It was interesting to see in the news this week that Bill Gates is retiring from Microsoft. Some have called him a “self-made man,” but that phrase really is not a correct one. Sure, he has always been talented and creative and intelligent and has been a hard worker and passionate in his career, but self-made? None of us is really self-made. From the teacher (or parent) who taught him the alphabet to his employees who helped make Microsoft successful to the customers who buy his products, there are many, many people who helped Bill Gates along the way. As it is with each of us.

I was born into a loving family to two of the most wonderful parents in the world. I was brought up to respect others, to be tolerant and generous, and I was given on an extensive education, partly in the classroom, and mostly at home. I have not become rich or famous, nor have I invented anything of use to the world. But what life I have carved out I owe initially to that unconditional love and inexhaustible teaching that for a long time I took for granted. Besides my family, what other amazing teachers have I been blessed with? Miss Vuille, who taught me in elementary school how to play the piano on a “keyboard” made of cardboard, using workbooks where the half notes were nurses and the black notes were soldiers. Miss Stryker and Mrs. Watkins, who taught me how to read. Mr. Knight, who taught me French. Miss Gillespie, who taught me choral singing and joie de vivre. Mrs. Ray, who, along with my mom, taught me how to sew. Mr. Fleming, who taught me how to play a pipe organ.

Actors on awards shows have always been belittled for their endless “thank you” speeches. But if you think about it, those actors are facing the fact that they really do owe lots of people their gratitude. The make-up and hair artists and costume designers who made them look incredibly perfect, the lighting people who did the same, the casting directors who hired them, and all the other skilled workers in the industry, in addition to acting coaches, fitness coaches, voice/dancing teachers, agents, the theaters carrying their movies, and the family and friends who encouraged them. The soloist realizes she is lost without her backup singers and orchestra. The rugged young actor remembers who gave him his first break. Those Hollywood celebrities are indeed not self-made, and sometimes even they realize this.

I was thinking about this today because two weeks ago I finally finished that quilt for Rachel and Chris that had been 6 long years in the making. I did it by my (as of December 2007) self-imposed deadline - their 6th wedding anniversary, which, by the way, is today. Now I am halfway through another quilt, one for my 2-1/2-year-old granddaughter Charlotte, who is moving from a crib to a “big girl bed” very soon. To whom do I owe my ability to quilt? Back in 1987, when I was the choir at Trinity United Methodist Church in Memphis, another singer always had a quilting project in her lap during choir practice. I had sewn clothes all my life, and had learned to cross-stitch and even crocheted once, but I had never seen anything like what she was doing. I finally was intrigued enough to ask her about it, and she graciously invited me to her house near the church one evening for a one-hour quickie lesson on how to quilt. I took to it with passion and never looked back. I owe my quilting life to this young lady, who took the time to pass on her creative knowledge.

All through my 53 years, a myriad of caring people have supported and taught and encouraged me and made me who I am today. They have affected my hobbies, the books I read, the things I want to learn, how I interact with my family and acquaintances, and everything else that makes up me. They’ve taught me how to forgive and ask forgiveness, how to let go of mistakes, how to build on successes, how to tolerate those who are different, and, most of all, how to be grateful and appreciate what I have been given. Some have invested an extraordinary amount of time with me; others have just been there to point the way and wish me luck. Still others will hardly realize that they have had an impact on my life, as I am just one of many whose lives they touched.

Thank God we are not self-made! If that were the case, humility would be in even shorter supply than it already is. For those of you who have helped me and taught me and encouraged me and loved me, words cannot adequately express how much that means to me. I will never be able to thank you on national TV, but this will just have to do. Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you.


When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible. - unknown
If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you and BECAUSE of you. - T. Alan Armstrong
Passion requires focused direction, and that direction must come from three other areas: your purpose, your talents, and your needs. ~ Steve Pavlina
Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping... waiting... and though unwanted... unbidden... it will stir... open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us... guides us... passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love... the clarity of hatred... and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we'd know some kind of peace... but we would be hollow... Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we'd be truly dead. - Joss Whedon

When I looked up the word passion today, I found definitions of everything from suffering to anger to enthusiasm to love. Indeed, one definition is "any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.”

I have always been excited to have passions in my life. Some of my passions have been lifelong (passion for music, for instance), which broadened as I got older to encompass a wider range (the Celtic harp). I’ve had passions for grammar, spelling, punctuation. I’ve had a passion for Lincoln. I’ve had passions for sewing, quilting, and cross-stitch. I even have a passion for medical transcription, which is a relief, because I have to do it every day.

I love the first quote: “When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.” The passion described here is more than an interest or a hobby. Passion has to be something that when you think about doing it or making it or seeing it or hearing it, your heart automatically speeds up. (Maybe I have a passion about flying, since that’s usually my physical reaction! LOL). It’s a driving force that, as the quote says, comes from deep inside, almost uncontrollable. Sometimes it makes life worth living, sometimes it makes it exciting to jump out of bed in the morning, sometimes it serves a greater purpose of benefiting others as it fulfills one's self.

My family has a lot of different passions - I mean REAL passions that energize them from the inside and spur their lives on. Passions that make their eyes light up when they talk about them. Some passions I don’t even understand what’s so great about them, but hey, that’s the beauty of passion. Mine has meaning for me, and theirs has meaning for them. My various family members have passions for Star Wars, theology, gardening, car seat safety, history, teaching, scrap-booking, books, music, wood-working, acting, animals, shopping garage sales for things they can transform, music, Mac computers, and others I probably don't even realize. Such variety!

I wanted to post about passion this week, because of our son’s extraordinary achievement. He has created a web site called and it went live last Saturday. Matt has a passion for Mac software - software with details of quality workmanship, elegant design, and user-friendly interfaces - and in all this, his passion is clearly evident and growing. He decided that the internet needed a site where Mac developers, programmers, coders, and designers could contact each other and come together to create great projects, find suitable working partners, and other things to shake up the Apple world. As I said, he started the site on Saturday, and as of today, Thursday, there are around 500 registrants from all over the world! Matt brought this amazing thing in to existence and we all watched as it grew incredibly in just a few days. This is the power of passion, when it’s paired with talent, channeled by vision, and steered by commitment.

Congratulations, Matthew! When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.

Making a Statement

I talk to myself, both aloud and in my head. We all do this, of course. The experts say that examining your self-talk is vital, because when you say something enough, you program your brain to believe it. People who consistently say, “I’m ugly” or “I always mess up” or “I’m never on time” can say these negative things so often that their brain impulses actually hardwire the message, which makes it even more likely to be thought, and so on. My personal one has been “I’m a procrastinator and unfinisher, and that’s just the way it is.” You say it so much, you don’t even question its validity anymore.

When it comes to doing things, I have certainly had my share of conversations with myself. As I lay in bed last night, I thought of all the statements I had made about myself and the effect those statements have had on my life. Words are more important than we give them credit for.

“I want to do this.” This is one mantra of childhood. Kids in their naive and hormone-laden states want to do everything - even things that are unwise, dangerous for them or other people, or things they are not mature enough to handle. Many adolescents lack judgment and all they can think of is what they want. “I want to sleep in and skip school today.” “I want to have sex.” “I want to drive as fast as this car will go.” “I want to get revenge on this teacher.” “I want to see what it feels like to get high.” Add to this the wants for material things, technology, clothes, games, etc., and the first fourth or so of one’s life can be consumed with trying to satisfy all those wants. As an adult, it becomes “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to be loved” or “I want to be content in life.” You see, wants are not always bad, but when you want something you know would be good or healing for you and don’t do anything to achieve it, then it’s empty. As an adult, “I want” is just not enough.

“I should do this.” This was my childhood mantra. I was a good girl. I was a good student. I was a good church member. I was a good daughter. I knew what was expected of me, and usually I did it. I’m not belittling that, of course. I’m glad I could be a good family member and citizen. A sense of personal responsibility is admirable. But as adults, if we find that our lives are totally filled up with doing things because a nagging voice says we “should” and nothing else, and we do these things with no passion, no purpose, and sometimes with dread, it turns an admirable statement into a negative one, and drains our energy and eats into our lives.

“I could have done this.” Ack - the regret syndrome. Oh, the wasted life! The unaccepted challenges! The road not taken! Sometimes this becomes pathetic, but sometimes it’s funny. I remember when Matt was in, I believe, 6th or 7th grade, one of his friends was a good runner. Matt had never done fast sports, only karate (a much slower, more intentional skill), and one day he ran a race against this other boy. As he told us later about how he lost, he ended the story to us with a smile and said, “I could have beaten him...if he had had his shoes tied together!” It’s good to laugh at ourselves! But we shouldn’t be consumed with glory dreams of what might have been. We can learn from the past, but we really have only the future.

“I’m afraid to do this.” Boy, don’t I know it! This is the other half of a kid’s mantra (ergo Caroline’s standing in the street in her first set of roller skates, panicking). I’ve had those moments as an adult. “I’m afraid to commit to a health regimen.” “I”m afraid to kayak on the bay in Bar Harbor.” “I’m afraid to attempt this difficult quilt pattern.” “I’m afraid to take the Certified Medical Transcriptionist test.” “I’m afraid to fly to Memphis.” Of course, all these will be followed with the word “because,” as in “...because I might give up,” “....because I might drown.” “...because I am not skilled enough.” “...because I might fail,” and “...because I might crash.” If we admit fear, that’s being truthful. If we let fear paralyze us so we never try anything, well, that’s a big waste.

“I can do this.” Now we’re getting somewhere. As I mentioned in an MT chat room yesterday, when I passed the CMT, it sparked something within my brain that said, “If I can do this, maybe I can do something else that seems scary or difficult.” Do I really have the wherewithal to give up Cokes for the rest of my life? Am I mentally capable of a commitment to daily exercise? Can I actually make a quilt and finish it in a reasonable amount of time before I start another one of the myriad projects in my head? Am I actually physically, emotionally, and mentally able to get on another plane after freaking out on one 14 years ago? I made a list of things that up until now I had said,”I want to...,” “I should do...,” “I could have done,” and “I’m afraid to do...” and started associated these goals with a whole new statement - one with energy and promise. I can do this. I CAN DO THIS!

“I will do this.” This is the commitment statement. This is the one where you’ve discarded all the negatives, accepted the certainly that it is possible, and have gone one step further to commitment. After the goal is met, the feeling is indescribable, and feeds on itself to other goals and challenges and self-confidence. This can be overwhelmingly powerful and gratifying.

Finally, there is one more statement. For a couple of weeks, I have been visiting a site called It’s dedicated to encouraging people to transform their lives to their God-given full potential - not only physically in fitness and good health, but spiritually and emotionally and every other way from the inside out. They recently featured a teenage girl with leukemia, someone I didn’t know anything about but whom everyone was praising as such an inspiration because of her positive attitude about life. They said that her favorite statement was “I get to.” In spite of her chemo treatments, nausea and vomiting, and physical deterioration, she could still say, “I get to live another day.” “I get to give back to the society.” “I get to use this illness to encourage others.” She died last week, and the online community's outpouring of grief was tremendous.

I wondered what using her statement would do in my life. “I get to exercise today, because I have all my muscles and limbs and am not in a wheelchair!” “I get to fly to visit my family in August and get there in one day instead of driving for solid week there and back!” “I get to work in this fantastic career, where I not only use my skills, but I learn wonderful new things every day!” “I get to accept this new challenge, because win or lose, the struggle will only make me stronger!” “I get to participate today in this incredible journey called life!”

Now, that’s what I call making a statement. What a wonderful way to hardwire your brain!

The Great Connection

I’ve been reflecting on pleasures this week. With all the angst of rising food and energy prices and worries about the economy, jobs, and the war, I don’t want to lose myself in anxiety and miss the small pleasures in life. Sure, there are some big pleasures that are planned in advance - such as my upcoming trip to Memphis to see family and friends - but I am trying these days to fine-tune my pleasure receptors to the unexpected, serendipitous rewards most of us can receive every day, if we are open to them.

One of my downsizing/simplifying goals was to make an attempt to get closer to nature. As I’ve posted before, I have always enjoyed indoor activities (quilting, music, etc.) over outdoor activities which are usually accompanied by sunburn, heat, cold, hazardous ice and snow, mud, humidity, rain, or - my personal favorite - insects. Ed has always said (and I tend to agree) that the farther away we humans move from nature, the more bereft and lost we become.

My co-workers, aware of my desire for initiating natural communion, gave me a hummingbird feeder for my birthday last September, and after a long, long Maine winter, I finally got to hang it up last month. The first week, I saw no hummingbirds at all. Then one day Ed called me at work to tell me there was some activity, but try as I might in the hours I was home, I never saw one tiny bird. He described to me their beauty, their coloring, their interactions with their fellow birds, but I only could use my imagination. Some nights, we would be eating our early supper, Ed in his chair that faced the sliding glass doors to the back porch, and thus the feeder, and me on the bench, back to the feeder. He kept a close eye out, and as soon as he saw a hummingbird, he told me, but by the time I turned around, the bird had already flown away. Understanding my frustration, Ed changed places with me, and from then on, I was sitting where I was facing the feeder.

Finally, it happened. I saw a tiny brown bird fly up to the porch, suspend herself in space without perching, drink the sweet liquid, then fly away. I never realized what an uplifting moment of pure pleasure it would be - something so simple, so natural, yet so spontaneous.

I’ve seen many hummingbirds since then, and I have enjoyed each one. I have found, though, that I need to remain open to the moment, for the experiences are unplanned and brief. I could stand there at the door for an hour and might not see anything, but on the other hand, I might be walking past the door on my way to the kitchen, and see two or three visitors. I have learned that if my brain is weighed down with the worries of life, focused on the negative, my eyes remain closed to the joy of the hummingbirds, because my brain is not receptive enough to notice.

It wasn’t long after that that I saw the first owl I had ever seen outside of a zoo. It was sitting in a tall tree in our backyard. Ed, whose “awareness quotient” has always been off the chart as much as mine has been below normal, saw it first and led me to the window. At first I thought it was a huge bird’s nest, as it was dusk and the light wasn’t perfect. But as I watched, the owl turned its head in that quick unmistakable motion, and I could see very clearly the object of our fascination. Before I could fully grasp the importance of the moment, the owl spread its big powerful wings and flew off.

To some of you nature-lovers and gardeners and people who think nothing of being out in the natural world, these may seem like trivial things. But to me, a city girl born and bred in Memphis, I still get a kick out of seeing an unexpected deer in our neighborhood, or a real moose. Even the little hummingbirds fascinate me.

I’ve been taking walks outside now that summer is here, so I’m not just observing nature through glass. But I am just now realizing the potential of those spontaneous pleasures, how fleeting they are, how memorable they are, and how I must keep my mind and eyes and ears open to their presence. I’m ready to embrace nature.

...Although, last week there were a couple of bears spotted in Ellsworth near the hospital where I work. I may be ready to embrace nature, but I'm not quite ready for a bear hug!