciate?

Have a great day!


Back to Work

Today was the first day back at work after vacation, and my boss was incredibly gracious and let me work the morning at home before going to the airport. I flew 16 hours yesterday to get from Spokane to Boston (via Phoenix and Las Vegas), and I’m flying back out on business now. So it was a great relief to have my boss give me this flexibility today.

One of the lessons I’m learning from Michael is to appreciate the small blessings that come our way. Today was a perfect example, and I’m heading out on business now feeling great.

My boss also just returned from a trip, and she extended exactly the courtesy she would have wanted her boss to extend her. I love that kind of thoughtfulness. I’m very fortunate to have the boss I do, because this is the way she always thinks. For a long time, I worried about the parts of the job that I found difficult or annoying, and naturally those types of circumstances then magnified in my mind and my experience.

Now I’m working hard to focus on the little things that go well. It turns out to be really easy if you just remind yourself to do it. I’m catching myself being grateful more frequently. Many parts of my life seem better, and I suspect it’s because I am just noticing how much there is to appreciate in my life.

First day back has been great. I’m expecting tomorrow to be the same.

Negative News

I regularly read a photography blog by Scott Kelby called Photoshop Insider. So, I was surprised several days ago to see one of his daily posts to be completely outside the realm of photography. In fact, he discussed a subject that I’m passionate about; negative news stories.

For a week in January he recorded just the negative headlines. You know the ones; the killings, the bombings, the diseases, the kidnappings, war stories, tragedies, accidents and etc. During the short amount of time he read the headlines on both and he tallied 54 negative and sensational headlines. appeared to have the most which I find interesting since they are supposed to be the “balanced” news channel. Remember, Scott only looked at the headlines for a few minutes each of the 7 days. There were probably much more than the 54 or the almost 8 a day. In a broader perspective, this was a sample from only two news sources. There are many, many more news channels.

Scott really nailed the problem here. He did this informal study because he starts his day by reading the news to catch up on world events. But, he was feeling depressed after reading the headlines. He was tired of starting his day off in such a low state. I completely agree. What happens when you are a real news junkie and watch the news all day or read multiple news websites and newspapers? Maybe you aren’t starting off depressed, but many studies are showing that negative news can affect you in other ways; increased anxiety, stress related diseases and a lower immune system.

If you read or watch the news on a regular basis, I recommend re-evaluating that choice. Your attitude about life could change in ways you don’t know. Maybe you’ve been grumpy and couldn’t figure out why. Maybe small things get you riled up for no apparent reason. I can’t say the effect on you, but there is an effect. Do yourself a favor and boycott the negative news stories and channels. You’ll be better off.



“Kenny’s platoon is in lockdown” – when she says that I think “oh, it’s like jail, somebody did something wrong”.  What I say is “what does that mean”? “It means they leave in about 7 days”.  The phone is silent then tears and sniffles. What this means is my nephew leaves for Iraq soon.  I’m teary as I write. It feels there is no way to voice the barrage of thoughts I have related to this. I want to rant at the President, scream at him and resort to name calling. It would all be ineffective but the feelings would stop setting up house in my heart.

It seems there is no point in feeling all this, but it is there, camped out and may very well remain there until Kenny returns. Should be 6 months and I wonder if that’s true. My sister says he’s not nervous, that the other members of his platoon tried to reassure her; that she met other guys who had just returned and they were okay following their 6 month tours. “Tour” – as if it’s a joy ride where they join up with others, ride the bus to see war torn cities and buy souvenirs?

Part of the response is the dead Barner men. None of the men on my father’s side of the family are alive. 10 years ago Dad and Marty died; there is no way my sister is willing to sacrifice her oldest son for anything at all, let alone an inane, insane war. I call her back later, trying to ask what she needs in support. She doesn’t know. I’ll be there to visit in a few weeks, that will help.  At least that’s what I tell myself.