Author Archives: Joe Langen

About Joe Langen

I am a retired psychologist after thirty-five years of professional practice. I am now retired and write full time. I have published five books, all available on Amazon. I also maintain two blogs on Wordpress, Chats with My Muse Calliope and Release Your Stress and Reclaim your Life. I also distribute a free biweekly newsletter on commonsense and mindfulness topics.

Keeping Up with Aunt Lucille

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are.  I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.

~G.B. Shaw~

I usually tend to think of older people as relatively immobile, not too interesting in gallivanting, as they call it. But then I am not getting any younger myself. I remember my father retiring and not doing much besides sitting in his lounge chair. Several years ago when I started dating with Carol, I met her Aunt Lucille on one of the few occasions she could be found at home.

My first visit to her house was shortly before Christmas. Carol insisted I see Aunt Lucille’s basement. There, amid her husband Jake’s clock collection, were more presents that I imagined Santa Claus having in his workshop. She had been chasing around Western New York collecting them for months. I wondered why there was any concern about the economy. During our visit, she was the consummate hostess, seeing to our every need.

Some years later, she was ready to buy a new car and I expressed an interest in her old one. How many miles could an older person put on a car? I was surprised that it had traveled eighty- four thousand miles. I bought the car and named it Lucille in her honor.

Lately she has had medical difficulties which have required her to be tethered to an oxygen tank. I thought this might slow her down some. She has found it inconvenient, but has returned to as much mobility as she can manage within its limitations.

“So what?” you ask. A few years ago when I was struggling with rheumatoid arthritis I had visions of my travels coming to an end or at least being highly curtailed. Aunt Lucille’s example reminded me that with determination, quite a bit was possible regardless of circumstances.

Over the years, I have seen many people younger than her, or me for that matter, decide their active lives were over and that it was time to start living on the couch. I grew up in Rochester and have lived in Batavia for many years. During that time I have met quite a few people who were growing older. I have not seen obituaries for most of them, so I assume they are still alive. I wonder what their lives are like.

None of us know how many years we have ahead of us. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit still and wait for the end. There is always something we can do today. Aunt Lucille has plans every day, and seems restless if she is not able to get out for at least one adventure.

I have met older people who don’t express any opinions and seem not to care much about life. Aunt Lucille knows exactly what she likes and doesn’t like with very definite opinions on just about any topic. She has not let life pass her by. Why should we?

Action Steps

  • How well do you use your time each day?
  • Do you know someone who makes the most of every day like Aunt Lucille?
  • Visit that person and help him or her celebrate life.
  • Love the ones you’re with.
  • Make the best of all your life opportunities.

Excerpt from my book, Navigating Life available at Amazon.

The Priestly Gift of Kindness

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

~Albert Schweitzer~

Catholic priests have made headlines over the past few years in none too flattering a manner. It seems the only priests who appear in the news are those caught in shameful acts. We don’t hear much about the high percentage of priests who do not fall into this category. For the most part, their lives are not dramatic and do not command headlines. We know little about them.

Some years ago, I attended the fiftieth anniversary jubilee celebration of my uncle’s priesthood. Although I had an idea what kind of person he is, many of the details of his life remained quietly unnoticed, at least to me.

I always knew him as a man of peace. Yet he fought for our country in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. He seldom discussed his war experiences and, when he did, never talked about the terror and desperation of war.

When he returned from military service, he brought with him a toy Scottie dog which remained my constant companion for years and always reminded me of him. His disposition was very much like my grandfather’s. Father Richard has been compassionate, generous and humble, qualities noted by those who came to know him during the course of his priesthood. He never sought or found fame, wealth or power. One speaker said he gave much to others and took little. Unless you know him personally, it would be easy to pass him by without notice.

Priests view their vocations as a call to service from God rather than a choice they make. In his case, it was not as dramatic as being knocked off a horse as the bible story describes happening to St. Paul. Richard described his call as a whisper from God, an almost imperceptible voice which he was not even sure was meant for him.

As he told his story, I thought of Francis Thompson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven, where he describes God as pursuing him. He also wrote of his fear that in following God, he would be left with nothing else in his life.

Accepting a call to the priesthood might seem like being wrenched from your family and from the community. Yet many of Richard’s family members and those whom he had come to know over the years celebrated with him, shared how he had touched their lives and told of how he had become a treasure to them.

Of all the things said of Richard at his Jubilee, I remember most the quote from Mark Twain, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” His kindness has been evident in his dealings with everyone he has met throughout his life. Surely this trait is why God called Richard to His service and has given him as a special gift to all who have come to know him. Congratulations, Uncle Dick.

Action Steps

  • Think of the kindest person you know.
  • Thank God for his or her presence in your life.
  • Encourage those who are kind to you by thanking them.
  • Think how you could be a little kinder to those who annoy you.
  • When someone is kind to you, find a way to pass it on to someone else who needs a touch of kindness.

So Long from Joe’s Political Thoughts

Before I started this blog, I occasionally posted clips or ideas I thought might be thought-provoking and helpful to my readers in considering the troubled and troublesome world of American politics.

Eventually I realized that political posts did not seem to fit comfortably with my posts of a more positive nature and started this blog to keep the two worlds separate.

I work constantly to maintain a positive outlook on my own life, especially in trying times. In the course of my professional efforts, I worked to maintain a positive outlook on my own life, especially in trying times.

I have come to see that thinking too much about American politics is like wallowing in the mud like pigs. At least that is how it has come to feel for me as I try to understand them and try to make a small contribution to the dialog among readers in an effort to help maintain their sanity as well as to keep myself on an even keel.

Continuing to stay involved with the political discourse has only dragged me down and has given me little incentive to feel more positive. I don’t see this as contributing to my own physical or mental health. It is in recognition of this trend that I have decided to discontinue my political blog and website.

Thank you to those who have indulged my thoughts about politics and my trying to bring to your attention ways to think about politics in a more positive way.

I will continue to post in my other website, Conversations with My Muse Calliope at and invite you to join me there for my continuing efforts to make sense of life and its challenges. You can also find information on books I have published at my website, Sliding Otter Publications at Happy browsing.


Celebrating a Life- Happy Birthday Russ

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Although it is generally known,
I think it’s about time to announce
that I was born at a very early age.

~Groucho Marx~

Russ Van Valkenburg was born in 1928. So were Edward Albee, Maya Angelou and Alvin Toffler. Some names are known in a small community, some nationally and some worldwide. No one is born with the intention of becoming world famous.

Babies are born every minute to the delight of their families. Each baby fascinates those of us who have lived for a while and reminds us of what it means to be human. Babies discover the world about them one marvel at a time and we have the opportunity to watch their adventures.

It’s easy to take life for granted until’ the delight of a baby or the misfortune of an illness makes us realize just how precious life is. As the years pass, we learn to appreciate our gifts such as physical strength, intelligence, creativity and social skills. We also discover our hopes and dreams. Eventually we become aware of our limitations.

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Russ’s eightieth birthday gathering. I didn’t have to do it by myself. His wife of sixty-one years headed the group of well-wishers including family and friends of all ages. I counted myself fortunate to participate in his celebration. Having weathered the ups and downs which all of us encounter over the years, Russ played the gracious host, enjoying the presence of each guest and being sure everyone knew how happy he was to share his birthday with them.

Joy filled the day. I heard no harsh words, saw no cross glances and felt no antagonism from anyone in attendance. What would it be like to live in a world where everyone acted the way guests did at Russ’s birthday party? What if we could all get along, find a reason to celebrate with each other and enjoy each other’s company?

We tend to see ourselves as owner of our little corner of the earth rather than guests at life’s party. Maybe it’s all in our perspective. We don’t have as much control over our lives as we would like to think. Life invites us to share in the pageant of the universe and navigate with a body we use during our time on earth. We don’t know how long we will be here or what we will be able to accomplish.

We do have some control over what effect we have on people, how they think of us and how they will remember us. The house we live in, what car we drive, and how much money we accumulate aren’t that important in the long run. I consider myself fortunate to be touched by the magic of Russ’s life and to have had some small part in his life adventure so far.

Action Steps

  • If today is your birthday, stop to count your life blessings and thank God for them.
  • If it’s not your birthday, count your blessings and give thanks anyway.
  • Be thankful for the many people who have touched your life.
  • Give thanks for those who have touched your life in silent ways.
  • Celebrate the life you have to live just for today.

Political Restricted Diet

I talked before about a political fast I had decided on. I have not written much since then. I spent a weekend without viewing a single political broadcast. Then I decided it would not be good to live in a vacuum. I did not want to lose touch entirely with the world of politics and decided on a political diet.

The problem is that I find politics addicting and get easily drawn in, finding myself sitting there with my mind flooded by opinions, conflicts and positions of the various political persuasions. Even with restricted political viewing, I tend to be overwhelmed by conflicts with no reaI solutions, at least not any which we can all agree on. But I guess that is the nature of politics.

I have been in a better state of mind. I also find that it is easier to think of more pleasant topics other political wrangling. Even with my limited involvement, the sun comes up in the morning every day, maybe with some clouds. People go about their lives and I feel more settled and not tumbling in the bundle of political conflicts.

I don’t know how long I will be on this diet, but I find it nice not to be bombarded with conflict all the time. I will let you know how it turns out.


Haley’s ADHD

Reeling and writhing, of course, to begin with, the Mock Turtle replied, and then the different branches of arithmetic, ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision.

~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland~

This and the next few posts are about people whom I have met over the years. I thought you might like to meet them too.

Reeling and writhing, of course, to begin with, the Mock Turtle replied, and then the different branches of arithmetic, ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision.

~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland~

Most of what is written about AD/HD is from the point of view of professionals, teachers, or parents. Little is written from the child’s perspective. Many children are befuddled by AD/HD, or embarrassed to talk about it.

Haley is an articulate ten year old girl who was diagnosed with AD/HD in first grade. Her father is in treatment for cancer. Her parents are divorced. She lives with her father and half brother. She has visitation with her mother who is remarried and has a new baby.

Haley realized there was something different about her in kindergarten or first grade. She knew something was wrong but did not know what. She later learned it was called AD/HD. She sees her parents as both having AD/HD as well as her grandparents and thinks it can be genetic for some people. Parents probably give it to their kids.

Haley has been on medication since her AD/HD was discovered. “First I was on Ritalin. Then I tried Concerta but it didn’t help. Now I am back on Ritalin twice a day.” She does not think her condition will ever go away and does not really care if it does since she is not bothered by it and has learned to live with it.

She finds that sometimes AD/HD helps her. “I started doodling in class and found out I wanted to be an artist. AD/HD gives me a sense of creativity.” She took time out from the interview to show me some of the drawings she had finished or was working on.  Despite having come to terms with her condition, she is sometimes angry about it. “It makes me mad at people and makes me blame them.  I don’t know how this happens.”

On occasion she gets hyper during lunch. “Sometimes I act really goofy. Last week I was squawking like a chicken.” Her friends have asked her why she is so hyper. She finally decided to tell them why. She explained what she knew about AD/HD to her friends and felt they understood her.

Haley finds that she has some trouble keeping friends. “I have mood swings and then get in fights with my friends.” She also sometimes gets mouthy with her friends. They yell at her when she does this. Three girls on the bus still tease her about being weird, hyperactive and crazy. “A lot of kids in school make fun of me for playing with things in class.”

She thinks her AD/HD makes school boring for her. “As far as subjects, math, gym and health are okay. Science and social studies are good, especially when we do hands on activities.  Sometimes school is boring though.” She likes micro-school where everyone has a job during the last half hour of the school day. “There is a post office, bank, restaurant and court. I work in micro media production as an artist and make signs for people.”

She also has trouble doing her homework. “I lie and say I don’t have any homework so I can spend more time with my father. I usually don’t do homework because it’s boring. When I don’t do my homework, I get in trouble and am grounded or have to stay after school.”

Haley does not feel she gets enough time to spend with her father. She would also like to have more time with her mother who has a new baby. She had not thought of talking with her father about having more time together, but decides to try it.

“Sometimes I tell my father or mother I hate them or don’t like them any more. I don’t really mean it but sometimes I just blurt it out.” She would also like to see her grandparents more than she does. She takes a second pill when she goes to visit them.  She thinks they spoil her. She does not think AD/HD makes any difference to them and does not think her visits with them would be any different if she did not have it.

Haley does not talk much with other kids who have AD/HD. She knows there are others in her school but does not know who they are. She was in a group for kids whose parents were divorced and remembers there being a couple kids with AD/HD in the group. “I would like to be in a group where everybody had AD/HD because they would understand what it is like for me.”

She finds it easier to concentrate if what she is doing is fun or if she can work with her hands. She finds it hard to concentrate when her AD/HD is bothering her, when she thinks about her father being sick, or when TV is on.

Haley’s is one voice of children with AD/HD. Her circumstances are unique to her and her perspective cannot be generalized to all children with AD/HD. Nevertheless, her story is a reminder that all children have their own understanding of their condition and reactions to it. Knowing your child’s perspective on AD/HD and his or her concerns can be helpful in knowing how to be supportive.

Action Steps

  • Are you always able to stay focused?
  • What if you could hardly ever stay on task?
  • What if you handle every situation with a “Ready, Fire, Aim
  • Don’t assume everyone has the same coping skills.
  • Try to understand others from how life looks to them.

Where Have You Been?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The last time I posted here, I was wondering where we were headed as a nation in light of political conflict and disagreement in the country. We have maintained some semblance of normality in the Senate while the House of Representatives descends into chaos since its new configuration this month.

Electing a Speaker of the House made it clear that The House has no intention of trying to accomplish anything constructive in the near future. Recent announcements indicate that their main objective is to make Democrats look bad. They got some help this week from the debacle over President Biden’s forgotten classified documents.

I have been puzzling over the document fiasco and some questions of my own, none of which has seen any adequate answers as far as I know.

When a document has been “removed”, does this mean that the original document has been released or just a copy?

What would prohibit someone from copying what had been borrowed and returning the document. Is there any law against this?

Does anyone keep track of what documents have been borrowed and by whom?

When someone with classified documents has their clearance ended (such as by leaving office), does anyone ask for “borrowed records” to be returned?

Is there a record of when documents are returned and by whom?

These are a few thoughts I have been having about the records controversies.

There is much more swirling in my head. I will get to work and try to make some sense of what is going on politically and how we might return to common sense.

How to Rise to the Challenge of Good Fortune

It takes more strength of character to withstand good fortune than bad.

~François de La Rochefoucauld~

Do you know that good fortune can be stressful? Some religious groups in the past have seen good fortune as a message from God. They took the message to mean those receiving the benefits were favored by God more than the less fortunate. It was an opportunity for gloating and self satisfaction. That message suggests that we don’t have to do anything else and have already made it into God’s grace.

I have always felt that if there were nothing left to accomplish, there would be no need to go on living. We tend to take good fortune for granted. I would guess that, for most of us, our thoughts and prayers are directed toward what we want or don’t want in our lives more than toward what we already have.

There is a bible story about ten lepers whom Jesus cured. Only one came back to thank him. The others were so busy enjoying their cure that they took it for granted.

Our good fortune could consist of greater wealth, a newfound love or even good health. Good fortune sometimes stays with us for a long time and sometimes appears suddenly, departs just as quickly. We are more likely to take ongoing blessings for granted and show greater appreciation for those which appear more dramatically.

We can think of good fortune as providing energy, whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual or monetary. We can also look at it as an opportunity which might not be available to others. It may also be available to us for only a limited time. I have often heard people talk of waiting for retirement to follow their dreams. They might not live until retirement or might not have the same resources available if they do live that long.

There is a saying that today is the first day of the rest of your life. It might also be the last day. In any case, it is the only day we have right now. How can we put it to best use?

We might not have the same opportunity tomorrow. I remember a time when I was writing short stories with ease. I decided to take a break and wait until an upcoming vacation when I would have more time to write. When the time came, I was out of ideas.

Each new day has its own gifts, opportunities and challenges. Henry David Thoreau wrote about how he started each day at Walden Pond. Before he got out of bed, he made a list of those things for which he was grateful before going about his business for that day.

Action Steps

  • What about my life today makes me feel grateful?
  • What opportunities do I have today?
  • If I don’t take advantage of today’s opportunities, how do I know I will have the same chance in the future?
  • How can I share my good fortune with others?
  • What challenges can I meet with the resources I have available today?

How to Find the Seeds of an Equal Benefit

Image courtesy of Pixabay

It is how people respond to stress that determines
whether they will profit from misfortune or be miserable.

~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi~

I was thinking recently about Napoleon Hill’s statement that inside every adversity lie the seeds of an at least equal benefit. Good results can follow bad experiences. I have had times in my life when things looked quite bleak. Each time I learned something useful from the experience.

My wise friend, Steve D’Annunzio, has frequently reminded me that adversity, particularly in the form of illness, is God’s way of telling us there is something in our lives that needs attention. Judging by the magnitude of adversity piled on some of us, Big Ben must sometimes be necessary when we don’t pay attention to the snooze alarm.

Three people of my acquaintance have recently been diagnosed with cancer, one in the late stages. A good friend of mine is mired in serious depression. I wondered what the message is for them. As I thought about it, I realized I don’t have to understand their message. It is theirs, not mine. My job is to heed my own messages.

We are often too busy with troublesome emotions to hear the message. We may be angry at God for torturing us. Some of us, troubled by human suffering, have concluded that there could not be a loving God who would inflict such torture on His creatures.

Others of us become preoccupied with feeling sorry for ourselves. We look around and do not see others with the same problems as ours. Why should we have to put up with such troubles? It isn’t fair!

Still others of us are overcome by fear. What will become of us? How will we manage life with the burdens we have to bear? Will we ever be able to get back to our old selves?

If being angry, sad or fearful doesn’t help, what are we to do? The first step is to back off from our immediate emotional responses. We need to learn to be still within ourselves. Maybe that is part of the message. I heard somewhere that when God speaks to us, He/She does not shout but whispers. If there is too much noise in our minds, we can’t hear the message. Meditation, time in the woods or a prayerful attitude can all open our minds.

Once we are in a receptive state, what do we do with the message? Remember the seeds we started out with? Seeds are not very impressive in themselves. Given care, nurturing, and time, they can become giant redwood trees. People also start as seeds.

What wonders might be hiding in the seeds of the benefits awaiting us? Let’s consider an example.  Someone I know ended up filing for bankruptcy. He entertained feelings of fear, sadness and depression. He was invited by people who cared about him to look at how he could start living his life with a sense of prosperity. Now he is doing better financially than he ever dreamed. He is not wealthy but has learned to respect money and himself.

Action Steps:

  • How can I put aside my troubled feelings?
  • How can I still my mind and heart?
  • What do I hear when I start to listen?
  • What new aspects of my life await me?
  • Can I let go of control and let God be God?

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available at Amazon

Stop Making Problems of Life Situations

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Whether you’re winning or losing, it is important to always be yourself. You can’t change because of the circumstances around you.

~Cotton Fitzsimmons~

Oprah once featured Eckhart Tolle in a series of interviews about his book, The New Earth. I decided to review my copy of his earlier book, The Power of Now, which lays the groundwork for The New Earth. His words interested me since I have spent so many years listening to people’s problems in my work as a psychologist.

He described a problem as “dwelling on a situation mentally without there being a true intention or possibility of taking action now and making it part of your sense of self.” I wish I had thought of problems that way when I was counseling. This reflection keeps popping into my mind every time I hear people complaining about situations in their lives.

Tolle went on to say that there are situations in all of our lives which we would prefer were not present. Sometimes we can do something about them. Rather than dwelling on how bad the situation is, this is the time to do something about it. Get on with it and don’t get stuck making it a problem.

Sometimes there is not much we can do about a situation, at least for now. In that case, the best we can do is accept the situation as it is and move on. Perhaps there will be something we can do about it in the future.

But what happens if we don’t take either approach? I can think of a time when I made my financial insecurity a problem. For quite a while, I did nothing about it. I just worried about it. I worried that I would never be able to retire, that I would be stuck paying off bills for the rest of my life and that I would not have the money to do the things which were important to me.

I could find no acceptable answer on my own. Finally, I got tired of worrying and asked people I thought could help me what I might do about it. Eventually, I learned how to stop worrying and do what I could to change my situation. How I did this is another story which I will tell some other time.

In the quote above, Tolle tells us what will happen if we continue to dwell on the situation and make it a problem. It becomes part of our sense of self. We make it our own and even start defining ourselves as a person with that particular problem. We are stuck regretting our past and worrying about our future. What a waste of our time. All we have is right now. We have the more viable choices of doing something about our situation or accepting it.

Action Steps

  • Do you have situations in your life you think of as problems?
  • How much time to you spend worrying about them?
  • What can you do right now about a problem situation?
  • If you can’t do anything, how about accepting it for the time being?
  • If you insist on worrying, how about setting aside part of each day for worrying?

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon