Category Archives: Being grateful

What if you didn’t view conflicts as a problem?

You could view conflict as a sign that someone or something is wrong. That attitude makes conflict something to avoid and the solution would seem to be to control the other person or people.

Or you could see conflict as natural, occurring because people care. Something that can be handled. And if handled by “win-win” methods, conflict can be enriching and can help create new ways to cooperate.

In a conflict, it’s important to see what you have in common. If nothing else, we’re all human. Stay connected to the other person’s humanity.

That was one eye-opening message I took home from the first night of a 6-week course being taught by Kit Miller and Malik Thompson from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Rochester.

It’s so easy to see conflict as a problem. It mucks things up, right? But how much happier life could be if we can see someone’s contrary view as a sign that he or she really cares about the issue. Look for each person’s underlying needs. Assume we can find a way to meet them that serves both of us.

The course: Nonviolent Communication, an approach and training created by American psychology Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.  (1934-2015). Special thanks to First Unitarian Church of Rochester for hosting the classes.



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Beautiful blue

Blue, I say.

That’s my favorite color.

Like water. Like sky. Like water reflecting sky.


Not sadness.





Today’s blog post brought to you by the color blue.

Seagull/sky photo by Tim Farnum. Other photos by Chris Swingle Farnum.

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Ms. Lori’s experience at School 22

Ms. Lori is among the many great volunteers at School 22 in Rochester, giving about 2 hours every week to help several second-graders, and one third-grader, 1-on-1 with their reading.

The problem: Other students in the class come up to her. “Can you help me today?” they ask. She doesn’t have time to work 1-on-1 with everyone.

If only there were enough volunteers. Certainly many people aren’t available between 8 am and 4:15 pm (the school day and the after-school program time). But there may be false ideas that get in the way.

Adults may fear that they have to have a teaching background. They don’t.

They might think they need a lot of free time to help. But there are unfilled needs that are just 45 minutes a week.

They might wonder what it’s really like. So I’ve created a 2-minute video showing Ms. Lori’s experience at School 22.

To watch the video, click here.

To learn more about this community-school partnership, click here.

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Why I like writing

This week I interviewed a local artist about how she is evolving into a consultant. I created a text story and a viImagedeo for the Rochester Professional Consultants Network e-newsletter, which publishes at the end of this month.

As we talked about her unusual art form and about the artisans group she created, I was reminded why I enjoy my professional writing career.

I get to meet and interview fascinating people who do interesting work and have intriguing ideas. I have the privilege of telling their story so that others get to know them. And as in this case, when the person reads the story and says it’s exactly right, I have the satisfaction of a job well done.

Every story, just like every person, is unique. I appreciate that my writing work enables me to continue to  learn and grow.

August 2013 RPCN newsletter (including the article about artist Stefani Tadio), and video.

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What I learned from Mike

One thing I’ll remember about our friend Mike, who died suddenly in April, was the way he liked to joke around and have fun. He insisted to children that cantelopes “grew” in the lake and floated to the surface — look, there’s one now! — when they were ready to harvest.

One thing I’ll treasure about Mike was his example of how to include children in group gatherings, in ways that make clear that they’re valued and capable.


Each summer, about 30 friends and relatives with ties to Rochester gather at Mike and Bob’s summer cottage in the Adirondacks. The weekends are intended to be a mix of work and play. Our hosts plan a list of home improvement projects, such as painting exterior walls, building sheds and leveling the cottage by adjusting piers underneath. There are typically some more questionable tasks, too, such as moving rocks around the property or “cleaning the forest,” which involves raking leaves and hauling away fallen branches.

Mike always assigned each guest to a specific task, typically in teams of three to five people. He included every child, even those under age 5, on a team. One time, kids helped paint a shed. They might not last very long on the project. But they do their part. Last summer, the kids all painted birdhouses, where were then hung on a tree. (Photos above and below.)Image

Toward the end of each weekend, we gather to reflect – and joke – about “what we learned” that weekend. Kids are always included in those discussions, too. Their comments and insights are often a delight. I’m grateful for the wise example of treating each and every person as important, regardless of age. Mike was great at building community.

Over the past year or so, I’ve led multiple volunteer crews from my church at Foodlink, the regional food bank. Foodlink sets a minimum age of 8, and we’ve had volunteers from age 8 to close to 80. The task includes counting out dozens or even hundreds of cans, boxes or packets of food. We have to do math to calculate how many cases of each food item we’ll need to pack specific numbers of food bags.

Like Mike, I aim to include each volunteer equally and appreciate their contributions. It warms my heart to see kids rise to the challenge of the math calculations, counting, carrying and packing. When they need help, I’ve watched them team up with another child or adult to get the task done. Their new buddy might be someone they just met, and their shared task helps build community.


Callan (holding bag) with other church volunteers at Foodlink

Callan, who’s 9, told me that the work makes him feel capable and useful: “I just helped a lot of kids get food that they needed,” he says. He also likes getting to know new people from our large congregation, and he shares a neat connection with them when they cross paths later at church.

Callan and his sister, 11-year-old Madi, are such fans of the volunteer work that they have recruited friends to join in.

Cheryl, mom of Callan and Madi, says the work gives her kids a boost of confidence.


Rest in peace Mike Losinger.  April 10, 1941 – April 17, 2013


Sunset at Mike & Bob’s cottage on Mountain Lake, Adirondacks, NY

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Sharing beauty

The beauty of nature begs to be shared.

The gardens at the George Eastman House, Rochester NY.

The red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

Gorgeous flowers at Cornell Plantations in   Ithaca, NY.

(Updated:) I shared these photos (on handmade notecards and matted and ready to frame) at the Metro Justice Alternative Fair, held annually on a Friday night and Saturday at the beginning of December.

For other Farnum Fotos images, see

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Moments of delight

I’m grateful for the delight that small things can bring. Just in the past few days:

I’ve watched a butterfly flutter among purple flowers on my butterfly bush.

My family and I biked along Lake Ontario and enjoyed  beautiful sights. (Did you know that the bike path along the Lake Ontario State Parkway goes through nice wooded sections?) This pond is across from Durand Eastman Park.

Kids always bring a fresh perspective. I enjoyed seeing my nephew explore what happens when  you throw a rock into the lake. Plunk! (Where  did it go?)

I stop for farm stands. I love getting fresh fruits and vegetables right from the source. I love the simple stands with the hand-written price signs and an honor-system jar or box where you leave your money.

I hadn’t seen a silver dollar plant since my youth. But they appeared in my garden this year, probably planted by a bird. Last night, I was reminded how to slide the thin seed pod covers off to reveal the silvery circles.

How many of those round black seeds do you think two stalks of the plant contained? My son counted. I’ll let you guess. Then I’ll post the answer later. Prize offer: Closest guess without going over can have the seeds!

Photo: all of the seeds in a baby food jar.

Best delight of all: Carving out time to notice simple joys.


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Millions of heartbeats per year

Put your hand over your heart.

Each beat that you feel requires tissue-paper-thin membranes to open and close. The heart valves regulate the flow of blood, millions of times per year. The movement of the valves creates the sound of the heartbeat.

But when a medical professional with a stethoscope to your chest hears an extra sound – a lingering noise like the sound of scraping your fingernails along a tablecloth, rather than the distinct lub-dub sound – you have a heart murmur.

My mom’s murmur was caused by a leaky mitral valve, which separates the upper and lower left chambers of the heart. This inflow valve has two flaps that open to let blood flow into the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle. Then the valve is supposed to close to keep blood from leaking backward when that lower ventricle squeezes the oxygenated blood out to the whole body.

(You can hear the sound of so-called Acute Mitral Regurgitation here, courtesy of the University of Michigan Medical School. Listen to the fourth one on the page:

Some people with a defective valve feel fatigue, exhaustion, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or have a cough (especially when lying  down). My mom didn’t have any clear symptoms. But leaky mitral valves tend to get worse. Over time, echocardiograms showed that her leak had become significant. Untreated, the valve problem could cause heart failure or serious heart rhythm problems.

It’s scary to face open-heart surgery, to know you’ll be put to sleep, your chest sliced open, your ribs broken, your heart intentionally stopped and sliced into. It’s hard to believe that a heart-lung machine can keep your blood flowing while the surgeon and team do exacting work with Gore-Tex suture – the same kind of material as in specialized outdoor clothing. This form of “expanded” Teflon has tiny pores that allow human tissue to grow into it without forming scar tissue.

People asked who was doing my mom’s surgery. “Oh, he’s good,” they said. One physician from a different specialty at the same hospital added, “They’re all good. They’re like God on earth.”

I’ve interviewed surgeons and other medical professionals over years of writing about health as a journalist. This week I’m newly appreciative of their skill and care.

I’m grateful for successful surgery yesterday and good hospital care. I was so glad to be able to see my Mom walk a lap – slowly, gripping a walker — around the nurses’ station today.

I’m grateful for her much better chance at many more healthy years.

I hope you’re sleeping well tonight, Mom.


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An elderly woman’s last taxi ride

Life is a series of small moments. Don’t miss them in a rush to focus on the Next Big Thing you think you have to do. (I’m as guilty as anyone. My “to do” list is way too long.)

I’m so glad that a friend shared on Facebook this sweet and sad essay about an elderly woman’s last taxi ride:

I like its lesson:

We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.
But great moments often catch us unaware — beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.


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The idea that happiness comes from success is backward

I wasn’t in the best mood today. But I just received a wonderful gift: a link posted by friend Sara M. to this great (and funny!) TED talk on happiness by Shawn Achor, a psychologist whose younger sister is a unicorn.

(You have to watch the video to understand.)

His message:

“[It’s] the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

We hear that we should work hard to be successful, which will make us happy.

But Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., points out that if you succeed at something, then the expectations get set higher. Happiness remains on the far side of the ever-rising bar.

Reverse it, he suggests. Change your outlook and become happy now — and you’ll work and learn better and faster.

He outlines the ways research has proven that people can train their brain to become more positive:

1. Each day for three weeks, write down three new things you’re grateful for. This retrains your brain to scan for positive things instead of negative things.

2. Journaling (writing) about something positive you’ve experienced in the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it.

3. Exercising teaches your brain that behavior matters.

4. Meditating helps counter our attention deficit hyperactivity culture.

5. Doing acts of kindness, such as sending one e-mail a day thanking someone, builds positive feelings.

A big thank you to Sara M. for helping me refocus! Here’s the link:


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