Stephanie’s Blog

Posted in A Day In the Life, Thoughts on Writing

The Summer of Belonging: Strippers, Poets and Omar’s Restaurant

My writing journey has been both long and short. By long, I mean I wrote here and there while marriage and a mortgage interrupted my dreams. I wrote stories from time to time that no one read, and on three different occasions, I surprised myself by getting published—once in a magazine about quilting and twice in newspapers. I started a blog and experimented with style and voice, eventually accumulating a hundred or so followers. But rarely during that time, did I consider myself a writer—even though I wanted to.

Coming into my sixties awakened me with an urgent fear. The years had caught up. If I didn’t dedicate myself to writing now, I never would, and it would become the great, sorrowful regret of my life. So I proclaimed to a small and select group of friends that I was going to write novels. I was sixty-three.

 In a year and a half, I wrote and finished three novels, and they were all rambling narratives with pretty prose and some exquisite descriptions that never got near a real story. In that same year and a half, I studied my ass off, apologizing for myself all the way. I didn’t know where to place a comma or how I was supposed to use a semicolon. I’d been a horrible student in school, a dropout in fact, who managed to pick up the pieces in midlife and finally earn a high school diploma as well as a college degree in my late thirties. Real writers, I thought, were good students, nerds who’d attended good colleges and loved the English language.

In the summer of my sixty-fifth year, all the pieces came together. I finished my fourth novel, and it was good, a real story that hung together. My blog accumulated three thousand followers that year, and I achieved the rookie writer’s holy grail: a contract with a New York City literary agent. In that same heady summer, I got my first paid job as a writer.

The Rogue Valley Messenger is a small newspaper, a freebie found on street corners and in grocery stores in and around Ashland, Oregon. Like so many times in my scrappy life, I faked knowing what I was doing. And it was the best fake-out ever. Interviewing folks for the lifestyle section of the paper, I quickly learned from my beyond-patient editor what was expected of me. And each month, I banged out a thousand or so words, receiving a check for twenty to thirty-five dollars for each article.

In the middle of the experience, I learned about the writing craft, yes, but more importantly, I began to see my own condition mirrored back to me in the people I interviewed and whose stories I then told. They would touch upon the my long-held beliefs of fears and self-doubt, and hearing their stories helped me reclaim a wild, completely imperfect part of myself. Writing for The Messenger was an act of realizing all the possibility and potential that I’d pushed aside in the name of unworthiness.

There were lots of articles, some of them better than others, but three stand out. The first was an interview with a burlesque performer who’d named herself Kat Wondergloom. She said she wanted a name that was part whimsy and part darkness.

I loved her story. I loved learning that burlesque is more than just a tassel-twirling bump and grind where women shed their clothing. During the interview, Kat told me the thing that helped her the most on her quest to become a burlesque artist was being adopted by a group of drag queens who schooled her in everything from makeup to just where to place those rhinestones.

And when I asked her how burlesque dancing was different from being a stripper, she laughed. “A lot more glitter and a lot less money,” she said. I understood that. So much of what I experienced in the world was just glitter.

Kat Wondergloom and I weren’t that very different from each other. She was a proud, independent woman, making her way in a world that wasn’t always kind, but she was doing it without apology. Kat would never get a formal invite to the #metoo movement, but in many ways, her proud sense of sexuality and her determination, I found, was every bit as liberating.

When I finished writing the article, I decided that maybe it was time for me to stop apologizing for my past and begin to fiercely embrace my present. Workshops and writing books brought me a long way toward becoming a writer, but Kat Wondergloom gave me the missing piece—you gotta believe in yourself and own what you do.

The second article that stands out was an interview with a poet who would soon be visiting the small university in my town. Richard Blanco had been Barak Obama’s second inaugural poet—the first Latino and the first gay man to hold such a prestigious honor. I was intimidated by his writing credentials and thrilled that I got to interview him.

I worked very hard on the questions I was going to ask him. I read two of his books before the phone interview and prepared for days. We had a good, lively conversation about the ordinary within the extraordinary, and I wrote it up. After my article was published, and Richard was in Ashland teaching, he surprised me by inviting me to coffee. We spent an hour talking about writers and writing in a local coffee shop. I learned that his work had always been influenced by the themes of belonging and asking the question of what and where home is.

I’ve lived most of my adult life with the sense that I must have gotten off the bus at the wrong stop. What I learned from Richard is that it’s human nature to want to explore the question of home and belonging. It’s not a flaw or a failure.

I only wrote for The Messenger for a year, and then my husband and I left our home in Ashland, moving to Austin, Texas. One of the last pieces I wrote for the publication wasn’t about a person, but about a place: Omar’s.

Omar’s was an old steakhouse built in the 1940s that hadn’t changed much since. It was the only piece I’ve ever written where I hated how the editors chopped it up. Honestly, I didn’t really write a solid newspaper piece about a restaurant—about the steak and the fish that they served, about the wait and bar staff, some of whom had been there a couple of decades or more. I couldn’t get out of my own way and be a professional, objective journalist.

Instead I let Omar’s inspire me as a storyteller. Across the street from Southern Oregon University, the place was frequented by writers, professors, and diehard locals who could recite the history of the restaurant which hadn’t changed its menu since the 1940s. When I sat down in the bar, I halfway expected Raymond Chandler to sit down next to me and buy me a drink. I got lost in the red, cracked, leather booths and the dark haze of the cocktail lounge with its bar carved with initials from patrons who didn’t want to be forgotten.

The steakhouse invaded my imagination, pinning me up against the wall by my throat. Because of that, I knew that a dolled-up dame had written the name “Omar’s” on the sky with one red fingernail. That became the neon sign illuminating the darkness under a blue moon, just above a post that says “To Klamath Falls.” I loved the dark, seedy feeling of it all, and instead of writing the newspaper article on steak, I wrote about how the grittiness of the place reminded me of a Raymond Chandler novel with hard-boiled detectives and blonde bombshells. And I have to wonder how many writers had sat in those booths and construed stories that fit perfectly against the backdrop of its lit noir images.

To say that the article about Omar’s received a major editing and a requested set of revisions by my managing editor is not the half of it. I had written, or rather pieced together, something that was part noir wannabe and part restaurant review. Still, it’s worth noting that I could see how everybody needs an Omar’s, a place that knows you and welcomes you when you need to eat or rest, a place where the filters are off. Omar’s underscored a truth about me: I love a good story.

As my husband and I got on the road for our move to Texas, I looked for the ghostly outline of the dolled-up dame who had drawn the sign with her fingernail against the sky. I hoped she’d be standing by the doorway of Omar’s as we drove by for the last time. I didn’t see her, but I heard her whisper this to me, Own it!

That steakhouse was the place that put the exclamation point on the best summer ever—strippers, poets, and Omar’s. And damn, if I hadn’t become a real writer, traipsing around in search of my material. Real stories. Imagined stories.  And the comfortable familiarity of being lost and looking for where I belonged.

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

The Tale of How the Governor Came to Be

In the mid-1960’s in South Denver, a short distance from the apartment where my mother and I lived, was a hotel on Colorado Boulevard. I think it was called Writer’s Manor. Or maybe it was Riter’s Manor. “A fancy place,” my mom called it. They had a large dining room in which all the tables were covered in white tablecloths, each graced by a small vase of fresh flowers. At one end of the room, a wall of windows overlooked an inviting swimming pool. The first time that I went there, I couldn’t stop looking at the pool. I longed to be in that water in the hot afternoon sun. The pool was, disappointingly, only for hotel guests.

Two glasses with iced tea with lemon and ice on the wooden table

On this day, my mom created an outing for us: we got dressed up and went to the hotel dining room where we were going to order banana splits. My mom was creative in the ways in which she entertained me. She worked during the week, and weekends were the times I got to see her the most. We didn’t have a car to go places, just the bus. There were no trips to the mountains or lakes like my other friends, but she tried hard to come up with things that were not just fun, but affordable. This is one of the reasons I still love summer so much: it feels like time for fun.

            Mom had insisted that I wear gloves. She was a woman who had watched one too many Joan Crawford movies. I didn’t think that gloves were cool, but I put them on anyway, and we walked to the hotel on that hot summer day. I can’t remember the dress I wore, but during those times, almost everything I owned was an A-line cut, and I was partial to little flowers, so I imagine myself in a sleeveless flowered dress, wearing uncomfortable patent leather flats, inappropriate for walking, but perfect for a formal dining room, and those stupid little white gloves.

            I was sweating by the time we got to the hotel. Still, I remember being excited about getting to see the swimming pool again, and I was excited about ordering a banana split in the hotel dining room. Years later, I realized my mother probably couldn’t afford to buy us lunch there, but at twelve, I was very enthusiastic about banana splits — not having lunch made no difference to me. We were led to one of the tables, and I told her I was thirsty.

            A waiter came by and poured water into what I observed to be grown-up glasses. The glasses had stems, not like the glasses at home that were short and squat.

            “May I bring you ladies an Arnold Palmer?” the waiter asked.

My mother nodded. “Would you like one?” she asked me.

Yes, please,” I answered. And then as soon as the waiter was gone, I asked, “What’s an Arnold Palmer?”

            “Half iced tea and half lemonade,” she said, and smiled.

            I felt grown-up and proud to be with my mom. I felt special sitting in the beautiful dining room all dressed up with her. And I loved her for her making me feel that way.

            Disappointingly, the Arnold Palmers didn’t come in the kind of grown-up glasses I’d hoped for. There was no stem. Still, I felt very grown up drinking one. As with all things I remember, it’s not so much the thing itself, as it is the feeling tone that lingers in the heart and mind. Sitting in that fancy dining room with my mom, wearing those stupid white gloves—it was all just kind of perfect.

            After the Arnold Palmer came the banana splits, and I ate mine slowly and carefully, as a grown-up would, careful not to let any ice cream or topping spill on my A-line dress or the white linen tablecloth.

            Years go by, and I’m middle-aged, married, and sitting in a lounge chair on my deck next to a girlfriend. We’re recalling summer stories from childhood, and I tell her about the hotel, the Arnold Palmers, and the banana splits.

            “Arnold Palmers,” she says. “Those sound so good right now. We could make some.”

            “I have lemonade, but I only have green tea.”

            We look at each other.

            “What the hell . . .” I say. I get up and mix them—half green tea and half Knudsen’s lemonade. I pour the mixture over ice and stick in a couple of paper straws.

            “Ta-da, Arnold Palmers,” I say, holding out the glasses to my friend.

            She takes a sip. “They’re good,” she says. “What’d you make these with, again?”

            “Lemonade and green tea.”

            “I guess they’re not really Arnold Palmers,” she says.

            “No, but close enough.”

            “Who else do we know named Arnold,” she asks.

            “Schwartzenager?”

            “The governor of California?”

“That’s it. I dub this drink ‘The Governor,’” I say.

And that’s how The Governor, made with green tea, came to be. Gone are my banana spilt days, but I often enjoy like a grown-up glass into which I can pour The Governor on a hot afternoon.

The Governor:

Steep 3 Tzao Zen Green Tea bags in a 2-quart pitcher. This is best if you steep this in the sun all day, instead of boiling water and pouring it over the tea bags. The tea will turn a light greenish-gold color after about 6 hours. Refrigerate it overnight. The next day pour ½ glass of green tea over ice. Fill the rest of the glass with Knudsen’s lemonade, which is sweetened with fruit juice rather than white sugar. You won’t need any additional sweetener. This is the perfect tea for any summer afternoon.

Posted in A Day In the Life

We Put Our Dog Down Today

Jeter 2008 – 2020

We put our dog Jeter down today.  A cancer had snuck into his life and Dean and I vowed that we wouldn’t let him suffer.  So, we kept track of meds, missed meals, and limps that developed, reaching a point where we knew it was time.  I hate that point.  Like everyone who loves their dog, I wanted ours to live forever.

A compassionate young vet who does nothing but at-home euthanasia, came to our house. As a result, we got to hold Jeter and stroke him while he fell asleep.  She administered the first of two shots, and in a few minutes he had fallen into a twilight kind of sleep. As we talked to him, he wagged his tail, still able to hear our voices. Then came the second dose, the one that would mark the end. My husband continued telling him how much we loved him and what a good boy he was. At the very end, when I could feel the life force leaving him, I thanked him for being our dog. And then Jeter sighed. . . a long deep sigh with a bass tone sound to it, like the one he’d make at night when he was letting go of the day and surrendering to sleep. Except this time, he wasn’t surrendering to sleep, he was letting go of life.

I watched Dean and the vet put him on a stretcher and carry him to the van that she’d parked in the driveway. We had a couple more minutes with him. The body that wasn’t him anymore lay tucked in by blankets on the stretcher and I reached out and petted his head one last time before turning away and walking back inside.

Now the house is too damn quiet and it feels like a betrayal to vacuum up the dog hair on the carpet and the floors. I think I’ll wait a few days.  An absence fills the space where our dog once lived and we miss him beyond what either of us ever thought missing could be.

Dean and I have cried and wailed.  Wept and hung on to each other tight.  We’ve gone through the pictures on our phones and talked about him, remembered days on the trail or at a lake. Each photograph reminds me of what good attitude, joy, playfulness, and loyalty looks like. 

The bottom line is that our dog, the world’s best dog, loved us unconditionally, without judgement There’s not a dog lover out there who hasn’t entertained the idea for just a moment that in the overall scheme of things, dogs know more about how to be good people than we do.

My heart is broken, but time and the sweetness of memories will mend it. I will always carry Jeter in the perfect little place into which he burrowed when we met. You’re still with me, buddy. And the goofy yellow lab that Dean and I adopted so many years ago turned out to be such a smart choice, one of the best that we ever made. Rest in peace dear Jeter, most faithful of companions, most loyal of friends.  You will forever be in our hearts.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Spring Hopes Eternal

My neighbors’ friendliness is a soothing welcome. It staves off the loneliness of living in a world that is too fast and too overwhelming.

Shedding the winter wool and sweaters reveals that I grew a little softer in the darker, colder months. Afternoons when rain prevented me from walking, created a couple extra pounds. Well, that and getting lost in a new book and a batch of fresh-baked muffins.

Now the onset of spring changes everything. I can wear my baseball hats and tees, definitely not dressing my age. And the lengthening of my stride, the quickening of my step, adds miles to the walks in the warm spring temperatures.

It’s an adventure to walk my neighborhood. When hubby and I set out for this afternoon’s walk, we see the eight-year-old who lives near us. He has a Labrador retriever that looks a lot like my dog, Jeter. It’s not fair to say that the kid walks his dog. He runs the dog. It’s an image we’ve come to anticipate: the dog running next to the boy, who is pumping his arms and legs as hard and fast as he can, as they fly down the sidewalk, both of them with big smiles on their faces in pure joy.

Further up the street, Penny, the neighborhood queen, has pulled her chair out onto the lawn to hold court. Lucky, her old black dog, sits by her side, holding court too. Everyone stops by, a respectable six feet apart, of course. When Penny is sitting outside in her lawn chair, and she waves, it’s like there’s a magnetic pull. We cross the street, and she gets up to greet us. “Lucky is so glad that you came to visit,” she says in her sweet Texas way. A conversation about the dogs or the weather ensues, often with Penny telling us what Lucky thinks or feels about a certain situation.

When we first met her, she was a little scary. Knowing that we’d just moved here, she wanted to tell us all about the rattlesnakes and how to “kill ’em with a garden hoe.” She told us about the fire ants that can make your horribly sick with their painful sting. Hubby and I walked away from those visit with our hearts beating rapidly and a question on our lips: “Where the hell have we moved to?”

After we got the snakes and the deadly fire ants out of the way though, most of our talks with Penny have been about the dogs or some bit of news about the work being done on Highway 620. “Lucky is just so happy that you’re here,” she tells us with a smile. “You take care now, you hear,” she adds as she waves good-bye. Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone else crossing the street to pay homage.

We pass a house where a large brown-and-black something of a dog lives. Mastiff? Labrador on steroids? It’s hard to tell. He just looks like a dog that shouldn’t be messed with. We don’t stop at that house, even though the owner is in the front yard, planting impatiens around the oaks. The dog’s name is Rock Star. Devil Dog would have been more appropriate. He raises his head and watches us go by. Each time I pass him, I swear I hear a low, rumbling growl. “That’s a serious effin’ dog,” hubby says as we pick up our step.

Jeter, hubby, and I make it past the park and up to River Bend Elementary, and I say that I want to go a little bit further. I’m going for perky bootie, which means another mile, at least. In my younger days, my bootie used to sit higher up; now it takes a lot more work. Why should I care at my age? I’m embarrassed to say that I’m shallow enough to cling to a little bit of physical vanity to motivate myself. At a certain point, it will all get pulled down to my knees by gravity. One day everything will sag. It will all be loose. Bones in loose skin, face turned toward the sun, eyes closed and smiling in the light while it lasts. But I’m not ready for sunsets yet, so on to one more mile.

Later, as we’re coming back, we’re happy to note that Rock Star has been taken inside. Penny is still on the lawn, but she is talking with another neighbor. And the little boy with the yellow Lab like ours has now started up a ball game in the cul-de-sac. I love seeing the characters in my neighborhood, but most especially Penny.

She is the best part of the adventure. I depend upon her for the news of our community. In the last neighborhood where I lived, there was someone who knew everything that was going on too, but she sounded gossipy. Penny, on the other hand is regal, the grande dame of our neighborhood. She never shares people’s private business, but more of what amounts to public service announcements, like the bit about killing snakes or how the water on Quinlan Park Road, near the Randall’s supermarket, still isn’t draining well.

This is all part of the spring ritual. Losing those winter pounds, hanging out with Penny for a few minutes and listening to the neighborhood news, spoken in that soft southern drawl of hers. I’m waking up from the gray, and feeling the joy and excitement of nature reinventing herself, and plotting the reinvention of my own self through more activity in these strange new times.

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES: PART 3

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

When I was a young woman, I was caught by the expression, “You are what you eat.” I still believe that, and not just in terms of the body. What we feed our body is important, but what we feed our mind and spirit are equally important. We need to be vigilant in remembering that lying on our backs in the grass and watching the clouds float by is more nourishing than sitting on a couch and cruising Facebook or Instagram on our cell phone. To nourish body, mind, and spirit is to give ourselves to the experience of life.

            We only get one body, and we’d do well to honor it by taking good care of it with foods that provide more than just calories. Meals that we prepare mindfully with fresh ingredients taste better, especially if we add our gratitude.

            Walking, dancing, yoga—anything that gets us to move and breathe deeply— nourishes the body. We can enter the rapture of life through movement and tuning into all of our senses.

To nourish body, mind, and spirit is to give ourselves to the experience of life. 

– Stephanie

            One of the things that people my age fear the most about aging is losing their mental faculties. And while there are no guarantees, nourishing the mind with reading, music, films, and conversations, as well as the pondering and musing of life’s miracle, helps to keep us sharp.

            And finally, we nourish our spirit by walking in gratitude and being a light of kindness to those around us. We feed our spirit with thankfulness. Being in the world and caring for ourselves and others is the nourishment of life.

            In these strange times, I can only dream that if we lived next door to each other, I’d invite you to dinner, or maybe to watch a film or share thoughts about a book. I can only imagine that I could ask you to walk through the neighborhood with me so I could introduce you to all the people and dogs that I know. Then, you and I would sit on the front porch in the evening and enjoy some special tea, watching the light change from bright to gentle. But since you don’t live next door, and for a while anyway, I can’t invite anyone to join me, I’ll just say thank you for allowing me into your life through these little stories and philosophies that touch upon our mutual love for the beauty of life. More than ever, we’re being asked to nourish ourselves with the things that we know to fill our hearts and souls —  kindness, compassion and caring. One day we’ll nourish each other again with our closeness, and what a celebration that will be!  Until then, I hold you in my heart. Stay safe and be well.

AVAILABLE APRIL 28, 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES: PART 2

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

To age gracefully is to age with gratitude.  I embrace, believe and experience this truth every day.  Walking life in gratitude is not just a desired quality to aging well, it’s also an antidote for fear, anxiety and mistrust.  Our evolution, our awakening as loving human beings is a lifetime journey that constantly asks us to practice gratitude.

As a young woman, I read Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now.  It’s the title that inspires me today. Recently we’ve all experienced worry and stress around the COVID-19 virus. I can find plenty to be upset about, what with panic buying at the grocery store, and the turn-down in the economy.  But, I still can only live one day at a time – I can only be here, right now.  So, all of the what-if’s that are in my head are just thoughts. They’re not reality.  I try to remember that just because I think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.  

Gratitude is a perfect de-stressor and stress, as we know, is a precursor to disease.  One of the ways we can keep our immune systems strong is by simply practicing gratitude. 

– Stephanie

Today I’ll find three things to be grateful for and I’ll do my best to dwell upon those things instead of worries and concerns.  Once I get started, I may find fifty things.  My experience of  gratitude practice is that when I begin thinking about the things I’m grateful for, the list naturally expands.  Sometimes I like to write down what I’m grateful for and describe the “why” of it.  Other times I let the gratitude be a reference point that I return to throughout the day.  I find that breathing deeply when I discover something to be grateful for, enhances the calm feeling in my being.

When we get anxious, we might think that there isn’t anything to be grateful for. Or, we think that we’re just faking it and that everything really is terrible.  When this happens, rather than search for a thing, an event or a person to be grateful for, it’s best to  just sit comfortably, close the eyes and breathe in the word “thank you.” Then breath out the word “thank you.” Do this several times until the body starts to relax.

Like so many people practicing social distancing, I’m letting myself feel close to the people in my life as I hold them in my heart and memory with gratitude.

– Stephanie

Gratitude is a perfect de-stressor and stress, as we know, is a precursor to disease.  One of the ways we can keep our immune systems strong is by practicing gratitude.  When I’m feeling grateful, I tend to be inspired by a spirit of generosity.   I want to reach out to others – a quick call to a neighbor when I’m headed to get groceries, “do you need anything?”  Long-distance phone calls to let friends and family know that I’m thinking about them. These actions offer  hope.  Like so many people practicing social distancing, I’m letting myself feel close to the people in my life as I hold them in my heart and memory with gratitude.

While it may seem challenging to be grateful during times like these, it’s essential to our sanity.  We were never meant to live in just the dark places, but also in the light.  Let’s keep opening to the light of hope, grace and love as much as we can.  I’m grateful for all of you and thank you for letting me into your life for a little bit.  Sending you goodwill and good wishes . . .

AVAILABLE APRIL 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

One definition of the phrase aging gracefully means that we look younger than our years. But that’s a sorry and shallow definition, and one we’d do well to put aside.  Our worth has never been about how we look. The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart.  And that message is one that we need for ourselves too as the years increase. 

The body changes. Wrinkles appear. Things sag. We look differently than we did in our youth.  We have little control over that.  What we can control is what’s in our hearts.  To age gracefully means to age with a grateful and loving heart.  And that’s something that we can work on every day.

In order to age gracefully we need to care for ourselves differently. I don’t mean the trendy self-care that’s all over the Internet.  I’m talking about a deeper care, a compassionate self-care. This care starts with loving ourselves. And loving ourselves begins with how we talk to ourselves.

The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart.

– Stephanie

What if we were to wake up every day and say thank you for my life, before ever getting out of bed?  What if the first task of our day was to get up and dedicate a half hour to slow, gentle stretches and breathing?  Compassionate self-care means keeping our body flexible so that the heart and mind will follow.

Count the gifts of the years.  Joan Chittister wrote an inspiring book called The Gift of Years. Her writing inspires me to count what those gifts are. For instance, I love the idea of slowing down.  Not so much slowing because of a lack of energy, more a slowing that makes us more thoughtful about how we walk in the world.  To me, it is deeply self-compassionate to sit quietly without restlessness and breathe in the world around us. I appreciate the bird song, my hot tea, the budding trees, the clouds that drift across the sky.  Life gives us poetry when we slow down enough to just feel ourselves in the world. 

Compassionate self-care gives us permission to say “no” to things that don’t nourish our hearts and minds, and to say “yes” to the things that feed us, expand us and bring us delight.  To grow older with a gentle humor and a heart intent on loving is the non-apologetic way to age gracefully. It’s what makes us truly beautiful.  Let us be aware of the grace that has brought us this far.  Let us find ways to take care of ourselves with so much self-compassion that it naturally spills over to everyone in our life. Aging gives all of us the potential to age gracefully, to be beautiful human beings living life with the intent of love, joyfulness and gratitude through the practice of self-compassion. 

AVAILABLE APRIL 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

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

In the Age of Me, Me, Me, Me . . .

Writing is one thing.  Marketing yourself to the world is another.  On the one hand I don’t think that the desire for readers is an unreasonable one for a writer to have.  On the other hand, I feel like that little kid on the diving board screaming across the pool to her parents:  “watch me, watch me, watch me,” just before she dives into the pool. 

Marketing myself, my message and my book is in part exciting because it will bring me readers.  But another part of me, the old-school, older-generation part feels awkward in the me, me, me, proposition. Plus calling attention to yourself to a point where you actually get people to turn their heads and watch you go off the diving board takes a lot of energy and time.

An assembled marketing team that’s walking me through the process of reaching out on social media tells me that when I post a picture of myself, I get three times more engagement than if I post a picture of something else.  They ask me to make video and get more pictures taken. I wince a little bit, hearing the sound of old Catholic nuns in my head who tell me that vanity is a sin.  Obviously those nuns never had to promote a book.

Everything has two sides.  I feel passionately about my message which is: Embrace your years. Growing older is a privilege not a sentence.  Take note that this is a creative, vibrant and noble passage. We are never too old to make a difference.

I love that my message and my book might inspire someone to be a little less afraid of growing older. That’s the gift I want to give. But the me, me, me, me, thing often times makes that lovely message feel less like a gift and a more like the kid on the diving board.  And we all know that kid after three of four shouts across the pool of “watch me, watch me, watch me,” becomes annoying.

But here I go, head first into the pool. And just in case you didn’t see the dive, I’ve posted a picture of myself to go with this post.

Pre-order now through Amazon.com or Indiebound.com

Posted in A Day In the Life, memories

Suitable for Re-framing

My mom: Cleopha Marie Tylenda

There aren’t a lot of photos of my mother as a little girl. Personal photography was not a common thing when she was growing up. Rather, it was the work of a hired professional. For an ordinary family, it was a big deal to memorialize a moment of life in a photograph. Yet a handful of images from my mother’s young life exist.

A framed photograph on my living room bookshelf shows mom when she was about two years old. Holding onto her small toddler frame is her father, my grandpa, Paul. They’re sitting on the floor of the back porch, his arms around her, holding up a holster that he’s wrapped around her simple cotton dress. While her face is serious, my grandpa’s face reflects a mischievous grin.

The year would have been 1921.  My grandparents were farmers with a few cows. They lived in Elbert, Colorado and were raising three daughters. So, who took the picture, the casual pose, with mom, grandpa and holster?  My grandparents wouldn’t have owned a camera. Did they have a friend that was a photographer?

It’s an imaginative musing to see my grandparents as young people.  To think that they may have sat in their living room when the kids had gone to bed and talked with a friend who had a camera — that the friend would have offered to take some pictures of them. 

Later in life when I knew them, mom had a Brownie Camera. She took pictures of my brother, sister and I standing in front of the giant lilac bushes in our grandmother’s yard; and pictures of my grandparents standing in the dirt driveway of their home, a grandchild balanced on my grandma’s hip as she smiles for the camera, the look of pride on her face.

Recently, my nephew Dan found a picture of my mom in a moving box as he was getting settled into his new home in Oregon. He emailed it to me.  Eventually I will print it, frame it and place it next to the other photo on the bookshelf. 

It’s not the framing of the photo that feels important; it’s the reframing of what those photos mean to me:  a way to see my mother as an innocent; an appreciation of my grandpa’s quirky sense of humor divorced in memory from the man who drank too much.  It’s the act of reframing that helps me to see that we all do the very best we can do to love each other and ourselves and yet fall terribly short.  To put it in perspective, these photographs of my mom are from 100 years ago.  They represent the passage of time, mortality, innocence, ancestry and the most basic of human longings, that of love. 

In the photo sent by my nephew, mom is seven years. She’s wearing a white dress meant as a First Communion dress. It had probably been worn by her sister Anne and would be worn again by her younger sister, Mary.  The photograph is staged.  In one hand she holds a missal and a rosary. In the other she holds a candle. Again I wonder who the photographer is.  Did each child at my mother’s Catholic School get a picture like this at the occasion of their First Communion? 

I imagine the picture being taken at the church her family attended. I saw that church once.  My brother and I visited it when she died, but it had been turned into an antique store.  The day that we were there, it was closed and I was sorry about that. I had wanted to go inside, to walk around in a place where she had walked, where my grandmother and my great grandmother had gone to worship.

It’s easy to forget that my parents and my grandparents lived long, full lives before I was born. That they were filled with dreams and ideals like all young people, dreams that took a beating when life intervened. It’s the story that we all live out.

When I look at my mother’s little face in the picture of her First Communion, I don’t see the woman I fought with as a teenager. I see a child that I didn’t know, but eked out in our relationship nonetheless with stories that she made up and shared with me at bedtime about the little town of Elbert Colorado, her horse Duke, and a Catholic family with three girls living in a cabin on the hill

Paul Simon sang in the song, Old Friends: Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you. Now living closer to the edge of my life, I’m grateful for the memory, for the image of a little girl whose life I can only imagine, but imagine in sweetness and love’s longing, nonetheless.

Posted in A Day In the Life, Storytelling

Welcome to Podcasting

A little coffee to go with Coffee Table Wisdom

Launching my podcast, Coffee Table Wisdom, reminds me of when I first launched a blog.  Although my first blog wasn’t really launched; it was more like a shy tiptoe into a world where stories and essays became public and could be read by anyone. I have to admit, it’s still thrilling to click on “publish” and see my work come up on a colorful page that has pictures and headings. 

Podcasting is just another way to tell a story. It’s a new take on what radio used to be when we’d gather round and listen to programs and public figures.  In today’s world though, people can put in their ear buds, and listen to a podcast just about anywhere.

My podcast is about positive aging.  I advocate for embracing the years as a noble passage.  All of us fear getting older to some degree. That fear is un-necessarily exacerbated by toxic myths in the culture that have all of us sitting around in Depends after the age of 60, just waiting to get sick or die.  And that’s why it’s time for a revolution in positive aging!

My experience of the accumulating years is that there is a tremendous potential for aging well and finding joy in the process, stereotypes be damned.  I’ve invited guests from the worlds of health, psychology, spirituality and the arts to be on my podcast and share their perspective on the grace and gratitude of growing older in spite of any challenges that we may face.

Podcasting has given me an opportunity to fall in love with the ordinary people that I interview, all of who reveal the extraordinary in their lives.  Every time I meet a new guest and record a new show, I marvel at how much magic there is in each of us.  Podcasting has truly become my labor of love and learning.

So, I’m inviting you to take a listen and enjoy the power of story in this format. You can find Coffee Table Wisdom wherever you get your podcasts.  On my web site you can click on the Podcast Tab to discover Season One.

We live in the most literate time in human history. We have so many writers and so many stories that can be told in virtually unlimited ways and formats.  My great hope is that all of this will help to remind us of how we are connected by our stories; and that it will demonstrate how none of us is ever as alone as we think we are.  Isn’t our human family just amazing?  Happy listening from this grateful granny!

Posted in A Day In the Life

Living Out This Idea of Love

It seems to me that the universe is bound together by dancing molecules of love.

I’ve had a couple of rough weeks.  Free floating anxiety. Restless sleep. Self doubt.  It was as if my psyche developed little cracks and all of that seeped in. I didn’t immediately recognize that I was in distress.  Then, this morning, I was awake at 4:00am, swimming in worry and anxiety that wasn’t attached to anything real: would I lose my wallet in the airport when I travel next week?  Is my book any good? Am I any good? Such moments of suffering are wake up calls. There’s no outside solace to heal one’s heart; I have to begin at the core. What do I need?  What do I want? How can I help myself?

From time to time, we all feel like imposters in the world.  We stumble and fall into a hole of despair and then wonder how we got there.  Visiting the wounds of childhood past doesn’t seem to provide anything but an excuse. Finding ways to psychologically and spiritually hug myself, does.  A lifetime of dealing with depression and anxiety has taught me that if I get too angry or too afraid of too many things, I’m bound to fall.

All love must begin with the act of self-love. That’s easy to state and more difficult to do.  What does it mean to love your self? I know that I’m not alone in wondering this. Here are some steps toward self-love that I used this morning. May they be helpful to others. Self-love is like going to the gym.  The best results come from continued and consistent practice. 

Step One: Meditation is a practice that can relax, comfort and soothe the beast of anxiety.  It seems surprising that such a practice can be so easily forgotten in the face of emails, texts, social media, deadlines, and the seduction of creating self-importance through our digital life.  Liberation lies in deliberate breath, deliberate mindfulness, deliberate letting go and surrendering into the vastness and awe of the miracle that we are.

Step Two:  Tears. Holding back the tears of life creates anxiety and strife.  Right now, our world seems likes its come off the rails.  In witnessing the fallout from gun violence, the suffering of children, the divisions that have turned into an “us and them” mentality, then surely there are tears waiting to be set free.  I cried this morning.  I cried for our country. I cried for myself.  I cried for the people I know who are facing struggles.  The act of tears, softened my heart and brought me home to myself a little bit.  The list of too angry and too afraid began to dissolve.

Step Three: I’m a sixty-seven year old woman and one might think that all things from childhood have certainly been worked out and healed forever by now. But the wisdom of age has taught me that the wounds of childhood inform throughout one’s life.  They are part of our spiritual and psychological work.  This morning, I closed my eyes and remembered the child I’d been.  In my imagination, I got down on one knee so that I could meet her face to face, and then I wrapped my arms around her and said, “You are so precious to me. I love you so much.”  More tears and a sweet feeling of release begins to set me free.

Step Four:  Listing the things I’m grateful for. I take a walk every day.  My dog and I went up to the park and along the way, I counted the things that I’m grateful for: legs strong enough to carry me a couple of miles, neighbors that wave hello and call out greetings, a belly that’s full, and cooling temperatures that made today’s walk in the middle of Texas very pleasant.  Practicing gratitude helps me to shift my mind-set and ease the torments of self-doubt.

Step Five:  Give this reclaimed love away.  Wave back at the neighbors.  Call out my own greetings of good morning.  Silently bless the gaggle of teenagers waiting for the school bus — they’re our future. They deserve my goodwill.  Plan to cook a special breakfast for my husband.

Step Six:  Bow my head and say thank you. Thank you for my life. Thank you for this day.  Thank you for jogging my memory and helping me make it to the toolbox, thus bringing relief and a way home. Thank you.

In a perfect world, I would wake up every day and practice all of this. However, I’ve come to see that the imperfection of slipping into the darkness is the invitation and the opportunity to re-engage with my heart. The imperfection and errors that come with being human is the path to humility, appreciation and thankfulness. Today was a reminder to stay the course even though I know that I will stumble and fall again. My heart is all about practice and imperfection. This is the work of living out this idea of love.

Posted in Storytelling

The Man Who Talked to the Bear and the Bear Who Talked Back

The memories of my father are like dreams. They exist in the ethers and have a floating sense about them.  They come from younger years, when I thought of him as “daddy.”  He wasn’t enough a part of my life to ever become “dad.”  In my time of adolescence and angst, he was missing in action, thousands of miles away from me, never picking up the phone. When I left home, I always thought of him the formal sense of “my father.” 

 Looking back, I try to figure out what his absence wrought and what his presence gave. I cling to the romance of ghostly memories that have formed into stories that light up my imagination.  There is quality of longing to the stories. I can see him, but he’s not there.  I can feel him, but can’t touch.  The stories are what I have left from our fractured life together. They console me; let me know that in spite of distance and circumstance, I really am my father’s daughter.

 One story stands out like a favorite fairytale. I recall it again and again because of the magical qualities it holds. It’s 1958 and I am visiting him in Glacier National Park, Montana.  I’m six-years-old. He has spent a week in the woods.  He was studying something, maybe notating it.  I’m not quite sure what it is that park naturalists do, but I know that my father is brave, because he knows how to talk to animals, and animals talk to him. Those things make me feel proud of him.

He’s fascinated by the natural world. Sometimes his work takes him away for a while and I stay with my brother and sister in the cabin, waiting for his return.

This time, when he came back, he came back with marks. I stared at his face, a little afraid. Both of his cheeks reveal long, red scratches that have scabbed over. “Did you fall on branches?” I asked him, trying to think of what would have caused the injury.

“No,” he replied. “I was making friends with a bear.”

I thought of my Goldilocks book. The three bears in that story were made-up, because I’d seen real bears in Glacier and was pretty sure that they didn’t sleep in real beds or eat porridge.  A real bear pulls the kitchen rug off of the clothes line, taking it up a nearby tree. A real bear wakes you up in the middle of the night trying to break into the  trashcan. And there was one real bear who stole a huckleberry pie off of the kitchen table where it was cooling; reached right in through the open widow. He ran off into the forest with it, leaving my sister in tears because she’d worked all day to gather those berries and then bake them into a pie. Those bears weren’t our friends, so what did my daddy mean? “How do you make friends with a bear?” I asked.

“The fellow came to where I was camped every morning, a small cabin, like this one but just big enough for one person.  I saw the bear through the open window and he saw me. I was excited to see him.”

“Weren’t you scared?” I asked.

“No. Bears don’t like to get too close to people. There was no screen on the window, but I wasn’t worried. I was curious and so was the bear.  So I sat there for a while talking to him. I spoke in a soft voice and I asked him how he was doing.”

I could picture my dad talking to the bear in his calm voice. I’d seen him talk to animals before. Before the divorce, a raccoon that he called Wilbur, used to visit our house.  My dad would sit in his chair on the front porch and talk to her.

“Did the bear answer you?” I asked.

“In a bear sort of way,” he said.  “He stood up on his hind legs and sniffed the air.  He wanted to catch my scent and know whether or not I was a threat.”

I tried to imagine the little cabin, big enough for only one, and my father leaning on the windowsill having a conversation with a bear.  I wanted to talk to a bear sometime. When that one bear took my sister’s huckleberry pie, I stood on the back porch with her while she cried. I yelled, “You’re a stupid bear,” hoping it would comfort her. I don’t think that my daddy would ever call a bear stupid. 

“He looked like a young bear,” he continued, “and I was happy for the company.”

“But didn’t he get mad at you?” I asked, pointing to the scratches on his cheeks.

  He shook his head.  “No, he didn’t get mad. I think he just got brave.”

  I wrinkled my forehead.

“Every morning he came by at the same time.  I was alone up there and appreciative of the morning conversations. I pulled a chair up to the window and rested my arm on the sill.  I drank my coffee while we talked.  He mostly stood on all fours, but sometimes he’d stand up and move his head, as if he were trying to understand me.  After we’d talked for a time, he headed off toward home.”

“Where does he live?”

“Probably in a cave on the mountain.”

My little girl brain pictured the large bear with a bear family living in a cave, but coming out every day to talk with my father, as though the bear were going to work.

“But how did you get the scratches?” I asked again.  “Did the bear do that?”

“Yes, he did.  Every day for a week,” my father said, leaning forward toward me, “the bear and I talked. I noticed that he kept coming a little bit closer to the cabin each day. On the very last morning that I was there, I’d packed up my gear and was sitting in the chair by the window. I was waiting for him while I drank my coffee.  Along came the bear at his usual time. I said good morning and he studied me.  He was closer to the window than ever before.  The sun was shining. The air felt warm and I felt comfortable with this beautiful bear.  As I was telling him goodbye, telling him that I’d be going back home to be with my family, it was as if he understood.  He stood up on two legs and moved very close to the window. He was just inches from me.  It was breathtaking to see him that close.  I smiled at him and that’s when it happened.  It was so fast.  The bear raised both of his arms and moved forward, placing a paw on either side of my face. It startled me and I pulled back quickly. That’s how I got the scratches.”

 “Was the bear was trying to hurt you?”

 “No. I think that the bear was as curious about me as I was about him. I was alone and I got too comfortable with something wild and I forgot how unpredictable the relationship with wild things are, so I got hurt.  But I don’t think the bear meant harm.”

 “What did the bear do when you got scared?” I wanted to know.

“He got scared too.  We both remembered who we were.”

I didn’t understand that answer for a long time.  How could you forget who you were?

 “Did the bear go back home?” I asked him.

“He probably went back to his den. Or maybe he roamed the mountain looking for food.”

“Do you think he’d remember you if he saw you again?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

And that was the end of the story.  The bear. The scratches on my father’s cheeks. It was the thing I remembered most about that summer.  My father was not afraid of the animals. He knew how to talk to them. 

In late August, he put me on a bus with my sister.  She’d return to Glacier, but I would stay with my mom.  That’s the way things were now, my siblings lived with my father and I lived with my mother.  My mother and I lived next to a city park, but there were no special animals there.  I told the bear story to a little boy at school and he called me a liar. After that, I only let the story belong to me.

When I was a young woman, I dreamt about my father and the bear, but I was the bear in the dream. I reached to my father’s face and put my hands on his cheeks, but he pulled back in fear, and my hands left deep scratches. 

Looking back, I see that my father felt a kind belonging in the wild that he didn’t get anywhere else. He dedicated his life to studying the natural world and preserving natural environments.

 When I think of him now, I think that in some ways he was afraid of getting too close to me.  Maybe he saw that after a few years, we would stop being a regular part of each other’s lives.  Maybe he thought his heart would be broken.  I never got to ask him why we drifted so far apart and why it was at such an early age in my life. 

When I saw the movie, The Horse Whisperer, it reminded me of how my father could talk to animals. I wish that I could tell him now that I’m proud to be the daughter of an animal whisperer and that I know how to whisper to animals too. Then maybe we’d both remember who we were to each other.

Posted in A Day In the Life

The Body Beautiful

While older women counsel young women to love their bodies, we often fail to have that conversation with ourselves.

As a young woman I starved myself to stay thin.  My relationship with food was not a healthy one. My relationship with my body was worse.  The angst about body image came from two places.  One was cultural. In my generation, men often commented on women’s bodies in disparaging ways, leaving us to question if our worth was somehow related to the size of our thighs.  The message about thinness also came from my dance studio where I spent most of my teenaged years.  We were constantly told by our instructors that no extra weight was allowed.  By fourteen-years-old, I knew to order the burger without the bun, no fries and a side salad without dressing.  I was always hungry.

As the 1970’s dawned, the feminist movement was taking on the cultural narrative about body image.  Women were encouraged to love their bodies as they were. The new message was a needed one, because trying to sculpt your body to fit a man’s idea of what he thought you were supposed to be, was right up there with sculpting your mind to fit his image of you, too.

The decade of the 70’s and 80’s pushed women to know themselves. Changes came about as more women entered the work force, aspiring to be the CEO and not the secretary. Women demanded equal access to higher education.  The patriarchy was met with a rising matriarchy that would usher us into a new cultural paradigm.

By the time I was middle-aged, I was eating again and I did gain some weight, healthy weight that made me look like a woman instead of a starving waif. All around me the world was changing and now women have become much more comfortable with their bodies than they were in my generation. Plus, they’re much more comfortable with their smarts and their ambition.  

Yesterday, I walked into the salon where I get my hair trimmed, and my stylist came to greet me in a form fitting, rose-colored dress.  She’s seven months pregnant. She looked beautiful. It’s such a pleasure to see women showing off their baby bellies.  Not that long ago pregnant women were expected to hide their bellies.  I celebrate the change. I celebrate that a woman’s body takes on so many different forms in the course of a lifetime.

Even though women are feeling good about who they are and we’re mentoring younger women to do the same, there is one group that still suffers a poor body image. Too often I hear women my age talk about their bodies in mean and unloving ways. They lament the loss of muscle tone, curse sagging skin, and try to cover arms and legs that used to turn golden in the summer months — an attempt to hide what they think has grown unattractive. They criticize a natural process that is part of the cycle of life.  

I’m the first to admit that I too mourned the loss of my younger years. That’s just part of the process. I understand the grief of losing one’s youth. And I understand not wanting to succumb to the inevitable. Part of that is a fear of mortality and part of it is that we lose our way in loving ourselves, because there still exists a false standard of what beauty is.

Beauty for an older woman is a truly natural state.  It is health. It’s joy. It’s the happiness of living long enough to tell the tale. Wisdom is beautiful and earning the title of elder is beautiful.  Those definitions must be what we strive for in these silver years. 

I recently joined a Facebook page made up of a couple of thousand women who are letting their hair go grey.  I’ve tried, but I keep adding streaks.  But after scrolling through the posts on that page, I was inspired by the self-acceptance and self-love that these women possessed.  I made another appointment with my stylist in a couple of weeks and I’m going to ask her to help me transition to grey.

I want young women to understand that their value in life has nothing to do with the size or shape of their body.  “Ignore the advertising industry standards,” I tell them. They’re toxic and unrealistic.  This morning though, I realized that the conversation I’m having with the younger generation is a conversation that I need to be having with myself.  My value and my significance does not rest in how toned my muscles are, or whether or not I sag in places that I didn’t used to. Or my weight.  And regardless of softer arms that have lost most of their definition, I want to wear sleeveless tops and shorts in the summer months.

I believe in health and in supporting each other to be healthy. I believe in the power of self-love.  And I know that self-love not only heals our own selves, it shines as a light to others.

How do you feel about your body as you grow older? Please share your precious thoughts with me in the comment section.

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 A Day In the Life

Does Aging Really Suck?

I was talking to a woman the other day who told me that she and all of her friends think that getting older sucks. Her mind set was the opposite of my own. We all deal with this phase of life differently.  Some people go into it with a smile on their face and a heart full of gratitude and others dig in their heels, incensed that they are losing their physical beauty as well as flexibility and strength in their bodies.  They may be taking care of an older parent, whose physical and mental changes seem daunting and frightening to them, and that can certainly color the way that we view getting older.

My close friends and I are all still planning hikes and trips, bike rides and book groups.  But I don’t want to sugar coat it.  Even though we are living full and robust lives, aging is set against a backdrop of loss. Connective tissue grows brittle. Physical beauty wanes.  Friends, siblings and parents pass away. People we know and love get sick and succumb to a greater vulnerability.  Loss takes up a home, right next to the love in our hearts.

Still, this is the best time in history to grow old:  In our parent’s generation, if you broke your hip, you were consigned to a wheel chair.  Today we can replace body parts like car parts.  Seniors are living active, vibrant lives due to new knees or new hips.  My neighbor across the street had a stroke a couple of months ago.  Within 40 minutes of that stroke, the emergency room gave her a drug that reversed most of the stroke’s effects and prevented worse damage.  The outcome?  She had six weeks of physical therapy and some exhaustion to deal with from the trauma. Now, it’s like she never had a stroke.  Medical advancements contribute greatly to the quality of an older life.

What you think and how you talk to yourself determines how you feel:  We know that what we eat determines how our body feels.  Food creates certain chemicals in our body.  You won’t feel very good if you’re drinking sodas all day and eating sugar and carbs with nary a vegetable in site. 

Similarly, what we feed our minds also creates chemicals in our body. Self-talk that berates age and the aging process, will not help us to feel good about life.  Attitude counts.

Physical Activity:  My husband’s favorite advice about aging is to “keep moving.”  Walking everyday, yoga, Pilates, biking, dancing, anything that gets us out into our community to move helps us to feel good.  Exercise increases blood flow, gets our heart rate up and strengthens our lungs.  We benefit from the endorphins released during exercise that helps to stave off depression.

Meditation and Prayer:  As I grow older, I notice that my prayers tend to be more about “thank you,” than asking for things. Maybe I’ve finally learned that God is not a cosmic bellhop. Whether it’s prayer, meditation or conscious breathing practices, some form of deep stillness everyday contributes to an overall sense of well-being.

Letting go: Letting go is the antidote to the sense of loss that youth has abandon us. And, letting go is the encouragement we give to a younger generation with whom the hope of the future rests. The shedding of thoughts and attitudes that don’t nourish our heads and hearts can unburden our creativity and our sense of wonder.

Curiosity and Engagement:  The world is an interesting place, but we need to be involved. Women’s and men’s groups, book groups, film groups, church groups and classes are readily available. We can learn a foreign language if we want to.  The library provides any book on any topic and also has an array of free classes.  We can knit or garden or walk the dog. Aging with a positive outlook depends upon the lens through which we see the world, and curiosity offers a beautiful overview.

We cannot change the events in our life.  Things happen. We might get sick or injured in older age. But sickness and injury can happen when you’re younger too.  Regardless of how we face the years, we have control over our attitudes.  We can make gratitude and kindness a daily practice. We can engage with our real and digital communities and our families in ways that inspire us to keep trying to be better people.

Life is so precious in this third chapter precisely because we are vulnerable; because of the expiration date stamped upon our souls.  But I find comfort in the fact that I can can change and grow spiritually and psychologically until the day I die.

Knowing that we are in the last chapter, shouldn’t we come to peace with our selves and the world by nourishing gratitude, kindness and love in our lives? Shouldn’t we go out like shooting stars, having lived as fully as we could, until we’ve wrung every last bit of joy from our lives? That’s one choice. The other is, that getting older sucks.

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 A Day In the Life

In Praise of the Healthy Kitchen

Cooking is a sacred art to me.  It’s an act of love.  It’s a gratitude and awareness practice, that requires thoughtfulness and care in order to be done well.  I’m not looking for convenience in my kitchen as much as I’m looking for ways to celebrate the earth’s bounty and the gift of health.  That requires a little bit of slowing down so that I can enjoy the experience and process of creating a good meal.

Eating food is the single biggest chemical reaction that happens in your body in the course of the day.  If you want to demonstrate cause and effect to your self, nothing is more profound than the correlation between what you eat and how you feel.  Eat carbs smothered in cheese with nary a vegetable in sight and chances are you are going to feel sluggish and achy.  Eat fresh food, prepared sanely (i.e. no deep fat frying or over cooking innocent vegetables), and you’re probably going to feel more alert and healthy.

The other day I was shopping at Central Market in Austin, and there was a table of fresh, local, organic tomatoes that made me realize that I don’t eat many raw veggies in the winter months.  I always feel more energized and focused when I’m eating a wide variety of veggies, especially raw ones.  So, I was inspired to buy ingredients for gazpacho. Gazpacho is a cold soup, usually eaten in the summer months.

Even though it’s February, I decided that the gazpacho would be a super-healthy breakfast for the coming week.  If you serve it with a half of an avocado and a hard-boiled egg, it’s the ultimate way to start a healthy day.  And here’s the magic of this soup with Spanish origins:  It’s a low-calorie, nutrition dense food, filled with fiber, minerals and anti-oxidants. No wonder I feel so great when I eat it.

Here’s how to make it:

Wash the following veggies and cut them into chunks:

2 sweet tomatoes                              2 carrots (don’t peel em)

1-2 green scallion                             3-4 stalks of celery

a cup or so of jicama                       7-8 mini-peppers in assorted colors

a handful of fresh parsley               1 unpeeled cucumber

In batches, pulverize everything in a food processor and transfer the pulverized veggies to a bowl. I use a Tupperware bowl with a lid because I’ll store it this way in the fridge.

When you have pulverized all the veggies, squeeze in ½ lime. The lime adds some flavor, but will also keep the gazpacho fresh tasting.

The final step is to pour a quart bottle of Knudsen’s Very Veggie over the pulverized vegetable mix and stir. I like the low sodium Very Veggie because vegetables naturally contain sodium, and you get a cleaner and more distinct flavor if you don’t over-salt.

Chunk up a half of an avocado and put it in a bowl. Ladle the soup over the avocado.  I have friends that like to add a dash of Tabasco.

For breakfast, I love to eat a bowl of this along with a hard-boiled egg on the side. It’s the complete meal – veggies, protein and a good fat.

The soup is best served chilled, but when I make a fresh batch, I just eat it at room temperature and it’s great.

Refrigerate the leftover gazpacho in a covered container.

When you cook for yourself, it’s an act of self-love.  When you cook for others it’s a celebration of life. 

Posted in A Day In the Life

2019!

            Happy 2019!

New Year’s Day: Even if you don’t make resolutions, which I don’t, there’s a feeling of freshness and excitement about starting a new year that makes us want to be better people.  I like having New Year’s Day as a holiday. It’s a good day to prioritize and set up a pattern for the coming year.

Priorities: Recently I read a post by my favorite psychologist, Benjamin Hardy (if you don’t know who he is, look him up). He wrote about the concept of prioritizing. I’m paraphrasing him when I share: “If you have more than three priorities, you’re not really prioritizing.”  That keeps it simple, doesn’t it? For me, priorities really have to do with lifestyle.  My three priorities for this year are the same as they were for last year:  I write every morning. I walk or do Pilates every afternoon. And I prepare one great, healthy meal a day for my husband and I.  That’s it and it won’t trip me up by being out of reach.

 Goals and the Magic of Consistency:  Goals are a different animal. They’re like New Year’s resolutions in that they can become unmanageable. If they get too big, too many, too fast, after a couple of days I can’t meet any of them, so I abandon them. I learned a long time ago that goals are best done in bite size chunks, because it’s easier to experience success with a small goal that takes just a day or a few weeks to accomplish.

For example, I work on a novel length manuscript every year, but I only set monthly goals for it.  This January, one of my goals is to complete research and preparation on the next novel so that I can start writing prose in February.  The goal of pounding out a novel in a month or writing an article every day aren’t in my program, because too often I’ve experienced failure with goals like that.  The consistency of one step at a time, one page, one good article will get me to where I’m going. When I attain priorities and meet little goals, it builds confidence, and confidence has far-reaching, positive effects on everything.

Dreams:  I like to dream big. I dream about publishing houses that want my work and an agent who gets me and wants to help me. I dream about having all the energy I need to complete novels and articles for the time ahead. I dream about writing for Texas Monthly. I dream about long and healthy years with my husband. And I dream about the success of my 2020 release of A Delightful Little Book On Aging.  Dreams are not goals, but surrender to their largesse and vision is crucial to prioritizing and setting attainable milestones.

Balance: I’m at a time of life where I want to focus less on accomplishment and more on the gratitude of experience, but that doesn’t mean that accomplishment isn’t important to me.  In addition to priorities, goals and dreams, I take note of what feels nourishing and creates balance in my life. 

As a writer, I spend a lot of time in my head. So balance means being in life.  Again, it’s real simple: I take walks with my husband. We enjoy sitting on the front porch with our dog and watching our neighborhood.  Side by side, with our hands wrapped around cups of tea, we take in our world. Just being in the experience of sunshine or gray, kids who are throwing a ball and laughing in the cul-de-sac, making note of who is pruning roses or cleaning a garage. . . I relish “being” in this world, on this little block, in this community, watching life happen. This is my balance and it fills me with appreciation.

I always start the New Year by affirming that this is going to be a great year. This is going to be a healing year. In spite of the infection that nibbles away at Washington and the world, there are good things happening too. I can’t forget that. None of us should. There are things and people to get enthusiastic about. Humanity has not lost its way. I know, because I’ve seen the best of humanity from my front porch.

I’m excited about living another year. I’m excited about being in life. I’m grateful. I’m excited about witnessing the neighborhood kids grow another inch. And I’m excited about priorities and goals that I’ve set forth, balanced by a nourished and loving heart. Life is good.

            May 2019 be a great year for us all.  HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!

Posted in Storytelling

The Center of Our Home

IMG_0226When I first saw Jesse, he was standing in the front yard, talking with my husband. From a distance, his body looked like a “C.” His shoulders, neck and head curved forward, as if he were studying something that lay at his feet. His stature was small. He shuffled slowly as he followed my husband into the house. How was this somewhat frail looking man in his mid to late 70’s, ever going to cut and carry stone into my house for a week to build a new fireplace?

Jesse had come with a glowing recommendation, that he was the best mason that there was, that he worked slowly, but his work was impeccable. The person who told us that also said “ . . . and he’s the best man I’ve ever known.”

Jesse stood in the corner of our living room by the old fireplace and looked up and down the wall, holding onto a piece of the dusty sample rock that he’d brought with him.

“Here,” he said pointing at the old fireplace. “We’ll place the rock in an arch around the top of the fireplace box. Then we’ll go straight up.” He gave us a timeline and told us when he could start. Leaving that day, he shook our hands, addressing us as “sir” and “m’am.” He was the kind of gentleman that has grown rare in our culture, so respectful that he compelled deep respect in return.

Limestone is easily quarried in this part of Texas. The stone comes in a few shades of white and beige. It’s soft enough to be cut into large bricks, its ragged, rough edges adding character to homes, garden walls, and in our case, a fireplace.

The whole thing was my husband’s idea. He wanted a substantial fireplace that would anchor the room. Rock from floor to ceiling. I was the one who suggested the limestone. I wanted the fireplace to be like something that you’d find in a sprawling hacienda, long before these hills became housing developments and sub-divisions.

I was relieved when Jesse showed up for work the first day with an assistant. But my relief was short lived when I realized that his assistant was just as old as Jesse. The two men shuffled in and out of the house, the air sliced by the high-pitched sound of a buzz saw that cut the stone to make it fit. Heads down, stopping only to drink water, they moved deliberately, focused on measurements and mortar; back and forth from the stone on the front porch to the fireplace. Jesse was no longer recognizable as the old mason we’d hired. Instead, I saw him as the master he was, imbuing his work with a sense of agelessness.

Cutting and chipping stone is not a glamorous job. It’s hard and it’s heavy. It’s fraught with dust. But as I watched Jesse work, I started to feel that I was in the presence of nobility. A man who can make something with his hands, something that will outlast my lifetime and his, is special. Stone by stone, the fireplace grew. Jesse climbed on and off of the scaffolding as if he were 30 and not 70-something. The stone eventually made it all the way to the ceiling. The familiar, sure-footed dance that he’d learned over 50 years of masonry was something sacred. He never dropped a stone, never dropped a tool, never swayed out of balance and never spoke anything that wasn’t positive.

My husband and I went about our daily routines, stopping now and then to view the slow progress and the accumulation of dust. One day, standing at the kitchen sink, I heard Jesse singing softly to himself as he worked. Every day thereafter, I listened and he was always singing. Sometimes he sang in Spanish and sometimes in English. Like a monk with a mantra, the sounds became part of the creation he was birthing.

In a week’s time, the three of us stood back and admired the new fireplace. Jesse held a rag in one hand having just wiped the dust from the hearth. We marveled at the monolithic art that he’d built with his hands and with his heart.

Here is the story that I made up about the new fireplace, a story more fitting of Jesse’s noble work. In my story, I tell you that my family has owned this land for 7 generations, and that the original hacienda was a majestic architecture of limestone and hand-hewn beams that looked over Lake Austin. I tell you that when the hacienda burned down and the family scattered to make new lives for themselves, that this fireplace was all that remained. So we decided to build a house around it. Of course, none of that’s true. We live in a development, but I like the story I’ve made up — because it seems more fitting for the fireplace that Jesse made.

When the work was finished, Jesse returned to looking like the old man, shaped like a “C.” When he drove away in his slightly dented truck filled with rocks, I was left with a sense of having witnessed greatness. The anchor that my husband had wanted for the room was a true masterpiece. And the original recommendation turned out to be true. Jesse did beautiful work and I he is definitely one of the best people I’ve ever known.