Hi! I’ve missed writing to you. I took such a drastic action to fill up these months of Covid-19 lockdown, that my hands have been really full. If you follow me on Facebook, you may know that Ken and I adopted an 8 week old puppy, River, a few weeks ago. River is keeping us hopping! Caring for her now structures our days and nights. When I am on the patio for the 2 A.M. potty break, I have to laugh, realizing that I certainly did take an extreme action to occupy myself! But there’s something more to my late night visits to the cool outdoor air. They have allowed me to appreciate the stillness of darkness and the beauty of not being so busy all the time.
I guess I am seeing my life in new ways. I’m reveling in the LUXURY of just being. I am enjoying every minute of River’s development. Last week I heard her bark for the first time. A few days ago, I carried her in my arms into the pool and watched her dip and splash her little front paws. Last evening, Ken placed an empty bottle on the ground so that River could check it out. She was so adorable, barking at it, then leaping up in the air, running around, and leaping and barking some more. It was fascinating to her! Finally, she was brave enough to touch the bottle and drag it under our chairs. Ken and I watched, adoringly, like young parents, all the while throwing balls for Dixie and Lacey.
It’s not all smooth sailing. There was a dust-up when she too rambunctiously approached two of the cats. They were less than impressed, got all big with their hair on end, and went after her. She cried and ran behind the sofa. I rescued her. It was a hard lesson for her. She was consoled later when each of those same cats rubbed against her.
I hope you are making the most of this unusual period in your life. It seems we must play the cards we are dealt, so that even with a bad hand, we can make it our time now. Because of the difficulties in the world, we have been forced to step out of our sometimes crazy-frenetic schedules. We can rail against the circumstances, or use this occasion to renew and reinvent. Perhaps we have been given a gift of time?
One of my favorite research books on the science of human happiness is: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In his book, the author teaches us that happiness is nothing more than living in the FLOW of the moment when we are engaged in something meaningful to us. We can feel happy making a cake, conditioning for a 5 K run, or growing zucchini. One of the big tricks is to live in the present doing things that give us a little thrill. This requires that we become mindful of our thoughts, and pin down our dreams, and make the effort to fulfill them. I hope that you are doing just that, finding joy in some of the simple things during this unusual time in history.
I love when you write to me. I have written a new book . It is the best of my childhood, growing up in the fourth most productive oil field in California, on the Venice Peninsula. I have captured some aspects of Los Angeles history that could be lost forever. Growing Up Venice: Parallel Universes is on Amazon in paperback, while we are waiting for the color hardbound copy to be available in a few weeks. I’ll let you know when its ready. I am looking forward to hearing from you and learning what you have been doing to stay sane during this insane time. My best, donna
Grandmother Maymie at Venice Beach circa 1927
Donna Poses in the Front Yard 1948
Toilet Paper Sand Castle
Moms Create Challenges
Toilet Paper Poker
Baby the Cockatoo
Back to College Day
Oil Wells and Homes Coexist in Brea, California Today
Native Americans Built Sturdy Canoes
The Musical 35 Foot Christmas Tree
|The Courtyard Aglow with Holiday Joy|
Last year my favorite county beach was destroyed by high surf. The result was that it was closed for over a year. The damaged public restrooms and parking meters were removed, and a wall of massive boulders was installed to push back the surf.
Of course, that just meant that I had to drive further away for my frequent dog walks. A week ago, I finally returned to discover free parking and that dogs are now allowed in the surf during the winter months. I have been ecstatic about this after a lifetime of NO DOGS ALLOWED.
Today, having a free morning, I packed my pups into the Jeep and we were soon frolicking in the enticing but cold waves. After a while, we continued on our walk, where I encountered my friend Randy. I regaled him with my excitement about going in the ocean with the dogs. Randy smiled as he listened and then explained, "You know Donna as we get older, it's the little things that matter the most."
We said our goodbyes, and as the dogs and I walked along, I pondered what Randy had said. Mulling over his remark, I looked up as a gang of Stroller Warriors, maybe 20 mothers and fathers pushing strollers, rolled past me. I grinned at one of the mothers. She had a small child perched on her left hip and was pushing another in a stroller. I wondered if she, caught up in the noise of raising two very small children, could in any way fathom how precious her act of exercising with her family and friends was? I thought maybe, maybe not. I felt a lump in my throat for those long ago days when my stroller was full of two children with a third tagging behind me, which for me today, is remembered as beautiful music. Surely, these small, everyday, acts must not only be appreciated in retrospect?
I continued on, grateful for the two golden retrievers at my side, thinking about Randy's words. It is our ability to assign value to the commonplace that can make a difference: from ordinary to extraordinary...Certainly, dogs in the surf is a small thing, but I am over the moon about it!
I thought about the ordinary. A few hours earlier, for the first time in the two months that my mother's cats have resided in the cattery in our backyard, I was able to hold both of them. Not a very big deal, except that these two old scaredy cats would not even let me see them during the first five weeks of their residency at our home. After awhile they would be out where I could see them and not run away, and now they actually let me hold them! I see value in that ordinary act of petting two cats.
If you have been following my posts, you know that I have been struggling with the big changes in my mother's life. Moving her into assisted living, her unhappiness with it, clearing out her big home, preparing it for sale, and then selling it, all have played havoc with my peace of mind. I have been practicing mindfulness and learning more techniques in the area of creating a sacred, still inner space. I am having some success, minimizing the anxiety which has seized me during all this tumult.
Wellness guru Deepak Chopra has a new book out, Meta Human: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential. In the book, Chopra encourages us to discover our inner stillness so that we can heal ourselves. I haven't read his book yet, but I have been looking into the notion of inner quiet. Chopra's "stillness" is the journey into ourselves for the purpose of achieving an inner silence. If you recall from my previous mentions of the brain studies, our brain often jumps from thought to thought like a crazed monkey, or as David Rock says in Your Mind at Work, like a "sniffing puppy." The trick is to focus with enough concentration to stop that kind of random mental skipping. For me, the problem has been my old pattern of trying to "fix" whatever is not okay with my mother. Of course I cannot fix ill health, old age, blindness and immobility. My challenge is to find a way to still the problem-solving part of my brain that keeps working on the issues.
I am learning to follow guided meditation through an app on my phone. I have been making "dates" with myself to sit quietly with the intention of calming myself. I am working on being present in the moment, giving my full awareness to what is occurring in my head and then steering my thoughts back to the "now" and striving to create stillness. When I am able to do this, I feel a warm flush of peace entering my system.
I know that being able to ease my anxiety allows me to be more resilient and more prepared for what comes in the future. For now I am going to continue to revel in taking Lacey and Dixie into the surf, in holding my mother's fluffy cats, and in admiring the young moms rolling past me at the beach. I am celebrating the ordinary, for the fact that oftentimes I find these things to be extraordinary.
I wish you a peaceful Thanksgiving and as always, I love to know what you are thinking about. My best, donna
|Giant Birthday Cake with Burning Man - Later Burned Down.|
That got me thinking about art and its ability to freeze time. Perhaps that is the most heady
aspect of art, including film and photography; its ability to stop time. My thoughts raced ahead of me to my docent training at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. That, too, has been an adventure
in stopping time; in sifting through history, as we tell the mission's 250 year story.
A while back, I was in a training session where the Mission's plein air exhibit was being curated for us docents. During the lecture, my eyes wandered to the eastern wall of the adobe room. I gasped as my eyes landed on the lovely oil painting of silent film star Mary Pickford's wedding done by renowned impressionist Charles Percy Austin over a
Mary's Wedding Vowel Renewal
hundred years ago. As I gazed at the charming work, my brain took me back to a sleepy San Juan of a century past. I
knew about silent film star Mary Pickford. I could not help but smile at the temerity it must have taken for her to ask the resident priest, Father O'Sullivan, to perform the renewal of her
The setting for the painting is at the Mission between the colonnades. The portrait captures the couple as they emerge from the Sala after the ceremony. Flowers and musicians embellish the scene. It is a lovely piece gifted to Father O'Sullivan by the artist.
This painting, too, offers a gateway to the past. It reminds me of when tempers were running hot in the tiny village of San Juan. Mary Pickford, a darling of the silent movie era, arrived in San Juan in 1910 as a part of the entourage of pioneer filmmaker G. W. Griffith's big movie making crew. I could imagine the scene in town when Griffith pulled up to the depot with three rail cars full of actors and equipment prepared to film the first every movie made in Orange County. The film, Two
Brothers, was a period piece where the outlaw scenes were to be filmed in the local foothills. That portion of
the filming came off without any problems, but trouble started when the locals observed the filming on the downtown streets. As the actors moved in a mock processional toward the Mission a crowd
gathered to watch. Before very long, however, some of the townsfolk got the idea that Griffith was belittling a funeral procession that had taken place the day before. The observers became
hostile to the point of throwing rocks at the actors!
The situation was growing uglier by the minute. It was only after some cajoling and quick negotiations by the town's hotel proprietor that the angry crowd settled down. Griffith suggested a peace offering of holding a rodeo and roping show to be performed by the cowboys in his troupe. That did the trick and the filming was allowed to continue. Whew!
Across her life, the Canadian born actress made 40 movies for Griffith's company, plus some 160 films for others. Her contribution to the art of film is undisputed. She co-founded United Artists Studio with Charlie Chaplin and her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks. She was also a founder of the famous Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, known today as The Academy. She was known as "America's Sweetheart" decades before Shirley Temple usurped the title.
|Young Artist: Ricky, age 5|
To think that something as simple as a painting or photograph has the power to transport a person backward in time is awe inspiring. Recalling Rick (who was Ricky back in 1970) as he flies his kite and his baby sister wheels by on her plastic trike, somehow takes me to a different world. Thinking of Miss Pickford and her love for the mission allows me to appreciate history in a different way. What power these items can have! Clearly, I have learned a lesson. I will not be moving my son's painting!
|Jean and Jerry visit in March|
|Learning About California's History|
Donna Enjoys Being at Docent
|The Mission Inspires Donna to Paint|
Celebrating Tet in Vietnamese Culture
The Ladies of Club Nails.
|Dixie and Lacey chill Watching Surfers|
|Elite Surfers Consider Waves|
|Ryan Rustan with Lacey|
|Sugar the National Surf Dog Champ|
Holidays Allow Time with Family
|Beautiful Saddleback Mountain|
|Emily will move into the dorms at USCD in two weeks!|
Donna on a Winter ride
Since the heavens are lining up for us, I think we should celebrate this symbolic nod from above. Folklore has it that the Native American tribes in the northeast noticed that during the first full moon, around what we call January, when the days are the shortest, that the hungry wolves were howling at the moon more than usual. Thus, the name, "Wolf Moon." It was considered an omen directing humans to listen to their soft internal signals; a chance to improve oneself, and to strengthen one's relationships.
Happy New Year from the Friess Family
Baby Maya born Friday Night
Dixie finds peace through Meditation
Finding Joy visiting a friend's puppies
Doing Something New_ Teaching Caroline china painting
Vincent Van Gogh Self Portrait
Mary, Donna & Leanne discuss
Youtube Video with Alan Watt
Ken's 75th Birthday - Beach Style
Captain Caroline (age 7!)
Captain Caroline with her Uncle
My best, donna
Greetings! Summer is nearly upon us. My Mission tour this morning of thirty fairly
rowdy nine and ten-year-olds who will soon be free from the confines of school was a daunting challenge!! I really had to up my game to keep those wriggly students focused!
Last week during my granddaughter's eighth grade graduation
|Donna (Mimi) taking Megan to So Africa|
from the small Christian school, where she has been enrolled since kindergarten, I
observed something I want to share with you. It was one of those precious moments. The graduation was a formal affair with caps, gowns and valedictory speeches. Afterward, the school hosted a
reception in the gymnasium. I approached my granddaughter and hugged my congratulations. She hung on as long as she could greeting all of us, but then the enormity of leaving all of her friends
and moving on to a big public high school overtook her. She was overwhelmed with emotion, and burst into tears, nestling her face into the safety of her mother's waiting shoulder. I watched as
her mother quietly engulfed the bereft child into a private sanctuary of long hair and kindness.
I saw. I reflected. It was just a moment in parenting of a thousand such moments across a child's growing up, but it said so much. It showed that my daughter-in-law has created a safe haven for her girl, that it is she who is dependable to draw closer when one's world has turned up-side-down. Certainly, not a moment of drum rolls and trumpets, but a silent illustration of just how instrumental moms, dads, grandparents, and siblings can be to a child's well being. I knew I had witnessed something important.
I began collecting such moments a few years back after readingChasing Daylight by Eugene O'Kelly. It is the story of his last six weeks of life. Too late, he discovered that his fast-paced international work life, had precluded him from being present in his own life. With a catastrophic medical diagnosis he determined to make his last six weeks on earth the most compelling possible of all. He did that by, as he said, "collecting more precious moments than he had in the entire preceding fifty-two years!" Inspired by O'Kelly, I have been keenly aware of such special moments. One of my strongest life goals has been to see the world. I have dedicated myself to that end in recent years. Joyfully; I have now trekked the Himalayas, explored the temples of Ankor Wat, thrilled to the majestic sight of
|Jumping with Massaii- Serengeti 2011|
thousands of wildebeests, elephants, and rhinos in their migration across the
great Serengeti Plain, jumped with the Masaii, all the while savoring the enormity of meeting new people and thrilling to other ways of living life. I am out-the-door this week to see where
Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years fighting against Apartheid in South Africa, and to endeavor to understand that part of the world more fully. My eyes and heart will be open.
I am hoping that you will reflect on the special happenings that
|Nepalese friend- Himalayan trek 2010|
are occurring around you every day, and that you will take them in. I think
precious moments help to make our lives richer and more full. I for one have a profound respect for the loving ways of my adult children who are parenting their many offspring. As always, I would
love to hear about a precious moment you have encountered of late.
My best, donna
|Picking Up Dixie|
|Meeting Sister Lacey|
|4th Graders on blustery Friday|
|Donna's great grandfather at Mission SJC|
|Grandaughter Jayceline discovers native grinding stone|
|Historical marker along north bank of San Juan Creek before La Plata|
I see my children as they are
in the world.
Giant Tree that nearly killed
Donna with Megan and Jaycelin.
It is important to Listen
Our Moments on the Planet are Finite
Grandgirls ready the Santa Bucks.
Cousins Enjoying the Auction
Donna and her Mom
Donna's painting of Foster the service dog
Take a Walk and Celebrate Nature
|Daughter Julina Creates New Holiday Tradition|
1. Be proactive. Plan some activity or ritual that will help you get through the day. Perhaps it is a trip, hosting a gathering, taking a walk in the afternoon, doing something to break up the traditions from the past.
2. Take time to think about your loved one and talk about him or her with a trusted confidant.
I think that when we are able to surrender to the wonder of such powerful emotion it transports us. I would love to hear about one of your Awe Moments. My best, donna
Sunflowers at Everglades
A Cuban landfill turned into beauty
Pretending to try Cuban cigars
Julina age 15
Julina age 13
|Adoptive Mom and Her New Baby|
Strollers at the Great Wall
Boys playing in the Streets
|Nephew Parker at Grandparents Day|
|Swallows Day Parade Clydesdales|
Youngest Son Dan and Donna
|Emily - A Watercolor by Donna|
|Emily and Blaze|
Savoring one's Precious moments.
Em and Elizabeth
Last week on my dog walk, I encountered a woman whom I've briefly chatted with across the years, a woman in her forties who has a nice little dog. As we exchanged pleasantries, I shared that I was excited because my new horse was arriving later in the day. She looked at me and said, "You should not be on a horse." Dumbfounded and perhaps, for once, speechless, I mumbled my goodbyes and the dogs and I continued on.
Really? I thought as I processed that negative transaction and unsolicited dictate. For all she knows I am a world renown trick rider, a rodeo queen, racing champion of the west....I continued to mull over her invasion of my psychological boundary as other such instances came to mind. I recalled my young lady doctor telling me I could not do cartwheels for my granddaughter. "Why not?" I had responded, "Because of your age!" She countered. "What's wrong with my age?" Well, that conversation went nowhere! Another time I was having my hair done and was telling the hairdresser about the trip I was taking to Egypt. From a few chairs down a man interrupted and insisted, "You'll be killed. Your family will miss out on you. They take hostages and then you will be killed!"
Who was he anyway?
Have you had this experience of others around you working hard to reduce the scope of your world?
A basic tenet of communication theory and effective human relationships is that one should never give unsolicited advice. Never! Advice should only be offered when others ask for it, or when one has asked permission, such as asking, "So do you want my take on this situation?" Only then. But in the instances I have cited, those people were not offering advice, they were giving out dictates. Ugh!
Dr. George Bach in his wonderful book, Stop! You're Driving Me Crazy, teaches about mind rape, the strategywherein others force their way into our head and tell us what to do or what we are thinking or feeling. Dr. Bach believes they pull this stuff on us due to their own chronic low self esteem. By trying to somehow lower us, they are attempting to raise themselves up. They place themselves in a position of one-up, telling us what is best for us. This is passive/aggressive behavior. It includes elements of the psychological game called "Blemish," where the instigator strives to put a blemish, a negativity, on another. If confronted they will fall back on something like, "you are afraid to look at the truth," or "you are in denial." When you think about it, it takes a lot of nerve for someone to butt into our business! These crazymakers are incredibly annoying, but perhaps using Dr. Bach's lens and seeing that they are toxic people, we can better insulate ourselves from their invasiveness.
One of the most interesting classes I have ever taken was at UC Irvine with Dr. Robert Bramson, author of Coping with Difficult People. One day in class I asked him about a toxic person I was forced to interact with. He heard me out and then said, "She'll eat you for breakfast!" Yikes I had thought, I know... His advice: work to keep away from the toxic difficults! My best thinking, when you encounter one on the dog trail, just smile and keep on walking!
I'd love to hear how you are coping with them.
My best, donna
|Donna & Ken enjoyed a snowy Thanksgiving.|
My best, donna
|Taking Time over the Holidays for FUN!|
|Spending Time with Friends|
|Donna and Ken at Book Festival Awards|
|Being alone with one's self|
Down time can allow creativity to bubble forth
|Donna in the moment with grand daughters Ashley and Elizabeth|
Pursuing our Interests
Enjoying Fun Activities
Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zone
What fun I had observing the joy on the faces of eight teens as they raced the stormy surf at the Wedge in
Newport Beach last Friday evening. We were there through a new program at the Boys and Girls Club, one forcing the youth to experience new things, to vacate
their comfort zones. The eight youth laughing at the ocean's edge chose to go, while three spots remained unclaimed out of the 100 club members who had the opportunity. Perhaps trying something new just seemed like too much, but for those with us, they were bursting with excitement having never before been to Newport Beach. They had opened the door to new possibilities.
The researchers into what brings human happiness put taking up new challenges and living through one's
passion high on the list. Dr. Willliam Glasser, father of
Reality Therapy, loved to say, "We choose the life we are living." If your Happiness Tank is not filled to the brim, why not start now to move forward, perhaps into the unknown, to take on something new? We all have different strengths and talents, and we may not reach the highest pinnacle but there is joy and excitement in the journey. I love the quote, "It is not the destination but the journey that brings happiness." You are in charge of your life. Only you can take care of yourself, and only you know what that little voice In the back of your mind is whispering about what to do next.
It is a big world out there. Why shouldn't you be among those who choose to step out of the comfort zone and into something new? Those of you who have followed my posts know that I was very apprehensive about leaving my comfortable world of teaching, but after 45 years it was simply time. I had to make a move. It was the right move. Maybe it is time for you to make a move too. It would be awful to come to the end of life and regret not being bold enough to go for it.
I vividly remember my little-girl self racing up the front walk to my grandmother’s house across the street from Farmer’s Market in Hollywood. My younger sister and I would eagerly finger
the door bell which would lead to our favorite grandmother. We would be filled with anticipation, standing on tippy toes to look into her front bedroom window. Almost always, she
would be lying down, resting, probably before one of her late night Arthur Murray balls. The fact is that our grandmother was modeling resting to us in a very real way. She knew that to do all
she did, and it was a lot, she had to rest. That value has sustained me across my life while I managed 120 rental units, was a political wife, mother to three active children, held down a
full time college teaching job and mastered portraiture. In more recent years rest has sustained me as I volunteer in my community, facilitate a loss of a loved one group, meet with private
clients and turn out books.
I admit that in those early days I was sometimes the object of a ridicule, ( I still hear other couples saying, “We’re out with Donna and Ken, gotta’ get our girl home early…”). If there was a layer of criticism, I ignored it. Over time our friends came to understand that Donna makes rest a priority. Just yesterday, as I greeted my coaching client, she hugged me hello remarking, “Donna you must have 48 hours in each day!”
I just smiled as I thought not really. It is just that I listen to my body and take time to recharge my internal engine. When I was a young, exhausted mother, blazing the feminist conviction that a mother could do it all; hold down a career while raising good kids, that same grandmother frequently admonished me, “Donna , no one will take care of you except yourself.”
I began to take that to heart. I got some housekeeping help. I scheduled weekly massages, I learned to say no to non-essential activities, above all else, I rested. An article by Emma Derman Teitelon in the elephant journal, April 14, 2015, resonated with me on this important subject. Emma notes that the people she sees are depleted, uninspired, and exhausted. She says this is because of a “deep rejection of rest…when we rest it is easy to feel unworthy. In stillness it is easy to question our value.” She goes on to discuss the social addiction to speed. Imagine drive-through dry cleaners, pharmacies, banks, Starbucks! Oh that’s right, you don’t have to imagine, they are everywhere! Somehow many of us women have come to revere the mandate of “doing it all,” aspiring to becoming superwomen. This is in direct violation of our feminine need to reflect, to be, to contemplate. Also it is not possible without paying a too high price.
Perhaps we can do a lot of it, but we must rest. There is no doubt about the mind body connection. If one is to be at one’s creative best, connected to the inner life force, it is essential to rest. We cannot be our authentic selves when we are depleted and exhausted. You know that when you do too much, your body finally screams, “time out!” You become ill. Let us not wait until then. Let us live the longest and fullest lives possible, let us celebrate the quiet, enjoy the pulse of our own hearts, for in that stillness we regenerate ourselves and there is simply more of us to go around.
Ladies you are invited to the Mother’s Day “Get Happy” Event at the Center Club in Costa Mesa on May 12th where I will be sharing more ideas about living more fully. Go to www.womansage.org to reserve your served dinner.
|KUCI Show with Kimberlee Martin|
|Avalon Race: Donna, brother Chuck, son Rick|
Recent events prove the indomitable nature of the human spirit, from million person solidarity marches to hosting an elite athletic event. In the wake of the Paris attacks last Friday, my three adult children and I felt the burden of those barbarous terror attacks lifting from our hearts as we crossed the Catalina Channel toward Avalon for their big 50 mile Avalon foot race. As the knots clicked by we searched for grey whales; before long blow spouts splashed on the horizon. My son, Dan, quickly maneuvered the boat toward the blows. Smooth whale trails led to the majesty of watching a long sleek whale as it rose out of the sea. I gasped indelight! More blows. Before long another whale sighting. We were in that thrilled state of mind when we entered Avalon harbor. Suddenly seeing the flags at half mast, we were jolted back to reality. The truth of the wicked nor'easter, the week before, and the havoc it wreaked on the small island became evident, resulting in the death of two island residents.
As we moored, I caught sight of a giant orange tractor on the beach, clearing the remains of two crushed boats, victims of unrelenting twelve foot waves. As a lifetime visitor to the island my heart was heavy. In all my years of boating I have never witnessed such destruction; ruined boats, fields of debris, and evidences of broken dreams.
On shore my three companions checked in for the race. They posed under the "Catalina Benefit 50 Mile Run" banner that hung between two palm trees next to the demolished hull of an enormous boat. On the walk to our hotel we studied the impromptu memorial to the two fallen Avalon boaters killed in the tumult of the storm, one of the worst to ever ravage the small island.
At every turn, residents of Avalon, seemed to need to share about the murderous storm. We learned that "Pretty Boy" or "P.B.," the dog, came shivering into the Marlin Club where his owner spent time. The dog's
owner, Bruce Ryder, and the boat they lived on, Ocean Ryder, had been lost. We listened to details about Tim Mitchell, the first harbor patrolman killed in the line of duty in one hundred years. He had been trying to save the 65' dive boat, King Neptune, when it crushed him. His successful effort in moving it out of the trajectory of the several boats moored in the harbor, boats with people aboard, likely spared lives.
On Saturday, race day, the memorial for Bruce Ryder was underway fifteen feet from the race headquarters. I felt a mix of emotions as I observed the miserable faces of the mourners juxtaposed against
the triumph of the early finishers. I thought more about the events of recent days, how bravely the residents of the island were trying to move forward by hosting the event, even thought they were still very clearly in the middle of their own tragedy. Some twelve hours later, my wet but jubilant runners crossed the finish line; strength in the midst of adversity. Today's headlines are filled with reports of the millions marching across the world in demonstrations of solidarity against terror attacks. These events once again highlight for me our indomitable human spirit. We don't stop and we are not giving up.
These stories of the human spirit are all around us. I would love to hear an indomitable story you have observed.
Yesterday the man standing behind me in line at Costco was talking on his cell phone saying, "The holidays aren't what they're cracked up to be. They were okay, but I'm glad they're over." That got me to thinking how easily we can take for granted time spent with family and friends. I believe that what we pay attention to and how we pay that attention determine the content and quality of our lives.
A new year is upon us, and a new opportunity to refocus our thoughts. Perhaps we can train ourselves to find beauty in the most ordinary of everyday life. Lately I have had a heightened awareness of the mundane. Sunday, for example, my husband and I packed up the last of the holiday decorations. As we labeled the plastic bins and tucked them into the attic, I thought how profoundly confident I am that I will be around to open them next year. Even the simple packing up, a routine, ordinary detail in our busy lives, can be seen to hold layers of meaning. The ornaments themselves hold value for many are handmade treasures from decades ago when our children were little. Others are inherited antique glass bulbs. As I wrapped them, I could almost see my child self standing next to my little sister lovingly decorating our aunt's tree. Ordinary, but yet layered with meaning.
Last week my Golden Retriever, Tessie had a sore foot. I had to leave her home while I took the other two walking along the beach trail. Many passer-bys asked after my missing dog. I smiled and explained. A few days later, this time with my usual three, I encountered more walkers and bikers who noted that Tessie was
back. As I passed one man on a bicycle he cheered, "Ah they're all here. Have a Golden day!" We both laughed at his little play on words, but it got me to thinking how easily we can take for granted the richness of our most ordinary everyday experiences. Clearly many of the same folks enjoy the routine of our exercise course. Sometimes we stop and chat, but mostly we are simply aware of one another, content to merely smile or say hello as we trek along next to the seashore. The walks are everyday ordinary but I see richness and meaning in them.
For the new year let's take notice of these commonplace moments and perhaps celebrate them and in so doing enrich our lives.
I'm smiling thinking of the wonderful scene I observed the other day. There was a gang of mommies whose tee shirts read "Stroller Warriors" lined up for a race along the parking lot at the beach where I was walking my three dogs. It was a blustery morning. The dogs and I paused to admire the captivating activity in front of us. Half of the eleven strollers were double strollers-a heavy load to push!
Suddenly they were off, roller blades flashing beneath them! They seemed to fly by! I grinned. The dogs and I
kept walking. An hour later we returned to find that the roller blades had been exchanged for running shoes and those energetic moms were still at it, this time jogging, high pony tails streaming behind them! I could not help but admire our cultural passion for fitness and the outdoors.
I knew I was witnessing something special and it quickly linked to a similar long ago memory of my own. My husband, Ken and I were young parents on a Sunday afternoon family outing in the Back Bay of Newport Beach. Ken was jogging while I was on my bike with two-year-old Julie in the baby seat behind me. Five-year-old Rick was riding his own bike. We had gone along for a few miles, when suddenly Julie announced, "I want to run with Daddy!" We unbuckled her and she began to jog along next to Ken. We expected her to give up after a few minutes, but she surprised us, continuing the two miles until we got back to our truck. As tiny as she was, we couldn't believe how she had just kept going, big green eyes sparkling with delight.
That day we learned something about our daughter that would prove true across the next four decades, she is dedicated to fitness and physical challenges. Not only was she an All American goalie in college, she has continued to compete in all sorts of racing events for the pure joy of it. During the years when she was the mom with young children, she could often be found pushing her big blue racing stroller, little ones buckled inside, across many miles. Last month, on Thanksgiving, she and her husband and two of their teens raced in a 10K Turkey Trot. On January 10th we will be cheering when she and her two brothers cross the finish line for the Catalina 50 miler.
I love that the Mommy Stroller Warriors celebrate fitness. It reinforces for me how important it is for us to take good care of our health, and how much pure fun it can be. Like my daughter once did, these moms, even during the hard toddler years are out there, laughing and modeling good health for their little ones. I searched online and discovered a whole national Stroller Striders movement inviting moms to companionship, support, and exercise.
As a life coach I often hear the complaints of mothers who feel isolated during the pre-school years. What an awesome way to counter that! I'm reveling in the crossover memory the mommies brought to me, of my little Julie running along side her big daddy, of her as a mom modeling to her own children. What is niggling at the back of your imagination for you to take on? Is it exercise, joining a group, trying something new? I would love to know. We will soon have a brand new year spread out in front of us, a perfect time to take on something new.
On Saturday I was honored to be among the five hundred or more celebrants at a friend's memorial. His time was cut short but the many eulogies reflected the rich way in which he approached life, deeply touching all who knew him. By the end of the beautiful celebration I could not help but smile and think, "A life well lived! Bravo!"
I continued to think about him and about the many indigenous people I encountered on my eleven day adventure to Peru last month. I came away from both experiences with a new perspective and appreciation for what it is to be human. I am impressed that we humans, no matter how hard it is, just seem to continue to move forward. Our friend fought bravely, never losing his love of life, for a very long time against the cancer that gripped him.
High in the Andes, I was awed by the fact that people have so little but yet seem content and cheerful while they work very hard. At 14,000 feet native women sit hunched at their blankets of wares far into the freezing dark of early nightfall, hoping to earn a few dollars by selling their mittens and curios. In Machu Picchu, our guide, Sonia, endures a three hour trainride from Cusco, a half hour bus ride through the jungle, to arrive at the park gates in hopes of a chance to guide someone. She earned $45 for taking us around for two hours, then she repeats her trip back home. Seven hours in transportation for a chance to earn $45. Yes, the Peruvian economy is different from ours, but still, a big effort for the rewards, and she is happy to do it!
Two thoughts keep running through my head, how brave humans can be in the face of adversity, and how important it is NOT to take for granted the plenty which we enjoy. I hope through the holiday shopping and wrapping that perhaps we can teach the children in oursphere to appreciate the fact of being alive in the world and to honor the riches we might almost take for granted as Americans. Perhaps we can reach out to others in need during this beautiful season as we consider the thought that Life should not be lived but celebrated!
I keep thinking of my sister Diana's blog a few weeks ago about boogie boarding with her young sons. She tells of watching a grandmother supervising a child from the shore, but the lady was riveted by my joyous sister and her sons thrilling to the foamy surf. Finally Diana called to her, "hey come join us, the water's great!" The lady looked at her, her eyes grew bigger as she considered this new idea.
Before long, that grandmother grabbed a boogie board and joined in the fun. She wasn't very good at it, but when she finally caught a wave they all laughed in delight. Diana's point was that happiness is contagious, but I see another aspect of this story and that is THE POWER OF PERMISSION. Diana gave the lady "permission." We all hold that power if we choose to exercise it.
My husband and I are very involved with the Boys and Girls Club which teaches youth to think big. Last year I coached a Club teen who was competing for Youth of the Year. He worked hard and after many competitions got to meet the president of the United States! This is a boy who grew up sharing one room with his whole family while he slept in the closet. When he began kindergarten he did not have enough English to ask to go to the restroom, now he is a student at UCI. He was encouraged to think big.
One of my sweetest memories is of a former student, a previous gang member, who came back to my college to find me. He wanted me to meet his wife and baby, and to see his UCLA Law Degree. He came to thank me for encouraging him.
Sometimes we do not understand the power of a few little words. I recall one evening, after one of my presentations, a woman came up to me and said, "I did it! I got my MFCC. I am a therapist!" I did not know what she was referring to. I listened as she explained that she had once been in one of my training sessions at Laura's House and had asked me if I thought she were too old to get her therapist license. She explained that I had said, "of course not!" She went on to tell me that those words changed her life. I did not know her, and I still do not, but it shows the power of a few simple words.
There are endless stories of our friends and loved ones wondering if they dare to go back to school, take up writing a memoir, train for a 10K race, climb a mountain, or adopt a puppy. You have the power to encourage others to do more, to reach further. I am privileged to be the life coach for the Womansage Transition Program. The program is an engine of possibility. It supports and inspires women to move forward, to change, to dare to think bigger.
Who in your sphere needs encouragement, needs for you to believe in them? I challenge you to exercise your power, and to work to negate the effects of the CRITICISM MACHINES which surround us. Become of the voice of support, become an encouragement machine. I'd love to hear about it.
New Beginnings: School has started, Fall is closing in and for many of us there is a sense of getting back to our "normal" lives. But sometimes being "normal" gets us stuck in an unsatisfying routine. So I've been thinking about that: can we afford to be "normal?"
Last Tuesday evening, CNBC journalist, Jane Wells, addressed our Womansage group. Her talk centered around her ability to sustain a thirty-plus-year career on-camera in the competitive world of television news. She was funny and delightful, but her message was clear: she keeps reinventing herself. She told us that whatever the network needs, she is ready. Joan Rivers, was also a master at reinventing herself. The vast media coverage surrounding her death illustrated her genius. Imagine going from stand-up comedy, to late night host, to the Red Carpet, to Fashionista and more, staying in the spot light for decades! She was constantly evolving.
When asking how do we get "unstuck?," the answer has to be about living mindfully and looking at our lived experience as a creative challenge. You know I do a lot of crazy stuff, and today I am icing my shoulder as I write this, because I fractured it last month in the Galapagos Islands with some of our grandchildren. I was on the trip because I imagined it happening and made it so, the shoulder, hmmm, not so much!
The life we are living today is a direct result of the choices we made in the past. If life is not quite pleasing you, then make new choices now. Get out of living on "auto pilot" and take a hard look at what is not working . A tool that my clients find helpful is creating a "Goals Book." The assignment is to list 10 things you want to DO, BE, AND HAVE more in life. It's fun to illustrate some of these dreams with pictures out of magazines. This book can provide a way to a get a handle on our dreams. It can be a starting point. Then simply choose one of these desires and begin to work toward it. Setting reasonable goals and taking action toward accomplishing them every single day will lead to changing things up and getting unstuck.
We cannot not change. We age. Life moves forward. Albert Einstein liked to talk about how important imagination and creativity are. I like to think of my life as my canvas, and the way I am living it, as my creative endeavor. There is a great big world out there just waiting for you. What more do you want to do? What more do you want to be? I'd love to hear about it. Right now, though, it is time to change my ice pack!
As a collector of precious moments, I have to share with you the scene I observed from my living room last evening. Our youngest son and his family live across the street, but up a hill, above our home. Monday was trash pick-up day. I was cooking dinner, when suddenly, my husband, Ken, called to me, "come quickly!"
I rushed to our living room window. What a sight! There was turning-eleven, granddaughter, Ashley, pulling the big recycle trash can up the incline, while her four-and-a-half year-old sister was pushing it! They both seemed quite cheerful about this relatively big job. They were obviously completing their "chores" and it impresses me that my son and his wife are teaching responsibility to their girls. But what an exquisite image, seeing the big sister pulling, and the baby sister pushing, and with all her might. I will never forget the huge grin on my face every time my mind's eye recalls those two little girls and that very big trash can as they ever-so-slowly made their way up the grade!!
So far this summer I have collected so many of those special little sightings that I have been too busy to jot them down. Last Friday, for example, I was boogey boarding with my daughter and her son in the 70 degree California surf. What delightful fun to catch a wave and look over at your exuberant grandson who has caught the same wave!
Last weekend, Ken and I traveled to Yosemite with our family to renew our vows for our 50th wedding anniversary. It was lovely. Our eldest son was the officiate, and our daughter and daughter in-law saw to the details of flowers, table decorations, bird seed thrown at us as we walked back down the impromptu "aisle" consisting of our children and grandchildren, near a pond in the forest. That was an experience I shall cherish for many years to come.
Every where we have been recently, people ask, regarding our 50th, "So what is the secret?" We smile and say, "Have an attitude of gratitude." It sounds simplistic, because of course life is not easy. We all have bumps in the road, health issues and more, but, if we can celebrate the blessings that we do have, it helps us live more joyfully and gives us courage to face the hard stuff.
Of course I would love to hear any special sightings or events you have recently enjoyed.
As my daughter Julina and I boarded the airbus to fly home from our trip to Paris, the news of our nation's foremost poet, Maya Angelou's passing came to us. Tears filled my eyes as I realized how fortunate I was to have had the honor of hosting and being befriended by Dr. Angelou two years in a row when she was the guest speaker at my college, during her College Circuit years in the 1970's. I can still visualize her taking the stage, dressed in her colorful orange printed African caftan and empress head wrap. The head wrap added to her already statuesque six-foot height.
As a young college teacher, I was impressed with everything about her from her strong voice to her commanding message. She told the audience of college students about visiting campuses across the country, and finding the audiences thin, going out on campus to recruit audience members. She made things happen. It was as if she grabbed life by the shirt front and demanded that it listen.
I had read her 1969 I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings which resonated with me, even though at that time I had not dared to share my own secret of childhood violation. She modeled bravery for me.
After her first event, as I drove her back to her hotel, safely cocooned in the darkness of the interior of my car, she looked over at me and said, "Nothing (meaning Civil Rights) will get better until people like you understand." She was referring to my blonde Anglo-Saxon self. Perhaps I only understood part of the concept in those early years, but across the next decades, I did get it. Equality for all of us is deeply embedded in my soul. I doubt that I would have had the courage to share my truth in Cry the Darkness had it not been for the inspiration of Maya Angelou when she looked me directly in the eye, and beseech me to understand.
I do understand, I understand that America lost a true hero on Wednesday May 28th, our poet laureate, a prolific writer, an actress, a professor, a singer, and an inspiration to the Civil Rights Movement. She will be missed, but her legacy of making things happen will remain. She was a fighter and a doer. It is hard to imagine that the amazing and impressive Maya Angelou ever had to walk a campus to recruit students to listen to her poetry and her wisdom. The force of her character was life-changing for me. Her's was a life fully lived!
Bon Jour my friends! I am writing to you from Paris. I knew the six day hop-over to Europe would be a good trip when I took my seat on the giant airbus last week, buckled up, and glimpsed the tenderness of a young father in front of me, gently placing his infant into a zip-in snuggly baby bed at his seat. Tears sprang to my eyes as I wondered if dads get enough of the credit they deserve.
During the subsequent days of sightseeing, I've noted many other young families, from every corner of the globe, with babes in arms, repeating the same kind of rituals; the covered Saudi mother offering her little ones juice, to the tough looking Australian man gently changing his infant son's diaper as we cruised down the Seine. This has given me fresh insights into the power of the family.
Having the opportunity to spend six days with my own daughter exploring this "movable feast that is Paris," has also been a gift. One of our favorite things was inscribing a lock, closing it around the "love bridge," making a wish, and tossing the key into the Seine, symbolizing our loves for eternity. Julie's lock was about her 20th anniversary, and mine was a celebration of my 50th year with Ken next month.
Paris can now boast three such bridges covered ingleaming gold and silver locks. The government tried to clear the locks, only for the locks to return, the peoples' choice. My bet is that in the future more bridges will be covered in locks whose inscriptions speak of love and hope.
On our first morning's power walk we came upon a bride and groom being married in the shadow of the Eiffle Tower. Even though it was rainy and cold, the bride, in strapless wedding dress, was beaming to her handsome groom as they exchanged vows. We have now counted six brides about in the city, posing, and exchanging promises in little romantic corners. I wonder how many we will discover today as take to our explorations on foot.
In the future when the conversation comes to Paris, I will think of it as a City of Love and will understand that the custom of love locks originated long ago in China and now has spread around the world, an expression of hope and humanity, connecting people across the globe with the one thing that unites us all: love.
We will be home in a few days. I would love to hear your story. Daughter Julina and I are off to the Paris Book Festival Awards.
Husband Ken and I had a reality check Sunday as we completed our 13.1 mile Orange County Half-Marathon event. The story began a year ago when our son Rick and Ken, challenged any of our grandchildren to complete their first marathon. With rewards in mind, Jake and Jill completed theirs last year, this year Megan, turning 17 years old and younger sis, Emily, were up for the challenge. It is a lot of fun participating with our grandkids so Ken and I were in. As a daily power walker, I thought little of about it as we signed up, paid our entry fees, and took the girls the day before to pick up race packets and go to dinner; little of it. In fact I teased the girls about "carbo-loading" as I ate a salad and a half tuna sandwich sans any bread.
As in the past six half marathons I have competed in, I got up at 4:00 a.m., ate a scrambled egg, tied my shoes on my feet and, with Ken, met up in the dark of early morning with son Rick and his two girls. The gun went off and Rick and Megan began their full marathon. An hour later our starting pistol sounded and Ken, Emily, and I began our half-marathon. We soon spread out ; I in my ipod zone.
As the miles clicked by I admired the beautiful Corona State Beach, Newport Harbor, and the sunrise, all the while keeping up my usual steady power walking pace of four-miles an hour. As I passed mile ten I noticed that I was not interacting with the many cheering us on along the way as is my habit, nor was I now jogging past my
competitors. Still I thought little of it, hoped Ken was right behind me and ate my three snacks. It was a lovely race, even though my legs were starting to complain. It was not until I was across the finish line that the troubles began.
I hear my Ironmen sons complain of 'BONKING,' but they do such huge events, it did not occur to me that I could do the same. The finisher medal was placed around my neck and I made it about ten steps to a table along the fence of the corral, where suddenly I was over taken by nausea, dizziness, and white lights in front of my eyes. I knew that was not good. I sat.
Ken came in ten minutes behind me and experienced more of the same. This was a big lesson for us. We were blasé about the event, overly-confident, and did not consider the seriousness of power walking over 13 miles in the heat, at our age. One of the causes of "Bonking" is depletion of the blood-glucose levels. I had snacks but they were not carbs. Ken had no snacks.
Recovered the next day, Ken studied the race results: the event raised three million dollars for charity, 22,000 people participated, only .37 % of all the contenders were 70 years or over. HMM..........maybe our age mates are more realistic, set more feasible goals, and do not take chances with pressing the limits, or at least they CARBO LOAD THE NIGHT BEFORE!!
Our grand girls easily finished the event, loved it and say, "this is just the beginning of their running life." For Donna and Ken, we enjoyed participating with the family, but we learned a big lesson about being overly confident and the importance of one's fuel.
Has life shown you some lessons lately? I would love to hear about them!
My husband and I are caring for our grand dog Buddy while our youngest son and his family explore western Canada. Last night I let Buddy and our three dogs out one last time before bed. For a moment all four dogs seemed to disappear into the inky darkness. Suddenly there was a noisy scuffle. I turned on the powerful outdoor light and saw that Buddy had caught a skunk; a very big black and white skunk! Quickly, realizing what he had caught, he released it, and in that instant it turned its huge and fluffy tail toward him and let loose! Horrified by what he had done and the stickiness of the odorific spray on his face, he rushed into the garage and frantically rubbed himself on his bedding in a vain attempt to rectify his condition. Tessie, his co-conspirator, did the same. Lacey and Zoe stood off to the side watching all the commotion, shaking their heads in wonder.
Lacey & Zoe
Shamed by their new smell, he and Tessie lurked in the corners of the garage. I tended to them as best I could, considering the lateness of the hour, and the odor seeping into my home. I bid them goodnight as they slunk into the shadows.
The next morning I went to Buddy's pen to let him out. He shamefacedly hung his head, contrite over his foolishness. I had texted our son to share the excitement. His response was that "Buddy tangles with skunks about twice a month, he knows all about them, but never seems to learn." So his surprised innocence was no longer working on me as I understood that it was the thrill of the confrontation that Buddy enjoyed.
Out in the big yard this morning, he and Tessie went looking for more trouble. Hoping, I am sure, for a rematch with their worthy opponent. As I sat drinking my coffee, it occurred to me that sometimes humans do the same thing; engage in a conflict, perhaps over the smallest thing, for the excitement of the exchange. It is true, the adrenaline flows and the muscles are ready for action, but later one might feel foolish for the silliness of the altercation. Often the motivation is the thrill of the fight, not to actually win a point of argument; besides one never knows when they might get "skunked!"
The old saying, "One must choose one's battles wisely" may apply here. For now the thrill-seeker named Buddy is casing my yard for more excitement!
Yesterday, as I headed to meet up with my power walking pals, I noticed that my favorite Red Bud tree was showing its vibrant colors. Ah spring is in the air, I thought contentedly. As I drove along, my eyes fell upon the row of sunflowers that someone has whimsically planted in the vacant field by the elementary school. I smiled to myself as I admired their open faces. I could not get the "I-love-the-world" smile off my face!
Soon my friends and I were consumed with our fast paced strides and catching-up chat. We proceeded along for a few miles when suddenly, our friend, Diane, exclaimed, "Donna you are always on the look-out for precious moment. Here's one for you. Look. There!" she said pointing toward the neglected, wild open space by the trail. With that I looked more carefully to discover the source of her intrigue. There it was, something magical and serendipitous: about a dozen brightly colored bird houses and feeders planted all around, like a garden, in a forgotten patch by the pathway.
All evening, I could not stop thinking about it. I told Ken and he shared that as he was driving to work he looked over and a young mother with a car full of kids, was singing her heart out as she waited at the signal. Happiness was abounding, it seemed contagious. We laughed about it.
Today I went back to that bird house garden to take some photos. I examined the blue one labeled, "The Swallows Inn," the bright yellow one said, "by Cash Vargas age 7," another had a crazy skull and crossbones on it, while another was adorned with pink hearts. The garden was alive with color and whimsy. I was in heaven delighting in each little work-of-art house.
A lady with two small poodles was crossing the street as I went back to the car. I asked her about the bird houses. "Oh, the neighbor down the street, the pastor, thought it was such a shame that in a beautiful town we have such neglected areas. A few years ago he began with the stone wall, then he added some bird houses, then the rock pond. People have added the plantings, more bird houses and feeders. It is growing. You should talk to him," she concluded, smiling at me.
"So it has a spiritual element with the pastor and all?" I asked.
"Of course," she responded knowingly.
"Well it certainly called to me. I am very excited about it. I think it is a celebration of life. Thank you." And I hopped back into my car, loaded with my three huge Golden Retrievers.
So, I am inspired! I am going to plant myself a bird house garden and I know just where to begin, the grand kids have gifted me some of their crafty houses, perhaps I can show them off! Maybe I could embellish the garden with some wind chimes. . . What fun. With the California drought upon us it is a perfect time to take out some of the water hungry plants and try something new. The more I think about this, the more excited I am becoming. But there is something else here, the lesson could be about imagination and taking action. The man behind this has started something precious. His random act may not be for any huge, important reason other than to bring joy. My guess is that he is happy for no reason, and cherishes the thrill of being alive in the world. I hope you are singing your heart out in the car and finding precious moments in the strangest places. I would love to hear about it.
Last week the participants in my life coaching class were sharing a success they had enjoyed during the previous week. One lady, a mother of two grown sons, reported that when her son began his usual long monologue of complaints about his younger brother, that instead of trying to solve it or minimize it as was her habit, she told us that she listened with ears on her heart. Instead of following her old Parent ways she relied on her feelings. She said her son’s response was immediate. His entire attitude changed in a good way as he saw that he was really being heard.
It got me thinking about how much more comfortable it is for so many of us to stay in our “heads” or as Dr. Eric Berne would have said, to stay in our Parent State. In that know-it-all place where we probably give unwanted advice, lots of criticism, or withhold approval, we feel in control. But that sense of personal control must come at the expense of the others around us who are hoping for understanding and love.
Imagine what the world would be like if we got more into our hearts than our heads and really listened to our family members, friends and coworkers. Perhaps the angry daughters would soften toward their mothers if mother would just LISTEN. Possibly the controlling husband would have a happier wife if he would actually acknowledge her point of view. Maybe the rebellious son would stop acting-out if he did not have to work so hard to be seen.
When my kids were teens I taught them to get out of the “House of Should” and into the “House of Choice.” I was trying to get them to stop going on “automatic pilot” and think about what they really wanted to do. As time passed and they would catch me doing something that my strong Parent State said that I “should” do, which clearly I did not want to do, my kids would parrot back, “Mom, get out of the house of should!” It always made me giggle a bit to hear their wise advice and it would snap me to consciousness. They helped to keep me in touch with my heart and not let my strong head do all the ruling.
In my field, I see a lot of blaming of the economy, blaming of ex-husbands, bad families, and self pity for the difficulties in life. I think if we could lose the “blame game,” the “I’m too busy game,” or the “when my ship comes in” magical thought, we could be happier. It is time to be accountable for our actions, to stop the accusations and the procrastinating. What if we examined our own rackets and ways of manipulating the people in our lives? What if we honestly evaluated our lives to see if we are stuck? If you are not experiencing the life you have imagined for yourself then the old behaviors are not working.
A way to get on track is to become accountable. You are 100% responsible for your life. To begin, you could discover five of your most self defeating behaviors and change them. Starting today you could take action to make your life what you imagined, but it requires getting out of the old comfort zone and taking profound action. You have to set specific goals with time- lines, you would have to become a ruthless time manager who refuses to let others distract you. Now is our time. It is up to us.
Personally, I think we humans are amazing miracles. We managed to get born and live in this beautiful time in history in this beautiful place. It is time to let go of blaming others for our place in the world. I think it is essential that we become authentic and accountable. We are the only ones in charge of our happiness. Are the stories and words that you say to yourself and others enhancing or sabotaging life?
Across the years and across the world I have told my story, my horrible ugly story of having been raped by my father since my earliest memory, of the 15 month long trial against him when as middle aged women, my sisters and I had to endure just to get him to stop molesting our 4 year old niece, his granddaughter. Everywhere I go audiences want to know why I seem so okay. For years I felt like a deer immobilized in the headlights when asked that question. Now I realize I always had a plan. As a youth I forced myself to get excellent grades because I saw them as the yellow brick road out of my father’s tyranny. As a newlywed and college graduate I enrolled in a master’s degree program while I earned my teaching credentials and gestated my first child.
The get-away plan worked. I took a tenure track college teaching job, my husband and I began to buy up rental property. We had our babies and kept the hard work up until we were financially independent. We have three successful adult children and eleven happy successful grandchildren. We have both learned that each day is a gift. We try to acknowledge our blessings and strive to enhance our lives and the lives of those around us.
Last year I was finally brave enough to retire after 45 years of college teaching. I have begun a new career as a life coach and speaker. It is thrilling and fulfilling. My mornings are packed with horse- back riding, speed walking with a new gang of energetic women, yoga on the hill in Dana Point overlooking the ocean and the on-going love affair with my three golden retrievers and six cats. I know that goal setting, hard work, silver lining thinking and reframing a situation into a positive, are tools that work for me to keep me happy. I also know that adequate exercise, enough sleep, and a proper diet are my essential foundation. I love this thought of Emily Dickenson’s "It will never come again is what makes life so sweet!" I hope you will make the most of yours! I hope you will listen with ears on your heart and let the people in your life really know you. I hope you are being your best self for yourself and realize that life is fun! My best, Donna
Hi there. During the celebratory minutes after Superbowl XLVIII on Sunday, the lovely female TV interviewer asked for Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson's take on the
day, after he guided them to an incredible victory against the Denver Broncos. Wilson, small for a quarterback, told the story of discussing his size and abilities in terms of making it into the
pros with his father who remarked, "Why not you?"
That comment instantly resonated with me. Russell Wilson would not be expected to dominate against the big league tough guys, but he did not listen to the naysayers and has not just made it into the NFL, he is a star. He said "yes" to football, even though he was signed as a pro baseball player. He said "yes" to the Seahawks' decision to make him the starting quarterback. Russell Wilson is all about YES! In a newspaper interview he elaborates, "I believe that God made me 5-11 for a reason. For all the kids that have been told, "no," that they can't do it, or all the kids that will be told 'no.'"
Do you ever think about all that would not have been accomplished if others had listened to the "nos"? Maybe no America, after all we are an experiment in individual liberties. Maybe no walking on the moon, no exploring space, perhaps no artificial hearts, no organ transplants, no to real civil rights, surely no lady interviewer on the football field! The list would be long.
Russell's message can apply to us. Why not us?What more do you want to do? Of course it will take determination, focus, and hard work, but what are you dreaming about that you still want to do in the world?
Remember that Starfish story where the youth is throwing back the starfish which had been washed up during a storm? The old man naysayer comes along and sees the expanse of beach littered with starfish and says, "there are more starfish on the beach than you can possibly save before the sun comes up." The youth continued to throw them back one by one as he said, "I can make a difference to this one!" With that the naysayer bent down and began to help the youth. Before long others joined in and all the starfish were saved.
I love that story because it reminds us to take action and to insulate ourselves against those who would discourage us in following our hearts and realizing our dreams. Russell Wilson went for it. He reminds us "why not you and me?"
Happy New Year! I hope life is settling down for you after all the excitement of the holidays. Ours were lively and lovely even though my husband was struck down by the flu.
Yesterday I received a wonderful email filled with memories from a man who, as a child, enjoyed our 100 plus year-old river rock cabin near Big Bear. It had been owned by his grandparents during the 1940's and 50's.
The email was delicious with recollections of long ago badminton competitions, softball games with the ball landing far across the lawn in the Santa Ana River, and best of all, the fresh cider from the ancient apple press. He asked after the press; did it still exist? It does.My brain leaped to a favorite old photo of my three kids at that very press, my youngest who might have been six, with an apple on top of his head! In fact that photo was my Christmas card that year. A sweet memory for me.
My memories overlaid upon his, and got me to thinking about a book I am reading, The End of Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe which is getting a lot of buzz. In the biography, the author-son, is describing the last months with his mother: their bookish talks as she endures chemo, and he tries to discover what prompted her many big life decisions. I have been interested in the fact that the characters in this true story seem in such a hurry. Rushing here and rushing there, seemingly overloaded with too many things to do. As I reflect on the New Year's advice and resolutions landing in my inbox, I wonder if the best thing that some of us could do, is to slow down and take a breath. It may be that to truly live life, we need to more fully celebrate each day, and work to eliminate the rushing about or at least to fully appreciate what we are rushing to.
For years my husband and I have enjoyed a little share time by naming what we observed of beauty that day. Last week, on the way to Thanksgiving dinner in San Diego, we drove along the coast. It was one of our beautiful warm California days, a perfect time for collecting Beauty. As our car moved along, we passed a"toy box" trailer parked at the curb with a formally set table set up in the back, comp
lete with a floral center piece! Ken quickly turned the car around so I could take a picture and wish them a happy holiday. They eagerly told me that they do this every year. I loved that they tailor fit (trailer fit) the holiday to their needs.
Our plans for the day included a long walk along the shore. As we strolled, we encountered a man lying in the shallow water in his wet suit making "snow angels" in the gentle waters. Clearly he was enjoying life. A bit further, we came upon two young girls doing cart wheels in the wet sand.
Soon we observed a family sitting in beach chairs enjoying sandwiches. We thought to ourselves what lovely creative ways to give thanks. Finally heading back to our car, we passed the picnic tables where we smiled to see an elaborately dressed table with the adjacent barbecue going full blast. That family was having their turkey dinner at the beach!
As we drove to our daughter's home for our owncelebration, our excited talk turned to the clever ways people have for celebrating life. As you prepare for your holidays I wish you the chance to survey all that is around you. Last night, coincidentally, Ken and I had the same observation. We had both noticed the tiny buds of moss growing along the dirt path to the barn, the recent rain allowing nature to flourish. Last week I watched a flock of pelicans dive bombing into the ocean for their fish of the day. I think I might have been laughing out loud. I loved how they would gain great height and then swoop straight down into the water!
I have discovered a site for inspiration which you might enjoy. It is http://www.thespiritedwoman.com/. The Spirited Woman organization is also on Facebook. There are stories and blogs that encourage us toward our best selves. I have been honored to be a part of this and this week, Cherish the Light, my new book, was listed as one of their top twelve book picks for the year. I hope your eyes discover beauty wherever you are.
It takes my breath away to remember how scary the music was leading into the drama on the old time radio show The Whistler. Excitement oozed out of our Philco radio as my little sister and I sat spellbound waiting to hear what would happen next. Being a kid in the era before television offered thrills of the imagination. Those old shows, such as The Shadow, tantalized us with their scary, creaking, suspense!
Simultaneously, many of us were also the lucky recipients of the oral tradition of story telling. My sister and I would wile away long hours at our grandparents' knees,
captivated by their adventures. Our grandfather owned a pharmacy in the horse and buggy days of Los Angeles and we would delight in hearing how he foiled a robber by pretending that the
over-sized candy bar in his coat pocket was a gun. We were often told about his amazing teacher Miss Mary Foy, an early suffragette who helped to bring the vote to women in Los Angeles in
1911, that was almost ten years before the rest of the country. Our grandmother (who was 20 years junior to our grandfather) would intrigue us with stories of how she would ride
the Red Car to the amusement pier at the end of Venice Boulevard where she would romp in the fun houses and whirlygigs. Another of her favorite topics was about the best teacher she ever
had; also Los Angeles High School's Miss Mary Foy. We learned that as a young woman, Mary was the first female librarian for the big public library on Temple Street. As frequent visitors to that
library, my sister and I could hardly believe that when it opened in the latter part of the 1800's women were not allowed to use it!
Those enchanting memories of old Los Angeles, came rushing back as I opened my invitation to the annual luncheon of the First Century Families of Los Angeles and
Mary Foy's photo adorned the front of it! The luncheon last week was in her honor. I was delighted! It is one thing growing up hearing old stories, and quite another to hold a photo of one of the main characters in your hand. The First Century Families consists of the descendents of the founding families in Los Angeles who lived there between 1781 and 1881. As I scanned the program I saw that Alice O'Neill Avery, her son, Tony Moiso, and granddaughter Trina Moiso were speakers. I closed my eyes and marveled that the generations from so long ago were able to come together each year and that the ties were so much deeper than a mere luncheon. I am fascinated that so many early Los Angeles families have developed interconnecting roots in Orange County. My husband Ken, for example, who worked with community members to build the Capistrano Valley Boys and Girls Club credits Tony Moiso and his family with substantive financial support and leadership in allowing the club to be born. I knew that my son Dan worked with members of the O'Neill family as well, in his construction business.
On luncheon day, as the attendees gathered in the reception area of the California Club in downtown Los
Angeles, I made small talk with a woman and shared my relationship to Mary Foy. The lady responded, "I wore her graduation dress from Los Angeles High School at my own graduation from there!" I smiled as I thought about my grandfather's 1904 "Los Angeles City School" diploma hanging on my wall, of my own mother's graduation from Los Angeles High School. I thought of her classmate Mike Marienthal who was my husband's high school boys' vice principal and personal hero.
As the program got underway I was captivated by the history being shared; especially the daily shootings, in what was a wild outpost of civilization in those early days. I recalled that my grandmother's grandmother, Mary Berry Mathews, climbed off the Southern Pacific Rail car the day she arrived in downtown from Virginia, only to witness a gun fight and deadly shooting at her very feet. Her many children crowded behind her skirts. We learned that 5% of the population was killed in one year due to lawlessness and shootings! The program was a history buff's banquet. As the facts unfurled I was flabbergasted to learn that Mary Foy had founded this organization. No wonder my grandmother attended so many luncheons. I also learned that Alice O'Neill Avery was the last living member of the first gathering of these descendants.
As I drove home and passed Avery Parkway in south Orange County, and the communities of Ladera Ranch and
Mission Viejo, I thought of how they were all part of properties owned by the O'Neills and other early families, and that all of the vastness of beautiful Southern California was once part of Spanish land grants. I thought of our good friend Tony Forster and the fact that his great grandfather had once owned Mission San Juan Capistrano, the icon of our city. I am fascinated by the degree of closeness we share. My grandchildren attend Marco Forster Middle School, Tony barbecued at my daughter's wedding. My sons are in Indian Princesses with an Irvine family grandson. My grandchildren are friends with his children. History and our links to others fascinate me. I relish the fact that as a country we are still so relatively young compared to other parts of the world that we can name our touch points. I cherish the fact that we are so marvelously interconnected, held together by mere degrees of separation. I leaned back into the headrest of my seat as I thought that perhaps history could be more compelling than even the most powerful episode of The Whistler. I could only imagine what more I could discover with an opportunity to exchange more family stories. There is always next year!
I would love to hear about one of your six degrees of separation.
Delighted to be included in "family weekend" we joined our daughter's family to visit our first grandson, newly settled in his new university life. Husband Ken and I turned the occasion into a bit of a holiday. On the way north from Orange County, California, we stopped at old favorite, Carpenteria State Beach, where we happily walked along the wet seashore in our bare feet. There were children playing and people surf fishing; the park seemed full of campers and RVers. This was odd as it was a non-holiday Friday in October, just after lunch.
"Ken, look at all those people. How can there be so many families here during school hours?"
Ken just shook his head. He had no idea either. After a bit we came upon a fisherman and I queried, "Hi! Why is the park is so full? What is going on?"
Smiling at me as he cast his line, he explained, "Why, it is Halloween Haunt in the park!"
With that explanation Ken and I continued our walk along the seashell strewn sand delighting in the afternoon sunshine of the beautiful Fall day. On the way back we decided to walk through the park, past all the campsites. We were surprised to see the big RVs decked out in colorful pumpkin lanterns, tents sporting scary witches, and truck campers with goblins and spider webbing. My imagination could visualize it after dark. The weekend vacationers were turning the park into their own Haunt! No wonder it was quickly filling up with families. Who would want to miss this?
This was amazing to me because throughout all my years as a youth in this very park, we kids made our own amusements with "kick the can" or hide and seek. Nothing was organized.
At that point we approached a truck with a camper on it. Ken pointed out a huge Golden Retriever jumping into the back before I could get a good look at him. Oh darn it! I missed him.
"Donna, why don't you ask the owners if you can meet him?"
That was all the coaxing I needed. Walking toward them I asked, "Oh I saw your beautiful dog. Could I meet him?"
"Well, he will bark at you!" Replied the grinning man.
"I can take barking, as long as he doesn't bite me. Will he bite?"
Chucking, "Oh no. He is just full of a lot of noise."
With that a beautiful 100 plus pound male dog bounded to the camper door, and sure enough, he was barking. He jumped down, followed by a friendly lady. As I admired him, he sniffed my hand and allowed me to rub his downy fur.
"His name is Bodie and he's five." They said.
"Bodie. I had a Golden named Bodie." I offered. "I had her for fifteen years and believe it or not, she too greeted people with a lot of noise. Hers was a big 'woo woo' greeting! This is such fun!"
We chatted another minute while Ken waited for me on a nearby bench. As I left, the lady looked at me and smiled. "We will be here all weekend. "Come back."
"Oh, thank you. We are just passing through. Off to see our grandson at college!"
I saw a flash of disappointment cross her face. She no doubt thought I was a fellow camper.
Rejoining Ken, I shared about the big yellow dog, Bodie and his barking greeting. We continued our stroll reminiscing about our own Bodie of years ago and how she would let the grandkids hold on to her tail as she pulled them around the pool.
As we walked past the various camp sites, we were met with friendly hellos and smiles. I could feel a powerful sense of community among the campers. I reflected on the idea of community, from "communare" meaning coming together. I often hear people complain that they feel isolated, they don't even know their neighbors, yet here at the water's edge, I was amazed to see how artfully these folks were making a beautiful celebration out of a something as simple as a camp ground and Halloween. They were all in, maybe that's what it takes to create such a culture, the desire to participate. I felt proud of my fellow humans!
As we cleaned the sand off our feet, Ken commented, "Donna, I think we have collected another of those Precious Moments you are always talking about!"
"Why, I think you are right." The friendliness of the dog owners, the decorations and excitement in the campground and the beauty of what it is to be human. I grinned as we got into the car to continue our adventure. Yes, we had collected another precious moment.
Last week, I was sharing with my daughter that I was working on coming up with a precious moment theme for the next article. She said, 'Mom, why don't you write about our family gatherings? You
don't get it. What you have is what all of us parents want..."
"Huh?" Was my highly intellectual response.....
"Mom, take Sunday dinner. You invited us and we all came: your kids and their kids. It is what we parents are all hoping for, that our kids will want to come home. Mom, you do this all the time and do not even think about it. What could be more precious than all of us wanting to come home and you being surrounded by your loved ones? Plus it just means so much to us. You make that happen!"
"Oh," I answered softly. I guess I have taken it for granted. I invite, I cook, and viola there it is: a big family get together. I have often thought to myself, "ah the power of cooking!" but I know better. I remember a line under a poster when I was a young mom. It was something like a graphic of an open palm and it said, "Set them free and they will return." I know that I took that to heart. I have always avoided using guilt, there was never the "command appearance" request some families employ. They all knew that they were free to accept or decline, no consequences. Maybe that is why they are happy to come over, even if it is just pizza. They seem to love to be in each other's company. Yes I have taken that for granted, but Julie was not finished with me.
"Mom, I have only two friends I can think of who enjoy this constant flow of family interaction and frequent family dinners. You should be proud that you have created something where we all want to come home."
That conversation got me to thinking how easy it is to take things for granted, to not really notice what is timeless and wonderful right under our noses. I cherish this family time. Take last Sunday, they arrived before 4 and left after 8. It was a magical few hours as the children played Marco Polo in the pool and the teens and adults talked non-stop. We all sat around enjoying dinner as we marinated ourselves in each other's company. As the queen of being "in the moment" I think I was so in it, clearly, I did not even stop to reflect on it..............
I thank my daughter for that reminder. Sometimes the best is right there in front of us. Perhaps Art Buchwald was right when he said, "The best things in life aren't things!"
Is there something special in your life right now that you might not have noticed? I would love to hear about it. I mean it.
Hi there, it seems like I have been sort of missing in action. I have been finishing my book, Cherish the Light, and traveling. Now with school back in session life is getting back to normal. You might know that one of my dreams for my eleven grandchildren is to help them to feel comfortable as citizens of the world. To that aim I have been taking them, often two at a time, on adventures.
A week and a half ago we returned from a marvelous journey to the center of the world. I took my two 16 year old grand girls and it was joyous for me to watch them as they discovered more about our planet. At the Center of the World, which is the equator monument in a tourist village, not too far from Quito, Ecuador, they delighted in having one foot in the Southern Hemisphere and the other in the Northern. My daughter’s girl, Jaycelin, has an app on her phone which allows for truly tricky photography. She and her cousin Megan entertained themselves with this app for some time. The result showed their full bodies in both hemispheres at once! They were entertained by the photo trick and I was gratified watching them discovering all that they were learning in the middle of the Earth.
Ecuador has 250 volcanoes, some active, and we spent a good deal of our time at high elevations, both admiring their splendor and hiking below them. The headwaters of the Amazon River are also in Ecuador and we enjoyed three days on the river exploring the rain forest. I admired the way the girls climbed like gazelles up wet and steep mountains in the jungle with never a complaint. They were enthusiastic participants when it was time to float down river on the balsa wood raft, or to practuce on the poison blow-guns of the indigenous people, or even to carry on a conversation in Spanish. A big hit for them was taking photos of the monkeys leaping through the trees overhead, and of the various loose dogs we constantly encountered. Perhaps the biggest reward I took away from the eight days was being reminded again of what delightful fun young people can provide.
Sometimes when we are out of our usual comfort zones new opportunities are presented. This tour was such a case. There were 28 of us on the trip, Americans of all ages from all over the country. We were together for all of the activities including three meals a day, for eight days. That was a lot of togetherness! My true delight was to observe my girls interacting with the others, sharing thoughtful opinions and political ideas. I got to learn first hand, their world views.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I had perhaps a dozen people ask me to please put them in my suitcase to take them on the journey. Of course, I always smiled as I replied, “Of course.” I sometimes sensed that others do not see themselves taking advantage of the precious opportunities that are out there. It seems to me that we can have the life of our dreams if we can imagine it. Certainly it does not have to be a trip down the Amazon, it could be a camp-out in the backyard, but everyday creativity and imagination simply mean breaking out of our usual patterns and trying on something new; perhaps even rounding up some young people. They can be a hoot. How have you used your imagination lately? I would love to hear about it. My best, donna
Last week on a look-at-colleges road trip with my daughter and two grandsons, I was reunited with an old friend, an enchantress of my youth, “Laffing Sal.” She and her sisters were the iconic animated cackling figures that laughed and gyrated in amusement parks across the country from 1930-1950. I discovered her on display at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. She was the trademark of a bygone era; the water front amusement piers. The Laffing Sals, 300 of them in all, were the stout gap-toothed animated figures who beckoned to patrons long before Disney’s animated characters were born. During my childhood I enjoyed the Long Beach Pike, Venice Pier at the end of Venice Boulevard, the Ocean Park Pier which was south of the still standing Santa Monica pier, the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz and Playland in San Francisco. The Ocean Park Pier became Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in the 60’s and then was later torn down. There were two Sals greeting us at Ocean Park and all it took to turn on my own giggle machine as a child was to hear their crazy laughs.
Moving past the Sal exhibit we came to an original 1920’s carousel. As we climbed up onto our colorful carved horses, Sal’s cackle was still filling the midway, causing me to smile and maybe to giggle a bit inside. The organ music started up and our horses began to move, slowly at first, but gaining speed with each rotation. We were off, hoping to get the brass ring and a free ride. I watched as daughter Julie successfully plucked her first ring, then grandson James who missed his, then my turn. Out went my eager fingers but I missed. Around we went again gaining more speed; the others easily grasping their rings. My turn again and this time I nabbed it! I was so elated that I forgot to toss it at the waiting clown face. Around and around we went faster and faster. I managed to clutch another and as we were whirling and grabbing, smiling and laughing, my brain spun backward to my 7 year old arm stretching out as far as possible ready to grab the same kind of ring. It was the Ocean Park Pier of my childhood. The 1940’s, still the hay days of the water front amusement piers up and down the west coast. In full view of my memory, I could almost smell the cotton candy and hear the delighted squeals of the children mixed with the canned laughter of the two Laffing Sals. My sister and I rode the merry-go-round so often in those days that catching the magical brass ring and getting a free ride were frequent yet coveted events.
In my memory I vividly saw my sister and myself taking the boardwalk tram all the way from Venice to Ocean Park, for just a nickel, where we would find our grand father playing checkers at a table at the base of the pier. He would have reached into his dark suit pocket and pulled out enough change to let us ride for hours. Pulling myself to the present, I thought that this experience today is not so different from that of 60 years ago, except that now I am the grand parent and the children are my grandchildren, I am not going for a checkers victory, I still am after that brass ring! Silly Donna, I thought to myself, surely you have it. It has to be the brass ring to live this long, to raise a beautiful family and decades later to be playing the same kinds of amusements with them that you enjoyed.
The beach amusement parks have mostly disappeared across time, victims of storm damage and social change, but this one in Santa Cruz boasts that it is the only such one on the whole of the west coast that has been in continuous operation, since 1907. Sadly, the Sals have not been seen much since the 1950’s and they are mostly extinct. As we climbed off our carousel horses the kids spied the bumper car attraction nearby and we were off again. I lingered in a last memory of warm blue berry pie at Playland, the Artic frozen creams at Ocean Park and rolling in the spinning tunnels of them all. As I raced to get a good bumper car, I wished that the tourists at the “scene” that is Venice today could have known that graceful pier that jutted out from the sand. I thought how rich and wonderful it is to appreciate these little moments, our rich California history, and to share them with loved ones. I feel so joyful and why not? I got to revisit a delightful chapter of my past. Thank you Laffing Sal!
Yesterday my three grand girls who live across the street came swimming at our pool. Ashley, age 9, shared with me her Sunday afternoon petting zoo adventure with her daddy. It seems that upon their arrival, my son Dan, their dad, spotted a goat with a single horn. In a delighted tone he called his girls' attention to it saying, "Girls look, a unicorn!"
"No Daddy," corrected Ashley in gleeful tones, "A unihorn!"
I am sure that they all laughed at Ashley's clever turn of phrase, I know that I have been mentally replaying her line and each time a smile and chuckle bubbles up inside me. "No Daddy a unihorn!" Ha Ha.
Earlier in the day yesterday I presented a training session for the staff of a county agency devoted to preventing child abuse in the community; a difficult and stressful job. The training was aimed at helping the participants to decompress after stressful cases. Toward the end of the workshop each member was asked to share his or her most effective stress reduction strategy. They had good ones: exercise, yoga, meditation, prayer, working with the preschoolers at church, listening to music, zumba dancing, blogging, playing with their grandchildren, or visiting with nieces and nephews. All of these were effective coping methods, but I noticed how many were in touch with the power of children. I recalled the statistic that children laugh about 425 times a day compared to 10-15 times a day for adults. Clearly as we take on the burdens of adult life we lose something. Perhaps silence grows within the humorous jokester inside of us.
As Ashley related her "unihorn" story to me she was strapping on her new lavender swim fins and matching mask and snorkel. Soon she slipped into the pool and began cruising the length of it, back and forth, no doubt imagining some treasure lurking at the bottom. As she swam away, I remained in the spa with her 3 year-old sister, Caroline, who now had me to herself.
"Mimi, will you play with me?"
"Sure, Caroline. What should I do?"
"Well I am going to be the evil queen Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty and I am going to......." And with that she outlined a very elaborate plan which somehow paralled the Sleeping Beauty story. "So Mimi, when I say all that, you say, 'Okay', alright?"
With that, Caroline donned her mask and repeated the rather complicated story line. I was getting the idea that somehow we were actors in a play. When her words came to an ending, I dutifully repeated, "Okay", as I had been directed. A huge smiled beamed across her face and she dived into the water. Clearly I had said my line correctly! I was very pleased with myself.
As she merrily swam away I grinned. At that precise moment, 12 year-old Elizabeth did a running double flip off the diving board, sending a wave of splashing water cascading across the pool deck, much to the delight of 12 week-old Lacey the Puppy who had been standing nearby taking in all the excitement that shadows these three exciting girls.
Neuroscientists know that the mirroring neurons in our brains act like wi-fi, picking up signals from those around us; that depression and joy are in some ways "contagious." Science also knows that the mere act of creating a smile lets us feel happier. There is evidence that 40 smiles a day can actually allow endorphins to dump into our blood stream, that it is possible to "trick" our brain into thinking we are happy even with a fake set of smiles, and then we actually feel better! Why wouldn't we want to feel happier? Perhaps we should give ourselves permission to fall into the magical world of the children around us? If we would just stop for awhile and really enter into their imaginative and creative worlds, I think we would laugh and smile a whole lot more. So have you orbited with the kids lately? I would love to hear about it.
Hi there, Happy Summer. You know that when I write to you I like to keep it light, about special moments, but yesterday I saw a feature story in the Los Angeles Times (7/10) and it reminded me of one of the scariest and hardest things I ever had to do.The article was about the 39 year anniversary of the Stuart House in Santa Monica, a program through UCLA'S Rape Treatment Program.
The House is what saved our family when we had to fight a horrendous legal battle to stop my father from abusing his 4-year-old granddaughter, my niece. The Stuart House provides a safe environment where victims can dare to reveal their secret and get help. The case in the article was against a step-father for hurting his 7 and 8-year-old girls. Those little girls were terrified to tell what had happened to them. The verdict was a maximum sentence of 65 years in prison.
You may know that my work these past decades has been to strengthen the laws to protect the children. I am glad to see serious consequences for such heinous behavior, but it reminds me that we must all stand together to protect the children. Reliable research shows about 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be abused in this way before puberty.
I am spending my summer writing the sequel to Cry the Darkness, which is Cherish the Light: Breaking Free of the Dark (which will be available this year). I have just released an expanded edition of my Cry the Darkness: One Woman's Triumph Over The Tragedy of Incest which is now available as an Ebook through Amazon.com's Kindle and will soon be on Barnes and Noble's Nook. It can also be ordered in printed book format through Amazon or through mywebsite.
That Stuart House story reinforces to me that you and I must be more vigilant than ever to protect the children in our sphere. Life often presents terrifying situations and serious challenges, our job is to somehow find the strength to face those fears and move forward making the best life we can. I like when Mark Twain said, "Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of it." Our family finally had the courage to face what we had to and we have moved forward, but it was not easy. I wish you the most strength and tenacity to deal with whatever life presents.
Hi there, Happy Mother's Day. You might recall that I have been adventuring in Croatia and some of the Balkan Republics. I have found myself hitting the ground running, literally! I arrived home a little over a week ago and collected
my new puppy the next day. At the same time my son, Rick, invited me to participate in the Orange County Marathon last Sunday. Since my granddaughter Jill was going to run it, her first such event, I jumped at the chance to spend time with them.
Sunday morning in the dark, we three adventurers met up at 4:30 a.m. with our running shoes securely fastened to our feet for no reason other than a chance to challenge ourselves. We arrived at the start line along with some 12,000 other like minded enthusiasts. The air was charged with excited energy. Jill and I saw Rick off for his full marathon at 5:45 and before long the starting horn sounded for our half marathon. We were off! Jill and I smiled our best wishes and headed south toward Corona Del Mar. She soon pulled ahead, intent on running, while I stayed focused on my passion for power walking. As I found my stride, I could feel the smile covering my face. As the thousands of us wound through the early morning streets, the residents cheered us on. My grin grew wider. Dawn was breaking and the Pacific Ocean glimmered in the background. What a great delight!
As the mile markers clicked by, I was alone in my thoughts. I took in the sayings on each. One of them said, "I celebrate our armed forces who give me the freedom to run." I thought about that and the fact that my nephew had just made the rank of sargeant in the Army. A wave of pride washed over me and a pang of gratefulness as I thought of all our young men and women risking their lives so we can be free. I lingered in the idea of what a privilege it is to be able to run. Another mile marker proclaimed, "I run for those who cannot." I thought of my friend who passed away six weeks ago. I imagined how much she would have loved to be out here celebrating the sheer pleasure of life.
A young woman speeded ahead of me and the back of her shirt said, "I am a survivor" and I flashed to the devastation that was my childhood and mentally paused to think about what it had taken to wade out of the murkiness of my father's pathology. For a long minute, with a few tears on my cheeks, I allowed myself to reflect on the little Donna inside of me who never gave up. Her deepest desire was to get free of her father and to live a normal life. I let myself feel a pang of respect for that brave little girl. I continued onward contemplating my thoughts. Soon another mile marker, "I run because I can!" By this time I had come upon some age-mates, grey hair, more my speed than the youths who literally raced past me. I raced up to one handsome couple, "Hey, there you are, my age-mates!" They laughed and greeted me back. "We race for longevity don't we?" I heartily agreed. "Motion is lotion!" I replied as I slipped ahead of them. They smiled.
Later at mile marker 13 they came upon me, "Hey your age-mates are here!" We all laughed again, and because I was in no real hurry I let them get ahead of me, afterall, I was just there to have fun. That smile was still plastered on my face. I powered into the finish line with 600 people behind me having thoroughly enjoyed it. I was presented with my medal and met up with my family. Later, my husband, Ken, went online and discovered that I was one minute and thirteen seconds from taking 3rd place in my age category. So now I am thinking perhaps I could have steamed ahead. I actually had no idea that I was anything like competitive in my age group, I was just trying not to come in last! Now there is a new idea in my head. Hummmm......... Competitive power walker! That sounds like even more fun. June 2nd we are all signed up for the San Diego Rock n Roll Marathon....
I just love the fact that there is so much opportunity out there in life if you just imagine it. An 80 year old man won the half marathon in his age group by doing it in 2 hours and 8 minutes!!! . I admire the 67 participants in the events of Sunday who are age 70 and over. It goes to show that it is not over until it is over. One single idea can set off a life-changing chain of events. Here I wanted to spend time with Rick and Jill and now I am imagining being competitive in San Diego. What a crazy and exciting idea! What crazy new adventure have you been thinking of? I would love to hear about it. I have my shoes on; I am out the door to train for San Diego!
Some Moments are More Precious than Others
I am so happy there were no hidden cameras in my yard this morning for had the Youtube types gotten a look at a day in my life, I am certain that it would have shown up on America's Funniest Videos. I was innocently sitting at the computer answering my emails when I glanced into our back yard to see that our three-month old Golden Retriever puppy, Lacey, had something unsavory in her mouth. (Well, it was most savory to her!) I realized it was a dead lizard.
Being the sanitary dog-mother that I am, I quickly got up to take it away from her. As I struggled to pry it out of her mouth, I noticed that our cats had left a half-eaten rat nearby, on the same door mat where Lacey was enjoying the lizard. I instantly saw that I had a multitasking challenge in front of me. If I were not sufficiently stealthful, the puppy would grab that rat and take off. I maneuvered in such a way as to try to block her view of it as I pried open her locked jaw. Finally, I got the dead lizard away from the her, but Lacey was faster than lightening and delightedly grabbed the gross half-eaten rat and took off running. I gave chase.
Around the yard we went, her little puppy legs racing ahead of me. "Lacey drop that. Lacey, no no!" After a few circles around the yard we were back by the house. She darted into my office and under the coffee table. I quickly moved the table to expose her and she instantly took off again. "Lacey no! That's bad! Drop it!" All that fell on deaf ears; around the yard we went again, big me chasing the racing puppy, forbidden treasure secured in her mouth.
Finally I thought I had her cornered under a bench near the planter. I got closer, sure that I could grab her, when she sensed my presence, she scooted far into the planter behind a big thorny rose bush. I climbed in after her and continued, "Lacey drop that!" All I could see of the rat was part of its tail hanging out of her mouth. Yikes! I crept further into the flowers and bent low trying to avoid the thorns. I got hold of her muzzle. It took all my strength to work open her jaw so the rat would fall out. Finally it did! I grabbed up the thirty pound puppy before she seized the bloody thing again.
I clamored out of the planter, placed her in the house and got a shovel. While I carried the rat to the trash barrel I began to laugh out loud. How funny was that? And then I sneaked a look around the yard to be sure that no hidden cameras had caught a scene from my actual life with puppy! I let Lacey out of the house and hugged her close as I thought, what a little devil you are! I smiled to realize I had just captured another memorable moment. It might not have been a precious one, but it was pretty funny.
Living with two mature dogs, Ken and I gave a lot of thought to the pros and cons of taking on a puppy before we committed to Lacey. However, as we spend our evenings enjoying the entertainment of our three dogs wrestling and chasing each other, we know we made a good decision. It a lot of fun, but it is also a big challenge. Lacey loves to drag the long length of toilet paper as far as it will go down the hall. She loves to chase the cats, dig up the yard, and of course she wants to chew everything up.
Across the past few decades there are some whom I encounter who seem a bit suspicious about why I seem so happy. Well, one of my secrets is the pleasure and love that I receive from my dogs. My new shirt says, "My therapist has a wagging tail!" Perhaps that is not so far from the truth. They warm my heart in ways that I cannot explain. They power walk with me, nuzzle against me, sleep by my side, wag themselves silly greeting me, and ride around in the car with me. They simply bring me joy. Ken and I know that this crazy puppy stage is short-lived so we are reveling in it while it lasts. Oh dear, I hear Ken calling, "Donna, the puppy has a mouse in her mouth!".... As I run to deal with this puppy moment, preparing for another chase, I steal a glance around the yard, still checking that there are no hidden cameras! I would love to hear about your secret tool for joyful living.
"Let's live out loud!" Last night that sentence practically jumped off the page of the book I was reading as I recalled the spectacle of the week before when 11,000 of us lined the streets for the biggest, noisiest non-motorized parade in the whole of the United States! We thrilled to 400 prancing horses as we celebrated spring and the return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano. Spell bound by the pageantry of 200 entrants, we cheered dancing horses, admired the nutty clowns, enjoyed the spinning tee pees, the 11 marching bands, troops of acrobatic girls, and energetic old time cowboys. Costumes, music, and rowdy antics; it was a festival of noise and fun. It was Americana living out loud!
I thought about living out loud in terms of my new coaching clients who have challenged me to help them to grow their self confidence and happiness. Life can squash down the resilient part of our personalities leaving us feeling bereft. I think it is important that those with wounded hearts take back their power and find the courage to transform themselves into having strong "warrior's hearts." A "warrior heart" is one which once broken mends stronger than ever.
Certainly we cannot always control what happens to us but we can control our attitude toward it. A first step is to adopt an attitude of gratitude, to cherish precious moments. It is up to us to nourish our tender inner child. Our American culture celebrates hard work, but many get stuck overdoing the work aspect of life, while others become frozen in despair. Studies show that at the end of life few people wish that they had worked more, but many do regret that they did not stop and further enjoy life; many wish they had been fully present in their own lives.
There is no time to waste. Living out loud is about living life in vivid Technicolor. You can become conscious of the moods and messages you allow yourself to have. You can stop the negative narrative that our brains seem to automatically run. It is up to us to nurture and care for the tender child within. We need to make time to have fun and to develop an action plan to become "unstuck." Let us make the conscious choice to live the best we can. Let's more fully control our brains by seeing the positive all around us. This is YOUR TIME NOW! What specifically did you do this week that was enjoyable? How did you live out loud? I would like to hear about it.
As you might recall I have committed to training for my first full marathon (26 miles!) thus giving me more time than ever to reflect as I trek through the long miles readying my body for such challenge. Earlier this month, my husband and I lost a dear friend to cancer. My mind keeps returning to thoughts of her, on how well she lived her life; in joy and productivity as she modeled excellence for her two daughters. I think her life was her lesson. I keep coming back to how important it is that we be present in our own lives, not on automatic pilot. In a way, how we live could be seen as our ultimate art project. Is your life rich and vibrant, valuable, and enjoyable? Is it full of color and adventure?
Last week I was training along the shoreline at Crystal Cove and several surf fishermen were casting their lines in the gentle waves and it reminded of another such scene I once encountered. Ken and I were on the way home from one of my presentations when we decided to stop at Carpenteria State Beach, in California. We delighted in being together on a sunny fall afternoon and removed our shoes to wander hand-in-hand along the wet sand. Far down the beach we came upon a barefooted woman standing in the surf throwing out her fishing line. Curious as to what she had caught, I raced up the beach to peer into her bucket. It was empty.
As I walked back down to her we exchanged smiles. I noticed her wide straw hat, her radiant face and the fact that she was well into her eighties. Remarking on her activity, I asked, "Are you enjoying your life?" That question might have startled her a little, but immediately her face broke into a wide grin as she heartily explained, "Why this is fun!"
"So did you catch anything?" I continued.
"Why I caught a rather nice perch a few minutes ago though I put it back." Consipiratorially, she whispered, "We don't like to eat them!"
In that moment I saw her key to happiness. She was doing what brought her joy. She was fishing in the warm November sunshine for fish she did not need nor want, just for fun. That simple incident highlighted for me a secret to a satisfying life. I think we need to find things to do which fill us up. This may require some changes on our part. By making the best choices available, happiness and taking care of ourselves can become a habit. As the authors of our own lives, I like these words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "It is not length of life, but depth of life," and I take solace in the fact that my wonderful friend lived a rich, deep and joyful life. I'd love to hear about how you are taking steps to ensure yours is too.
As I clamored into the rickety old motorized rickshaw called a "tuk tuk" at 4:40 a.m. on a pitch dark October morning in Luang Prabang, Laos, I was about to realize a dream that had dwelled in my heart for a very long time. Inhaling the fragrant perfumes of the tropical night, a smile played across my face. I recalled the hunger I felt across my teaching decades as I studied the world map mounted in my college classroom; I would imagine a time when I would be free to experience the planet. I hung on tighter as the tuk tuk bounced me along the rough road toward the day's adventure. One of many I planned to have in my life after 45 years in academia.
I felt fluttery with nervous butterflies as I readied myself to participate in an ancient tradition of giving alms to the town's Buddhist monks. Our little group disembarked the rickshaws at curbside where embroidered mats were lined up with pots of steaming sticky rice provided by our group's support. We were instructed about the seriousness of this religious tradition of giving alms in the hopes of earning good Karma. We were told it was imperative that we be properly draped in our silk scarves and exhibit the appropriate solemn demeanor. We were warned not to raise our heads higher than the monks' (we are mostly taller than they, so this required a lot of bending forward) and we were admonished not to look at, nor touch the monks as we presented our food.
I was not sure what to expect as I peered into the murky darkness hoping for a sighting, I had only read about this; I knew they would be coming with their collection pots. The streets were alive with excitement as others were vying for good wishes through giving to the hundred or more who would pass our way. Finally, after much anticipation I spotted a flash of orange color way up the street. They were coming! Suddenly out of the humid night, a single-file line of men was in front of us. They were moving silently and very rapidly. I scrambled to get my portions of rice into their waiting buckets. There were mere seconds between buckets to manage the rice delivery. I felt pressure to do it right and I had to learn fast, focusing completely on the task before me. I could hear my fellow travelers' worried whispers as they missed their targets and rice servings fell to the ground.
After the first group went through, I began to relax a bit. With the next band I found a millisecond to look into the open pots to see fruits and candy bars donated along the route. My bravery was increasing as each cluster came. With head bent down I studied their bare feet, and eventually sneaking a peek, I noticed a wide range in ages from a few men over sixty years old down to boys as young as six. The area's dozens of monestaries offer the best chance for an education for the boys of rural Laos. The monks venture out each day, all year, to collect the meals. For many this is their only food.
As dawn broke and the processionals dwindled, I could see the gatherings of colorful monks along the streets as they returned to their sanctuaries. I took a deep breath. It had been such a thrill. Then I took in another longer breath and slowly exhaled, lingering in the amazing images of the morning. I could only think "Wow, Really?" It is my turn to see the world; to explore what I only dreamed was out there waiting. Participating in that ancient rite had been awe-inspiring. I marveled that in my decision to travelalone to Southeast Asia, I was opening a personal door to a new world. I had been anxious about traveling by myself, as it was out of my comfort zone, but my time had come. Often the window of opportunity between the responsibilities of career and family and the ability to travel is small. As I headed back to the tuk tuk, I thought about the words of Emerson when he wrote "Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow." There is some truth in that, as well as a whole lot of adventure! Please seek your beyond.
Friday afternoon I had the privilege of taking three of my 9 grand girls shopping for birthday girl, Elizabeth who was turning 12. I had thought of lunch, shopping, and a movie, but the girls’ had no movie interest. I secretly worried that I could not entertain them all afternoon with just the mall. Well how completely WRONG I was about that! Claire’s, where you buy earrings and such, took almost an hour by itself! Anyway, weary from the clothes shopping leg of our expedition, I suggested we look at the puppies in the pet store. The girls were delighted.
We were enjoying viewing all the breeds of puppies when the girls spotted a black 6 week old Newfoundland. “Mimi, Look! A Newfoundland!” They were proud of their discovery as they knew I had once had my own precious Newfy. The four of us stood spellbound studying the adorable black fluffball when suddenly the clerk appeared behind the cage and lifted him out!
Is there a chance we could pet that little guy? I thought. I must have voiced some of my excitement because the young couple behind us explained, “He is taking him out for us. We are going to meet the puppy in the visiting room.“ I turned to look at them, my enthusiasm spilled over as I shared with them about my Miss Cornelia Springhaven, a dog I got to adore for ten years. They were hanging on my words.
“Hey come with us! Come into the room with us!”
“Really? You would let me?”
“Come on.” With that encouragement of course I followed along. The girls were off admiring all the other puppies. Secured within the visiting area, the clerk gently placed the Newfy puppy in the young man’s arms. Time seemed to stand still as his wife and I admired the scene in front of us; a great big, tall, twenty-something young man cuddling a little 12 pound puppy.The puppy melted into his arms. We stared as he smiled a serene satisfaction.
After a bit, his wife begged to hold the dog and I offered to take their picture with my phone camera. With that she handed me her phone and I photographed the three of them while we chatted and exchanged names. They seemed hungry for my motherly energy and I felt a bit like we were in the hospital delivery room crooning over a newborn. I learned that they were from Mississippi , currently stationed at nearby Camp Pendelton, California, had been married a year and were not ready for a human baby, even though they shared possible baby names with me! I sang the praises of my Newfoundland experience.
Before long, the shop clerk came back to check in with them. They did not offer much, dazed as they were by the puppy, so I volunteered, “I would like to adopt these humans!” Everyone laughed. Of course I was not really kidding. There was something so open and innocent about these young people. Soon my girls came to collect me as the Sweet Fac tory was the next stop on our list.
I lingered a bit longer. The couple had decided to purchase the puppy. Not a small decision as he cost $2200, no doubt a large sum on a military salary. I smiled my good byes.
That brief encounter has stayed with me. I woke up thinking about them this morning . How precious they are in their youthful attraction to the puppy, their charming southern accents, how brave they are being away from home. I recalled the earnest way the young man, Kincaid, spoke to me. He told me that he would soon ship out again.
“Are you concerned about it?” I had asked.
In his beautiful slow drawl he replied, “It will be the last time. The puppy will keep Kendra company while I am gone. I am not worried.”
“You two know this little guy may grow to 150 pounds, right?”
“We’ve been looking at Huskies. We know.” He smiled at me. I just smiled back.
My thoughts today keep returning to them. They are far from home, the holidays just passed and they did not get to go home. They are alone out here in California, yet their attitude is so positive. He is not concerned about himself, for him it is about wife and country. I watch a lot of news, BBC and World News, and I see a lot about our forces overseas and the wars going on in the world. This couple has brought some clarity to me about the sacrifice it takes to keep our country safe. I am not sure I have seen our military through these eyes before, a boy, a girl and a puppy. I hope we Americans, while we worry about the fiscal cliff and banning assault weapons, truly appreciate what it takes to mount our volunteer military. We are sending our national treasures, our sons and daughters, our beautiful cherished youth, off to do battle; to lose limbs, peace of mind, and sometimes even their lives. This young couple is just the tiniest sampling of the dedicated young people our country has raised. I feel proud and humbled and delighted that the Newfy puppy can do his little part for this family.
It is a blessing when we can appreciate precious moments like this one with the couple who were learning to love Newfoundland style!
Since the 1970's when my college classes began to fill with Viet Nam War vets, some on hospital guerneys, I had a vision of visiting S. E. Asia. Later, as Saigon fell and thousands of Vietnamese refugees settled in Orange County, and many found their way to my classroom, my interest in that part of the world became significant. Last month that dream became a reality as I visited Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia, traveling to places and offered by means often outside my comfort zone. There was much to learn, but two highlights stand out. The first is a beautiful Cambodian woman known as "Spider Woman" and the second is my impression of a people who have been through so much.
As a Hollywood afficianado, hearing our guide, Sang, announce that we would soon be pulling into the village of "Spider Woman" captivated my attention; visions of old Spiderman movies danced in my head! He explained that her village is famous for its prized delicacy, fried tarantula! We were heading to Seam Reap, the starting point for treks into the famous Angkor temples, when our bus stopped in front of a typical bamboo house on stilts and a dozen or so young children ran to greet us in various stages of dress. The 16 of us in our group disembarked and cautiously strolled over to where an attractive young mother of three was waiting. She had her tarantula hunting stick in hand. The guide explained the process of tarantula catching and its value to the village. The villagers support themselves through farming but the tarantula business is a lucrative sideline with one fried delight selling for the equivalent of fifty cents American, a high price on the low per capita income in that country.
As Sang introduced "Spider Woman" to us, she smiled shyly and then guided us to a grassy corner of her yard. We watched with excitement as she poked her hunting stick into a deep hole. She kept working it until suddenly, success! She had one! Very carefully she urged the hairy creature out of its hole and coaxed it into her open palm. The guide narrated as she defanged the tarantula. For long minutes the spider remained in her open hand while we shot photo after photo. Next, she took it to her outdoor kitchen where she placed it in a colander with a dozen other spiders. With a quick pinch she ended their lives, washed them in water, rolled them in seasoning and placed them in a frying pan. They sizzled before us. The crowd laughed nervously, knowing that soon we would be invited to eat them. After a few short minutes of deep frying she drained them and offered them up!
My fellow travelers hung back. Sang put one in his mouth. The group did not move. As a grandmother of two strapping boys, I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain an authentic "street cred" with my boys! I stepped forward, the group gasped. My friends got their cameras ready as I placed one hairy leg into my mouth and chewed! I even managed to swallow it! Some of the men in our group were not to be outdone and they too sampled the crispy delicacy. The excitement of eating tarantulas sustained us for the rest of the bus ride that day. In fact we are still talking about it! When I emailed photos of my tasting adventure to my grandsons the 17-year old said, "Even I would never be that daring!" Clearly those awful scratchy bites were worth it!
The nearly 3 week long expedition was through tour operator Overseas Adventure Travel. Known as O.A.T., they are dedicated to cultural immersion experiences through small groups. The result is that we got to meet many people in their homes and villages. I sought out the children who seemed fascinated by my blonde hair and my video camera. It was rather emotional for me to have so many groups of little kids surrounding me everywhere we stopped. Huge brown eyes greeted me and took in my every move. I began video taping them and sharing the camera shots which resulted in hysterical giggling, shoving, laughing and more giggles. They demanded rewind after rewind. Sometimes I filmed their mothers and then showed them the movies. Shy smiles would be my reward.
The days were filled with fascinating experiences from pre-dawn alms giving to the monks, to a Hmong chief who danced for us in his hut. This was especially meaningful to me because my husband and I both taught Hmong refugees who came to the U.S. in the 1970's as illiterate children. We joined school children at their desks and met a blacksmith pounding out his wares on an old shell casing; we met an educated man whose life work is to teach organic farming and the importance of using adobe bricks over bamboo for housing.
Reminders of the long war were everywhere, from dilapidated old jeeps rotting in the grass to bomb shells sitting in nearby doorways. One day our bus parked on an abandoned air strip that had been used by the American forces. At night it becomes an impromptu marketplace. We learned that in both Laos and Cambodia there are millions of active land mines buried in the fields and hills, a constant threat to the children playing nearby. Seeing people with missing limbs became a common sight as did bullet holes in the walls of temples. I was particularly shocked to find that Communist controlled Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon) is not only vibrant, but affluent with its designer shops lining the wide boulevards as thousands of young people dash about on motor scooters.
The Killing Fields of Cambodia and the Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon where 16,000 Viet Cong struck at our military forces from below, were a grim reminder of what has transpired in these war torn countries. The Genocide Museum and the War Remnants Museum left a tragic resonance in my heart. I have come away with a new understanding of South East Asia, an appreciation for the harsh realities of a political system where one is not safe to express an opinion, and I have gained a deep respect for these modest people. So many millions of them have so little, but yet all I had to do was take a simple photo to be engulfed in giggles and laughter. This adventure showed me the warmth, the kindness and the joyful souls of the people of South East Asia. It was my honor to visit them.
Labor Day weekend found our entire family at our mountain cabin. Our grand daughter Katie, age 7, came running to a group of us and announced that she had lost another tooth! She was so excited! "Wow! We all responded with appropriate enthusiasm. Aunt Julie asked, "Will the tooth fairy find you here?"
In a confident tone Katie responded, "Well she always finds me at Catalina and when I am on my trips. I think she will find me here! I cannot believe that it fell out while I was eating an Oreo!"
A little later her 10-year-old sister Ella came in and announced that she too had lost a tooth.
"Oh No!" I said. "What is happening to your teeth girls? Is it the candy?"
"No Mimi. You silly. It is natural, our permanent teeth are coming in!"
"Oh!" I responded thoughtfully.
Not much more was said about the lost teeth, as ultimate frizbee was played, a contingent went on an exploratory hike, then dinner, and finally a big dance.
After the dance, everyone went to bed. Suddenly my daughter, their aunt Julie realized as she was fluffing her pillow that perhaps her brother and sister-in-law forgot the tooth fairy. Julie found Katie's older sister Jill. In an urgent whisper she asked,"Jill did they forget the tooth fairy?"
"Oh gosh, I'm not sure. I'll go ask my parents." Jill quietly roused her dad who was asleep. "Dad, did you guys do the tooth fairy?"
"Oh no! I forgot all about it. Take care of it for me. Please." And he rolled over and went back to sleep.
Jill came back downstairs and reported, "Aunt Julie they forgot."
Julie frantically rummaged through her purse and found only twenties and a five. She knew Ella had also lost a tooth that day. She needed to find some money fast! The usual tooth fairy amount was two dollars per tooth. Julie ran around the cabin asking any one who was still awake, "Do you have some ones? "
Jake, her 17-year-old responded, "Mom, I have a five. But it is only a loan!"
"I'll take it!" With that Julie slipped quietly into the sleeping girls' room. She bent down to kiss each sleeping girl good night and surreptitiously slipped a five under each pillow.
Julie came upstairs to where her dad and I were reading in our room and reported this little drama of how the toothfairy was forgotten! We laughed and thought maybe by the last of five girls it is harder to remember all these details. We said goodnight and enjoyed Julie's little adventure.
Early the next morning, I awoke and quietly went downstairs for coffee. Katie was already up and had quite an exciting story to share.
"Mimi you won't believe this," she paused and took a breath, "but that tooth I lost yesterday must be my lucky tooth because I am 7! Guess how much the tooth fairy left?"
I paused thoughtfully to play her game. "I think 2 dollars."
"No, Mimi. It must be my lucky tooth. She left five dollars! I just knew she would find me here but five dollars! I cannot believe it! What is so odd is that when I went to the bathroom about an hour after I had gone to sleep I found the money on the floor near my pillow. Maybe when I turned my pillow it fell to the floor. It seems funny that the tooth fairy came so fast!"
This little vignette illustrates the sheer joy children are able to find in small events, and as adults I think it is important for us to search out these precious moments when we can. It seems like when we are successful in appreciating the little things, they can string together to create happiness. I know they do for me. I hope Katie is not getting suspicious...
A few weeks ago I read this amazing story, Chasing the Light by Eugene O'Kelly. It was a beautiful little story about this charismatic and handsome 52 year old finding the truth of happiness at the last minute. As a top level CEO he regularly worked 90 hour weeks, traveled 150,000 miles per year and missed all of his young child's school events. He described his life as "running, always at 100 miles per hour." Bedtime for him was a chance to plan out six to fifteen months in the future. With his diagnosis of terminal, inoperable brain cancer, he had the epiphany that somehow he had missed the bigger picture. His story was of discovering happiness in those last few weeks of life. He came to understand that life cannot be lived in the past nor solely focused on the future, for what we have is just each moment in time, the NOW. He learned that happiness is about stringing little "perfect moments together." He confessed that during the last weeks he had more of them than in the past ten years put together.
Those of you reading my posts, know that my take on life has been the same. So many people seem to forget this. We have NOW. Let us not let it drown in worry, disappointments, grief and anger. Last week on the Catalina Express ferry on the way to our annual family vacation, the captain yelled, "Out there! A blow! Blue Whales! Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going whale watching!"
Within minutes he had gone off course, stopped the engines, and opened the bow to us. Elizabeth and Ashley were securely tucked under each of my arms as we sat excitedly on a bench in the very front. A gasp went out from the crowd. There it was a distant blow. Then another! "He has gone down. He will be up in five minutes. Hold on! Everyone sit down."
Ken slid in next to me. We scanned the horizon for any sign of the whale. We held our breath. You could feel the electric current of excitement between me and the girls. Before long there was another blow, closer now, and then a sight which was only of my dreams. Suddenly a glorious shiny black whale tail broke through the surface of the blue water! The crowd exclaimed in unison. The whale gave us a glorious extended view while the crowd sat and stared in stunned silence. The tail and time seemed to stand still. What a beautiful long perfect moment. After the tail slipped below the surface we dared to breath. It had been magical!
Surely that was enough of a perfect moment for anyone for a day, but there was more to come. Nine year old Ashley fell asleep in my arms as the boat resumed our trip to Avalon. I gloried in her steady soft breathing as I rested my chin against her blonde curls. I am keenly aware that these beautiful children are growing up so fast. I stayed in that "moment" all the way to the island. It was especially comforting after the two rough weeks I have been suffering. Suddenly two Saturdays ago I awoke with the vision lost in my right eye. The retinal specialist administered a shot in it and hopefully within a year some of the vision will be restored, but the point is that I was able to climb out of my own anxious knot of fear of losing my vision and glory in the moment and the blessings I have right now. I have felt positive and strong ever since, and slowly the vision is improving. Eugene O'Kelly teaches a harsh lesson, we do not have time to live agonizing in anxiety, fear or rage. I would love to hear from you. What "perfect moment" have you enjoyed lately?
As an adventurer, I love nature hikes. This all began a few weeks ago, when my power-walker gal pals and I were striding through the hills of San Juan Capistrano, when suddenly my friend struck out her arm to stop me. "Listen!" She exclaimed. The rattling sound was so loud that I thought someone had turned on the sprinklers. This was dumb, as we were far from civilization: no sprinkers here! Holding our breath, our eyes darted and quickly spotted a very thick three-foot-plus rattler crossing the dirt trail just in front of us. Loud was his warning: stay back! And we did. Very excitedly, however, as it was a very loud rattling. That sent us into spasms of chatter for the rest of the hike. It was quite breath-taking.
This last Sunday, it happened again. We were on a family Father's Day six-mile-hike in the canyons above El Moro by Corona Del Mar, our little band of five grand girls and three adults was walking along enjoying the ocean views when there it was, a very much alive, very long, rattle snake in the middle of our trail. We stopped, took our time, each of us planning our strategy for scooting past it. Once safely out of danger, we began to admire it from a few feet away. My son Rick pulled out his cell phone camera took its photo, and then I had the idea of being in the photo with the snake! That started it: we all posed with it! I cannot help but laugh at how quickly I have become charmed by these long scary fellows.
In between these encounters, a week ago, I was in my garage at home when I looked down to see a little baby rattlesnake near my feet. It was not moving. I did not freak out, as I called to husband Ken. "Hey, Ken, there is a baby rattler in here, I am pretty sure it is dead." We have lived in snake country for 40 years and Ken teases me for assuming that all snakes are rattlers! So with a cynical expression painted on his face, he came to check out my situation. His tone was derisive as he pronounced, "It is a lizard!"
Now, I admit we are at the grandparent stage of life, which is pretty funny in itself, however we have not both lost it! I grew more certain that the beheaded thing was in fact a baby rattlesnake. I responded, "Ah dude, here put on my glasses!" With glasses on, Ken now examines the critter and finally agrees, "Yeah, it is a rattler. Watch the cats today." With that he went back to whatever he was doing. I was left thinking, Hey wait a minute! (This was clearly a "husband" job!) "Honey will you get rid of it for me?"
A little later he comes into the kitchen and warns, "Donna you are going to have to learn how to do these things yourself, and to change light bulbs for when I am gone..."
"Where are you going? I asked, knowing the rest of his warning. "You are even off your blood pressure medicine. The doctor gave you a good report!"
He responded, "I know, I am just saying..."
This is a truly weird stage of life! Anyway, I have been thinking: what is it about danger that so attracts us, that takes our breath away? We humans are drawn to speed, to roller coasters, to fire, to adventure, and apparently the thrill of being near poisonous snakes! I wrote this before my morning walk today and darned if I did not see another long diamond backed snake, but I saw no rattles and I dared not get too close...
Months before the Catalina Marathon, my marathoning husband, Ken challenged Jake to complete the 26.2 mile event with him. Jake at 14 had never considered such an arduous activity and had his reservations, but with both uncles competing and his grandpa, he was persuaded to sign up. When the big day approached, Ken and both uncles, Rick and Dan, enthusiastically advised him on all aspects marathon. Jake must have felt a bit like a deer in the headlights with so many big men energetically initiating him into their passion for running.
The big day arrived, under cover of early morning darkness, the Avalon boat took the racers down the twenty some miles to the Isthmus to the race start. Ken advised Jake to stay by his side so that Ken could pace him and mentor him. The gun went off! The race began! Jake took off and after an uphill ascent looked around for his grandfather. As his grandfather was nowhere to be seen, Jake ran back through the crowd of runners to find his grandfather. After about two miles of Jake walking as he slowed for his grandfather, Ken, finally realizing that Jake was light years faster, said, “Jake go ahead, you know what to do. Just ask for help if you get in trouble.”
Many hours passed and those of us at the finish line knew that Rick and Dan would be finishing soon. Jake’s sister, Jaycelin, and I set up our spot to cheer in our four competitors. As expected, Rick and Dan charged across the line in about 5 hours. They felt strong and had a good race, but they had not seen Jake nor their dad since the race began. They invited us back to the hotel while they changed and had a snack, as they were certain Jake was at least an hour or two behind them. After all, it was his first marathon and it is a difficult one.
Jaycelin and I looked at each other. “No. We are staying here. What if they come in and we miss them? This is Jake’s first race and he would be disappointed if no one were here to cheer him in.” My sons insisted that it was not possible that either Jake or their dad would be along very soon. It is a hard up and down hill race with several thousand feet of elevation. Jaycelin and I would not budge. We were staying.
Holding vigil along the finish of the course, we eyed the racers as they came in. Ten minutes passed. We continued to keep a watchful eye to the finishers. More minutes passed, when suddenly, Jaycelin yelled, “Mimi that’s him!! There’s Jake!”
We were so excited that we could hardly contain ourselves. We were jumping and yelling as Jake, hardly even sweating, keeping a nice steady pace, waved to us as he ran by.
At the finish line, other participants were coming up to Jake and giving him “high fives” and calling out “You’re a Rock Star!!” “We can’t believe you!” Jake mostly smiled. He was not particularly out of breath nor flushed and he had just run a huge distance!
That level of congratulation kept up the entire time Jake was cooling down and we were waiting for Ken. More back slaps. “You are a star!” “You are amazing!” On and on it went as celebrants reeled Jake into their culture. I, as the proud grandmother, basked in the reflected glow from Jake. The other racers could not get enough of him. It was incredible. One older man who had taken Jake under his wing along the course went over to the stats sheets and came back with the news that Jake had won first place in his age category and that he was the youngest racer in the event!
Jake just smiled and “high fived” them back, and nodded his head, but I could see what Jake was thinking. He could not imagine what the big deal was all about. There were 26.2 miles up and down hills and he just put his mind to the task and completed it. Not a big deal.”
Another hour or so passed and Ken came in and was a bit concerned about where Jake was and was he okay? Ken could not believe it when he heard the news that Jake won his age classification and was over- all the youngest racer. Ken just smiled as he caught his breath.
To date, Jake has not yet run another marathon, having gone to a high school life filled with academics and school athletics, but he still talks about that race and his realization that his mind can carry his body to unexpected success. It is often well said that life is a marathon and not a sprint. We have to believe in ourselves and commit to the time and energy it takes to make a winning life.
"People see the world not as it is, but as they are."~ Al Lee
Twenty three years ago, my husband, a pretty conservative guy by nature, decided to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary by doing something out of character for him. To the family’s shock, he had the words” Lady Donna” permanently inked on his back hip! As a former mayor and high school principal this was so surprising that it became a source of great fun and interest to the entire family. However as the years passed and the grand kids arrived not much attention was given to the subject. Recently I was recalling that tattoo story and for some reason my mind jumped to this funny incident regarding it.
It was summertime and I was entertaining two of my granddaughters, Elizabeth and Ashley. We planned to swim in the pool, but six-year-old Elizabeth had just had an eye exam and her eyes would be dilated another hour which prevented her from swimming. In order for her to even be outside she needed to keep her dark glasses on. They were big oversized dark glasses. To entertain herself while her sister swam, she was playing with some toys next to the pool when suddenly the song “Pretty Woman” came on my CD player.
Instantly Elizabeth was on her feet and began to mime the lyrics of the song as she danced. When the words “pretty woman walk on by………..” were crooned, she strategically placed her left hand on her little hip and sashayed across the pool deck in perfect time with the beat of the song. When the words explained that the pretty woman was okay, Elizabeth, still strutting, gestured the OK sign with her right hand all in sync with the music. She kept that exaggerated miming on for the entire song. As an observer and an adoring grandmother, I was not just impressed with her dancing ability put so enjoyed her wonderful sense of humor. Of course those huge dark glasses added to her mystique!
The next song to come on was “Who is Holding Donna Now.” Continuing to dance and pantomime, I asked Elizabeth, “So, who is holding Donna now?” (Mind you all the grandchildren call me “Mimi.” I am not sure that some of them even know my given name). Without missing a beat she smiled and said, “Poppa.” I responded, “How do you know?” With that, still dancing and in time with the beat, she gestured with her hand to the back of her right hip where we both knew that her Poppa had a tattoo that declared, “Lady Donna.”
I am still smiling about this and reminding myself that kids really do not miss much and that they often remember the darndest things!!! This Valentine’s Day you might just think of something funny, charming and loving that crossed your life’s path. Happy Valentine’s Day! Affectionately, Donna
The new year can provide an opportunity to look at your life with fresh eyes. Maybe now is the time to reset your compass? Last week my husband and I toured some local university campuses with our oldest granddaughter as she thinks about her future. At one of the campuses we came upon this quotation by Franz Kafka, “The world will freely offer itself to you, to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” I am not so sure about the ecstasy part, but the idea that opportunity freely offers itself to us got me thinking about how our lives are the result of the choices we make.
Back in the 1970’s I had a student in class whose speech and motor ability were severely affected by cerebral palsy. She joined my public speaking class and seemed to really enjoy it, and then after the first video taped assignment she dropped the class. I was very disappointed. I felt we had a connection and I had wanted to work with her. The next summer she completed speech with another teacher and moved on with her life becoming a television actress and author. Just a few years ago she came back to our college to be honored as an outstanding alumnus and I was her host. She remembered me with a big hug and I was able to ask her, “So why did you drop my speech class?” With no hesitation at all she replied, “That video tape you made was the first time I had ever seen what cerebral palsy looked like.” She was very open about how traumatic that had been for her. Finally four decades later I learned what had transpired with her in my class. What impresses me is that instead of giving up and hiding from cerebral palsy, she took it as a challenge. She is best known as Cousin Geri on the 80’s sitcom “Facts of Life” and was one of the stars of the 2004 TV series “Deadwood,” but the real story is that not only did she face her condition, she was the first person in television history with a disability to have a recurring role on prime time! Geri Jewell took what she had and became a trail blazer, a hero.
I really enjoy art metaphors. I think our individual lives can be the ultimate testament of our creativity, of our “artist” ability. I think our choices and actions are like brush stokes against the canvas of our being. I know scores of people who have quietly “painted” satisfying and fulfilling lives. Are you one of them? Or do you sometimes feel a nagging restlessness? Do you sometimes think; so is this all there is? This could be the year that you dive in and embrace something else that would be challenging for you. Now may be your time to “paint” something vibrant in your life, perhaps an idea that has lain dormant these past years? It could be your time to unmask the world and let it roll freely at your feet!
Just two weeks out from Christmas and all around I can see stressed out holiday people. Parties and tree lightings, open houses and gift exchanges, trips out of town……..opportunities abound to socialize, or perhaps obligations abound to socialize? It is easy to get caught up in the fever of it all. This afternoon my son stopped by to return a borrowed table, his three girls were belted into their seats of his car in my driveway.
As I walked him out of the house to his car, he said, “Mom I have been turning down all these party invitations…” I heard the apology in his voice as his sentence trailed off. “There were three just for today …I guess I am not being very social. I want to build the girls a new playhouse.” I noticed as he said that the tone of his voice began to lift. “This time it will be waterproof!” As he described the specifications of this new, better playhouse, I scanned the interior of his car. The girls’ eyes were bright with excitement. Clearly they were onboard about the new playhouse idea!
Intuitively my son chose the right audience in me when he mentioned his concern over turned-down invitations. My immediate response was to agree, that he needs to consider himself. I knew that during this week he had spent at least two days out of town on business. I stood a few moments longer at the passenger door as he climbed in. From the back seat I could feel the vibration of excitement emanating from eight-year-old Ashley, eager to share her morning with daddy and her sisters. Next to her was her chatty two-year-old sister, Caroline, all cinched into her baby seat, pointing and exclaiming to me in her baby talk ways. In the driver’s seat sat the eldest, eleven year-old Elizabeth, who was getting some behind-the-wheel coaching from her daddy in my private driveway.
All afternoon I replayed that sweet scene. My son apologizing aloud for wanting to devote his day and his energy to his little girls, teaching them adult skills, and building them something of delight, instead of hiring a baby sitter and running around to parties with people he scarcely knows. It does not seem like much of a conflict to those of us on the outside looking in. We know that those three little girls will be grown and gone in a heartbeat. These days are the “good old days” he will look back on in the future. How wise he is to spend the time and energy as he chooses with his loved ones, instead of in social obligations.
During my decades in the college classroom one of my favorite sayings to my students was to command them in a strong tone, “Get out of the House of Should and into the House of Choice!” They would look a bit stunned and then when I followed up with “Stop shoulding all over yourself!” they burst into laughter. But they listened. There is some serious truth in that idea. Maybe during these holiday weeks you can do that a bit more. Choose where you want to put your time and energy. Let us stop running on automatic pilot saying “Yes” when we really want to say “No.” Let's strive to make joyful decisions.
I think my son was wise to invest in his girls. I hear him hammering across the street just now. How ironic, I talk about the House of Should and he is literally on the slope of his yard, just across the road from my home, building a House of Joy.
My husband, Ken, spent all day yesterday with his friend of forty years who will soon be ninety. They attended an eight hour marathon of high school football at Anaheim Stadium. They had a marvelously good time. All he could talk about was the incredible lust for life his friend has. Ken came away convinced that a life well-lived must come with a big dose of adventure and joy.
Please live in the house of joy! Why don’t we promise ourselves that we will do that this season as well. Perhaps do this all year long? Our time on the planet is so short. We deserve to enjoy the majesty of life, to thrive as we live on this beautiful earth. We owe it to ourselves to remember the thrill of Christmas when we were five years old. Happy Holidays to you.
Sometimes it is just a quick thing, suddenly there it is, an epiphany. I had that on this day and I want to share with you.
I wanted to share this inspirational experience I had one day meeting up with some of my grandchildren. On this particular day, I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter, Julie, as she came to pick her three children up after school.. You can probably remember the crazy energy and enthusiasm of all the children finally freed after seven hours in the classroom. It was contagious! I could not help but smile as the children of all ages raced past us, some playfully pushing at one another glad to be free.
After meeting two of my grandchildren and their classmates and teachers, my oldest grandson, Jake, still had not come out of his 6thgrade classroom, so we set out to find him. As a 40 year veteran of the public school classroom I felt comfortable on the elementary school campus and as a grandmother I was enjoying being able to share in my grandkids’ world if only for a short while.
Upon opening Jake’s classroom door an electric wave of excitement spilled over the threshold. I was stunned to find that the room was still full of sixth graders happily working at their desks! By now about 15 to 20 minutes had elapsed since the dismissal bell and yet the students were not leaving or apparently even thinking about leaving. The culture of the classroom engulfed me in its warm embrace. It felt magical.
I mentioned to Jake how late it was and yet the children were not leaving. He said, “Oh Mimi, we never do. We like it here. We always stay after.” Before I knew it, I was meeting a key element of the class: Tank. I was introduced to a big yellow service dog that the students support and clearly love. Why would the children want to leave?
Tank is their philanthropic project. They support him and one other service dog, Foster, through their non-profit business. They make and sell dog biscuits as well as build and sell dog houses. All of this to help support the service dogs who assist in their reading-buddy project with the younger children of the school. They also donate money to the local animal shelter. I thought to myself, we have come a long way in education.
Clearly the opportunity to know Tank and Foster, to support them, to have a business and a business plan had brought out the imagination and enthusiasm of the children while teaching them life skills to say nothing of fostering an interest in their own teaching and concern of younger children. Jake showed me the cubby area where the service dogs, the 1stand 2nd graders and the 6th grader work on the younger child’s reading skills. The young children get to read to the dog under the supervision of the older student. Jake explained to me that research evidence reveals a gain in confidence on the part of the young reader when the child reads to the dog. Clearly there is confidence to be gained by the 6th grader as well. I also know that in addition there is solid science behind the positive effects pets have on human beings. Talk about a win win situation!
These days there is concern about inadequacies in our educational system, about the detrimental role of electronics and television on our youth, worry that children are not spending enough time reading and more. As a community college professor I frequently encounter students who are not wholly prepared for their academics. It seems to me that if more teachers like Jake’s “Mrs. B” could understand as she does how to truly rivet the students and to turn learning into magic, more students would be better prepared in the future. I applaud this school, Olivenhein Pioneer Elementary school in San Diego County, CA for its imagination and success and particularly Mrs. Benowitz of the 6th grade. She truly is making a difference.
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9
If we are lucky, there are a handful of particularly precious experiences packed into our memory. I know that the birth of my daughter was especially profound for me. Twenty-five years later, another momentous occurrence happened on a family ski trip. My husband, daughter and I were riding up the chair lift as she regaled us with details of her upcoming wedding. We were spellbound by the beauty of the telling when suddenly we were surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of migrating Monarch butterflies. They had chosen us for their brief encounter. The settled on our legs, our arms and in our hair. They made magic of that wonderful chair ride and I will never forget it! Heartwarming reflections but part of their beauty lies in their infrequency and their transitory nature. Impossibly, last week another such amazing happening was added to my mental treasure trove.
I had been enjoying a 17 day trek through the lower Annapurna Mountains of Nepal with 10 other trekkers. It had been marvelously energetic and culturally enriching. Two days of vigorous river rafting were included and I knew that the last part of the itinerary featured an elephant safari through the jungle. I had no idea what new enchantment that activity was going to hold for me.
Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal was the site for the elephant safari. The first stop was the elephant compound where a naturalist taught us the habits and characteristics of Indian elephants. To emphasize his points he brought out two 11,000 pound female elephants for demonstration. We learned that their teeth change out seven times across their lives, they live on more than 300 pounds of vegetation per day and drink 100 liters of water and in captivity require three handlers each. Elephants communicate with each other across vast distances at a very low frequency and they are the largest animals on the Indian subcontinent. Sadly they are also are on the endangered species list, victims of encroaching civilization. The conclusion of the talk featured a hand feeding of the elephants by us! When it was my turn, I gingerly approached my elephant of choice with a large packet of her favorite greens. Simply putting my 5’3” self up next to this 5 plus ton giant was a thrill. Serving the bundle of food to her big trunk was another. I could feel my grin spreading from ear to ear. This was so exciting! Seriously how could get it better than this? I even got to feed her a second bundle! Oh, but there were more surprises were waiting for me!
Our program continued, we left the elephant compound and climbed up into ox carts and journeyed to a local village to interact with the famous Tharu tribe which had historically been successful in resisting the malaria carrying mosquitoes of that wet lowlands. It was most inter-culturally enriching.
The next day our robust band of adventurers gathered at dawn for the elephant safari. We watched four of the elephants being driven slowly across the shallow Rapti River by their trainers. We hiked down to the river and descended to its banks ourselves where we boarded our dug-out canoes which were poled across the water.
Our elephants were now “saddled” and ready to take us rhino watching. I chose a particularly beautiful pink-eared elephant and was directed to shimmy up her body as she kneeled for me. I climbed up using her foot as a step and a loop in her tail that the trainer provided for me for the other step up. With a big pull I was on top of her! I took the front position in the wooden saddle and positioned my legs so that they were around the shoulders of the trainer. The trainer sat behind the elephant’s head with his bare feet placed against the back of each of her huge ears. He held a small sledge hammer in his right hand. My two friends, Joyce and Dale, climbed aboard and soon we were off! So how very exciting was this to trample through the jungle from our tall perch searching for wildlife? As we made our way deeper into the tropical jungle we fell silent, the only sounds coming from the elephant as she was directed to pull large branches from the trees to make a path. I smiled every time I spotted her wily trunk sneaking out for a snack. Her trainer quickly corrected her behavior through foot motions against the back of her ears. Kids will be kids! Our two hour safari included sightings of a family of one-horned rhinos and many birds, herds of deer and even a mongoose. It was a marvelous adventure and it could have stopped there, but the biggest thrill of the day was still waiting for me around the corner.
Once again we disembarked from our elephants, took many snapshots and returned to our dug-out canoes to go back to the camp. Our guide, Raj, invited us to bathe the elephants if we cared to, but that we needed to quickly put on our bathing suits and return to the river bank. We had ten minutes! On cue ten minutes later, the eleven of us lined the banks of the muddy river. It was a dark and drizzly morning, the remnants of monsoon season.
The Mahouts had two of the elephants standing in the water near the bank. Our guide asked if anyone wanted to sit on the elephant and be sprayed by her mighty trunk? What? I thought we were going to bathe the elephants, not the other way around! Without thinking I raised my hand and was immediately guided down the muddy river bank to the awaiting elephant. I was helped up on to her back which was now free of the wooden saddle. She walked into deeper waters.
Suddenly WHAM I was blasted by a trunk full of cold water!! The gang from the river yelled, “Donna close your mouth!” I tried to close it and then suddenly once more. WHAM!!! She sprayed me again. By now I was screaming with glee, trying to keep my mouth closed while yelling and waiting for the next blast! She sprayed me five times!! What great fun that was! Then she started to roll over onto her side and I had instant visions of my left leg being crushed so I scramble off of her back and into the water and swam to the shore. Oh my gosh. I thought!! What could be better than that? Who even dreamed this was a possibility? Who even dreamed this was possible in life?
Some of my fellow trekkers waded out in the water for their turns at elephant showers. We were all delighted by the picture taking and the elephants and the water. But still, we were not bathing elephants, they were bathing us! Sometime later, when all of us had had our fill of being water soaked, Raj, said, “So does anyone want to clean the elephants?”
“I do!” was my immediate response, not having any idea at all what this aspect of the day entailed. He directed me to wade down to the elephants yet again. By now they were lounging on their sides in about four feet of water. Clearly they were enjoying lazing around in the water. I was guided to one elephant’s back and I began to spread water up on her skin and rub. It was marvelous. Her dark grey hide was thick and felt rough to the touch. She seemed to really enjoy the caresses. Soon, growing more confident, I waded up to her gigantic head and began stroking and cleaning her enormous ear. I rubbed gently and she seemed to lean into my touch. As I continued my stroking of her ear, I studied her beautiful long thick black eye lashes, the few graceful hairs on her head, and noted the look of contentment in the visible eye. She was so huge and beautiful and wonderful. I could hardly take a breath for feeling the enormity of the moment I was sharing with her. It was something I imagine like being with God. She was still. She was relaxed. We both seemed to have moved into a kind of a bliss. It lasted for long minutes.
After a while my fellow elephant cleaners were trudging out of the water through the mud onto the bank of the river. We were all soaked to the bone. The rain continued and we were getting chilled. Everyone was starting back. I was still glued in bliss to my elephant’s beautiful head. Finally from the shore, Raj, called, “So Donna are you staying?”
That pulled me from my reverie. “Could I?” I meekly asked.
Raj smiled. It might be that he could see the expression that must have been on my face. He replied, “Yes.” But clearly it was time to go back. I lingered a few more precious minutes in the water, truly “soaking in” the experience and the magic. The elephant continued to lean into me and I into her.
Finally one of the trainers came to help me to shore. I was far behind my group and got a bit lost trying to make my way back to camp. On the trail, I passed three Tharu women who were out harvesting the morning crops. I think they read the rapture on my face, plus they could clearly see that I was disoriented. They giggled a bit at my expense. I was, after all, soaking wet, in a bit of a trance, and lost! Very gently they turned me around and pointed me in the correct direction toward camp. They shared shy smiles of understanding with me, and one woman even gave my arm an affectionate squeeze! Here I was, half way around the planet in a foreign culture, being assisted by kind-hearted women garbed in colorful red saris, and they reached out to me, sisters to sister. We did not share language or customs, but we did share a bond of understanding.
Poignant, short lived and beautiful. That was my moment with the elephant and water and with the beautiful Tharu women in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
“It will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” Emily Dickenson
I have pestered my husband for years about not hearing me, even accusing him of having a hearing loss, to the point that he recently had his hearing checked by a specialist! Guess what? He can hear just fine! He just does not listen! That news inspired me to adjust my messages and to remember what I’d been teaching all these years; the important differences between the male and female modes of communication.
New brain research using MRI and PET scan technology has discovered that the male and female brains respond differently during communication. For women the emotion center as well as the language centers are highly activated. For men, it is only the language center. For example, if she is upset about something, she wants to ventilate, he on the other hand might say, “get over it!” In the male mode, he is more quickly able to get over an incident. Another problem for many men is that women drown them in details, blah blah blah…… so they tune them out! Females enjoy long well developed responses, while men just want to get to the point!
Another intriguing finding has to do with the indirect language style used by many women. Perhaps it is evolution, biology or culture, but many girls and women soften their wants and desires and talk in a coded manner. For example, if a woman asks her partner, “Do I look fat in these jeans?” she may be mining for a compliment. A lot of husbands and boyfriends probably get into trouble when they give what they think is an honest answer! Or she may say, “would you like to stop on the way home for a bite to eat?” He does not feel hungry so quickly responds, “No.” Then he is in big trouble as she sulks into her and he has no idea why!
The female code is hard for many men to understand. She might have wanted some quiet time for them as a couple before they got back to the kids. Men tend toward directness, while women have been taught from an early age to be polite and agreeable.
So before I begin one of my typically rambling monologues with my husband, I need to remember these simple pointers. I must get to the point more quickly and to make sure that I actually have his attention before I start talking!
Yesterday was my last day as a teacher at Cypress College, in Southern California. I am the last member of the founding faculty to retire. My mind skipped back three months to the life altering step I had taken the day I met with the teacher retirement counselor. I still felt stunned. I cannot believe this! I could not believe that I was finally brave enough to give up the students and the classroom!
I recall the counselor, an energetic man with a booming voice as he proclaimed, “Only 3% of all teachers ever make it to 40 years and you are at 45! How did you do that?” I just smiled, while I thought, “Well it was easy, I did it for the love of our students.“
Driving home to San Juan Capistrano from the O.C. Education Office, I mulled over his question. How does one stay energized across all those four and a half decades and some 13,000 students? How does anyone stay energized in any profession?
I flashed back to when I joined the Cypress College family, it was a fall evening in 1966 and my husband and I had gotten our baby to bed. The phone rang, I answered, “Hello.”
“Donna, Congratulations!! This Dr. Dan Walker over here at Cypress Junior College, and we want to offer you a full-time tenure track teaching position.”
I happily accepted. I was a community college graduate myself, and although I was only 22 years old, I loved the idea of starting out my career with a brand new college. In fact Cypress Junior College had been written up in Newsweek Magazine as the “Instant Campus: From tomato field to classes in 74 days.” This was wonderful, but in the back of my mind I knew that I had a tiger by the tail with such a big job. We wanted a larger family and I knew the maternity policy in those days. There was no system in place for family leave and it was not considered acceptable to be in seen in a family condition in the classroom.
However it was the 60’s and society was changing, I took a risk and strategized a schedule that allowed the birth of my next two children to coincide with my long summer breaks. It worked! No one at all acknowledged my pregnancies…….truly it was an early version of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.” My children arrived and I never missed a day of teaching. There were no congratulatory baby showers or campus-wide announcements. “Don’t tell!”
My 53 colleagues and I settled into building curricula, attracting more students and growing our campus. We expanded it from a few hundred students in the 60’s to the 17,000 students our college serves today. What has been a thrill for me is to see our community college system living up to California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, 1960-1975. The dream of the Master Plan was that the community college would serve the state’s higher education needs for the first two years, in addition to providing certificate programs and lifelong learning.
That dream has become a reality, not just in California but across the United States. The American community college system is the workhorse of higher education, educating 11 million students each year. That is half of all undergraduates!
For so many millions of Americans the community college is a door-way to hope. It is a place to earn an affordable education, a place for a second chance, or a place to learn where one fits into the world. The community college has taken on the daunting task of educating anyone who can benefit from an education. In our state, 40% of the students do not speak English at home, while 35% are the first generation in their family ever to attend college. Seventy percent of our students come to our doors under prepared in reading, writing and math.
I have personally been inspired these 45 years by being part of a culture dedicated to improving the lives of our community. My faculty and administrative colleagues are in sync with striving forward, our Cypress College motto decrees, “Motivating Minds.” It is a thrilling environment where students are turned on to learning new ideas, where one’s colleagues welcome students with open hearts, where each day a teacher might see the light of discovery flash across a student’s face.
I recall how magnetizing was my student ,Kerri, so disabled that she needed a robotic talking board and battery operated wheel chair to come to class. Her determination and perseverance were a daily lesson to her classmates of the power and value of education. How proud we all were the day she graduated from Cypress College. Currently, she teaches other disabled students. Then there was, Jack, retired military and newly sober in his 60’s, earning straight A’s and going on and finishing a Bachelor’s Degree. Today Jack is paying it forward working with others in the recovery field. Yesterday I met with the case worker to admit my 97 year old aunt into a hospice program. The social worker was a graduate of my college, had taken our communication classes and gone on to receive her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She could not say enough about her community college experience, spending afternoons at her kitchen table doing homework with her two elementary- school- aged children. There are thousands upon thousands of these stories of triumph and hope within the walls of our community colleges.
The community college system, due in large part to the economic crisis that is gripping our nation, is living up to its full potential as the public universities are forced to cut more and more classes. Our classrooms are full to capacity and our students are more eager than ever. The energy field that emanates from them permeates the fabric of the institution, inspiring all of us to do our best. We are turning out business people, media consultants, future lawyers, doctors, nurses, psychiatric technicians, dental hygienists, automobile specialists, refrigeration experts, mortuary scientists, and more. These are good people ready to take their place in the world.
So as I move on to my new adventures, I feel proud that I hitched my dreams to those of the community college system, and particularly to Cypress College. I am proud to have watched it grow from the first scrawny trees to the premier learning institution it is today with its state of the art library/learning resource center, to its smart classrooms, its serene and beautiful grounds and its highly dedicated faculty and staff, How funny to recall the years of traveling on Valley View Street. In the 60’s and 70’s it was lined with odiferous dairy farms. Today that street is host to international corporate headquarters, quite a change in forty years! As Orange County grew up so did Cypress College and I am proud to have dedicated these decades to helping my students to have been a part of it.
Perhaps the answer to the puzzle, how does one stay energized across a lifetime career? Certainly it is something about really believing in what you do , in sharing yourself with others, with the excitement that each day brings. Absolutely, I do know that it was for the love of teaching and our students that kept me going all those years.