Smart technology will not save your life

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

We are Analog


I read “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter” (2016) by David Sax. It sounded fun as I get looks like “I’m such a bore” when I ask someone not to interact with my child by showing them photos or internet research on their phone or if I ask my phone-addicted guest to please put the phone away because my children are creeping their little wide eyes over his shoulder.

Why does it matter? Sax argues society has been told the tale too often that analog is dead, digital is the future. I put my Canon Rebel DSR (film) camera on consignment at Camera Center in Modesto. We sold the darkroom equipment on Craigslist. Chemicals were too expensive, so I never got started. Then Camera Center closed. I forgot to pick up my camera. Digital it is.


Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash


Digging through boxes to KonMari my way to peace and happiness, I happened across artistic photos I developed from my glory days as a college student in Minnesota. To look at a photograph and not a screen was remarkable.


Photo by krisna qodhar R on Unsplash


I want to listen to live music. I want to read a real book. I want to hold my newspaper when I read it. Ask Heather or Joyce at the library and they’ll tell you when I come in on Tuesdays, I pick up the paper, look for my articles and return it to the stack. There is something about seeing the real thing in real life. It feels different. It is exciting.

Sax explains why the experience is so different. As analog beings, we understand and engage with the world through our five senses. The more senses engaged, the deeper our engagement, the stronger our reaction. For a gross example, to smell and see and hear someone vomit is so much worse than just finding it on the bathroom floor.

As I watched an opera singer perform in the spotlight as the orchestra pulses the sound waves in our direction, the lights low, her costume flickers like so many stars, I held my breath in awe at the sheer power of her voice. Spotify has nothing on this.



Ashley Bell debuts as Madame Butterfly with Townsend Opera Players



I get antsy and easily distracted when there is too much digital in my life. It is a frequent trouble because I do not write these many words by hand.

In his book, “The Mindful Catholic,” Dr. Gregory Bottaro puts his finger on why that is, “Every time you use this device or watch TV, you practice anti-mindfulness. Imagine how many hours you have spent practicing anti-mindfulness exercises, in which your mind is not aware of what is actually present in the moment. In this time and space, it is a phone, or TV, or whatever, but your mind is focused on the news, or social media, or shopping, or whatever it is that you are looking at.”

Digital takes us away from the here and now. Because digital has made a whole host of things easier, we often assume it is better. Thus it floods our lives and world. Not thinking about carries us along for the ride and before we know it, anxiety levels are up, distraction is up, relationship quality is down.

Practicing mindfulness has the power to combat it. Do not let the term throw you. At its core, mindfulness is awareness of the present moment. Sit and read a book or, ahem, the newspaper, and enjoy it for all it has to offer. Notice how good it feels to hold the pages, the way your eyes travel on the page, how it feels to look at the page with all its imperfections. Notice the arch of your arm as you lift your cup of coffee and take a sip. The way the smell of coffee lingers even as the cup clicks against on the table.

That was your mindfulness exercise for the day. The world moves so fast, we have to choose to slow down. With all the information, all the stimulation, we have to choose to focus in.

Analog isn’t dead. Sales plummeted, stores closed, but production continues and is now growing. Let’s welcome the experience.

Step back and Refocus

This week was all about stepping back.

Activity, endless work (because it’s hard to step away when you love it) and the numbers dragged me down.

Step back and choose to stop work.


Step back and sit in the backyard.

There are sweet peas growing, a flower that seemed to magically appear along my mother’s fence now grows in a fury along my own. Gardening is magic. Imagine what Creation was like…




Step back and delight in my husband’s talent.

My aunt and mom danced along to the cumbia but after one dance I sat back down, just wanting to listen and see him in this way in which I so rarely have an opportunity to.




Step back and delight in relationships

My mother and her two siblings came along to the gig, just to see him. They stood there listening, dancing and filming him, this man who has no blood relationship to him. For a small family that lives far apart, it was beautiful to behold how they have taken him into our family. He belongs.




Step back and receive the reminder of what matters

And when I was losing hope in waiting (because it takes so long to hear back about a manuscript!), a fellow Hope Writer encouraged me on, helped me sharpen my focus. I received a notebook in the mail sent to all Hope Writer members with the reminder from the manifesto: we write meaningful words without sacrificing our meaningful life / we build benches, not platforms…


CAM00165 2


Step back and consider what makes my soul sing

I don’t know what it means for my professional path, but my greatest joy in writing these days comes in sharing others’ stories and others’ work in meaningful and creative ways.

I celebrated the second album release with The Rykert Trio by sharing their story.

I reviewed The Mindful Catholic by creating a fictional conversation between a psychologist, St. Therese and a millennial entrepreneur. I mean, does it get any better than that? Read more here.


You would think having healthy children and joyfully being together would be easier than hospital life. Truly, it is, and I am grateful. But home life is flexing new areas in need of growth inside my heart. It was a humbling week issuing a correction on a story I wrote due to working distracted, reassessing my children’s misbehavior caused by not enough oversight on my part and my tendency to want to drive and work and never stop. I have to stop, have to die to myself, put the computer aside and enter into the world around me, connected to others.

I’m still learning. So it’s good to step back

and see


Is there anything pulling you away from a clear focus?

How do you step back to adjust your focus?

What are you trying to focus on?

Leave a comment or email to share!

Learning to Let Mindfulness Fill the Gaps Through “The Mindful Catholic”

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.




I learned about Dr. Gregory Bottaro’s book, “The Mindful Catholic,” and thought first, “this could be helpful for my writing” and then, second and more sheepishly, “I probably need that.” It is a self-help book, a how-to book in the practice of mindfulness, non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.

My life is no longer the slow pace of waiting for my baby to wake up, but a wide array of choices I can make. Coming to Chapter Four, “Telling Ourselves Stories,” I felt he was speaking to me. It feels like time and schedules drag me along, especially on the weekends. Overwhelmed, my life feels cluttered and fractured and never quite enough.

What am I missing?

Attendance to the present moment.




I think “The Mindful Catholic” may be one of the best non-fiction books I have read. The theology is sound and used to a purpose. While the title says “Catholic” the meaning comes in through a Christian worldview of what makes a person human.

If someone is a materialist, believing we are just bodies without a spiritual component, the foundation will not stand. Bottaro draws from a Catholic theological and philosophical tradition, described most thoroughly in the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the Person (CCMMP). This approach is the foundation and strengthens everything he has to say. For those Christians uncomfortable with now-common practices that have their origin in Eastern spirituality, Bottaro astutely defends a unique Christian tradition behind the mindfulness practice.

Because he draws from a tradition deeper than his own concepts his writing has layers of depth a reader could spend hours contemplating. For example, “Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment, God is the present moment. He defined himself as ‘I am who am.’ God sees all as a present moment, and it is our goal to see as he sees.”

Bottaro introduces himself and his credentials to the reader. Throughout the book, we gradually learn who Bottaro is, some of his habits (he hates traffic), about his wife’s labor and delivery (she is amazing) and in the chapter on acceptance, about the tragic circumstances this young professional faced in his family. He makes it clear he practices (and needs) this thing of mindfulness he preaches.

There are certain analogies and explanations therapists will use again and again. I feel Bottaro is walking us down a well-worn path, one he knows well. His analogies accomplish their goal of illustrating points in a thorough way. Bottaro does not waste words. I do not want an author to be my buddy. I bristle a little when writers refer to me as “friend” because it takes a lot to earn my trust as friend. I want an author to teach me something.

The practices begin in the traditional exercises of mindfulness and then develop into something wholly unique bringing in the core concept of mercy while staying true to the parameters of the psychological process.

He wisely repeats concepts again and again. Throughout the day, I catch myself calling me back to the present moment with my children using his phrase. “Doing versus being,” I say inside myself. Then, I look at them and attend to them in the way in which I have fallen short of late.

When Bottaro tells the story of his mother’s death, with passion and exhortation in Chapter Five, “Acceptance,” he describes what acceptance is and you know he has felt it.

I have felt it, too.

“The path of acceptance is the one you walk with peace, but peace does not mean the alleviation of suffering…

“This awareness will certainly take in painful realities, but it will also keep you open to seeing the deep beauty that lies inherently in all of life.”

As soon as I finished “The Mindful Catholic,” I wanted to pick it up again and dive deeper. My plan is, now, to go back through it and practice the exercises after each chapter. I picked up this book for its usefulness to my profession but found in it a treasure for my heart. I whole-heartedly recommend this book.

How to see lady bugs in life’s road detour (or how to make lemonade out of lemons)

I saw the town’s community development director today. The last time he and I spoke, he was helping me begin my business as a life coach. “How are you liking your new gig?” he asked from the heights of his 6’5″ frame, referring to my work freelancing for the local newspaper. With a nod and a smile, I answered him.

It is funny how the route changes.

On Tuesday, my family and I left for vacation to the mountains of Arnold, to the snow, to the cold, to the cabin.

When we realized there was no cell phone service, when we realized there was no landline, when we realized there was no internet, when we realized Peter was not himself, we decided to go home earlier than expected.

The morning we headed out in search of reception to call the doctor, he returned to baseline, a happy, cheerful, dancing, bouncing baseline. We discovered Murphys; we discovered the cabin had DirectTV and, oh, how the old movies on TCM rolled!

We still left early.




And reveled in this instead.




Finding an artificial town square built a mile out of the historic town of Copperopolis, we meandered around and through and found the place where the roads go no further, where the wildflowers grow.




Today, after photographing and interviewing during an event for the newspaper, I told my daughter the story of how when I was a girl, I wanted to be a writer and I pretended I was a journalist with my office in an almond tree.

It is more like the trip to the cabin was the detour, one turn in a series of turns that made our vacation.

Like life.




The next day was spent at my parents’ house where my husband prepared a 40×24-foot vegetable garden while the kids and I picked, washed, cleaned and juiced lemons with my mother for next week’s lemonade stand at the City-Wide Yard Sale. The KitchenAid attachment used to juice three boxes of beautifully sweet Meyers lemons made the process noisy but fast.

With the return of Peter’s comfort and the knowledge gleaned in Chapters Four and Five from The Mindful Catholic, I felt peace return.

It read, “This awareness will certainly take in painful realities, but it will also keep you open to seeing the deep beauty that lies inherently in all of life.”

I think, when Peter’s good, I’m good. I think of the author’s guidance to make a “Sacramental Pause,” to breathe in the fullness in the moment offered to us.  I think of being less distracted, to stop working and look into the eyes of my child when she speaks to me.

This week I am savoring everything more.

It does not matter that we did not stay at the cabin.

It does not matter that I am not a licensed therapist.

It does not matter that I do not live in Minnesota.

It does not matter that I am not a life coach.

What matters is now…and Heaven…the very small and the very big. The details we will work out along the way.