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2007 Editor's Blog Entries

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NOVEMBER 17 - DECEMBER 1, 2007

Purpose: What's The Purpose?

Webster’s Dictionary says that purpose is “the reason for which something exists.” 

It is not uncommon to hear of an elderly person who passes away shortly after the loss of their spouse. We sometimes hear this happening after the loss of their pet. While one could argue that this is merely a coincidence, I would surmise that they lost their will to live because their spouse or pet was their last reason for living—their final purpose that gave their life meaning. 

Many people talk about finding their purpose in life when the truth is that we each have many purposes, not just one. The more reasons you have for living, the more meaning you have in your life and the quicker you get up in the morning. When you lose your reasons for living—when you no longer feel meaning in your life—you have no purpose to get out of bed each day.

People find meaning in their work, in their children, in their partner or spouse, in their hobbies, in their travels, in their volunteer work or clubs, in their classes, in their art, writing, crafts, and even in their pets. We don’t have just one purpose in life; we have a hierarchy of purposes. Some are more important to us than others, but all fill us with a sense that our lives are meaningful. Our catalog of purposes teaches us that we are important in this world, that we have a reason for living; and this sense of importance gives us our will to live. 

As we get older, our purposes drop off on the wayside. We retire from our careers. Our children grow up and move away. We either lose interest in our hobbies or we lose the physical ability to continue them. Our gardens go to weed and we leave our homes in trade for the elderly community or nursing home. Sometimes, if our multitude of purposes has dwindled, all we have left is our spouse or our pet. So when either leaves this world before us, they leave us alone with no reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Michelangelo lived to the age of eighty-nine at a time when most people didn’t make it to forty. Here is a man who was a sculptor, a poet, a painter and an inspiration to others. He never lacked a reason to get up in the morning. He took on huge projects that took years to complete, even in his elderly years. The Sistine Chapel alone took four years, and he painted it while lying on his back! But he made a commitment, and that commitment gave his life purpose. 

We all know a Michelangelo in our life. It is that person who is bound with vitality. They don’t mope around with their shoulders reaching for the ground. These are the people who are up early in the morning singing and whistling and excited about their day. They say hello to their neighbors and even talk to strangers in the streets. They are fascinated by the wonders of nature and they seem to feed off the energy of children. Yet, in reality, it is actually nature and children who feed off their cheerfulness, verve and spirit for life. And that is why we are attracted to such purposeful people. 

If you want to feel more alive, commit yourself to purposeful endeavors. A life without commitments is a life without purpose. A life without purpose is a life without meaning.

Begin projects that will take weeks, months or years to accomplish. Accept responsibilities that you may even regret in the future. Take a stand for a cause you believe in, and hold true to it regardless of what other people think. If it fills you with passion for life, then it will balance off the mundane obligations that once filled your days. Committing yourself to purposeful endeavors does not just add color to your life; it is the lifeline that connects you to the Source of all that is beautiful and meaningful.

If you are unhappy, give yourself over to making others happy. Do volunteer work at hospitals, shelters or nursing homes. Visit the sick, elderly or terminally ill. If you are shy or uncomfortable with people, do the same for animals. Animal rescue leagues and shelters are filled with cats and dogs that suffer from a lack of love. Just a simple smile, hug and a little attention can do wonders to heal and comfort any soul.

It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is that you do something. Whether you help people or pets, create paintings or books, grow gardens or plants, the only requirement is that you make a commitment and follow through with a smile. Be willing to open your heart and put love in all that you do. By simply showing up and following through with your commitments, your presence, intentions and passion will be felt and appreciated throughout the world. And the ripple effect you create with your zest for life will fill your own heart with an abundance of love. In effect, you will have found happiness from a single purpose. Imagine the power of several new commitments. 

If a lack of purpose can eliminate our will to live, then adding purpose into our lives can increase our vitality. It doesn’t matter if we are helping millions or a single individual, the simple act of making one other person’s life a little more comfortable, happier or filled with love is empowering beyond belief because we get back what we give to others. On the other hand, we can’t give what we don’t have. So your purpose may be to bring peace and comfort into your own life. This, too, will create a ripple effect that will influence the entire world. Yet it all begins with one step—one commitment. Before you are faced with the loss of your final meaning in life, plan ahead to surround yourself with many reasons to jump out of bed each morning with enthusiasm!

Warmly,
Bob Olson

OCTOBER 27 - NOVEMBER 17, 2007

Surprising Spiritual Activity At A Psychic Development Workshop

Melissa and I once attended a workshop offered by a psychic medium named Gordon Smith from Scotland. I didn’t go intending to discover any profound ability in myself--in fact, I really stunk at it--but I was curious to see how other beginners would rate. I was quite surprised by what took place, so I thought I’d share with you what happened that night.

The $40 workshop was presented at the First Spiritualist Church of Quincy, Massachusetts, on a Wednesday evening. About forty people attended. Gordon took us through several workshop experiments to test our abilities. The first was an exercise where we attempted to learn something about a stranger (our workshop partner) by picking up information through their aura.

I was astounded at how well some people did. One attendee picked up on his partner’s childhood trauma, another on her partner’s honeymoon memories, and a third on her partner’s work-related problems. In my case, my mind went completely blank. The best I could hope for was that my partner had no past, but that wasn’t the case.

The second exercise involved psychometry. Attendees held something personal that belonged to a perfect stranger--like a watch, piece of jewelry or a scarf--and they would see what information they could pick up from that object.

Dawn, the girl who held my watch, said it was a gift I had given to myself in celebration of something, but that it no longer held the importance it once had when I first bought it. Not bad, I thought. The watch was a gift that Melissa and I had purchased in celebration of overcoming my five-year depression. The watch had lost its significance to me because, at the time, it had been several years since I overcame that horrible depression and I was allowing myself to move on from it after having made peace with that growth experience in my life.

Finally, Gordon tried our hands at mediumship. I happened to get paired up with a guy named Craig for this exercise. I didn’t know Craig personally, but I knew he was a healer at the church. Craig wasn’t a medium, but had been offering his healing gift to the church for years. The night of Gordon’s workshop, Craig told me that he came to the workshop to see if he might have mediumship abilities, as well.

Craig was the first to give mediumship an effort. I would go second. When Gordon gave the signal to start, Craig sat with his hands palms-up on his knees. This isn’t how most mediums work--most mediums just start talking--but Craig was obviously using his healing meditation methods to connect with spirit. I think it was the best way he knew to clear his conscious thoughts. Next, Craig’s eyelids began fluttering. Then his fingers started twitching. He sat like this for a few minutes while I waited and watched.

Slowly and peacefully, Craig opened his eyes. His fingers stopped twitching. He told me he had linked with a man in spirit. I thought to myself, jokingly, "Sure you did Craig; and I’m Superman." I figured he was getting caught up in the moment. Then he gave me some unexpected messages.

"The man here has a ruddy complexion. He’s rugged looking. He’s wearing a plaid flannel shirt. I don’t know who he is to you, but he is sitting beside you to your left with a hand on your shoulder," said Craig.

I wasn’t sure whether to get excited or not. I knew that this would probably be my father if it were anybody at all. He certainly fit the description; even the plaid flannel shirt was about all my father would ever wear. But this was pretty vague information so far. I just listened without saying anything. Craig didn’t wait for me to respond. He went back into trance for thirty or forty seconds with more eye-fluttering and finger-twitching.

When he opened his eyes again, Craig said, "He’s telling me he had a problem with alcoholism. He’s very sad for what that did to you." Right there I knew it was my father. This is a message my father sends me every time a medium gives me a reading, beginning with the first reading I ever had. I keep telling my father that I forgive him for the alcoholism, but this is either an issue my father continues to struggle with or a signal for me to identify him as the spirit coming through.

"He’s very emotional," said Craig, visibly feeling choked up by my father’s emotion. "I think he died about four or five years ago," he added. At the time of this workshop, that was correct. I was now really impressed that this newcomer to mediumship was so accurate on his first attempt. "He is still sitting beside you. I don’t know why, but he is down low to your side." Craig quickly went back into trance as if to ask my father why he was showing himself so low to my side.

Craig opened his eyes again. "He has a hand on your shoulder. He tells me he is down low to your side to represent how he looked up to you while he was here. He says the two of you changed roles sometimes. Does that make sense?" Craig asked.

It did make sense. My father suffered with severe depressions that led him to self-medicate with alcohol. We changed roles because of my father’s alcoholism. Sometimes I had to be the adult even though I was a teenager because my father had reduced himself to a vulnerable child drowning in a sea of despair and confusion. As I sat with Craig, I recalled a recurring scene in my family’s dining room as a child.

My father sat crying as he soaked his white t-shirt in tears. He would plead with me to help him, to forgive him, to understand that he loved me even when his words or actions hadn’t indicated love. I would hold him for what seemed like hours while he sobbed, me balling along with him. He was lost. I was bewildered. And while Mom was working to pay the bills, I played adult trying to release the pressure of my father’s burdens and fears, comforting him during the darkest stage of his illness--the cry for help. I held an arm around Dad as he dialed one alcohol rehabilitation hospital after another, begging them to admit him one more time. With each refusal, my father’s hope and presence diminished. When someone finally offered to admit him, we both sighed in exhaustion and relief, then rushed him to the hospital to detoxify.

My father eventually did stop drinking for twelve years before he died at the age of sixty-three. I was proud of him for that accomplishment. So it was difficult for me to understand why he tortured himself endlessly in the spirit world with memories of his drinking years. But, needless to say, I knew who and what Craig was talking about. Dad’s message was loud and clear, and I didn’t question that Craig had linked with him in spirit.

It was now my turn to give mediumship a go. I decided to try Craig’s method and do a little meditation to get started. I closed my eyes and attempted to clear my thoughts. I could hear everyone around me giving messages to their workshop partners. I felt like a log on a stage. My mind was blank as Craig waited patiently for a message from beyond. I wondered how long I should sit there teasing him with anticipation. I felt bad for Craig that he got me as a partner. All I could think about was how well he did linking with my father. In my mind, I thanked my father for coming through so clearly. I contemplated the effect this night might have on Craig, knowing that he would likely become a powerful medium one day.

After about a minute, I opened my eyes and said, "I'm getting absolutely nothing. Have you ever tried mediumship before?" I don’t think Craig cared that I sucked at mediumship. I think he was pretty excited about his own performance, too.

Melissa’s partner didn’t do too shabby either. At first she had no success linking with spirit. So Melissa thought it might help if she thought of my father, knowing he was a strong communicator from the other side. She wondered if her partner would pick up on his energy as she thought about him. Without telling her partner who she was thinking about, it worked! The woman immediately picked up on my father’s energy. This was at the same time that Craig was linking with my father, too.  Wow! My father was in two places at the same time--same room, different conversations. Being a spirit is so cool!

Melissa’s partner told her she was getting an older man who was old enough to be Melissa’s father, but she knew from an earlier exercise that Melissa’s father was still alive. This confused the woman because she said the man was too young to be Melissa’s grandfather but she was getting a fatherly energy from him. Since I’d been with Melissa since we were kids, my father loved her as his daughter. A few mediums have told me during my own readings that my father always shows Melissa as one of his children; and to my humorous delight, this always confuses the mediums when they give me test readings.

Melissa’s partner described my father as having gray hair and a button-down plaid shirt with a collar (gee, like a plaid flannel shirt). She added that my father was showing himself with his arm around Melissa and a smile on his face. She said he made her feel happy and was joking with her. This was contrary to the introduction Craig was getting from my father at that same moment, but it was another side to my father that most other mediums have experienced.

You can probably imagine our surprise when Melissa and I swapped stories on the ride home from the workshop that night. I found the fact that my father came through to both beginner mediums in two completely different moods a rather curious occurrence. Even more significant, however, was the fact that both of our partners linked with spirit. For a beginner’s workshop, that was unlikely. My conclusion? Never underestimate your ability to communicate with spirit.

Even if Melissa’s partner and Craig never improve their abilities enough to become mediums by profession, they still must have been blown away by their ability to get what they did during this workshop. I’ve heard many people say that their art or music talent isn’t good enough to make a living from it, but the exercise in itself has personal benefits that are priceless. I’m sure Craig and that woman left the workshop that night feeling they would have paid a lot more than $40 for that experience. If you have never had your own experience linking with spirit, perhaps you don’t have a natural gift of mediumship. But then again… maybe you do.

Warmly,
Bob Olson


OCTOBER 6 - OCTOBER 27, 2007

Supporting A Loved One With Depression Or Bipolar Disorder 

Oprah Winfrey recently aired two shows on bipolar disorder. Having written one book and one ebook on the brain disorders known as clinical depression and bipolar disorder, I’ve heard from a lot of people who are wondering how they can best support their loved ones suffering with one of these two illnesses. This inspired me to publish the following information from my first book on this blog, which was written after I had overcome my disorder for five years. Today I have been symptom-free for over thirteen years. 

“Is there one thing a person can do to best support a loved one suffering from depression or bipolar disorder?” This is the question I asked my wife, Melissa, to answer for me when I wrote my first book. If you know our story, you are already aware of the immense love and support she gave to me while I was struggling with chronic depression. It took “us” five years, three doctors, fifteen medications, two ECT specialists and twenty-one shock treatments before finding a treatment that worked for me. It was Melissa’s hindsight as my supporter during this experience that provided her with the insightful answer to my question. This was her answer: 

“The best thing that anyone can do to best support someone who is suffering from depression or bipolar disorder is to learn about the brain disorder. Knowledge is the key to being supportive. Once you learn about the disorder, everything else you need to do to help the patient will come naturally.” 

How do you get this knowledge? You get it from reading books, ebooks and magazine articles, attending support group meetings, watching television specials about these brain disorders, and occasionally going to the doctor appointments with the patient. Books are the most convenient sources of knowledge, and there are dozens written specifically about these brain disorders.

Melissa explained to me that you can help both the patient and yourself by learning about the brain disorder that has affected your lives. Here are a few examples of how your knowledge and understanding of the disorder can benefit the patient:

You can help monitor the patient’s progress during treatment by recognizing behavioral patterns or symptoms that the patient might not notice.

You will have more patience with the patient because you will recognize their undesirable behavior as disorder-related.

You will be able to help other people in the patient’s life become more understanding of the patient’s behavior, especially those who are not willing to educate themselves about the disorder.

You will have better knowledge of what the patient should and should not be doing so you can properly encourage and motivate them toward the most beneficial action.

You will be one of the few friends or family members the patient can talk to who has an understanding of what they are going through.

Finally, you can help the patient learn more about the brain disorder while you educate yourself. Learning about the disorder is also one of the best things patients can do to help themselves. 

The patient is not the only person who can benefit from your knowledge about the disorder. You the supporter, too, will gain tremendously from this education. Your knowledge can free you from the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with trying to support a mentally ill family member or friend. The fact is that it is difficult not to get caught up in the emotions that they are feeling because it is natural to react to their mood swings and related behaviors. The greatest reward you can reap from understanding any brain disorder (mental illness) is acquiring the ability to detach yourself from the patient’s mood and related behaviors. 

The following are some examples of the common emotions felt in reaction to a patient’s disorder-related behavior.  These emotions can be eliminated through an educated understanding of the brain disorder

Feeling Anger (caused by the erroneous belief that the patient’s behavior is purposeful.)

Feeling Resentment (caused by the erroneous belief that the patient is to blame for making you miserable.)

Feeling Personally Responsible (caused by the erroneous belief that you are somehow at fault for the patient’s behavior.)

Feeling Victimized (caused by the erroneous belief that you are the target of the patient’s behavior.

Feeling Hopeless (caused by the erroneous belief that you have no control over the brain disorder or the behavior that results from it.) 

These distorted perspectives of reality can be harmful to both the patient and yourself as their supporter. This is why it is not only helpful but necessary that you learn about the brain disorder that is affecting both of your lives.

Finally, your new wisdom will be of great assistance to you when dealing with the ignorant comments of people who know nothing about the mental illness but insist upon giving you their useless advice. The stigma of mental illness is unfortunate, but it is a reality nonetheless. Unless you acquire an understanding of the brain disorder appropriately, you will find yourself naked and vulnerable when the advice of ignorance attacks you. People will suggest tough love and herbal teas and you won’t know what to believe. Before you know it, you might even find yourself questioning the diagnosis. If this occurs, you will be more of an adversary than a supporter. 

I have heard it said, “If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.” There is some truth to this statement. The question to ask yourself is whether you are an influence on the patient. If you are open about your opinions concerning the patient’s disorder or treatment methods, then it is likely that you are an influence on that patient. Therefore, if your opinions are derived without a solid understanding of the brain disorder, it is quite possible that you are contributing more to the problem than the solution. 

If you want to be part of the solution, then you must learn about the disorder that torments your loved one. It is that simple. As Melissa said, “Once you learn about the brain disorder, everything else you need to do to help the patient will come naturally.” 

Personally, I believe that anyone willing to make this extra effort for the benefit of another is a hero. There are very few people who will take the time to lift a book or go to a one-hour meeting in order to help another. That is why I hold such admiration, respect and appreciation for the effort and support my wife gave to me.

Shortly after my five-year struggle with depression had ended, I wrote an essay in tribute to Melissa for the sacrifice she made. I hope it will inspire you to follow her example. I titled this, Silent Knights… 

They are heroes, angels and martyrs. Their deeds compare to those of knights in shining armor. But they wear no armor, receive no medals of honor, no trophies and no promises of reward. They are silent, but they are not unrecognized. Who are these silent knights? In my life, my wife is one. Her beauty alone guarantees her many choices and opportunities. Her intellect opens many doors. Her personality shines, comforts and heals. Her smile is famous among her peers. Her love is unconditional and unprejudiced. She is blessed with the capability to live any lifestyle she may choose. She chose unselfishly. She chose me. 

Five years ago, my wife learned of my mental illness. Our world together was crumbling with emotional and financial difficulties. Yet she never considered escape. She held strong. She provided hope, understanding and unlimited support. We changed roles. She became the pillar upon which I depended. As I slept in avoidance of my hellish thoughts, she became provider, nurse, therapist, friend and lover all in one. At my weakest moments, she also served as my salvation from suicide. 

My wife is clearly a knight in shining armor. And yet her deeds were done in silence. Her sacrifice was not in vain. She expected nothing in return. She acted without a selfish thought. She boasted of my successes, but never spoke to her own credit. My struggle for mental health became her struggle. Without any complaint or self-pity, she carried me through five years of combat until my spell of insanity surrendered.  

In tribute to my wife and every other silent knight: your deeds may be silent, but they have not been unrecognized. A million thank yous… 

Because so many people have asked me advice about dealing with clinical depression and bipolar disorder, I finally recorded every bit of advice I have to offer into one easy-to-read ebook. You can learn more about it at www.HowToBeatDepression.com

Warmly,
Bob Olson

SEPTEMBER 15 - OCTOBER 6, 2007

Seeing God In Everyone We Meet

While on vacation last week, Melissa and I went to one of our favorite restaurants in Boothbay Harbor, Maine for our 21st anniversary dinner. The place is named 93 Townsend for its address on Townsend Avenue. We stumbled upon it last year and instantly fell in love with it. It has an elegant-yet-relaxed ambience and an old-fashioned, handcrafted bar that seats up to 20 people. This year we were pleased to snag up one of the two tables beside the front window, just as we had the year before. What never crossed our minds, however, was that these tables sit right next to the bar.

In a classy joint like 93 Townsend, you wouldn’t expect a patron should need to consider seating strategies away from the bar. It didn’t even occur to me when we sat down and a man seated by himself at the end of the bar started talking to us.

The hostess had just seated us and mentioned something about turning down the lights. I hadn’t noticed, but I guess they were a tad on the bright side. Ten seconds later, the lights dimmed and the atmosphere grew warmer.

“Wow, you two have some pull around here,” said the man seated at the bar. He was only three feet away from me. “You walk in and the lights go down. You must be important people.”

“We’re not important,” I responded. “We’re just distant relatives of Moses. It’s our favorite trick.”

The man laughed. “What other abilities do you have?”

“Oh that’s it. Moses got all the good stuff. We can only dim lights.”

That was it, so I thought, just a little friendly banter between patrons. The man began to talk to the bartender as we looked at our menus. After ordering our meals, Melissa picked up the Trivial Pursuit cards and began asking me trivia questions. I got lucky on the first three, which never happens; but I was stumped on the fourth question. That’s when the man at the bar blurted out the answer. I looked to my right and he seemed a little embarrassed.

“I’m sorry. That was rude. I just couldn’t help myself,” he said.

“Hey, that’s fine. I was never going to get the answer,” I told him.

But the man’s disruption did have me wondering how long he’d been listening to our conversation. Let’s just say it was a red flag that had me questioning if our request for this table was a bad idea.

The man’s trivia answer was in response to an Entertainment question about a movie from the 1950s. This got the man talking about old movies, which then got him talking about the days of radio when his family would gather and listen to radio broadcasts in the living room. His favorite show was Gunsmoke. Melissa and I admitted that we never knew it was a radio show prior to being a popular TV hit. He then gave a rather lengthy discourse on how John Wayne turned the part down. At this point, I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the radio show or the TV show. This then got him talking about William Shatner who played a role in Gunsmoke, the TV show, which somehow got the man doing impersonations of what I guess were present-day Shatner comedy routines. This is where it got a little weird.

The man’s storyline had a tendency to drift. I remained friendly but guarded, waiting to figure him out. I’d been in this situation before and knew that once you let the cat in, it’s sometimes near impossible to get him back out the door.

The man then led us into a rather intellectual conversation about the psychology of storytelling, comparing imagination-stirring radio with imagination-negating TV. There was an interesting story about New York University offering a course on psychology and cinematography. And this was when I recognized that certain words in his vernacular were in stark contrast with his appearance. This man was an intellectual in sheep’s clothing.

Observing the man as he spoke, I estimated he was in his sixties. He wore tattered jeans and an old tee shirt, which were out of place for the restaurant. Then I noticed he was drinking a glass of wine, which seemed out of place for his appearance. I think it was the dainty wine glass that appeared too sophisticated for his old-boxer physique. His hair was gray and shaved close to his head. His hands were callused. His arms were muscular. And his voice was gruff like Rocky Balboa’s manager, Mickey.

As he chatted about one subject and then the next, Melissa and I learned his life story. His name is David. He is originally from Vermont. He left there 18 years ago when the company he worked for closed. He got in his pickup truck and drove to Boothbay, Maine, looking for work. He found a job as a carpenter’s assistant. That position led him to working as a handyman-slash-caretaker for someone’s home while taking carpentry jobs on the side. When his primary employer objected to his taking side jobs, he asked for a raise because he wasn’t earning enough to repair his broken-down pickup truck. They refused the raise so he started working for a construction company that paid better, where he continues to work today.

At least that’s the story I deciphered. Besides needing a dictionary to look up some of David’s words, I also needed an iron to flatten out his line of thought. Not everything was entirely coherent. I now questioned how many glasses of wine he’d enjoyed before we got there. Either that or he had a brilliant mind that was moving much faster than his mouth could manage.

David kept apologizing for talking so much, but then kept on talking. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. On the one hand, I enjoyed his company. On the other hand, it wasn’t the romantic anniversary dinner I had intended. I half expected he’d give us our privacy when our meals arrived. But for ten minutes after my Lobster Macaroni & Cheese and Melissa’s Lobster Risotto sat on the table, David was still on a roll. His oration continued from politics to sociology to religion.

It seemed that Melissa and I were not the only people to notice David’s rambling. People around the restaurant kept staring. I even saw the bartender secretly pointing our way while talking to another couple seated halfway down the bar. She had given me the googly-eye three times already as she walked by with drinks in her hand, as if to ask, Do you want me to ask him to move? But I ignored her stares as if I didn’t notice because I didn’t want her to say something. And I know Melissa well enough to have felt certain that she didn’t want to embarrass the man. Besides, our meals were still piping hot. So I waited to see what would happen once we began eating.

As odd as the experience was, the more David talked, the more Melissa and I liked him. He was smart, funny and gentle. He had his opinions but he wasn’t judgmental. In fact, his words revealed a compassionate character inside a man who simply loved people. I actually think he might have been a bit lonely, which is probably why he was sitting at the bar in the first place. And by this time, I knew he wasn’t intoxicated. His social cortex was merely lubricated by the wine.

I surrendered to the possibility that David might talk through the entire meal. By this time, I no longer minded. And when Melissa’s eyes twinkled at me briefly--as if to say, “I think he’s sweet”--I knew she didn’t mind, either. That’s when my meal had cooled enough to eat it without searing my tongue, so I took a few bites. And in a twist of circumstance, I looked up at David to see his back to me. He was facing the other way to let us eat in private.

I was tempted to speak to David out of kindness, as I was sure he was aware of the bartender’s googly-eyes and the other patrons’ stares. He was too sharp to not have noticed. But I took the moment to focus on Melissa. I knew we could talk to David more after the meal. The food was absolutely lovely. They couldn’t have crammed more lobster meat into those dishes. And later, when we were done eating, I brought David back into the conversation.

At one point, while David and I conversed, the bartender quietly apologized to Melissa for our disrupted meal. Melissa told her not to worry, that we were content. And when the conversation turned to current movies, David and Melissa were having a blast sharing their favorite titles with one another. That’s when I saw the bartender ringing up our bill, so I walked down the bar and quietly requested that she put David’s bill on ours. I wanted to express to him with a gesture that we appreciated his company, but I didn’t want him to know about it until after we had left. The bartender seemed surprised at my request. I think it finally occurred to her that we actually enjoyed talking with David.

When I arrived back at the table after paying the bill, David was telling Melissa that his favorite movie of all time is Pay It Forward, a movie about random acts of kindness. Chills sprinkled down my spine. We chatted a little longer. But when David pulled his credit card out, Melissa and I said our goodbyes.

“We’re really grateful to have met you, David,” I said as I shook his hand.

“The pleasure’s all mine, Bob,” he said. “I feel like the two of you are old friends.”

Maybe we are, I thought, as David took Melissa’s hand, bent over and kissed it gently. He suddenly appeared nervous. His brain got in the way of his instincts. He looked at me to read my reaction. I smiled. He relaxed. And Melissa gave him a big hug. David’s eyes turned misty. I wondered how long it had been since he’d been hugged.

Melissa and I then grabbed our doggy bags and left. And as we walked out the door, David hollered to the bartender in his gravely voice, “I’m ready for my check, please.”

Warmly, Bob Olson

AUGUST 25 - SEPTEMBER 15, 2007

Mattress Shopping: A Lesson In Sales

About two and a half weeks ago, Melissa woke me up with a kiss saying, “We need a new mattress.”

Now, we had just made a string of purchases ranging from new tires for the car to X-rays for our dog to a wedding gift for my sister and more, so I wasn’t real keen on spending money for a new mattress. It seemed like such an unnecessary purchase. After all, we’d been sleeping on this mattress every night and it seemed fine. 

Melissa said that her back hurt and she didn’t sleep a wink the night before. 

“One bad nights sleep?” I asked. “How do you know it’s the mattress?” 

“It just never occurred to me before,” said Melissa. “And now that I’ve realized it, I don’t think either of us have been getting a good night’s sleep in a long, long time.” 

It was true. I’d been complaining about being tired for so long that I began to think it was normal. 

The next night, I was now conscious of the “possibility” that we needed a new mattress. By morning, I knew Melissa was right. It was as if the moment I became conscious of it, three years of sleeplessness hit me all at once. 

“Oh my God. You’re right,” I told Melissa. “This mattress sucks!” 

So, the following Saturday, off to the mattress store we went. I figured it couldn’t cost too much. Our last mattress cost only 450 bucks. 

We arrived at one of the mattress chains in our new, local shopping plaza. I knew we were in for a sales pitch, but I also knew I’d learn something about mattresses. That turned out to be a humungous understatement. We were there for an hour-and-a-half. 

From the moment we walked into the store, it felt like I’d stepped into the 1980s. I didn’t realize stores still used the scripted sales pitch. The salesman, Jeff, yelled hello from across the room. I yelled hello back and asked how he was doing. 

“I’’ am terminally incredible!” said Jeff. 

“Terminally” incredible? I wasn’t sure if I should congratulate him or offer my condolences. By the time Jeff made it across the showroom floor, I had flashbacks of buying my first used car. He’d already made a pitch for not talking price before talking needs. 

“Okay, Jeff. Then we need a new mattress that doesn’t cost much more than our last mattress,” I said. 

Jeff just smiled, resisting the temptation of asking what we paid for our last mattress. He then got back on script after only a tiny pause.

“Have you ever tried a Tempur-Pedic®?” he asked. 

“We’re not interested,” I shot back. In our minds, they were simply weird and expensive. 

“Okay. That saves us some time. All our mattresses in the showroom have two sides, a plush side and a firm side. I’m going to have you try both sides to determine which one you like best.” 

Jeff led us to the front of the showroom where I could see the prices were escalating. So I began to walk toward the rear where the cheaper mattresses were hidden.

“Why don’t we start with these less expensive mattresses and work our way up,” I suggested. 

Jeff had a quick response explaining why it makes more sense to begin with the “better” mattresses and work our way down. Being a salesman of days past, I couldn’t help but to follow his lead. Commissioned salespeople have stressful jobs. While some of my friends go into combat mode with commissioned salespeople, I, instead, have empathy for them. 

Jeff’s sales strategy worked. Although he eventually showed us his cheaper mattresses, they now felt cheap and hollow, besides being dreadfully uncomfortable. Knowing I was now looking at a mattress that cost much more than $450, I began asking about the “Zero Percent Financing For One Year” signs that were sprinkled around the store. Since the conversation went from model choice to financing, Jeff was sure he had made a sale. 

While I was certainly motivated to buy a mattress, I prefer not to make a sizeable purchase without walking away and thinking about it. It’s not a rule I follow, just a preference--if I can get myself to do it. You might call it wisdom that comes with age. I call it acute buyer’s remorse from past impulsive purchases. 

I also thought that this might be the time in our life to graduate from a queen-size mattress to a king. Since I was now realistically aware of the actual cost of bedding, I realized that a mattress is an investment. We determined that our last mattress lasted 13 years. Well, it probably lasted ten; it just took us 3 years to notice it had turned into a lumpy sack. Nevertheless, this new mattress was going to determine how we slept for the next decade. And, being the big softies that we are, we allow our 80-pound dog to sleep with us (I know, we’re nuts). So a king-size bed would really be nice. 

After telling us about financing, Jeff was already thinking about ways to spend his commission. That’s when I dropped the bad news. 

“Now that we know which mattress we like, we need to decide if we’re getting another queen-size mattress or if we’re going to move up to a king. So we need to go home and do some measuring.” 

Poor Jeff. He suddenly looked bewildered. As a former salesman, I knew there was really no way for him to talk us into buying that day. Our reason for not buying right at that moment pre-empted his sales close. But Jeff didn’t let that stop him since all commissioned salespeople are trained that 91 percent of potential customers will never return if they walk out that door. That’s why some salespeople seem so assertive. 

“Ho, ho, hold on,” Jeff stuttered. “Let me call my manager.” And he ran across the showroom to his desk before we had a chance to respond. 

Ah, yes, I recognized the “Appeal To A Higher Authority” tactic was about to take place. This means that Jeff would now pretend that he was our buddy who was appealing to his boss to get us a great deal. Unfortunately, Jeff had already made several claims in the last hour that he was in charge of the whole store. He had even claimed that he made all the decisions about which mattresses the store carried. By calling his manager now for permission to give us a special deal just seemed contradictory. 

We probably should have left right there, but we were both raised to be polite. Most people are, which, of course, good salespeople know. So we waited as Jeff pretended to make a phone call and talk to someone. To be honest, some people just aren’t cut out for acting. Jeff then acted all excited and came rushing across the showroom with enthusiasm. It was like watching community theatre. 

“My manager said she can let you have a king size for this price.” He then showed us a yellow sticky note with a price on it. “She’s actually putting her neck on the line for you because the difference could come out of her own pocket if you returned it.” 

That’s when I knew we weren’t buying a mattress from Jeff. I can tolerate a canned sales pitch. I can even tolerate a spiel for the “Extended Warranty,” which we had to endure. But I can’t tolerate a salesperson lying to make the sale. Once a salesperson reveals that he’s a liar, what else has he been lying about? 

We thanked Jeff for the amazing deal he managed to get us and made our attempt to leave. That’s when he manically began to create small talk. I think he was trying to establish rapport, but it seemed a little late for rapport building. 

Jeff began to tell us about the $30,000 Dodge Cougar with a HEMI that he bought his wife, the $8000 Jeep his father bought Jeff’s daughter but then blew up in his field because she was arrested for DUI, then how his daughter was afraid of her grandfather (no kidding), then several other things that I fail to remember because my brain got all fuzzy as Melissa and I inched our way to the door, then both held the door handle, then both held the door open, until finally the phone rang and it broke his verbal stride enough for us to escape. We instantly became part of the 91 percent. 

Two days later, we went to a bedding store without commissioned salespeople. Marissa, a gal who oozed integrity, gave us the pros and cons of the various mattresses. She genuinely seemed to care that we bought the best mattress for us. Ironically, we purchased a Tempur-Pedic® and we absolutely love it. Weird and expensive? Maybe. But hey, the 20-year warranty will last until I’m 64. And now that I’m actually sleeping at night, I have a better chance of living that long. 

Word to wise salespeople: Integrity has taken the place of canned, manipulative selling. No training required.

Warmly, Bob Olson

AUGUST 4 - AUGUST 25, 2007

Ratatouille Or Ratashooty? Guns & A Gas Mask In A Children’s Flick 

Melissa and I recently took our four-year-old nephew, Ryan, to the movies for the first time. We had purposely waited because he’s a sensitive little guy and tends to get scared easily at movies if there’s any violence. This was first discovered when his grandmother took him to see Cars and some inappropriate previews for children scared the daylights out of him. 

In light of the Cars calamity, Melissa and I waited for just the right movie to see with Ryan. Ratatouille seemed the perfect fit.

I had done my research on this movie and was quite excited about seeing it myself due to all the raving reviews. Everyone was saying this movie was as enjoyable for adults as it was for children. Just look at some of these comments from critics:

“Arguably the finest ‘toon in the Pixar canon,” said Lou Lumenick of the New York Post. 

“In a sense, Ratatouille is a story about fulfilling one’s dreams, about going beyond preconceived boundaries and following your heart,” said Bob Bloom of the Journal and Courier in Indiana. 

And Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune said, “I defy you to name another animated film so overflowing with superfluous beauty.” 

Ratatouille even got a 96% approval rating by movie critics at RottenTomatoes.com. Compare that to Spider-Man 3’s 61%, Shreck The Third’s 42%, or even Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix’s 77%. With a 96% approval, I just knew Ratatouille was going to rock my nephew’s world. 

Melissa and I felt honored to be bringing Ryan to such an incredible movie. I could just imagine him getting the DVD one day and remembering our special day together as he played it over and over again. 

Melissa was smart. To avoid the risk of any issues, she and Ryan went out for popcorn during the previews while I stayed in the theatre saving our seats. As I watched the previews, I just knew Ratatouille was going to be good because even the previews were light and funny—absolutely nothing disturbing in the least. 

The previews ended. Melissa and Ryan stepped back in with their popcorn. And Ryan and I exchanged grins of excitement.

Within minutes of the movie beginning, the main character, a cute rat named Remy, got caught in the kitchen of an elderly woman with his buddy. It was a comical scene where Remy was looking for just the right herbs and spices for a recipe he was going to make. But when the elderly woman spotted them, she grabbed a shotgun and began blasting bullets at the little rascals. However, she didn’t just take a couple pot shots. Granny began demolishing her entire apartment by blowing holes into walls, furniture and dishware. 

Normally, I wouldn’t have given the bullet fest a second thought. But knowing that Ryan is sensitive to violence, I looked to my right to see how he was doing. He was covering his eyes with his tiny fists while tears poured down his cheeks and into his popcorn. 

Melissa and I looked at each other with our eyes wide open as the Granny continued blasting away.

“Is all this necessary?” I asked her. 

“I’m going to take him into the lobby,” said Melissa, as she began to grab her purse and stand up. But before Melissa had a chance to maneuver Ryan out of his booster seat, the violence subsided. 

Remy was now out of the elderly woman’s apartment and running for his life. As he ran, he passed by mouse holes where he could look into apartments and see what was going on in each one. Some of the scenes he passed were comical, especially for adults--although I don’t think Ryan understood the comedy. But his gaze was once again transfixed on the screen and he was no longer crying. Melissa eased back into her seat and began to relax. I was thinking to myself, Thank goodness we made it past that part of the movie. 

As Remy continued to pass by apartments, he stopped at one scene that showed a young couple arguing. The girl was holding a pistol and waving it around like she might shoot the young man. She then fired it into the air, shooting a hole in the ceiling, at which point the couple embraced and began kissing passionately.

Melissa and I exchanged glances once again.

I questioned if we should wait it out until the story of Remy cooking for the restaurant began or escort Ryan out of there before we caused him permanent nightmares. Two seconds later, Remy was outside the building. I began to pray silently, “Please, God, no more guns, no more guns.” 

Now that Remy had cleared the building, I assumed he was safe. The fearful rat began to catch his breath and I began to relax in my seat again. Just as I began to unwind, the elderly woman was back, literally with a vengeance. But now she was wearing a gas mask and blasting her shotgun like a madwoman. I didn’t even need to look at Ryan to see how he was doing. The gas-masked, crazed lady even had me frightened. 

Before I could take my eyes off the horror, I heard my nephew crying again. I looked over to see Melissa handing me the popcorn with one hand while simultaneously helping Ryan up out of his chair with the other. The girl sitting to the right of Melissa was now sobbing, too.

“That’s it,” Melissa said. “We’re out of here.” 

As we walked out the theatre door, there was a father consoling his daughter who had buried her face between the trashcan and wall. “It’s all right, honey,” he whispered. “It’s just a cartoon.” 

I found the manager and asked for a refund. After all, all this happened within the first ten to fifteen minutes. “I thought I was going to a children’s movie, not a movie about Dirty Harry’s grandmother,” I said. She didn’t say a word, didn’t even look at me, but gave me twenty bucks out of the cash register and walked away. 

I wondered if Ryan would someday get the DVD to this movie and watch it safely in his own home. It occurred to me that even if he was no longer scared by the violence, his memory of our special day wouldn’t be what Melissa and I had hoped for. 

I’ve never really given the “violence in movies” debate much thought because it never affected me, personally. However, this incident certainly had me wondering if the guns and shooting were necessary in an animated, children’s movie about a rat who was following his dream of being a chef.  

JULY 14 - AUGUST 4, 2007

The Secret To Buying The Perfect Gift

Our friends, Michael and Cheryl, recently invited Melissa and me to attend a Fourth of July barbecue on a boat. This wasn’t just any boat. Michael’s parents had chartered a 157-foot yacht with 4 floors and a crew of ten people. This was all very exciting, of course, as Melissa and I had never been on a yacht of any length. And since we had only met Michael’s parents briefly in the past, we looked forward to being able to spend some time with them. 

On July 2nd, it popped into my head to bring Michael’s dad one of my favorite cigars. I’m an occasional cigar smoker and was recently given the absolute best cigar I’d ever smoked. So I had this intuitive push to share my recent find with Michael’s father.   

Now I normally smoke a nice little cigar named La Gloria Cubana, which costs only $6 at my barbershop in Kennebunkport. But when some close friends (Cooper’s owners, see previous blog entry) gave me a birthday present in May, they got me a cigar named La Aurora. And once I smoked it, this new $15 cigar suddenly made my $6 cigar taste like dirt. So I now had a new, favorite cigar that I could get for special occasions. And attending a barbecue on a yacht seemed like just the right occasion. 

It was all so simple. My heart wanted to give my friend’s father one of my favorite cigars in appreciation for having us on his yacht for a barbecue. That was it, until my head got in the way of my heart and messed everything up. 

Suddenly I realized that I couldn’t give Michael’s father a gift of appreciation without giving his mother something, too. So I asked Melissa what we should get his mother for a gift and she quickly responded with, “Well, if you’re giving him your favorite cigar, I’ll give her my favorite tea.” 

Great. Problem solved, right? Nope. Now it occurred to me that they might not like cigars or tea. I had to call our friends to find out.

“…and we just wanted to bring a token of our appreciation to Michael’s parents for inviting us, so I wondered if his dad likes cigars,” I asked Cheryl by phone. 

“Oh, yes, that’s a wonderful gift. He doesn’t smoke them often, but he loves an occasional cigar. That’s really nice of you. He’ll be thrilled,” said Cheryl. 

Now the way my neurotic mind works, Cheryl’s enthusiasm was delivered with much higher octane than I anticipated. After all, I was only giving the man one little cigar--a simple gesture. Did I make her think that I was going to give him an entire box of cigars? Let’s see, 24 times $15… Oh God, I hoped not. Even though I knew Cheryl could care less what I gave her father-in-law, I had to water down her expectation in case I had given her the wrong impression. 

“Now don’t get me wrong, I’m only giving him a couple cigars. (One sounded cheap as I was saying it to her, so now one cigar grew to two cigars.) It’s just a gesture of appreciation. And how about Michael’s mom, does she drink tea?” 

“She loves tea. That’s a perfect gift,” said Cheryl. 

So now I had a plan. The next day, I went to my barbershop to buy “two” of my favorite cigars. But as I drove there, I realized that I needed something to put the cigars into—a nice container of some sort. I couldn’t merely hand the man two cigars. That would be barbaric. And this is where my mind started spinning. 

When I arrived at the barbershop, I recognized that there was no cheap way to package these cigars. But I saw some nice wood and leather cigar holders—average price, $30. 

Oh geez, I thought, I set out to give a simple $15 cigar and it’s turned into two cigars and a leather case. No. I can’t do it. This is getting ridiculous

Then my barber said the cigar cases were half off.

Excellent! I’ll get it and be done with it, I thought to myself.

That’s when I noticed that cigar holders are for either one cigar or three--nothing for just two. Surely I couldn’t put only two cigars in a three-cigar case. That would look foolish. So I decided to get three cigars and the leather case. And as I grabbed three La Auroras out of the humidor, it occurred to me that Michael’s father might want to smoke one with me. That presented a new problem. I certainly couldn’t smoke one of the cigars I just gave him. Therefore, I grabbed a fourth for myself so I could enjoy a cigar with Michael’s dad on the yacht without having to smoke one of his. 

Okay. This is all going to be perfect, I thought.

As the barber was ringing up my cigars on the register, Melissa walked into the shop. She had been waiting for me in the car and was wondering what was taking so long. She saw me purchasing four cigars and a leather case.

“I thought you only came in here to buy one cigar?” she asked. Of course, she knows me better than I know me, so she wasn’t all that surprised. 

“Well yesterday, after talking with Cheryl, I decided to give him two. But then I wanted something to put them in, and all they have are these cases. But the cases are for either one cigar or three. And I’m not going to give him two cigars in a three-cigar case. That would be silly. Plus I had to get one cigar for myself just in case Michael’s dad wants to smoke one with me, as I’m not going to smoke one of the cigars I just gave him.” 

As I explained all this to Melissa, I realized I was spiraling out of control. Melissa looked at me like I was nuts, then looked at the case and the cigars. 

“Those are fat cigars. Are they going to fit in that case?” she said. 

Both my face and the barber’s face turned perplexed. I opened the leather case to find that the cigars didn’t fit. They were too fat. They were thin and pointed at each end, but really thick in the middle. Melissa and I proceeded to try every case in the barbershop; the cigars wouldn’t fit in any of them. I paid for the cigars and left without a case.

“What a bummer. And they were having a half-off sale, too,” I said to Melissa as we got into the car. “I’m going to the cigar shop down the street.” 

Melissa knew I was now on a mission and didn’t try to stop me. 

“Great. I can walk from there to go get the tea,” said Melissa. “I’ll meet you back at the car.” She didn’t want any part of the predicament I was causing myself. 

When I went into the cigar shop, I had one of the cigars in my pocket. I explained to the bored teenage clerk my quandary and he was only too happy to pull out all their cigar holders from the glass display. After twenty minutes, he found one leather cigar case that worked. It was for three cigars, but it would only hold two of the fat cigars I had purchased. And it was 30 bucks—no half-off sale. I didn’t care. I would have paid twice that to be done with the dilemma.

As I stood there at the counter paying for the cigar case, it occurred to me that Michael’s father might not own a cigar cutter, or might not have one with him. How is he going to cut the cigars on the yacht? I wondered. 

I looked at all the nice cigar cutters on the counter, which also averaged $30. Then I imagined Melissa’s expression if I bought one. I could almost hear her asking, “What, no lighter?” I caught hold of myself and bought a cheap cutter for 3 bucks and grabbed a book of matches. I decided I’d only give them to Michael’s dad if he needed them. 

The next day was the Fourth of July. The yacht was fantastic. The barbecue turned out to be some of the most scrumptious steak and lobster I’d ever tasted. And Michael’s dad appeared to have liked the cigars and leather case I gave him. It was raining outside, so we didn’t have a smoke together. But, at one point, he came up to me and gave me two of his favorite cigars. I later learned that his favorite cigar costs $50. 

Oh great, I thought. Now my $15 cigars are going to taste like dirt to him.


JUNE 30 - JULY 14, 2007

Black Dog, White Dog: A Love Story 

Three November’s ago, on Thanksgiving Day, my dog, Libby, met her boyfriend, Cooper. Libby’s a Labrador mix. Cooper’s an English Golden. And the gods were surely smiling when they brought these two together. 

Libby was a mere ten-weeks old, her pink, sutured belly still exposed where she’d been shaved and neutered just two weeks prior by the shelter. She was clumsy, bouncy and tough, and she hadn’t yet learned that her needle-like teeth could be hurtful. Cooper, a year older, outweighed Libby by seventy pounds. But, like the gentleman that he is, he remained on his back while wrestling with her, patient and tolerant of the pain her stinging bites inflicted. 

Having the time of her life, and surely reminiscent of the rollicking she’d enjoyed with her siblings just two weeks prior, Libby grabbed hold of Cooper’s cheek until it stretched two inches from his jaw. When the pain grew unbearable, he gently placed his massive paw on her five-inch-long body to tackle her and gain some feeling back in his face. Unaffected by the defeat, Libby broke free of Cooper’s hold, lunged for his head once again, then sank her teeth into his other cheek. With a mouthful of fur and skin, she ran with it as if she could carry it across the yard. When Cooper’s hide stretched to its limits, Libby’s body snapped back toward him and a little blood appeared on Cooper’s silk-white cheek. I remember hearing him wince slightly as us human spectators cringed in empathy. 


Libby at 9 weeks

Cooper lives two houses down from my in-laws, which is only ten minutes from our home. So whenever Melissa and I visited, Cooper came running over. He was always delighted to see his new friend. If he were in the house when we arrived, he would bark incessantly until he was let out the door. More often then not, Cooper was panting and barking at my car door before I had a chance to shut off the ignition and let Libby free.

The feeling was mutual, of course. We couldn’t drive down Cooper’s street without Libby yelping in anticipation of seeing him. It broke my heart when we drove by Cooper’s house on our way to town. Seeing her face in my rearview mirror morph from excitement to despair was painful to watch. Though she’s more intelligent than I sometimes desire, she could never understand how I could be so cruel as to drive by without a visit. 

Over the following two years, Libby and Cooper bonded like best friends. They’d meet other dogs at the beach and on their walks, but none ever matched up to their soul mate. More frustrating than anything for each of them was that no other dog knew how to play properly. 

The canine lovers had their own choreographed way of playing. First Libby would run circles around Cooper—she must have some Greyhound in her genes—and then they would lightheartedly brawl. Libby always remained the aggressor while Cooper tolerated being tackled and twisted. Though Libby never tired of her playful cheek pull, it was evident that he didn’t either. While it undoubtedly numbed his face, it seemingly warmed his heart as well. And, every so often, on that rare occasion when Libby wasn’t looking, Cooper would grab hold of her cheek and yank. Us humans in the audience would cheer because the underdog just caught a break. And regardless of her pain and embarrassment, Libby always seemed to smirk in admiration of his courage and reflexes. 




As Libby turned three, she hurt herself playing on the beach. It was a partial tear to a ligament in her right knee. The injury slowed Libby down for the most part, though you’d never know it when she was in the company of Cooper. As their owners and referees, we kept the play dates as low key as possible, but Libby would always pay the price in the evening. After twenty minutes with her boyfriend, she could barely walk on her right leg at night. I know she felt the price was worth paying, which is why we allowed it at all. 

Visitations for Libby and Cooper went from a normal three times a week to once a week. And this pace seemed to prevent further injury. But this past May, Libby’s injury took a turn for the worse. She and Cooper were grazing together in a field. Cooper came back; Libby didn’t. When I looked to see where she was, she was laying on the edge of the field licking her right rear leg. For the next few weeks, she only walked on three legs. 

Since Libby’s last injury, she and Cooper rarely see one another anymore. Since she can’t contain her excitement over seeing him and only wants to run and wrestle in spite her pain, the few moments the two friends have seen one another have been brief and controlled. The last time Melissa and I stopped by to see Cooper’s owner without Libby, Cooper barked at us in anger for five minutes. He missed his favorite girl and simply could not understand how we had the nerve to show up there without her. I explained that Libby was home healing, but my explanation had little effect on his annoyance with me. 

We then returned home to witness Libby’s face upon recognizing Cooper’s scent on us. Her reaction withdrew any doubt in my mind that animals have the capacity to grieve. The sorrow that washed over her face was instant. And she, too, was now disgusted with our insensitivity. 

Libby will be four in September. The doctors say she’s much too young to have a torn ligament. The reality is that she’ll get better—a little. But she and Cooper will never play like they once did. If Libby can learn not to jump and run when she sees her boyfriend, they will get to see one another more often. In the meantime, she’s healing. 

The last time we got the two dogs together for a visit, Cooper clearly understood Libby’s injury. He was gentler and made an obvious attempt to keep her calm. When her pain forced her to lay on the grass, he followed suit. And as I sat on the porch—myself grieving for her loss, their loss and mine—I looked over to see Cooper licking Libby’s face. It was this sweet gesture that helped me to realize that things could be a whole lot worse for Libby. After all, they still have each other.

Warmly, Bob Olson

JUNE 9 - JUNE 30, 2007

Expect The Unexpected

When I was a teenager, I used to have a little business named Olson Odd Jobs. I started the business in high school and continued it into college. I used to mow and rake lawns, do small landscaping projects, clean out garages and attics, move pianos and appliances, seal driveways, wash windows and clean rain gutters. I eventually offered only the latter three services because they earned me the most money for the least of amount of time. But I understood that there was a reason people paid me so highly for these jobs: they were all household tasks that most homeowners hated or feared doing. 

Most homeowners loathed getting all black and sticky while sealing driveways, despised making their arms and elbows ache while washing windows, and absolutely feared getting onto ladders and leaning over rooftops while cleaning foul-smelling, mucky mud from leaf-clogged rain gutters. Oh the things I would find in those gutters: mice skeletons from a cat who left presents by the owner’s bedroom window, small toys from bored boys who liked to throw things, and even a set of keys--I’ll bet there’s a good story behind that one, unfortunately the homeowner never divulged it. 

My most memorable gutter-cleaning story left me with a valuable lesson that I’d like to share with you. It’s a lesson I have never forgotten, so I regard it as most appropriate for this blog. 

My favorite customers were the Blakelys, a sweet, retired couple who had a house set deep in the woods. There wasn’t a neighboring house within sight and it was so far off the road that you couldn’t hear any traffic. I loved working there because it was such a peaceful place to work, although I probably couldn’t have articulated why I liked it at that age. Nonetheless, because it was so peaceful, I liked working there on my own, rather than bringing one of the chatterbox high school kids who often worked for me. Consequently, when Mrs. Blakely called me to clean their gutters one year, I decided to go it alone. 

Normally I never cleaned gutters without a helper, just in case I fell off the roof or ladder. This time, however, I figured Mrs. Blakely would be around since she was always home when I worked there. But no sooner did I arrive when Mrs. Blakely exited the house announcing that she was leaving and that Mr. Blakely was out golfing. I guess she assumed I didn’t need her to be home because I was working outside and would only be there a short time. 

As I listened to the dissipating sound of her muffler as she drove away, I really didn’t mind that Mrs. Blakely had left me alone. It was an early summer morning; the air was moist; the sun was awakening; and I was soaking in the tranquility of the solitude. So I took my time unloading my mile-long ladder from my foot-long Subaru Brat and leaned it up against the gutter. It wasn’t until I stepped onto the roof--accidentally kicking the ladder as I swung my leg around--that I knew I was in trouble. I watched my ladder slide down the gutter and fall onto the ground, appearing to move in slow motion yet there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop it. After feeling relieved that the ladder didn’t smash a window or tear off some shingles on its descent, I looked down from the rooftop to my ladder below, realizing my predicament. 

The Blakelys’ home was an odd design. It was long and angled and the gutters seemed like they never ended, even though there were no gutters in the back of the house. Plus, due to the fact that a large weeping willow shaded the house, the gutters were packed with little buds that fell off the flailing branches when the wind blew. So when my ladder slid off the roof, I figured I would just clean the gutters from the rooftop and someone would come home long before I was done. 

Two hours later, I was done and nobody was home. This, of course, was at a time in history when pocket cellphones were just some soon-to-be-rich person’s vision. With no neighbors around, I sat on the roof with my garbage bags full of leaves and waited… and waited and waited and waited. 

I thought about the customers who were expecting me to arrive. I thought about the bees who had me cornered without an escape route. And I thought about my late morning snack, then my lunch, then my afternoon snack--all sitting in a cooler in my Subaru. As each hour passed, I felt hungrier, hotter and hopeless. Still, I was present enough to enjoy the quietude and simply relax until I was rescued. 

Seven hours after kicking my ladder off the roof, Mrs. Blakely pulled into the driveway. When she got out of her car, she looked up at me on the roof inquisitively. 

“Hi Bob. What happened? Did you have to come back?” 

“No, Mrs. Blakely. My ladder slid off the gutter and fell to the ground. I’ve been stuck up here all day.” 

“Oh, you poor boy. Why didn’t you just use the painter’s ladder in the back? I’m pretty sure it’s still leaning there.” 

I cocked my head and stood there in a moment of silence. Then, without saying a word, I walked, no ran over the roof to the backside of the house, the side with no gutters. And there it was, a tall and shiny ladder. I’m pretty sure I heard it say “Idiot”. Or maybe that was me. I walked up to the peak of the roof where I could see Mrs. Blakely on the other side looking up in anticipation. 

“I can’t believe it. I didn’t expect a ladder to be there, so I never even looked.” 

She looked up at me, holding her hand in front of her face to block the sun and said, “Sometimes the answer to our problems, Bob, is right around the corner. We just have to believe it exists or we won’t even look.” 

I stood there in silence thinking about the lesson. Mrs. Blakely smiled and walked into the house.

Warmly, Bob Olson


MAY 12 - MAY 26, 2007

Angels In The Flesh

We have a lot of new subscribers to this newsletter, and so I know there are many of you who do not know that, from 1989 to 1994, I endured a clinical depression that lasted for 5 nonstop years. I suffered with a hereditary brain disorder that causes a chemical imbalance in the brain. Long story short, my brain chemicals got so unbalanced that doctors couldn’t find a way to make this chronic depression go away. 

By the beginning of 1994, I had tried just about every possible medication that offered hope to end my suffering, more than 15 medications in 4 years. When we ran out of possibilities, my doctors and I agreed that electroshock therapy (electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT for short) was next in order. I was scared, as you might expect; but since my irrational thoughts increasingly focused on suicide to escape my pain, shock therapy offered the hope I so desperately needed.

My ECT doctor said some patients feel better after just a few shock treatments. I had three treatments, but felt no relief. So they gave me more. Six, no improvement. Eight, still nothing. Twelve, nada. After seventeen ECT treatments, they decided to try something new. So far they had given me unilateral shock treatments--administering an electrical stimulation to one side of my brain. Now they would try bilateral ECT--administering the stimulation to both sides of my brain simultaneously.

After just four bilateral treatments--21 shock treatments in all--my doctors decided to go no further. The bilateral ECT had caused me some disturbing, although temporary (I hoped) memory loss. And since I still saw no improvement in my depression (I still prayed I would die in my sleep), my doctors decided to go no further. And this is where the story of this week’s blog begins. 

During my depression, I was encouraged to take walks as much as possible because exercise is a proven mood elevator. It was usually too difficult to drum up the energy, but I made the extra effort on beautiful days if at all possible.

One sunny day, even though I had begun walking from our home, I no longer recognized my surroundings. Being just weeks after my bilateral electroshock treatments, it was now common that I would drive to the store or doctor’s office and get lost. My memory loss was sporadic; but when it occurred, it was as if random memories just went blank. Fortunately I always remembered our phone number and would call Melissa to guide me home. This particular day, I had gone for a walk in the neighborhood and was lost. And, although there were plenty of houses around, I was too embarrassed to ask anyone for directions. How do you begin to explain that, especially when depression causes such low self-esteem? So I walked and walked, but didn’t recognize a house or barn or street sign. 

I kept walking and finally found a highway I recognized. I decided I had no choice but to walk along it toward my home. Inexplicably, I now remembered how the highway led to my home. Yet after walking down the highway for a mile or so, I realized I was miles from my exit. I wanted to crawl up and die right there, but had no choice but to try to find a shortcut through the woods. As I attempted to climb over a six-foot fence on the side of the highway, I heard someone yelling.

Hello!” said a voice behind me. “Hello, young man. Are you lost?” 

I looked behind me and there was a man who had pulled over on the side of the highway and was talking to me.

The man was driving his elderly mother to her eye doctor for a checkup. She had recently injured one eye and wore a black patch over it. With her one eye, this woman had seen me walk by her house earlier and had mentioned to her son that I looked lost. When they saw me trying to scale the fence by the highway, they were sure of it. Lucky for me, they pulled over to offer me a ride.

“I had to stop,” said the man. “On the other side of that fence is 80 acres of swampland. If you got lost in there, and you likely would have, no one would have ever found you. It’s so thick with trees and swamps, you would have been lost in those woods in no time.” 

Lost in the forest. What a metaphor that would have been, I thought to myself.

This story does not end here. As the man and his mother drove me home, they asked me how I became so lost. I briefly surrendered the story about my depression and how the ECT had affected my memory. The mother related to my story because her sister had once lived with depression. She explained that her sister had suffered for years before finding a medication that helped her. Then she told me the name of that medication.

A couple weeks later, I sat with my doctor in his office trying to choose which medication I would try for a second time. As mentioned, I had already tried everything on the market before the ECT. Since my encounter with the man and his mother was still on my mind, I suggested that I try the medication that had helped her sister. Although I had tried this medication before without success, my doctor said it was as good a choice as any.

Seven days later, my depression lifted. The medication worked. That was September 17th, 1994. And, this summer, I will be celebrating 13 years of depression-free living.

PS, I’ve written two books to inspire and educate both sufferers and supporters about the brain disorders known as clinical depression and bipolar disorder. Although one was published in 1999, I have included both books into one ebook so that patients and their loved ones can download this life-changing information instantly. You can read about and purchase this ebook at www.howtobeatdepression.com


APRIL 28 - MAY 12, 2007

Thank You, Ruth Harper, And Goodbye 

Every time Melissa and I walk our dog, we have this habit of waving hello to every car that passes. In the last three-and-a-half years, we’re getting to know most of the people who live on the street (partly due to this practice), but there are still plenty of tourists, construction workers, landscapers, delivery drivers and sightseers who drive by surprised by our gesture. I often wonder how many of these people think we’re nuts seeing two strangers waving at them like old friends. You can learn a lot about people simply by witnessing their reactions. 

I recently came across an article that I wrote over ten years ago when we still lived in Massachusetts. It was published in the Worcester Telegram following an ongoing news story about a hit-and-run accident. Police were pursuing the case for over a week and eventually caught the driver, but the sadness of the story hung in the air like senseless tragedy often does. This woman possibly would have lived if the driver had stopped and called an ambulance.

I like to believe that my writing has improved since the early 1990s. And the insights I wrote about seem fairly commonplace to me now. All the same, coming across this story made me smile, so I simply had to share it with you. The article was titled: Thank You, Ruth Harper, And Goodbye.

………………..

A recent newspaper article featured a story about a woman who was hit by a car and died. It was a hit-and-run accident that occurred just up the street from my home. Although we didn’t know the seventy-five-year-old woman, my wife, Melissa, and I could not help but to feel deeply disturbed by the news of her death. Let me explain why...

A couple years ago while I was driving down my street, I saw this same woman walking her dog. Her back was to me, but as soon as she heard my car, she turned and waved hello. Hesitantly, I waved back -- I was afraid she would realize I was someone she did not know and think I was strange waving back at her. But, in the time that I thought about it, she was far behind me.

The next time I saw this woman walking her dog, she again turned at the sound of my car and began waving to me. Not so surprised this time, I waved back with enthusiasm. It felt good to have a new friend in the world who I could wave hello to.

This went on for some time. I was excited for Melissa to witness this kind woman’s greeting, so one day when I spotted the woman down the road, I forewarned Melissa that she was in for a treat by exclaiming, "Oh, there’s my new friend..." As I drove by waving, Melissa waved along too with a curious look on her face.

In time, this woman became a part of our lives. We always enjoyed waving to her as we drove home. As our schedules changed, we didn’t see the nice woman anymore. And Melissa would often comment, "I wonder where our friend is today." As silly as it may sound, we felt a sadness whenever we drove down the street without seeing her.

The newspaper interviewed the man who found the woman’s body. The man said he didn’t know the woman, but he normally saw her on his way to breakfast -- she always waved to him as he drove by. This particular morning he didn’t see her. On his return from breakfast, he noticed her body on the side of the snow-covered road. Although he phoned the police immediately from his cellular phone, her injuries were fatal. She was pronounced dead at the hospital a couple hours later.

Melissa mentioned to me that she felt compelled to go to the funeral services.

"But we don’t even know her," I said, not admitting I felt the same impulse.

"I know," she responded, "I just feel like we had a connection with her." I agreed, of course. And it was then that I discovered a little lesson about life.

I don’t know if this sweet woman was a little nutty or just unusually friendly, but her simple gesture of waving hello to every car that drove by somehow touched people. I know she touched Melissa, myself and that man who found her on the side of the road. I’m sure there were many others.

I drive by many of the same people day after day and feel nothing. Heck, I have worked with people day-in and day-out and felt less connection with them. Perhaps if they had just returned a smile now and then it would have been different. Instead, sometimes the best part of my day was when a stranger waved to me on my way home.

I’m not suggesting that we all begin waving hello to strangers, but I can think of worse habits to start. I’ll bet there are many people who have exchanged derogatory hand signals to strangers a lot more often than they have waved hello. Why are we so uncomfortable waving hello to people we don’t know?

Have you ever smiled at someone in the hall at work, or on the street, and had them just stare blankly at you? Doesn’t that feel lousy? Why are we so cold to one another? Especially when it feels so good to exchange... well, I guess I’ll call it an expression of love.

Couldn’t a wave hello be considered a gesture that sends a little love? A smile might fall into the same category, although I think it’s safer to smile at someone than to give them a big wave. So a wave must send more love than a smile. And a hug would be sending even more love. And I guess a kiss would hold a mountain of love.

Ever hug a child? Ever be hugged by a child, one of those great big bear hugs? It feels so good it makes your spine melt. Children don’t hold back their love until adults teach them to. That’s why nobody hesitates to wave or smile at a child -- we know the child will reciprocate. Maybe that is our problem. Maybe we fear that others won’t reciprocate the love we send.

Perhaps the reason we sometimes stare blankly at a person who smiles at us is because we are caught off-guard, even suspicious, of anyone we don’t know who is sending us love. "What do they want? They must want something from me? Am I being manipulated here? I must beware."

By the time we think it through and realize that there are no strings attached to their smile, the person is gone and the moment is over. Now we have hurt that person. Sure it’s a minor hurt, but we rejected them just the same. When we finally get a second chance to smile at that person at a future date, they’re gun shy and look away. They don’t want to risk being rejected again.

An individual only needs to be rejected a few times before he or she will stop waving and smiling at strangers altogether. Before you know it, nobody’s exchanging love with anyone they don’t know and trust. The result is the world as we know it -- a world that needs more people who are not afraid to wave and smile at one another. Our world needs more people like that nice old woman on my street. Yet, now we have lost her.

With the help of this loving woman who wasn’t afraid to wave hello to everyone passing her on the street, I learned a valuable lesson. Unfortunately, she had to die before I really thought about it. I guess, though, it’s not unusual for death to teach us the most important lessons about life. Thanks to this wonderful soul, I have learned a lesson while I am still healthy and alive. Thank you, Ruth Harper, and goodbye.

……………….. 

It was a simple article with a simple message, but I received a lot of positive feedback about it. In fact, three of Ruth Harper’s family members read it and called me. One granddaughter left me a phone message in tears. She had just finished reading the article and said between sniffles, “I never knew that about my grandmother. Thank you so much.” 

I had forgotten about that article until recently. But I think of Ruth Harper often. Every time a stranger drives by me and Melissa without waving, obviously bewildered by our gesture, possibly thinking that we have mistaken them for someone else, I think to myself, “Next time they drive by, they’ll know we were waving at them. And they, too, will feel good to know they have a new friend.” 

Or maybe they’ll just think that we’re nuts. Either way, they’ll be right.

Warmly, Bob Olson

APRIL 7 - APRIL 28, 2007

Trying To Avoid Anna Filaktik: A Day In My Life With A Deadly Allergy

Having once lived in Los Angeles, Melissa and I love to return now and then for a visit. The last time we were there, we stayed in a quaint little condo in Santa Monica that was within walking distance of a cool outdoor shopping area called the Third Street Promenade. And within this grouping of hip stores are several restaurants, including one that I particularly like called Johnny Rockets--a 1950’s style hamburger joint that unintentionally almost killed me.

We were vacationing with our two nieces, ages 15 and 17, and the four of us sat down at a table outside the restaurant that overlooked the vacationers and street musicians. After ordering a #12 hamburger with fries, I decided to get a chocolate malt to really set the mood. And this is where my problems began. 

Since I’m deathly allergic to peanuts, peanut butter and peanut oil, I asked the waiter if he could wash the blender prior to making my malt, since they also make peanut butter malts on the same machine. He assured me he’d do it himself, which got me thinking, “Nice. Big tip for this guy.”   

When I got the malt and began sucking it down like a six-year-old, I noticed something unusual was getting caught in my straw. “Cool! Marshmallows,” I thought to myself. “This must be something new they’ve added.” 

On the sixth marshmallow, I said to Melissa, “This is odd. I think they’ve added marshmallows to their chocolate malts.” 

Melissa, who was in deep conversation with our nieces, stopped in mid-sentence, “What do you mean there are marshmallows? Are you sure that’s what they are?” 

“I don’t know,” I replied, and I bit into one. That’s when my day turned a corner. The little marshmallow-like substance was actually dry peanut malt powder that had stuck together because it wasn’t blended enough. Having eaten five of these marshmallows already, I knew I needed immediate medical attention. This was the largest amount of peanut anything that I’d ever eaten, and I’d been in emergency rooms more than once after eating much less. 

This is when the waiter came over to ask if our meals were okay. I asked him why there was peanut malt in my chocolate malt and he said that the cook spoke Spanish and must have misunderstood him. I didn’t bother to ask the waiter why he didn’t do it himself like he had promised. Instead, Melissa and I knew we needed to react fast. 

I quickly asked if there was a pharmacy nearby and was told there was a vitamin store one block down. I ran to the vitamin store while Melissa paid the bill and got directions to the nearest hospital. Because time is of the essence in these situations, I asked the vitamin store clerk where the Benadryl® was located rather than search the shelves for it myself. He had it stored behind the counter and told me that all they had was Benadryl® Allergy & Cold medicine.

I grabbed the package from the clerk’s hand, looked at the dosage amount and downed four capsules before paying. I then threw ten bucks on the counter and told him to keep the change as I ran out the door and back to Johnny Rockets. When I got there, Melissa had already obtained directions to the nearest hospital, but she also called her brother, Scott, (who lived nearby) to drive me there, since finding anything in L.A. can be a time-consuming treasure hunt. 

Walking halfway back to our condo where we were to meet Scott, I remembered that I left my sunglasses on the restaurant table. Our nieces quickly volunteered to run back and retrieve them. Yet two minutes later, when Melissa and I got to the condo, my allergy symptoms had escalated quicker than they ever had before. By this time already, just minutes since biting into the peanut-powdered marshmallows, my face was swollen to where my eyes were closing up, I was sneezing and coughing, my lungs felt like they were filling up with fluid--which was causing me to wheeze--and I could feel my throat slowly closing from the swelling.

I now knew I didn’t have time to wait for Scott. With city traffic, there was no way to predict how long it would take him to get there. I decided to drive myself to the hospital using the directions Melissa had obtained. Melissa had to stay behind to wait for our nieces. Again, although they were only minutes away, every minute counted. 

I jumped in our rental car and drove down the busy, city street. Melissa was told there were 11 traffic lights to get to the emergency room of a teaching hospital. If I were forced to stop at each one, I risked anaphylactic shock, and, at worst case, cardiovascular collapse, which basically means death. So I hoped that I’d hit a lot of green lights… I didn’t. 

On any other given day, the streets of Los Angeles are riddled with police. Not this day. Although I was extremely cautious, I drove through red lights hoping to save myself time and, perhaps, get pulled over by a police officer who could give me a police escort. Yet no police were in sight. I drove through 8 red lights without drawing the attention of so much as a meter maid.

The directions were accurate and I found the hospital despite my increasing symptoms. That’s when something happened that I had never experienced before. Just as I walked through the emergency room doors, I began to white out. This is how I knew my allergy had escalated to a new level for me. By “white out,” I mean that everything in my vision was disappearing into white and my hearing was becoming silent. A few seconds later, my vision and hearing returned. And this kept happening every few minutes. 

I told the intern who was managing the emergency room patient-intake that I was experiencing a food allergy to peanuts and needed immediate attention. She told me that she would be right with me, but didn’t respond further. A minute later, I explained my predicament again, stressing to her that my allergy had already escalated to dangerous levels. She wouldn’t look at me, as if I were annoying her, then she said, “I’ll be right back” and exited through a door. 

I didn’t know if she was retrieving help or stepped outside for a quick smoke. Normally, in the 4 other peanut-related emergency visits of my past, I was escorted to an emergency room where a team of doctors and nurses quickly converged with injections, an EKG machine and who knows what else. Here at the teaching hospital, I was told to wait while my sight and sound continued to disappear every few minutes. 

When the intern walked back through the door, I was relieved. She said, “Come with me.” She then led me to a bench in the hallway and said, “Wait here, I’m going to see if anyone is available to help you.” 

I thought, “Huh? See if anyone can help me? She hasn’t even told anyone I’m here?” 

She quickly disappeared around the corner as everything turned white, once again. I was sure I was going to die. When my vision and hearing returned, I was having difficulty catching a breath. The wheezing now sounded like snoring. My throat was nearly swollen closed. I was lightheaded to the point of being dizzy. And my eyes were small slits from which to peek through.

I called Melissa on my cellphone. “You need to get here fast. They’ve got me waiting in the hallway. I don’t think the intake intern understands food allergies.” I didn’t want to alarm Melissa any more than necessary, but I now felt helpless. Nevertheless, at this point, they were just leaving the condo. 

Finally, a doctor came flying around the corner, as if he had just found out about me. His eyes widened upon looking at my condition, and he grabbed my shoulder and walked me to a gurney. He began asking how long it had been since I had ingested the peanut substance, what medication I had taken and how much of it. When I told him about the Benadryl® Allergy & Cold medicine, he appeared alarmed. I handed him the box that was still in my pocket.

“How much did you take?” 

“Four,” I said. “I wanted regular Benadryl® but the store only had the allergy and cold,” I added. 

“These have Tylenol in them,” he said. “You’re okay having only taken four, but if you had taken too many, the Tylenol could have shut down your liver. That would be a much bigger problem than what you’re dealing with now,” he said. 

Within seconds, the doctor gave me an injection of epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline, to administer the fight-or-flight response and keep my heart going. This caused my whole body to shake and become really cold. It also made me very emotional, and tears began running down my face as my hands, arms and legs began to shake.

A nurse came up to me and said, “You’re going to be okay. This makes your body do strange things, but it’s saving your life. It’s a good thing you got here when you did. With food allergies, every second matters.” 

“I wish your intern at the front desk knew that,” I thought to myself. But I didn’t have the energy to say it out loud and explain. 

The doctor then gave me a mega-dose injection of Benadryl®, which stops the allergic reaction. Now that I was beyond the shaking and shivering caused by the epinephrine, this new injection made me very sleepy and sort of dopey. At one point as I lay there, I opened my eyes to see about a dozen young doctors and nurses staring at me. My chocolate malt debacle had become a learning example for the students.

When Melissa came into the emergency room, she instantly fell to tears. She’d been through this before, but it’s something you never get used to seeing. The swelling had caused my face to distort in grotesque ways. Plus, now that she could let go of her worries and fears, her emotions came to the surface. 

Minutes later, the medication put me to sleep while it and the IV bags of who-knows-what did their work. As I slept, Melissa sat by my side for four and a half hours. All she could do was watch the multitude of medical emergencies that came and went. Six hours after my arrival at the hospital, it was time to leave. I thanked the doctor and nurses for their kindness and capabilities. Then I was given 5 days of steroids and the ever-helpful advice to “Stay away from peanuts.”

Now why didn’t I think of that?

Warmly, Bob Olson

MARCH 17 - APRIL 7, 2007

Can People Really Change? 

A couple years ago, when Melissa and I decided that juggling one vehicle between the two of us was more trouble than it was worth, I bought myself a pickup truck. It's one of those double-cab pickups with the back seat, so with the cab and the six-foot bed it's twice as long as a small car, which makes it difficult to drive and even harder to park (it's longer than most parking spaces). 

It's really not driving the truck that is difficult; it's turning the truck that is a challenge. The truck is so long that you have to make wide turns or else the rear wheels cut off the corner. If you've ever seen a tractor-trailer make a turn, you get the picture, though that is on a much bigger scale. I recognized this problem of making a right-hand turn the very day I got home from buying the pickup truck. There is a telephone pole on the right corner of our driveway, which is very close to the road. If I had turned too quickly, which I almost did, I would have caused the bed of my truck to hit the telephone pole. 

Melissa never fully got used to this necessity for wide turns. I don't think Geometry was her favorite class. So, whenever she drove the truck while I sat in the passenger's seat, I'd notice in my side mirror how closely the rear bed came to hitting things like telephone poles, fire hydrants and fences when she made right-hand turns. 

"I couldn't have placed a finger between that pole and the truck bed," I often teased her, usually in shock that she cleared it at all. 

"Oh, don't exaggerate" she'd say, amused at my concern. "This is why I don't like to drive with you. You're so worried about your precious little truck. I cleared it, didn't I?"

And she was right. She always cleared it. Nevertheless, we tantalized one another like this for two years. Then, last week, it finally happened. Melissa added a telephone pole-sized dent into the right side of my truck while pulling into our driveway. She now understands the geometrical concept, but at her emotional expense. She thought I was going to be upset and it crushed her to have to tell me that she just caused thousands of dollars in damage to my much-adored truck. 

Melissa walked into the house as I met her at the door. I didn't know what happened. 

"Hey, honey. What's up?" I said. She looked pale and on the verge of crying. 

She was silent, as she slid her back down the kitchen cabinets until she sat on the floor, head into her knees. 

"What, what? Are you all right?" I pleaded. 

"I just hit the telephone pole with your truck."

"Oh my God, are you okay? Is Libby okay?"

"Yes, yes, we're fine. It happened turning into the driveway."

After all our conversations about this exact incident, all my warnings, it must have been really hard for her to say it. I couldn't help but to break out in laughter. As I laughed, it occurred to me that my truck bed had a big dent in it and I was laughing. Was I delirious? Shouldn't I be upset, bummed out, angry or, at least, annoyed? I was disappointed, sure, but I really didn't care. 

Melissa could only crack a smile while I laughed. I think she was confused by my reaction. 

"I thought you'd be mad. After all, you warned me about this a million times," she said. 

"That's why it's so funny. But, honestly, I'm a little surprised myself. All I feel is relief that you and Libby are okay. Sure I love my truck, but it's just a bunch of shiny metal. It can be repaired. It's really no big deal."

It had been a long time since anything like this had tested me. There was a time in my life when I would have been upset, even angry. Yet I was so detached from this that I didn't even go out to look at the dent until the next day when I needed to drive somewhere. Looking at it didn't change how I felt. I was simply pleased to see that the truck was still drive-able. 

As I drove down the road in my newly dented truck, I thought to myself, "I'm actually glad that this happened. It's given me the opportunity to recognize how I've changed." And, oddly, whenever I see the dent, it reminds me that I've grown, if even in a minor way. I may just leave that dent there for a while and wear it like a gold star on my forehead.

Warmly, Bob Olson

MARCH 3 - MARCH 17, 2007

Patience, Publishing & The Perks Of The Longer Path

According to an article by Joseph Epstein in the New York Times, 81% of Americans say they want to write a book. I fell into that category in the early 1990s. I was so impassioned to share my story of overcoming depression that I actually wrote a book to inspire others. It was a short book, but it was book nonetheless.

Being an impatient, hate-to-wait kind of guy, I originally self-published the book. Waiting to find a publisher seemed like waiting to win the lottery. I had always succeeded by taking action quickly and I wasn’t about to change at this point in my life. So, just a few months after writing the book, I had 2000 copies sitting in my office.

I quickly began selling the book over the Internet, making $12 per copy on a $15 book, which earned me a few hundred dollars a week. Melissa then began selling the book to local bookstores. That’s when she showed the book to a bookstore buyer who asked if he could show it to his friend--an editor at a small publishing house. Two hours after Melissa got home that day, the publisher’s editor-in-chief was calling with an offer for an advance and publishing contract. Less than six months after writing the book, I had become a published author. Ironically, now that I was earning a published author’s royalty, I earned only 75 cents per copy. There’s a price to pay for prestige.

Almost a decade later, I experienced a different scenario. After ghostwriting books for other people for years, I decided it was time to begin writing my own books again. So, last September, I made a commitment to write a book proposal for a new book on spirituality.

I had never written my own book proposal before because, as I mentioned, I’m an impatient, hate-to-wait kind of guy. But this book on spirituality was important to me and I had set my sites on one particular publisher. This is the top publisher in the spiritual and self-improvement field, so I had to write a book proposal that would really grab their attention. Lucky for me, a 4-time New York Times bestselling author agreed to help me write the best book proposal possible. 

I began the proposal in early September, worked on it for an average of 6 hours a day, and finally finished it in early January. If I had known it was going to take this long, I doubt I would have had the patience to even begin. In fact, I thought it was done in early October until the bestselling author who was mentoring me kept challenging me to make it better.

“If you want to be published by this publisher, Bob, you have to make it nearly perfect,” she said. “This is an industry that is getting more and more competitive.” 

So I removed the embellishments, added some details, improved the wording and presented it to my mentor around Halloween. She liked the changes but then suggested new ones. After a few more weeks, I presented to her what I considered to be the final version just before Thanksgiving. After praising my edits, she recommended that I rewrite one of the sample chapters. I told her that I no longer wanted to write a book on spirituality, instead opting for a murder mystery about a New York Times bestselling author who went missing. She wasn’t intimidated and we continued the slow, grueling process of editing the proposal over and over until my impatience eventually surrendered. I gave up on trying to rush the process and trusted that everything was happening as it was meant to happen. 

I submitted the 44-page proposal to the publisher in early January and waited for their reply. Unlike my first publishing experience, when the editor-in-chief was calling two hours after Melissa dropped the book off, my proposal was followed by silence. After a few weeks, I contacted the publisher just to make sure they had received it. They did. Of course they hadn’t looked at it yet, so I had to wait some more. By the end of February, I began thinking about how I could have written the entire book in the five months that I wrote the proposal and waited for an answer. But this is how the publishing business normally works. My first book contract was a fluke. Waiting and wondering is the usual story of most published authors. 

Finally, this past Wednesday evening, I got an email from the publisher’s president. I was both excited and afraid to open it. I hesitated thinking about its potential for either elation or frustration. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I read the email. In a single sentence, it announced that they wanted to publish my book. I sat in silence, memorizing the moment before calling Melissa into the office to read the email herself. She and I will celebrate this weekend. 

Amazingly, the work has just begun. I still have to negotiate the contract, which is a tedious, joyless task. Then I have to write the book, which should take about 6 months. Then comes the editing stage, where the editors make you change your carefully chosen words just because they can. And then, possibly a year from the date I complete the writing, the book will be released to the public. This will likely be about two years from the time I first began writing the book proposal (September 2006 -- September 2008).

I guess this is why only 1% of the 81% who say they’d like to write a book ever actually fulfill the dream. It’s a whole lot of work and waiting. Of course, it all seems worth it to me now. Somehow getting published this time around feels so much more satisfying than my first publishing experience. Perhaps the longer journey has its perks. For me, it was the lesson in patience that made all the difference. Like a horse that’s been broken, I had to surrender to the process. I can’t say that I’m officially a patient person now. But I have learned that, like friendship and risotto, some of the best things in life take time and they are definitely worth the wait.

Warmly, Bob Olson

FEBRUARY 17 - MARCH 3, 2007

The Law of Distraction

If people in my home state of Maine weren’t paying attention last year, they might have thought we went from fall to spring by skipping right over winter. Call it global warming or just plain luck (I loathe winter), but I only used my snowblower once in all of 2006. Yipee! So I hoped this year would be much of the same. 

Looking at my ten-year-old snowblower this past December, I noticed it was looking sad and rusty. I wasn’t sure it was going to start this year, as I had to pull the starter pulley dozens of times last winter before I could get it to work. Nevertheless, this year, I kept procrastinating bringing it in for a tune up until it was too late--Wednesday it snowed about twelve inches. 

“I’ll just shovel like the old days. I’ll enjoy the exercise,” I told Melissa. So I shoveled after the first couple inches fell, hoping to remove the flakes two or three inches at a time. Yet somehow the storm turned up the volume, and before I knew it, another ten inches had fallen. “No problem,” I said to Melissa, as I pulled up on my belt while doing my best Don Knotts impression, “I’ll have the driveway shoveled in a jiffy.” 

As I began to shovel this time, however, the snow was made of lead. Honestly, someone must have mixed ball bearings in with the snowflakes outside my house. After exactly three minutes of shoveling, I said to Melissa, “I’m going see if I can get the snowblower going.” She handed me the key to the snowblower like she had known this would happen all along.

We got into the barn and checked the snowblower for gas. Yup, the tank was filled with year-old gas. Melissa looked at me, “Is that bad?” It was bad. But it didn’t really matter because I didn’t have any fresh gas to use. 

“This is going to take about a hundred pulls before this thing starts,” I predicted to Melissa. 

“Don’t say that,” she responded. “Didn’t you just watch The Secret?” I ignored her comment and began pulling the starter pulley. 

I pulled and pulled, but the snowblower didn’t even twitch. I pulled with my right hand. I pulled with my left hand. I fiddled with the choke. I pushed on the primer switch. I moved the gas lever up and down. Nothing worked, not even a sputter. I caught my breath and pulled some more until little beads of sweat began to form on my forehead. 

After literally pulling on this thing about a hundred times, I admitted defeat. “I surrender,” I told Melissa, and I put my cold hands into my pockets. She looked at me kind of sadly, knowing that I’d just worn myself out for shoveling. 

My eyes opened wide. “Oh my God,” I said. 

“What’s the matter?” she asked. 

I pulled my hand out of my pocket, holding the key to the snowblower. “I forgot to put the key in.” 

I put the key in the snowblower, pulled the starter pulley three times, and it fired up and ran like a brand new machine. I looked at Melissa with a smirk and raised my shoulders. She made sure I learned my lesson by saying, “You said it was going to take a hundred pulls before it started. You got what you asked for.” I was too tired to respond, but in my head I saw the evening news headline, “Man Chases Wife Through Kennebunkport With Snowblower.”

Warmly, Bob Olson

FEBRUARY 3 - FEBRUARY 17, 2007

How I Ended Three Years Of Itching 

Over the years, many people have asked me to recommend a medical intuitive. Yet, until now, I’ve never had any reason to test a medical intuitive. Recently, however, I consulted one with surprisingly positive results. Medical Intuitive Anthony William helped me identify and heal a problem I suffered with for three years--a medical issue that even my general practitioner could not diagnose or resolve. 

The mysterious problem was that my skin periodically broke out in a small area of hives, as if a hundred tiny mosquitoes launched an all-out attack on a two-inch patch of my body. Sometimes the patch of hives appeared on my arm; sometimes it was on my back; and other times it was on my leg. The hives would come, drive me nutty for five or ten minutes, then quickly go away. In the beginning (three years ago), I only experienced this once every two weeks. Over time, it occurred more often--once a week, then twice a week, then, at its worst, two or three times each and every day.

In the three years that I suffered with this issue, I consulted numerous people to diagnose and treat the problem. I began, of course, with my family doctor. He was stumped as to the cause, so he recommended changing all my soaps and detergents. I did what he suggested and saw no improvement. As time continued and the condition worsened, I decided to try other approaches, each time hoping that one of these people would know how to help me. I saw a naturopath, a nutritionist and a variety of alternative practitioners, all with different ideas, but none of their suggestions put an end to the itchiness.

As the problem worsened, I began to investigate medical intuitives. In all my research, this one guy’s reputation simply shined--Anthony William. Person after person told me that Anthony is ethical, compassionate, very healthy himself, and extraordinarily gifted. All this praise came from people who had outstanding reputations in the spiritual field themselves. So I booked an appointment with a “wait and see” attitude. I continued to be skeptical, but I was open-minded. 

My appointment was over the telephone. Anthony’s gift is like that of a psychic medium, yet he specializes in helping people heal (he’s been doing this since he was a teenager). As a medium, Anthony works with his spirit guides, and since spirits aren’t limited by time or space, readings can be done by phone. Anthony’s spirit guides scan the body of his clients, relay their findings to Anthony, who then relays these scan results to his clients. It is a rather cool experience to learn about your body’s health, especially when Anthony validates conditions of which you’re already aware. He told me that I had a severe case of mononucleosis about 30 to 31 years ago (he was dead-on accurate). He knew I dealt with hypoglycemia (right again). And he saw a pea-sized cyst in my neck, which I could feel with my fingers and had noticed long ago. 

So, being a blog, I’ll cut to the chase. Anthony identified the skin problem as a food allergy to wheat and dairy, especially cheese (oh no, not cheese!). Then he recommended a diet specifically designed for me. Not a weight loss diet, but a nutritional diet. Because most of us in this society could eat much healthier, Anthony recommends various improvements in eating habits to many of his clients (yet all different). I wasn’t thrilled with all the fruits and veggies I had to eat (and the absence of nachos), but I gave it a shot. In fact, I have now continued this way of eating for over six months. 

Within a couple weeks, I was feeling relief. The hives only came a few days a week, rather than every day. Within two months, I was feeling much better. There was barely any sign of the allergy, so I knew Anthony had gotten it right. In three months, my hives had stopped altogether for the first time in three years. And, ever since, I’ve been free of itchy hives except when I eat a “lot” of cheese, which I still occasionally do. A little cheese won’t bother me. But Fettuccini Alfredo or an entire serving of nachos as meal reminds me that allergies don’t go away, you merely manage them. 

I can’t tell you how much of a relief this is to rid myself of this problem. It’s like these annoying little mosquitoes were pestering me for three years, and now they have finally gone away. 

Aside from ending my three-year suffering, there were three major bonuses that came along with my new, nutritious eating habits. One, I went down a pant size. How many people would mind doing that? Two, I now love eating these better foods. If I cheat from my diet on the weekend, I wake up hungry the next day because my body is used to foods that provide much more nutrition. Overall, this new awareness about what foods are best for my body and what foods to avoid have led me to feel healthier. And finally, three, and the most unexpected bonus, I was able to lower the dose of a medication I’ve taken for twelve years (with my doctor’s approval and delight)—a medication that I’ve had to “increase” every three years! This was an incredible bonus that I believe resulted because my body is no longer gunked up with pizza, nachos and pasta. Better foods equal better digestion. 

Of course, not everyone who goes to Anthony needs a new diet. Some need supplements, others need mainstream medical treatment, still others might be doing something, taking something or eating something that is harming them. My case is only indicative of a small percentage of Anthony’s clients. 

I’m not the kind of guy who recommends seeing a medical intuitive over your doctor. But if your doctor can’t help you, like in my case, or if your doctor has determined your case is incurable, or worse, terminable, what harm is there in stretching your skepticism and trying a medical intuitive? You’re grounded. You’re in control over what advice you’re going to take or reject. And I’m telling you that I’ve now had amazing success with Anthony’s gifted diagnosis and recommendations. It took me years to even try a medical intuitive, yet it has proven to be a blessing and a relief. Anthony William has earned my personal recommendation. 

Anthony William (no “s” at the end of William)
(239) 348-9585

 

JANUARY 20 - FEBRUARY 3, 2007

A Lesson From A Wise, Old Man

Four years ago, as a New Year’s resolution, I began taking walks early in the morning. On my very first day, I met a man named Pete. He owned a landscaping company and was shoveling snow off a client’s walkway, yet he stopped to lean on his shovel and greet me as I passed by him. We instantly connected and talked for almost two hours, discussing everything from “kids these days” to what’s really important in life. It was nice to make a new friend.

I originally thought of Pete as a wise old man because he appeared much older than his years. Although he was only in his early sixties, most people thought he had already reached seventy. His hair was fully gray and his body was beat up from years of hard work--digging ditches, shoveling walkways and falling out of trees with a chainsaw in his hand. As a result, Pete limped a bit, needed two new knees and took a lot of pain medication.

Yet it wasn’t just Pete’s body that made him appear older than his age; it was also his personality. He was a true Mainer in every sense of the term. He took life slowly, enjoyed talking with people, and looked forward to his tea and cookies at the end of the day. He also loved his dog, Sidney, a little beagle-hound mix who was an old-timer himself.

Pete and Sidney were inseparable. Pete lived alone, so Sid was his life. Pete took Sid into the bank, where Sid would walk around the counter to help himself to a dog biscuit, into the ice cream store, where they actually shared an ice cream cone together, to every landscaping job Pete had, and I even saw them once inside Home Depot. If a business didn’t allow Sidney to accompany Pete, Pete stopped doing business there. It was that simple for Pete, and I loved his devotion. He would have done the same for any of his friends.


Pete and Sidney

Although I had stopped walking before that January was up, Melissa and I got a puppy less than a year later. We named her Libby. And so the walks started again. Since Pete and Sid walked down the same road every day as us, the five of us walked together more often than not--me, Melissa, Pete, Sidney and Libby.

These walks have often been the highlight of my day. Regardless of what was happening with work, I got to put everything aside to spend time in nature with four terrific beings. Most of the time, Pete, Melissa and me just laughed at the silly antics of the dogs. Libby, a puppy, tried so hard to wrestle with Sidney, who was twelve when they first met. She just couldn’t understand why this dog was such a stick in the mud. Ironically, a stick in the mud was actually much more entertaining to Libby.

During our walks, we never talked about politics or religion or even the current news. Our conversations centered around the beautiful sunsets we saw, the flowers and birds we passed by, or the deer and geese and porcupines that crossed our path. Pete also talked about his kids (now all adults) and grandchildren, his aches and pains, and whether or not he should replace his knees, which were causing his back to go out of alignment. And every so often, about once per month, Pete would remind us where he wanted his ashes scattered when he died--a special spot along our walk where the saltwater marsh was on both sides of the road. Pete cherished this spot because it changed so much with the seasons.

I thought it odd that a man his age should be so focused on where his ashes would be scattered, but this was just another reason that Pete appeared older than he actually was. It was common for him to make comments about dying. It was as if he didn’t expect to remain in this world for much longer. So when his pain medication caused him to swerve his SUV into a tree one day, tearing open his new knee, pulverizing his hip, busting all his ribs and tearing his aorta, I wondered if he had decided to check out. I knew that he might be tough enough to deal with all these physical injuries, but the accident also took Sidney (then 14 years old), and I wasn’t sure if Pete could deal with the loss.

Pete did recover from his wounds, but Sidney’s absence crushed his spirit. Pete was never the same. For one, he was never able to walk very far anymore, and certainly not very fast; and this had a deeper emotional impact for Pete than it did physical. He tried walking with us a few times. We walked slowly and he used a cane. He had carved Sidney’s head into the cane’s handle--which looked just like Sid--and he showed it to us every time we saw him. He even got another puppy about year after the accident, probably due to the relentless suggestions of other people; but the walking was much too strenuous on Pete’s body, and he was rarely able to join us anymore. This crushed Pete’s spirit even more, as he just loved taking walks.

Pete recently passed while sitting at home in his favorite chair. He was 65. His children said he had a heart attack, probably while he was sleeping. I never asked, but I like to believe that he was having tea and cookies before his nap and his new puppy was curled up in his lap. When I attended his calling hours this past weekend, it had been almost four years to the day since I first met him on my original New Year’s resolution walk.

This blog entry is a tribute to my friend, Pete. But there is also a lesson here about the new friends we meet along the road. I’m not going to spell it out for you. I know my readers are too intelligent for that to be necessary. Instead, I’m going to share with you how Pete used to say goodbye to Melissa and me when we left him every day. I think it illustrates everything you need to know about Pete. And perhaps it explains why he was finished here and ready to return to spirit.

After each walk, we’d all say our goodbyes, sometimes with a hug, then Pete would tell us in the most sincere voice and expression, “It was really nice to see you guys. I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but I really look forward to these walks together. You guys mean a lot to me.” And, of course, he had told us that before, numerous times. But we never tired of hearing it. And it was nice to have a friend with whom we, too, could express our love without making that person feel uncomfortable. I wish I had more friends who were willing to express their feelings this way.

We’ll miss you, Pete. May you and Sidney enjoy your walks together again. And we’ll say Hello to you every day, as we walk by the marsh that you loved so dearly.

Warmly, Bob Olson

JANUARY 6 - JANUARY 20, 2007

Two Stories of Divine Coincidence 

Story #1: My brother-in-law, Derek, spent a couple nights at our home during the holidays. Whenever he’s over, he searches our bookshelves for an interesting book to read. This time he found a book titled Autism And The God Connection by William Stillman, a wonderful book about children with autism and their unexplainable stories of telepathy, thought transference, spirit communication and extrasensory sensitivity. 

Before he even finished reading the book, Derek spent the day with Melissa and me spouting off the highlights of this book with intense enthusiasm during breakfast, on our way to the mall and while eating dinner at Eggspectations. I asked him if he’d ever met someone with autism, and he replied that he hadn’t; but he added that, with what he’d learned from this book, he’d now know an autistic child if he saw one.   

Three days later, while grabbing a bite to eat at Port Bakery in Kennebunkport, Derek noticed a teenager with all the signs and behavior of a person with autism. The young girl then spotted Derek, who was pretending not to notice her, and walked over and wrapped her arms around him in a big, cuddly bear hug. Derek was so blown away by the event that he hugged the girl but didn’t initially know what to say when the girl’s mother quickly pried her daughter away from him, confused by her child’s unexpected behavior. 

As the mother and daughter walked away, Derek gathered himself enough to ask, “Does she do this often?” 

“No,” she said. “I don’t know what came over her.” 

By the time Derek was able to wrap his mind around the coincidence of this incident, and perhaps explain to the mother that he just happened to be reading a book on autism, the woman and her daughter had left the bakery.

Story #2: On Christmas morning, Melissa and I learned that our sister-in-law’s brother, James, was visiting from Texas and would be at the family Christmas gathering. Not wanting James to be without gifts while everyone else was throwing wrapping paper around the room, Melissa and I decided to give James a couple of our books. Melissa took it upon herself to choose two books from our bookshelf, despite not knowing James’ reading interests (we’d never met him). Nonetheless, Melissa is that rare type of person who trusts that what she chooses is spiritually inspired and will be perfect. If it were me, I’d embark upon a full background investigation of the man, which is why Melissa didn’t include me in the decision. 

Melissa chose one book, which she felt confident James would enjoy. The second book wasn’t quite so simple a choice, as she was trying to decide between two completely different titles. That’s when, out of the blue, she heard me yelling from across the house, “Melissa, the buffalo is the way to go. The buffalo is the way to go.” 

From my perspective, I had no idea where Melissa was or what she was doing. I was simply feeding our dog, Libby, which involves mixing some canned wet food with one cup of dry food. Because I couldn’t make a decision, I put two cans of food in front of Libby’s face and made her choose which one she wanted for her Christmas breakfast. To my astonishment, Libby tapped her nose on the can filled with buffalo meat. I was so surprised that she even chose a can of food that I began chanting in song, “Okay, Libby, the buffalo is the way to go. The buffalo is the way to go.” At which time I spontaneously began yelling to Melissa on the other side of the house, “Hey, Melissa, the buffalo is the way to go. The buffalo is the way to go.” (I get a little giddy on Christmas morning.) Seconds later, Melissa walked into the kitchen with a look of amazement on her face and the two books she was trying to choose between--one in each hand. The book in her right hand had a buffalo on the cover. 

As it turns out, we later learned that James had a mentor in Texas who taught him Native American meditation. Naturally, just as Melissa had trusted all along, the book she chose with the buffalo on the cover was a book of Native American meditations.

Divine coincidence, or what some people like to call grace, is a funny phenomenon. Was Derek drawn to the autistic girl, or she to him, because of the book he was reading? Did the book simply raise his consciousness so that he was now functioning at a new level and was suddenly able to notice the girl? And did the girl hug him because she knew intuitively, as the book suggested, that he now understood both her plight and her blessing?

And how about Melissa and the book with the buffalo on the cover? Was she truly guided to that book? And, if so, were Libby and I influenced by spirit to help Melissa choose that book for James’ gift? What are the chances of all those events fitting together so perfectly? Melissa picked up the book. I happened to choose a can of dog food that contained buffalo. Libby happened to touch her nose to one of the cans, and it happened to be the can containing buffalo rather than the can containing lamb. And I, then, happened to begin chanting, “The buffalo is the way to go,” like a giddy child. And then I just happened to begin singing my chant loudly to Melissa in the other room, exactly at the time that she was trying to choose between two books. And, as if all that weren’t enough of a coincidence, the book with the buffalo was filled with Native American meditations, a subject in which James just happened to have an interest. 

When we acknowledge that we are guided by a power greater than ourselves, then we never have to feel lost and alone. Spend the next week recognizing the divinity around you: the coincidences, the guiding messages, and the angels in human flesh. Because the more we become aware of the infinite influence of God and His/Her presence in our life, the more we recognize what it means to be connected to this Being of light and love, and the less we feel the darkness and despair of our imagined separation.

On the other hand, maybe it’s all just one big coincidence.

Warmly, Bob Olson

DECEMBER 23 - JANUARY 6, 2007

A Lesson in Physical Fitness for the New Year

Melissa and I went bowling recently with some friends. We hadn’t been bowling in years, and it was obvious by our scores. Did you know they no longer use paper to record the scores? It’s now done electronically so that everyone’s score shows on a big screen. It’s humiliating to know that everyone in the bowling alley can see that the little girl in the next alley over has twice your score--and she bowls with two hands between her legs.

When I was younger, I was a pretty good bowler. I could make the candlepins crash like they were exploding into a trillion pieces. Last week, we wondered if my ball was going to make it down the lane at all. But I remembered my old technique. I used to slide down the floorboards on my knee just as I released the ball. I tried it this time but couldn’t quite get it right. Not only did it not help my score, but my ass ached so bad for the next three days that I could barely walk. Since when does bowling cause physical injury? We used to make fun of people who called bowling a sport. Now I have to enjoy the activity slowly and let my muscles get used to the new exercise. I’ve been thinking about an infomercial for a new program called Bowlercise Your Way To Fitness. Where there’s humiliation, there’s inspiration.

The ironic thing is that I had just recovered from helping my neighbor move a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t have been an issue except that there was a twenty-year-old bulldozer of a boy helping, too. He asked me if I wanted to carry the refrigerator and stove instead of using the dolly. “It’s quicker,” he said.

“But we just moved the sleeper-couch up all those stairs. Are you sure you don’t need a break?” I begged.

He thought I was joking. So he and I carried the refrigerator and stove while the dolly was left unused. Melissa cocked her head in wonderment of my stupidity. Unlike boy wonder, she understood the limitations of the forty-three-year-old body that sits behind a computer writing for a living. She also understood the stubbornness of a blockhead who refuses to let a twenty-year-old outperform him and make him feel old.

When everything finally healed a few days ago, these events inspired me to dig out my old jump rope and dumbbells. To my amazement, I jumped the rope three hundred times—well, thirty sets of ten with brief naps between sets. Naturally, I overexerted myself with the dumbbells. So once I eventually heal from that workout, perhaps in May, I might try it again.

The moral of this blog entry is simple. With the New Year coming up, many people decide to get into better physical condition. If you’re over forty, I highly discourage it. Get yourself a mirror that’s a little warped so that you look thinner and taller. Lift moderately heavy objects around children so you feel stronger. And if someone asks you to help them move or go bowling, fake an injury or tell them you’re busy that day.

Perhaps this is what they mean when they say wisdom comes with age. Have a happy New Year!

Warmly, Bob Olson

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