Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Dominant Gene, and the Gracious Ladies of the Ranch Readers Book Group

Melinda’s divine cake, with a frosting to die for . . .

For most of my adult life I have been a carrot juice swilling, veggie chomping, sugar eschewing, fitness buff.  I’ve made good choices.  I value health. I stand strong and somewhat smugly in the light of that truth.  And then I moved to Texas.

Texas women are belles. That means they are beautiful, elegant, smart and gracious all in one package.  I’ve never met women like them anywhere.  And they all have a certain gene.  The more Texan they are, the more dominant the gene.  It’s a cross between mothering, welcoming, sisterhood and baking.  Oh my God, the baking. 

Early on in my new Austin life, I was invited into a book group.  I’ve been in groups before. Writing groups, book groups, bang-on-a-drum women’s groups, but nothing in my past could have prepared me for the change that this group would thrust upon me with its room full of belles, seeking expression for their dominant gene.

I’m talking about Texas hospitality. I was warmly welcomed into a sisterhood that conducts its book group in a way that would put Martha Stewart to shame.  And they make it look easy.  First, a light dinner is served.  It’s perfect. Everything is arranged in an inviting way, and even though the food is being dished out as guests arrive, the kitchen remains mysteriously clean and sparkly.

Only after the meal is consumed, and wine is poured is there talk of the book.  The conversations are smart, and emotionally intelligent. Once the book has been discussed, that genetic snip raises itself up, and the hostess brings out dessert.

Please keep in mind my earlier statement about “sugar eschewing.”  The first time dessert was served at a meeting, I wanted to be polite, and so I took a little bite. There are no store-bought desserts in this group. The gene to which I refer concocts an alchemical decadence of creamy, sweet, tart, crunchy, luxury that has powdered sugar sprinkled on top.  Like a siren calling to the mariner, I am moved to another bite, as I try making deals with myself: “Okay, just one more bite, and that’s all.” Ha!

And then came the second book group. Dessert was brought out and my mouth began to water.  Are you kidding me?  Who bakes like this?  I knew that I was hooked when I began to moan.  “Oh God. Ohhhhhh.  Oh, this is so good.  So good,  Yes, yes, yes.” I’ll have what she’s having takes on new meaning.

We have no control over the events in our life, only our attitudes.  So here’s my attitude:  “Bring it!”

My life is changing before my eyes.  I think about building a shrine to Paula Deen on my front porch.  I dream of what ingredients these women keep in their cupboards.  I fantasize about being in their kitchens and licking bowls.

Last night, I wanted to throw myself into a tray of banana pudding, so I can’t really be held responsible for what escaped my lips as I finished the last bite of pudding.  In front of these warm, kind ladies, the words just wouldn’t stay in my head and without my knowing it, escaped into the space:  “This is so fucking good,” I moaned, unaware that I had pierced the veil between thought and, “did she just say that?”

But, no one judged.  They laughed, so I don’t think I’ve been thrown out of the group for bad behavior just yet.  I am not a belle, more like a street urchin who has probably been exposed to one too many Fitbits and too much kale.

I’ll get in my 10,000 steps today. I’ll prepare vegetables and protein for dinner.  I’ll drink a protein smoothie for breakfast . . . with fiber. I know that for the next month, if I have dessert at all, it will be fresh berries with coconut milk and a little stevia.  Then in May, it will happen again. I’ll go to the book group.  I’ll adore all of those wonderful women.  I’ll participate in the book discussion and hope that when dessert is served, I can behave.

My life is different now.  My design on the pure and healthy diet has met its match. The sweet taste of homemade dessert served up on a bed of southern graciousness is too difficult for me to resist. The truth is I want to fill a bathtub with their chocolate torts, vanilla cakes and banana puddings, inserting myself naked into the center of it.  This is probably an indication that I need serious therapy. 

God I love living in Texas . . .

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Positive Aging Movement

I’ve recently come to realize that I’ve been a part of a movement that I didn’t look for, didn’t ask for, and didn’t see because it was right in front of my face.  Funny how that works.  I began writing about and advocating for Positive Aging, several years ago.  I’m now a part of a growing movement that seeks to dispel the toxic myths of what it is to be an old person. And I have been blessed with models like Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Carole King, and my heroine, Betty White. None of these women “retired” from life. Instead they embraced their years with a great love and gratitude and continued to thrive.

Don’t Define Me: Leave it to the Boomers to not go gently into that goodnight.  Growing old is a pleasure and a gift. I live an active life both physically and mentally.  And while yes, people my age may get dementia, have cancer, or arthritic knees, those things are not a given.  The truth is, you can get a disease or an injury at any age. But go on the Internet and look up “top issues for seniors” and you will find statistics and studies that make every last one of us look like frail, fragile, sick and forgetful souls, withering away from our precious significance.

What The Accumulating Years Look Like: I recently saw a television show of Carole King’s concert in Hyde Park.  Behind her on the stage was a huge screen that projected her image so that the crowd could see her playing and singing.  She looked up at the image and then said to the audience: This is what 74 looks like.  I love it that she said that. I say that too, this is what 67 looks like, and it’s not the B.S. that is on the Internet telling me I’m ready for Depends.  We all have to realize that Big Pharma, and advertising directed at “senior products” is big business. And that’s what’s primarily responsible for stereotyping aging in a toxic light.

Engagement: Most of my peers travel are well read, adhere to an exercise program and try to eat well.  I meet them in book clubs, writing groups, Pilate’s classes and on the hiking trail.   Though they may have retired from full-time work, many still work as consultants or in part-time jobs that bring them a sense of purpose. It’s good to have something to get up for everyday.  Some, like me have entered into encore careers. But none of my peers have decided to put their feet up and watch the paint dry.  We all feel that we have much to offer and to share with the world. We are wildly in love with life.

The Most Truthful Stats: I loved reading Aging Well by George E. Vaillant, M.D., Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.  After collecting and studying decades of data on aging populations, Vaillant concluded that aging well is not just about diet and exercise (though that helps) and it’s not about your cholesterol numbers.  Rather your health and happiness is largely dependent upon your attitude.

So, the Positive Aging model is really about seeing and embracing your years as a process of vitality and continued psychological and spiritual growth. 

When Are You Old?: Ask a Millennial when old age begins and likely they’ll tell you “59.”  Ask a 65-year-old when old age begins and they’ll say 73.  Ask me and I’ll tell you that old age begins when you disengage from life, when you shrink away from a your hard won sense of confidence and purpose.  Don’t let anyone define you or put an expiration date on you. As we come to the end of our journey, we will know. Only then will we naturally and organically surrender to the pull of eternity and return to the stardust from which we came.

Love Where You Are: Positive Aging is not a means for finding ways to stay young, rather it’s a way to embrace your years and see how rich they are. Stand proudly in the light of your truth. Live fully and love well.

Badass Grannies: I intend to dance for as long as I can, to breathe in the rapture of the experience of being alive. That’s badass living. That’s badass aging. I’ve taken to heart the words from the great poet, William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” And I’ve taken to heart that attitude gets you a long way when it comes to health, happiness and aging. Hey, no body puts granny in a corner!

#badassgrannies, #badassaging, #nobodyputsgrannyinacorner, #agingwell, #positiveaging.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Super-Mighty, Texas Drivers License Fiasco That Ate My Month

Welcome to Texas road sign at the state border with some bullet holes

This isn’t the first time that I’ve overthought something and maybe tried a little too hard to get something right.  Relocating from Oregon to Texas had a lot of moving parts and being a logistical queen, I handled most of them efficiently.  There is, however, a kind of weariness that ensues when you’re dealing with so many challenges and changes.  My little Type-A personality won’t rest when it’s tired if there’s more work to be done. So that “trying-too-hard” thing tripped me up and resulted in a demonstration of what I’d call, a super-mighty fiasco. In other words, I just wasn’t paying attention.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees drivers licenses, you need to get a license within 90 days of moving here. What they don’t say however, is when that day starts.  Is it when you close on your house? Is it when you actually move in to your house? Or maybe it’s when you register your car, because that’s the first time that you are in the system.  I chose the “I’m in the system, date” as the official marker for my residency. That’s when I started counting — October 31st. Therefore I must get a Texas driver’s license by January 31st.

Somewhere around January 10th, my husband and I went into hyper gear.  We downloaded the Texas Driver’s Manual from the Texas Department of Public Safety web site and began to study.  Reading the manual, the first thing that I noticed was that there was an awful lot of information about DWI ‘s and DUI’s, the fines, the jail time, how many years, yes years, it would take you to get your license back if you’re convicted of a DWI.  

On the practice tests that I took, there were so many questions about DUI fines and convictions that it began to dawn upon me that maybe Texas had a little bit of a drinking problem.  Seems that there was a ton of legislation passed in 2014 meant to deter the bad combo of the drink and the drive.  Studying how that legislation applied to me, the Texas driver, also proved to be a deterrent for committing to memory every fine, sentence and charge that comes with a “driving while under the influence” conviction.  And yes, it was enough to make me want to drink. I was never going to be able to pass this test. I spent three hours on a Sunday afternoon trying to memorize what could happen to someone who was bonehead enough to consume an over abundance of alcohol and not call an Uber.

On the day after the Martin Luther King holiday, I was ready. Hubby and I made our way to Texas DPS to take our written tests and get our licenses.  It’s important to note at this part of the story, that the last time I took a written driver’s test, I lived in Ashland, Oregon — population 20,000.  There were exactly three people in the line in front of me the day that I took the test.

Austin though, has a population of 2 million. There were 65 gazillion people waiting in line in front of me to get their license. Someone in a uniform announced to the masses that it would be a minimum 3 and a half hour wait.  That same official person told us that we could make a reservation to stand in line by going to the website. So we did. We got on our phones and reserved our places.  We went home, had some lunch, walked the dog and returned to the DPS almost four hours later.

On our second trip to get a driver’s license in the same day, we checked in at the kiosk and found that the mysteries of the digital universe had recorded my information and my reservation to stand in line, but not my husbands.  So we cut our losses, went home, ate chocolate, and whined about the wasted day.

Three mornings later, we were now old pros. We got up early, got on-line, made our reservations to stand in line; and it was then that I noticed the fine print under the check-list of documents we were supposed to bring to the Texas Department of Safety.  It said something to the effect that if we had an unexpired license from another state, we would be exchanging it for a Texas license.  Wait. What? No written test?  I searched the website and found a second reference to “no written test when you hold an unexpired license from another state.”  How the hell did I miss this?

An odd combination of relief in knowing that no one would question me about how many days I’d spend in jail if I was convicted of a DUI, and regret that I would never get back all those hours when I studied the meaning of signs that contained pictures of cows, little men with flags and speed limits. The cows do not mean rodeo ahead; the men with flags, do not connote football game nearby; and the speed limits are more than just suggestions.

I think that one of the ways that you can tell you’ve settled into someplace new is that you start relaxing and you stop trying so hard to do everything right and right away.  At this writing, I’m lying around in my pajamas hoping to master the art of doing nothing today, while simultaneously laughing at myself and the super-mighty, Texas drivers license fiasco. I’m told I should receive my license in the mail in the next couple of weeks.  Sigh . . .

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

A Story About the Awkward Dance of Halloween Guilt and Fitting In

 

My new neighborhood reminds me of the opening credits in Desperate Housewives.  Behind the beautiful front doors, the manicured lawns, and the gentle southern curb appeal, most certainly lurk all kinds of stories with a sharper edge. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Recently transplanted to southern Texas, by way of Ashland, Oregon, we don’t really know anyone yet. Aside from walking our dog, our days consist of digging through unending boxes and looking for a place to put things. Consequently there is no television hooked up yet to numb our brains at the end of the day. So Dean and I spend our evenings sitting on the front porch, talking in whispers and wonderings about this new place we’ve moved to.

Directly across the street from us is Richard. (All names have been changed in order to cover my ass and protect the innocent.) Richard walks Domino, a black Portuguese water dog.  On the day that we first said “hi” to one another, I commented about the plethora of inflatable ghosts and goblins, dozens of pumpkins and skeletons that seemed to be reproducing themselves on his front lawn. It’s a veritable blow up doll convention out there.

“My wife,” he said. And then followed it with “Wait until Christmas,” a comment that left me with a little shudder.

The man has three daughters and a wife who is obviously determined to give her kids happy childhood memories.  But as the object of my fascination, Kinky Friedman, once said “A happy childhood is the worst preparation for life.”

The neighbor next door to them have two boys.  They throw the football in the evening causing Dean to recount his childhood: always in a relationship with a ball game with other boys — football, baseball, basketball, come over for a catch, kind of days. I never tire of those stories, imagining my 67-year-old husband as an 11-year-old with fresh eyes, a dimpled grin and a fair amount of mischief that he never lost.

Stella is the mother to those boys. I met her when she was walking Lennon, named after John. If not for my dog Jeter, it might take me months to meet and greet the neighbors, but a goofy Labrador retriever is a ticket to an introduction. A few minutes of canine sniffing gives time for an exchange of names and a sincere welcome to the neighborhood. Stella’s yard is decorated for Halloween too, but not crazy over the top, over compensating for something decorated, like Richard’s yard.

Dean and I speculate about the lives here, the intersection of old and young, reckless and measured, all of it with a Texan texture and the smell of barbecue in the air. Welcome to Austin, a fun and foreign land.

“Do you think that we’ve bought enough Halloween trick or treat stuff to give out” I ask him.

“It doesn’t matter. The neighborhood kids are going to hate you anyway because you’re giving out little bags of pretzels and popcorn. You know the holiday is all about the candy, right?”

“What about healthy treats?” He rolls his eyes. “Am I going to be that old woman whose trees the kids in the neighborhood wrap in toilet paper because she doesn’t give out Snickers at Halloween?”

He shrugs. “Maybe.”

I’d hate to wake up to that the morning after. Especially since we just gave our yard got some autumn love this past week, a toned down version of Halloween blow up dolls. We planted winter-hardy pansies and mini snapdragon.  I placed three baskets of mums on our porch and an autumn wreath on the front door. I put out a couple of pumpkins. I confess to putting out fake ones, having dealt with the carnage wrought by aggressive squirrels over the years. It all looks very tasteful and welcoming. Then again, maybe my decor is screaming that I’m giving out stupid bags of popcorn for Halloween.

A car pulls into a driveway a few doors down from us and I wave. The driver waves back. “Have you met her?” Dean asks me.

“No, I just want to be friendly in case all the neighborhood kids wind up hating me for giving them pretzels and popcorn for Halloween.”

“Or if you write about this on your blog.”

“That will take longer to discover than the fact that I’m not giving out candy,” I say.

We sit in silence, lost in our thoughts about the lives of polite people in a polite neighborhood that is showing signs of straining at the seams from too many blow-up dolls. Not giving out candy could potentially add to the strain. I’m pissed off that fitting in means so much to me. I hate blow-up dolls and I hate the idea of loading up kids with sugar. But my stomach lurches and before the evening is over, I know I will succumb. I’ll  run to Costco tomorrow and buy a bunch of candy to mix in with the healthy treats. That and a glass of hard cider should assuage the Halloween guilt and discomfort.

Happy Halloween!

Posted in A Day In the Life, Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Year of Convictions

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I like the “new” in front of New Year. Other than that, there’s not really anything that I celebrate. New Year’s eve is my least favorite night of the year to be out and about. People are drinking and they are driving. Restaurants over charge for big meals and staying up until midnight to yell “Happy New Year,” holds absolutely no appeal. So, like most New Year’s, I was in bed and asleep by ten.

There are no New Year resolutions for me, because every time I make a resolution, I break it. Gym memberships and diets are the worst kinds of resolutions, followed by eschewing all negative thoughts and not cursing. I exercise enough. I eat well enough and I keep my curse words close at hand and don’t judge myself for it.

But this year, I want stuff. I want certain things to happen and I know that the old phrase: become the change you wish to see, applies. If I have made one resolution, it is this: to stand in the light of my truth.

I stand in the light of my truth. I am not afraid to identify bad behavior and rhetoric when I see it. If it looks like racism, misogyny and bigotry, then I will call it what it is. I will not support any leader or any human being that defiles another with slurs and policy. I advocate for a world of inclusiveness and civility. I hold these things as personal values and I intend to nurture my character by practicing them.

I stand in the light of my truth. I will not accept the white washing of divisive language by dressing it up and calling it “strong” language, locker room talk, or bar talk. As a writer, I know that words matter and they have power.

I stand in the light of my truth. I fully reject anyone who participates in racist, bigoted behavior or anyone who bears witness to racist, bigoted behavior by stating that they “do not recall.” Experience and age have taught me that we all know when we or someone else is behaving badly, and we do recall.

I stand in the light of my truth. You who bear witness and do nothing; you who participate in the slander of groups based on skin color, religion or sexual orientation; you who try to lie to yourself and to me by telling me that these things don’t matter, but making America great again does matter. I will not be swayed by your weak argument and I will let myself feel disgust and heartbreak so that I fight against you with my vote and my advocacy.

I stand in the light of my truth. I won’t be cowed. I will not waiver. I am not interested in supporting dysfunctional politics. I am interested in doing what I know in my heart is right. And I know the disparagement of targeted groups for the reasons I have stated is wrong. I am going to fight for what is right.

2018 – look out! This is the action that I take: I will not stick my head in the sand and ignore what is going on. And I am not alone. There are many of us. And we stand in the light of our truth, and the power of our convictions.

Happy New Year.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

8 Steps to Dynamic Living After 60 (Or Really Anytime)

iStock_000015408259XSmallOur culture spends a lot of time and money on motivational books, inspirational blogs and personal growth seminars. Why is this?

Is it the need to heal some childhood wound of wanting to get it right? Or is there a deeper reason, like wanting to get the most from life? On some level, no matter how successful you are, or how right you get it, we all know the truth, that life is only temporary. And that’s what makes me want to live as fully as I can.

Satisfaction and Success: Satisfaction is sustainable, and success sometimes unattainable. Success is results oriented, often associated with fame and prosperity. Satisfaction is process oriented. While the self-help industry offers some good advice on creating success, the wise elder will do well to redefine the word success, becoming familiar with the nuance of making the world a better place; and become intimate with the satisfaction — doing for the sake of doing.

The Creative Force: The most alive, vibrant people at any age are those for whom creativity plays a daily role. In her 80’s my mother had a small hand-loom, upon which she made wool hats, dozens and dozens of hats. Every so often she would box up the hats and ship them to organizations that would distribute them to children who were in need of winter clothing. It’s the ‘making,’ that keeps the heart and mind engaged. Creativity is the life affirming power that lends itself to purpose.

Fitness of the Mind: My husband plays his bass every evening after dinner. He sometimes takes classes at the university in music theory. It stretches his brain, challenges him to think and process in ways that keep his mind fit. Whether it’s playing music or working crossword puzzles, a mind that is engaged in learning is more flexible. We’ve all heard the story about someone being “set in their ways.” The concretization of who we think we are creates a brittle mind-set, prone to disappointment. Whereas a curious mind-set continues to expand, adapt and evolve.

Fitness of the Body: Keep moving. That is the motto of anyone who has ever had a fitness regime. You know that when you stop, it’s harder to get it back. While pushing weights around a gym may not be the most ideal for older connective tissue, there are a lot of activities that you can do including but not limited to walking, swimming, biking, pilates and yoga. Fitness lessens pain and contributes to positivity and energy.

Fitness of the Spirit: Never grow tired of watching the sunrise or walking in the woods in the early autumn. There are places that evoke in us a reverence, a sense of oneness with all life. I seek out those experiences in nature. Some will find the same in religious text or mindfulness practice. The source of your wonder and awe does not matter as much as your ability to surrender to the sustenance of the wonder. In our later years as things change and end, accessing that place gives us a way to cope with inevitable loss.

Use Your Voice: Some people my age complain that they feel invisible after a certain age. The fact that some people still need to be educated in ageism should not be an excuse to slink away. Use your voice in activism and advocacy. Share your hard won wisdom with those you meet along the way. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Keep Your Dreams Close By: I dream of having three books published before I turn 70, and I am not opposed to sneaking that number up to 75 if necessary, or even 80. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from daily writing, whether it’s my blogs or a new manuscript. I’m good at what I do and I have courage. What I don’t have is a guarantee of anything, but no one does. So, dare to keep dreaming.

Go To Sleep At Night With a Prayer of Thanks on Your Lips: This was the best spiritual advice that I ever received. Say thank you at the ending of each day. Say thank you at the beginning. Life is a gift to be lived to the fullest and there are delights to be had in the successes and failures, the love and the loss, the wonders and the shock. Our best response to living well always be, in my estimation, thank you. Thank you for this day. Thank you for this life.

What’s the one thing that you believe contributes the most to your dynamic life? Please share with me in the comments section.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Happy Independence. Gratitude.

Patriotic Puppy Dog Sign
A is for attitude. Get a good one going on if you want your life to be dynamic and purpose filled. We cannot control the events that happen to us, but we can control our attitude about those events. Money, relationships, status and stuff are not what make us happy. What creates happiness is the attitude with which we walk through life.

I have yet to find any better attitude than gratitude. There’s a scene from Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning that will always be with me. It’s this: a group of prisoners are being moved from one concentration camp to another. They are crammed into the boxcar of a train, like cattle. It’s daybreak, and the train is going by a mountain range. Frankl and his fellow travelers clamor to the side of the boxcar to watch the sunrise through the wooden slats. How beautiful. How amazing, they remark. Each time I think of that scene, I think of this horribly battered human being who still found beauty and awe in a sunrise. If he could do it, than it should be easy for me.

Some days a good attitude can feel far away. Politics and the perversions of poverty seem unstoppable and defeating. The way in which we treat each other shocks the senses. But just like Frankl on that train, I am reminded that beauty and ugliness do exist side by side and it is up to us to choose what we nurture. I choose to nurture beauty through advocacy and activism. I take part in my community to do the things that I can. While I cannot do it all, I can make a difference in my own small way and then sit back and appreciate that I’ve been given the opportunity.

Today is July 4th and our county celebrates its independence as a free and sovereign nation. I celebrate my independence and the freeing attitude of gratitude that does not exist in a bubble of isolation, but rather in reaching out to the world. We are only blessed in order to give blessings.

Happy Independence Day. Gratitude!