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

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T-365 Days ‘Til Our Household Shrinks

I LOVE BEING A MOM.  I especially love days when JUST being a Mom gets to be my main focus.  Today was one of those days.  It was great!

Though 17 and 15, my daughter and son still need their Momma for support, advice, caring, guidance and help shaping their world views.  (They need Dad, too, for all the same things.  We do it differently, of course!).  It is late May and they are weary from a long school year.  My daughter is a little teary as the pressure of her impending Senior year mounts:  ACT prep; Drill Team camps, practice, leadership; saying goodbye to friends who will be leaving for college; making plans for her departure from the nest; bonding with her friends through each of the “lasts” of 12th grade.  Yesterday, I left a pair of socks with the word “relaxed” in her room for her – an “I love you” just from me for her sweet dancer’s feet.11194554_10205531647904213_7725532153420392392_o

My son, who is very much a free spirit and his own person, drudged through his 9th grade year – it has been a long year for him and he his looking forward to summer and a possible career as a life guard!  A week ago, he referred to each remaining day of the school year as “7 hours of soul-crushing disappointment.”  This morning, as it poured rain in Kansas City, and I had the entire day off to myself, I received this text from my son:  “If you get me I’ll give you a foot rub and 3 quarters.”  So I did!  We went to lunch and had a wonderful time.

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I may not always get things “right” as a Mom.  But I try and I definitely enjoy the experience.  My children know I love them and they will always be FIRST in my world.  I have been fortunate to be able to spend alot of time at home with them.  And, like many other Mothers have said before, I can honestly say that I have found things to LOVE and enjoy about every stage of their young lives.  Somehow, it always works out that the stage we happen to be in together feels like my “favorite” stage until it changes again and the new stage becomes my favorite.

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I made peanut butter cup pancakes for dinner – it sounded good to my son and will be comforting to my daughter when she comes home a little melancholy after attending her boyfriend’s graduation.  I love being a Mom.  I love living in the moment. What a beautiful blessing it is to have the privilege of bring another human being into the world and preparing them for their journey.

 

Affirmations for a Fearful World

I have been mad at Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright since they insulted women voters (and subsequently “walked back” their remarks) this Spring.

But I am also a recovering alcoholic in my first year of recovery, with a blog, so I have to be careful not to be the “grump with a brainstorm” and do or say anything that is just going to make me feel less at ease with an already  strung out world and ragged emotions

Part of the recovery process is learning to deal with our emotions without hurting ourselves or others.  Without contributing to the trashy landfill of uselessly spent hurt that contaminates our world.  So I am learning about breathing and mindfulness and affirmations.  My Mom introduced me to the affirmations part of healthy thinking many years ago.  Fearful of what might become of 4 beautiful young girls setting off on a month-long journey through Europe in 1988, my Mom wrote an affirmation and stuck it in my backpack and asked me to read it to my traveling companions each morning before starting our day.  I was absolutely amazed when one of the friends I went on that trip with told me more than 20 years later, that she still uses the affirmation and it works!  It goes something like this:

God is always with me.  Therefore I am always safe and at the right place at the right time.

I know it said more but that is the essence of the affirmation and demonstrates the simplicity of the act of centering one’s thoughts, focusing momentarily on one’s breathing, tapping into the abundance within, and bringing that goodness forth into one’s day.  It is such a healthy practice.  If you are a recovering alcoholic, finding solace and the strength to navigate a world of conflict without numbing is essential.  I think it is impossible without a personal meditation practice.

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After all, if a person’s entire sense of personal safety/security is centered on a person or thing outside of him/herself, that leaves the person very vulnerable to the unpredictable influences in the world.  Fear is extremely dangerous.  We must constantly find ways to mentally transform fear into love and connect with some sort of constant assuredness to live in this crazy world.  Not sure what I’m getting at?  It is simple.  If we learn to practice controlling our thoughts for even 10 minutes a day, preferably at the beginning of the day, it becomes a protective shield against negative outside influences and we feel better, make better choices, and affect the world more positively.

To my daughter, who is about to begin her Senior year, and all the other people I love, cherish and see struggling in the world, I wish 4 simple internal messages to be written on their heart:

  1.  I have abundance within that never fails to protect and lead me closer each day to fulfilling God’s purpose for my life;
  2. I have unlimited gifts that are meant to be shared lovingly with others;
  3. Time is on my side – there is no expiration date or end to the amount of love and goodness I can experience and share in my lifetime.

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4.  Spirit is Infinitely Intelligent and will support me through any and all hesitant beginnings, sticky middles and rocky endings in my life – all I have to do is Ask and listen.

Life is difficult but joyful.  Finding one’s purpose is the most gratifying experience of the human condition, and learning to access our Infinite Love within is the most simple yet powerful tool to combat fear and overcome paralysis.  Affirmations lead to love.  Love leads to action.  Action leads to wholeness.  Wholeness is our essence.  Our essence is goodness.  Start today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The 7 Friends Everybody Needs

My parents never told me whom I should choose as a friend, but they definitely showed me. My Mom often spoke of her very first best friend in the 1930’s, an African American girl named Carliss.  They played every afternoon together for hours in the alley behind Mom’s house.  An unusual pairing for the time period and rural setting in the South, to be sure.  As for Dad, he had 3 best friends his entire life and a million acquaintances that he treated with kindness and respect always.  As a kid growing up in a small town, I felt proud knowing that my Dad was well liked and known as a decent, fair, funny person.

With those concepts about friendship on my heart, I have lived a very colorful life sustained by many friends from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives.  Here are the 7 ESSENTIAL friends I think everybody would benefit from knowing:

  • A Kindergartener – Because of their innocence and devotion to making their mark, a kindergartener is about as easy and charming a friend you will ever have!  In my own experience, of course, these were my 2 children, with very different personalities though the same deadly sweet kindergarten-ish enthusiasm.  Isa would hop in the car each afternoon from her long day at school and give me the “dot report” – who received the most velcro-backed ladybug markings on their name to represent bad behavior.  She never had more than 1 and was very proud of this fact!  Mario, on the other hand, shared that his teacher only gave them “7 minutes to daydream,” but later added that she had told him he was “very handsome”!  If you have never been friends with a kindergartener, I recommend seeking one out at once!!!
  • A Septuagenarian – Edith Marsh lived in the apartment below me when I was in my mid-20’s and she was 93.  She had lost nearly everybody she loved in her life except her daughter who visited weekly.  We became best friends!  I would come home from work to find her sitting in her dark kitchen with the television on watching her favorite Kansas City Royals.  She would bring me homemade molasses cookies (I never had the heart to tell her I hate molasses!) and on snow days we would sit on her “divan” and chat about her husband, Homer, who had been so loving and devoted to her.  Edith told me I shopped too much and that I needed to “reel in a husband”!!!!  I was devastated when she died and lonely for a long time, in spite of my many friends my age.  Edith knew something about life that nobody else I had ever met understood – you can’t enjoy it by being a whiner!
  • Someone “Differently Wired” – I have had lots of friends that fit in this category but today, the one that sticks in my mind is another neighbor in the quirky little apartment building I lived in as a single woman.  I think her name was “Ann.”  It seemed she was a bit crazy, as all she did was carry a bag and cheerfully pick up trash in our neighborhood.  Of course, I admired her because of her smile and her bright red lipstick!  So I started talking to her.  Turns out, she believed that the service she was providing was all to honor Jesus, the man to whom she had always compared other men and the reason why she never married!  As odd as “Ann” was, I am always attracted to people who are just a little bit off – because you can learn so much from them if you listen to what motivates them!
  • Someone Who Has Lost Everything -I am cheating a bit here because Buddy was really my husband’s friend, only mine by “association.”  But he inspired us both.  First, because he was a hard-working man and someone from outside the “silk stocking” Law Firm world that most of our friends came from.  But second, because Buddy was surviving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter who were killed by a drunk driver.  He lived everyday with unspeakable sadness and carried the weight of this huge loss on his heart.  Yet Buddy made a decision to try to enjoy life and do some things he had never tried before – a “bucket list,” of sorts.  He was a simple man with lots of wisdom and we were so lucky to know him.  He died about 18 months after losing his wife and daughter in a tragic hit-and-run motorcycle accident.  Even though his life ended senselessly, we had never seen anybody so wounded make better use of the time they had here on Earth.  We both learned from Buddy that attitude is everything.
  • Someone Who Loves Music– We all have friends like this! The one that sticks out in my mind is my Dad’s college friend from Hawaii, Martin Luke.
    Don't Go Under The Old Apple Tree!
    Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree!

    He came to visit us a few times as I was growing up and he always brought his ukulele – an instrument that was very strange to me!  My Dad would absolutely light up when Martin would pull out the ukulele and together they would sing the songs of their college years in the 1940’s like “Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree”.  I watched them together enjoying this strange music on an odd instrument – 2 friends from vastly different backgrounds – and I understood that music can bring people together who would otherwise never have anything in common.  Very cool.

  • An Idealist – I had never met one until I was in Graduate School and Myra came to speak at a Gerontology Class.  She brought Dan Callahan’s controversial book about setting limits on scarce health care resources by restricting access for patients over a certain age.  And I argued with her.  And she smiled and thought I was “cheeky.”
    My mentor and dear friend, Myra, the first idealist and feminist I ever knew!
    My mentor and dear friend, Myra, the first idealist and feminist I ever knew!

    From there began a long friendship and working relationship with this remarkable woman with wildly liberal ideas!  My life would have been so dull if I had never met this beautiful woman, the Idealist in my life, Myra.  I am still so grateful.

  • Someone Who Is Extremely Kind to Animals
    Our less-than-photogenic dog, Tango, with my daughter, Isabella, her
    Our less-than-photogenic dog, Tango, with my daughter, Isabella, her “handler.’

    I never really gave much thought to animals, their needs and special gifts and their unique place on this planet, until I became a Mother.  Yes, I had pets that I loved as a child and young adult, but it wasn’t until I witnessed the transformative power of love between human and animal with my own children that I began to think of them as very special.  In the last few years, I have met many people who do amazing things in the animal rescue world and I admire them so much.  And the brave friends who help us “escort our beloved pets to the rainbow bridge” I could never do without.  There is one such friend, in particular, Colleen, who does this for people having a tough time saying goodbye to their dear pets – family members, really.  Colleen has a special gift and if you don’t know someone who would lay down their own life for an animal, I recommend you seek one out – they are beautiful souls!

Six Things That Just Aren’t Working For Me Any Longer

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I consider myself to be fairly intelligent, yet as I approach 50 and begin the journey of introspection that is all things “middle aged,” I am struck by how utterly obtuse I have been in the past by insisting to continue doing things that JUST DON’T WORK!  Specifically, they undermine any possibility of happiness in my life!

ERGO,

those of you that come into frequent contact with me, to avoid any confusion, here is my list of the 6 behaviors I am ABSOLUTELY SURE no longer “work” for me – be prepared, as you may notice (I hope) different behavior!

I hereby GIVE UP the following 6 things:

  • Refusing to recognize situations and people that kill my joy  As Lucinda Williams infamously croons, “You took my joy!  I want it back!,” I hereby declare that the microsecond  I notice a situation or individual taking my joy, I shall take a step back and perform a “challenges vs benefits” analysis.  My time and limited mental stability are too precious to allow anyone or anything to cause chronic grumpiness.  I could list examples but they are both too numerous and embarrassingly consistent so will leave this pledge in its due place at the TIP TOP of my list of “NOT WORKIN’ NO MORE” things I will avoid.
  • Waiting in line for a Goddam Diet Coke!  This one may cause my husband to pass out with utter elation!  I estimate that I have wasted 93.27 days in the past 28 years waiting in line at McDonald’s or some other fast food establishment for my Bloody Precious Diet Coke!0523151653 Believe me, Dear Reader, it shocks me even more than it may you, to recognize that I am, at long last, DONE wasting 2 hours a week of my soon-to-be 50 years on this beautiful planet — waiting for a liquid refreshment that is probably hastening my death.
    • Protecting the Guilty       Big Sigh Here……..  I am guessing that every Mother, Sister, Daughter, Wife, Friend – has regrets about situations in which, to avoid a socially awkward moment, she has neglected to speak up and call out another’s misguided, rude or intentionally hateful remark.  It is just what “polite” people are taught to do – remain civil and poised in social situations and allow the ASS to hang him/herself, if need be.  I. AM. DONE.  Henceforth, I vow to find the right words, tone and execution, to defend and support every single person I believe could be maligned in a social conversation – even if it makes everyone feel “Super Awk”!!!!
    • Apologizing For My Ofttimes Ghastly Taste in “The Finer Things.”   The next time I find myself in the company of “The Taste Police,”  I will remember the words to one of my favorite country songs, “This Here’s The Queen of My Double Wide Trailer,” and speak proudly about whatever white trash food, art, music, entertainment or past-time that gives me pleasure.  Like my friends and family, I will defend my horrific taste with great ardour!
    • Leaving My Greatest Buddy, My Cocker Spaniel Rescue Puppy, Pudgey Killion Tamburini, behind.  I swear I would have qualified for a “therapy dog” 25 years ago had there been such a notion in the popular culture.  All I know is, from now on, my friends and family can expect that an invitation to me means A PACKAGE DEAL and that the love of my life, my therapy dog, Pudgey will “go whether thou  goest.”  I’ll be needing a dog bowl below my seat at your dinner table, please.
    • Finally, And Most Especially Poignant As I Approach “The Back 40” Of My Precious Time On This Planet – I REFUSE To Ever Again Be Rushed, Robbed, Gypped – Out Of Any Moment Or Experience I Want To Enjoy Because Some Grumpy Person I Am With May Be Unamused Or In A Hurry  Late for a meeting?  Carpool? Doctor’s Appointment?  Or Simply Bored?  Too bad.  From now on, if I happen to be enjoying feeling the sun on my face, wind up my skirt, scrolling movie credits, lingering after a delicious meal at a restaurant’s closing time – or WHATEVER – I am going to ignore your bullying attempts to make me hurry!!!  Because I don’t want to miss one single moment of soaking the entirety of this beautiful experience called Life  just because you are being an impatient jerk!