Paychecks and Blueberries for Sal

 

“She will call less and less,” my husband casually remarked last night about our College Freshman whose nightly calls warm my heart.  I bit his head off.  “DON’T SAY THAT!,” I yelled back.  Silence.  What was that about, I began thinking.  Everything is off kilter these days because it’s all new:  our first child recently left the nest for college and at 51, I am in a new job, earning more than I have in eight difficult years.  I call them “difficult” because I have never fully embraced my value as a stay-at-home-mother, even though this is what I always wanted to do.

The sacrifices you make when you decide to earn less in exchange for being more present feel mostly unnoticed and under appreciated most of the time.

But that’s the kind of Momma I wanted to be!  ALWAYS available, no matter what.  So when my biggest paycheck of eight years hit the bank account last night, I found myself weighing the value of the money versus the value of being physically present for the household.  Here’s how it feels to me:  in the short term, putting a hefty-ish paycheck in the household account feels better than making sure there is a roast in the oven but in the long term, knowing we raised a young woman who wants to touch base with us often is the greatest payoff possible.  

We are all conditioned to thinking of our investments – financial, emotional, intellectual – in terms of returns.  That’s why I count the number of days I maintain long-term sobriety, because as the days add up, I figure the greater the “return.”  But not if I’m not emotionally sober.  To maintain emotional sobriety, you better be invested in pouring every type of energy and asset you have into living a life worth living.  After all, what’s the point of removing something as pleasurable as drinking red wine if I’m not going to enjoy the benefit of sobriety and that enjoyment isn’t going to spill over into other people’s lives and well-being?  Huh?  In other words, it’s just as important to replenish and nourish your emotional, spiritual and physical coffers as it is to earn money and spend it wisely.  Now I get to do both:  earn money to help support our family and reap the benefits of staying emotionally invested and close to my children as they were growing up.

These days, I think alot about special times with my children when they were young, especially bedtime story reading.  My daughter and I had many favorite books, among them, a 1950’s Caldecott Award winner, “Blueberries for Sal.”

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Little Sal was so much like my Isa:  precocious, daring, full of life and love for new experiences.  Together we would read the story about the Momma Bear and her Cub on the same mountain – but the other side and out of view – as the Momma Human and little Sal – picking blueberries to sustain their bodies through the winter.

My paycheck from the new job felt like a pail of blueberries from the book.  Very gratifying and fun but also a worthwhile investment for lean, cold days in the future.  It felt good and associating it with something so precious from my daughter’s childhood gives me peace of mind that our sacrifices have been worth it.  Especially when she texted back, “Yes I do” this morning when I asked her if she remembered reading “Blueberries for Sal” with me.

“Why can’t a paycheck just be a paycheck and not turned into a dumb pail of blueberries, you weirdo?,” you may be asking yourself.  Because I am committed to living a life worth living.  This is what it means to understand a woman in midlife experiencing an emptying nest and working to maintain sobriety:  a cherished moment of understanding in a three-word text from your beautiful daughter away at college puts everything in perspective.  And all is well with my world.

What the Rocks Know

As a youngster, I became enthralled with collecting rocks.  Someone started talking about arrowheads and geodes at 4-H and the search for these magical stones became an obsession.  The very idea that these physical objects contained hundreds or thousands of years of secrets and usefulness in others’ hands was thrilling.  I don’t think I ever found either type of rock but the searching, collecting, exploring and handling of all the other rocks I found gave me hours of great joy and my parents some well-deserved quiet.

One Christmas, my Grandmother gave me a rock polishing kit.  I could take the rough, raw, basic rocks and immerse them in a capsule with a cleaning solution and after alot of time rolling around, they would come out sparkling, fresh and soft to the touch.  It was okay but I much preferred the paper grocery bag full of dusty, mossy, grassy rocks I had been gathering.  They were so much more interesting.

It wasn’t until about 5 years later, when adolescence hit and our family moved from our small town to the city that I realized people were like the polished stones.  Life was just one big plate of perfectly shining rocks and it was frustrating to me that I would have to work at seeing everything back in its original, perfect state – raw, bumpy, earthy, rugged rocks.

Fortunately, the disillusionment did not last.  I realized I could make my life a grand rock collecting adventure and that some of the shiny stones were fun to have around.

On my fortieth birthday, my five-year-old son spent the entire afternoon in our yard searching for “heart-shaped rocks” which he proudly delivered from filthy, chubby hands with this speech, “You gotta get old sometime, Mom!”.  I kept them above my sink until a few of them fell into the garbage disposal and ground it to a halt.  I was thrilled he understood natural beauty in the rocks and his aging Momma, and this reassured me his character was set.

It is now eleven years past my fortieth birthday. I still have a few of those heart-shaped rocks curated especially for me.  They serve as gentle reminders of my purpose in life and the kind of person I want to be and others I choose to spend time with:

Kind  – If I had to pick one single trait over everything, of course it would be kindness. Time and time again, practicing kindhearted gentleness brings greater joy and openness.  Judgement divides and narrows everything immediately:  hearts, feelings, opportunities, experiences and most of all, love.

Patient – Yes, patience is a practice that does not come easily when we are young.  At 51, I am a pretty patient person, and I am getting better at ignoring the “productivity culture”.  If all you accomplish in one single day is reassuring people of your love and confidence in them, that is enough for me.  I have a hard time being with “productive people” for long – they are boring.

Resourceful – You can have the IQ of a genius but still not be able to figure out how to manage simple challenges.  More specifically, I am more excited about finding simple ways to handle life that reap positive benefits for the broader world than explaining why that might be a waste of time.  To me, being resourceful is an inclusive approach to living and just being smart can be so selfish.

Creative – There is a time and place to be linear and logical (e.g., when applying for FAFSA support for your college-bound senior!) and the rest of life should be interesting and fun.  I am not concerned anymore about “making sense” to others, I just need to validate creative energy by using it, damn the judgers! Creative people spend more time enjoying taking risks than calculating failures. That’s why I like them.

Simple – I would rather spend the day with a Humanitarian focused on addressing fundamental needs than talking to the most educated, well-traveled person. I am so happy that my journey has opened my eyes to this basic truth and fortunate to have daily opportunities to practice simplicity.  As I am learning, simplicity encompasses more than just getting rid of physical and mental clutter – it is a spiritual practice that helps one focus on being fully present in the now.  When all you have is now, you tend to appreciate it and make better choices.

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Grand Canyon 2012, exploring the ancient rocks with my son, Mario and his friend Andy.  Listening to the Guide talk about the rock’s origins and formation with fascination – this is pure granite.  OMG!

So back to the rocks and their wisdom:  I love holding a rock and thinking about where it has been, for how long, what it is made of, the stories it “knows.”  It is like holding the Universe and all its mysteries inside your palm and exchanging energy.  To me, the unpolished rocks embody all the basic truths about living a good life.  They inspire me to live and put my best (but simplest) self forward.  I like rocks, yes I do.

“Rocks and minerals:  the oldest storytellers.”  A.D. Posey

 

 

 

 

 

Girlfriends are like Quilts

Oh, Girlfriends!  How would a woman survive life without them?  They come to our aid before we even know we need to be rescued.  They understand our innermost feelings and needs in the deepest way.  They refrain from judgment.  Like Momma Bear protecting her cub, a great girlfriend will work wonders in your life and expect nothing in return.

I reach for my Mom’s handmade quilts every single day of my life for comfort.  Tattered and ragged, sometimes I drag my favorite one like Linus, as if the quilt could make me invincible.  Magical powers sewn into every square, crafted and pieced together by my Mother’s hands with abundant love and the greatest of hopes for a life well lived.  I literally can cover myself in her protection any time I want.  The girlfriends who have sustained me through life’s toughest challenges are exactly like my favorite quilts.

In this picture, I am in the most miserable physical pain you could imagine.  I had been laboring for over 2 days with my first child and was waiting the last few hours before heading to the hospital to begin the terrifying birthing process.  I am sitting on a heating pad because I have lovely back labor.  And draped across my knees is the “Cotton Boll” quilt my Mom made for me more than twenty years ago.  “Don’t machine wash this,” she cautioned.  “It will fall apart.”  Nope.  This thing might as well be made of kryptonite.  Virtually indestructible.  Just like my ties to my girlfriends, one in particular, my Pammy.

Pam took this picture of me when she delivered a beautiful Wendy’s lunch of french fries and a Frosty.  She had had her daughter the year before, I had been her “birth coach.”  I did not even know I needed her to check on me that day, my mind was swirling with nesting details and anxiety about the future.  I am sure we laughed about the indignity of the last day pregnant – I was hobbling around, grunting and moaning in my hugeness.  Pam’s presence was comforting, though, and nothing really needed to be said.  There was history between us (at the time we had been friends over 10 years, thinking we knew everything about life, love, family and careers!).

We both moved away from Kansas City for many years and hardly stayed in touch, but fate reunited us a few years ago, and we have both returned HOME:  to Kansas City and our friendship.  I can look at her and imagine what she is thinking and we both erupt in raucous laughter!  We have the comfort of each other’s company and support and a very long history of experience together to sustain us.  Friendship is, indeed, a joyous thing.  As a woman grows older, the comfort of a close girlfriend is one of the greatest treasures she can have.  Nobody knows us better or would go farther to show us who we are when we are lost.  And midlife, I am discovering, is a bit of a “curious wonderland” where one can get very lost, indeed.  I am finishing the intensive Mom phase and looking ahead to the second act (actually, it has begun, I am just in denial).  Pam helps me laugh away the embarrassment of my arthritic hips and knees when I try to get up gracefully from a restaurant chair.  She will be there with me, locked arm in arm, for the second act, and there will be laughter, joy and comfort.  And I am one grateful woman of a certain age!

 

Why I love Brene Brown

Self-proclaimed “shame researcher” Brene Brown first entered my awareness a few years ago when I was listening to her interviewed on National Public Radio.  I was exhilarated to learn there was an actual person researching the phenomenon of shame and extrapolating from those findings practical, hopeful, actionable insights for people desiring to live “in the truth” of who they are.  In other words, she appeared in my life at exactly the right time, a period of intense change and transition during which I began asking myself, “How can I live more fully, less materialistically, and enjoy the fruits of just being ME in this crazy world?”.

Having been raised Catholic during the 70’s, the word shame resonated BIG TIME.  I was shrouded in shame from an early age.  It was the easiest means of eliciting good behavior, I suppose.  But damaging to the core once a person learns how to think for herself.  I don’t blame anybody for accessing this useful behavior modification technique, but I have been determined to dedicate my adult life to banishing every shred of shame from my path and seeking out ways for understanding the way people think and act, instead.

What does this random thought mean on a Wednesday morning in February, friends?  I mention it because I have discovered that Brene Brown, her research and writing, her TedTalks and mere co-existence with me during my time on this Earth, has opened up for me a very optimistic, hopeful and enthusiastic approach to moving forward in life.  We live the first part of our lives following the rules and “setting up shop,” so to speak, so we can “have” things like a good job, a nice family, a safe home and other standards of living well.  But Brene Brown reminds us to be brave, open-hearted and courageous enough to look within ourselves for the ultimate source of “living well.”  Like shame, external forces and identifiers of “success” can pull us off course from the destiny our uniqueness can attain.  Brene Brown helps me come closer to finding that “true self” every time I read something she has written and commit to practicing authenticity, allowing my true self to be seen.

I am inspired this morning by the opening quote from the chapter “Cultivating Authenticity” in Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

Often people attempt to live their lives backwards:  they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier.  The way it actually works is the reverse.  You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.

Margaret Young

Today, I am just grateful to have access to Brene Brown’s wisdom during this time of my life, and I hope you will seek her work out, too.  Joyfully and Authentically yours, Joan

 

 

 

 

In Pursuit Of A Gentle Way

Of all the adjectives one could choose to describe my personality, “Gentle” would most definitely not be among even the first twenty that come to mind.  I have a very tender heart, but years of burying and covering up my vulnerabilities have created a somewhat tough exterior.  This happens to many of us in life.  It usually takes nearly half a century of living before you start to think about yourself as not merely a physical being but a spiritual one.  I am almost one year past the mid-century mark in physical years and this is certainly true for me.  More than anything, I want to prioritize spiritual growth over other pursuits right now.  So my “Word of the Year” for 2017 is GENTLE.

The death of a beloved classmate last summer reminded me of a guiding principle for my High School education, a quote by Francis de Sales, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”  Weeks before Lori’s passing, several of my classmates and I were in daily contact with her via group text messaging.  She reached out to us in her most frightened, vulnerable state for support as she awaited news and guidance about her recent diagnosis of breast cancer.  The outpouring of “gentle strength” from my group of High School friends was, at times, mind-blowing.  We walked hand in hand with Lori through her life’s most harrowing journey until it was time for her to leave her physical body.  It was the most beautiful, intimate, raw experience of my adult life so far.

The courage it took for Lori to open herself up to so many friends from so long ago dismays me.   I will be forever humbled and convinced that gentleness is the ultimate spiritual practice.

Everybody knows compromise is a good thing to practice in business and ultimately in life.  Bending one’s will to move toward another’s best interests leads to successful relationships and a satisfying life.  Nobody likes a stubborn old goat!!!  Learning to practice gentleness begins with ME:   embracing an open, courageous, accepting heart means I also have to be vulnerable when I don’t necessarily want to face it.  Approaching a life of gentleness as a practice rather than a goal allows me to make small choices on a daily basis that ultimately lead to the value of gentleness.  Before letting myself become completely angry, for instance, I try to think less of what I want from any situation or person and more about how wonderful it is the other person crossed my path.  I can think about people and things this way because of gentleness – I am learning to accept what is and forget the rest. This practice leads to alot less brooding about what ought to be and frees up lots of time to just be in the moment.

So, in 2017, I will continue to joyfully pursue the practice of gentleness in my life.  Earlier today, I read a beautiful reflection on gentleness, and I share it here with you as a special gift for you to take on your 2017 journey:

“It’s the hard things that break; soft things don’t break.  It took me so very, very long to see it!  You can waste so many years of your life trying to become something hard in order not to break; but it’s the soft things that can’t break!  The hard things are the ones that shatter into a million pieces.”  C. JoyBell C.

HAPPY NEW YEAR and may you joyfully experience the softness of a bigger, fuller, gentler life of authenticity this year!!!!

“Just As You Freakin’ Are?”

Remember that pivotal scene in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” when she tells her friends that Mark Darcy has told her he likes her “very much – just as you are“?  They react with wide-eyed amazement.  “Just as you freakin’ are?,” one of them repeats with disbelief.   It’s so simple yet rare to have that kind of love, right?

Imagine enjoying that kind of love for self:  developing the ability to look in the mirror each day and say to yourself, “I love you, JUST AS YOU ARE.”  This is the best way I can describe my life after 555 days of soul-searching sobriety.

For some unknown reason, my sobriety has yielded the spiritual gift of truly deep and unfailing JOY.  Because of joy, I have had the courage to explore many new paths in 555 days – paths I would have had to ignore while drinking, to make time for hangovers!

Here is what 555 days and approximately 2,220 cups of coffee, accompanied by lots of reading, thinking, sharing and exploring has opened up in my life:

  • Spirituality  Admitting you are powerless over a substance has a way of removing a huge burden from your shoulders and opening your eyes to the Spiritual Journey we are all on.  When I meet people now that I am sober, because of the Grace and Humility that sustain me, I am more likely to search for whatever good I can find in that person and connect in any way to the story of their life – not just their outward appearance, or even their words;
  • Creativity Before I got sober, I had to think for several months about exactly what it was that I wanted for myself that was more important than numbness.  For years, I have had a yearning to write about many things, but of course, the fear of looking stupid is a powerful inhibitor.  No, I decided to try it:  to give up numbness for the feeling of expressing myself on paper, even if nothing came of it, was a risk I decided to take.  I am SO thankful I did!;
  • Intuition It is so lovely to open up space in your life for peace and quiet.  For a long time, my drinking and subsequent numbness was the crutch I had to use to “get there” – my pseudo- place of satisfaction.  Sobriety can deliver enormous intuitive capacity to the person in long-term recovery.  Through quiet reflection, which is definitely a necessary daily practice to ensure I am not going to drink during each 24-hour period, a feeling of calm and reassurance that I can rely on my very own skills to deal with whatever life challenges me with that day.  I feel 100 percent more competent and trusting in my intuition;  
  • Financial Sobriety/ Simplicity Early in sobriety, it is common to consider all of the things that are “out of control” in one’s life as a result of the chaos regular numbing creates.  Broken relationships, employment and financial disasters are often the “Big 3” demons someone committed to long-term recovery must confront.  What I am experiencing personally is such personal fulfillment inside, my spending habits and attitudes toward money are changing.  I am starting to actually enjoy making changes to build a nest-egg rather than finding reasons to use money to cover my pain today.  Somehow, I have finally internalized the message that I HAVE enough because I AM enough. THIS is a miracle!  To read more about this concept, visit Meadow Devor’s blog @ http://www.meadowdevor.com.

In short, learning to love yourself “just as you are” is one way to express growing up.  Being a grown up was never very appealing to me, at least not every single dimension of it.  The personal responsibility and accountability part of being a grown up have strengthened the most during my 555 journey.  I believe myself when I say I will do something, unlike before, when a voice inside of me was constantly bickering in the background and telling me I would somehow mess things up entirely.

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Messing up is part of life, it is what makes us unique and human.  Many times, messes give us our biggest lessons and greatest joy.  Go forward in your journey, the path does not have to be straight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carpe Diem As Passionately As You Can!

“Do you remember spreading your trick-or-treat candy on the floor with your brothers and sisters and trading with each other for your favorites?,” my husband asked me last evening as we watched a Netflix show portraying this tradition.  “No, my brothers and sisters were away at boarding school. Maybe, if I got lucky, one of them drove me around town to trick-or-treat,” I replied.  “That’s so sad, I can’t believe with so many siblings you never had that,” my husband replied.  He’s usually not this sentimental.  But we are both raw in a happy, sappy, parent-y kind of way.

We just returned from a college visit with our daughter, our precious jewel who is approaching her time to move away for college.  That was the conversation we had just before bed on the day we took Isa to the University of Arkansas.  When I woke up this morning, I was drifting out of a panicky dream of trying to keep all of my loved ones inside a bowl.  The bowl was imbalanced and my loved ones were unhappy being crammed in it against their will.  But I selfishly wanted to keep them there to hoard the good times forever.

When I was much younger, I used to create collages for family and friends to capture funny memories and special photos and create something permanent.  I would glue magazine images to coke bottles, homemade cardboard footstools, cigar boxes and more, so happy to have created something permanent out of moments from the past.

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If you lived through the 1970’s, you most certainly recognize this collage of images to capture the essence of that decade.

 

I think aging can sometimes feel like a struggle to create permanence – maybe out of fear or sentimentality – but mostly from the desire to comfort and reassure ourselves of many things.

After all, when we are young, we are encouraged and supported to “try new things” based on the assumption we will devote a lifetime enjoying and perfecting the things we choose when we are young.  When we are older, however, because of the uncertainty of time and limited energy and resources, the tendency to accept or try new things feels risky and pointless.  After all, shouldn’t we just reach a magical age when work is over and all we have to do is sit and bask in the splendor of relationships we have worked our lives to create?  While this is one of the assumptions that traditional American retirement is based on, I know that, at least for me, it is not going to work.

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This is a literal translation of the musical sign for resting.  I love it because music has been a part of my life, I still remember my first piano lesson in kindergarten.  A rest in music, perfectly timed, can elevate an ordinary sound to a glorious experience.

 

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Ripened peaches make me drool, just like life sometimes!  They are the perfect metaphor for aging well to me – we are supposed to continue to experience life and savor everything with gusto.

Aging well is more about accepting impermanence and knowing when to do the 2 most important things in life:  1.  Resting; 2. Devouring the ripened fruit.

 

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My creative photographer husband, Michael, captured this image one summer Saturday morning as we enjoyed watching our beautiful, round and ripened baby girl, Isabella, enjoy her first bagel.

My sweet little baby girl has ripened into a young woman – it is time for her to transition from living with me to expanding out into the big world.  She no longer fits in a bowl, the world is her bowl and I have prepared her for it.

 Painful as it is, launching a child into the world is a beautiful act of creation.  Our daughter is her own person, influenced by genes, experiences and love from home.  She belongs to herself and her footprint in this world is original, unique, and borne of her own spirit energy.

Takeaways from all of this?

  1.  It isn’t sad that I never swapped Halloween candy with my 6 older siblings – at least I never felt that loss until my husband, who is much closer in age to his 2 younger sisters, pointed it out.  Obviously, that experience from childhood meant something to my husband that continues to bring him joy today.  Any time we can grab a fleeting moment of warmth from our past, it’s a divine experience – like eating a ripened peach – that we must stop and enjoy;
  2. Denying the sadness I feel over my daughter’s emerging adulthood would prevent me from fully experiencing what is happening now, and I don’t want to miss the parade. Literally, she is in a parade in 2 hours

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin

Happiness is Horizontal

These days, I find myself dripping in happiness.  After months of working hard to train my mind to stop being afraid of living, there is now an abundance of joy in my life – more than enough to share without fear of running out.  I think I found happiness because I intentionally set out not to find happiness but purpose.  We ALL want to be happy, sure.  For many, the definition can include many things/pursuits/achievements that bring happiness to one’s life, which, as we all know, can be fleeting.

I tend to oversimplify but that’s the way I get to the core of challenges so here is what I am trying to say:  I found happiness accidentally by searching for purpose on purpose.  And the sweetest discovery is this:  happiness is the sum of the good thoughts, deeds and people you surround yourself with.  It is HORIZONTAL, not vertical, as our culture portrays.  Further, one is more likely to experience joy and happiness in moments of absolute stillness….absent struggle, thinking, working, climbing, scheming, toiling, or anything of the like.  Brilliant!

What has amazed me in this magnificent experience is that my purpose is revealed to me when I am re-energizing my soul, daydreaming, napping, walking, baking, or doing any number of things that are not centrally focused on intensely pursuing happiness.  It found ME, not the other way around!

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Here are 9 general beliefs/practices I have adopted that I believe are positively contributing to my experiencing a life of maximum purpose, satisfaction and happiness:

 

  1.  Ask God for an open heart To me, God/Inner Light/Higher Power is Central to anything growth-related.  Several years ago, my husband and I were struggling in every possible way – trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we thought would lead us to happiness.  I started intuitively praying many times a day, just asking God to give me an open heart so I would be willing and able to accept our fate.  It worked and it stuck.
  2. Stop resisting what “is” The meditation/mindfulness gurus all say that being “present in the now” is the key to living a more satisfying life and they are right.  But it takes lots of practice to train our non-stop thinking selves to just be calm and receive our surroundings without reacting or doing anything.  At the root of all heartache is the desire to change/resist/fight something outside of our control.  I think because, as human beings, (especially in the Western world), we have become so conditioned to “control” our external surroundings using our magnificent scientific abilities.  Don’t do this anymore!   You’ll be so much happier, I promise.
  3. Work to face fears/make things personal  I love love love this the most and have been practicing this the most lately.  Probably 25 years ago, I heard a very wise theologian speak about racism.  His reasoning to counter the mind and heart’s tendency to divide “us” and “them” was simple:  look into the eyes of the “other” and think of their Mother, who loves them so.  Everyone has a Momma!  It helps me to catch myself judging others when I personalize someone or something I might be inclined to disregard.  Make friends with people who are different than you, encourage your children to do the same.  It only brings joy, I assure you.  After working hard to seek situations where you can personalize the “other”, the Universe just starts making it part of who you are.  I started by volunteering at a food pantry.  I was terrified by the “others” at first.  Now they are my friends.
  4. Lolligag, daydream, rest If you have been reading any of the current buzz about personal and professional success these days, everyone is talking about a Sleep Revolution.  It seems we are finally learning that trying to squeeze more productivity out of an already empty person is futile.  We all need to re-charge.  We all need to learn and understand our personal energy limitations and “indulge” in that which renews us.  I am a daydreaming, napping, slow walking fool and much happier for it!
  5. Connect with an animal  My husband amusedly looks at me fussing over our adopted cocker spaniel and tells me, “I don’t know THIS woman!”.  I have gotten more joy from the simple experience of loving an animal in the past few years it is amazing.  Eckhardt Tolle wrote an entire book about the spiritual connection between human and animal in “Guardians of Being.”  The primary benefit of loving an animal, not surprisingly, is that the very act of petting and tending to one’s dog, for instance, causes one to simply be present.
  6. Embrace vulnerability Authors, bloggers and life coaches like Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle and Brene Brown are all talking about accepting our vulnerability and supporting one another’s courage in expressing that vulnerability.  It does lead to joy because it takes such courage to be open and honest.  And it lifts the weight of perfection from our shoulders – multi-tasking and perfection are mere facades of a happy life.  Why not embrace our imperfection, learn to laugh about it and accept it, and be joyous and happy?
  7. Replace “dread” with curiosity I dread most things, especially social occasions.  Let me tell you, what a miserable existence that is.  Learning to control my anxieties with deep breathing, accepting the now and enjoying being present are helping me to dread things less.  I may not necessarily look forward to a “command performance,” but at least I am practicing methods that help me get through social obligations without upsetting everyone around me.
  8. Learn from criticism Boy, could I resent a person who told me the truth in the past!  I am practicing the art of really listening to people. If the messenger offers sincere, loving advice intended to show you how you appear in the world, listen.  The lesson is far more important than your ego.
  9. Befriend your alter ego And speaking of egos, I hereby confess that I have happily enjoyed “alter egos” – my inner hero I want to express outwardly – for decades.  It started in my twenties when I moved away from home for the first time.  I wanted to be “JD” instead of “Joan,” because “JD” was a spunky, brave and light-hearted go-getter ready to take on the world.  In my forties, I was “Piper,” the super fun-loving Momma who could still enjoy a night of dancing.  Now, I am mellowing into “Pippa,” my 50’s alter-ego.  “Pippa” is a mature-ish woman who knows who she is, loves to love and comfort, and looks forward to the future instead of mourning the past.  In my 60’s, I will be “Poppy,” that still-cheeky woman with a secret or two and a sense of humor, but wise and gentle, as well.

So, my friends, I share the greatest discovery of my recent months with you today:  Happiness is Horizontal

You are much more likely to experience it in a state of relaxed acceptance of the present moment!  Enjoy and Namaste.

 

Dear Mom, You’re My Favorite Badass

My Mother was born prematurely during a record blizzard on December 1, 1932, in Memphis, Tennessee (a night, we learned later, on which her Grandmother was babysitting her future husband, one-year-old Dickie Killion!).   She lived in an incubator the first few weeks of her life before her parents, Opal and Ronnie, were allowed to take her home to Hayti, Missouri, a rural farming town in the Southeastern part of the state.  As a young child, she contracted rheumatic fever and the doctor said there was nothing he could do – he advised her parents to buy a coffin for Rhetta.  So they did.  Fortunately, they did not need it.  And even more fortunately, this impish child who cheated death early in life continued to thrive and grow into a beautiful young woman who would marry and bear 7 children, the youngest of whom is me.

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Growing up in the  post-Depression South, there were certain expectations of young ladies that Rhetta continuously defied.
For instance, one of her very best friends, Carliss, was African American.  They enjoyed playing outdoors together for hours.  To Rhetta, the color of her friend’s skin was of no particular consideration at all.

Rhetta was strong-willed and did not want to go to school.  She recently confessed that she was, in fact, expelled from kindergarten for refusing to stop pulling the little girl’s pigtails who sat in the desk in front of her!  Rhetta did not mind the unconventional.  To her Mother’s horror, while performing in a piano recital, Rhetta suddenly forgot the music so she stood and sang the words instead!  When she was instructed to trim the rosebush – a chore she despised – Rhetta simply cut off all the lovely heads to hasten her task.  When cautioned that young ladies did not get muddy, she rode her bike through every single mud puddle she could find.

Spanking never worked because Rhetta refused to cry!  She liked visiting an Uncle who purportedly had taken up the company of a “woman of ill repute” because the woman was so friendly!  She had a daily habit of stopping along the way from school to home at the courthouse to enjoy a cigarette in the ladies’ restroom.  Rhetta was, indeed, incorrigible!

Mom recalls there was an internment camp for German Prisoners of War (for some reason in Hayti, Missouri!) when she was a child.  Fearful of what unknown harm could become of the adorable blue-eyed blonde little girl, Rhetta was absolutely forbidden from ever riding her bike to “that part of town.”  Well she did.  And Mom remembers talking through the fence to the Germans, they speaking German and she speaking in her inimitable Southern drawl – and relishing the smiles on their faces and laughter on the other side of the fence.  “I’m sure they thought my accent was as strange as I found theirs’ – but we were fascinated with one another,” Mom remembers.

Her Dad, Ronnie Greenwell, was a proud member of the Missouri Cotton Producers Association and Lions Club.  He somehow gained access to President Harry Truman and took his precocious daughter along with him to meet the Great Democrat from Missouri.  Mom only recalls President Truman asking her how she liked school – and that she was fairly bored throughout the encounter!

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In spite of all her youthful spiritedness, Mom managed to easily slip into the “ladylike patterns” of the day and married my Dad, whom she adored, at the tender age of 20 in 1953.  They began a life together in Southeast Missouri in a small farming community where Mom bore 7 children and participated fully in the spiritual life of the Catholic parish to which our family belonged.

Mom smiling

But there was always a restlessness about Mom – she loved life and learning and wanted to participate in the world as more than a caregiver.  She convinced Dad to move to St. Louis, where she began a wallpaper business and eventually became a tax preparer for H & R Block.  She brought energy and life into our family with her diverse group of interests and friends.  Mom volunteered for hospice and a program for teenage runaway girls.  She helped the local United Way with its annual “100 Neediest Cases” Christmas program.  She became enthralled by the study of Jungian Psychology which led her to the work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross, whom Mom personally escorted from the airport to a workshop she attended!  And she handmade beautiful quilts that are treasured by many.

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Now in her eighties, Mom is confined to her bed.  She still enjoys a lively imagination and interest in many people and things, especially the St. Louis Cardinals! Here she is meeting one of her great-grandchildren, a beautiful gift she treasures.

She never fails at giving me the perfect advice.  Ever.  When I was in my twenties, Mom often sent me “Affirmations,” her own compositions in her own handwriting, to help me navigate the difficult adult world.  She once wrote to me, “I love you.  Don’t give your personal power or your $ away.”

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For these reasons and so many more, my beautiful Mom is and always will be MY FAVORITE BADASS!  I thank God every day for the blessing of a life with Mary Henrietta Greenwell Killion as my Mother.

 

Bitter With The Sweet

I am ashamed to admit it, but I am outrageously jealous of my friends who are enjoying the companionship of vibrant and involved octogenarian parents.   This is such a selfish and unfair statement, I know.  I had great parents (Mom is still living) and they were there for me when I needed them.  So many people can’t even say the same.

So many of my friends did not have the joy of being given away by their Fathers.  I did.

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So why am I feeling sorry for myself that my parents weren’t the “take the family on a trip to celebrate our 50th Anniversary” type?  For many years, whenever we were together, Mom and Dad took the family to their favorite Italian restaurant in South St. Louis, Missouri, Giuseppe’s.

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My parents cooing with my nephew and one of the family’s closest friends over amazing Italian cuisine in South St. Louis.  GREAT memories.

I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, though, when I hear a friend tell me she spent the afternoon shopping with her Mom and then out to dinner with both parents – and they are in their eighties and enjoying active lives.  Like the famous Carole King song, I know I need to do a better job at taking the bitter with the sweet:

“A friend of mine once told me

and I know he  knows all about feelin’

down

He said, “Everything good in life you’ve

got to pay for

But feeling’ good is what you’re paving the way for”

But you can’t enjoy the sweet without “paying for it” with the bitter, right?  That’s the deal.  Sometimes it stinks!

The morning my Dad passed away and I called my husband to share the expected but dreadful news, a feeling washed over me I had really never felt before and I told him through my tears, “I wasn’t done with him yet.”  That must be why sometimes in my dreams I watch him ride away, alone in a limo with darkly tinted windows – no room for me.  The separation of death is bitter.  Memories are sweet.  I guess I will always taste both.

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In my heart, this is where my parents remain – in their late 60’s, active, involved, enjoying life.  Laughing with me.  Together.

Nobody prepared me (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention) for this constant ache you get from watching your parents age and then losing them.  Maybe it’s because loss from death is the first thing I have ever encountered in my human existence that simply cannot be prepared for.

And the really strange truth about losing a parent is this:  the permanent pain is because of the sweetness of their love.  Like C.S. Lewis writes in “A Grief Observed,” -“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?”

At the end of the day, I don’t begrudge any of my fortunate friends who are still enjoying happy times with both parents.  It’s a gift and, after all, not something to be overly examined.  I had what I had and that’s it.  Boy, was I lucky.