Friday, April 16, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 17: Radical Acceptance

I grew up hearing the saying over and over again: "That which does not break you, makes you stronger." But I've grown to believe this frame of mind is very harmful and anxiety provoking to my physche: make it happen or you will be broken. Sure, you get stronger, I guess, but typically not in the moment that you are broken. It may take a few days, weeks, or, in my case, years to feel that there is a message in this madness called "life".
I learned a term the other day that has brought my search for a meaningful life to the next level: radical acceptance. In essence, this term means: "Letting go of fighting reality." ( Basically, you accept how things are even if you don't agree with them and live in harmony with your struggles. This frame of mind goes hand-n-hand with the "it is what it is" attitude.
I am eternally dealing with this mindset on a daily basis. In the uncontrollable midst of life, I constantly try to figure out, not what I CAN change, but what I WANT to change. I try to twist and fight and exhaust every effort to make things the way I want them to be. This action results in a lot of disappointment, angst, and anxiety....and, boy, does it make me tired. I have also learned that when I am in the throws of an upheaval, I really can't think about other people: it is too overwhelming for me, so I tend to focus on what I need to do to pull myself up. While trying to get pregnant with both my children (thank you, God, for them) I suffered several miscarriages. I know people meant well by telling me their or other people's horror stories that were either equal to or worse than mine. You know what, these stories made me feel worse because then I was worrying about my situation and everyone else I heard about. The best response, I think, is "I am so sorry this happened to you." A basic, caring statement is all that is needed to help someone feel supported and achieve radical acceptance.
In living a mindful life, I am trying to embrace radical acceptance and come to terms with those things I don't agree with but can't change. Maybe it is a delayed flight or a natural disaster that causes great damage to your home. Maybe it is a grumpy check out person at the grocery store or bad service at a restaurant. Maybe it is worse; maybe it isn't so bad. Whatever it is that causes you to live in struggle, not matter how small, deserves to be radically accepted. Not because you are thrilled it happened. Not because you think it happened for a reason. Not because you believe it will make you stronger. But because for the now it allows you to live in peace with chaos.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 16: Living in the Gray

One aspect I am working on in trying to live a more mindful life is finding comfort in the gray. I prefer a black and white life: unwavering decisions, obvious paths, and absolute knowledge. Indecision makes me anxious, forks in the road nervous and the unknown scares me like nothing else.
But I am realizing that life isn't really painted with such clear cut colors: it is variegated with shades of gray and be-speckled with glorious dots of black and white. In order to feel content and rest in my peace, I have to learn to exist in a dappled life.
For me, this is a daily struggle, and, perhaps, and hourly one. I constantly assess what I can and cannot change or control. I can't control flight cancellations, weather, or someone else's feelings. I can't change time, my children's personality, or even how someone reacts to me. When something "gray" happens that makes my heart race, brow sweat or knees knock, it all comes back to taking a moment, a breath and a reality check.
Luck comes to those who not only live in the gray but also survive, dare I say, thrive in the gray. The lucky ones take change as a blessing. They rejoice when they have choices. And when a door closes, they walk up to the next one and pound on it as hard as they can. Those of us who fight the gray and try to stay in the lines are blind to the gifts that living in the gray affords us.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson15: Click it or Risk it

On March 2, 1995, my brother made a choice that changed the course of his life: he put on his seat belt. Less than a hour later, his truck flipped several times and was completely totaled along with his face and head. He was left hanging upside down amidst the rubble. I will leave out all the drama and the gory details of finding out, sleeping in the waiting room and seeing him for the first time, the only recognizable piece of his body to me was his hand laying on the hospital bed. I won't tell you how his face needed reconstruction . I won't explain the rehabilitation and the hours my family spent by his beside. The story in a nutshell it is by the grace of God and the strength of a seat belt that my brother survived. Now every March 2nd, instead of mourning his death, we celebrate his "Rebirth Day."
Last week, a local man died. He was driving home from work in the rain and was about a mile from his home. He hydroplaned, had a wreck, and died. He didn't have on his seat belt. The authorities stated that all he needed to do was click in and he would have lived.
So in living a mindful life, take a moment each time you get in the car and, no matter how far you have to drive, secure your seat belt.
If you don't, you could take the biggest risk of your life.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 14: Acid Washed Jeans & High-tops

Being mindful of others' likes & dislikes is a challenging mindful tool to learn...especially with my children. I always want to instill my opinions and thoughts about everything. That's fine when it is about morals or drugs or religion and stuff that I feel really matters in their development. BUT should I really try to control every bit, especially the little parts that make up who they want to be at that moment?
When I was young, (well, not kid young but tween/teen young) I more often than not wore clothes that my mom didn't like. She would buy me matchy-matchy outfits and then look at me in dismay when I wanted to return them or if I would mix them up in different ways. It was my goal never to wear the same complete outfit twice and I was quite successful.
Side bar: This notion is so funny to me today because now I will wear the same outfit several times in a row--basically whatever happens to be on the floor by the toilet when I wake up. (Note to my Mother: I do; however, put on clean underwear.)
Any way, so Mom eventually started letting me pick out my own clothes...or at least some of them. I had these paint splatter capri pants and several pairs of acid washed jeans that I would either peg leg with my handy sewing machine or would simply do the fold and roll. If you grew up in the 80s, you know exactly what I'm talking about. In college, I moved onto an even more disturbing look for my Mom: short, short hair, no make up, white v-neck t-shirts, pegged jeans and pink high-tops that I had decorated with a Sharpie marker (both the jeans and shoes) and written my boyfriend's name on. I thought I was sooooooooo artsy and cool.
So the other day, my husband took my son (almost 11) to buy new every day sneakers. I finally started getting him just one pair because his feet grow so fast, it is just a waste for him to have more than one. Up until that day, I had just bought shoes for him while I was out shopping. They were typically white, regular sneakers and the brand depended on what was on sale at the time. For some reason, I actually thought that he would come back with a similar type shoe and it never occurred to me to give my husband any directions or shopping boundaries.
My son is wearing his new shoes when he comes in and I looked at them and had the fastest mindful moment I think I have ever had. There he stood in these black leather high-top sneakers...the kind all the "thugs & druggies" wore at my high school. After over 20 years, they still make these awful shoes?? My initial reaction was to tell him to get those ugly things off his feet & return them immediately. But my mindful little voice quickly chimed in, "Don't react, don't say anything negative. You told him to pick out his own shoes. And he did." He said with a grin: "Dad said you probably wouldn't like these, but I really do, Mom." My response (with a smile, I might add) was: "Honey, I told you to pick them out. If they make you happy then they are perfectly fine." Then I thought, "Thank goodness his feet grow fast. Besides that, at least he isn't wearing them with acid washed jeans."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 13: The Storm Before the Calm

We all have those moments when everything seems to be going wrong—one thing after the next. Sometimes those moments turn into days, weeks, if you are really unlucky, years. Life is truly unpredictable no matter how well you plan and prepare.

One of my struggles is to maintain a calm spirit in the middle of an upheaval of my life plan. I imagine a little devil with a pitchfork digging up my well attended and groomed lawn of life. I feel immediately threatened when anything goes against my expectations. Unfortunately, I tend to “catastrophize”—to make things worse than they really are. Then, to make things even worse, I project the stress I am experiencing at the moment into the future and it almost feels like whatever is happening will be happening for eternity. In the past, and even in the last few months, I’ve been called a drama queen and even worn the badge proudly on occasion. But lately I’ve realized that the catastrophizing only leads to more stress than the original incident deserves and I’ve been trying to maintain calm within a storm.

Today I am flying home from Minneapolis. I was there with my husband’s family to celebrate the life and morn the death of his beloved grandmother. My husband was up and at ‘em this morning because he had at 7:30 a.m. business meeting. Alone, I wallowed in my bliss: watched a movie, ate breakfast in bed and caught up on some computer work. As usual, I started to pack and reorganize my things. I found all my socks and folded all my t-shirts. Put away my makeup and hair products. Tried to insure that my bag weighed less than 50 pounds (42 at the airport!). But……I couldn’t find my driver’s license and I didn’t have any other form of picture I.D. As you know, in the age of terrorist, you can pretty much plan on being grounded without a form of identification.

Typically this occurrence would send me into complete panic mode with wringing of hands and lots of tears—maybe even a few well chosen swear words. Once I searched everywhere and realized that it was, indeed, lost, I had a mindful moment: a reality check. “What if,” I thought,” I just take a moment and collect my nerves. There has to be a solution to this. It is early enough for me to find out. There is no reason to lose it.” If you know me well, you would be surprised at this thought process. Typically my panic leads to ill thought out behaviors like frantically trying to track down my husband by calling and leaving a million messages (there I go being a drama queen again). In trying to live a mindful life, I am trying to be aware of those times when I can use my mindfulness to a great advantage.

Sure, there are things in life that deserve an all out panic and I pray nothing ever happens to me that justifies such madness. Losing my license did not qualify as a disaster. Well, in a nutshell, I called my airline and did exactly what they told me to do and in the end, here I sit on the airplane home typing on my husband’s laptop. My theory is that if I can master the big stuff, the small stuff won’t seem so enormous.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 12: The Lonely Hunter

Have you ever read the book by Carson McCullers called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? Go here if you want to learn more about it: Any way, since I read it in college, the title has stuck with me more than the actual story. Since it has been at least 20 years since I read it, I can't really remember all the details. The main thing I remember is the title.

Lately I have been going through a lot of emotional turmoil. Lately meaning the last year and a half, but who is keeping record? Me. For eighteen months one thing after the other has happened to me or people I love from illnesses, to death, to cancer, to finical struggles and so on. I know we all have our issues and our life struggles. Some I consider worse and some not so bad. But who am I to judge? Pain, loneliness, problems and even joys are all subjective to the receptor and "experiencer".

I had a vision of my heart last night. It was a combination of the Dead Sea and the Moon: all cracked and cratered but still illuminating from an outside source---God, the love of my husband and the childlike admiration of my children?. I imagined that it is bandaged, scared, chipped, broken and sewed up with silk threads and wire. There are a couple of colorful band-aids from my daughter on there, too. Some repair jobs are surgical miracles; the scars are near invisible, and some are hack jobs. And I thought: "My heart is a lonely hunter" searching for love, companionship, truth, and acceptance.

One thing I've learned from parenting my two children is that they will behave in the best way possible with all that they have at that moment. I think the same is true for adults. I try to keep this in mind . In living a mindful life, it is important to try and take your loved ones, even the people you encounter day to day, as they are in the moment that they present themselves. If someone you love is usually jovial and all of a sudden they "aren't acting like themselves", then something must have happened. People's personalities and true selves don't change for no reason.

With my husband and parents, this is easily reciprocated--my joint unconditional lovers. I even took a binding oath to love, cherish and honor my relationship to my husband. Too bad we don't take a similar oath with our friends. Then there would be clearer guidelines on what is expected (I am such a black and white person.) I am guilty of taking my own silent oath to treat my friends as if...well they were friends and sometimes family (the good kind of family where you are nice to each other and everything). I am also guilty of placing expectations of them on the same level that I place expectations of myself as a friend. This often gets my feelings hurt because sometimes one of or all of them treat me in a way that is contrary to my definition of how I treat a friend. My heart is a lonely hunter.

So what do I do when this happens while trying to live a mindful life? Do I hold a grudge? Sometimes. Do I cry into my pillow at night? Often. Do I obsess over why,why why? Oh, yes. None of this is productive and not very mindful. One time when a man broke my heart into almost unrecognizable pieces, I laid and bed and cried for two days and nights straight. My sister-in-law show up and said: "OK it's over. It is his loss. Time to shower and move on." So, it all comes down to the proverbial "picking battles" theory. I have to choose whether to charge my heart into battle fully well knowing that it will come back lame and perhaps needing a lot of TLC.

It all comes down to protecting yourself: being mindful of what YOU can handle and what YOU want to battle over. Sometimes it just isn't worth it. Sometimes it is. Sometimes you should do the duck thing and let it roll off your back and sometimes you should charge head on like a bull seeing red. Whatever you do, before reacting, try to take a moment to assess the damages. You have to protect your lonely heart or go into it with a well stock First Aid kit in hand.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 11: 4:44

Since I can remember, I see or notice the number 444. Sometimes it is on a digital clock in the morning or afternoon. Sometimes it is on a license plate, phone number or house. Maybe its on a dinner bill or coat check receipt. Many times I’ve woken up several days in a row right at 4:44 a.m. I thought maybe it just had something to do with my sleep cycle, but truly, I’ve often wondered at what it all meant. I went through a negative phase where I thought it meant some sort of danger or warning---like I was going to die on April, 4, 2004. (Obviously didn’t happen). Then I thought that maybe it was something good: Maybe I would win the lottery on April,4, 2004! Nope.

So before writing this blog today, I decided to do a bit of research on the number 444. I actually GOOGLED 444 to see what came up and all this numerology stuff appeared. I never thought of looking into that direction before.

The funny part is that I got a wide range of “reasons” for frequently viewing the number 444. One came from a scary sounding website called The website gave several meanings to the number but essentially it equated the 444 with God and Jesus or the first divine woman. It also states that the word “queen” is used 444 in the Bible and the female demon Lilith is a symbol for that number. Very contradictory reasons, if you ask me. You can go there to check it out.

Another website, states that the number 444 is a “sign from your spirit guides (angels) signifies their disagreement with your thoughts and feelings and can be interpreted as a Cosmic ‘No!’ to a question you have asked or ideas you might have.” So I guess when I wake up at 4:44 a.m. and think “should I get up now and work out?” The cosmic answer is “No”? I’ll definitely keep that one in mind and go back to sleep instead!

A third website I checked out states that the number 444 “is a number of healing and great blessings. ( Ahhhh, I like that interpretation much better than the demon and “No!” ones. The interpreter also expresses that when you see the number 444, it is the “universe reminding you who you are.” The site continues to say that the number means creativity, awareness and wisdom. Goes to show, if you keep searching enough, you will find an answer that speaks to you.

Before doing all this research, I had I decided that I would take 444 as a sign from the universe (read “God & his angels) telling me to slow down, take a moment, see what’s going on with me physically, emotionally, spiritually. So when I see 444, I try to take a deep yoga breath and notice what is happening at that moment. This practice helps me slow down and be more mindful of that moment. I am not telling you to start obsessing over numbers to live a more mindful life. I’m suggesting that you find a way to make it a ritual to take a moment when the universe knocks on your door. Maybe it is when you hear a certain word, or see a blue jay or go through three green lights. Set your intention that when you experience whatever it is you choose, that you will stop and listen to your intuition…your gut feeling. What do you need? What do you need to do? Where do you need to go?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 8: Rainbow Toes

A couple of days ago I was really busy with all the busy work I thought I needed to do. My daughter had just finished painting her nails---and her fingers, a little bit on the face, and a couple of drops on the counter. She asked me if she could paint my toenails. My initial thought was "I don't have time for this.....are you kidding me...I have socks on because my feet are so cold." Her pleading, glorious face was too much so persuasive so I responded, "Sure, honey! Do what you want: you are the designer of the toes!"

I thought she would pick red (my favorite color) or pink (her favorite color. Instead, she surprised me. She put together a little game where I would pick different colors out of a bowl and that would determine what color she would paint. In the end, I had thee happy rainbow toes! I've never had rainbow toes and I have to say that they make me really happy. I haven't worn socks around the house since so I can look down at them.

With the dark, winter weather, it is so nice to simply look down and see a colorful rainbow!
During this mindful moment, I took a chance on something new that I really didn't want to do. And in the end, not only was I pleasantly surprised, but I also experienced bringing unselfish joy to someone else. Next time when someone suggests a simple something you initially don't want, take a mindful moment and decide if it is really worth it not to do it. Chances are, you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 7: In Search for Unconditional Love

I know, I know, I should've posted a picture of my family here. This morning, my sweet Morgan, my Golden Retriever puppy, was such a lover girl I had to pick her for the photo shoot.
Love is a tricky thing. Different cultures have different words for different kinds of love. If I was an expert linguist, I would give examples here, but, alas, I'm not. Google it if you are interested. In English, we only have "love" to mean a whole hoard of things from loving french fries to loving a band and loving your grandmother.
In a mindful life, the most purest of love is unconditional love. This love endures unchanged regardless of the situation. If you are lucky in life you have at least one person, or even breathing being, who loves you no matter what. That's what is so great about dogs: you can scold them one minute for chewing up a kitchen chair and the next she is showering you with snuggles and kisses.
The challenge is not to abuse this special gift. I have very few people in my life that I can count on my fingers who I know love me unconditionally. Thank God I can count my parents and my husband among them. In my mindful living epiphany today, I realize that I need to hold these relationships above all other. Sure I have great friends, loving family members and some good acquaintances. But it is these handful of people in my life who continue to love and support me through good and bad. It is these people that I vow to hold close to my chest and protect like baby birds. This honor of unconditional love is special and worth safeguarding for life.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 6: Winning Isn't It

I guess here is a good place to announce that I didn't win the Valentine's Day card contest. I was a bit disappointed because I thought my designs were really cute and perfect for kids to color. Thing is, the judges simply have different taste than I do.
When I was young, one thing my father always said to me when faced with a challenge: "The only sure fire way to fail, is to not do it." In living a mindful life, I have to "go for" things that are important to me for whatever reason. The contest idea sparked interest and propelled me forward creatively. I drew: something I haven't done in a really long time. I learn a new design program: something I found exhilarating . I tried. I lost. But not really.
I gained some lost confidence in my talent. I acquired some hard earned knowledge of Corel Draw. And I tried, so I didn't fail.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 5: Peanut Butter Addiction Revisited

We all have our addictions. Perhaps it is reality TV or trash mags. Maybe it’s chewing gum, food, 5 o’clock cocktail or even sucking on cherry flavored lozenges. ONE of my addictions, fortunately and unfortunately, is peanut butter. When asked: “If you needed to gain 10 lbs. and could only eat one food what would it be?” Peanut Butter. I love it on hot toast, all melty, with raisins on top. On saltines (with raisins on top), on apples, bananas, and, especially a spoonful encrusted with dark chocolate chips. But the absolute premiere what to ingest PB is as is scooped up high on a spoon. I even have claim on the first scoop out of a fresh jar (I call a “freshie”) because it is the softest, creamiest spoonful in the jar. I’m proving Pavolv’s theory as I type. Excuse me as I wipe the drool off my chin. So, if I don’t “watch it” I can find myself mindlessly shoveling PB like a farmer on manure.

Lately, I have been trying to really enjoy my PB experiences. Taking only a bit and savoring every cellular molecule. I find that I am eating less of it and that I am more satisfied with my feast than every before. Take a look at your addictions. Is there a way you can mindfully enjoy them so you have them more under your control and are more satisfied? Perhaps you pick one show to watch or one mag to read. Maybe you only have your cocktail on the weekend or chew gum or suck lollipops after a meal. Whatever it is, reel it in a bit and mindfully enjoy each moment of it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 4: Windowpane Gratitude

Being grateful for the people and blessings around you helps create a mindful sense of being. Sometimes it is hard to be thankful, especially if you are in the midst of trauma, drama or living in the future.
Yesterday I was drying my hair. Every time I dry the right side, I'm looking out our single window in our rather small bathroom. The view is a beautiful snapshot of our back yard. I especially enjoy it in the summer when all the plants are in their glory. Now it is winter and yesterday there was condensation on the window. I reached over with my free hand and drew a symbol for six things I was grateful for at that moment: one in each of the bottom panes. Some were really meaningful--those are the easy ones. But a couple were part of the mundane, little things that get overlooked when I am wanting more. Then I smiled.
Naming your gratuities gives them weight and power. You don't have to write them down or draw them out on frosted glass. You can simply name them in your head. Maybe when you brush your teeth (be grateful you live in the Age of Fluoride) or when you a driving (hey, cars don't poop like horses did), think of a gratitude at every stop light. Whenever it is, find a routine for being grateful on a daily basis.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 3: Rudolph Finds a New Nose

One consideration of living a mindful life in to be in tune with what makes you feel good about yourself and your world around you. Sometimes you have to try something new to achieve a bit of joy. When I turned thirty, I thought I would never get another breakout again. I was an adult after all. Clear skin has always been a goal of mine. I never go a day without washing and moisturising my face. Well now I am forty, yes, forty, and I still get those darned pimples. The ones I hate the most are the ones that are big, red, and painful and nothing comes out of them. At least you get some satisfaction out of the other ones when you squeeze! I got one of these Big Reds on my nose the other day (OK, you can stop with the Rudolph jokes). I remembered reading an article in one of those fashion magazines about using Preparation H (yes, honey, hemorrhoid cream) on red pimples to take out the swelling and the redness. I was desperate, so I got some and tried it. It smelled weird and was greasy so I put it on at night and then the next morning it was down quite a bit. I wasn't going anywhere that day, so I greased up again and by the time I picked up my kids, it was down far enough that I could actually cover it up with concealer. Ahhh, even the illusion of clear skin makes me feel better. Find out what your body, heart, soul needs. Maybe it is a hot chocolate chip cookie. Or sitting in the sun (use sunscreen). Try juicing or yoga or a new kind of food. Whatever it is, just take a chance--in a mindful way, of course.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 2: Ask and Ye May Recieve

Living mindfully means asking for what you need or want...fully knowing that the answer may be no or not now but it may actually be yes. In the past, I've been too nervous to ask. I didn't want to bother people or seem like I'm needy. But today, I decided to go for it.
I love Lands' End clothing and footwear for my children. They are durable and they sometimes have really great sales. Today I was looking for rain boots for my daughter. Her feet are growing so fast, it has been difficult to keep her in shoes. Right now, only her snow boots fit her best, which is OK since we live in the Northwest. I also needed to get some dress clothes for my son. He is in the 5th grade this year and we are fast approaching the time in his school when he is required to wear a coat and tie to several events. He current dress blazer is two sizes too small. I wanted to check out what LL Bean had next and saw that they had free shipping for orders over $75. But I really liked the selection at my beloved Lands' End better. Any way, I racked up quite an order and the shipping was nearly another $20.
I took one of my yoga breaths and contacted a customer service representative. I told her what LL Bean was offering and asked if she could offer me free shipping. Lo and behold, they had a promotion code for me for free shipping (not advertised on the website at all)!
Lesson for me today: it really doesn't hurt to ask.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Living a Mindful Life Lesson 1: Just Beathe

No, I didn't make a New Year's Resolution...don't believe in them. I had an epiphany last year and decided to try living in a constant ebb and flow of a mindful life. I tend to live in the future Land of What Ifs and I struggle by the minute to live in the moment. One great way for me to do this is to do yoga. Now, when do yoga and I to be super mindful of not making grocery lists in my head. I really try to focus in on my breath (which is what you are supposed to do, I know) and focus in on what my body needs at that moment. I have two great studios I go to in Rhode Island: Raffa Yoga: (my favorite teacher is Pam) and Lotus Fire Yoga: (Joanie is my instructor of choice). If you can't make it to a full class or can't afford the $15 a pop, another great way to have a practice is on line at This is a free service and I have done some great classes. Just set up your computer and your mat & you are really for that first downward dog of the day. So, I use my yoga breath when things get a bit frenzied. Closing my eyes and breathing slowly and thoughtfully not only reduces my stress but also brings me back to what is really important at that moment. So today, when you feel scattered, simply close your eyes and breath.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Thin Line Between Reason & Excuse

I hear them all day long from my children: excuses. From the proverbial "I forgot" to the mundane "just 'cause." The trashcans remain at the bottom of the driveway; the homework is unfinished; their stinky bodies continue to stink because they still haven't taken a shower. But sometimes, upon taking a breath and really thinking about it, I realize that their explanations aren't simple excuses but, in fact, logical reasons for their behavior or the lack there of. In looking at the various situations, I've come up with my own criteria for discerning what is an actual excuse and what is a valid reason.

An excuse is defined by a plea offered in order to get out of trouble. In my experience, many times an excuse is simply a flat out lie. Sometimes it isn't a lie but more of a very watered down reason--one that with a bit of effort wouldn't even be necessary to conjure up. You not only see this in childhood, but it is rampant in the adult world. Daily people vacillate between being upfront and honest with their actions and scrambling this way and that to cover their asses. A report is late on the bosses desk. The employee blames his secretary or the copier when in reality she simply didn't start the project in a timely manner. A college student asks for an extension on his term paper because he's been working nights to pay the rent. While it is true that he is working nights, his day time is full of opportunities for study. In stead he plays video games or chats with his long distance girl friend on the computer; he may even have some beers with his friends. Hell, it's 5 o'clock somewhere. I used to have a boyfriend who had ADHD. He was always late. He always lost his keys. (I know that technically you are not supposed to use the word "always" but in this case, it is the only appropriate word.) Now, this man always used his ADHD as an excuse: "You know me, I've got ADD!" In some cases I would err on the cause for reason, but in his case, it is basically an excuse for not being responsible for his condition: he didn't wear a watch, he didn't carry a planner or PDA, he didn't write things down so he could remember and he didn't hang his keys on the key hook when he entered the house. In excuses, the weak reason given might not necessarily be the "cause" of the action. But a reason is a pretty strong excuse!
Reasons differ from excuses as they are the actual cause for an action or event. "Cause" is the operative word, here. My son is snappy with me almost every day after school. After a few days of just disciplining him to no end, he finally gave me the reason for his grouchy mood: "I"m hungry." Of course! I get grouchy, too, when I don't eat---that whole low blood sugar thing. My new puppy randomly poops in the house. It's not her fault, if I claimed that, it would be a pretty weak excuse. She is only answering nature's call. In fact, the reason she does it is because I am not paying close enough attention to her. My sister-in-law's family doesn't come to our house. From an outside observer, one might think the excuse is that they don't like coming over, but the real reason is that my nephew has asthma and is allergic to cats--we have two very fluffy cats. The way I see it, the best "reason" for an action is usually a basic human need or emotion. I read a book once about why children misbehave. The main premise is that children always do the best they can with what they've got. They aren't born to be bad. No, humans are born wanting to do good, feel good and be good. This rings true for not just children but also for adults of all ages. We all want to be happy and do the right thing, but sometimes we have good reasons why we can't or bad excuses why we don't.

So the next time you are faced with what you think is an "excuse," take a moment to ascertain if there could be a good reason hidden in there. Perhaps a friend says or does something that upsets you? Before this time he has been a great friend but you've noticed that he has been on edge lately. Instead of fighting with him and holding a grudge, even maybe ruining the friendship, ask him how he is. Truly reach out to him with unconditional caring and compassion. You may find out that his finances are stretched or that a loved one passed away. At that moment, instead of piling more doom and gloom on his otherwise weakened spirit., you are given a gift of an opportunity to strengthen your friendship by helping support your friend and aiding in the healing process.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Unabridged Rules of Canasta based on Hoyle Rules

I grew up playing cards with my parents.  We mostly played Spades, Gin, Uno or Skip-bo.  I love to play cards and luckily, so does my husband.  A couple of years ago, my parents introduced us to a card game called Canasta.  What a blast we had playing teams!  Now, when the four of us are together for our precious little times during the year, we always get in a few rounds of Canasta.  My parents have a monthly card game with two other couples.  It is a great way to get together and share some laughs and friendly competition.

Edited by Bill Hill

December 24, 2009

The name Canasta means “basket” in Spanish, which probably derived from the basket holding the draw and discard piles; the discard pile is of paramount importance in this game.

Canasta was originally invented in Uruguay in the late 1940s, and soon became popular in Argentina and the rest of Latin America. In the late 1940s/early 1950s, Canasta reached the United States, where it became even more popular than Bridge for a few years; it was probably the most popular card game at any one time. It has since greatly declined in popularity, except for some holdout enthusiasts.

How did Canasta get so popular? It may have been because it has elements of Mah Jongg, another enormously successful game, and as a partnership game, it is easier to learn than Bridge. (Canasta can be played with two, three, or five people, but the most popular version worldwide is the partnership game.)

Derivations of Canasta include Bolivia, Samba, Cuban Canasta and Bolivian Canasta.

How the Game Is Played
Canasta uses two regular decks of cards, including the jokers (two from each deck). Each player is dealt eleven cards. Players across from each other are partners and play cards to a common area, so each partner can take advantage of the other’s play. Canasta is usually played over several hands; the first team to reach 5000 points wins.

Jokers and 2s are wild cards and can be used to represent other cards. Black and red 3s have special properties.

Rules Summary for 2 Teams
On your turn, you either draw a card from the draw pile or take the entire discard pile (there are special rules for picking up the discard pile; see “Picking Up the Discard Pile” later in this chapter). You can then play melds and canastas. At the end of your turn, you must discard a card to the discard pile.

Either you or your partner must make an initial meld for your team. Once your team has made its initial meld, both of you can play as many melds and canastas as you want on your turns.

If your team has made at least one canasta, either you or your partner can go out if you can play all the cards in your hand

Making Melds and Canastas
Teams score points by making melds and canastas.

A meld is three or more cards of the same rank such as 4-4-4, 6-6-6-6-6, or Q-Q-Q-Q-Q. Wild cards (2s and jokers) can substitute for any card, if needed (the only exception is a meld of black 3s, which can’t include any wild cards). For instance, you could have a meld of 8-8-2. A meld must contain at least two natural cards, and cannot contain more than three wild cards.

Black 3s can only be melded as your very last play of a hand before going out.

A canasta is a meld which has seven or more cards of the same rank such as 8-8-8-8-8-8-8. Your team must make at least one canasta to win a hand. A canasta can contain up to three wild cards. If the canasta contains only natural cards, it is worth more points.

Making the Initial Meld
The first play your team must make to the table is your initial meld. Either you or your partner must play to the table, in one turn, one or more melds whose point value is equal to or greater than the initial meld value.

Your game score at the end of a hand dictates how many points you need for the initial meld in the next hand. At the beginning of a game, both teams always have an initial meld requirement of 50.

Score Meld Requirement

0-1495 50
01-2995 90
3000 or more 120
Negative score 15

This system gives the losing team a better chance of a comeback, since they can potentially play to the table earlier and “go out” earlier. A team with 1600 points must make an initial meld of 90, while the second-place team, with a score of 1250 points, only needs an initial meld of 50.

To figure out whether you can make an initial meld, add up the point values of any cards that you meld:

Card Point Value

4, 5, 6, 7, and black 3 5 points
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 10 points
A and 2 20 points
Joker 50 points

Picking Up the Discard Pile
At the beginning of your turn, you can pick up the entire discard pile in certain situations. To pick up the discard pile, you must be able to immediately use the upcard (the top card of the pile) in a meld (either adding it to an existing meld or making a new meld with it using cards already in your hand). You do not get to take the other cards in the pile until you use the upcard in a meld.

Normally, you can pick up the discard pile if you can use the upcard in an existing meld or in a new meld; to use the upcard in a new meld you must combine it with at least two natural cards from your hand or with at least one natural card and one wild card from your hand.

However, if someone has discarded a 2 or joker to the pile, the pile is considered frozen. When the discard pile is frozen, you can only pick it up if you can use the upcard in a meld using at least two natural cards in your hand.

A pile stays frozen until someone picks it up.

Important: Before your team has made your initial meld, the pile is not shown as frozen, but you can only pick it up with two natural cards. You can never pick up a pile if the top card is a joker, 2, or black 3.

Going Out
Your team is qualified to go out (ending the current hand) if you have at least one canasta on the table. To go out, either you or your partner must play all of the cards in your hand to the table. The last card in your hand can either be melded or discarded; this is the only time in the game you are not required to discard at the end of your turn.

When you are ready to go out, you may, if you wish, ask your partner permission to go out. This gives you a way to find out whether your partner wants you to go out, or whether your partner still has a lot of points in his or her hand (that might be used to make canastas) and wants to continue to play. Asking for permission is optional, but your partner’s answer is binding; you can only go out on that turn if your partner gives you permission.

Note: It is possible to go out without previously having placed any melds on the table. This is known as going out concealed and is worth extra points. You must be able to immediately play all of the cards in your hand to the table, making your initial meld and at least one canasta. You can discard one card to the discard pile if necessary. Going out concealed is very difficult to do, because you don’t get any help from your partner.

How the Game Is Played
At the beginning of the game, one card is flipped to the discard pile. If that card is a 2, joker, or red 3, another card is flipped on top of it and the pile is frozen. Before play begins, any red 3s in players’ hands are automatically played to the 3 pile on the board and replaced with new cards.

On your turn, you either draw a card from the draw pile or pick up the discard pile. See “Picking Up the Discard Pile” earlier in this chapter. If you pick up the discard pile, the top card of the pile is automatically played to the appropriate card pile. If the pile was frozen, you must then also play two natural cards to that pile; if you don’t, you won’t be able to take the pile.

Next, meld cards to the table, if you want to. (The first play your team can make is the initial meld.) You may be able to undo melds, if you need to; see the in-game help for details. At the end of your turn, discard a card by dragging it to the discard pile. You must always keep at least one card in your hand at the end of a turn, unless you are going out.

Play proceeds with the player on your left. Continue playing until one team goes out or the deck runs out. If you’re ready to go out, you can go out by laying down all your cards (one card can be discarded, if desired.) If you wish, you can ask your partner for permission before you go out. You can ask for permission after you draw cards but before you play them.

If a player draws the last card in the deck, special conditions apply. If the next player cannot take the discard pile, the hand ends immediately. However, if that player can play the top card of the discard pile to one of his or her team’s melds, the player must take the discard pile and play that card. If the player can take the discard pile with a card in his or her hand, he or she can choose to either take the pile or end the hand. In any of these cases, the hand ends, and neither team gets points for going out.

Each card you play to the table is worth a certain number of points. These points count towards your initial meld requirement, and are scored at the end of the game. (Note: Any red 3s on the table don’t count towards the initial meld points.)

Scoring occurs at the end of a hand, after one team has gone out, or if the deck runs out of cards and someone ends the hand. The team that went out gets points for going out, and each team scores points for all the cards they’ve melded to the table (including the cards in canastas) and any bonus points (points for any red 3s and any mixed or natural canastas). Then, any cards remaining in team members’ hands (including the partner of the person who went out) are subtracted from each team’s score.

Card values
4, 5, 6, 7, and black 3 5 points
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 10 points
A and 2 20 points
Joker 50 points
Red 3* 100 points each

Other scoring
Mixed canasta 300 points each
Natural canasta** 500 points each
Going out 100 points
Going out concealed*** 200 points
Going out before the other team has melded: varies, see below

The other team loses 100 points per red 3 owned by the team, or 800 points if the team owns all four red 3s.

* A canasta made with all natural cards (no wild cards)** (800 if your team has all 4 red 3s)** Going out without having made an initial meld on a previous turn.

The main reason for making melds is to work with your partner to make canastas. Canastas are worth a lot more points, so focus on making them instead of a number of small melds.

Be careful not to meld too many cards. Having a small hand is a big disadvantage, because you are less likely to be able to pick up the discard pile. However, if your partner has already laid down a meld, it is usually a good idea to play any cards you can to it, so that you can get closer to having a canasta. If you can make a canasta, you should always do it.

Except when making the initial meld and taking the discard pile, avoid adding wild cards to piles (unless you want to finish a canasta). Wild cards are stronger in your hand, since they can be used to make canastas and freeze the pile.

If you have more than three cards you can meld, try just melding three of the cards, holding the others back. This gives your partner a chance to play cards to that meld, but leaves cards in your hand that can potentially pick up the discard pile. It also may let you make a surprise canasta!

Keep track of the discarded cards. If the other team takes the pile, you will want to remember what cards were in it so you can discard safely. Keeping track of discards also gives you an indication which cards the other team are short of.

If you have no choice but to discard a card that lets the other team take the discard pile, stick to low cards (4, 5, 6, 7) whenever possible, since these give the other team less points, and leave more points in your hand for melds.

Strategies for Taking the Discard Pile
A key strategy to Canasta is getting the discard pile and preventing your opponents from getting it, whenever possible. But consider how many cards are in the pile. It is often not worth showing the other team what cards you want by taking a small pile with four or less cards.

Black 3s are valuable discards, since they protect the discard pile. Hold on to them until the discard pile is large or something you particularly want to defend.

When the discard pile is not frozen and is full of cards the other team wants, try making safe discards, such as cards that your team already has a large meld of (since you know the other team probably can’t meld them). Or discard cards you’ve already seen the other team discard, or discards they have passed up before.

If the other team has more melds on the table, consider freezing the discard pile, so that you can safely discard cards that your opponents have large melds of.

If the discard pile gets really big, restrain yourself from melding, so that you have more chances to get the pile.

If you’re holding cards that the opponents can meld (and you can’t), try to discard them when the discard pile is frozen, or when it is small.

Strategies for Going Out
If you’re in a weak position—the other team has melded most of the card ranks, so there are no safe discards, for example—consider going out to minimize your losses.

Asking your partner to go out is sometimes a good way to find out whether your partner can make more canastas. But don’t forget that your partner’s answer is binding!

If you ask your partner to go out and your partner tells you no, play as many naturals on your turn as possible, holding on to wild cards and at least one safe discard. This gives your partner more opportunities to play cards and make canastas. Holding on to the wild cards means that you are more likely to be able to go out next turn.

If your partner asks you to go out, and you say no (because you have cards left to play), be sure to play as many wild cards as you can on your next turn, and any natural cards that you can use to make canastas (or large melds which your partner could potentially make into canastas). Be sure to keep one card that you can discard safely on your next turn (so that the player to your left can’t go out before your partner)!

If all other things are equal, and the other team has three red 3s and the fourth red 3 hasn’t been drawn, consider going out as soon as possible. If that team gets the last red 3, they’ll get 500 more points! Likewise, if your team has three red 3s, and the fourth red 3 hasn’t been drawn, consider postponing going out until you get that last red 3.

Rule of Play for 6 Players
Canasta for six players is the same as for four players except three decks of cards are used for play.

Rule of Play for 3 Players
Canasta for three players is the same for four players except 13 cards are dealt.

Rule of Play for 2 Players
Canasta for two players is the same as for four players except for the following:
• Each player plays for himself.
• Each player is dealt fifteen cards.
• A player cannot go out unless he's complete two canastas.
• If the player draws from the stock, he draws two cards, but only discards one.
• If there is only one card remaining in the stock, the last player can draw it and continue as though he drew two cards (i.e. it is a legal play).
• The penalties for exposed cards and insufficient melds do not apply.

Pennies from Heaven
The rules of ordinary Canasta apply, except for the differences explained below.

Players and Cards
There are 6 players in two teams, sitting alternately. 4 packs of cards are used, including 2 jokers for each pack - a total of 216 cards. All twos and jokers are wild. Red and black threes have special properties as in regular canasta. The values of the individual cards, as in Canasta, are:

Joker ..... 50 points each
Two, Ace ..... 20 points each
K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 ..... 10 points each
7, 6, 5, 4, black 3 ..... 5 points each

The dealer deals 13 cards to each player, one at a time, which the players may look at, followed by a further 11 cards to each, which must not be looked at and are kept in a face-down pile until the player has completed a canasta. The remaining stock of 72 cards is placed face down and its top card is turned face up beside it to start the discard pile.

A turn consists of the following stages:
1. Drawing the top two cards from the stock or taking the entire discard pile.
2. Possibly starting a new meld or adding one or more cards to your own side's melds.
3. Discarding one card from your hand face up on the discard pile.

Melds and Canastas
A canasta is a meld of seven cards. Four types of canasta are possible.

Type Description Bonus
Natural (red) canasta Seven cards of the same rank with no wild cards. 500 points

Mixed (black) canasta Contains one, two or three wild cards. The remaining cards are all of the same rank (not threes or sevens). 300 points

Wild canasta Any seven wild cards. 1000 points

Sevens canasta Seven sevens (no wild cards) 1500 points

A meld can be started with three or more cards and built up to a canasta by adding cards on later turns. No meld may ever contain more than seven cards. If you have completed a canasta, it is permissible for your team to start another separate meld of the same rank.

A mixed meld in course of construction must contain at least two natural (non-wild) cards and cannot contain more than three wild cards. A natural meld can be turned into a mixed meld by adding wild cards to it.

The minimum requirements for a team's initial meld are as follows:
Team's cumulative score Minimum initial meld
Any minus score ..... 15 points
0 - 4995 ..... 50 points
5000 - 9995 ..... 90 points
10000 - 14995 ..... 120 points
15000 or more ..... 150 points

Bonuses for red threes and canastas do not count towards this minimum - it must be achieved from the value of the cards in the meld.

NOTE: Few books include this game. Two that do are Scarne's Encyclopedia of Games (1973) and the Bicycle Official Rules of Card Games (1994, 1999). Both give the score ranges for the different initial meld requirements as 0 - 495; 500 - 995; 1000 - 1495; 1500+. Comparing these with the typical amount that can be scored in a hand and the target score for the game, it seems certain that this must be a misprint, and the ranges should be increased by a factor of 10, as in the table above. My thanks to Jonny Groves for pointing out this error.

Discarding, freezing and taking the pile

Sevens cannot be discarded unless both teams have completed a canasta of sevens. Any other card, including a wild card, can be discarded.

You can never take the pile if the top card is a wild card or a three.

If the top card of the pile is a natural card and you have two matching natural cards in your hand, you can always take the pile, provided that:

1. You immediately meld its top card together with the two cards from your hand;

2. If your side has not melded before, you must at the same time put down sufficient cards from your hand, in this and possibly other melds, to satisfy the minimum meld requirement. Only after meeting this requirement are you allowed to take the rest of the pile.

If a wild card is discarded, it is placed sideways in the pile, which is then frozen. If the pile is not frozen (i.e. does not contain a wild card buried in it), you can also take the pile if its top card matches one of your team's existing (pure or mixed) melds of fewer than 7 cards, and you must then add the card to the meld. However, if a card is discarded that matches one of your completed 7-card canastas, you cannot take the pile unless you have two matching natural cards of that rank in your hand, and you use these three cards to start a new meld of that rank.

Picking up the Foot

You are not allowed to look at your face down card of 11 cards until you have personally completed a canasta - i.e. contributed the seventh and last card to a canasta for your team. When you first complete a canasta in this way, after discarding at the end of that turn, you pick up your 11 face down cards and add them to the cards in your hand.

Red and Black Threes
Anyone who is dealt or draws a red three must immediately place it face up with their team's melds and draw a replacement card from the stock. Red threes do not count towards a team's minimum meld. If a red three is turned up as the first card of the pile after the deal, it freezes the pile, and the first player to take the pile must immediately lay out the red three. At the end, if you have completed your canasta of sevens, each red three you have laid out counts for 100 points bonus. A team which has all eight red threes counts 1000 points instead of 800. If a player has not yet completed a cansta and picked up their 11 card packet (foot), any red threes in the 11 cards count minus 100. If a team has not completed a canasta of sevens by the time the game ends (either because the other team goes out or because the stock is exhausted), all their red threes count minus 100 each (minus 1000 if they have all eight).

Black threes cannot be melded except by a player going out, who can at that point put down three or more of them as a meld (no wild cards are allowed in a meld of black threes). If a black three is discarded, the next player in turn is not allowed to pick up the pile, but as soon as the black three is covered it ceases to have an effect.

Going out and winning
You can only go out when your team has completed all four types of canasta. You must have at least one example of each type - natural, mixed, wild and sevens - completed with 7 cards in each, and you may also have additional canastas or smaller melds of any types. If your team has not satisfied these conditions you are not allowed to play in such a way as to leave yourself with no cards. You may (but need not) ask permission to go out from one of your partners, and if you choose to ask you must do as the partner says. To go out you meld all of your cards, or all except one, which you discard. Your final discard cannot be a seven.

After a player goes out both teams score for all the cards in their melds, plus any bonuses for canastas, and the team that went out scores 100 bonus for this. They subtract the value of all the cards left in their hands, including the 11-card packets (feet) of any players who have not yet picked theirs up. Scores for red threes are added or subtracted as appropriate.

It can happen that no one succeeds in going out before the stock runs out. In that case the play ends at the moment someone wishes to draw cards from the stock, but there are no cards left there. However the game can continue without a stock as long as each player is able and willing to take the previous player's discard. If the game ends because the stock has run out, the hand is scored in the usual way, except that of course that neither team gets the 100-point bonus.

The play can also end if one player has a hand consisting entirely of sevens, but at least one team has not completed its sevens canasta. If possible, you must play to avoid this situation: you are not allowed to meld all your other cards, leaving yourself only with sevens; you must keep at least one legal discard. However, if you discarded your last non-seven on your previous turn, and you then draw two more sevens from the stock pile, you have no way to discard. In this situation you may meld all but one of your sevens (if legal) and then because you have no discard the play ends. Both teams score in the usual way and no one gets the 100-point bonus for going out.

When either team reaches 20,000 points or more at the end of a hand, the team with more points wins. In case of equality, another hand is played.

Railroad Canasta
As in Pennies from Heaven most of the basic rules of Canasta apply. The exceptions are as follows:

Players and Cards
Two or more people can play and two decks of cards are used per person, including the jokers, of which there may be two or more per deck.

Deal and Play
As in some versions of Hand and Foot everyone deals their own cards. All the cards are put in a big pile on the table and each player counts out the number of cards they need: 13 cards for their hand and 11 for their kitty.

For convenience, the stock is arranged into several piles. When you draw from the stock you take two cards. These can be taken from the top of any stock pile(s).

Once a meld contains 7 cards, it is a closed canasta, and no more cards can be added to it. If you have three more cards of that rank, you can meld them as a new set.

There are four kinds of canasta:
• red, consisting of 7 natural cards of the same rank;
• black, consisting of at least 4 natural cards of the same rank and the remainder wild;
• wild, consisting of 7 wild cards;
• seven canasta, which is just that - a canasta of seven sevens.

A closed red or black canasta is indicated by squaring up the cards with a red or black natural card on top.

Picking up the Kitty
You are not allowed to look at your 11 card kitty until after you have discarded for the turn in which you complete your first non-black canasta. At that point you pick up your kitty and add it to your hand.

Red Threes
Red threes never count against a player, always in favor. There is no extra bonus for having all of them - they just count +100 each.

Black Threes
Black threes stop the next player from taking the pile as usual. When going out, and making a meld of black threes, you can have as many as you want - this is the only meld that is not limited to seven cards. You do not count a canasta bonus for a meld of black threes, however.

Going out
To go out, you must have completed at least one 7 card canasta of each of the four types.

You go out by melding all your cards except one, and discarding the last card. You are not allowed to meld everything and leave yourself with no discard. When a player goes out the play ends and the hand is scored.

The bonuses are:

• 100 for each red three
• 100 for going out
• 300 for each black canasta
• 500 for each red canasta
• 1000 for each wild canasta
• 1500 for each 7 canasta

The cards you have melded also score their usual values (50, 20, 10, 5) and you subtract points for any cards left in your hand, or in your kitty if you have not picked it up.