Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Kindness

New York City Police Officer Helps Homeless Man

Since everything can feel exaggerated during the holidays, doing one kind act can affect change and make a difference in someone else's life.  Many times when I pass a homeless person on the street, especially if it's a woman, I think, "There but for the grace of God go I." 

If I can, I give money or food.  But the story below about the actions of a New York City police officer shows there is the opportunity to go further.  So many times we read or hear about the negative side of life; the violence and disrespect towards each other.

And then someone jumps out and performs a simple act of human kindness.

This story is what the holiday spirit is all about and it challenges me and, perhaps you, to do one kind thing for someone else this holiday season.  Just one.  I donate clothes and canned goods but I can do more.

Maybe it's a smile you give to a co-worker you don't like or maybe you call a friend or a relative you haven't spoken to in a long time.  Maybe you rake a neighbor's leaves or maybe you bring a meal to someone who has just lost a loved one.

It's up to you.  Your kind act probably won't go viral as this one did, but you gave of yourself and helped another person and that's also what life is all about.

NYPD officer's act of kindness goes viral on Facebook

Published November 29, 2012
An NYPD officer's act of kindness has gone viral on Facebook.

Jennifer Foster, a Florence, Ariz., tourist, posted a photograph of the officer giving a homeless man a pair of boots and socks on a frigid night in Times Square on Nov. 17.

"'I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let's put them on and take care of you,"' Foster quoted DePrimo as saying to the homeless man. "The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching."

The image became an instant hit on the NYPD's Facebook page. More than 308,861 users "liked" his generosity as of Thursday morning.

Newsday identified him as Larry DePrimo of Holbrook, Long Island. He's assigned to the 6th Precinct in Manhattan.

The homeless man said he'd never had a pair of shoes. DePrimo purchased a pair of insulated boots and thermal socks and put them on the man's feet.

DePrimo said the man "smiled from ear to ear. It was like you gave him a million dollars."

He told The New York Times that "it was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet. I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold.” He learned the man's shoe size was 12.

The police officer went into a nearby Sketchers shoe store and the manager offered him his employees' discount, which brought the price of the boots from $100 to $75, the paper reported.

"Most of us are New Yorkers and we just kind of pass by that kind of thing," Jose Cano, 28, a manager at the store, told the Times. "Especially in this neighborhood."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Roll The Dice

A Road in County Kerry, Ireland
I am comfortable with the fact that part of achieving something in life means taking a risk.  I'm not talking about a risk to your personal safety or health but an action that is out of your routine and a little out of your comfort zone in your personal or work lives.
I think that living life means that you should take a chance on something you want to achieve.  I am watching four extremely talented people in my life right now who are really putting themselves out there and working creatively as well as very hard to accomplish something very big for themselves and it's exciting to watch. 
But taking chances, on occasion, means that you also need to be prepared for the idea that it might not work out.  That can be okay because I would rather take a chance and find out what happens when I roll the dice on a dream than not take a chance at all. 
I feel it's better to look at the information you have, access the risk, and go for it rather than look back later and regret that you didn't try something different or new.
We all suffer setbacks now and then.  That's life.  The setbacks help us appreciate our triumphs and the hard work, imagination and support that what went into achieving them.
Think about what is really important to you and go from there.
Find what is right for you. . . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Hawaiian Good Luck Sign

Life In The Intersection
Laughter really and truly is the best medicine and my prescription for you on this wintery Wednesday is the following hysterical "letter" from a ficititous grandmother that was published in a community newsletter. 

Traffic in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia metro area) is notoriously horrendous and after hearing the driving stories on the news and from friends who traveled by car over the Thanksgiving holiday, this story had me laughing out loud and nothing is better for dissolving stress and anxiety than a good laugh.
As a note, someone wrote this "letter" to be funny; please don't think I'm making fun of an elderly person because this "letter" could be about a driver of any age.
Dear Grand-daughter,
     The other day I went to our local Christian book store and saw a "Honk! If you love Jesus" bumper sticker.  I was feeling particularly sassy that day because I had just come from a thrilling choir performance followed by a thunderous prayer meeting.  So, I bought the sticker and put it on my bumper.
     Boy! Am I glad I did!  What an uplifiting experience that followed!
     I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought about the Lord and how good He is, and I didn't notice that the light had changed.
     It is a good thing someone else loves Jesus because if he hadn't honked, I'd never have noticed that the light had changed.  I found that lots of people love Jesus!  While I was sitting there, the man behind me started honking like crazy, and then he leaned out his window and screamed, "For the love of God!  Go!  Go! Go!  Jesus Christ, GO!"
     What an exuberant cheeleader he was for Jesus!  Everyone started honking!  I just leaned out my window and started waving and smiling at all those loving people.  I even honked my horn a few times to share in the love!  There must be a man from Florida back there because I heard him yelling something about a sunny beach. 
     I saw another guy waving in a funny way with only his middle finger stuck up in the air.  I asked my teenaged grandson, who was in the back seat, what that meant.  He said it was probably a Hawaiian 'good luck' sign or something.  Well, I never met anyone from Hawaii, so I leaned out the window and gave him the 'good luck' sign right back!  My grandson burst out laughing.  Why, even he was enjoying this religious experience!
     A couple of people were so caught up in the joy of the moment that they got out of their cars and started walking towards me.  I bet they wanted to pray or ask what church I attended, but this is when I noticed the light changed, again.
     So, I waved at all my brothers and sisters, grinning, and drove through the intersection.  I noticed that I was the only car that through the intersection before the light changed again and felt kind of sad that I had to leave them after all the love we had shared.  So, I slowed down the car, leaned out the window and gave them all the Hawaiian 'good luck' sign one last time as I drove away.
     Praise the Lord for such wonderful folks!
     Will write again soon!
     Love, Grandma

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Survival Tips

Finding Inner Peace During the Holiday Season
Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, the holiday season is filled with lots of conflicting memories and overwhelming expectations.
Let's be real: There is no such thing as a perfect holiday.
There is only the holiday that you create yourself and celebrate, hopefully with people you care about and people who also care about you. 
The size of the decorations, the cost of the decorations, the number of parties, the quantity of food and alcohol and the amount of presents has nothing to do with the happiness you may or may not feel during this time of year.
For people who are newly widowed or who have lost a child, a parent, a friend or a relative, the idea of being without that person during the holidays is incredibly painful.  Please accept my sympathies.  I am truly sorry for your loss.
I'm really not sure why I didn't fall totally and completely apart during the first holiday season after my husband's death.  I think I was too numb to feel anything and I also give a lot of the credit to my son who was only 13 years old at the time.  Somehow we, along with family and friends, kept going and we got through it, discovering an inner strength we didn't know we had.
Although I do have to admit that there were many times that I could not listen to the constant playing of Christmas music in the house, in the car and in stores.  I did find the music hard to bear and had to separate myself from it a lot.
In the hopes of helping others who are trying to figure out how they can get through the holidays while dealing with the loss of a loved one, here are some timely tips from the Hospice Foundation of America that may make this holiday season a bit easier for you:
-- Do what is comfortable;
-- Plan for the approaching holidays.  Be aware that this might be a difficult time for you.  The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically; this is a normal reaction.  It is important to prepare for these things.
-- Take care not to drink alcohol ( a central nervous system depressant) in excess, overeat (which bring fatigue), or overwork.
-- Avoid spending more than you like simply because it is expected.  Buying smaller gifts or giving the gift of time are important options to consider.  Feel good about not going into debt.
-- Recognize that holidays won't be the same.  If you try to keep everything as it was, you'll be disappointed.  Doing things a bit differently can acknowledge the change while preserving continuity with the past.
-- Be careful not to isolate yourself.  It's alright to take time for yourself but don't cut yourself off from the support of family and friends.
-- The holidays may affect other family members.  Talk over your plans.  Respect their choices and needs, and compromise if necessary.
-- Avoid additional stress.  Decide what you really want to do, and what can be avoided. 
-- Find the way that is right for you.
You are loved and you are not alone.  Ever.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Future Dream -- Pip

Pip Singing

Ouch!  Is it really Monday?
Four days off from work have been so great, can I repeat so great, for my mind and my soul!!  I went for some walks, did some yard work, caught up on my sleep, saw family and friends on Thanksgiving Day, did a little Christmas shopping and went to the movies and saw the new James Bond movie, "Skyfall."  It is excellent!! You really must see it if you haven't already.
But now I have Monday staring me in the face along with a brand new work week.  How do I get motivated to get out the door? 
Music, my dear friends, music! 

My cousin, Gina, posted a new song on her Facebook page that her nephew, Pip, wrote and sings.  He has a great voice!  Do you remember Pip?  He was a finalist on the second season of NBC's prime-time hit show, "The Voice."  Pip was on Adam Levine's team and since leaving the show he has been very busy in the recording studio.

His new song is called Future Dream and it features Pip singing and rockin' to some major drum beats.  I've listened to this a few times already this morning and I think I'm just about ready to groove out the door and face the week.

If you feel so inclined to spread the word of Pip's new song, please share this post/link.

Many thanks!  Go Pip!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Staying True

Thought For The Day
(With Thanks To The Silver Pen)

Everyone should have a dream or two.  They can help motivate you and keep you moving forward.
Sometimes you can have a dream for fun as in "If I ever hit the lottery, this is what I would do."  I always say to myself that if I ever won the lottery or all of sudden inherited a lot of money, I would buy a house at the beach.
Then, there are the everyday dreams you can have about your personal life or your work.  Try to be realistic and not "pie in the sky" about what it is you really want.  Breaking down your everyday dreams into manageable goals could be one way of achieving them.  Think about what works for you.
But don't give up on your dreams.  They are important for healing your soul and keep you on course.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a day Americans set aside to gather with family, friends or both, bow our heads and give thanks for the blessings God has given us.
It is wonderful to have the day off from work and I am busy this morning making my part of the Thanksgiving dinner: homemade mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.  Because these two dishes are so important to the classic Thanksgiving dinner, I take a lot of care in preparing them and enjoy watching people gobble them up.
I started making homemade cranberry sauce years ago after I was served this particular cranberry sauce (recipe below) at someone else's house.  It's delicious and easy to make and gets better the longer it sits.  I loved it right away because I was brought up on canned cranberry sauce.  We were a family of eight and we usually had at least three or four other relatives join us for Thanskgiving dinner so we went for what was quick and easy.  The cranberry sauce I knew jiggled on our plates.
We would open the cans of cranberry sauce and then it would come out in the same round shape like the can including the indentations on the side.  Next we would cut it the cranberry jelly into slices and then take a slice and lay it on a plate and push a cookie cutter in the middle of it to make a holiday shape such as a turkey or a star.

Those were the days!

My son and I will be with part of my family today and I am very blessed with a loving family, great friends, good health and a solid job.  I am also blessed to have the best readers who follow my blog and always keep me moving forward towards a healing place.

Who could ask for more?  Well, I could ask for more, but I won't. 

May your Thanksgiving Day be full of family, friends, food and fortune!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Orange Sauce

1 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries
1 orange
Sugar to taste

Wash the cranberries, then put them into the food processor until they are chopped up to the size you like.  Put the chopped cranberries into a bowl.  Next cut the orange into relatively small pieces.  Remove the seeds.  Then put the oranges, rind and all, into the food processor until it is the consistency you like.  Pour that into the cranberries and mix together.  Next I usually add a half cup of sugar and then mix everything together.  Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beers With Friends

A good friend of mine posted the below story on her Facebook page but there was no source of authorship so I don't know who wrote it or where it came from.
But I thought it was wonderful story, definitely asking me to think about how I spend my time and how I prioritize my life: family, friends, my health, my passions.  Do I get a sense of meaning from my work, daily activities and relationships?  Maybe I am letting the small stuff get in the way of the more important stuff?
It's always healthy to reassess yourself.
I try to create a healthy and loving life for myself and to give thanks every day.  I find when I go out of my way to promote a positive mental attitude within myself that I then find it's a little easier to focus on the  satisfaction in what life gives me.  If I'm always working against what is happening around me, then that's when I'm out of tune with myself.
The simpler I make my life, the less turmoil I cause myself.
I think the professor would agree.  Here's his story:
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise  jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed..

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.. The sand is everything else---the small stuff.

'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, 'I'm glad you asked.' The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Your Digital Legacy

Every day, several times a day, you electronically email or text someone, update your Facebook status, Tweet, take a picture on your phone or record a moment from your life which you want to save and remember.
Just as the internet opened up a whole new world of information sharing in a way no one could have ever foreseen, these electronic tools such as iPhones, computers and other gadgets strive to further break down the walls of communication and help us share everything in a way that wasn't possible even five years ago.
But with these communication opportunities comes a responsibility to filter what you put out there and take care that this information doesn't land in the wrong hands and used improperly.  In other words, whatever it is that you said and did, are you sure that it will only be received by the person you sent it to?  And no one else?  What happens to all this electronic stuff after we are gone?

I was thinking about these questions because the husband of a friend of mine died suddenly just about a year ago and his widow is still processing on many levels what happened.  She recently was going through his home office and found his laptop.  Her husband was a writer and she was curious to read what was stored in the his computer.

Did she know the passwords to his computer?  No, she didn't.  Could she take it to a computer store and get them to unlock it?  Yes, she could.  But did she really want to go through his computer files and emails now that he died?  She knew that whatever it is that she would find on his computer, he wasn't here to explain it's meaning or intent to her.

To me, this is the proverbial Pandora's box.

The whole idea of a digital legacy is becoming a very common issue and it's something people need to figure out.

Companies have been started to help people open and transfer a loved one's data.  A number of books have been published addressing these personal and legal issues.  What will happen to all of your computer transactions should something happen to you?  Does anyone know your computer passwords?  Do you even want anyone to know your computer passwords?  How do you feel about all this?

In the case of my friend, she did decide to take her husband's Mac to an Apple store and there is a process that you go through in terms of showing proof about the situation.  Eventually, Apple did unlock her husband's computer.

So far, she hasn't opened anything up and looked or read anything.  She says that she keeps the laptop opened up on the table next to her home computer so that when she is working on her computer she feels he is right there with her.

If you want to read more about the various issues surrounding a digital legacy, this link will take you to an excellent USA Today story:

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Cartful of Gratitude

Photo Courtesy of Williams Sonoma

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously.  And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include
all things in your gratitude.

                                                    ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just like most Americans, I went to the grocery store this weekend to buy food to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner.
The store was crowded and the shelves were stocked with all of the things that I buy at this particular time of year: pumpkin, cream cheese, spices, nuts and cranberries.  Depending on the aisle I was in, I could tell people were carefully searching for certain ingredients for recipes traditionally served in their family every year.
For some people, it is just not Thanksgiving unless that particular dish is served.
In my family, it is the stuffing.  My siblings and I only want the stuffing that we had when we were growing up.  My sister-in-law is wonderful and she is very accomodating because she serves our family's stuffing along with a cornbread stuffing and also an oyster stuffing.  People in my family are pretty direct about what they want while walking through the buffet line and always ask when looking at the various stuffings (just to make sure): "Um, which one of these is our stuffing?"
It cracks me up because to us, and I know this is true for other families, Thanksgiving is all about the same food you have always eaten on Thanksgiving.  It is not a day to try out new food.
But if Thanksgiving is about Tradition, it is also about Gratitude.
As I shopped in the grocery store, I thought about how lucky I was to load my cart up with what I needed to serve for Thanksgiving and that when I pushed my cart to the check-out line, I knew that I would be able to pay for it.
Suppose I couldn't?  Suppose I couldn't afford what I needed and could only buy the minimum amount of food?  Suppose I couldn't afford any food and my Thanksgiving was at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter?
Unfortunately, we fall into a common and bad habit of thinking about what we don't have, what is going wrong in our life or what is in our way to making progress.  Instead of thinking about what we don't have, I suggest we flip our thinking and focus on the positives in our lives and be thankful for the wonderful gifts that surround us.
Life cannot be truly rich without gratitude.
It may sound like a small thing but as I placed my items on the conveyer belt at the grocery store, I was truly grateful that I could buy food to feed myself and my loved ones and that I had a car and a home for shelter.  I take these things for granted when I never should.
Being thankful is counting your blessings and this week when I bow my head to give thanks to God for the food and the people in my life, I will have much to be thankful for.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Staying Young At Heart

Next week is Thanksgiving!! How did that happen?

The calendar says November (I checked it!) but I feel I'm still mentally stuck in the summertime.  I really am having a hard time this year getting used to daylight savings time and it being dark so early.  It doesn't feel great to leave work, walk out of the building and it's already night time.  It is just not my thing at all.  I love it when it is 7 or 8 o'clock at night and it's still light outside!
It's the best!

Plus this year, Thanksgiving seems early and then all the shopping and parties start and before you know it, Christmas is here.

I'm looking forward to catching up with my son who has been away for months and other members of my family I haven't seen for awhile.  Then there are always those memories of holidays in the past which sometimes sit in the back of my brain, vying for attention.  These memories can be triggered by a person, a song, even the smell of particular food.
For instance, whenever I smell that burnt, roasting smell of chestnuts cooking, I am instantly in New York City with my husband.   And whenever I smell turkey stuffing or the ingredients of stuffing cooking, I am back in the kitchen of my childhood.
I think it's healthy to take these good and bad holiday memories "out" shall we say, and visit with them but not obsess over them.  Acknowledge that they happened, talk about them or write about them if that makes you feel better and then put these past memories back in their mental place.
Today is what counts.  Not something that happened many years ago that you can't change and might not want to change.  Express what is appropriate and then move on.
This holiday season my priority is to stay emotionally well and appreciate simplicity.  In browsing the web to research ways to reinforce this idea for myself, I came upon a short list of tips written by Joan Westlake for that I think is a good starting point for being positive and staying young at heart:

1. Love
Affection and companionship are the best medicines for the heart.  Fabulous friends, great grandchildren, salubrious siblings and nice neighbors keep you involved in life.  Revel in romance.  Pets provide unconditional love plus the hugs and warmth on which the soul thrives.

2. Give
What you give truly comes back 10-fold.  There are children longing for someone to read them a book, homeless folks hungry for a helping of kindness with their soup, homebound people waiting for a ray of humanity to brighten their day and friendly dogs needing a walk while the hope for a forever family.

3. Move
Get on the go.  Swimming is one of the best ways to keep in shape well into your 90s.  Start your day off with a walk or hike.  Take a dance class and get out and Salsa, Two-Step or Disco.  Tai chi and yoga guide you in ancient movements to enrich your body and soul.

4. Explore
Take a trip.  Learn a new language.  Start a new business.  Go live in the place of your dreams.  Find your spiritual nature.  Go boldly into new worlds.

5. Party
Celebrate and embrace each birthday!  Invite friends of all ages.  Dance and play loud music.  Eat cake and steak and have that rowdy shot of tequila or expensive glass of wine. 

You're worth it!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fostering Resilience

"Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love,
and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. . .
That sounds very hard at first,
but at the same time it is a great consolation.

For the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us.

It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap: he doesn't fill it,
but on the contrary, he keeps it empty
and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other,
even at the cost of pain.

The dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation,
but gratitude changes the
pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.

We must take care not to wallow in our memories,
or hand ourselves over to them.
  Just as we do not gaze all the time at a valuable present,
but only at special times,
 and apart from these keep it simply
as a hidden treasure that is ours for certain."

                                                                       ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From A Child's Heart

I was browsing through two of my Letitia Baldrige books on manners while writing and posting last week about her recent death and came upon a very touching chapter she wrote on how a child learns to communicate a kind thought.

I was immediately drawn into the chapter because in today's world, it is a bit unusual to come across a child of any age who says "please" and "thank you" all on their own.

In Baldrige's book, "More Than Manners! Raising Today's Kids to Have Kind Manners & Good Hearts," she discusses the need to teach young boys and girls how to write a thank you note or at the very least, a thank you email.  Of course, she says, the children will complain and won't want to do it, but still it's important to teach them how to communicate with others and learn how to put their thoughts into words.
Also, most children love to receive mail that is delivered to their house and writing a note shows them that they can learn to give of themselves as well as receive from others.

Thank you notes and letters to Santa Claus are the most common type of correspondence a child will engage in but there are also other kinds of letters a child might write.  Specifically, Baldrige says, she has seen letters of condolence from children that are truly special!

My mother taught me in elementary school how to go up to someone at a funeral or a wake and sincerely say "I am sorry for your loss" but I don't think I could have written a note.  Especially to a friend or playmate my age.
But the secret is to speak from the heart.
I will now quote directly from Baldrige's book because her words are perfect and this child's letter really touched me deeply:

"I have seen many unforgettable written communications children have sent other children.  They have an impact that reaches far beyond the person who opens the envelope.  One letter of condolence written truly from the heart was composed by an eleven-year-old girl with a mild case of dyslexia.  She wrote to her best friend, the daughter of a lawyer friend of mine, on the occasion of the lawyer's wife's death.  Not only did he borrow that letter from his daughter to show to his family and all the neighbors, but he sent copies to all of his friends, and showed it to all of his close business associates.  He gave it to me to read at the beginning of a seminar in New York.  The young girl had written to his daughter:

Dear Maureen,

I'm very sorry to hear that your Mom dyed yesterday.  I know she ment lots to you, and you meant lots to her.  Your're rite, she was a very spesial Mom.  She was so nice to us kids, even when we ate her kake when she said not to.  No one made choclat kake like her.  You must be fealing sad.  Some day you'll see her again in heven.  She must have lots of friends up there.  (I hope she won't have to make too many kakes.)  When can you come over to play? I bot a new game, really neet.  Come over this wekend.  I dont want you and your Dad to fel sad."

Oh my goodness!  Is that not the sweetest letter ever?

I had to share it with you...this child's wisdom and ability to express emotion blew me away.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

California Eating

When I go grocery shopping, I like to read the labels.  I like to know what I'm eating because I think it can make a huge difference in my mental and physical health.  Healthy and fresh foods keeps  my immune system and healing powers strong which keeps me in the game.

This label reading started about 10 years ago when I was very sick and my doctor put me on a strict low-fat diet.  I started reading the labels on everything: salad dressing, cereals, crackers, pudding, chicken and anything frozen.  I was really surprised by what I found but also glad that the information was there so that I could decide for myself what I wanted to buy.
When I feel healthy, I have more energy and then I feel positive, which in turn affects what I do with my life.  So I try to stay away -- as much as possible -- from processed junk that is chock full and shot through with who knows what kind of chemicals and preservatives.  Take a look around the next time you're in a grocery store and find out for yourself.

And while you're looking at those food labels, ask yourself this:  do I want to buy food that is fresh or do I want to buy food that a company has toyed around with?  Knowledge in truly power in this instance.  It seems to me that if you are running a food company you want to take care of your customers.  Right?
Not always.  Among all the hot-button-empower-the-masses issues on state and national ballots that Americans had a chance to vote on last week, there was a West Coast issue I have been following for while that unfortunately was defeated by the voters of California: labeling genetically modified foods.

Since the measure, known as Prop 37, was defeated in California, it now means that genetically engineered foods made from plants or animals that is sold in California will continue to have no specific labeling requirements and can be  displayed and sold from the shelves just like everything else.  Monsanto, DuPont and Dow spent millions of dollars to defeat the measure, arguing that it would add hundreds of dollars to the average consumer's grocery bill.  This time Monsanto, Dow and Dupont were successful.

But I feel strongly that the issue of labeling genetically modified foods has not died and in fact will come back stronger.

If you support the idea of transparency in food labeling, here's a link to the Environment Working Group's statement on Prop 37:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Now Is Powerful

Photo By Patti Raab

When I was in my twenties, I felt as though I had all the time in the world to do whatever it was I wanted to do.  I think that feeling was the luxury of youth.  I had no sense of needing to get things done urgently because if it didn't happen today I was confident that I would get another chance tomorrow.  There would always be tomorrow for a do-over, if you will.

"See you tomorrow!"

"Oh, I'll tell you about that later."

"Yeah we have to find a date and then we'll do it.  I'll get back to you."

But now I try very hard to stay in the present, to appreciate the gift of life, and say and do what should be taken care of today because nine years ago today my wonderful husband died and I saw that you don't always get a tomorrow.

I saw how quickly life can twirl you around and yank off your blindfold, leaving you stumbling, confused and guessing about the scary unknown.

How did I keep it together (some of the time), raise a child and work a full-time job?

By taking baby steps in the beginning and slowly developing a well of inner strength that came through the kind help of family, friends, neighbors, praying a lot, meditating a lot, crying, laughing, reaching out for help from a fantastic support group, learning to make peace, accepting some of the bad stuff and writing for Cry, Laugh, Heal.
You, my dear readers, are truly a gift I never thought I would have and I thank you, thank you for coming to Cry, Laugh Heal!
Being in present time, to be what is called "fully present" sounds cliche but it really isn't.  I have found that when I concentrate on staying in the present it is truly a good thing.  I don't always succeed but the results are definitely worth the effort.
For me, staying in the present means I am with the person that I am with.  I am listening to them and the words they are saying to me, the thoughts and emotions they are trying to convey to me. 
I am not typing on my computer keyboard as they are talking to me, I am not watching television as they talk to me and I am not writing a check or a note as they try to talk to me.  I am focused on our conversation and I am really, really trying not to think ahead about my reply.
I am mentally focused in the moment of what is happening between me and the other person.
I am trying not to let my mind run ahead or go backwards in time because then I might miss the beauty of what is happening to me right now.
Now is a beautiful thing and a thing to take care of. 
Now is when you get to say and do what you intend to do so that later on you don't have regrets about how you forgot to say something or you should have done something.
Now is powerful.
Whatever it is, do it today.  Don't put it off.  Do it now.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Tunes -- "What's Going On"

It's been an emotional week with Election Day happening on Tuesday and all of its rollercoaster effects still going on.  I know I am getting older because I stayed up until 2 am on Tuesday night to watch the election results and most of the candidate speeches and I am still recovering from it.  It's sad but true!

How are you fairing?

So I thought it would be fun to end the week with some soulful music because listening to tunes always feeds the soul and heals the heart.

This is an oldie, a flash from the past as they say, but a song that I never, ever get tired of hearing.  Close your eyes, listen to marvelous Marvin Gaye's mellow voice and relax:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sometimes A Decision Is Made For You

Maybe it's a bit of an election "hangover" or perhaps a reflection of my personal life, but lately it seems as though I have been on a decision-making bender of sorts.

Has this ever happened to you?  I'm not sure if it's true for you or not, but when it's happening to me it feels as though I am going from one decision to the next with no breaks.  These decisions vary in importance -- from stuff around the house to personal issues -- but still they seem to keep coming at me with no end in sight.

Just when I think I am done with one decision, I barely get a chance to catch my breath and another one seems to be vying for my attention.  I remember reading somewhere that every time you make a decision, the process of trying to arrive at what you should do takes a little bit of energy out of you each time.  If this process goes on long enough, you can either burn out or start making some bad decisions.

And then sometimes, a decision is made for you.
Besides writing and researching this blog and my full-time job, I also have been writing and editing a bimonthly newsletter for Sibley Hospital's bereavement support group for the past seven years.  I once belonged to this group after my husband died and I don't know what I would have done without their help.  The group was the best thing that ever happened to me and it was a great experience!
After I left the group (you can only belong for two years), I wanted to give back and help others rebuild their lives after their loss, so I volunteered to oversee the newsletter and I'm so glad I did.  But now I am saying good-bye to the newsletter because several relatives are dealing with serious health conditions and I want to help them in any way I can.
I tried to juggle all of it for months but eventually I could see that I need to let someone else take over the newsletter.  There truly is a time for things to begin and end and it's hard to let go but other things become more important and then it is taken out of your hands. 
For the past seven years, I have talked to lots of people in different stages of grieving and done hours and hours of research about what to expect in the grief process and how to gain strength and slowly go on with your life.  My goal with the blog and the newsletter is to give women and men, parents and children, friends and relatives who are recently widowed lots of resources so they know they are not alone.
The newsletter and my blog are also places where all aspects of grief are a mainstream topic; to help people feel they can talk about it without getting that look from others that basically says "Uh oh, I gotta get out of here because I know this person is going to get upset."

If there is one thing that I have learned about grief, it is this: you have to talk about it.  Who you talk to isn't important, but you have to express to someone how you feel because if you don't you will constantly carry it around and it will increasingly become a bigger emotional burden.

This decision about the newsletter now feels like the right thing thing to do.  Life has a way of moving you along.  There is a time to fight it and then there are times to make peace with it and accept it.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post Election Proverb

Now that Election Day is officially over, I found the above (courtesy of The Silver Pen ) to be a timely and thought provoking proverb to post and to practice. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Is Finally Here

Courtesy of Huffington Post

After all the speeches, debates, television and newspaper ads, phone banks, door-to-door campaigning and robocalls, Election Day has finally arrived.

Please vote today!  Every vote does count! 

If you already exercised your right to vote by going to the polls early or by using an absentee ballot, sit back and enjoy some quirky voting quotes that I saw in a recent Huffington Post story:

"Half of American people have read a newspaper.  Half never voted for President.  One hopes it is the same half."  ~ Gore Vidal

"Bad officials are lected by good citizens who do not vote." ~ George Jean Nathan

"The best argument against democracy us a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
  ~ Winston Churchill

"In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state.  When we are ill...we do not ask for the handsomest physician or the most eloquent one."
  ~ Plato

"Thinking is not to agree or disagree.  That's voting." ~ Robert Frost

"Anti-intellectulism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.' " ~ Isaac Asimov

"A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user." ~ Theodore Roosevelt

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." ~ John Quincy Adams

"In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote." ~ David Foster Wallace

Courtesy of New York Daily News

Monday, November 5, 2012

Letitia Baldrige -- Classy & True

Letitia Baldrige

When I hear Letitia Baldrige's name, it makes me sit up straighter and try to be better behaved.

Baldrige, 86, was a walking encylopedia on what to do and what not to do in social situations and with her passing last week comes the unofficial closure on a time in American life when class and sophistication counted for something.  Also known as "Tish," Baldrige became a public name when she worked in the White House as chief of staff and social secretary to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. After her years at the White House, Baldrige then forged a high-profile and very successful career as an author and top executive in corporate life, selling milllions of books on manners, business conduct and human behavior.

Baldrige also achieved additional notoriety when she landed on the cover of Time magazine which called her "the leading arbiter of manners."

Unfortunately, the practice of good manners today is not very important and I see evidence of it every day no matter where I go. Rudeness is met with more rudeness and no one seems embarrassed by their bad behavior. People ask questions of strangers that are none of their business or people feel free to comment to strangers on what they might be wearing, eating or doing.  Why do we care about doing and acting a certain way when we are with others?  Because good manners smooth out life's rough edges and make it possible for all of us to work, socialize and just get along.

Good manners serve as guideposts, if you will, and help everyone know what is expected of them in certain situations.  From funerals and baby showers to weddings and christenings, knowing some of the basics of social editquette can help you feel comfortable when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory.

"For every rude executive who makes it to the top," she wrote in her "Complete Guide to Executive Manners" (1985), one of her numerous and popular guides to navigating social situations, "there are nine successful executives with good manners."

Don't ever doubt the power of saying a sincere "I'm sorry" to someone you know who has suffered a loss or making sure to say the magic words of "please" "thank you" and "excuse me."

Those words will never go out of style.


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Adventures of A Treasured Urn


Today I am not trying to make fun of a serious situation, it's just that being responsible for a container of a loved one's ashes can lend itself to a lot of funny situations even if you don't mean to be funny.

In my case, my husband was not cremated.  I know if he had been cremated, I would have taken very good care of his ashes.  But eventually, knowing me, I'm sure some kind of accident would have happened.

Having his ashes stored in an urn in the house might have started out to be a comforting thing, but eventually someone (me) probably would have knocked the container over, coughed or sneezed near it when the lid was open or the most likely scenerio is that I would have put the ashes someplace I considered "safe" but then later I would have forgotten where the "special place" was located; temporarily losing him.

That's why I laughed when I read the following story from a bereavement support website called Hello Grief.  I can picture this whole story happening to me very easily.  Here goes:

Getting Used To The Weirdness
By Emily Clark

While I’ve always loved a morbid joke or two, my wry humor was pushed to its limits in the wake of my husband’s death. There are just some things you can’t possibly anticipate and have no choice but to accept.

The day I went to pick up my husband’s ashes I was forced into yet another encounter with one such awkward moment. The urn weighs far more than you’d expect and it was a struggle just to get it to the car. At that point I pushed it onto the front seat and headed for my side of the vehicle.

Oh wait.

If I take off, is it going to roll right off the seat? Round marble might make one heck of a projectile in the event I slam on the brakes. Visions of the urn flying through the windshield and striking down some sweet little old lady pushed everything else out of my mind. I had no choice. I’d have to buckle it in.

I start up and pull away but damned if I could focus on anything other than the strapped-in ashes sitting next to me. Now I’m not one of those widows who thinks of my husband’s ashes as my husband. In fact, when others refer to the ashes as “him” I get a little weirded out. Can he see out of that urn? Feel? Think? If so, I’m in big trouble. Especially considering what happened next.

The urn was far too distracting and I couldn’t stop the impulse to constantly reach out and put my hand on it. Only two blocks into my drive I pulled over, stepped out of the car, and fought off a full-blown breakdown. I couldn’t put it in the back seat because I knew it would be just as distracting and my recent desire to cleanse my house had left next to no room between the boxes of clothes for donation, picture frames, and recyclables. It would only roll around on the floor.

That left just one place.

The trunk.

Right up next to the spare tire was the perfect little spot to wedge the urn into and, as I rightly guessed, out of sight, out of mind. I drove home at peace, without a second thought.

Until two days later when I headed to work and kept hearing a clunking sound I was sure meant big trouble and an expensive trip to the mechanic. It was only when I popped the trunk to investigate I realized I’d left them in there. I’ll never forget the reaction from the first family member I told: “You put Craig in the trunk!?!”

I guess I never thought of it that way.

The was only one of the many new weird situations I found myself growing accustomed to when I was widowed. Situations that would have made my stomach churn with apprehension over the awkwardness mere months before. Situations that friends and family (and random strangers) cringed over when they were forced to share them with me.

Having to explain to the DMV that my husband, in fact, could not renew or cancel his vehicle registration, no matter how many times they asked. Going with my new husband to the accident site. Accidentally setting that extra seat at the table. Crying in public. Crying to police officers when I get pulled over. Wearing my old wedding rings remade at my wedding. Sitting on the floor amidst the spilled cheerios, picking at what I can for breakfast. Correcting my husband’s coworkers for the third time about how to spell his name.

The longer you are widowed the more the taboo around death diminishes for you, and the more you can take a step back and just shake your head or laugh when caught up in these weird moments. Sometimes the hardest part is remembering that while it’s your new normal, it is still weird to everyone else.

But I try to face each day with my sense of humor intact, laughing when I can, worrying less and less about what others might think, all while keeping my crying outbursts to the safety of my own home. Or car… or grocery store… or church… Ok, I confess, I cry wherever I feel like it. That’s just part of this new weirdness I guess.

Our thanks to guest author Emily Clark for sharing her story here with us. You can read more of Emily’s journey through young widowhood on her blog. [2]

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Remember Bookstores?

Washington, DC's historic Union Station

I read yesterday that another bookstore -- Barnes & Noble in Union Station -- is biting the dust and it's just incredible to me that a bookstore, in the nation's capitol, in a train station, where you can buy a wide variety of things to read, is closing.
I posted about this wonderful book store in December 2011 (Books @ Union Station December 8, 2011) and find it sad that it will soon be closed.  Do people not read books anymore?  I find that hard to believe.  Whenever I'm on Metro people are reading and books are everwhere at the beach. 
Maybe Kindles and a rocky economy are the cause.  A Barnes & Noble spokesman told The Washington Post that the company had to leave because of redevelopment around Union Station.  That's another bad idea but I won't even get into that project.  Barnes & Noble was offered a new location but decided instead to close its Union Station store.
I'm sure I am showing my age by saying this stuff but I can't help it.
I love bookstores.  Books allow your imagination to run wild and escape to other worlds and learn about new things.  Books help you feel you are part of the larger human community and help you heal and become resilient.  You read about others who have experienced the same thing you have and feel less isolated.  Plus, remember that most movies were inspired by a book. 

Buying books online from Amazon just doesn't do it for me.  If I happen to know exactly what book I want, then it's different.  But I can't go on Amazon's website and pick up the book, twirl through the pages, hold it and read random parts of the book so I can decide if I'm going to buy it or not.  Or ask the Amazon website if it has read the book, and if so, what does it think of it?  Hey Amazon, what did you think of this book?  Is is worth reading?
I can see myself as an elderly person (which of course is way off in the distant future) with a young child on my lap trying to explain to them what a book store was:

"Really?  You mean there used to be stores and all they had inside were books?"

"Yes, dear, and you could browse among all the books and look at the new titles and the books on sale and sometimes, just by chance, you would find a wonderful book that you never heard of because you spent time reading the covers and talking to other readers."

"Oh, but it sounds like a lot of wasted paper! Think of the trees!"

I used to spend my lunch hour at the Borders bookstore at 18th and L Streets but that closed last year after declaring bankruptcy.   Now there are only two bookstores close to my office: the Barnes & Noble on 12th Street and the independent bookstore, Kramer's, located  at DuPont Circle.