Monday, February 18, 2013

Mary Walker Baron Featured At Vroman's

Steel Cut Press invites you to Vroman’s book store’s monthly local authors event on Saturday, February 23rd at 4:00 PM.  Mary Walker Baron, author of But This Is Different published by Steel Cut Press is one of three authors participating in this event.  Vroman's, founded in 1894, is one of the oldest bookstores in California and is located at 695 East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena.  The event is free as is parking (in back of the store).  We hope you can attend.  Please share this message with your Los Angeles area friends.
But This Is Different can be purchased at the Vroman's event or at


Monday, February 11, 2013

Feeling Overwhelmed Can Feel Overwhelming

from the Huffington Post:

Life can sometimes feel pretty overwhelming. We've all been there from time to time, and generally we recognize the symptoms even if we can't always do anything about them.
When I feel overwhelmed, I tend to stop and do nothing. My perception of being overwhelmed leads to an almost paralysis. Of course, that inactivity leaves me feeling even more overwhelmed because I am, for obvious reasons, doing even less that I was doing before I stopped doing anything.
If I could realize that I'm beginning to feel overwhelmed before I am, indeed, overwhelmed, perhaps I could avoid the complete activity stop, but that would require a little more self-awareness than I apparently possess. I can, however, develop that self-awareness that allows me, if not to keep from feeling overwhelmed, to at least do something about it once I am overwhelmed and involuntarily inactive. And if I can do that, so can you. I've learned a few things about this situation, and I'm happy to begin sharing them with you.
Here's the first thing I've learned.
Narrowing our focus can help us avoid the paralysis of feeling overwhelmed. We are all doubtless familiar with the pithy saying about being unable to see the forest for the trees. Seeing the entire forest can on occasion be useful. We are able to take in all facets of a situation. However, it seems to me that if we spend too much time absorbing the entire forest, we will inevitably become completely overwhelmed by the number of trees, the species of trees, the wildlife living among the trees, the birds living in the trees, the possibilities of tree diseases and forest fires and frosts, the beauty of the trees, and on and on and on until we are mesmerized and immobilized and overwhelmed and stressed out by the forest in its entirety.
If I find myself unable to move away from the enormity of the forest, it's time to focus on just one tree. If that one tree seems like too much, it's time for me to focus on one branch or even on one leaf of that one tree. Narrowing the focus to the minutiae of the situation can make the forest seem more manageable.
Okay. I get it that few of us are forest rangers or horticulturists and that we rarely have occasions to take in an entire actual forest. We do, however, have constant opportunities to take in the enormity of our obligations, of our projects, of our daily chores, and even of our possibilities. Those are the metaphorical forests at which we daily gaze, and those are the metaphorical forests that all too frequently leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed and failed even before we begin.
Remember that single leaf on that single branch of the single tree of our vast forest? Now is the time to walk away from the metaphor and into reality. Of course, it is important to look at a project in its entirety. It is also essential to narrow our focus to manageable tasks. No project, regardless of size or complexity, can be completed immediately in its entirety. Project completion requires manageable tasks and steps.
And that is the part that I find so easy to forget. Even doing the laundry can seem overwhelming if I see only the hamper overflowing with dirty clothes. However, if I pause and remember that clean clothes folded neatly and placed in drawers is the result of incremental steps, I can perhaps reclaim activity and actually wash clothes instead of allowing the hamper to continue overflowing as I become increasingly immobilized because I see only the enormity of the task.
Not only is it okay to do just one thing at a time, sometimes it's essential. Doing just one thing at a time can help us feel less overwhelmed and more in control of our tasks and our lives.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Do You Do The Q?

I was helping my son with his cursive writing homework, and I have a request: If I'm ever in a situation wherein a crazed gunman asks me to draw an uppercase cursive Q or he'll shoot, please tell my family I died a hero who struggled with basic literacy.

Even though we are superheroes

Friday, February 8, 2013

We Will Do and We Will Hear

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Ex. 21:1 – 24:18) delineates the laws and rules that the children of Israel are to follow in addition to the Ten Commandments that they received in last week’s portion.  The laws run the gamut from civil and criminal matters to festivals to how we are to treat others to our relationship to God.  

At the end of the Torah portion, Moses reads the laws to the people and they respond, “All that the Lord spoken, we will do and we will hear!”  The commentators remark on the order of the words, as they seem out of order.    Shouldn’t it be that they first hear the laws, and then do them?  Ibn Ezra speculates on the possibilities: Perhaps it means, “We will do everything that is written down and we will continually hear them in our mouths…Or it might mean we will do the commandments that are planted in our hearts and we will hear the commandments that have been revealed to us.  Or, we will do the commandments God has given us so far and we will hear the ones He will give us in the future. Or, we will do the positive commandments and we will hear (and not do) the prohibitions.”

I was once studying these verses with a group of Hillel directors and Rabbi Jerry Goldstein commented, “If we knew everything we were agreeing to before we agreed to it, no one would ever get married”.  I believe that is true.  Also, no one would start a family, inaugurate a business, or risk anything.  The Israelites in the wilderness had seen enough of God’s power and justice that they trusted the nature of them before they knew the details.  Sometimes we all have to take a leap of faith. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

We Draw Our Own Maps

from the Huffington Post:

I like maps. I like looking at them almost as much as I like using them. Maps present so many possibilities for both imaginary and actual travel. I can look at a map and in my mind arrive at exotic places without ever leaving the comfort of my favorite chair.
Those mental arrivals and departures are fun and often necessary. They can be relaxing. They can help me escape the day's stress. They can even inspire me to chart actual courses.
However, the true value of a map is as a guide to where I really want to travel in real life. In order to effectively use a map for that purpose, though, I need to know where I want to go. It's not enough to simply want to go someplace. Destinations are important.
Not knowing my destination is the first barrier to my arriving there. Having no particular destination can be unsettling. Having no particular destination can lead to anxiety and stress and, yes, anger and depression.
Of course, we get it that we rarely pack the car and take off for parts unknown -- we at least want to know if we're going to the snow or the desert. We at least want to know whether to bring the snowboard or the backpack. We might, indeed, scoff at such a misdirected adventure.
Weekends and vacations are far too valuable. They deserve at least minimal planning.
Maps for such escapes -- such breaks from daily routines -- are easy to obtain. We can go online or to the auto club or to a convenience market or to a bookstore. With a little effort we can become expert readers of maps. We can make plans. We can have a good time.
With the plethora of such maps, we plan our outings. Those maps are all over the place. Use them or not, there they are.
So where are the maps for living our lives? Where can we find them, or do they even exist? Is that why it's so difficult to chart those courses?
Life maps are so much more difficult to obtain. They aren't in the convenience stores. The auto club knows nothing about them and bookstores never stock them. No courses in cartography help us. And yet we must create our life maps if we want to get to where we want to go with our lives.
Here's the good news: No one else should create our life maps. It's okay to drive from California to Florida on the Interstate 10. It's a good road, fairly well maintained and widely used. It doesn't matter much that everyone else driving from California to Florida uses it. Taking that route is okay. But having no choice in life except to live a template created by someone who never met us, knows nothing about our fears and dreams, is not okay. That's the good news.
Here's the bad news: We have to draw our life maps ourselves. No one else can.
That's also the good news.
We own the paths and the destinations of our lives. Our challenge is to first discover where we want to go and then to chart our courses.
Here's more good news: We can do it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Twitter Is Great

Twitter is a great device for teaching concise writing.  Come on.  Think about it.  Say what you want to say using no more than one hundred forty characters.  Characters not words.  Even if you don't want to 'tweet' try writing something, anything, in a hundred forty characters or less.  We are a quite verbose society.  We don't say much nor do we have much to say generally but we take up a lot of space saying it.  Twitter puts an end to all of that.  Say what you have to say in as few characters (or okay words) as possible.
Give it a try.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Success Breeds Success

Here's another thing about baby steps.  Babies fall down a lot.  Unaware of the cognitive phenomena called failure, a baby generally just gets up again.  And, oh my!  That first step.  Once that first step happens the baby builds on that amazing success and eventually runs and runs and runs all the while stumbling and falling.
So what happens when we leave home and call ourselves mature?  Why is it, then, that we grow to fear falling?  Why does it become so hard to get back up again?
Tomorrow let's forget that failure even exists in our vocabulary and go for it.  The 'it' can be anything we've been putting off for fear of failure.  Just go for it.  Fall if you will.  Then get back up.
That's the baby thing to do.
That's the get it done thing to do.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Albert Bandura and Self-Efficacy

Albert Bandura is described as the greatest living psychologist and one of the four most influential psychologists of all time.  The other three were Skinner, Freud, and Piaget.  Bandura originated the term self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy refers to our beliefs about our abilities to make positive changes in our lives.  If we don't believe we will be successful we will tend to not try.  Conversely, if we believe we will achieve our goals, we will be more likely to give it a try.  And then, not too surprisingly, we discover that success builds on success.
Think about Bandura and the power we have over our lives.  Then believe in yourself.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Moses Gets Organized

The Israelites have crossed the Sea of Reeds and begun their trek through the wilderness towards Mount Sinai.  This Torah portion, Yitro (Ex. 18:1 – 20:23) is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian.  At the outset of the portion, Jethro catches up with the Israelites, bringing with him Moses’ wife Tzipporah and two sons Gershom and Eliezer.  We had not previously known that Moses had sent his family away, but the Torah does not reveal what the family reunion was like.  Moses goes about his business of dispensing justice for the people from early morning till late at night.  When Jethro saw how much he had to do, he objected.  He pointed out that Moses was spending all his time, wearing himself out, and accomplishing very little.  Jethro directs Moses to delegate chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, and give them the responsibility of judging the people.  Moses does as his father-in-law tells him, and Jethro goes back to his home.  And only then can Moses go about the task of preparing the people to receive the Torah from the hand of God at Mount Sinai.

All of us, even leaders, and perhaps especially leaders, need help and advice from others.  The way Jethro got Moses organized not only freed up Moses’ time, it gave other leaders a stake in the welfare of the people Israel.   It is also significant that this help came, not from within Israel, but from a priest of another nation, and allowed the Israelites to receive the Torah.  Sometimes, we get what we need when we open up our world and look outside ourselves.

The Thing About Baby Steps

Taking baby steps doesn't mean we are immature.  It means we are smart.  If we were mandated to move from the cradle to the marathon or even from a crawl to a marathon we would never even try because we would know the challenge was too much.  Baby steps assure goal achievement.  And yet each new year or new season or new month or even new day we resolve to achieve much more than is possible.  Is it any surprise that we don't accomplish our resolutions?  Isn't today a good time, with this first day of the shortest month of the year, to embrace baby steps?  They will get us to where we want to go.