Tuesday, December 31, 2013

HAPPY NEW YEAR to the Friends I Have, the Friends I Have Lost, and the Friends I Know Not

It it with great anticipation for change in my life and in this nation that I bid adieu to 2013. 

I have lost many whom I thought were real friends simply for the fact that I stand for civility and fairness, for critical thinking and collaboration -- for fact-based principled negotiation. Even those who are very close to me have stopped sharing and liking for fear of being judged negatively simply by association. To the many friends I have lost I wish for you strength, security and peace of mind. I believe people can separate with love and not hate. I am grateful for the parts of my life our relationships have afforded to my being as a whole. For me personally, I remind myself I am a child of God -- no better or worse than every other child of God. My "playing small does not serve the world." To quote Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This year has been a dark year in that we as a nation are distracted, deceived and divided. Divide and Conquer: A way of keeping a position of power by making the people disagree with each other so that they are unable to join together and remove you from your position. A small minority have continued to govern by a policy of divide and conquer and it continues on today. This strategy is how a small fringe group of criminal elitists and oligarchs (who control everything we read, see, or hear) continue to maintain power and control over this slave population. We will continue to be a slave population because of our purely emotional rather than logical reactions that create division, incivility, fear, and ultimately hate. This age old technique works and is being played out like a game of chess and we are the pawns. It's the "how" and the "why" we are not coming together and uniting against this small group of criminals and their minions who carry out their game of political and religious ideological BS. We must rid this nation of such division and learn tolerance of and appreciation for -- not fear of -- that which is different.

In everything you see and hear, believe or act upon 1) check the facts, 2) trust your own intuition, 3) use your own reason, 4) make your own decision and 5) give merit to another's stand -- even if it differs from yours.

Fisher and Ury describe distribute/competitive as “positional” negotiation and integrative/collaborative as “principled” negotiation. Consider the focus of negotiation, associated behaviors, and effects on dis/agreements.

We have most unfortunately taken our cues from Congress -- the worst Congress in this nation's history. We need less Distributive Negotiation (Positional; Zero-sum) because parties perceive their goals as mutually exclusive or in competition with those of their counterparts.
Parties are Adversaries
Victory is the Goal
Parties Demand Concessions as a Condition of the Relationship
Parties are Hard on People
Distrust Abounds
Entrenchment, Threats, and Deception are Key Tactics
Argument and Debate
Extreme Demands
Grudging Concessions
Unwillingness to Listen
Positional Statements
Contentious Tactics
Produces Unwise Agreements
Endangers Ongoing Relationships

This country needs healing. We as a nation of families, friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters known and unknown need more Integrative Negotiation (Principled; Win-win) where goals are viewed as compatible. Problem solving is seen as a way to achieve win/win solutions. Also known as Collaborative, Win/Win, or Principled Negotiation, this practice focuses on interests; participants are problem solvers; the goals is a wise outcome and solid relationship. In Principled (or Win-win bargaining)
Separate the People from the Problem
Focus on Interests, Not Positions
Invent Options for Mutual Gain
Insist on Using Objective Criteria
Open Sharing of Information
Willingness to Trust Others
Tradeoffs of Valued Positions
Interest-Based Discussion
Mutual Goals
Problem Solving
Relationship Building
Parties are Hard on the Problem -- not the people

I see beauty in this world. I see good in all, even in the bad, as there is always a lesson to be learned. All too often we know "entertainment" in this life but do we know true "joy." I will risk saying that most in this world do not know true joy. Joy comes with the delight in every breath, in every smile, in every glance, in every silent moment of reflection -- on the good and the bad. True joy is a gift.

JOY joi/ noun
A feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Example, "tears of joy"
synonyms: delight, great pleasure, joyfulness, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, gladness, glee, exhilaration, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, rapture; enjoyment, felicity, joie de vivre, "whoops of joy" pleasure, source of pleasure, delight, treat, thrill "it was a joy to be with her"

We all experience pain in our lives -- no doubt. Remember, however, pain is not a choice but suffering is. Let's make a choice to be happy, be mindful, be joy-filled, be kind, be loving, be open to that which is different, be smart, be compassionate, be patient (one I have to work on for many moons to come), be understanding, be accountable, be responsible, be fun, be happy, be compassionate, be blessed, be Godly, and at the end of the day -- just BE. It doesn't matter what you do -- it matters who you are. God created us as human BEINGS not human doings.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to the friends I have, the friends I have lost, and the friends I know not. May we all make 2014 meaningful and memorable.

Goodbye 2013. Hello 2014!

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Happiness

“Happiness is a vine that takes root and grows within the heart, never outside it.”  ― Kahlil Gibran

To Me, Happiness is...
1.     Falling in love -- every morning when I wake up with Mike.
2.     Laughing so hard my cheeks burn -- or I wet my pants
3.     A hot bubble bath with scented candles and classical music...
4.     ...and often a good book.
5.     A special glance and a wink to follow over the breakfast table.
6.     Getting mail -- real mail -- from anyone, really.
7.     Hiking in Hawaii.
8.     Hearing my favorite 80s songs on the radio.
9.     Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.
10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.
11. Cold sheets after a hot bath.
12. A washed car.
13. Giggling with James -- especially if he made me laugh.
14. A good, deep conversation with James -- from which I usually learn something new.
15. The beach with Mike and James -- and a football.
16. Finding money in my pocket.
17. Laughing at myself -- which I do frequently.
18. Eye contact -- and then a deeper understanding.
19. Two o'clock AM reading with Mike.
20. Running through sprinklers in Central Park with Mike.
21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all -- or having one and not being able to share it.
22. Having people in my life I can honestly tell, "You are a beautiful human." 
23. Overhearing someone say something nice about my son. 
24. Morning kisses -- after we brush.
25. Making new friends -- or spending quality time with old ones.
26. Playing with Mamie Lou.
27. Having someone rub my scalp.
28. Sweet dreams that seem so real -- and I can remember them.
29. Hot chocolate, hot buttered rum, hot coffee with Kaluha.
30. Road trips.
31. Swinging on swings -- until I break it like I did to our back porch swing in Southdowns.
32. Baking bread, cakes, cookies, brownies, and pies.
33. Holding hands with Mike -- or James when he allows.
34. Running into an old friend and realizing things never change.
35. Watching the expression on James' face as he opens a present from Mike and me.
36. Watching the sunset on Waikiki Beach.
37. Getting out of bed every morning, embracing a new beautiful day -- know yesterday is gone and tomorrow doesn't exist.
38. Knowing that somebody misses me -- this is especially so considering we live so far away. Really, this means a lot.
39. A soft smile and a warm hug.
40. Knowing I've done the right thing, no matter what other people think.

Lovingkindness at Christmas -- and Always

“Best of all, Christmas means a spirit of love. – A time when the love of God and the love of our fellow men should prevail over all hatred and bitterness; a time when our thoughts and deeds, and the spirit of our lives manifest the presence of God.”
-- George F. McDougall

Mike and I sent my mom a huge box of Omaha steaks, chicken, burgers, desserts, sides and such. She called me in tears thanking me -- saying it beats meals-on-wheels. It is with a heavy and sad heart that I listened as she went on about how much she appreciated the gift and hoped to enjoy it with family.

When we spoke last, she asked of what remains, what do I want when she passes. I looked at her and said I wanted nothing but the memories of the tremendous blessings she and my dad bestowed upon us (and not without help from the big guy). She took offense to my declining any of her worldly things. I suppose she is not in the same place spiritually as I, and I understand now to her that may have been an insult -- although I never intended it as such. I assure her that my brothers may want some of her things and what remains after, I will share with her grandchildren. Her grandchildren do not know her but perhaps a token might at least bring them closer, even if it's too late, in a sense. I looked at her and smiled a small forced smile, and I fought the tears, as I was reminded of how her life has unfolded.

This is a woman who once lived in a convent only to grow up and marry to live in what could be called, "a mansion" with my dad, three brothers and me, a swimming pool, a fishing pond, a dirt bike trail, an airstrip and a Quarter Horse ranch in the "backyard." She now lives alone in a tiny apartment in a gated complex with little eyesight and lots of memories. She sits amidst unpacked boxes as she has since she moved in years and years ago, shortly after my dad's death.

Growing up, each Christmas we would host a huge Christmas party for hundreds of people: all the staff at my dad's hospital and tons of friends from Plaquemine, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. As his health and career took him in different directions, we no longer hosted such festivities but we did still have at least twenty people over each Christmas for a sumptuous and seemingly never-ending spread of food, wine, champagne and after dinner drinks.

We always had two Christmas trees -- one in the formal living room which was beautifully flocked and decorated in a theme by Dupont's Florist (as was the entirety of the downstairs of our home) and the other which was in the den, always a fresh, green tree the kids would decorate with ornaments -- homemade and special in other ways -- ornaments with meaning.

Santa (who may or may not have been white) brought gifts for everyone including those who were not family but were unable to visit their family for the holiday. I played Santa's helper each year and no one went home empty handed -- we always had a gift for each guest. No one went home without a full belly -- there was so much food and drink. No one went home without a full head -- my dad was such a wise man and a grand storyteller. No one went home without a full heart -- we shared lots lovingkindness. My father was central to those days and these memories.

I know my mother misses him -- quite terribly. She claims to be strong but I know the holidays are hard for her. She finally admitted to getting lonely. I knew all along she was going to be lonely but felt helpless, as we departed for Hawaii four years ago, just as they took her car away (she had lost her sight). Through a series of unforeseen circumstances beyond her control, she has found herself "enjoying" Picadilly for Christmas and Thanksgiving for many recent years. I hope and pray that this year, she might delight in the overindulgence of great food, good fun, and what is left of her family. This is a woman who has two sons still living nearby, one son who has passed, and me -- half a world away. My dad's birthday is December 28. Some may forget; my mother will never forget.

Dad, if you're in Heaven -- and on Facebook (ha ha) -- know that we miss you and love you beyond measure. We are grateful for having been blessed by such a compassionate and brilliant man whom we could call our own. I hope we told you -- and showed you -- how much we love and appreciate you while you were among us but in the event we did not, I believe you know now. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to you.

Friends, everyone has a story. For those who think you know my mother's story, I am betting you do not. I think of my mother -- and her story -- and know that she who talks a lot, laughs a lot, may in fact be the same she who cries herself to sleep at night.

This Christmas when you gather together with your friends and family, show them lovingkindness and listen to them and their story. God bless, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Letter to the President

Dear Mr. Obama,

Just a quick reminder, YOU are the POTUS who was going to bring our troops home. As sad as the situation is at our neighbor's house, we must protect our own family here at home. I am tired of losing mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, time, money and hope. I am becoming disillusioned.

Civility in America continues to disintegrate and rude discourse and behavior are becoming the “new normal.” Reports of personal infringements are on the rise, and while Americans continue to blame politicians as the leading source of our nation’s civility problems. 

I have defended your inability to move the ball down the field because of the clear and unacceptable partisanship and gridlock caused by the owned and operated political whores in US Congress.

I have acknowledged that not everyone can have the networking charisma that many if not most great leaders (FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton) have. It is simply a personality trait not all of us possess.

I have understood this country's need for universal healthcare and had my own personal reasons to support this movement. I believe that people with pre-existing conditions should be afforded healthcare coverage -- I have a mother who has survived breast cancer twice; I have two stepdaughters who are still on our insurance plans; I could go on but that would be a bit too personal. You’ll just have to trust me.

I have understood that the voter ID laws put the poor and elderly in a predicament they have not seen in years and this change is rightly off putting to them. I do know it is less about correcting a problem of voter fraud, as that really does not exist; the outcry is more about creating a problem where there was not one. People do not take well to such things. I understand their cry.

I vehemently host a disdain for Citizens United, which has unleashed a Cancer upon this nation like none other -- LIKE NONE OTHER.

I have been supportive of your very correct thinking and acting on the issue of equal human rights for all human beings. I believe in freedom and I think that if not everyone is free, then no one is free in this great nation.

I stand by you in your support of women's rights in the arenas of choice and equal pay. Although I do not believe abortion should be used as a convenient form of birth control, I do believe it should be an available option. A woman’s mind, body, and soul should not be an issue of any political party platform. All too often, we find that church dictates make their way into our legislation because of the power and wealth of that lobby. In light of the concern regarding women’s rights – so long and hard fought for– may we be aware in our every word and every action, the importance of compassion, responsibility, and interfaith harmony. There was a very good reason our founding fathers ensured we host a wall of separation between church and state.

I give you credit and kudos where both are due in that you rid the world of Osama Bin Laden. In 2008, you stated, "We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaida. That has to be our biggest national security priority" and you did. For that, history, and I, will be forever grateful. 

HOWEVER, on the issue of WAR – let me be quite clear...


After the longest wars in our history in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans – yes, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats – all AMERICANS -- are sick over the 6,500+ dead and 40,000+ wounded, fed up with the $2 trillion+ in costs, and disillusioned with the results that a decade of sacrifice has produced.

Might I remind you a Harris Poll of the public in 2012 showed a majority of Americans think the forty-third president was the worst in post–World War II America. George W. Bush's response to 9/11, and in particular the two wars that the terrorist attacks spawned, were the centerpiece of the George W. Bush years. As his second term went by, and the enormity and gravity of his administration’s miscalculations and missteps became clear, the once popular president paid a price—just as his father had, for different reasons. Set against the miscalculations that had made the Iraq War a costly fiasco were the other post-9/11 Bush policies that had become increasingly controversial and unpopular. 

Bush and his administration turned national security concerns into an obsession. Bush’s approval ratings went to a record low. They were only worsened by the failed response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the financial crisis that began as a recession in 2007 and quickly grew into the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. By most measures— lack of job creation, rising unemployment, the exploding deficit, and the first deep cracks in the great housing downturn— eight years of Bush’s management of the economy were disastrous. As Bush was preparing to leave office and the contest between McCain and you took place, the American economy was approaching meltdown territory. Wall Street scandals, failing brokerages, international banking crises, and the bankruptcies of the major American automakers had the American economy on the brink of the worst scenario since the 1920s. McCain and you were put in the unusual position of sitting in as decisions about the economy were made, since one of you would inherit the economic catastrophe unraveling under Bush. 


History, and I, gave George W. Bush a grade of an "F." 

Mr. Obama, with all due respect, if you send us into war in Syria, I will give you too a grade of an "F."

I have no more of me to give -- I am spent. If you declare war, you will no longer be worthy of my words or deeds. However, I will continue to give you my prayerful support as I would with any US President. I will continue to pray for peace in this great nation. God knows we need it. 

Susan Freeman

Friday, August 9, 2013

On the Eve of My 47th Birthday

From August 6, 2013, the eve of my 47th birthday...
Mike has taken the boys to see "Pacific Rim." I stayed home. I watched "Mud" on Vudu, sipped on some Malbec, and nibbled on leftovers.

The movie is now over and the screen has gone blank. It is pitch black in the room -- except for the glow of my MacBook screen. If I look to my left I can see the city lights and the ships' lights reflecting on the ocean. It is very quiet. We have a fan in the den and I can feel its cool breeze hit my face as it oscillates. It is very calming.

I don't know what I'll do next but the beauty in that is I need not do anything.

Night has fallen and my home is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy. My boys are bonding and I am feeling blessed. Sometimes, in fact all too often, I sit and think -- and think, and think, and think.

Tonight, I will just sit.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Day at the Spa in Norway

Okay so today I was in the spa having just gotten my assigned locker key, slippers and robe as I was told to go down the candle-lit hallway and turn right to enter the women’s dressing area to disrobe. I walked slowly down the hall enjoying the aromatic scents of candles and oils in the spa. I turned right as instructed and saw a wall of frosted glass. I did not see a door. I did not see a door bell. I did not see a door handle. I did not see a door knob. I simply saw a wall of frosted glass.

Since my Norwegian is rusty <<wink>> I thought I should just keep looking rather than go back to the front desk and ask. I looked and looked and saw no way in. I slowly stepped closer to the frosted glass wall to see a sheet of frosted glass glide open before me. Viola! I had a tiny little celebration in my head as I strode proudly into the dressing room.

I got undressed and put the assigned robe on and then put all my belongings into the assigned locker. I locked the locker with my assigned key and proceeded out of the magic wall of frosted glass. I sat briefly in the hallway of candles and oils awaiting Sylvia, my assigned esthetician. Sylvia approached me with a saunter and a most beautiful smile and then she proceeded to whisper my name softly in the hallway. I have never heard my name expressed in such an emotive manner before. I nodded yes and followed Sylvia into the special room where she would be giving me my facial. She went through all the rigors an esthetician goes through to prepare herself and then my face, for what was to come. Turns out what was to come was one of the most relaxing facials I have ever gotten. I felt almost drunk as she massaged my neck and shoulders, my head and ears. As the mask worked its magic on my skin, Sylvia worked hers on my muscles.

I actually became so relaxed that she said, “I do not have another client after you so feel free to enjoy your time in this room – and she exited.” Well, well, well, little did Sylvia know that I and my sleep-deprived body and mind would take her offer to heart. I fell asleep.

I was awakened by a knock on the door. It was Sylvia asking me if I was ready to leave. Ooops.

I slowly got up from the table and put the robe back on. I walked down the long candle-lit hallway to the magic wall of frosted glass. The wall opened before me and I proceeded to the showers – which by the way, have no curtains.

As I am taking my long, hot shower, a woman enters my shower and through the steam I see it is Sylvia. She is crying out, “Madam, you have left your towel and your glasses in my room.”

Well, good thing I am a confident healthy girl because that might have made for an uncomfortable moment for some. As the hot water pours over me, I ask Sylvia to simply put my towel and glasses on the seat in the dressing area and I will get them after I am done with my shower.

So at this stage I am feeling quite relaxed and most at peace. Everything is right with the world. This facial and my nap, not to mention the long rest with the lavender mask have changed the course of my life. I kid you not...at that point, I was feeling totally one with the world.

I slowly dry off and dress in a state of dissociation from reality as I saunter down the candle-lit hallway smelling the most powerful aromatic candles and oils.

As I reach the end of the hallway I see a frosted glass wall and I stride briskly, confidently, and intently toward it to exit. BAM! I am talking a POW!, ZOWIE!, BLAMO! kind of BAM!

I ran smack-dab, face-first into a not-so-magic wall of frosted glass only to learn that the CLEAR glass wall at THIS end of the hallway is the exit.

My pug nose gets the hit worst of all, even though the pain is amply shared by my forehead and chin. Yes, SPLAT into the frosted glass my newly minted face went. Needless to say, I was awake for the first time in days. Nothing like a little embarrassing comic relief accompanied by serious to severe pain to wake a girl who hasn’t slept for days (and to keep her ego in check I might add).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Happy Anniversary -- This Time It's the Real Deal

“Most people think of love as a feeling but love is not so much a feeling as a way of being present.” 
-- David Richo


Happy Anniversary to my soul mate, husband, lover, partner, challenger, cohort, sometimes adversary, and always, always -- best friend.

At our wedding, June 5, 2009 Maris LeBlanc read the following from Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran and we have lived by these words since that day:

On Marriage
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. 

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

In this, my absolute final marriage, I have taken a fresh perspective on love and relationships—one that focuses not on finding an ideal mate, but on becoming a more loving and realistic person.

Together Mike and I explore the hallmarks of mindful loving and how they play a key role in our marriage:
  •  Attention - to the present moment; observing, listening, and noticing all the feelings at play in our relationships.
  •  Acceptance - of ourselves and others just as we are.
  • Appreciation - of all our gifts, our limits, our longings, and our poignant human predicament.
  • Affection - shown through holding and touching in respectful ways.
  • Allowing - life and love to be just as they are, with all their ecstasy and ache, without trying to take control.
When deeply understood and applied, these five simple concepts form the basis of our mature love. They help us to move away from judgment, fear, and blame to a position of openness, compassion, and realism about life and relationships. By giving and receiving these hallmarks, our marriage becomes deeper and more meaningful every day.

This marriage has been transformational for both Mike and me. We truly love and respect one another with our flaws and faults, accepting that we cannot change one another. At the same time, we allow each to change ourselves as needed. By no means has this been a perfect, unflawed, mistake-free marriage. We have both grown spiritually in our marriage, intellectually in our friendship, emotionally in our partnership, and yes, physically in our celebrating life together. We know that in this life, there is nothing we cannot handle – especially together, moment by moment. The "good" affords us positive memories for ourselves, and our family; the "bad" affords us lessons that ensure personal growth. I believe every action is a call to a higher power – for Mike and for me, the higher power is God.

Daily, we strive for godliness. We do not always succeed but we know that what matters is the journey and we try and try and try. So far, so good.

However, life has certain givens, certain unavoidable facts; five stand out for all of us (Richo):

    1.     Everything changes and ends,
    2.     Things do not always go according to our plans,
    3.     Life is not always fair,
    4.     Suffering is part of everyone’s life, and
    5.     People are not always loving, honest, generous, loyal—nor can they be expected to be. 

An unconditional yes to these facts of life is a surrender to what is. This is not resignation or giving up. It is aligning ourselves to reality with calm ruthlessness. We then find the wisdom to see the difference between what can and what cannot be changed. We do all we can to change the things that can be changed and, with equal alacrity, to accept whatever cannot be changed. We are serene in unalterable circumstances because we are no longer beleaguered by the stress of being at odds with them.

The opposite of saying yes is seeking control. We try to control other people, our own feelings, and life events. In facing life as it is, the style of yes is to let the chips fall where they may and then play them to the best benefit of ourselves, and others.

This I believe, and as Mike and I commit daily to being open, honest, and direct in this marriage, we practice our unconditional yes, without protest or complaint, we notice that we no longer ask, “Why?” or “Why me?” Now we simply say, “Yes, now what?”

Mike is a stronger, more secure, more compassionate man than the man I married and I am a more patient, empathetic, and allowing woman than the one he married. From me, he has learned that he must love God, himself, and others -- in that order. From him, I have learned that letting go is one of life's most powerful lessons resulting in the most meaningful outcomes.

May we have as many moments together in time as God wishes to afford. In the meantime, may there be spaces in our togetherness, allowing the winds of heaven dance between us.  

I love you – you are worthy of my love; 
I hope I am always worthy of yours.
Happy Anniversary, Michael!