Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Minnesota Extreme Home Makeover & Community Spirit

Just recently, I personally witnessed an amazing and wonderful life-changing experience for a very deserving family here in our Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota community. (Minneapolis-St. Paul is also known as the Twin Cities to those of you reading this blog outside the United States)

The family had been recently devastated with tragedy involving the murder of a family member.

Husband and wife Erik and Vicki Swenson are both schoolteachers, Vicki’s sister was murdered last year by an ex-boyfriend. Erick and Vicki took in the four children of Vicki’s sister even though they already had three children of their own and are expecting a fourth child soon. The sister's childrens' father had also died - in an automobile accident - and so the children were left parentless.

The Swenson’s home became a tight squeeze for this now very large family, and students at Hopkins High School, where the Swensons teach, decided to make a video and nominate the Swensons for an “Extreme Home Makeover.”

On August 21, 2007, the Swensons, who reside in Minnetonka, Minnesota, (a suburb of the Twin Cities), got a surprise when Ty Pennington pulled up in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition bus in front of their home and told them they had been selected for this makeover. In fact, it was going to be the biggest home makeover in the history of the television series, which has been on the air since 2003.

The popular ABC Extreme Makeover: Home Edition television program, viewed by millions of people, has left a legacy of greatly improved and even entirely new homes for U.S. families who have experienced hardship.

One of the most wonderful things about the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition program is that the local communities become very involved with the process. Countless volunteers as well as donations of materials and goods make these home makeovers truly remarkable and infused with community cooperation and community spirit.

I had no idea a huge, million dollar home could be built almost overnight.

But I saw it happen with my own eyes.

The bus pulled up on a Tuesday. The Swenson family was shipped off to Disney World for a week and then the work began.

The house was torn down by Thursday. A new foundation was then laid and by Saturday, when I visited the site, the house was pretty much up. There were 200 contractors and subcontractors working on the house. There were large trucks and trailers everywhere. Small crowds of people cheered the workers on.

This monumental effort was quite a site to behold.

Two days later, on Monday, the furniture was being moved into the house and I realized I had witnessed the complete building of a beautiful 5,600 square foot house in 99 hours. That is a little over four days.

I saw the house at several stages during the building process. The weather was beautiful and cooperated with the effort. There was so much joy and such high energy and I feel like this home has anchored a special energy of community spirit here in the Twin Cities.

Obviously, Erik and Vicki Swenson love children. They choose to be teachers and parents. They generously opened their home and hearts to children in their extended family.

As a former psychotherapist, I was trained in the school of psychology developed by Dr. Alfred Adler. He viewed human beings as being confronted with life tasks that involve communal life. He said that psychologically healthy people have
"Gemeinschaftsgefuhl". This is a German word that means "community feeling".

Erik and Vicki Swenson demonstrated community feeling by taking in four orphaned children.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul volunteers and donors demonstrated community feeling by helping to make this amazing home makeover.

You can view the new house and its makeover on November 25 on ABC television.

Extreme Home Makeover Links

Sorrow to Joy in the Extreme

TJB Homes Photos of Makeover

The Swenson-Lee Family

TJB Homes Gives Extreme Makeover

from Wikipedia: "gemeinschaftsgefuhl" -- a profound sense of caring for others and a desire to improve the world



Adler had found his empirical and clearly definable solution in gemeinschaftsgefuhl - people drove towards healthy social interaction. He defined gemeinschaftsgefuhl in german alone - so English translations are difficult. However, we can recognize this concept as:

a profound caring about others
a positive feeling towards others
the desire to improve the world
healthy social interaction

Adler was optimistic, and felt everyone was born with this drive. (See Fromm) But, unlike Rousseau and Fromm, Adler felt that each of us had to work hard to foster it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Spiritual Renewal & Healing through "Quiet Time"

My personal path in life has involved extensive education in the fields of psychology and healing. A gift given to me by one of my teachers is the practice of what he calls Quiet Time. That teacher is Herwig Schoen and he is the originator of a new healing modality he calls "Reconnective Therapy". ( All of Herwig's classes are started with Quiet Time during which we stop all activity to sit and be with "what is".

During this Quiet Time, I have a heightened awareness of my racing thoughts as well as external sounds and then I come to a point where I become keenly aware of my own breathing and I feel a conscious presence beyond my thoughts
. I rise above my thoughts and connect with my consciousness that observes these thoughts.

Sometimes it is almost impossible to stop my thoughts and be still, but even observing that I am not my thoughts, but something greater than my thoughts, is progress towards reconnection with my higher self. After all, who is observing the racing of the thoughts? It is something more than those thoughts.

Eckhart Tolle (, author of the best-selling book The Power of Now, talks about how beneath the surface everything is connected with everything else and also with the Source of all life. When we become quiet and stop all the noise, we have the opportunity to connect to God or the Source or whatever someone chooses to call the great Intelligence that lies beyond our limited human minds.

The greatest gift of Quiet Time is the experiencing of the higher self. Eckhart Tolle's book A New Heaven and A New Earth: Awaken to Your Life's Purpose refers to heaven not as a location but as the inner realm of consciousness. He states: "A 'new heaven' is the emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness, and 'a new earth' is its reflection in the physical realm."

Your voice in your head is not who you are. If you take just five minutes a day with Quiet Time, you will start to observe this truth. Transcendence of thought through Quiet Time can be a powerful tool for you to make your individual contribution to the spiritual evolution of mankind, which is the foundation of creating a happier and more harmonious civilization.

Stephen Covey in his popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says that renewing your spiritual dimension is what provides leadership to your life. That spiritual dimension "draws upon the sources that inspire and uplift you and tie you to the timeless truths of all humanity." For some, being in Nature can be the key to renewal. "When you're able to leave the noise and the discord of the city and give yourself up to the harmony and rhythm of nature, you come back renewed.....until gradually the noise and the discord from outside start to invade that sense of inner peace."

Do yourself, and the planet, a favor, and start to practice Quiet Time.

and......interestingly enough, I spoke to a travel agent today on the phone and her actual name was "Heaven." And, honestly, working with her was a "heavenly" experience.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Joybubbles, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak & "Phone Phreaks"

For several years I have been a marketing and public relations consultant to massage pioneer Sister Rosalind Gefre and her Sister Rosalind Schools and Clinics of Massage (, with locations throughout Minnesota and North Dakota. Now 77 years old, Sister Rosalind has been featured on radio, television and in print publications throughtout the world, including Time Magazine.

As part of her "massage ministry", Sister Rosalind has held a number of public prayer meetings dedicated to healing. One of the frequent attendees at these meetings was an interesting fellow I met and spent time with named Joybubbles. Born blind with a genius IQ, Joybubbles shared his life story with us at the first prayer meeting he attended, a poignant story of being sexually abused as a child by one of his teachers, who was a nun, and then years later legally changing his name from Joe Engressia to Joybubbles to put his past behind him. He said: "I went to court and rendered the name I was abused under null and void forever," he said. "I never have to say it again."

Joybubbles was an ordained minister of his own
Church of Early Childhood but he was most famous for his history as a phone phreak. Phone phreaks were the 70's version of today's computer hackers. With his perfect pitch, Joybubbles accidentally discovered he could make free phone calls by whistling tones and then became a key character in the phone phreak subculture, which included Apple computer co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. In fact, in the book iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It, Steve Wozniak gave credit to Joybubbles as being an early inspiration.

Joybubbles was a very special person. He lived by himself in an apartment in Minneapolis and traveled throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area using a special service for people with disabilities or health conditions called Metro Mobility. He was upbeat, positive, enthusiastic and very knowledgable about many subjects. He was willing to share of himself and give to others. He was, in fact, a real "joy bubble" and demonstrated how someone with such a disability as being blind, could live a full and rich life. At the same time, I witnessed the tremendous damage that had been done to him by the betrayal of a religious authority figure through sexual abuse. During my former career as a psychotherapist, I counseled many victims of child sexual abuse and saw how it is a real soul killer. Even with a lot of therapy, these individuals usually struggle their whole lives with the consequences.

I will not forget Joybubbles.

He died at the age of 58 in Minneapolis on August 8, 2007.

Articles about Joybubbles:
Joybubbles and Mr. Rogers
He Had An Ear for It
Joybubbles, Phone Hacker Extraordinaire
A Conversation with Joybubbles
Hear about Joybubbles on National Public Radio "All Things Considered"
Joybubbles, Peter Pan of Phone Hackers, Dies (New York Times)

Listen to Stories by Joybubbles:
Archive of Stories and Stuff, a weekly story-by-phone line from one of the most famous phone phreaks of all time.

Joybubbles collected tapes of every “Mr. Rogers” episode. When asked why Mr. Rogers mattered, he said: “When you’re playing and you’re just you, powerful things happen.”

from JOYBUBBLES Article in Pioneer Press

"Hi, this is Joybubbles."

5/15/2001: "Friday, May 25th, is my birthday. What a wonderful day to be 5: the fifth month, and the five-times-five day. And I want to shamelessly tell you my birthday wishes. Maybe then they might come true:

"I wish everybody that has been hurt and abused by enemies of childhood when they were little would come to know, now and always: It's not your fault. You did the best you could at the time, with who you were. Maybe now you think of things you could have done, or ought to have done - but remember: You weren't then who you are now, and the wisdom you have now, you didn't have then. You did the best you could, at the time, with who you were. And if you would've known better, you would've done better. It's not something wrong with you; it's something wrong with the people who did that to you. Remember: It's not your fault.

"My second wish is: I wish everybody would take a little time, even if it's only once a month, to get out of the rat race into the sandbox and play like a child. Because, like Mister Rogers said: 'Sometimes I'm a child, still - and sometimes, not so still.'

"My third wish: I wish my friend Adele Lorraine would get well. She suffered a massive stroke - but the way I remember her is: so bubbly and lively and wonderful and full of laughs and hugs. She played at the Minnesota Orchestra and went to schools to help kids learn about loving music. The thing I remember most is: During the time when I was just obsessed by oboes ... I even just loved to say the word 'oboe' ... she picked me up and took me to Orchestra Hall, and a lady came in and played an oboe from the lowest to the highest, so I could hear it really good, and then took one apart and showed me the insides, and how to make reeds, and we talked and laughed and spent half a day just with oboes. Then Adele Lorraine took me out, and we got this great big pickle for me to eat on while we were waiting for your butter-pecan ice cream, and we laughed and hugged. And she let me play some pan pipes. And we went out and tried Greek food. And she was just so full of life and shared her fullness with others. I'll always remember her. May she be well.

"At 5:55 in the morning on my birthday, I always get out my huggable globe - big, soft world - and hug it and think all kinds of peaceful thoughts out to this wonderful world we live in.

"Now you know what my birthday wishes are. Happy birthday to me."