Open Letter to President Obama

March 18, 2018

Dear President Obama,

I want you to know how much I miss you. I know I’m not alone. There are millions of people here in the United States and around the world who miss you too.

I’m old, 73 to be exact, but you felt like a father to me – a protective father of our country.  I felt safe and secure when you were in office.  And I was proud, so proud of America that we recognized intelligence and dignity as important in leadership, and that our choice of you told the world who we were.

I loved the wholesomeness of having you in the White House – your relationship with Michelle and the girls. And I loved Bo; he reminded me of my own little Scooter. I loved seeing the family pictures – the family postcards of you and Michelle, Sasha, Malia.  Those pictures epitomized the relationship that we all crave in our own lives.  I loved Michelle, her garden, her emphasis on children and nutrition – just her aura of kindness and grace. And of course I was touched to the core at the sweetness of the photo our First Lady and Queen Elizabeth.  That shot showing her arm around Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth’s arm around her, is imprinted in my mind.  

On the day of your election, I started a little blog. “President Obama’s First 100 Days and Ours,” I called it.  My husband happened to be laid-off right before those one-hundred days, and we were a bit overwhelmed with loss of income and insurance payments.  However, after a few months into office, under your leadership and the bail-out legislation, our huge Cobra payments were cut in half and our minds were greatly eased. My husband did get a position before your hundred days were up, and I was elated with the timeline because I wanted the world (the tiny world reading my blog) to know what a stellar job you were doing.

Of course, as a progressive Democrat, I didn’t agree on every policy or decision, but I trusted that you knew things that I didn’t and that your intelligence and quiet wisdom were guiding our “ship of state”. My trust in your decision making was solid.

Most importantly, I loved your vision–the fact that you could look beyond the moment and plan for our children’s and grandchildren’s future. Of course environmental advocates like myself always want more, but your legacy of progress toward clean energy and climate progress was impressive. Carl Sagan would have been proud of you!

I miss you, President Obama.  I really, really miss you. I miss the inspiration you gave us and the feeling of well-being and competent leadership.  I don’t know when we’ll ever have what we had with you and your family.  But I do have the audacity to hope for that day. .

With great admiration,

Billie Kelpin




Peppermints in His Pocket

“Peppermint in His Pocket” – enough said.  It’s Valentine’s Day.  You’ve most likely pieced together the love story.  She loves Starlight mints and magically they appear whenever they’re together and she asks for one.  It’s not like he goes to CVS or Rite Aid and buys a whole package. No, she knows his modus operandi. He sneaks more than one every time he pays at a restaurant register. What she doesn’t know is exactly how he manages to always have one for her whenever she asks.  Is that a task he attends to each day like brushing his teeth?  Does he say to himself before he leaves the house, “wallet, cellphone, keys, one mint”?  She never thought about it before.  It’s just something she took for granted somewhere along the way.

And then one day there’s a story on the radio – one of those drippy, sentimental things that NPR sometimes uses as fillers – “Chicken Soup of the Soul” kind of dribble she calls it because she’s of a cynical nature. She doesn’t hear the whole story – some old guy dies and the funeral director finds something in his pocket. She can’t remember. But she gets the point.  It’s something this guy always carried for his wife. So she thinks of the Starlight mints in her husband’s pocket and wonders what she carries in her pockets for him.

She does have Tylenol in her purse. She takes Bayer aspirin, so there’s that.  And Tums. She’s got that going for her. But isn’t that because they’re just older? It’s nothing special. She has lots of scraps of paper in her pockets, receipts, things like that. That only shows she remembers Lady Bird’s campaign to “Make America Beautiful.” She throws a can of Coke in her purse once in a while when she leaves to pick him up from work and lately she has remembered to keep his jacket in the backseat in case the California weather turns bad.

But she wants to keep something in her pocket for him that’s special – at least in these last chapters of the story they’re writing. Surely she should have kept things in her pocket from the time she first became an adult, because that’s what adults do.  They climb out of their own selfishness and look out for others.  Oh, it’s easy when a baby comes.  You remember to bring a pacifier and a jar of Gerbers and lots of toys. But it should start before that – on one’s own wedding day at the very least.  Lots of people start then.  They’re just like that.  And those who aren’t can learn to be.  But she’s stuck.  The chocolate he loves will melt in her pocket and beef jerky is a bit bulky.  That’s the trouble with those drippy stories.  They never tell you how to figure it out in your own life.  All that’s left is to ask him, and she hope that doesn’t take away the magic.



Finding Your Inner Expert

“I’ll do it! I’m the best one for it.” Meredith Grey

Meredith Grey Joined Us for Happy Hour

We were sitting at TGI Friday’s last night when Meredith Grey joined us in my mind for some unknown reason – not Ellen Pompeo, the real Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy,  but the fictional character who, in the previous night’s episode bravely volunteered to do a risky surgery and said,  “I’ll do it. I’m the best one for it.” That statement must have been sloshing around in the back of my mind since the night before until it found an audience in my husband, Mike, sitting right there at a table in TGI Friday’s. “Meredith Grey!” I said. “Can you imagine being in a room full of people saying, “I’ll do it.  I’m the best one for it?”  Luckily Mike knew what was I referring to and without hesitation, he answered a simple, “Sure” while he ordered us two Happy Hour drinks. Not being able, in a hundred years, to imagine a situation in which I would feel comfortable enough to say, “Here, I’ll do it.  I’m the best one for it,” I continued to explore the topic while I waited for my chicken wings.  (How’s that for a pun?)  But I really did order chicken wings. (Mike had shrimp cocktail, but I digress).

“A Room Full of People” Exercise

And then it came to me. I asked Mike, “In any circumstance? “You’d volunteer to step up and do whatever it is you had to do in any circumstance?” “Well…” he equivocated. I forged on. “So, let’s imagine a room full of people from random backgrounds.  There is one task to be done that will save the world.  Under what circumstance would you step forward and say, “Here, I’ll do that.  I’m the best one for this job?” “Hmmm…” By now he knew there was no way out but to answer.  He obligingly responded, “If they would say, ‘You can save the world by getting this 8-ball in the pocket, I’d step up and say, ‘I’ll do it.”‘ “Excellent!” I was halfway through my Margarita still waiting for my chicken wings, so of course, I decided to take this one step further. (Mike wanted to play Hangman on the bar room napkin, so I spoke while he created blanks for me to fill in.) “Now, let’s imagine a roomful of pool players,” I said. He pointed to the napkin. “How about a ‘T’?” He put the ‘T’ in one space on our Hangman puzzle and said, “Well, let me think.”  “If there was a long shot with very little room for error, and they’d ask for someone to do it to save the world, I’d step up and say, “I’ll do it.” “Ah, ha! So that is your area of expertise!”  I felt I had discovered a gold nugget in the hills of  Azusa. “Yeah, I know that’s what I do best.  So, what letter are you picking?  It’s a phrase, remember.” He pointed to the napkin once again, a little more impatiently. But now I was satisfied that I had discovered some new way to discover one’s inner expert. We finished the puzzle and the Happy Hour appetizers and drove home. As the evening wore on, so did the thoughts in my head during moments of silence. Maybe there was a circumstance when I’d step forward as Meredith and say “Here, I’ll do it.” I tried to imagine what those circumstances might be. In a roomful of people from random backgrounds, I imagined, I might step forward to save the world if the task was to sign a sentence in Sign Language. “There!” Now let’s say I was in a roomful of interpreters! I might not step forward except if, to save the world, the task was to sign a sentence in Signed English. I liked this game so much that I continued finding circumstances where I’d raise my hand and reasoned that someone who might read this little post might like this game too.

“Here, I”ll do it. I’m best at it.” 

You get the idea of how to play the “game”.  You think of circumstances under which you’d step forward out of a given group of people like Meredith Grey and say, “I”ll do it. I’m best at it.”  (Hopefully, you don’t invent the task of “yelling out in anger” or “crying from the deep wells of your sorrow”  or some such thing that you do better than anyone else.) Think of all aspects of your life – your work life, your family life, any or every aspect you can think of. “But,” you say, “isn’t it easier to just go the conventional route and ask yourself, as they might in an interview, “In what areas do you consider yourself an expert?” Of course, it is, but it isn’t nearly as much fun! Try my “Room Full of People” game/exercise and let me know in your comments if any brilliant insights came to you – or any insights at all, other than this author should discard all ideas that are connected to Margaritas. (My thanks to Shonda Rhimes, Ellen Pompeo, TGI Fridays, and my husband Mike  for their help in inspiring this essay.)





“The Man in the Mirror: Recency Versus Primacy,” Part II

dollop

It seemed so profound a week or so ago – my thoughts on recency.  Now that they’re not so recent, they don’t seem so profound. Hmmm…Is that the whole point? In a way it is the point, but not totally.

What Meaning Can We Attach to “Recency”? 

Let’s face it, finding meaning for our lives in daily occurrences is probably what we are yearning to do.  So when I first was introduced to this word, “recency”, it led me on a Google search for a definition.  It wasn’t easy considering that I had first thought the word I heard was “recentivity”. (Don’t try to search for that one.  Google can’t even find much on a word that is barely a real word.)

You’ll find that looking for the word “recency” will lead you to articles on brain functioning, specifically in regard to memory.  (See previous post for a fast paced informative video). It hit me that perhaps just being aware of how our minds function in this way can lead us to modify or adapt our behavior to be a bit more in control of parts of our lives. It’s like once you know how something works you can figure out solutions or at the very least, not feel stupid.  (When my husband finally explained to me that the reason my natural left-handed approach to using a corkscrew was awkward because you’re left-hand inhibits the proper use of torque on the operation, I felt less stupid and bought myself a left-handed corkscrew.). See how that works?

In a discussion of recency versus primacy you’ll find this definition: “The first item in a list is initially distinguished from previous activities as important (primacy effect) and may be transferred to long-term memory by the time of recall. Items at the end of the list are still in short-term memory (recency effect) at the time of recall.”

While apparently this word has application from everything from education, advertising, to the stock market, and beyond, being of a naturally selfish nature, I wanted to see how the word had meaning in my life. You can’t really search something like that out; serendipity has to make that happen. And, sure enough, a few days after hearing that new word, it did.

Recency In Everyday Life

It was a “Man in the Mirror” moment. I was standing there looking at my reflection first thing in the morning.  (I hate to inform those of you under 70, but one day you will look in the mirror and it can ruin your whole day, or at least the next half-hour.) So there I was, all of these depressing thoughts impinging on my brain – hair thinning, face crepe-y, fat cheeks. Damn. Of course all of us who make valiant attempts each day to stay on this side of the line of sanity, know how desperately we search for something, anything, that will pull us back from the abyss.  And I found it, right there in my newly discovered word. “recency”.

This is just a “today” thought, I thought.  What about that picture a month ago where I actually looked decent?  I couldn’t have changed that much in a month!  So I combed my thinning hair over the empty spots and went smilingly on with the day not wanting to latch on to a recent thought and put it in my mind to make it a primary thought.  Recency can only be powerful it seems to me if it thrown into our long term memory. .

In life, in marriage, in our careers, it might be a good idea to think about recency.  Is the last thought we had about any of these areas really the one we should cling too?  Unless it’s an elevating thought, a thought that makes enhances our life’s purpose, a thought that will make everything better, we need to re-think that very last thought and decide whether or not that is a reflection of the whole.  Is that argument you’ve had with your husband really the sum total of your relationship?  Is that negative thought you’ve had about you, the sum total of all the good you may have done in the world?  Understanding how our mind works in this way gives us power over our very own “hard wiring”, for as great as the wiring may be, the most elegant part of that design is the ability to change itself.

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Three Simple Words to Save Face in Election Year 2016 or Any Other Time of Your Life

handsome man looking embarrassed
By November 8, 2016, or possibly before, there is going to be a need for a few people, if not millions, to save face. The conventions are over at the date of this posting, and the debates haven’t started. Whether you’re Democrat, Republican, Independent, or any other party, there are several scenarios that can play out in the next few months that can cause many of us to have a reason to save face, preserve our dignity, and regain credibility for the proclamations and predictions we made to friends and family about this election. “Donald Trump will never make it to election day.” “Hillary will reverse her decision on TTP”. “The Millennials simply won’t turn out to vote.” 

But this year’s election aside, in our everyday interactions, there are times that we make proclamations or take stands with our friends, neighbors, family, and our spouses based on our psychological needs. Why did we have to negate a friend’s idea or suggestion? “Oh, I really didn’t like the Jason Bourne movies – way too violent for me.” Is a statement like this made out of some need to prove our exceptional moral character? Or what about a seemingly innocuous statement, “Hybrid cars are such a good environmental choice,” spoken to our cousin who we know loves her Chevy Suburban? Or more importantly, what about our interactions with our spouses? “If you weren’t so stubborn, I wouldn’t have yelled” – a statement skirting responsibility for our own actions. 

But no matter what the reason for our very human tendency to often revert to the less noble part of ourselves, when our choices or proclamations have been proven to be psychologically needy or unsound or based on illogical conclusions or false assumptions; if we have acted in a way that is embarrassing on a small-scale or a large-scale, there are simply three words that can go a long way in helping us save face:

I WAS WRONG!

Depending on the situation you might want to add a sentence or two in front or in back of this statement.  If you’re going for humor, you can add: “What was I thinking?  I must have been on drugs.” If your actions directly affected another person, you will want to add a sincere apology: “I’m so sorry.”  It doesn’t matter whether our positions were of little consequence, as in our opinion about a movie or a restaurant, or of huge consequence, as in action taken against another.  Whenwe say these three words,  “I was wrong,”  we honor not only the other person, but ourselves as well.