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 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 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 A Day In the Life

A Birthday Selfie – Reflections on 66!

IMG_1852Today I’m 66 years old. The number seems wrong. It can’t possibly be true that the group of people with grayer hair and deeper lines are the same ones who walked with me out of childhood. Wasn’t it just last week that we were in Topanga Canyon? Last week that we were listening to The Eagles new album and drinking margaritas?

My friends are precious to me, some known for 40 and 50 years. They’re the source of birthday cards and calls, emails and birthday lunches. Gestures of love scatter like almond blossoms across a well-worn path, and I feel blessed that it’s the small, heart-felt things that have come to mark the years.

The past and the future colloid: I’m rooted in the longhaired, idealistic girl with bare feet and poetry on her lips; now the serious writer, with wool socks and messy pages, trying to tell “the” story, because honestly, I’ve only ever written one story. My life has grown out of that place where idealism and reality crash into each other, and the current takes you.  Marriage, career, divorce, marriage again happened in a kind of planned chaos, but let me live to tell the tale.

I’m 66 years old and keenly aware of how life recedes as the numbers increase, aware of wavering significance and limited hours. So many things fall away, and what remains is the fullness of the experience; the gratitude alive in the heart, the old friends from a certain time and place who remind me of where I’ve been.

Today my true companion, my one great love, will sing to me. We’ll wander the aisles of the gardening center and gather flowering plants for the empty containers on our deck. We’ll hold hands. We are that older couple that makes young people sigh, envying the kind of love that survives the journey.

This morning, as I drink my tea and muse about the years, I reach an easy conclusion: I love my life. I love my friends. I’m grateful for each turning of the wheel, for each memory, for each deep line etched into the map on my face, telling a story of so much joy, so much pain, so much living . . . I’m blessed to able to say, “this is a very happy birthday, indeed.”

Posted in A Day In the Life

A Morning From A Child’s Page

It is 1957. My grandmother, Julia, sits at the kitchen table. She has filled the pot-belly with a bucket of coal and let me make a “house” on a quilt and pillows that I’ve set up in front of the stove, pulling the warmth into myself. I don’t know if today is the day that my mother will come back from wherever it is she goes. She always tells me that it’s work. I don’t believe her, and I still miss her in the aching place that owns my heart.

The morning is black and the days are slow to gather light. Winter hovers over us with piercing silence and the language of snow. A chipped ceramic statue of Mary lives on the dining room table and watches me play. I pray to her, asking her to bring my mother back.

The sound of a chair scrapping against the worn linoleum, and the creak of the floor against Julia’s shoes break the spell. I can smell biscuits and coffee and I get up from my warm place by the stove and sit down at the table, where I’m given a biscuit that steams when it is pulled apart. Julia’s shaking hands adds butter to the smooth open surface, along with a tablespoon of preserves made from summer berries. She pours me a cup of coffee, half of it milk. For a moment, I don’t think about being dropped off here again, content with the tastes of her winter kitchen.

Years later, when I remember her, her love still speaks to me in the small gestures of melting butter and coffee that is half milk, and in fires that are kept going so we won’t be cold. She was never someone who cuddled me or talked to me, but she smiled when she carefully stepped over the house I’d made in front of the pot-bellied stove and softly said “yes, yes, yes,” as if I’d somehow delighted her.

I dig and rut through these memory places sometimes, embracing the sorrow and its meaning; savoring the sweetness of love in her yes’s and my grief. I used to fear these recollections, but now I count them as blessings. All that changed was an understanding of what it took for cold hands to roll out dough on a floured sink board in the early, dark of day. Life has always been this good.

The shadow that invited me back here loosens its grip on the ghost of confusing emotions:  a small child left in farmhouse that sits in the vastness of prairie and sky. I taste again the feeling tone of the time, so grateful to have remembered. Rip it right from the heart of the matter, and keep it close by. This, I tell myself, is the light and darkness, which define you.

When the plates and cups sat empty upon her table, I saw through the window, light creeping into the day. Snow fell gently on fence posts and dried grasses and I jumped when I heard the sound of a car crunching gravel under its tires as it slowly made its way up to the farmhouse.