Getting Unstuck – Helping Yourself by Helping Someone Else

Last night I had dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. She asked how I was, and I shared my frustrations with taking care of my mom and feeling stuck.  I mentioned how I’d been reading a lot of blogs of younger people who were on fire and “making sh*t happen” like  DaleJStephens with UnCollege.  While admiring  youthful energy, drive, and productivity I am also a bit envious of their ability to move forward unencumbered by care taking responsibilities-whether for children or elders-that always trump any other goals one might have for the day.

I asked Nichole how she was doing and learned I had NOTHING to complain about. She was also feeling stuck, not always having the time, energy or resources to accomplish what she wants to do in addition to what she must do. I started questioning, trying to clarify issues, and my energy jumped when I switched my focus from my issues to hers.

Nichole and her husband have a  healthy 6 year old and a 2 year old with a severe, potentially life threatening food allergy syndrome  called  FPIES.  I was in awe that she was still smiling after what they’ve been through, watching their child’s health deteriorating, essentially starving, with no answers..a parent’s nightmare. She started researching when doctors didn’t know what to do and what the doctors suggested was clearly not working. Once she found a possibility for healing she needed to buck the  opposition and find the limited sources of food her daughter can tolerate. The good news is what she found is working. Ellie is starting to heal and make headway in her development.But the gains are slow and setbacks are always on the horizon. Nichole faces a constant financial battle on top of the physical and emotional roller-coaster and needs to keep working to  help pay for all the things not covered by insurance.  She’s learning quickly about food politics, networking and brain development issues that can affect these children.  I  admire that on top of her grueling daily routine, she feels an urgency to share what she’s learned in hopes of saving other children and impacting their long term health and neurological development if families get this information early enough.

So, for this working/homeschooling mom, with a busy toddler who can easily get into a life threatening situation, a simple trip to the grocery store or local restaurant, or picking up take-out is not an option. Food sourcing and preparation are time consuming for both parents. She is blogging, trying to reach out and help others, and wants to start a non -profit to educate the public and medical community,  provide support for families and promote research on the issues of how the real food GAPS diet is working, and ultimately to impact our food supply. Based on her experience finding  the right information at a critical moment and seeing her daughter shift from starving to healing, she knows this needs to be done yesterday. She does not have enough hours in the day to do it all herself, or the financial resources to pay someone else to do it for her.

I am asking for your help. If you have skills or time you can donate, please contact her at or @NicholeSawatzky. If you have connections that could help her find research or funding partners, let her know. If you can throw some money her way to help feed her child Ellie, or help her pay for assistance to get the project going, please donate. Go to her blog and use the donate button in the top right corner.

It took thinking about how to help someone else to get me unstuck. Please, if you can do anything to help Nichole move forward, do so. It might help you, too.

Thanks,  Lisa

Throw Away the Easy Button

Life can be hard. Work can be hard. Creating can be hard. Execution can be hard.

But hard is ok.

Challenge is good.

When did we get, and begin to instill, the idea that things have to be EASY?

Staples, you are no help. We don’t need an Easy button. We need a keep going button, a challenge button, aproblems are opportunities to learn, and motivation button.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how we have elevated the concept of the genius, or some special quality that someone has that makes them successful rather than plain old hard work. We try to write off successful folks in some way, by calling them rich, or connected or whatever. We deny the daily showing up and doing the work that many folks do to accomplish their goals and make the world a better place.

You have to put in some effort. And effort is good. We like to minimize when things are hard and taking effort -why? Are we afraid that if people know we are struggling with something that they will think we are dumb or not good enough?

When I first began teaching, my principal or superintendent asked the new recruits how we were doing.  I usually answered with a detailed description of what I was having trouble with, what I was doing about it and asking if they had suggestions.  Questions and answers would fly. Sometimes they were surprised at what I had tried.  Often they had great ideas based on their experience that I had overlooked.  Sometimes, as we talked, I would come up with a new way to approach the problem.  I would move on, feeling energized and like the time was well spent.

As I attended more meetings, I realized that my MO was not how most of the other new teachers were operating. They tended to paint a glowing picture of a successful lesson or activity, a bit more like show and tell.

One day a colleague overheard me talking with the principal.  She told me I was CRAZY to talk to my bosses or any colleague that way, since I was showing my weaknesses. And I realized I had a different approach, that served me well.

But I wondered where my approach came from. What made it easier for me to show my weak spots?

Well for one, I have always been, as a friend put it, fashion and grooming impaired. I showed my biggest weakness without even trying. So, I guess I had to get over that one early.

Two, I love to learn. I want to learn. Talking with people who know more than me can help me learn something. That was too good an opportunity to pass up. Why waste it?

Three, I think knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being able to be honest about them is really valuable. It helps you know where to direct your energy. Sometimes it is to find ways to build the weak area, often it is better to collaborate and build on your strengths. Pretending does not serve you or those you work with.

A benefit of my approach was that since I wasn’t complaining, and I was obviously problem solving, my bosses saw me as confident and growing in my profession. They saw that I was reaching out, trying to improve, and not afraid to share. I got feedback that was helpful. They assured me that it was ok to be struggling, that I wasn’t a loser because being a great teacher wasn’t easy. I was stronger because I was trying to figure why it was difficult and what to do about it.

So throw away the easy button and tell your kids, students, parents, and friends that lots of things are NOT easy.

Learning how to tackle not easy thoughtfully, persistently and graciously is a winning strategy.




In Memory:Bradley Jay Nalbone Sep.3, 1985- Oct. 9, 2010

Note: this post was written two years ago but I want to send it out today to honor the memory of my nephew and because I think we can all use the reminders to cherish our children and make the effort to extend our kindness to those suffering from loss.

Memorial brochure for Brad NalboneOne year ago today my dear nephew Brad died. It was a terrible shock and loss and we all miss him.

Only 25, happy,  he was always ready with a joke or quip, and just ready to soar with his music, his psychology degree and volunteering.

It was a tragedy for him, his dad and mom, other relatives and the many, many lives that he touched.

I woke up in the wee hours, unable to sleep, thinking about Brad and the great loss.

I also thought about all the gifts he had given in his short sojourn here, and a gift he has given me in relating to my son now, since Brad is gone.

One of my favorite memories is a Christmas gathering, when the boys were teens. Well Brad was a teen and Dale not there yet, and it was one of the rare occasions Grandma Dot was visiting from New Jersey.

Brad was already into his music and either came with his guitar or picked up Pierre’s and started performing. Not to be left out, Dale got out his sax and asked if they could improvise and play together. Brad was game, and they tried to play together. It was a bit bumpy at first -but quickly gelled as they found a rhythm and togetherness that they didn’t often find since their personalities were so different.  Brad was 6 years older than Dale, and he was usually patient with Dale, but sometimes you could tell it got old.

As they were getting their groove, they noticed that Grandma Dot really wanted to be included. The boys brought Grandma Dot in on the piano and shakers. It was so great to see them connecting through music and silliness, and just going for it without worrying about the outcome. It was a gift.

In the last year, as people have asked me, often horrified, how I am coping with Dale’s decision to drop out of college, to speak out, to live on his own, I realized that some of my peace with all that Dale does is due in part to what I learned from my brother and losing my nephew.




My son is alive and well, happy and pursuing his dreams. He is trying to solve a problem in the world. He cares about people and is self-confident. How could I not be overjoyed and supportive?

So, in memory of Brad, please:

  • If you have children love them unconditionally and accept them and support them in following their dreams.


  • If you know someone who has lost a child, reach out, tell them something wonderful you remember about their child or their parental interaction. Listen if they want or need to talk. Send a photo or card with a memory. Share the pain for a moment, or gladden their hearts for a moment.


  • Smile, tell a joke, laugh, and pass it on.

Chaos, Change and Challenge

Knock, knock, bang! Three wee ones from the neighborhood, 4,6, and 7  are at my door. They  politely but excitedly ask if they can tramp through my backyard and down to the creek. We just had our first rain of the season. The minute the creek has new water brings change and creativity. Makes me miss Dale! So many good memories of tramping down in the creek. We are so fortunate to have this special tiny piece of heaven. Moments in nature are so good for our souls. Okay, let’s see if I can recapture what I set down to write.

This is part of my personal chaos –dealing with numerous interruptions, demands, and mini crises as I help my mother move closer to us.  I need more patience with her, at 79,  while she deals with so much change with a goal of a more secure future.

The feeling of chaos as we make the change causes huge emotional and physical reactions: stress, insomnia, worry, high blood pressure, palpitations, doubt, second-guessing, resistance.

Hopefully this will lead to growth and learning and acceptance.

But at the moment it just feels chaotic and painful. I’m so grateful my son is launched. I’m not as squished a sandwich as I used to be, when we were dealing with parenting and education issues at the same time as family illnesses and end of life issues.

This time of discomfort during life’s passages and struggles feels never ending. It tries one’s patience as well as physical limits. Often there is just not enough time in the day.

So, for me, the blog takes a back seat while I attend to my mother’s needs. At other times, my personal goals took a backseat to my child’s needs.

I want to spread the message that it is okay to pay attention to these emotional needs of our dear ones, be they wee or old, at the expense of our other goals.

This  is a very different message than we hear from our culture.

You can’t get the years back, whether with our toddlers, teens or aging parents.

You may very well be able to exercise, work extra hours at the business, write, clean house later…whatever it is you may have to “sacrifice” personally at the moment in order to meet those children’s or parent’s needs.

And as frustrating, or stressful, or infuriating as it may be at times, in the long run, I believe these are sacrifices we ultimately won’t regret.

But we must be willing to go against the grain.

We have to stand up for our belief that giving our time and emotional energy is the most important thing we can do for our dependents, for ourselves, and for the world.