Friday, February 28, 2014

Ew! It's Funny Friday

What a whirl of a week this had been.  Deadlines. Pressure.  Meltdowns.  Not me.  Others.
You're familiar with this kind of dynamic aren't you?  I know you must be because there is no way that this kind of stuff only happens to me.
How do I deal?  (Did I hear someone say booze?)
No my friends I don't drink but I do make a lot of jokes about being in really awful situations because humor helps me cope.  I constantly make jokes about myself -- and believe me there's a lot of material there -- and I also make jokes about the perceived dysfunction and frustration and sometimes the plain silliness of daily situations that life happens to oh so innocently send our way.

Comedian Jimmy Fallon
Photo Courtesy New York Daily News

Instead of making jokes I guess another option would be to steel myself through the rough times, white knuckling my chair and holding my breath until it's over, but that wouldn't be any fun!  No, in fact that attitude would just suck the joy out of most situations. 

So meet "Stacy" and "Sara" and get ready to laugh as they hang out with First Lady Michelle Obama and "the girls" talk about different ways to stay active and eat right:


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Willing To Wonder

I do not at all understand
the mystery of grace --
only that it meets us
where we are
but does not leave us
where it found us.
          ~ Anne Lamott

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Johnny Cash's To Do

I write about the great American singer songwriter Johnny Cash today for two reasons: the first is it's his birthday and if he were still here with us he would be 82 years old (Happy Birthday Johnny!) and the second is his infamous "to do" list.
Cash's iconic songwriting talents crossed over into so many different kinds of music that he is one of the few people to have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  Incredible right?
Cash's most powerful songs to me are "Ring of Fire," "I Walk The Line," and of course, "Folsom Prison Blues."  All three resonate with themes of pain, redemption and love and reflect Cash's tumultuous yet successful and award winning life as a musician that was also sadly marked by his brother's childhood death, drug abuse and divorce.

Johnny Cash -- The Man in Black

So with all that Johnny Cash had going on in his life, you might think his To Do list would reveal the secrets to what inspired him.  You might expect to see a To Do List that says things like "Call My Agent," "Lunch with George Jones," "Must Write Lyrics to New Song," or "Rehearse for Upcoming Tour."  I would have figured that the guy is a big time celebrity and the stuff that he reminds himself that he has to do is going to reflect that right?  But it doesn't. 
Cash's list is worth reading because it appears he used it as a tool for him, a healing tool that helped him take the next step.  I can relate to the whole idea of list making as a way to put life's priorities in focus.  If you have any doubt about what Cash's priorities were, look at what he puts at the top of the list.  Don't Smoke.  His health.  He is trying to fight that awful nicotine monster just like any other ordinary person. 

It just goes to show that sometimes public people have simple needs and desires just like anyone else and that the things he worried about or tried to keep under control are the very same things we think about or worry about, such as not eating too much.  In other words, I think Cash felt life might not always be fair in the habits you have to fight but it's still damn good!!
Unfortunately, Johnny Cash died in 2003, less than four months after his second wife, June Carter Cash died.  Cash writes about his list in the autobiography that he wrote titled, "Cash: An American Man" and when the original of this list went up for auction, someone paid over $6000 for it.
I love #2 and #3 and #9!

What's on your To Do list today?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Getting In Gear

The calendar still says February but the warm temperatures this weekend offered me hope that Spring is close to arriving in my area of the world.

I think my neighbors felt the same way because all weekend I saw them emerging from their homes of hibernation, waving hellos and walking around their yards picking up recently fallen branches and small sticks and checking out winter's damages.  It was also nice to see the baby brigade out and about with strollers and young toddlers in tow.  While doing my errands, everyone seemed to be energized by the warm and shining sun.  Coats disappeared and even some shorts and flip flops appeared on a few righteous teenagers.  
Stretching and breathing in fresh air was the order of the day and it just felt great all around.  Even though I felt the tug of the next episode of "House of Cards" mentally calling me to the computer, I ignored it's mesmerizing pull and instead went for a long walk for at least a mile or two.  It's definitely a good walk when I lose track of time and distance and it's also definitely amazing how a walk can reset your outlook and change your mood.
We've gotten a lot of snow this season so it's been harder to go outside and exercise but I try to remind myself that I always feel better when I get myself in gear and do some sort of exercise whether it's walking, bicycling, dancing or running.  I tell myself myself that exercising offsets the bad effects of sitting in front of the computer for hours a time but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be true according to some recent news stories. 
It's a fact of life that I spend a lot of time in front of the computer.  Hours and hours.  When I am at my full-time job five days a week, I try to periodically get up and walk around the office to squeeze in some exercise time and then I try to do the same when I am at home writing Cry Laugh Heal which is not work at all but truly a passion for me.

It's a constant battle and as I get older I can see that activity truly is the key to having and maintaining good health.  I like to sometimes follow these three simple suggestions from The American Diabetes Association on how to increase physical activity in your daily routine: 
--Take the stairs, not the elevator.
--Park further away from your destination, so you have to walk more.
--At home, make several trips upstairs to building extra cardio into such things as putting away laundry or other household chores.

Good luck with your personal fitness and here is the link to the National Public Radio story that made me think differently about sitting around and vegging out:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Beyond His Clutter

Oh my goodness I can so identify with the story that I am sharing with you today.
It's a story titled, 54 Drawers, and it's about a daughter who thoughtfully and lovingly is going through the drawers and drawers of file cabinets containing huge amounts of paper her recently deceased father stored in the office of his house.
In my case it was and still is the papers that my late husband left in his office.  Over the years, I have made a lot of progress and thrown out lots and lots of boxes containing everything from old bills, old checkbooks, handwritten notes, pictures, and receipts to zillions of stories printed from websites along with multiple copies of stories my husband beautifully wrote while working as a prize-winning science and space reporter for The Washington Post.

Thomas O'Toole hard at work at his Washington Post desk
If you have never found yourself in the position of going through a deceased person's belongings please let me tell you that it is not the kind of activity that happens quickly.  No way.  It is dicey territory.  Don't let anyone tell you that it is the same as when you say you are going to clean out your closet, desk or any other room in your house.
It takes time, especially if the things belong to someone you cared about.  It is an unpredictable, emotional and even intimate journey, just as Olivia Judson so eloquently writes in her story, 54 Drawers,  recently published in The New York Times.  For those of you readers who have found yourself in the situation of going through someone else's belongings after their death, I hope you agree with me that initially you think you are ready for the task and that it shouldn't be too difficult.

For me, it quickly became evident upon going through the first box that it was going to be harder than I thought.  His things took me back to him and I was back inside my husband's head reading his written thoughts, completed or not, and some pieces of paper were out of the blue surprising, revealing some things about himself that we had not ever discussed.  He may have even forgotten that he wrote these thoughts.  I'm not implying that I uncovered any deep dark secrets but just that I came upon things that he wrote in the emotion of a moment and may have wanted to keep private.

Throwing away some of some husband's stuff felt like I was disrespecting him even when it was just an outdated piece of paper or a report that was not of any importance.  I knew that I wasn't doing anything of the sort but it certainly felt that way.  Then there were other times when going through his stuff felt like a game.  I would read whatever it was I had found and stare at it for awhile wondering why he had kept it in the first place.

" Is there something of importance here that I'm missing?" I would ask myself.

And then I realized that the answer to that question was yes.  I was missing him.

Please read Olivia Judson's story, 54 Drawers, by clicking on the link below:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Navajo Prayer

As we embrace a new day. . .

Contra Costa County, California
Photo Courtesy of Flickr
A Navajo Prayer

In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
Planting Fields Arboretum
 Long Island New York
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty,
lively may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty
living again may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Say Yes to Empowerment

The essence of resilience is bouncing back to a healthy place after you have been counted out.

Emotionally resilient people recognize that some good can come from even the most traumatic events.  Not only are people resilient but cities can be too.  Look at New York City.  In the 1970's, New York City was a dangerous place.  It's economy was on the verge of collapse and its streets and subways were full of crime and gangs and homeless people.  People could not find jobs.  Traveling to New York City today, there is hardly any evidence of its darker and grittier side from that time.
This transformation didn't take place over night.  It took years of hard work coupled with coordinated community support and a collective spirit of determination that things were going to get better, that New Yorkers were not going to put up with such a desperate way of life.

People in the midst of loss can feel this kind of desperation too and during their mourning period there sometimes comes a point -- and it's different for all of us -- when they decide they are sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I have felt that dragging sorrow when I was so immersed in in the upside down of my life that I couldn't see the possibility of anything good happening.  But a voice inside myself pushed me to put one foot in front of the other and with help from family and friends I did begin to see that there just had to be something else out there for me, something that was a more hopeful way of life.

Having a sense of hope is crucial.  Tell yourself it could be right around the bend or in the next conversation or in the next day because with hope we can find the strength to hang on and push through, finding a new direction and a new way to rebuild our lives.

Veronika Scott and her sleeping bag coat
Photo Courtesy of ABC News
I write about empowerment today because of my discovery of Veronika Scott on YouTube.  Veronika Scott lives in the infamous yet troubled city of Detroit, or Motown, a city that once was known as America's automotive center but was recently declared bankrupt by a judge.  Veronika Scott cultivates resilience every day, not only within herself but also in others looking for work in Detroit.

This Youtube video featuring Veronika and her project inspires me and I have watched it at least 20 times because each time I watch I am struck by the simplicity of her idea, the passion she has for her work, the hope she is giving to others and the power of a sewing machine.  Please check it out:


Monday, February 17, 2014

Your Life, Your Movie

"Stay In Your Own Movie"
~ DeVon Franklin
When my son was a young child, he would talk about going to various friend's houses to play and how wonderful their house was, how great their snacks were and how nice their parents were and how perfect everything always seemed when he was there at whatever friends house he happened to be.  Sometimes he would even tell me that the parents of some of his friends never even ever argued.  Ever.
First I told him that they were waiting for him to leave so they could have their argument and then I would smile and tell him that I was glad he liked to go and play with his friends at their house and that his friends were always welcome to also come to our house to play.  And they would.  A lot.  And as my son grew up it was wonderful to see many different friends run in and out of our house as he hung out with lots of his friends, old and new.
My son's vision of other people's lives as perfect is something that I fall into too and maybe this happens to you too.  It's easy to look at another person's life, whether a friend or someone you don't know well at all, and think that just because it all looks good, you know what I mean -- the house, the car, the children, the spouse, the job -- that theirs is a perfect life.  However, here's a major spoiler: It's not.  I'm not saying that if someone else's situation looks good then it's got to be bad.  I'm just remarking on the possibility that behind all those things that  look good sometimes there lurks a lot of burdens and troubles and problems because they aren't always obvious to others.
The parental insight I offered to my son goes something like this: there will always be people who have more than you and there will always be people who have less than you.  Yes, it's a normal thing to want to improve your life and work towards goals that get you to a better place but don't set yourself up by comparing your life to theirs because you might end up being dissatisfied and unhappy.
Instead, look at the blessings and gifts in your life and be happy and proud of what you have worked hard to earn or achieve.  Your talents are unique and not like anyone else's.  It is hard not to compare because sometimes it is so in your face.  But there is more to someone else's story than you know and there are always trade offs being made for what arrives in your life.  I have found there is a certain quiet grace to having the confidence to live within your means and being at peace with the path you have chosen.  Your life is just as special as anyone else's.
Continue to develop your gifts and appreciate the wonders in your life for there is always something new to learn, something new to discover. 
Focus on what is happening in your life instead of comparing your life to someone else's.  Comparing is a waste of time.  You only have a partial picture of what is going on with others.
But you know the whole picture of what is happening to you so put your energy on you and the people you care about.
It's your life, your movie, so stay in it, as DeVon Franklin says, and try to make every day a block buster!!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Falling in love and being loved is just so oh-la-la isn't it?

May your heart expand today with the joy of being with your Valentine or having great memories of a special Valentine who may no longer be with you.

I'm sending this song out today to Valentines around the globe:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's Snowtime!

After days of hearing the local weather people forecast that lots of snow was headed our way, it really happened!  Flakes began to fall around 7 pm last in Washington, DC and it remained steady throughout last night and continues into this morning.
I measured 14 inches of snow outside my door and I have yet to see a snow plow come into my neighborhood.  Oh well. . .  The federal government is shut down and so are schools along with most businesses.
Yes, my friends, a day off from work is a healing day!!
Here's what my part of the world looks like today:

A Blanket of Snow

Pristine Street
No Snow Plows Yet
Hard to Get Front Door Open When 14 inches of Snow Lay In Its Path

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Listening Binge

For the past several weeks, I have been on a listening binge and it feels healing.
There are a number of family members and friends who are going through various kinds of difficult personal situations and, in trying to be helpful, I have been listening to what they tell me they want to talk about, in particular what it feels like to be in their crisis, what they really wish they could do to solve it and how frustrating it is to have the situation go on and on.
Listening may seem as though it is a passive activity but it is definitely not.  I'm not just sitting in my chair staring vacantly at the person talking and letting my eyes roam around the room, thinking about something else that is totally unrelated to the person's thoughts nor am I just holding my phone up to my ear, doodling away on a piece of paper or reading something on my computer screen instead of listening to their words.
Pablo Picasso's The Flowers of Peace

I am listening to hear what they intend to say but are not exactly saying.  Listening is another way to show I care, that I am interested in them and invested in their troubles as I focus on the backstory of their words.  As in when they say they are angry about something, I sometimes get the feeling that they really mean to say they are scared.  I'm listening with my heart as I'm trying to understand and support.  It's an emotional exchange because we need each other to help figure out what our crazy creative lives are all about and sometimes we are too close to interpret what's going on. 

I also know that they would do the same for me if I needed to talk to them about my life and that creates a solid unspoken feeling of trust.  We have each other's backs so to speak.
Listening is a time to learn about the other person for they are pouring out their thoughts, emotions or sometimes both to you.  I have known some of these people for decades and am still learning new things about them and they way they feel about life.  I try to imagine what it would feel like to be the other person who is trying to deal with whatever the situation is.  And if I'm doing listening well, which I hope I am, then I sometimes feel as if I'm going through the problem too.
If you can't think of anything to say to someone who is handling a rough situation, you can always offer to support them through the gift of listening.

Listening is a way of honoring someone's story.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Strength Through Sharing

Sharing my stories, and those of others, can entertain, offer strength and inspiration and sometimes minimize the isolation that is felt in relationships or personal crisis.  I share to bond, to reach out, to reveal that I am vulnerable just like you.

No one knows when someone else's story will unexpectedly touch your life and help you gain a new perspective on a subject that you thought you knew enough about but you really didn't.  Someone else's words can bring new understanding to the life and death issues of physical and emotional survival and help you see things differently.
My son's girlfriend works at The James House in Richmond, Virginia and through her and this YouTube video below that a friend recently posted on Facebook I am becoming knowledgeable about the amazing work they do in their counseling, bringing hope to the lives of people who are emotionally, physically and sexually abused and/or stalked. 
The steady and important work of The James House, a non-profit organization (their services are free and confidential) which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is to heal and to empower and to offer an independent and safe future. 
In this video you will meet a thoughtful and articulate woman named Samina Abdullah who is a community organizer at The James House.  Samina is a down-to-earth kind of person who is wise beyond her years and acts as an agent of change for her part of the world.  Or as she describes it, "I don't feel responsible for the whole world.  I feel responsible for my own little bubble."  Don't you love that idea?
Her thought makes me realize that I can be overwhelmed by what is happening in the world at large when all I really need to do is to focus on my little part of the globe.  We can start in your own communities, find our passions, whatever they are and follow them.  Do what you can do and do it the best way that you can.
When in doubt, just take the next small step:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ina Garten's Roasted Eggplant Spread

I am tired of wearing layers of clothing.

Black and grey, grey and black.  Thin T-shirts under sweaters, sweaters over sweaters, vests over sweaters, socks inside socks, scarves over turtlenecks.  I think you are getting the picture of what it takes to stay warm when a polar vortex is happening.  I am more than ready to chuck my winter coat and boots and break out my fun clothes, my jammin' summer clothes.

But the calendar tells me otherwise.  For now, I must go with warmth because snow and ice and brisk winds will still be hanging out in my area of the world at least for another month. 

Besides the bulkiness and weight of the layers of clothes, the other downside of dressing like this is that you feel like you can indulge in comfort food since no one can see you in anything that's form fitting.  I try to remind myself that the food decisions I make today in the cold of February will determine how much I will have to diet in the warmth of April but the calendar's clinical numbers just don't seem to intimidate me.

My healing solution is to get off the sugar wagon and go for healthy, fresh foods that are tasty, yet low in fat, and no one does that better than Ina Garten, foodie and home entertainment expert extraordinaire who is also known as the Emmy Award winning host of the Food Network program, Barefoot Contessa

Ina's style is easy and uncomplicated and so are her recipes.  I share with you today Ina's Roasted Eggplant Spread which she says is "not only good, it is good for you."  Ina also says in her Barefoot Contessa cookbook that this recipe has "almost no fat for customers who like to save their calories for dessert."  She's so smart!

We all are trying to work more veggies into our diets and this is one way of doing it.  Ina recommends serving this with hummus, pita bread, Greek olives, feta cheese and stuffed grape leaves.  Check out Ina's recipe and I think you will agree that it's perfect served hot or cold:
Ina Garten's Roasted Eggplant Spread
Photo: Melanie Acevedo
Roasted Eggplant Spread (Serves 6 to 8 )  

I medium eggplant, peeled
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes.  Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread them on a baking sheet.  Roast for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking.  Cool slightly.

Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Kimmy Kirkwood & Will Stacey's Love Story

The social media giant, Facebook, marked its tenth anniversary yesterday.
Big deal, you say?  It's just a place for people to go online and post the silly and sometimes significant happenings of their life? 
Yes.  That's exactly it.  Facebook is the world's largest social network, connecting 1.23 billion people to each other and Kimmy Kirkwood is especially grateful that on Facebook she can find a priceless record of pictures and status updates she had with the love of her life, a Marine named Will Stacey.
Kimmy Kirkwood and Will Stacey
Photo Courtesy of Kimmy Kirkwood
Will Stacey posting to Kimmy Kirkwood: "Regardless, I continue to love you like a fat kid loves cake." 
Come on.  Who could resist such a romantic thought, right? 
Kirkwood and Stacey planned to marry but in the last year of Stacey's deployment to Afghanistan in January 2012, he was tragically killed by an explosive device while on patrol.
Facebook has changed forever the way that people around the world stay in touch with each other but more significantly it has also changed the way that people grieve and remember the precious time they spent with their loved ones.
"Sometimes when I am lonely, I go back and read everything he sent me," Kimmy writes.  "I didn't think about it much then, but having it all in one place took on a complete new meaning when I lost Will forever."
Here is the sweet story of Kimmy Kirkwood and Will Stacey that was featured on BuzzFeed:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I was getting ready for work yesterday morning when I turned on the radio which was tuned to NPR.  The station was airing an interview it did with the incredibly talented and award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman when he was appearing on Broadway in 2012 as Willy Loman in a revival of the classic play, "Death of A Salesman."
It was strange to hear Hoffman's voice on the radio knowing that friends had found him Sunday in his New York apartment sadly and tragically dead of an apparent drug overdose at the young age of 46.
I stopped and listened as Hoffman talked about the power of the play's story and how it audibly affects each audience that sees "Death Of A Salesman," a play focusing on the waning days of an aging and failing salesman.  Hoffman sounded so calm and thoughtful in the interview, so in control. (NPR interview:  

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Photo By Dominique Charriau/Wire Image

And yet he had private inner struggles vying for attention, strong addictions that he was constantly fighting and trying to face square on.  Life for Philip Seymour Hoffman was intense and beautiful and all of it had to be felt and distilled and carefully brought to each role he powerfully acted.
Nor surprisingly, he also recognized the emotional hard work of grieving and in this interview with Yahoo Movies, Hoffman talks about what grieving is and what it is not:

My thoughts and prayers are with his family and may his soul forever rest in peace.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Peyton Manning

I am writing this post while Sunday's Super Bowl game is being played in East Rutherford, NJ and the Denver Broncos are losing so badly there is hardly any way they can come back from being down so many points.  And then Denver lost.  Badly.
Yet Peyton Manning is still a winner to me.
This is a guy who gets signed to the Denver Broncos in 2012 after giving his heart and soul to the Indianapolis Colts for years.  The Colts release him because he misses playing during the entire 2011  season because of a neck injury and then undergoes surgery to try and fix it.  Later, after being released from the Colts, Manning picks the Denver Broncos to play with, signing a five year contract.  Manning then has additional surgeries on his neck and a helluv of a lot more rehabilitation work in front of him to gain strength in his neck and passing arm in order for him get back in top playing shape for the Broncos.
No doctors gave Manning any guarantees that the four neck surgeries he had would make him 100 percent right and that he would play football at the level he previously had.  But Manning kept on doing the painful physical work, daily gaining small increments of improvement in his exercises and workouts and eventually feeling ready enough to hit the field again as quarterback and play professional football.
While it's easy in life, and in particular football, to discover meaning in the positive aspects of your accomplishments, it is difficult to find meaning and purpose in life when sad and frustrating moments hit you.  Those difficult moments could cover a wide range of losses from the death of a loved one to being injured in a football game.  I am definitely not equating the loss of a loved one with being injured in professional sports but I am saying there are all kinds of resilience that we can develop within ourselves throughout our lives.

When hit with crushing or frustrating moments, we feel powerless as we enter new territory.  We have no idea what direction our lives are headed and as we try to figure out what is going on we sometimes flounder and then take small steps and try to keep going forward.  Sometimes we make ourselves push forward and go on even though it's unknown and uncomfortable. 

During these trying times, life in general isn't going the way you thought it would and it's terribly crushing.  You almost feel as though your heart is breaking.  But that doesn't mean you stop.  It doesn't mean you quit trying to meet your goals or give up focusing on trying to make things better even though it is very tempting to stop and hide and throw in the towel.

Which is why people like Peyton Manning can teach us something valuable: keep trying, keep working, keep working your plan, exercise all your options and never give up on your dream no matter who tells you it won't come true.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos didn't win the Super Bowl.  His team lost and it hurt.  But you still have to try no matter what the circumstances.

He gave it his best shot and that's all anyone can ask of themselves.