Flow With the Course of Nature

As I’ve written before, when I was a little boy I experienced significant night terrors for about two years.

My parents took me to a child psychiatrist who recommended family counseling so we tried that. A behavior modification program was created. Still, the terrors got so bad that I was hospitalized for a week when I was in 4th grade, studied by doctors and nurses to try to determine the root of the problem. One memorable experience in the hospital was when electrodes were attached to my head to study my brainwaves. Nothing significantly wrong was determined and I returned home.

Ultimately, I grew out of the night terrors, but the experience cast a dark shadow on me for years. For instance, I was horribly shamed by it, even into my young adulthood, and never talked about it.

It was my deepest and darkest secret.

But during college I started to make peace with it and even started to appreciate how the experience helped make me who I am. I believe the empathy and compassion I have for children is a direct result of my experience with night terrors, of undergoing counseling as a child, and from the experience of spending that week in the hospital.

These days, I use my childhood experience with night terrors on a nearly daily basis as I mentor children and coach parents. The Haiku I wrote and to which I added one of Fish Astronaut’s drawings above demonstrates that the experience is deeply embedded in me.

Christmas Eve Traditions

I was facilitating a class earlier today on Outschool, an online platform on which I’ve taught well over 500 classes to over 2000 young people since the beginning of the pandemic. I call the class “Friendship & Social Skills” and, put simply, it’s 45 minutes each week in which a group of 10-14-year-olds come together to connect with others under my gentle guidance.

That’s me in the middle, Santa Andy, flanked by my brothers. ~1970
Given it’s Christmas Eve, I asked how many of the four students present today celebrate Christmas. It turns out, all of them do so I asked about their family traditions. Sensing they weren’t sure what I was asking, I explained what a tradition was and gave some examples. From there, they really warmed up. We talked about giving & receiving presents, playing games, eating treats, and decorating a tree. We even took time to talk about Santa Claus, always an interesting topic with kids this age.

I explained how Santa Claus is a big part of my family tradition, both as a child and as a parent. I acknowledged that earlier today I had even checked in on the “Norad Tracks Santa” website to see where he was. Perhaps the students thought it was a bit strange to have a 58-year-old adult talking about Santa. I tapped my heart and told them, “Santa is true to me right here.”

About that, last year, I posted a lengthy story about my personal belief in Santa Claus, along with some photos of my family around the holidays.

Another tradition my family has began when we were in France 11 years ago. It was there that we learned about raclette. If you aren’t familiar, raclette refers to a type of Swiss cheese that you melt in individual slices and serve atop potatoes and other yummy foods.

That’s the raclette grill on last year’s Christmas Eve table.
Our tradition really took hold once we were back in Seattle in 2011. We shared the concept with Melinda’s extended family who we see on Christmas Eve for dinner and gift exchange. It took off after Melinda found a “raclette grill” on CraigsList. Basically, the grill consists of individual paddles in which you place a slice of cheese and then put on a heating element, the grill, in the center of the table. Each person melts their own cheese and puts it on top of their chosen food items.

Yum.

We’ll be heading over to Melinda’s sister’s house in a couple of hours to be joined by Ella, Chloe & her fiancé, Alex, Michele (Melinda’s mom), and Brenda’s family – Brenda, Greg & Perrin. Greg has been cooking a ham, which happens to be really delicious with melted raclette cheese on top. Chloe and Alex have stopped at a French bakery to pick up a couple of baguettes, also delicious with melted cheese. Melinda & I are on potato detail, along with the raclette that I had to track down last weekend.

Given Michele will be taking the entire family to France next summer and we’re having a France-inspired meal tonight, perhaps we should limit our conversation to being in French. That could be a fun, new tradition, right?

C’est une bonne idée, oui?

Christmas Eve, 2012.

Dear Jimmy – “Advice” to a Former Student

(Back in 2020, the mom of one of my former students reached out to me and asked, as she was asking others, to write a little note to her son on the occasion of his 25th birthday. If I recall correctly, she was asking influential adults in his life to offer him some advice. I was pleased to get her request and spent more than a little time considering and then composing my note. Searching for another piece of writing on my computer, I found my note last week and decided to archive it here. I hope some of you find it entertaining, if not full of decent advice. –Andy)

Dear Jimmy,

As your 25th birthday was approaching, your mother reached out to me and with great dignity and honor suggested I may have something of value to pass along to you. I understand I’m not the only person to whom she put in this request, which in some ways lets me off the hook. I mean, somewhere in the vast compendium of letters you are undoubtedly receiving on the occasion of doing nothing more extraordinary than having a pulse for a quarter century, you’re bound to get something more useful than anything I can cobble together.

For instance, the first thing that came to mind was to plagiarize something that was a meme before there were memes – “Wear sunscreen.”

Honestly, that is pretty decent advice, given that climate issue we’re having, but I’m betting you received it as a little kid or, failing that, figured it out by yourself by now. The really juicy stuff at this point in your life needs to be advice that gets you to stop what you’re doing, cock your head to the side, scrunch your eyebrows, and say something profound like, “Damn.”

Just for effect, you’re a director after all so take some direction from me, go ahead and imagine I just gave you some good advice:

Stop what you’re doing (reading, I imagine), cock your head to the side (600 mg of ibuprofen might aid with this – I know it helps my 25 + 32 year-old knees before I go for a run), scrunch your eyebrows (that’s the fun part), and say, “Damn.”

Don’t you feel better?

Yeah, it was probably just for saying, “Damn.”

To digress from the digression and on the subject of strong language, I’ve been working to promote a new swear word. It probably won’t catch on because it’s not four letters and our collective 21st century attention span can’t stand things that take too long (see: Twitter). Anyway, I invite you to take it for a test spin, see how it comes off your tongue. To really try it out, hold the first syllable for an extra split second, put emphasis on the second syllable, and then let the third syllable slide out, a denouement of sorts. Here it is, my new swear word for 2020:

Pandemic.

Hmmm… It seems now that twice since I began this letter, I have offered you direction. And thinking about that, isn’t direction just a form of advice? This is what you do for a living, as I understand it. You direct actors to do stuff. That’s a form of advice, directing actors to do stuff, at least in my mind. You don’t know whether or not those actors are going to do the stuff you direct them to do. The actors get to make up their minds whether they’re going to take your direction, your advice. There is still free will, right?

Right?

Back to your mom. It occurred to me that she might be worried about you, given she is seeking out people like me to knock some sense into you on the occasion of you taking 25 tours around the sun on our collective blue-green spaceship.

So, Jimmy, here goes, my third direction to you: Humor your mom.

How? PRETEND you’ve gotten good advice from those to whom she reached out, including me. I’m sure it will make her feel good. See, when you PRETEND you’ve gotten good advice, you actually have to look inside yourself to find what to do. This makes the advice you’re pretending to have gotten be GOOD advice.

Funny thing about looking inside yourself… When you do it with a dose of trust, you find you’re not pretending at all.

Your old pal,

A ‘Dear John’ Letter to Melinda (not really)

As many of you know, from July 2010 through July 2011, 13 months, Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I lived in France. As the founders of the Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) in 1994, Melinda and I were ready for a little break and the school was ready to spread its wings without the safety net of its founders. Chloe had just graduated from PSCS and Ella was a year removed from starting high school.

In other words, it was the perfect time for us to spend some time together as a family away from the 24–7 demands of the school.

We settled in the city of Nantes where Melinda’s family had some friends. Freed to do something I enjoy doing (write), I decided I would keep a daily blog of our goings-on for our friends and family back in Seattle. Little did I know that the blog would take on a life of its own.

Little did Melinda know that sometimes I would get a bit silly with my daily entries.

For instance, less than two weeks after we arrived in France we had already gotten into the routine of visiting a bakery to pick up fresh pastries for breakfast. One morning I went on my own to the bakery we had begun frequenting and was charmed by the sweetness of the young woman at the counter.

I requested four pain au chocolat, a delicious flaky pastry with pieces of dark chocolate inside, one for each member of the family. As I was paying, the young woman cautioned me to be careful because the pastries had just come out of the oven and were hot. In fact, she said, all in French, the chocolate might burn my mouth if I wasn’t careful.

I was completely smitten. I asked if I could take her picture for my blog post that day and she complied, although given the quality of my French for all I know I may have asked her what was on TV that night.

I did get this photo and then posted a version of the following on my blog that night. I’m sure Melinda just rolled her eyes.

Dear Melinda,

Yes, it’s true, you and I will always have France. But, you, you have your red wine and your cheeses. Me, I have our baker and her breads.

She tells me to be careful when buying pain au chocolat, that the chocolate is still hot and may burn my tongue. And she tells me this in French. After this morning’s visit, when she let me take her picture, I can hide my feelings no more.

Perhaps it’s rude to announce this like this, but I can’t help myself.

I’m already counting down the hours until tomorrow morning. Will it be a chausson pommes, pain aux raisins, or pain au chocolat?

You will always be my first wife,

— Andy

Creative Dance

That’s Ella, Melinda’s and my youngest daughter, on the right. Posing with her is her cousin, Olivia. When Ella was little, she always wanted to dance.

To nurture her desire, Melinda, signed her up for a class called “Creative Dance” when she was 4 or 5 years old.

At the first session, Melinda and I tried to spy on her without being seen (to see if she was having fun) by peeking through a tiny window in the door. We watched her spin and twirl and move, all with a smile on her face.

Confident that she had had a great time, when class ended we asked her, “Did you have fun?” Her sweet and profound answer was as prompt as it was telling:

“I don’t see how they can call it CREATIVE dance when they tell you what to do!”

Since then she continued to dance, but on her terms. As a teen, she’d close her bedroom door and dance to her favorite music. At parties, she was always found on the dance floor.

She’ll be 25 in December and lives on her own in Seattle. But I can easily imagine her dancing in her apartment or while making macarons at work.

Kind Action : Dance (on your terms)
Book Recommendation : Creative Dance For All Ages

Andy, the Blogger

Late in the afternoon on July 1, 2010, I was sitting alone in the Seattle home of some friends. They were away on vacation and Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I were staying in their house for a few days.

That morning, we had moved out of our home, the place we had lived for 12 years, and helped move in a family who would be living there for the next year.

On July 4, we would be flying to France, Melinda and I having been granted a year-long sabbatical from PSCS, the school we had founded in 1994. After 16 years of hard work, the school saw fit to grant us one of our long-held dreams, what we had come to think was a pipe dream, to live in France for a year as a family.

We were about to settle in the city of Nantes.

But back on July 1, 2010, sitting alone with little left to do to get ready, I found myself thinking about the upcoming adventure. Melinda and Chloe had both talked about blogging, but I was making no commitments.

Part of my plan for the year was to live spontaneously with as few commitments as possible.

Still, I knew I wanted to have a record of what we would be doing, and I knew our family and friends would appreciate having regular updates. In a fit of inspiration, I created my first-ever blog with a simple idea. I had read about the 365 Project, where you document a year in your life through one daily photograph. Being a bit wordy, I decided I would go one better.

I’d post a daily photo AND a short description of our day.

So inspired, I went online, connected to WordPress, and created my first blog. It was a spontaneous act. I used the PhotoBooth application on my laptop to snap my first picture and then wrote the first entry right then and there:

We arrived in Nantes on July 5. True to my intent, I made posting to the blog every day an important commitment. As the days and weeks passed, it became not only my obsession but the obsession of others, most notably my family.

A regular question became: “What are you going to use on the blog today?”

At times it created some angst: “You can’t use THAT picture on the blog!” or “Don’t write about THAT on the blog.”

But throughout the year it was above all else a fun, unifying thing for Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and me.

In short order, the blog did become what I had hoped, a record of what we were doing in France that served as a daily update to our family and friends back home in Seattle. Melinda’s and my parents shared the address with their friends and it spread further from there. The address was also shared at PSCS, after which many of the families associated with the school followed along.

In writing each day’s entry, I often imagined who might be reading and sometimes tailored a post with a particular individual in mind.

Interestingly and gratifyingly, it also became part of our extended lives in France. Our good friends, the Boudeaus, the people responsible for us choosing Nantes as the city in which we settled, became daily viewers of the blog. Conversation topics resulted because of something I posted to the blog and inspiration for entries came from these conversations, too.

In March, we spent a week with the Boudeau family, sharing their ski vacation with them at their family cabin in the Alps. There was no Internet connectivity at the cabin so the family took it upon themselves to acquire a wireless device that allowed me to connect and post to the blog.

We also developed an incredible relationship with another family, the Bertails, a family who lived a few doors down from our house in Nantes. Like the Boudeaus, the Bertails inspired multiple entries and became regular readers.

As our year in France wound down, I started getting asked about my plans for the blog.

No one was bold enough to ask if I planned to keep posting on a daily basis. But secretly I had been thinking about doing just that. It had become an important part of my own daily routine, and looking back at the entries proved to be a useful memory jog in many ways. I also thought that our friends in France would enjoy having a daily update about our lives back in Seattle. Further, the blog had developed its own following of regular readers, some of whom I didn’t even know.

As such, I saw value in keeping it going.

A few years ago, I moved all the non-sabbatical entries to this site, kindnessandy.com, that serves as my personal blog. This left the sabbatical site specific to our year away. By then, I also had learned how easy it was to start other blogs. I had realized that blogging was a great way to promote ordinary activities that awaken kindness, something which provides me a solid sense of doing good. As such, I’ve created several blogs for specific kindness activities I’ve facilitated.

As an example, here’s one that uses episodes of the original Twilight Zone TV show to promote kindness:

This one was to celebrate Melinda’s and my 50th birthdays by performing acts of kindness:

I’ve also created blogs for more personal reasons, like this one to showcase the little comics I drew each day and included in Chloe’s lunch when she was in kindergarten (she’s 27 now):

In 2014, I created a blog to chronicle a “staycation” Melinda and I designed for ourselves during our school’s spring break:

I’ve also been using a blog to promote a poetry project I keep trying to build some momentum around:

So I guess you could say I have a lot of experience with blogging. If you’d like to connect with me about blogging, please leave a comment to that effect below.

Switching Seasons

There’s nothing quite like sitting down with a good book to read. This time of year, when it’s starting to show hints of being chilly, dark, and damp, there are few things I enjoy more than the feel of a book in my hands and a well-told story to discover.

On my couch, under a weighted blanket, my flannel pajamas and slipper socks on, Bentsen cuddled close…

Add in Melinda, a little Henri Texier on the wifi-hifi, as well as a classic beverage and it really gets romantic.

It reminds me of this staycation from a few years back.

Making a Stop in Angerville?

Most readers of my blog are aware that Melinda, my wife, and I took our daughters, Chloe & Ella, to live in France for a year back in 2010-11. We had been granted a sabbatical from the school we had founded and used the opportunity to provide our family some wonderful experiences in a different country.

Among the things we got to do was travel. In the spring of 2011, we went to southern France and stayed in the city of Nice. Although it’s pronounced like the English word “niece,” this didn’t stop me from telling my family, and on multiple occasions, how nice I found Nice, purposely mispronouncing the words.

Near the end of our year in France, we traveled to Normandy in northern France at the invitation of the Bertail family, people who lived around the corner from us and had become great friends. Melinda and I rented a car for this trip and for the first time in our lives experienced a vehicle with GPS.

Let me just tell you how infatuated Melinda and I became with this nifty little tool. It’s like driving and playing a video game at the same time, which, incidentally, I’m not advocating anyone do on a literal basis…

So, anyway, there we were, driving in Normandy to our destination and up on the video game, err, GPS screen came the word “Angerville,” which turns out to be a small town in Normandy (click on the photo here to see it better).

Chloe piped up from the backseat, “We spent some time in Nice, why not Angerville?”

Good one, Chloe! A real chip off the old block!

Turns out, though, that it never really worked into our plans to make a stop in Angerville. We were overdue and it was getting dark. Still, I kept picturing the four of us next to a sign of the town name, each of us with an angry scowl on our faces.

So, yeah, it’s probably best we didn’t go to Angerville back then. I mean, we probably go there metaphorically often enough, right? Think about it. Wouldn’t YOU rather go around Angerville than making a stop there?

Program your personal GPS accordingly.

The Tao of Kindness

Over 81 consecutive weeks, beginning in 2018 and ending in 2020, I adapted the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching into kindness verses, one each week, as part of a personal meditation practice.

The idea of this project was to consider the ancient wisdom of the Tao through the lens of 21st-century kindness.

I shared my verses online as a way to center my practice and to offer them to others who might find them useful. You can find an archive of all 81 verses here.

As a sample, here’s my interpretation of verse 39:

39

THE BLOSSOM IS THE ROOT

Unity, harmony, wholeness,
synonyms for interconnectedness.
The finger is the hand.

Rooted in a pattern of humility,
nature takes its course.
The valley is the mountain.

Seeing oneness in all things,
kindness is a byproduct.
The blossom is the root.

Elvis Costello, Tom Waits & Chloe

This was my plan:

Expose Chloe, my daughter, to the music I love when she was very young. Then, when she’s older, she’ll already have a built-in appreciation for fine music, the likes of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits.

She’ll be one of those cool teens!

I even had pictures and magazines placed in strategic locations in the house and bought her an oversized Elvis Costello t-shirt that she wore as a nightshirt along with red socks (angel-worthy “shoes” — get it?).

It couldn’t miss!

But it didn’t work…

She never voluntarily listens to Elvis Costello or Tom Waits. And I’m too embarrassed to say what she does like…

Where did I go wrong?

Well, she’s only 28.

There’s still hope, right?

Right?

Kind Action : Introduce Your Child to Something YOU Love
Music Recommendation 1 : Imperial Bedroom — Elvis Costello
Music Recommendation 2 : Swordfishtrombones — Tom Waits