Challenges in the New Year: All Efforts Count

Challenges in the New Year: All Efforts Count

Walking is so good for you–try to get outside and walk even in winter.

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to
be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” ― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

I love this quote of scientist Hope Jahren. She is so correct. Each day is precious.  Each day is an extension of our BEING, so know that all efforts count. If each of us is inevitable, we should renew and reexamine our destinations and how we are affecting others as we go on our journey. That journey is certainly ours alone, but we bring children and family along with us, so we must be gentle and aware of how our lives are affecting theirs.

In this new year, are you eager to discover new things, work new ideas, make decisions that benefit you and those you love?

Working in the hospital teaches you that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help.”
― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

LOVE THIS. In many ways, when we are out in the world talking to people, being kind to people we are spreading help. Wouldn’t it be great if we left some kindness, however brief, with each person we encountered during the day. The world would feel more open and generous.

Yet here is another thought. “Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”
― Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Hope Jahren has a great handle on things. Discovery changes us. So what can we discover each day, you might ask.

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Discover your feet. Walk daily for 30 minutes, with a friend to forge a relationship or by yourself to meditate, work out a problem, listen to music. NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE. This is mental conditioning and also aerobic conditioning. Walking gets your heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to your brain. If you are with a friend, a conversation will further strengthen neural circuits. But avoid the phone call routine–it once again ties you to a device. Break-away when you can.
  2. Discover plants. In what way? First, eat more of them! Consume all kinds of lettuces. Learn how to make potatoes, onions and green vegetables the center of your main meal. Bring carrots, cucumber slices and radishes to enhance your lunch. Remember that colorful fruits and vegetables provide lycopene, folate, Vitamin A, phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin which protect your vision, cancer fighters flavonoids, ellagic acid and anthocyanins. For more details go here.  
  3. Second, start a garden. It could be in a window box, pots along the window ledge or any size garden in any part of your yard. Choosing what to plant, working the soil, watching the growth of your garden and harvesting produce–all contribute to your health i.e. good food, sunshine and fresh air.
  4. Discover sleep. Eating, relaxing and then going to bed at a regular time each night or most nights contributes to better health. Irregular schedules are a major source of stress on your body. If you work nights, try to maintain as normal a schedule as possible when you do come home–and include in that schedule 6-8 hours of sleep.
  5. Discover something new. Your brain and your human need for interaction with others love new activities. They can stimulate you physically, mentally and socially. They provide a challenge that increases feelings of well being. Whether you take up something in the arts, sports or sign up for a class where you read books and listen to lectures or work on a computer–you are challenging yourself. Go for it.
  6. Discover that being with people at least part of the day is better than being alone. We are social beings and require the stimulus of personal interaction to “get our juices” flowing. Volunteer. Attend lectures. Go to museums and libraries were talks are presented and you can interact with people who have interests similar to yours.
  7. Discover the ONE STEP AT A TIME RULE. You can’t start a garden, sign up for a six week class and totally change your diet on a dime. Go slowly. Make careful choices and enjoy educating yourself as you go: like reading gardening catalogues, or checking out what adult ed classes will be available to you next semester or going to the library to study cook books until you find one that you want to own and use–so if you slop tomato sauce on it–no big deal. And of course the internet can always provide you with many of the answers you would find in books. CLUE: getting out to the library requires movement, walking maybe, meeting other people–ie you are discovering that personal interaction that staying at home often cannot provide.
  8. Discover that after a while you won’t need the following: cigarettes; feeling lonely; ignoring bodily symptoms; taking daily painkillers; not exercising; being angry and worried and stressed more often than being happy.

Wishing you healthy change in 2017. And this from poet, Mary Oliver, from her collection of essays UPSTREAM:

In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was and what I wanted to be.   I submit this is true at any age. Go out there and discover more about the world and about yourself. Happy New Year.

Thanks to: AARP.ORG Bulletin

Humming a Tune, Summing Up a Year, Piling up Some Books

Humming a Tune, Summing Up a Year, Piling up Some Books

Music can often get a person through some down times. There’s a famous Rogers and Hammerstein song from THE KING AND I, a musical comedy, called, Whistle a Happy Tune. Check it out here. The lyrics relate that whenever you feel afraid, whistling (or in my life singing) can block out your fear or sorrow or disgust and help you believe that things are okay or soon will be.

Music’s Easy Access

With our many devices and the ability to access music anywhere, we could walk around with headphones on and indulge in music, blocking everything else out. I think that’s called escaping. Which is okay, as long as it doesn’t prevent us from doing necessary tasks like childcare and work. But as this year of 2016 ends and we stand on the brink of a new one, having music to cheer us and guide us would be a good thing. Any suggestions for what we should be listening to? Here are a few: Beyonce, LEMONADE; Leonard Cohen, YOU WANT IT DARKER; Diana Krall, WALLFLOWER; HAMILTON, the original Broadway cast and SIMON RATTLE IN NEW YORK, which includes works by Wagner and Mahler.(I confess these are mostly serious choices. You have some lighter ones? Please share.)

Print? Even Better

But the activity that provides me with escape and yet also fuels my brain is one I do on a nightly basis–reading. What have you read this year? Or what are you planning to read besides editorials or columns about the 2016 election and that THE WORLD IS ENDING. Last I noticed, we are still here and while my heart has stopped a few times as cabinet members are chosen and tweets fill the air, I still believe in my country. And I believe more than ever in the power of the written word.

If You Tweet, Read to Back Up What You Say

And to define written word, I’m not talking about 140 characters, which in the wrong hands might help take down years and years of detente and hard work. No, I’m talking about our personal relationship with words, language and story. And I’m also talking about EMPATHY. We are going to need a lot of it in 2017.

“The greatest gift you can give anyone is to take the time to talk with someone about a book you’ve shared.” Will Schwalbe 

So I was delighted when I came across an article that appeared in the WALL STREET JOURNAL and was written by editor and writer, Will Schwalbe, the author of THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB. The idea for this successful book came about when his mother was undergoing chemotherapy. They were both constantly reading, so they decided to read the same books which would provide a basis for conversation while they spent time in the hospital waiting room. The article relates: “The ones they choose range from classic to popular, from fantastic to spiritual, and we hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.” What better way to become even closer to someone you love as their life is drawing to a close.

But from this adventure in reading, the author learned a truth. He writes: “I used to say that the greatest gift you could ever give anyone is a book. But I don’t say that anymore because I no longer think it’s true. I now say that a book is the second greatest gift. I’ve come to believe that the greatest gift you can give anyone is to take the time to talk with someone about a book you’ve shared.” Just as you often want to introduce someone you love to someone else that you love, the same applies to a book.

Did you love STEWART LITTLE as a child? Or DAVID COPPERFIELD or SONG OF SOLOMON as you grew in your book choices? Schwalbe did and shares his reactions. So I encourage you to read the complete article here.

And please share the titles that you either enjoyed in 2016 or are eager to read in 2017. I’ll do the same with Schwalbe’s words humming in my head:

Books remain one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny–but only as long as people are free to read all different kinds of books, and only as long as they actually do so. The right to read whatever you want is one of the fundamental rights that helps preserve all the other rights. It’s a right we need to guard with unwavering diligence. But it’s also a right we can guard with pleasure. Reading isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control, and domination: It’s one of the world’s great joys.

May I also suggest my collection of stories about motherhood: A MOTHER’s TIME CAPSULE. You’ll find more info here.

Thanks to: WSJ & Will Schwalbe for his road to sanity. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-need-to-read-1480083086

Photo Credit: ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN STAUFFER which appeared in WSJ

 

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

Of course I would believe my younger daughter Christie and my husband if they were all about my choosing the proper outfit to wear to a fundraiser last Saturday night. John and I were to arrive at my daughter’s home at 5:00pm to enjoy some time with our grandchildren and then leave around six for this event. The Los Angeles area was experiencing strong winter-like winds and because it’s the holiday season, the notorious 405 freeway was even more notorious. We finally ditched that plan and took side roads to our daughter’s house. Bottom line: WE WERE LATE. But I had no clue. The fundraiser would have to wait.

At the front door, my Harry Potter loving granddaughter had, unbeknownst to me, covered a party dress with her Hogwarts cape, eager to show me one magic trick before we left. I was told to close my eyes as she led me into the family room. When I opened them? The magic was a tent attached to the house and strung with sparkling Italian lights that shed glow on the faces before me. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN GIFTED WITH A SURPRISE PARTY? This is my blessed third. It’s a stunning experience.

I was blown away with the winds of surprise. Why was my older daughter Carrie and her husband here? We had just texted earlier that day. She was in Boston. And my son Andrew was in Chicago with his girlfriend Amy. They weren’t arriving for Christmas until the following Thursday evening.

NOT! Here they all were and my brother and his wife and my grandchildren and son-in-law and my niece and her boyfriend. Here they all were smiling and shouting Happy Birthday, though that date is a few months away. But all agreed with my younger daughter–people would be gathering for Christmas, let’s celebrate MOM now.

And so they did, with an elegant meal and flowers on the table and glasses of champagne and fancy hats. Because this was my Jubilee and was celebrated as if we were all attending an English garden party to celebrate my “quiet” aging.

But mothers who are dearly loved don’t get away with perfection. The banner expertly and lovingly prepared by my older daughter became a list of mom-isms. I could tell that everyone contributed:

GRAMMAR POLICE           BRITISH HISTORY FAN        BOO-BOO FIXER

JAMES TAYLOR FAN          DAD’S BEST AUDIENCE      GREEN THUMB

CHICKEN SQURES CONNIOSSEUR     KEEPER OF MEMORIES

WHITE TORNADO (I love to clean)          BEAUTIFUL SINGER (some exaggeration)

LOVING WIFE     BEST NOTES IN LUNCH BOX           BEST SMILE

AMAZING WRITER            BETHIE           WONDERFUL MOM

They also presented me with a book of memories that include precious letters from everyone there AND notes from friends from everywhere. My younger daughter Christie contacted people and they wrote back or emailed. She typed up those who emailed! Lots of work and yet so precious. She also added photos that people sent. Something to cherish, her labor of love beyond words.

Though the winds have died down in southern California, winter is here and so are the holidays of the season. I wish all of you celebrations and precious memories as you gather with those you love, Beth.

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

Feeling like a queen.

The Gift of Winter Winds: Surprise and Memories

My grandmother’s china on the table, a wonderful reminder of connection

 

 

Child Healthcare Should be a Right, Not a Fairytale

Child Healthcare Should be a Right, Not a Fairytale

Really sick kids are not just in commercials on TV. They exist. They suffer. Sometimes they die and sometimes because of poor or nonexistent healthcare, their health is forever compromised. Children should always be one of the first things a government remembers to protect and take care of. Children deserve good healthcare. They are our future. And parents, grandparents reading this post–you might know more about these issues than I do, but bottom line: a sick child changes your day or your week. A chronically sick child changes your life.

The Beginning of the Story–The Symptom

During the time when Andrew had developed the symptom, the first thing I thought about when I awoke each day was the results of the blood test. If a neighbor called, I could barely concentrate on the conversation. I wanted the answer. I kept creating the conversation in my head. The blood test would be normal. His symptom would be normal. Our lives would be normal again.

“How long has he had this pain in his feet?” the doctor casually asked. Thank God we had a general practitioner who saw Andrew for high temperatures, immunizations, a checkup after a broken arm–you name it. Now this.

“I don’t know. He’s growing. I can’t keep him in shoes. He’s going to be tall.”

“How long,” the doctor asked again. I looked at my notes. This doctor was a step up. a podiatrist, a specialist. “A month, longer.”

She nodded. She was continually prodding, pressing, massaging Andrew’s feet, appraising his reactions. She picked up the X-rays she had ordered and looked them over again. “In order to be sure, I’m going to have to do blood work. Or we really could just wait and see.”

“What are we waiting for?” I asked. She had let go of Andrew’s feet. He was pulling on his socks. What twelve-year-old boy likes all this fuss and about feet, no less.

“To see if he has rheumatoid arthritis. It can develop at this age and the pain he is describing is symptomatic.”

“Or his feet are growing,” I said with emphasis. I was fighting back with my own logic. I didn’t want her forcing me down this path of chronic illness, but the purpose of my story is to relate how fortunate I was as a parent to avoid delay, to see a doctor. I had access to healthcare. I could take care of my child no matter what the answer would be.

Remembering Sleeping Beauty

In the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty–a christening party is planned after a princess is born. When the King realizes that he has only twelve golden plates to serve 13 fairies, he invites only 12. But during the party, the 13th fairy arrives. Angered by the slight, her gift is a curse: the princess will later prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. But the youngest fairy, who has hidden behind a curtain so that she can give her gift last, is able to alter the old fairy’s wish. She promises that the princess will only fall asleep and that after 100 years a king’s son will find her and awaken her. This was early healthcare–the best she could do.

And Now the Conclusion to the “Andrew’s Feet” Story 

After a long five days, the podiatrist finally called me. The blood work was normal. No signs of rheumatoid arthritis. My son was growing rapidly and I needed to make sure that he always had proper footwear to support his bones and tissues. I thanked the doctor more than once. A few years later when I needed a podiatrist, she became my doctor.

Healthcare Should be a Gift from Birth

So what’s the connection to the fairy tale? Every child born in our country is a gift. And regardless of their pedigree and financial abilities–they should be given the gift of good healthcare–from the start. Each child born in the U.S. should not need a fairy hiding behind a curtain–they should be able to grow and develop into a healthy adult. We are not a third world country. Everyone of us deserves the proper immunizations and periodic checkups. Every child should be assured the gift of health at his or her birth.

Changing the Ending

In our creative world today, television shows and some books allow the reader or viewer to change the ending. So let’s do that now. Let’s assume that I could not afford a general practitioner to see Andrew. Or let’s assume that he saw a medical person who was not particularly skilled at figuring out what might go wrong with a 13-year-old’s feet! And then let’s assume that Andrew did have rheumatoid arthritis. Check out basic info from the Mayo Clinic: the most common signs and symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis:

Pain. While your child might not complain of joint pain, you may notice that he or she limps — especially first thing in the morning or after a nap.
Swelling. Joint swelling is common but is often first noticed in larger joints like the knee.
Stiffness. You might notice that your child appears clumsier than usual, particularly in the morning or after naps.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can affect one joint or many. In some cases, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects the entire body — causing swollen lymph nodes, rashes and fever. Like other forms of arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by times when symptoms flare up and times when symptoms disappear.

If Andrew had developed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, his life would have radically changed, but he also would have had healthcare. My message today: not everyone in the U.S. is as fortunate as Andrew. So…help those who need the following information.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HEALTHCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN NOW Click on this link to learn more. There’s a video on the site to explain the relationship between the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) and CHIP, Children’s Health Insurance Program. On the site you will read: Don’t Wait to Enroll in the Children’s Health Insurance Program
Under ObamaCare kids, there is no reason to wait to make sure kids are covered. Millions of children qualify for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) 365 days a year. The CHIP program provides free or low cost coverage to kids and other family members, even kids whose parents make too much money for Medicaid coverage can qualify for CHIP. Over the past 15 years, CHIP has done an excellent job in reducing the number of children without health insurance and under the Affordable Care Act even more kids are covered.

Even states that didn’t expand Medicaid still tend to provide good CHIP coverage. In many non-expansion states, parents who wouldn’t normally qualify for Medicaid can qualify if children qualify for CHIP. Medicaid and CHIP cover:

  • Children and teens up to age 19
  • Young people up to 21 may be covered under Medicaid
  • Youth who have “aged out” of foster care can be covered under Medicaid until they reach age 26

More information here. Health Insurance for Children and Young Adults Under 26. healthcare.gov

Every mother or father who has ever drawn breath worries about one thing and one thing alone–the inability to help their sick child. I no longer believe in fairies, but I do believe in government taking care of its citizens. Stay informed. Reach out and give those who need the information provided here. Seeing the photo of a cute kid on television can lead one to believe that everything is all right with the world of children. It is not. But this would not be the United States of America if we fail ONE CHILD–let alone the over eight million that are currently taken care of by (Children’s Health Insurance Program) CHIP.

PHOTOS: US NEWS HEALTH, PINTEREST

Child Healthcare Should be a Right, Not a Fairytale

 

Why We Need Symbols

Why We Need Symbols

In 2005, I was given the opportunity to help write a book that I thought would be way beyond my interests. I was wrong. I said “yes” and with my friend, James Wagenvoord, we wrote and edited MIAMI INK: Marked for Greatness. The book echoed the television show that explored not only the lives of the artists, but more importantly those of the customers who came into their shop in South Beach Miami. Each person wanted a tattoo for a particular reason: remembering. When they looked at the tattoo and proudly wore it, they were remembering a loved one, a choice, an event. The tattoo was a symbol. Sonya, the mother of a child who had died, asked Kat Von De to create a tattoo of her daughter holding a pet alligator. One man wanted his wife’s face and name on his back, because “she has my back.”

KNIVES AND INK: I WANT TO REMEMBER WHERE I CAME FROM

Isaac Fitzgerald, who got his first tattoo when an encouraging teacher offered it as a reward, has published “Knives and Ink”–knives, because the people in his book are chefs. I’ve noticed that many chefs boast tattoos, and his book focuses on the narrative or story behind each of those tattoos. For Chef Soliel Ho, who has a paddy crab on her chest, the crab is the food that sustained rice farmers in Viet Nam where she was born and raised. She states: “It’s important to me to remember where I came from and the humble food that still sustains and satisfies people everywhere.”

SYMBOLS ALL AROUND US

Of course a basic symbol many of us wear is a ring–engagement, wedding, promised–or one we purchased ourselves to remember a place we visited or because it reminds us of someone we love. The symbol can be very tangential, “My mother had a stone like this. It’s gone, but now this ring with the same stone will remind me of her.”

Symbols have been with humans forever. They communicate important aspects of our lives: the country we live in and the religion we follow. We communicate that through clothing, flags, medals, headwear. Adornments on our bodies offer symbols of our place in society, our wealth or education, position or life work. Various peoples throughout the centuries have chosen to wear their hair or adorn their skin to communicate place or station, power or caste and definitely heritage.

SUN AND YOUR SKIN 

Skin color and all its shades have made we humans colorful and various–melanin is the reason. Melanin is a dark brown to black pigment that occurs in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is responsible for causing skin to tan or darken when exposed to sunlight. The closer people on earth live to the equator, the darker their skin. Melanin protects skin from burning and wrinkling and often from skin cancers.

In past centuries, women living in more northern areas chose to stay out of the sun. Tanned skin indicated a lower station, a person who worked in the fields or walked long roadways to get to their place of employment. Many decades later tanned skin came into vogue and was viewed as a sign of health. Self-tanning products and tanning beds were all the rage. We now know that tanning beds and unprotected skin can lead to burns and skin cancer. Thus for most skin types it’s better to purchase sunblock and a sun hat. Let’s face it, we humans are changeable, but in the last analysis we would be much better off if we saw skin color as symbolic only of the fascinating and numerous peoples who live on our earth.

SYMBOLIC CONSCIOUSNESS

Symbols are quick and easy. From drawings on cave walls to emojis, we humans are eager to communicate how we feel, where we live, how we live, where we are headed. In a recent article, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee defines symbolic consciousness: a way of working with symbols that allows their meaning and energy into our consciousness. It is like a key that is needed to unlock the real potential, the energy of a symbol. He sees the Internet as a symbol with very positive potential.For example, if we are attentive to the symbolic dimension of the Internet, we will find that it conveys a promise of a new model of global consciousness, an interconnectedness whose organic nature reflects the organic nature of life.

That’s a positive view, one that might arise if we could all find interconnectedness in our goals, if we could all set aside fears and make plans to walk together into the future. The economic needs of people never seem to even out. Some have much more money than others and often those that do simply crave more. So when various people in the United States look at the American Flag or the Statue of Liberty, what they see and what they feel and what that symbol communicates can be vastly different.

IS THERE COMFORT IN NEGATIVE SYMBOLS?

When people are afraid, they often hide behind the shield of a symbol. During the stress and nastiness of this past presidential election, the focus was often on making one candidate or the other a SYMBOL of something, something evil or bade. NASTY WOMAN. BASKET OF DEPLORABLES.

Both candidates were guilty. But one candidate did a deserve to himself as a man and to all women: he ran against a woman trying to uphold male dominance, to make women a symbol of inferior brains, lack of proper behavior, lack of strength and character, and who are not capable of making their own healthcare choices. He also applied that to handicapped people, people of color and people not like him.

I’ll end with the words of Rebecca Solnit, taken from her article in the Guardian: Don’t Call Clinton a Weak Candidate, It Took Decades of Scheming to Beat Her:

I know that if Clinton had been elected there would not be terrified and weeping people of color all over the country, small children too afraid to go to school, a shocking spike in hate crimes, high-school students with smashed dreams marching in cities across the country. I deplore some of Hillary Clinton’s past actions and alignments and disagreed with plenty of her 2016 positions. I hoped to be fighting her for the next four years. But I recognize the profound differences between her and Trump on race, gender, immigration and climate, and her extraordinary strength, tenacity and courage in facing and nearly overcoming an astonishing array of obstacles to win the popular vote. Which reminds us that Trump has no mandate and sets before us some of the forces arrayed against us. Rebecca Soling          

Women are and will always be Symbols of Strength. 

Thanks to THE WRITES OF WOMEN for compiling amazing essays.

Photo: 3D Tattoo Design

She Said: THAT’S NOT HIM–But Is It Us?

She Said: THAT'S NOT HIM--But Is It Us?

There’s a new show that I have been eagerly watching. It was hailed as a series to replace or at least echo PARENTHOOD and so far yes–it definitely pulls us into a family. There’s a couple, pregnant with triplets, but when the 3rd to be delivered dies, they adopt a child abandoned that night and brought into the hospital’s nursery. (That baby’s mother had died; the father felt unable to raise the child.) The child is black, later named Randall. The young parents go home with a son and daughter and this adopted son. Later Randall’s father resurfaces. Oh, but there’s so much more to this complicated tale.

The show is called THIS IS US. Nice title. The highlighted US, in the logo above, might be saying something about the US–United States.

But let me tell you another story, briefly. Three months ago, I was at a party. And a woman sitting across from me brought up the man that was running for president. She was praising this guy and I had to say, “But what about his rallies. He mocks people with disabilities. He mocks minorities. He has people thrown out and then folks in the crowd beat up on other folks.”

She smiled at me across the table as if I were her child. “Oh that’s not him,” she said. It echoed in my head for days:  THAT’S NOT HIM. THAT’S NOT HIM.

So we have: THIS IS US–a family blazing a new trail of love and inclusion. They are all actors telling a story, a story I want to believe in.

And we have: THAT’S NOT HIM, a kinda-actor, who now takes on the role of president of the United States. Was everything I saw during his rallies an act?  Cause I feel as if I’m awakening from a bad dream and would like to turn the channel and keep watching THIS IS US instead. I want to believe in THAT creation. The other, those rallies–to me they are the stuff of nightmares. And I’ve read plenty of books and watched enough pre WWII films to know that presenting yourself as ONE person and then reversing and trying to be someone else is scary stuff. YES, the female candidate yelled and berated him occasionally–she was defending herself, drawn into this entire pre-election period that became its own SWAMP. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS. I want to believe that all the negatives of the election was NOT US.

So I’m confused and saddened. That’s all I will say. Others have weighed in with their feelings. And I am open to that. One friend quoted RUMI, the 13th century Persian poet:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.

The world is too full–words cannot describe what we have on this planet–the grass, the love between two people, the splendor of birth that occurs between humans and all creatures–birds in the air, seed pods falling from the trees, whales leaping through oceans.

If I had to prize and hold dear something RIGHT NOW that I could say THIS IS US –it would be my family, who shares my love of peace and diversity, who believes in kindness and the power of talk before shouting and belittling. I would also prize my eyes and my brain, because I can read and read some more. I can fill my mind and my soul with the beauty of ideas that is inclusive and free from hate. (there is so much hate and anger on the internet–and yet goodness too).

Here is the poet, Mary Oliver from an essay in her new book UPSTREAM:

I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty, I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life…You must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.   

Here is a father, Aaron Sorkin, writing to his daughter. I think he is saying THIS IS US.

We get involved. We do what we can to fight injustice anywhere we see it—whether it’s writing a check or rolling up our sleeves. …we fight for the families that aren’t (insulated from this fear). We fight for a woman to keep her right to choose. We fight for the First Amendment and we fight mostly for equality—not for a guarantee of equal outcomes but for equal opportunities. We stand up.

The battle isn’t over, it’s just begun. (YOUR) Grandpa fought in World War II and when he came home this country handed him an opportunity to make a great life for his family. I will not hand his granddaughter a country shaped by hateful and stupid men. Your tears last night woke me up, and I’ll never go to sleep on you again.

When each and everyone of us gathers at Thanksgiving, we can pledge that we want all Americans to continue to form the fabric that this immigrant nation wove. THIS IS US, ALL OF US. We don’t want families torn apart or their future being that knock at the door. We can volunteer–one hour a week, one day a week or run an errand for the family we know with two working parents and a hectic schedule or a disabled grandparent.

AND READ. I’ll have more about that to come.

But today I am sharing Andrea Dunlap’s  reading list. SEE BELOW.

She is a writer and these works follow the old saying: Live in someone else’s shoes. LEARN EMPATHY. Maybe that’s what was missing when the woman across the table at the party said to me: THAT’S NOT HIM. Sorry. You cannot be a human being and watch what went down at those rallies and applaud. It was or is at least a part of him with a big lack of empathy and understanding for another’s soul, another’s life. Of course, you can believe anything you want to believe.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole
White Girls by Hilton Als
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Thanks to Andrea Dunlap; Thanks to the Huffington Post. Read more here.

 

That giant sucking sound…

That giant sucking sound...

In the middle of election night, after I had stayed by the television to taste the bitterness of the end, I awoke with these words in my head, “that giant sucking sound.” And I couldn’t identify them for a long time. But lying there I finally did–it’s a line parents in Iowa, where I once lived, would say during spring break, the line referring to most folks leaving the state to go somewhere else. “Oh we all heard that giant sucking sound,” someone would say referring to the lines at the airport. But it really comes from, you guessed it, a political event. “The “giant sucking sound” was United States presidential candidate Ross Perot’s phrase for what he believed would be the negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he opposed.” Bill Clinton won that election. Funny how the mind works!!

Well maybe my mind was going that far back, and then connecting to the election in the dead of night–only this time Hillary Clinton lost. This time folks had voted for a man who just might take us on a ride we could not have imagined–one of fear and hate, one of exclusion and denial of the rule of law. We will see. I am told to take heart from a man whom I have honored for eight years and always will. He is my President, he is POTUS to me and always will be. But he is saying take heart, because he must, even though his heart is deeply hurt and he has to work with a man who worked to delegitimize his presidency.

And then Wednesday, it was all about Hillary Clinton and how I had been here before with her, when ironically, she lost the primaries to President Obama in June of 2008, and gave her first “glass ceiling speech.” She had to give another one. WHAT A WOMAN. I am fiercely proud of her and everything she stands for. I would vote for her again should she choose to run for something. But she’s done. Yet, Hillary will always help this country in some way. And if the President-Elect had any guts, he would appointment her to a position, or at least ask her. But he won’t. He’s done too.

Today, I watched the brief look into the meeting that Mr. Trump had with the President. He was calm, though he looked nervous. I guess you could say he was on his best behavior. After everything I have seen of this man and how he conducted his rallies and what he said about his opponent and MY PRESIDENT, it will take me a very long time, if ever, for me to say positive things about him. As a writer, I know–words count and they don’t blow away because you are now smiling a lot.

But there is someone else who needs to examine their American soul in this post-election world. THOSE WHO DID NOT VOTE. How hard is it to take a half-day, if necessary, and vote–once every FOUR YEARS–for the person who can have a profound affect on your life? HOW HARD IS IT to try to get an absentee ballot? If fear kept you away from the polls because of the things Trump said, I get that–he threatened the people of Philadelphia–“those areas” and we knew what he meant. But if it was just laziness or an inability to decide whom to vote for–you have no idea the privilege you have given up. To live in a country where what we saw today–POTUS meeting with the one who won the election, and beginning the HAND-OVER process–that’s our freedom, our democracy, the American way. No coup, no guns, no deaths.

Maybe the lesson from this election will hold over for the next—-VOTE and don’t believe the polling. Don’t let some numbers convince you that your vote won’t count. YOUR VOTE ALWAYS COUNTS. Otherwise you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and hear “that giant sucking sound” your candidate losing, your ability to exercise one of the most valuable gifts on the planet going away, utilized by someone else who did bother to vote.

Photo Credit TIME

Reading Stories Can Change Your Psyche

Reading Stories Can Change Your Psyche

On November 11, 2013, I published a post about research that revealed that reading literary fiction can make a person more empatheticThe study was based on having readers look at photo’s of subject’s eyes (the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test or RMET) and then identifying what that person was feeling.

Does reading fiction make you more empathetic?

Now that conclusion is being questioned. Sarah Begley writes in the current issue of TIME, that this past September researchers tried to replicate that study only to find that there is no significant connection between reading a short fictional passage and having one’s empathy increased. They did find that study participants who scored high on the RMET recognized the names of real authors on a list versus fake authors. Conclusion: being a devoted reader of fiction might make you more empathetic as opposed to reading a short paragraph for some study.

A Study Author Weighs In–Conclusions

Maria Panero who worked on these studies concludes: “It’s hard to know whether reading literary fiction increase theory of mind (empathy) of if people who naturally have higher theory of mind (empathy) are just more drawn to literary fiction.” Or to say it another way, it’s possible that high empathy and a high interest in literary fiction feed off each other.

Some Fun Facts about Our Involvement with Characters 

  1. One study found that READERS, those who read at least 18 books per year, like to line their bookshelves with their “reads” and communicate that they are readers to others. Reading is part of their identity and self-expression.
  2. Reading can also create a social bond between people. We see that online–large numbers of readers follow certain book reviewers and share their enthusiasm for a particular novel. It’s not unlike tweeting about a favorite television series or becoming so involved with a character in a novel or a film that we feel real grief while reading about them or seeing how their story unfolds.

But let’s take it farther than that.

Can Reading About a Character Affect Future Behavior?   

In her article, Begley reports on a 2012 Ohio State University study. The study “had registered undergraduates read different versions of a story in which the protagonist overcomes challenges in order to vote–like car troubles, bad weather and long lines. Those who read a version that led them to identify strongly with the character were more likely to vote in the real election a few days later–65% of them said they voted, compared with 29% who read a less relatable version of the story.” Conclusion: in a small way, reading affected their behavior.

Identifying with Characters or Bibliotherapy 

Ella Berthoud, an artist and Susan Elderkin, a novelist, though not registered therapists, have created a service for clients who are having emotional or life situation problems. They have the client complete a questionnaire about what is happening in their personal lives, but also what they like to read. The bibliotherapist creates a prescription at the end of the session and follows up by sending a list of 6-8 books and why they feel that reading these works will help the client solve problems and feel better about their lives.

Most of the books are fiction. Berthoud states: “Inhabiting a novel can be transformative in a way that using a self-help book isn’t.”

Eldurkin says: “There are certain books that have been really life-changing books for me, and it’s generally a matter of luck whether you hit on the right book at the right time of your life, which can open a door and help you to see something in a new way, or just give you that next leap up into new maturity.”

Curious? Examples of What These Bibliotherapists Prescribe

  1. career crossroads: Patrick deWitt’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS
  2. whether a woman should have a child: Ali Smith’s THE ACCIDENTAL
  3. struggling with divorce: Zora Neal Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD
  4. struggling with a so-so relationship: Elizabeth von Arnim’s THE ENCHANTED APRIL

Conclusions:

When you think about it, each one of us has probably recommended a book or an article to a friend who was going through a rough patch in life. But usually those recommendations are nonfiction–self-help books written by people with some letters behind their names. Berthoud argues that a truly great novel, “gets into your subconscious and actually can change your very psyche from within.” That is so different from a non-fiction self-help book that lists steps to take to deal with a problem.

All of this–the science that might be able to prove that reading helps your mental health–is limited. But researcher Maria Panero states: “I think we all have some sort of intuitive sense that we get something from fiction. So in our field we are interested in saying, ‘Well, what is it that we’re getting?'”

To riff off a quote from Eldurkin, think of it this way: how many times have you immersed yourself in a novel or a story that provides proof that something you have always felt about your own life is true?

photo credit: Andres Tardio’s Creative Branches – WordPress.com2923 × 1957Search by image Los Angeles: The Last Bookstore

And thanks to Sarah Begley and TIME MAGAZINE.

WHY HILLARY MATTERS TO ME Part One

WHY HILLARY MATTERS TO ME Part One

I don’t have any personal history with Donald Trump—I’ve never watched his reality TV shows or read his ART OF THE DEAL. And though now I read about him daily—its unavoidable—he’s still not rising up on my radar in any way, because he opposes everything I believe in. I do have a history with Hillary Clinton—for two reasons—we share some history and we definitely share some future. To me she symbolizes one thing that ALL WOMEN should consider—Republican, Democrat, Independent—she exemplifies what an American woman can do.

(Note: Phyllis Schlafly also exemplified the power that a woman can wield. But she stopped the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, sidelining advances for women. I believe she was wrong.)

If Hillary becomes POTUS, she will forever wipe out that wrong, just as individual women who fight for an ever-expanding role and position in this country do every day. Glass ceilings are breaking-up everywhere. I wonder if my mother would be proud. I hope so. The irony is that though she didn’t realize it, my mother was one of the first who in her own way expanded the role of a woman.

Widowed with three children, my mom had to work to support us. But more than once I heard her say that it was okay that men make more money than women—her reason—they had families to support. She knew she did also, but she was expressing what “the majority” needed—because in my childhood, in the neighborhood where I was raised, men were the main supporters of most households. Her statement was still puzzling, considering that her sisters, my two single aunts, worked hard for the money they made in the publishing business. But Mom condemned feminist thinking and would get up and walk out of the room when the conversation turned in that direction. She was a product of her time.

Maybe my mother should have been angry that her salary in downtown Chicago did not compensate her to care for three children like it would have if she were male. But life had pushed her in a direction she really didn’t want to go. She wanted to be married and raise six children. She got three and a dead husband. She had no degree. She could have gone to school part-time, worked her way up in the business world, but her focus was always her children, so she held on—her free time devoted to us. I think a lot of women make that choice. And despite it, my mother rose to chief secretary at the Chicago insurance agency where she worked for 45 years, becoming a business success. In the end—she  was proud of her accomplishments.

All of this is not to say that I am not fiercely proud of what my mother accomplished and forever grateful for the sacrifices she made for my two brothers and me. I became an English teacher, made a great marriage, was gifted with three children and then went back to school to earn my RN. Through my working years, I discovered the value of unions, the muscle of numbers. I picketed for higher salaries and benefits. I worked hard at my job and never felt guilty that I was asking for more.

But much earlier than I did, Hillary Clinton saw that women were not on equal ground and needed to fight for their place. She has one daughter. I have two. That galvanized both of us—our daughters should be able to enter the working world equal in every way to their male counterparts.

Considering Hillary Clinton and I were both raised in Chicago at the same time, her consciousness was definitely raised sooner than mine and the trajectory of her life amazes me and makes me proud to be a woman: Hillary has always been about helping women and children—even if that means working the system and knowing how to handle the slings and arrows of the opponent who is eager to stop her.

When I had the chance to meet Hillary Clinton she was running for president. It was 2007 and we met at the Drake Diner, a local eatery in Des Moines, Iowa. We were both there at five in the morning—she to be interviewed by all the major networks, me to sit in a booth in the background and drink hot coffee. I guess you could say I was window dressing. But I wanted to be there and I did get to meet her.

When a break in the interviews occurred, she came to our booth. My husband sat on the end, so I leaned over him to shake her hand (I had met her once before after a town hall meeting that previous January.) I told her I was worried about her. Was she getting enough sleep? How did she do it every day? She knocked the so-called wood of the shiny booth table and said so far she was hanging in there, doing just fine. My husband John told me later he thought he saw a tear in her eye. John is from a large Irish Catholic family. Tear in her eye? Hillary? I was sure he was exaggerating.

Then came the iconic moment in Portsmouth, New Hampshire when Marianne Pernold Young, a photographer standing behind a table where Hillary was talking with 16 women voters, asked her the same question. “How do you do it? How do you keep upbeat and so wonderful?” And when Hillary replied about having help with her hair and then just went into the major guts of her life, her face pinked up, her armor crumbled, she got emotional.

“I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a nation. I mean, this is very personal for me. Not just political. I see what’s happening. We have to reverse it. Some people think elections are a game: who’s up or who’s down. It’s about our country. It’s about our kids’ future. It’s about all of us together. Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some difficult odds.”

My God, yes. And I wonder how she would respond now, if I could ask her that question. Probably in the same way. And certainly after being Secretary of State, and the email server mess and having DJT call her crooked Hillary (like he’s as clean as new fallen snow) her skin has gotten even thicker, her ability to keep her calm the first thing on her agenda.

That’s good for being president. Your life is not your own from DAY ONE. You need that presence to be in politics, especially when the color of your pantsuit can deflect from the important words you are saying or the actions you are implementing. But even though I would like to ask her again how she does it every day, I already know the answer: she does it all for us, for Americans and probably especially for women and children. Even Donald Trump when asked to say something nice about Hillary at the second debate acknowledged that she never quits.

So I am proud to say, I feel like I am a small part of Hillary Clinton. I’m the part she hides. I’m the part she doesn’t let people see. But regardless, I want people to know me—I am an older woman and despite what people might say, I will survive. It’s the combination of those words, older woman, that tear at some media people and some voters, make them fly into a rage they can’t really name.

It’s the hidden part out in the open. It’s so there people don’t see it. Hillary Clinton is a woman hitting her head against the ultimate glass ceiling and women all over the country are pulling on their panty hose or selecting their Manolo Blahniks or the latest knock-off pair from TJ Maxx and secretly smiling. She can’t do it. She’ll never do it. If I can’t do it, neither can she. So lose Hillary, lose.

“How do we beat the bitch?” a finely coiffed and decked out woman asked John McCain at a campaign stop during the run-up to the 2008 election. That woman wanted to stop a Democrat and I get that. So just say: “How do we stop Hillary?” And John McCain should have pointed that out to this woman. Or someone should have. You can watch the thing on U Tube!

The point is—Hillary is not a bitch. How dare a woman use that term when describing another woman. That John McCain supporter degrades herself. Hillary is me. Hillary is that woman too. Her pantsuits don’t hide that we are females, the softer sex. When Hillary showed some décolletage it was a headline. I’ve no problem with that, show us some breast, because you have two of them and you gave birth to a daughter, and I have a uterus and breasts and I have two daughters and a son and I thank God for them. Final note: I am privileged and proud to be a woman.

And I know Hillary is too. She showed us the full spectrum of womanhood in the five minutes (though it must have seemed like an eternity) that it took her to walk from the White House rose garden across the green lawn to the helicopter that day. Chelsea was with them, in the middle, Hillary on one side of her and Bill on the other. A natural falling into step for the husband and wife falling out. A moment of belief and strength in the midst of unbearable pain.

Because pain is a private matter. Hillary wanted to go into a small room or hide in a corner or under a blanket. She didn’t want to walk in front of TV cameras and photographers. But she did and held her head up, held Chelsea’s hand because she needed her and Chelsea needed her mother. The pain was excruciating, worse than a broken arm, a shattered femur bone. A lot worse. “How can we beat the bitch?”

You cannot. You cannot stop a strong incredibly convincing woman, a mother, a wife who kept her family together despite his betrayals.

“She should have divorced him. I won’t vote for her because she should have divorced him.”

Translation: I would have run away, hid in a corner, divorced the blankety blank and she should have too.

Wrong. Hillary Clinton has strong beliefs and morals. She fights for what she believes in and that’s why she will make an excellent president. She gets up every morning and fights. She does not give up. One commentator, Eugene Robinson, said that the dictionary should have her name next to the word resilient. She defines the word.

Hillary Clinton did what few women in our present culture have the strength to do—she stayed in her marriage and she worked it out. Operative word that suits Hillary just fine: work. Divorce is painful and messy. Working it out can be even more so. There isn’t a marriage in the country that hasn’t had some sadness, fighting, anger, misunderstanding which often leaves spouses wondering about their choices. And many have suffered betrayal on the part of either spouse. Let’s be honest, every women in this country knows this.

“How do we beat the bitch?” We don’t. She is us. She is all women who want their special place in the sun. Some of us are stay-at-home moms and some of us are CEO’s and some of us presidents of large corporations or possibly in the future the United States of America.

I’d really like to find the woman at the John McCain rally and ask her about her marriage and her career and her relationships. I would really love to know who she is voting for this election.

P.S. Don’t forget to vote!!

Photo credit: New York Times

Answering Questions About Parenting and Midlife

Answering Questions About Parenting and Midlife

I am a member of a wonderful group of women who write about midlife. Under the umbrella, THE WOMEN OF MIDLIFE, we now have over 1,000 members and within the group are writers of novels and poetry, photographers and chefs, designers and members of the medical community–all experiencing midlife and helping one another as they share their experiences. Some members have created products or research and present products that make midlife even better. Many have published books.

A year ago, Melissa T. Shultz interviewed members for her recently published book: FROM MOM TO ME AGAIN How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented The Rest of My Life. 

Melissa interviewed me and my answers appear in sections of her book. But when I was looking for a topic today, I found both questions and answers and realized they underline some things I have been wanting to write about–and so here is the interview–unedited and honest. (Footnote: Life is often a search for another’s experience as we make important life decisions. I encourage you to read Melissa’s book, especially after reading this post–because the interview is only a glimpse into the material that she covers and that readers in similar situations can benefit from.)

1. As a mom, do you believe that children come first? That is, do their needs take precedence? When you bring children into the world, you have to care for them. If that means that you must give up certain material goods or blocks of time in your life to love, rear and help your children grow and adapt to living in the world—then yes! A child’s needs should take precedence over your own. Or don’t have children. But also, don’t create some imaginary world where you watch what others do and want to give, buy and push your child to be like someone else’s. Be sensible and reasonable in your rearing. Give them love. That’s what they want and need. Not stuff.

2. Do you think being sad or depressed when the kids leave for college is a sign that you were too involved in their lives? Everything works on a continuum. If you are deeply depressed and need medical help when your children leave for college—then again, yes, you need help. Women who live through their children and monitor their lives too closely lose themselves in the rearing. Then when the object of that attention no longer needs them—what is left? Possibly depression—or at the very least a long time adapting to the change.

3. If you have children still living at home, are you putting off a personal dream that you hope to accomplish when they’ve left for school or moved out? My children are all gone now, but looking back—no I did not put off a personal dream. While raising my two daughters who were 4 years apart, I got up early almost every day and wrote until they awoke. When my son was born, I even tried to publish a book on having children after the age of 35—I was 42 when I had him. Then I went to nursing school and became an RN working in labor and delivery. Later, when he was in grade school and high school, I wrote three novels. And I also worked at home proofreading for a publishing company and then taking a position outside the home as an educator at the health department, part time.

4. If you could go back and change one thing about how you prepared yourself (or didn’t prepare yourself) emotionally for your son/daughter’s departure to college (up to four years before he or she left), what would that be? Here’s the crux of that question—becoming an empty nester can be hard no matter how you prepare. I think by having another life, my writing, my nursing, I did prepare myself. But what is part of the empty nest syndrome is ultimately the fact that you are entering another stage of life. You are leaving that exhilarating time of the bonding family, and if it’s been a joyful experience, which it was for me and my husband, then it’s just sad to have to give it up. What I am saying is you can’t prepare for that. It’s life. You are now at another stage and you are aging.

5. If you’re an empty nester, are you in (or are you contemplating) a new career? If so, tell me a bit about how it came about/the reality vs. expectations, etc. I am an empty nester, but when I first became one, I might be a bit different in some ways. As my son moved off to college, my husband’s chronic illness worsened and my mother’s dementia increased. I started writing my blog, Boomer Highway, because my life was so busy with so many responsibilities, and I needed to figure out how to manage. Of course I did manage, and I wanted to help others who were in the same proverbial “boat” that I was in. My son graduated, then lost all his possessions in a fire. My husband retired, then almost died until he got into a clinical trial that is saving his life. My dearest mother did die and then we moved across the country. Life goes on and on. Sometimes you just hang on. My career? Then it was coping. Now it’s writing and working toward publishing my novels. I also enjoy reading and taking deep sighs of relief.

6. If you’re an empty nester, are you still as close to the women friends you had while your kids were growing up together? Please elaborate. Those friends I swear are in your bloodstream, your bones. They are the golden oldies. So yes! My Chicago friends who were there while raising my daughters and my Des Moines friends who were there while raising my son are still in my heart. We email. Some visit. My husband and I go to their children’s weddings when we can. It’s a process as everyone has busy lives. But certain ones are always there for me and they are the oldest and dearest, the ones from the very beginning.

7. If you’re an empty nester, have you made new women friends since your child/children left? If so, how did you meet and were you actively seeking new friends? Friends are precious. Since we moved, I only have a few in the new community where we live, and when you don’t have children to pull you into groups of people, it takes a lot longer. And I guess I’m more content to write and read, though I did join a book club. I confess, I miss my friends from Chicago and Iowa. That’s why social networking is nice. Not the same, but helpful.

8. Regarding your partnership or marriage, how has the empty nest changed/not changed the dynamic between you? Our marriage is great. We have been the best of friends for 45 years in marriage and for 51 years if you include dating. We still share the same faith, the same politics and of course our children and grandchildren are amazing familial bonds. He is my greatest supporter and our love, every aspect of it, is still present and giving our lives joy. Though my husband has been through a lot with his chronic illness, even after a day of chemo, he would get up the next morning and go to work. He is strong and forward thinking and that helped me to believe and be strong. Same with my mother. Her abiding love and belief in me all my life helped me to give back to her what I needed to give at a very tough time in my life.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Maybe some people don’t realize that every day of family life you are building toward the end of that family life. If you love and give and support, it most probably will come back to you when you need it. And believe me, we all will. Being a parent and parenting has been a gift in my life and it continues to see me through midlife and I am sure it will be there for me always.