Donna's Blog

Turning a Forced Time-Out into a Gift

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

Toot Toot! Here Comes the Helms Man!

Hi there! I hope this note finds you well. Back in April, when we learned that our Covid-19 isolation orders would continue for some time, I woke up one morning with a new idea. We had been tackling the attic,
Grandmother Maymie at Venice Beach circa 1927
and I'd been going through old photos and papers belonging to my great grandparents and grandparents. They were intriguing, depicting rare views of old Venice Beach, California, when it was known as Venice-of-America. How sweet it was to see my great grandparents smiling out from their perch on the sand at the end of Venice Boulevard in 1900! My family arrived in Los Angeles around 1887 when the train came through from the Mid-West and spent a great deal of their time in the coastal area of Los Angeles. 
     It got me thinking. I, too, had lived some remarkable aspects of lost Los Angeles history. The look backward inspired me to write the story of 
Donna Poses in the Front Yard 1948
my growing up years in Venice, California during a period when it was an industrial zone, the fourth most productive oil field in the state. I know it sounds crazy to tell you that my next door neighbor was a gigantic oil-well derrick attached to a working pump house, whooshing up and down during all the days and nights of my growing years. We lived in a 400 square foot bungalow built out of war surplus materials. It was located right on the beach, but surrounded by these steel monoliths. 
     Energized, I began writing, while Ken kept offering to drive me on research field trips up to Venice. The trips were fun and easy because the traffic during lockdown was non-existent. The book Growing Up Venice: Parallel Universes will be available soon. For now I want to share a particularly charming result I encountered.
Venice Beach Oil Derricks circa 1940s
    About a week ago, Ken and I drove up to the old Helms Bakery Building on Venice Boulevard in Culver City. The trip was prompted by a picture of a Helms truck and childhood memories we both have of its visits to our neighborhoods. It is a design center now, boasting a pedestrian walk with restaurants and places to meet up. We took photos, bought chocolate éclairs, and took an outdoor seat looking across the street toward Paramount Studios. Of course, it was something of a walk down Memory Lane for me. My third grade field trip had been to this famous bakery. I could almost see the huge metal machines mixing thick dough, and could smell the sweet aroma of baking cookies. The friendly "toot toot" of the Helms Man's yellow and blue truck was clear in my memory.
  My most beloved remembrance is during visits to our grandparents. They lived near the Farmer's Market at Fairfax and Third Street in

 Hollywood. My sister and I would hear the Helms whistle and race around the house looking for our grandpa. He would smile at us as he escorted us out to the waiting truck. The Helms Man would grin as he opened the double doors at the back of his truck, and slowly guide the smooth wooden drawers out, revealing row upon row of pastries. There was never a rush. I could take my time and choose the perfect treat. I mostly went for the cream puff in the top drawer. The Helms Man would hand it down to me, wrapped in a paper. My grandfather would pay, and I would run to the porch, sit down, and slowly enjoy the creamy sweet. The memory for me is more than the Helms Man, it's wound up in the idyllic days with our grandfather. He was wonderful, a storyteller and one who took the time to teach me. The Helms Man sparked something old and cherished in my life.
     Our Helms trip made a wonderful day, and I posted a  few of the Helms photos on social media. The result I received was staggering!! Many of my social media friends enthusiastically shared their experiences. They told me the Helms Man went all the way to Fresno, to Laguna Beach, to San Diego. It was so much fun to read what they had to say. One friend, Karen, told me about how her mom put the big blue H letter in the window so that the Helms Man would stop by, others told me about getting candied apples, sugar cookies, cream puffs. They recalled the metal change maker around his waist; that sometimes he would let them place the coins in it. I learned about how as kids they would hear the whistle and come racing. One friend, Royce, said he and his brother would beg for a coin from their grandma and go running. One time his brother tripped and lost the coin! Oh No! They missed the Helms Man as they searched for that coin. He invited us to look for that missing coin from 50 some years ago at his corner in Long Beach! 

  The Helms Man whistling through our neighborhoods was a daily ritual for thousands of us children in Southern California between 1932 and 1968. When the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles struggled financially due to the Depression, retired banker turned baker, Paul Helms, with his newly opened bakery, stepped up. He helped out and tied his bakeries to the Olympic athletes. His was the "Choice of Champions." The Olympians continued to ask for Helms bread across the next twenty years. Helms also participated in the Rose Parade, sponsored television shows, and provided the bread for the Apollo missions, becoming the "first bread on the moon." Even though his products were never sold in markets, he was remarkably successful. When he died in the late 1950's the family operated the bakery for another ten years. Today it is commemorated as an historic building and the area is noted as The Historic Helms Bakery District. I would recommend a visit. Perhaps you could enjoy a cream puff as you sit and take a little side tour to your past.
    When I wrote the Helms Bakery post, I had no clue that my friends would be so overjoyed by recalling their own precious memories. The Helms Man was commonplace to us, perhaps that is part of it; the innocence of us as children running for our jelly donut. I know that writing my new book, remembering what it was like to range free across the sand through all the days of my childhood, has helped me get through this trying moment in history. It has reminded me how grateful I am for being alive; what a gift life is. We are going through one of the most complex, frightening times in our lives. Our world has been turned upside down and many of us are reeling trying to remain upright. Maybe that's what we all need to do, search our memories for precious moments, and notice other such events in real time. Perhaps we can remind ourselves each day, what a gift it is to be alive.
    You know I would love to hear any of your memories or your Helms Man story. My best, donna

Locked Down and Gloved Up!

Under cover of early morning darkness today, masked and gloved, I sneaked into Von's Market, accepting a freshly sanitized shopping cart from a worker at the door. As I passed the colorful Easter candy display, I felt a sharp pain, like a kick, grip my stomach as tears sprang to my eyes. No Easter gathering this year. I pushed the cart forward and worked to shed the jab of the emotional toll this lockdown is having on us.
The day before, on the walking trail with my dogs, a man approached from about thirty feet away, and seeing me, lifted a mask to his face. I quickly veered out into the empty street. He lowered his mask and gave me a brief wave from a great distance.
     Something like four billion of us on the planet are under mandatory lockdown. In the 200,000 years of anatomically modern humans, there has never been such an isolation occurrence. Firstly, across human history the populations have been much smaller, and certainly no opportunity for mass communication. You and I, right now, are living history.
     We Baby Boomers grew up learning about the agonies of the Great Depression, hoping no such thing would befall us. The recent strong economy and low unemployment rates have lulled us into a sense of safety and comfort. That view has suddenly been shattered.
     Ken and I have been deeply respectful of the CDC guidelines.Staying in, spraying down grocery bags, sanitizing the groceries, and leaving packages on the porch for several days. Our schedules are pretty open. For the most part we are doing okay. Across our long marriage my chief complaint has been that I wished my husband were home more. Well he's home now and I have plenty of time with him. Guess what? I like it! The other day, when I returned from a walk, he was so proud because he had been sewing!! (I know, Ken sewing is pretty wild!). He proceeded to demonstrate his creation. Using a clean white dusting cloth and a paper coffee filter, he had manufactured a serviceable mask. He was so proud!
Ken Proudly Displays His Homemade Mask

Anyway, we've completed a few projects around the house, read some books, and of course done a lot of cooking, but what surprises me is how exhausting it is not doing that much. Do you, too, feel a strain of exhaustion?

     It occurs to me that many of us are in a type of grief mode. If it is not grief, certainly it is anxiety. The economists agree that we are headed for a deep recession. The financial unknown out there alone is plenty to scare us, and certainly the daily CORONA VIRUS DEATH REPORT is enough to do in the strongest of us.

Our losses are lurking under many different layers: not seeing our loved ones, having our freedom of movement curtailed, losing our daily schedule and its familiar comforts of coworkers, the mental challenges of work, and feeling the sting of missing our friends. Others of us are beginning to experience the agony of actually losing loved ones to this virus.

As a survivor of child abuse I have had a default "setting" for "hyper-vigilance." What this means is that I am unconsciously preparing for the next assault. It's possible that you also may be unconsciously gearing up for the next blow. This is a hard way for us to live. Our reaction to the world pandemic may be the only aspect over which we have some control. Perhaps this is a good time to work on training our brains. For me, I now recognize that I feel exhausted because my world has upended. Going forward I am going to respect that fact and give myself a break, maybe even a nap!

     So recognizing how stressed we actually feel is a good first step. Deciding to control it is another positive move. This is a good time to calm our minds through meditation, walking, yoga and relaxation techniques. Maybe we should limit the time we watch the news. Every time the economists discuss the next most dire prediction, I feel my anxiety climbing.

     I downloaded Zoom and am having "meetings" with my family. I am also getting better at remembering to use Facetime, and being grateful. Brain science has proven that when we live in gratitude our happiness levels elevate. In addition, when we help others, we tend toward feeling better. The local food banks desperately need our help, as do elders who need grocery deliveries. Our friends need phone calls and texts. My beautiful daughter-in-law texted me this sign: INTROVERTS PUT DOWN YOUR BOOK AND CALL YOUR EXTROVERT FRIENDS. THEY ARE NOT OKAY!! Yes, we can help our friends and neighbors. 

     Certainly there is no silver bullet that is going to rescue us anytime soon. The laboratories around the world are working as fast as they can on a vaccine. For now we are keeping our distance and wearing masks. It seems to me that it is our job to respect how truly stressful this is and give ourselves permission to understand that: this is a really big deal! In the meantime my family and friends continue to share outrageously hilarious videos and photos. I love the Chris Mann Youtube parody on the right margin. The other night my friend sent this question to me: DOES ANYONE KNOW IF WE CAN TAKE SHOWERS YET OR SHOULD WE JUST KEEP WASHING OUR HANDS?

Hello From Rainbow Land

     Hello my friends! Wow are we challenged or what? This sequestering is more grueling than the calamities in a bad Hollywood Sci-Fi film. So we are mostly all sheltered in place, unable to go about much semblance of our normal lives. We are only in the middle of Week One, and some of us are already chafing at it, while others ignore the threat completely. ABC News this morning showed thousands of partying youth crowding the warm sands of South Beach, Florida. The on-camera quote by a grinning young man, "If I get Corona, I get Corona. We planned for this vacation for months."
     As the world shuts down in an unprecedented way, something unseen in our lifetimes, we cope with not just the threat of this deadly and invisible virus, but a very real and serious economic reality as well. In addition, we face the risk presented by those who are cavalier about the seriousness of it.
     I am certain that the attitude we choose to take toward this crisis, toward our freedom being curtailed, will determine how well we get through it. My hero, Austrian psychologist Dr. Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, was locked up in a Nazi concentration camp. He was horrified to see men literally fighting over a scrap of grizzle lying on the prison floor. After his release, he wrote that in that moment, he decided to turn his incarceration into a sort of real-time laboratory study, to determine what it was within the psychology of the prisoners which determined who survived and who died. What he learned was that those who survived had a larger goal than survival. They focused on something to accomplish or do once they were free. He saw that they had a purpose that kept them going against the worst odds. The survivors had a WHY to live. For Victor, he wanted to find his family. During his long life he wrote many books about what he learned regarding finding one's purpose and about pursuing happiness. His thinking has been a cornerstone to my own philosophy of life.
Entrance to Rainbow Land
     Somehow I managed to survive the worst abuse a young girl can suffer at the hands of her father. My incarceration sentence was my entire childhood.  The secret to my survival with my sanity intact was to have a get-away plan. My purpose was to create a life where I was "normal," once I was free. I knew that adulthood would bring freedom. It was an overriding vision which somehow guided me through the horror. You know me well enough to know that I have succeeded, against heavy odds. This explains why I live in gratitude. I am so grateful to be free.

     Our challenge is to accept our current reality and do as we are instructed by the authorities. The societal goal is to get the virus infection curve to flatten so that the lowest numbers of us become ill and our medical facilities will be able to cope. I am fascinated to begin to study the reactions from those around me to this mandate. Hundreds of missives are coming my way each day via the news, posts on social media, telephone calls and emails. 

     Certainly for many Americans, our sense of humor is firmly in 
Toilet Paper Sand Castle
tact. My friends are sending and posting truly hilarious bits. The toilet paper hoarding has struck a funny bone for many. I cracked up at the photo of a huge sandcastle created on Balboa Island made of toilet paper rolls crafted of sand. I saw a poker game pic where they were betting toilet paper rolls, and innumerable messages about the crazy role reversal where 50-somethings are forced to admonish their Baby Boomer parents Not to Go Out!

     On Monday, the first day of our California "quarantine", my ten year old granddaughter, Caroline, sent me a long video called Rainbow Land. Caroline had already created a miniature theme park down the hall in her home and into the living room. Many rainbows were in evidence. There was an "art museum" taped to one wall, a fun zone with a ball pit, then a "pin the gold on the rainbow" attraction, water rides and so much more!! Seriously, how clever to invent a Pin the Gold on the Rainbow game!!!

     So this is our challenge. We can bitterly bemoan the state of affairs, huff and puff about the governmental "overreaction," or figure out a game plan for the foreseeable weeks, perhaps months, to keep ourselves on an even keel. Maybe we figure out how to pin the gold on the rainbow?
Moms Create Challenges

     The moms around me are creating plans to help their shut-in children to cope. My daughter is sending challenges to the other young people in the family. The other night the challenge was to hold a plastic cup of water on your forehead as you contort into a sitting position, and ultimately to a position where you can set the cup of water on the floor without spilling it. The videos of my daughter and her daughter accomplishing this feat created the challenge for the cousins. Other moms have a schedule of family game time, family walking time, free time, chores time and so on. The moms are gearing up! It is still okay to go outside in the fresh air. We just need to keep our distance from those not in our family.

     Clearly our attitude is up to each of us. I am journaling each day, because when we come out the other side, it will be hard to remember exactly what it felt like to have our freedom of movement taken away from us, our jobs, good hugs, and our human face-to-face interactions. I think we will forget, like we might the pain of childbirth. Anyway, I'm writing it down.
Toilet Paper Poker

     I loved this post. "When this is over: may we never again take for granted a handshake, full shelves at the store, conversations with neighbors, a crowded theater, Friday night out, the taste of communication, coffee with a friend, a boring Tuesday, or life itself! " Or toilet paper! That's my addition. So for now. Our challenge is to take the best care we can of ourselves. To adjust our attitude and soldier on.

These Birds Get It! Friendships and Happiness

This morning after a walk at Dana Point Harbor, I stopped by the local feed store to pick up some grain for our horses just as it
Baby the Cockatoo
was opening. The clerk was busy rolling a white Cockatoo in its huge cage outside to be in the sun. He was squawking. It caught my interest. I followed the clerk. She went back into the dark store and from another area, rolled out a second big cage with an Amazonian Parrot in it. I asked if they were friends as she pushed the heavy cages side by side. Before she could answer, the cockatoo jumped on the side of his cage nearest the parrot, and said, "Hello" as clear as day. The parrot jumped as close as he could get and they began a very loud, animated conversation. I could see that they were thrilled to be in each other's company. Clearly they are friends.
Cody the Amazonian Parrot
     In fact they were so happy that I could not stop myself from pulling out my phone and taking a video clip of their lively and loud exchange. (see video in right side panel) I lingered for a while. The clerk secured the cages. She was not impressed with their zeal, nor with my enchantment over them. She said that they were not hers and they were a lot of work, that they belonged to the store owner. She did share that the parrot is 42 years-old, named Cody, and the cockatoo is 20 years-old, named Baby.

     I concluded my business and stood at the cages a while longer, admiring the birds and talking to them. "Hello" was exchanged many times between us.

     Grinning, I got in the car, and drove home. I began thinking about them in conjunction with a class I took a few weeks ago. It
was a part of USC's "Back to College Day" on the Los Angeles campus. My favorite class taught the newest brain research into human happiness. The professor said that as humans we are "wired" to be socially embedded within a group; that we need relationships to thrive. So here I was, witnessing the two birds reunited after a whole night apart, and they were beyond delighted to see one another. Clearly the importance of social relationships does not only apply to humans.

Back to College Day
     As I was driving, I basked in my own delight reminiscing about the morning's walk with a new friend. We had just enjoyed a vigorous hour-long walk around the harbor. I smiled to myself as I replayed the funny memory she shared during our walk. When we first met, a few months ago, we were strangers, standing next to one another for an all-volunteer photo shoot at Mission San Juan Capistrano. She had looked at my name tag and asked, "Are you Donna Friess?" I recall smiling yes. She jokes about it now because clearly my badge said I was Donna. She had followed up with, "I'm reading your book. We Gardening Angels are passing it around to each other."

     We had introduced ourselves. The photo was taken and we went our separate ways. Later that day, I thought about how nice and friendly she was. I obtained her phone number and called her. "Hi, this is Donna. I think we should be friends!" She agreed and we settled on walking as our get-acquainted activity. This morning as we parted, I grinned saying, "A friend is a gift you give to yourself." She laughed. The fact that we had enjoyed such a fun morning caused me to think more about that happiness class and the professor's research.

     He made the point that we humans are creatures of habit. I thought about the fact that for many people, as they age and their available pool of friends begins to shrink; they can fall into the habit of being relatively isolated. My work with the members of my loss support group reinforced that idea. Part of the goal of support groups is to encourage the participants to move out of their isolating comfort zones, and find new ways to become socially connected.

     Columnist Helen Dennis in a recent article wrote about her own 62 year-old friendships and how rewarding and comforting they are. She explained that friendships contribute not just to happiness and feelings of fulfillment, but also to longevity. Her
Orange County Register article dug into the research of social scientist, Dr. Lydia Densworth, who reported that health and longevity in primates were based primarily upon social bonds, and how well and regularly the animals interacted with other animals. Similarly, she wrote, it is the same with humans; friendships affect our physical and mental health.


Happiness Tank
     During my group work with Women in Transition, "women striving to reinvent themselves," I often bring in a big chart I created. It is a huge graphic of a "Happiness Tank." I use an exercise where the participants assess how "full" their own happiness tanks are. We look at our physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional selves. I have noticed across the classes, that early on the women tend to give themselves low scores. As the weeks progress, they come to rate their happiness tanks as more full. They also connect to one another, making friendships that often continue long after the class. I have thought to myself that it was not so much what I was teaching them, as the fact that they were in a supportive group of like-minded women, and they had a chance to bond with each other.

     We are responsible for our own happiness. We cannot expect others to provide it for us, nor can we put it off waiting until a future date such as retirement. One way to keep our own Happiness Tanks full is to find new ways to connect with others, and to treasure the friendships we do have. If the parrot and cockatoo can get such a great kick out of being in the other's company, it seems like we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves the gift of a few good friends, and to see them often. Perhaps it is a matter of importance to our own health and longevity. It is worth the risk to ask: "Could we be friends?"

Learn Like You Are Going to Live Forever

 The other day at Mission San Juan Capistrano I strode across the courtyard in my docent attire, eager to meet the tour group waiting for me. There were about thirty fourth graders and ten adults. I greeted them with a big smile and introduced myself. Then I asked where they lived.

     "We are from Brea, in North Orange County."

     "That's great! You've come a long way," I responded, "and we are so happy to have you here. Does anyone know what "brea" means?
Oil Wells and Homes Coexist in Brea, California Today

      My question was met with silence. I looked at the group. They looked at me. I grinned into their expectant faces. After a moment, I announced that it means "tar." Their astonished expressions grabbed at my heartstrings. Without losing a beat, I went on to explain how the Native Americans, who had built the Mission, used tar to line their canoes and baskets to keep them water tight, that they could even boil water in their sturdy containers. The hills and canyons of Brea have been rich sources of tar and petroleum for centuries. I knew that the early ranchers avoided buying up the tar-filled acres because the gooey substance clung to the sheep's feet and soiled the wool. The settling farmers of Orange County were oblivious to the value of the "liquid gold" beneath the ground.
Native Americans Built Sturdy Canoes

     That did it! I could feel their eagerness to learn more. I bundled them into their imaginary time machines and off we went. The rest of the hour-long tour zoomed by, fueled by their interest. When it came time to part ways, I asked each student to share what aspect of their visit had meant the most to them. In sweet whispers so many replied, "Everything!"

     Needless to say, witnessing their excitement of discovery filled me with awe. It also humbled me to think that as a career educator I had found a rewarding niche for myself in retirement.

     That encounter prompted me to focus on the idea of life-long learning, and what it can mean. The day before, I had attended an art history class at the Mission. We learned in some detail about the Mission's extensive art collection. We were taught about the paint mixing techniques used by the medieval master's in liturgical art. The ancient works tend to be dark as the minerals they had to work with were from finely ground rocks and minerals mixed with linseed oil. I listened to the lecture and took notes. It was not until many hours later, when I was watching a YouTube video on those long ago practices, that an epiphany flashed through my brain!
Liturgical Art Was Dark Due to Pigments Available
     Connections flooded my mind. As a porcelain artist, I realized I have been utilizing the same techniques as the old masters for over four decades. We carefully mix the powdery minerals with a binder, like linseed oil, we call it "mixing medium," to create our paints. We then fire our painted pieces in a kiln to adhere the paint to the porcelain.

Porcelain Art Today - Mixing Paint
     What fascinated me is that I sat through the entire lecture about 18th century painters and did not connect their techniques to my own. When I did, I was exuberant! My discovery nearly bowled me over!! I continued to ponder my ideas: about the excitement of discovery, and its connection to human happiness,
     Today, I was in the produce aisle at Trader Joe's with my ten-year old granddaughter, Caroline. I reached for a container of banana nut squash zig-zags. That action caught the attention of the woman standing next to me. "How do you eat those?" She inquired.
     "Well, I cook them in the microwave."
     "In their plastic container?"
     "No, I place them in a covered glass dish."
     "Do you add butter?
     "No, just a few tablespoons of water."
     "For how long?
     "Maybe three minutes."

     I turned, Caroline smiled, and I began to push our cart away. The delighted lady exclaimed out loud (clearly talking to herself), "Oh I just love learning new things!"

     Caroline and I exchanged a knowing look. The lady was pretty funny, certainly she was persistent, but her remark speaks to the fact that learning new things, discovery, is a huge turn-on and probably an element in maintaining one's happiness.
     Anyway, this is something I'm going to continue to ponder. I particularly appreciate Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts about life-long learning. He said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow, Learn as if you were to live forever."

My Evening With Mrs. Claus

     Sometimes I can hardly believe the crazy places I find myself inhabiting! It stems from my philosophy of "saying yes" and "putting oneself in the path of opportunity." That personal mantra has taken me, among other things, to the heights of the Himalayan Mountains where no inhabitants have ever seen a car, and to being forced to leap off the back of a big female elephant who felt like rolling over in the river in India! There's an element of surprise humming quietly in the background of my life. You may not be that shocked then to discover that last Saturday night my job was to be Mrs. Claus' helper. We weren't at the North Pole, but it was an extraordinary experience which I will hold close to my heart.

     It was Mission San Juan Capistrano's second year for our big opening night of the holiday spectacular "Capistrano Lights." I was the docent assigned to "Mrs. Claus." The stage was set. The staff and the volunteers were ready. The musicians had warmed up, our 35 foot tall musical tree was in perfect working order, Monsignor McKiernan was standing by to share his poem, the tamales were heating, and the lights were twinkling, as we anticipated the arrival of 2300 guests. I had a little knot of excitement in my stomach as I was not sure what being there to help Mrs. Claus actually meant. I supposed it was about crowd control. I was wrong.

     Our own Acajaman tribal member, Jaque Nunez, was volunteering her energy as Mrs. Claus. She was all made up in a white wig, night cap, Mrs. Santa red dress with a strand of lights blinking around her neck, granny glasses, and a big warm smile. As the little children began to come around, we could see that they were shy of meeting Mrs. Claus. Jaque would gently call to them, "I have been waiting just for you." Slowly they would approach and she would bring them in closer, all the while whispering encouragements. The shy little ones would soon warm up to her, while their eager parents stood back beaming their joy. I quickly understood that my role could be to record the magic that was taking place in front of us.

     "Would you like for me to take a photo of all of you with Mrs. Claus?" The cell phone cameras would immediately appear as the family members posed with their children. More smiles. Sometimes the parents would hang back, a shyness of their own resisting the moment. I would grin one more invitation, and be rewarded by their excitement to be a part this special time with their children and Mrs. Claus.

The Musical 35 Foot Christmas Tree
     As the evening moved forward Mrs. Claus' joy for each child continued, and I got a better handle on my job of recording memories. Mrs. Claus greeted and chatted with literally hundreds of children, while I snapped their photos. Even though photos with Mrs. Claus might seem insignificant in the broader scheme of life, it was a night I will remember, for the fact that it was an example of people adding value to their lives and creating happiness.

     In retrospect, I realize that it takes effort to create our own happiness, to put ourselves in the path of opportunity, and to take the risk of saying yes in life. I see that we must be actors in our own lives. We cannot wait for opportunity to find us. Last weekend was a very stormy time. It was raining on Saturday night when those families bundled their children into the car, drove to the Mission, found a parking place, and made their way into the historic landmark. They took a risk to make memories and to create cherished holiday traditions. Those hundreds of smiles told me it was worth the effort. I also think about Jaque and about myself. We could have been at home in front of our fireplaces, but we, too, were adding value to our lives by being a part something bigger, something for the community.

The Courtyard Aglow with Holiday Joy

     I think happiness does not come to us serendipitously, but is created through our actions. The holidays are a time of the year in which we can get caught up in unnecessary details, when we might succumb to feelings of being overwhelmed. Perhaps mindfulness can be applied to the season. We can ask ourselves, "does this effort add to my happiness or detract from it? With a small effort we can create our own value and only take part in activities which add joy.

     For me, spending five hours with "Mrs. Claus" and greeting hundreds of guests, personally added to my happiness. Enjoying Jaque Nunez in action fills me with admiration and wonder.

     I feel grateful to be alive. I feel grateful that both my husband and my mother have come through scary health issues this year. I think the more we can live in gratitude and mindfulness, the happier we will be.

     Capistrano Lights is open through January 6th. I invite you to bring your family and friends to enjoy our historic landmark, the beautiful ruins of the Great Stone Church, the lovely Serra Chapel, the most historically significant building in all of California and the beautiful lights.

What Matters Most?

 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.


Dogs Enjoying the Surf

     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?


Stroller Warriors

     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

Puppet On A String

     It is easy to fall into living on auto pilot. One never knows when a life changing event will occur and old, worn-out, ways of living life might resurface. It has been interesting for me to realize that even with all the studying and therapy I have enjoyed across these many years, that my old dysfunctional behaviors want to leech into the present. About a month ago I made my usual morning wellness call to my nearly 96 year-old mother, who is legally blind, lacks much mobility in her walker, but still lived on her own. I discovered that she was too ill to call for help or even to shift the pillow under her head. She lives less than a mile away. I immediately went to her bedside and got help. There was a five day hospital stay, a surgical procedure, and according to the doctor, a very close brush with death. He thought she had only hours before succumbing had there not been medical intervention.

     My sister and I dug in fast, and visited assisted living establishments. We found a roomy one bedroom apartment with a terrace in a nice facility. Over the course of several days my granddaughter, Kate, and I physically moved our mother's personal items into her new place. One of the biggest stressors, upsetting her the most, was what to do with her fourteen year-old cats, one of which is diabetic. After some sleepless nights, I realized that I could have a cattery built on my property. I would take over the cats' care. My husband, Ken, agreed to build the cattery. We soon transferred her cats to our home. I took a deep breath. I thought we had gotten her and her cats to a safe place and settled.

Cattery Built by Ken

     Immediately, however, the calls started coming in on my cell phone. I seemed to get at least one call a day where she urgently needed something. One day she called complaining about the establishment's weak coffee. I dropped everything and jumped into my car and brought her stronger coffee. I reacted like that for over a week, jump jump jumping. On another day when I thought she had finally adjusted to her new life, I went to take her to lunch only to be sat down in a chair and lectured on why she should be allowed to live independently elsewhere. It was not a very pleasant lunch.

     So after weeks of sketchy sleep and an anxious stomach, I have had to almost slap myself on the side of my head to stop my "auto pilot" puppet behavior. Across the years, even with her limitations, I have supported her insistence on living independently in her two story house full of stairs. Her recent scrape with death proved that she could no longer live alone.

     On a recent Sunday morning, after another comprised night's sleep, I was sipping my coffee and staring at the fire, my stomach still in knots, when I realized that I had fallen into my old survivor behavior left over from my childhood which had been less than ideal. I was trying to "fix" everything, trying to make everyone happy, so I would be safe. I had an intervention with myself. I explained to that little girl who lives inside of me that she is NOT in charge of everyone's happiness. I gave her permission to stop reacting like a puppet on a string. It is not easy to quiet her down as our mother is very unhappy and is insisting on living elsewhere independently. There is a lot of "noise" and it's hard not to react.

     I have been blessed with empathy, I feel what my mother is going through, giving up her home, her beloved pets, her vision, her mobility. I feel all of that, but I must understand that I cannot fix it. We must not allow ourselves to be made to be responsible for someone else's happiness. It is hard enough to accept responsibility for our own. Of course this will all be resolved somehow. I must remember to set personal boundaries and keep my eyes open so that I do not slip into old patterns. I must not allow Donna to be a puppet on a string!

Puppet On a String
     I have come to see that I have been guilty of failing to place proper boundaries around myself. I see that I have allowed another's unhappiness to affect my own, and that I have permitted the little girl inside of me to run roughshod over the adult. I am forcing myself to examine my own behavior. I must remind myself of the negative impact of allowing rigid roles from the past to dictate one's behavior. Those old roles can strangle us. I am doing better. I am setting limits even though the stress continues.

I hope that by revealing my struggle that you might heighten your awareness to some of the emotional traps that are out there, and understand that navigating the sometimes tumultuous waters of life is not always easy sailing.

I love hearing from you. My best, donna

Burning Man 2019 - A Social Phenomenon

My fascination with culture building has kept me a devoted fan of the popular reality TV show, Survivor. When I learned that my wonderful 24 year-old grandson, Jake, had managed to purchase a ticket to the famous Burning Man event this year I was enthralled. I could hardly wait to hear all about it. Three days after his return, we met for lunch. Seated comfortably in a corner booth at The Sun Dried Tomato, I plied him with questions about his recent nine-day-long sojourn into that world held at "Black Rock City, Nevada."

Jake Enjoying the Desert

As a social scientist and world traveler, I have been blessed to have visited and studied the Wonders of the World as well as many of humanities' great works of art. I have been fortunate to create a life where this is possible, however my travels have shown me little comparable to Jake's adventure.
I can barely visualize a "city" of 70,000 inhabitants which rises up from nothing in the bleakest of deserts only to be burned down or physically removed nine days later. Truly, I can't imagine. In my world we would preserve the art and turn it into a World Heritage Site.

Folly - Wooden City

I had done my homework before I met with Jake. I understood that Larry Harvey had founded this phenomenon thirty years ago when he gathered his friends for a bonfire at the beach near San Francisco, burned an effigy, and celebrated the Summer Solstice while trying to get over a bad break-up. As the event grew and was moved from the beach to the desert, Harvey had a vision. He saw the event as a "shared intention to restore community and creative expression." 
I knew that Burning Man had grown to become a world-wide social phenomenon attracting "Burners" to play and create in the arid, dust blown Playa and Black Rock Desert, one hundred miles north of Reno each year. As Jake opened the photos on his phone and began to describe the many roving "art cars" and the "light art," and the massive temporary art exhibits, I felt lightheaded from the thrill of it all. Even the "Burners" themselves are part of the scene with their costumes and makeup. His photos showed me lots of fur, jewelry, tutus, masks, and goggles. I knew there was nudity. (My grandson did not have such photos in his collection, however he knew that I had come to my majority during the turbulent 60's, The Age of Aquarius, and was pretty immune to certain aspects of communal living). He described a party he attended on a big 747 airplane which was rolled onto the sandy desert and gutted. It became a dance hall with portions of the top of the plane removed so participants could enjoy the view of the "city" which follows an organized grid pattern with the camps erected along designated blocks.
Airplane Converted to Dance Hall
A favorite photo was of an art car which was a lit-up sailing ship with three masts, mounted upon a truck chassis. I could image how majestic it must have appeared "sailing" across the dark desert at night. I loved the photos of the "Folly" which is a life-sized multi story "town" made of wood. An important piece was a giant wooden birthday cake upon which stood the 40 foot tall Burning Man effigy. Further reading taught me that the "soul of Black Rock City has always resided within the structures, the artists and the builders." Fifty years ago, Woodstock was built on its music. Twenty years later, Burning Man, which has persevered for thirty years, is built on its art. The burning of the "man" marks the culmination of the celebration.

The Art Car Ship "Sailing" Past

The communication teacher in me is interested in the development of cultures. I got a kick out of the event's tribal greeting. Instead of a handshake, there is a hug; instead of hello, during the first days of the gathering, it was "Welcome Home." As Jake recited the tenets of the gathering I could not help but flash back on recent television accounts of the 1969 crowd of a half million at Woodstock. Woodstock was a cultural flashpoint. I thought of its ethos of peace, and love against the protests of the Viet Nam War; I also recalled the massive mounds of debris left in its wake.

This is the Burning Man Code:
Radical Inclusion - anyone may be a part of Burning Man
Gifting - Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving
Decommodification - (Immunity from market dependency)
Radical Self Reliance
Radical Self-expression
Communal Effort
Civic Responsibility
Leaving No Trace

The "city" is guided by its own laws and mores. Jake explained that safety and consent are of key importance and there was a visible police presence. Money is not allowed, only gift giving. (Cash is only allowed for the purchase of ice and coffee). Brand names are taped over or marked out. One of Jake's favorite activities was riding his bike on the open desert and stumbling upon pieces of art. Another interesting moment was walking into a boutique and finding a piece of clothing he liked, and being invited to take it. No charge, gift giving being the cultural norm.

Giant Birthday Cake with Burning Man - Later Burned Down.
Jake smiled as he explained the feeling of strolling into the playa (the sandy dry lake bed a bit away from the city) in the middle of the night to think; to appreciate the beauty and darkness of the desert, and the enormity of living in a social experiment where one is free from ordinary social constraints. Always careful, he assured me that he was safe in the dark. He wore lights on his clothing as mobile art pieces were often moving past as well as bicycles.

My guess is that Burning Man will continue to grow, but as the rich and famous want in on the action, hiring folk to set up and tear down their camps, rolling-in expensive RV's and personal chefs, it will change. For now, much of the community building, art installations, and personal expressions remain somewhat true to Larry Harvey's vision.

Dust Storm

A quick Instagram review showed video snippets of the scenes. I encourage you to explore the event online. I know from studying world history that in ancient times there were similar communal rituals such as those centered at the Winter Solstice. Events, like Stonehenge, where humans gathered eons ago to celebrate life are not new, but we know so little about them, while this event is alive and growing during our time. I find it magical and exciting!

As we finished up our lunch and Jake prepared to go back to the "real" world of work, I knew that I would not be attending Burning Man for many reasons including the heat and sand, however, through the luxury of narrative and photos, I am able to glean a sense of the adventure without the dust storms or high temperatures. I've had a vicarious thrill through my grandson's special experience. Surely this wild city is in a class of its own, far different from my adventures around the world, but most importantly, this has given me something precious which my young man can eagerly share with his very fascinated grandmother. I feel lucky.

I love hearing what you think. My best, donna

Gateway to the Past

Happy Labor Day! This holiday signals the end of summer for many of us; time to put our boogey boards and sun hats away and begin the routines of Fall. As Fall is a time of change, I had decided to move some of the wall art in my home, and had begun thinking about what to do. I considered taking some pieces to our home in the mountains. Last night, however, I awoke in the middle of the night out of sorts. The mere thought of moving a certain piece distressed me. It is an oversized canvas, painted by my son, Rick, when he was five years. I realized in the dark of night, that the painting has comforted me since 1970! It has captured a moment in time for me. It reminds me of a long ago past when my little kindergartner son, Rick, passed his time flying his kite while his two and a-half year old sister rode her plastic Big Wheel nearby, a time before my last child was born. I realized that I cannot bear to move it.

"Flying Kites" by Ricky, age 5

     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 wedding vows!! 

     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 

Mary Pickford

 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!

Bathed in Love

     Last week I had the honor of being asked to eulogize our fallen friend Jean. As I listened to the nine or so other speakers my heart filled with pride for learning of Jean's legacy. Many of her friends from across the span of her seventy some years stood to share their most precious thoughts about her. We heard about her independence, her feisty spirit, and her commitment to raising the children in her life; her kids, niece, and grandchildren. What resonated with me the most were all the stories of Jean's unconditional love for people.
     I often write of the importance of celebrating each day as if it were our last. The truth is we just do not know. I believe that it is important to not take even a single breath for granted. Jean and her husband, Jerry, spent the night with us last March, and her health seemed fine. Then a month later, it turned and she was unexpectedly gone by the end of April. Her legacy, however, lives on. Her 19 year old grandson Liam, in particular, talked about how lucky he was to have had such an involved and affectionate grandma; that she was foundational in his growing up years, and that she will always live on in his heart.
Jean and Jerry visit in March
     Once again I am reminded of the quote: People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Jean had the talent of ensuring that her family and friends felt like they were the most important people in her life, and I think they were. She bathed them in love as she listened and cared.

     Jerry shared with us that toward the end Jean said that she would make herself known through a white feather. He reports now discovering a rather constant sighting of white feathers tucked in interesting spots along his path. After the memorial, he took his grandchildren to the beach. Not surprisingly, there was a white feather on the sand. Standing on the warm sand at Seal Beach, as Jerry lifted the feather, Liam, exclaimed, "I'm worried about the bird from which grandma is getting all these feathers!"

     Jean was one of those rare people who made you feel good just by being in the room with her. She may be gone from this earth but not from our hearts. Her passing reinforces for me once again the importance of celebrating each day we have in this life.

     I am home from a vigorous trip to Japan with my son and his wife and their number four daughter, and I am resting up boogie boarding at San Clemente Pier. 
June Visit to Japan
Boogie Boarding at the Pier

You are old, but you are fast!

     I am still cracking up laughing at the hilarious 4th graders who were in my mission tour this week. It has been my pleasure the past few years to be a Mission San Juan Capistrano docent, leading tours for both adults and fourth graders through the grounds and buildings which tell the story of the Mission Era and Native Americans. Sometimes a certain group of students becomes unforgettable like this one. This class consisted of about 20 boys, three or four girls, and six parents. When I met them I could tell that they were excitable. I knew they had just endured a two-hour long bus ride from the inner city of Los Angeles to get to the mission. They were wiggly, pushing, talking, and jumping around. I started with my usual welcome spiel about this being a mobile classroom and being respectful etc. I sensed this group was particularly boisterous which is not unusual, this time of year with summer coming, and with a predominance of ten year old boys. I took a deep breath and got them into their imaginary "Time Machines" and we set off going backwards in time.

     We began the tour at the cow hide. I fought to keep their attention as they touched the fur and wondered if it were a bear? With so many stimulating artifacts about; a stack of dirt at the adobe brick station, the wine vat, an old cart; the boys' attention was all over the place! I thought to myself, "herding cats?"
Learning About California's History
     At the wine fermentation vat I managed to grab their awareness, and got them all stomping on imaginary grapes to make the "wine." Still boisterous; excitement was flowing out of them. As our tour continued, I noticed a shift. Their hands started popping up. They wanted to share. "I read about that in my social studies book!" "I know about the acorns..."

     So many hands in the air, so many wanting to tell me what they knew! I watched as their excitement morphed from being in a new place, to the thrill they were experiencing in making connections to their classroom lessons. It was exciting for me as I was witnessing education in real time, before my eyes. They were engaged in learning. The process was rowdy and boisterous and beautiful and inspiring. It was magic....they were applying what they already knew and they were bursting at the seams doing it. I was in every teacher's dream.
Donna Enjoys Being at Docent

     You can imagine how captivated they were by the 240 year old soot on the ceiling of the padre's kitchen, and how breathless they became staring at the golden alter in the Serra Chapel, bathed in the sounds of the Gregorian chant. As the tour progressed I could see more connections unfolding for them. By the time we got to the bells in the sacred garden they could barely contain themselves because they understood what they were seeing.

     As the tour wound down, I was on a tight time schedule needing to get them to lunch before their next activity of making adobe bricks. They knew I was rushing to pack it all in and they began saying, "We don't care about lunch. We want to stay with you Miss Donna and learn more about the mission." "We are taking you back with us!"

     As I power walked them to the lunch tables, I was laughing at their suggestions. One young man skipped up ahead to walk with me and exclaimed, "You are old, but you are fast!" That really made me smile!
The Mission Inspires Donna to Paint
     I delivered them to lunch on time and congratulated the teacher and parents on their wonderful kids. As I left the mission, I could feel a giant grin on my face. I told the front gate staff that I had just become ten years younger! The students' energy had been contagious.

     As the seasons of our lives change, I think it is important that we put ourselves in the path of new opportunities and experiences. Perhaps now is the time for us to live life a bit differently than we did during some of the earlier seasons?

     My husband is coming along well in his recovery and has gone back to coaching high school girls' wrestling. We are looking forward, laughing as we think about being old while walking fast!

Life Itself

    This morning, the dogs and I hiked down the steep hill at Salt Creek. As the ocean came into view, I was pleased to see crowds of surfers and on-lookers lining the shore, scrutinizing the dozen surfers paddling frantically into the next breaker. Trucks with WSA logos were parked all along the beach road. As we continued, a woman stopped me to meet my dogs. I asked about the event. "It is a Western Surfing Association competition. I'm taking a break."
     "What's your role?" I asked.

     "I'm a judge." 

     "Oh how nice." Offering a connection, I replied, "I only know Kevin Skavarna in the surfing world." 

     "Oh I know Kevin. He's wonderful." 

    We smiled at each other enjoying the common ground of world surfing champion Kevin. I felt proud to have known him since he was a little boy, and to be able to share about him. We exchanged our names and smiled our goodbyes.

    As I walked away I passed a trio of wet- suited adolescent boys deeply engaged in an animated discussion. They were wet and shimmering. I admired their slim forms and how heavily engrossed they seemed in what they were doing. They were so in the moment. I thought they personified life itself. 

     Life itself. I thought about that for a moment as I continued on. A beautifully perceptive participant in my loss support group two days earlier had described her recently deceased husband as being "life itself." That description resonated with me. What a powerful testament to the man he had been; what a beautiful compliment.

    After awhile I found a picnic table next to the water's edge and sat down. The dogs settled in the shade under the table, while I gazed at the scenes unfolding around me. A couple walked by arm in arm. The young man tickled the girl. She giggled, leaning into him and smiling. I thought how sweet that simple gesture was. A teen came by with his dog and caught my eye. He was sporting the tallest Mohawk hair-do I had seen in some time! The surfers continued to master the waves as the photographers snapped photos. Life was all around me.

    Somehow it provided a fresh counterpoint to my last two weeks. I had just completed long nine days supporting my husband at Mission Hospital. Ken had undergone a very serious, life threatening heart surgery. Those days were new proof to me of the preciousness of human life and the extent we go to protect it. During the eight days he was in the ICU, I witnessed a number of "Code Trauma" emergencies. I watched as the medical staff rushed to the rescue. One night after there had just been another "Code Trauma," it was time for me to leave Ken's room. As I walked down the hall, I passed by the patient who was the subject of the emergency. I was awed to witness an entire room full of professionals tending to her. The next day I was relieved to see that she was still in her room.

    During those difficult days, I grew used to the wailing of ambulances and fire engines as they rushed to the ER department; first responders fighting to keep people alive. I had the opportunity to witness our modern medicine in action, to see up close the dedication the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and hospital staff have as they do everything within their power to support life. It was a lesson in living.

    I understand that it is easy to be affected by the negativity around us. I was recently in New Zealand, only missing the massacre in Christchurch by 15 hours. Bad things happen. The news is full of emphatic stories detailing the worst in humanity.

    My time at Salt Creek today, and my nine days at Mission Hospital, have provided me with a renewed commitment to the importance of celebrating the beauty of life, in cherishing our loved ones, in reveling the fact of our breathing and beating hearts, the magnificence of the Super Bloom adorning our hillsides, and the idea that we, right now, have the luxury of being alive in the world. So that is my renewed perspective. I am grateful that Ken is now home and recovering.


Good Luck Charm

     I ventured into the unknown on Wednesday February 6, unsure of exactly what was going on, but determined to honor my commitment.It started two weeks ago while I was having my regular nail appointment at the Vietnamese salon where I go. As the ladies were putting the finishing touches on my fingers and toes, they commanded, "You come back for Vietnamese New year. You come back. Come at 10 am. The shop will be closed. It is the first day of the New Year. You come back. The owner will be here. You come back."
     Not certain what I had to do with the Vietnamese New Year, nor with the shop being closed, I negotiated that I could come at 11:00, allowing time for my morning activities. I put it in my phone calendar.

     I protected the time slot for them, still unsure of what this was about. Across the decades, teaching at Cypress College, my Vietnamese speech students would regal my classes with colorful 
Celebrating Tet in Vietnamese Culture
stories of Tet, the Lunar New Year on the Chinese calendar. They told about the exchanging of tiny red envelopes filled with money for the children, to bring luck. They shared about boisterous parades and family feasts. They had taught me that the Vietnamese New Year is a very big deal.
On the day in question, I called the shop at 10 am. to confirm my appointment. No answer. I called at 10:30. No answer. Not one to fail to honor an obligation, I dragged myself away from the research project I was doing and drove to the shop. It was dark. I walked up to the door and tried it. It was open. I walked in and all three technicians were waiting for me. 

     Excitedly, they greeted me with big smiles as they directed me to sit down. I sat. Instantly, all three began to work on me.
The Ladies of Club Nails.
     As my treatments began, they shared that in their culture it is important to bring good luck for the coming year. They needed me in the shop because, as they explained, "You are the happiest client we have. You will bring us happiness and luck across the year."

     What? I thought to myself. I asked, "You mean to tell me that of your hundreds of clients I am the happiest?"

     "You are. There is one other lady who also laughs but she is traveling in Israel. You are our good luck charm. You are good omen."

     I wasn't too sure what to make of this so I relaxed back in the leather spa chair as they continued working on me.
     That evening my daughter, Julina, called and I described the odd experience I had at the nail salon. She jumped on it. "Mom, that wasn't odd. Those ladies chose you across their entire business because you live what you say. Mom, your mantra is Happiness is a Choice. You are living proof of that."

     Feeling the need to say something, I responded, "Oh, well okay."

     She continued. "Had you grown up in a Leave it to Beaver childhood their choice of you might not have meant anything too much, but your growing up was horrendous, and yet you have chosen happiness. It proves that it is possible to be mindful and choose one's way of being. Mom that was really cool what they did. Mom, you have to write about that. It is possible to choose one's attitude."

     A bit stunned, I thanked her and we went on to other topics. Later on as I prepared dinner, I was thinking about what she said. I thought about my Loss of a Loved One support group participants. They are working on their mission statements, their guiding purpose for the next chapters of their lives as they struggle to move forward through grief. My mind fast forwarded to the years of coaching women in transition, how miserable they seemed in the beginning of our classes and how joyful they became as they learned that they could choose their responses to life events. I thought about my response to my own devastation. One of my guiding goals as a young teen was that I was not going to let my father destroy my happiness. It was important to me. I was determined. 

     I succeeded.

     I have invested a considerable amount of energy studying humanhappiness. My hero, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, in his famous best seller, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, teaches that joy comes in the midst of the flow experience, that is while we are engaged in doing something we find meaningful. We can find happiness in doing! I know that sometimes good feelings simply come from having something to look forward to; that is important to take regular daily exercise, to eat properly, to be around uplifting people, and to celebrate one's blessings. It is up to us to take care of ourselves.
     Time is short. If we are not careful it can simply slip through our fingers like grains of sand. Right now, this moment, is our time and I think we need to make the most of it. While I am not so convinced that I am a good luck charm, I do know that I respect the traditions and beliefs of those around me and feel honored to think that the ladies at the salon feel that I will bring them luck and happiness in this New Year.

Ah Sweet Serendipity!

Donna's Favorite Beach Closed
The recent storms have wrecked havoc on my favorite dog walking spot just south of Doheny Beach. Waves hitting the parking lot have been devastating; as a result that area has been shut down. This has forced me out of my comfort zone. I have been hunting for new walking spots near the edge of the water (within the confines of the dog law) for a few weeks now. The other day I hit the jackpot! My new adventure spot confirms that: "LIFE STARTS OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE"

Recently the dogs and I visited Salt Creek County Beach situated next to the Ritz Carlton Hotel. We walked down the steep hill and headed north on the trail. After a few miles we turned back south. Hugging the cliffs and walking near the waterline, we encountered a serendipitous spectacle I had not seen for nearly 60 years from back when my husband and I used to pay a dollar to drive on this very beach. The waves were humongous!
Giant Surf

A group of elite surfers, clearly having heard that some of the biggest waves of the year would be brewing at Salt Creek came en masse with their boards. Dozens of wet-suit clad surfers were straddling their boards, lined up in the water waiting in the waves for the next 6-8 footer, To my delight, there was an occasional gigantic ten foot wave which climbed up above the smaller ones. The huge surf alone was a show, but that was not all. I was privileged to witness the best of the best surfers traversing the waves, often in the barrel for great distances. I observed them swooping up and completing "air-revs" (360's) on the lip of the waves, and then gracefully returning to ride the face to the shore. I was awestruck! 
Dixie and Lacey chill Watching Surfers
Dixie and Lacey chill Watching Surfers

I took a seat on a nearby bench, securing the dogs in the shade of the picnic table, and sat spellbound for the next two hours. About ten professional photographers with their 18 inch-long lenses began to take spots nearby to film the show! It was high tide. Before long, a wave cracked close enough to us spectators that one photographer yelled as his equipment was sprayed by the salty water. The gaggle of photographers moved back. I stayed fixed on the bench.

As the athletes staged more and bigger tricks, those of us on the sidelines couldn't help but shout out our delight at the spectacle. There was a lot of cheering as the show was so out-of-this world. Also, the water soaked photographer was really complaining loudly about his $5000 lens being wet, and adding to the volume. 
Elite Surfers Consider Waves
It was one of the most incredible days I have enjoyed on my beach dog walks. What is interesting to me is that the surfers were not the only aspect of the adventure that day; the spectators were also noteworthy.

With my fluffy and friendly Golden Retrievers at my feet, I guess I was approachable. Anyway, one man with a giant camera lens to his eye, sat down next to me. Before too long he introduced himself. He taught me something of surfing photography, and I discovered that he is a famous photographer with thousands of followers! A bit later a tattooed young man came up to meet my dogs. We visited comfortably, as he shared more about what I was witnessing in the waves.

I learned that he is Ryan Rustan and he and his dog Sugar are National Big Dog Surfing Champions. He opened the photos on his phone and introduced me to Sugar. He sent me a few still photos of her.
Ryan Rustan with Lacey

Eventually I tore myself away from the surf show and headed up the hill to the car. As I drove home, I could not believe the remarkably good time I had had, and was unable to wipe the grin off my face. It was a golden day that might stand out in any year. It wasn't just the surfers, it was also about the friendliness of those random strangers. I had put myself in the path of opportunity by sitting down on the bench. I had also wandered outside of my usual comfort zone.

When I got home I Googled Sugar the Surfing Champ and was delighted by the many national news videos in which Ryan and Sugar starred. I'm still smiling about that day. Maybe this is something for all of us to think about for this new year of 2019, maybe it's time we wandered outside of our comfort zones, and put ourselves in the path of new opportunities. This is our precious time on the planet and it just seems like we should make the most of it.
Sugar the National Surf Dog Champ

We Have the Power to Bestow a Precious Gift

     I got up in the dark the other morning so that I would be on time for the 7 a.m. meeting of the Monarch Beach Sunrise Rotary. I had been invited to present my talk about Horses and the Settling of California. They were a magnificent and attentive group of about 25. As the meeting adjourned at 8:30 a.m., I found a small crowd around me. Many wanted to share something from their own lives with me. I felt their urgency. One gray haired man said he had been my student in the 1980's. Another, a lady named Anita, excitedly told me that she is the descendant of one of the great ranchero dons. He was Don Antonio Maria Lugo who was born in 1775 at the Mission of San Antonio de Padua of Alta California. She said one of their family adobes is still standing. It is one of a very few two-story structures then built in the pueblo of Los Angeles. It dates to 1840. She told me more; her grandson's first name is Lugo in honor of that early Californio. She lamented that she did not know more history. I invited her to become a certified docent at Mission San Juan Capistrano, thus learning more. She beamed at the possibility of it all. 

     I was familiar with the Lugo name and raced home to Google more details. I exhaled in great satisfaction as I discovered rich stories of her ranchero ancestor. He once owned one of the most magnificent horse and cattle breeding ranchos in all of Southern California. More importantly, I had another, more valuable, take-away from my morning experience. I realized that I would have learned none of this from my listeners, if I had not eagerly listened to what they wanted me to know. To listen is a special gift we can readily give to others.

     It seems to me that we have a precious voice within. This is a voice that does not use words. It is the intuitive inner voice that whispers to us, "step back and just listen." I believe that many whom we encounter have a deep hunger to be heard, to be seen, to feel a human connection. The good news is that we have the power to bestow the gift of our attention. We can listen.

   The holidays can be very hard on some of our friends and neighbors. The music and decorations alone can be painful reminders of the past. We can reach out and connect with them. We can also be proactive for ourselves. 
Holidays Allow Time with Family
If we know that the holidays are going to send us spiraling down the rabbit hole, we can take an action and do something about it. We can volunteer to help others by visiting hospitals or senior centers or wrapping toys for tots.
There are many ways to be of service during the holidays. Helping others can help us. Perhaps it is just as simple as gifting them our attention for a little while, by listening.

On Not Taking One Breath for Granted

     This morning my pups and I were hiking along the horse trail and I had Josh Groban's "Granted" song crooning against my ears. The lyrics: "Don't take one breath for could all go away.... if you have a dream, chase it...if you feel hope, don't waste it..."
Beautiful Saddleback Mountain
   In the peacefulness of the dawning morning, my brain played a kaleidoscope of recent headlines: synagogue massacre, cowboy bar shoot up, historic death toll in California wildfires juxtaposed against the sudden onslaught of holiday television commercials pressing us to buy buy buy for the festive season. It would be easy to succumb to the pressure of all that.

   Then Groban's "Never take a single breath for granted" again resonated through my ear buds, quite literally helping me to reframe my thoughts. The grim mental pictures began to recede. I became aware of the calls of the crows overhead, the rhythmic breathing of my dogs, and the vista of Saddleback Mountain shrouded in purple in front of me. I realized anew that we have the power to control our thoughts without diminishing the need to honor the memories of the victims. We have the power to continue to celebrate all that is right with the world. 

1. We can focus on the positive
2. We can celebrate being alive
3. We can collect precious moments
4. We can take control of our thoughts

    Years ago I found a book in a used bookstore in Bellingham,Washington, called Chasing Daylight.It was the true story of an extremely successful international businessman, Eugene O'Kelly, who was given just six weeks to live. The book was written during those final days. He stopped chasing dollars and began to spend time with his wife and young daughter. His story reveals a secret; he found more joy in those last six weeks, collecting precious moments, than in the forty years leading up to then.

     I took his message to heart and began collecting any precious moments I could. Recently my friend Mary shared one with me. It seems she started her docent tour at the mission and a little fourth grader announced that she was starving. Mary explained that lunch would be after the tour in an hour or so. As she guided her group around the mission sharing about the wine vat, the Catalan furnaces, and the padre's kitchen which boasts soot from two hundred years ago, suddenly the little girl turned to Mary and said, "I'm not hungry any more, I am full of knowledge!" Everyone within ear shot smiled. Mary knew to collect that sweet moment and even shared it with me.
   I think we humans are brave in the face of adversity, and that it is important NOT to take for granted the plenty we enjoy even when the news is filled with agony. I hope through the holiday season we can reflect on what is right within our own lives and with the world. Perhaps by example we can show those around us how to appreciate the fact of being alive and to honor the riches we often take for granted as Americans. Perhaps we can reach out to others in need during this beautiful season as we consider the thought that it is possible to celebrate each breath as a blessing and not take life for granted.

On Letting Ourselves Off the Hook!

   Two weeks ago I made a mistake which resulted in my being whisked away in an ambulance. I have been interested to notice how much grief I have been giving myself for contributing to getting myself hurt.

     Eric Bergstrom, the wonderful host and producer of the Cox Cable show So Cal Safari was at my home to film the opening scene for his episode on the horse story of San Juan Capistrano. He had wanted to do such a show for a few years, and when he saw my new book, Capistrano Trails celebrating our town as "horse capital of Orange County," he was eager to get filming. He thought it would be fun if he and I opened the show on horseback and then rode off as the show continued.
Eric Bergstrom Filming His Horse Episode
     It is common for horses to fill their bellies with air as one is cinching up the saddle. Dancer, the mare I was going to be on, had done that; she'd puffed herself up. The camera lady was adjusting her equipment as my friend Christine and I brought the two horses up onto the back lawn from the barn where we had saddled them. My main concerns were that I get my lines right and that Eric would be safe sitting on Blaze.

     Satisfied that Eric's saddle was secure on Blaze, I mounted Dancer. That was when the trouble happened. The saddle slipped and I crashed five feet down on my right elbow and landed on my back. I failed to re-cinch her girth after she expelled her belly full of air.

     I knew immediately that I was injured as I could feel that the bone in my lower arm was loose! I managed to get up and stumble over to a patio chair. Alarmed, those around me considered our options. I suggested finishing the filming. Eric was clear that we would reschedule. Duh!! I asked for him to call 911 and in no time the wonderful medical team at Mission Hospital Emergency Department had my situation under control. Within two hours the dislocated elbow was reset and Ken brought me home with a cast. 

     The next day, my daughter-in-law Jenny came to check on me. I shared the whole story with her, emphasizing how much I was blaming myself for not more fully securing Dancer's girth; that I was beating myself up for making such a dumb mistake. In an effort to help me chill out she declared, "Donna, no one thinks you are perfect."

     Those words were a wake-up call, because they revealed a serious unwritten, possibly unconscious assumption underlying the reason why I was giving myself so much grief; You were not perfect! Bad Donna!

     Through Jenny's statement, I came to understand how right she was. I was critical of myself for being distracted, for not being perfect...for being human. Maybe you have fallen into this trap yourself? Perhaps it's hard to get real and remember that we are only human, not super people.

     I always loved Helen Reddy's "I am woman, hear me roar" song where she "brings home the bacon and fries it up in the pan." Superwoman is venerated, but truly she is not a superwoman, she's just a gal trying to do a lot, and sometimes she makes a mistake. I am going to write some Post Its and stick them around the house. They will say: "It is okay to be human!" "People make mistakes." "It's okay to make a mistake." And "Re-cinch the blasted saddle!"
     Anyway that's my epiphany for the month. I will admit that looking up into the concerned faces of four handsome firemen and two strong paramedics wasn't the worst situation I have ever experienced!

     I love to hear from you. What have you been doing to keep yourself in check from thinking you have to do it all and to do it perfectly? 

P.S. Eric Bergstrom will reshoot the scene and it will air in January, 2019. It is So Cal Safari, a Southern California Television Production.

Good Food and a New Friend: Happiness from a Child's Perspective

     Greetings my friends! I have missed writing to you. Last week our nine year-old granddaughter began third grade in a much bigger, new school. I have been watching her adapt to this enormous change. Two of our older grandchildren are facing big changes as they prepare to leave home to go off to college. My husband, Ken, also began a new chapter in his life this summer by reentering the world of high school coaching. Life presents constant challenges. We cannot help but face the need to adapt to new situations as life catapults us forward. I have been thinking about you and hoping that you are taking the best care of yourself that you can.
     As I picked our third grader up from school on Friday, after just four 
Emily will move into the dorms at USCD in two weeks!
days in her new world, I asked all about it. I could not help but smile as she told me about the food and the many choices available and about her new friend, Ceiri. As our conversation continued, she added, "Ceiri is new too." I see that of all the possible reactions she could choose, she is focusing on the positives. I see her child's wisdom: good food and a new friend. After all, what more is happiness than appreciating our blessings, having something to look forward to, and finding new passions to wrap our brains around?

     I've had the "pedal to the metal" challenging my brain by writing a new book. It is the horse story of our quaint town, San Juan Capistrano. I told you a bit about this last year. In early 2017, during my mission docent studies, I was electrified by a charming book describing the 19th century lives of the Mission San Juan Capistrano parishioners. The stories had been told to the resident priest, Father John O'Sullivan and published in 1930. The book, Capistrano Nights set fire to my imagination. A powerful urge overtook me. I knew that somehow I wanted to contribute something unique to the history of San Juan Capistrano, but I did not want to repeat what others had already written.

     I thought and thought until one day when I went to purchase grain for my horses and I discovered, to my chagrin, that the tack and feed store was closing down. The owner, Fred Love, a long-time cowboy and friend, was moving away, forever. He had stories to tell and they needed to be saved.

     San Juan is often called the "Horse Capital of the West Coast" or the "Horse Capital of Orange County." The community seems to have defied all odds and preserved its historic character and equestrian culture. How is that possible? That's when the idea struck me. If I hurried, I could gather up the lived experience of those involved with horses before their stories were lost. Perhaps, I could find the answer to the mystery as to how San Juan has remained a charming Western enclave while the rest of Southern California has succumbed to concrete, glass, and steel.
Donna enjoyed researching and interviewing for her newest book.
     I felt like I'd heard a shot fired at the starting line! So that is why you haven't heard from me. I dug in deep, interviewing, researching, and writing. I learned so much. When I started the project, I had no idea that my studies would take me to a 190,000 year old horse fossil found in San Juan Capistrano! My book, Capistrano Trails: Ride for the Brand, takes the reader on a ride from the horse's Ice Age beginnings, through the Mission Periods, the Rancho Era, to the dynamic horse friendly place San Juan Capistrano is today; a place that cherishes its Old West heritage. If you are interested, it is available at in Kindle format, black and white print version, as well as hard-back color print.

     I hope you have had an enjoyable summer practicing mindfulness and taking the best care of yourself that you can. My hope is that as life thrusts you forward, you have been finding new satisfying ways of being. When I was a young mom with three active offspring and a full-time career, my grandmother shared advice with me that I have kept close to my heart. She always reminded me, "Donna, no one can take care of you, but yourself."

     Are you taking the best care of yourself? Are you resting enough, eating foods to support health, keeping your body fit, and being around people who inspire you to be your best self?

Lunar Events Promise Awesome Opening for 2018

Donna on a Winter ride
Happy New Year! I feel a little thrill writing this first post of a new year knowing all the possibilities that are out there waiting for us. This morning after a particularly lovely two-hour horse ride in the hills of San Juan Capistrano with my pal, Christine, I settled down to think about this coming year and to refine my goals list for 2018. In comparing it to my 2017 list, I did even better than I had hoped. Globally, 2017 was a hard year, offering many anxiety producing events. Though our US economy strengthened, and we thrilled to a solar eclipse, the year was still hard. However, a celestial extravaganza projected for 2018 offers us a fine chance for reflection and hope.

On January 1-2, we get to enjoy a Wolf Moon (the first full moon of the New Year) and then later in the month, a Blue Moon (the second full moon in a month). That's not all! We'll also see a full lunar eclipse! It's a bit amazing to get two full moons in one month, and our Wolf Moon will also be a Super Moon, appearing to be 14-30% larger than it usually does! 

 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.

For me the New Year is always an opportunity to plan. (I am a lover of lists!) In recent years, I've been trying to be a bit easier on myself. As one who thrives on work, my new list has "rest more," "work less," repeated a few times. One of my goals is to keep writing my book Capistrano Trails, but in an attempt to not pressure myself, I am keeping the completion date flexible. A new trend for me. What goals do you want to set? Are there projects that you want to complete? Are there trips you want to take? Are there people you need to boundary against who are not good to you? Do you want to make a new friend? Do you want to feel happier?

Being in sync with ourselves, listening to our internal messages, and noticing our moods, can allow us the ability to stop negative thoughts. The problem with negative thoughts is that they rob us of our peace of mind, of our hope. They help produce the hormone cortisol, the primal survival hormone that breeds anxiety. We can stop that nasty stuff, but it requires we pay attention to what is going on inside our heads. Recently, former Vice President Joe Biden has been talking about the essential importance of having hope. Hope gives us the will to achieve our goals, to have the personal agency, the grit, and determination to reach those goals. Hope is the engine that takes us toward positive outcomes. It is the foundation that allows us to approach life with a mindset for good results.

Happy New Year from the Friess Family
As we ring in this New Year, with the Wolf Moon and the Blue Moon watching over us, let's have the awareness to live with the best choices possible. Let's more fully manage our emotional responses and aim to train ourselves to see the positive in situations, to be hopeful for a good tomorrow. A Pinterest line I liked is: "In the end all that matters is that we loved..."

I send you my love and my very best wishes for a wonderful New Year. This is your one life. This is your time.

That Time of Year

Last Friday, on Veterans' Day, my husband and I said goodbye to a greatly admired friend who, along with his wife, has been an integral force behind the successful passage of important national victims' rights laws. It was a beautiful service with military honors. We could not help but ponder the meaning of our individual lives; how the best of us endures in the hearts of others. During the sixty-mile drive home we received word that the baby girl we had been waiting for had just
Baby Maya born Friday Night
arrived. She is the first child of young parents with whom we are close. As we barreled along the 605 Freeway heading south we were more aware than ever of the rhythms of life all around us; of the precious nature of our mortal selves. We knew also that in two days we would again be celebrating the passing of a wonderful lady, who has been an important part of our small town community. It seems essential that we honor our personal losses and take solace in the fact of having had such special people in our lives to begin with.
Television ads are beginning to show glittering holiday decorations and a trip to Home Depot is almost a walk into Santa's Village with the dozens of decorated trees and brightly lit lawn decorations demanding attention. It might be important to remember that for many this season
Dixie finds peace through Meditation
can be loaded with emotional landmines. Even the most positive of us may succumb to feelings of anxiety or depression. The enormity of gifts to gather, a house to decorate, or delicacies to prepare, could cause the most hearty of us to feel a bit overwhelmed! Memories of past years, perhaps with one's original family, or the loss of a loved one, could also trigger the grief response. Some of the participants in my Loss of a Loved One support group last week expressed the idea that they are preparing to white-knuckle it through the holidays. Truly it can be a tough time. One lady brought me a Holiday Bill of Rights from Memorial Care Hospice. Among the many "rights" were these: You have the right to be kind to yourself, You have the right to create rituals that honor your loved one, You have the right to change your mind at anytime, You have the right to do something totally different from in the past, you have the right not to celebrate if you feel it will be too painful, You have the right to cry, You have the right to make your own decisions, You have the right to laugh and have fun without guilt, You have the right to go out of town, or stay at home, You have the right to plan ahead.
Recently I heard the statement that "without adversity we would not be
Finding Joy visiting a friend's puppies
able to cultivate our resilience." In a grim way it puts a positive spin on agony. It's like reframing the situation, seeing something from a different perspective. Without the downside of life, we could not truly appreciate the upside. So we need to "cultivate" our strengths and dig down deep into our wells of perseverance. For sure, we can help ourselves by scaling back and not letting the holiday traditions run away with us. We can come up with a new plan, something delightful in the future to do. Happiness is a lot about having something to look forward to. We can search out joy in new corners of our lives. It is more important than ever during this season to take extra good care of ourselves; being around loving, supportive people, eating properly, getting enough sleep, and always taking at least twenty minutes a day for exercise. I can still hear my grandmother's wise words in my head, "Donna, no one can take care of you besides yourself."
Doing Something New_ Teaching Caroline china painting
Sheryl Sandberg's Option B book about finding joy through adversity is all about making the most of what we have. For her, Option A, having her husband by her side to raise their children, is not available. She is choosing Option B, moving forward as best she can in gratitude for what she does have. I know that with the attitude of gratitude we can celebrate each day we are alive on the planet, knowing that it is a gift.
I always love to hear how things are going with you. I wish you a peaceful Thanksgiving.

Not a Journey But a Musical Concerto

I was a little worried this week when I invited my friends, Mary and Leanne, to see the art film Loving Vincent (Van Gogh). I read the reviews including the one that said, "a lunatic effort in adoring
Vincent Van Gogh Self Portrait
Van Gogh." That had me more worried. My friends insisted they were "game" even if the movie turned out to be a stinker. Well, we were in for an incredible surprise, the creative genius behind the film left us breathless. Filmmakers Dorothy Kobiela and Hugh Welchman took seven years and 125 artists painting in the style of Van Gogh to create the world's first fully painted animated film. A masterpiece in my way of thinking. As the closing credits rolled and the words to the musical theme repeated, "I hope you understand what is in my heart through my work," I dabbed at my eyes. The experience moved me profoundly, on many levels. The dominant take-away for me, was how important it is that we choose our life path and not live on auto-pilot. I have long seen that our everyday behaviors are in many ways, brush strokes on the canvas of our lives. In these posts over the years, I am often encouraging you to live in your own best interests, to live joyfully, to live purposefully.

     Anyway, when I arrived home after a two hour bumper-to-bumper five-mile drive made impossible by the many fires closing the
Mary, Donna & Leanne discuss 
Loving Vincent
accesses to the inland cities, my husband was waiting for me. He was eager to share something new he had discovered. It was an Alan Watt YouTube video clip which reinforced what the film had said to me - that life is not about getting somewhere. It is about being in the present as we live it. Van Gogh painted ferociously for just eight years, but I know, as an artist myself, that he was in the moment. If he had a destination, it was to communicate what was in his heart. His paintings are now valued at something like $82 million dollars but that was not his goal, he was in the present, painting what was in his soul.

     Alan Watt's (a writer-philosopher from the 1960'-70's) message is that somehow in our go-get-'em culture, many folks have the notion that we are on a journey, struggling to get to some final destination . Retirement? I once read that a huge percent of retired American males watch in excess of 40 hours per week of television! Watt explains that the universe, for example, is not going anywhere, it just is. He argues that our lives are not about getting somewhere, but about the actual act of living which he compares to a dance or a 
Youtube Video with Alan Watt
concert. We do not go to the concert to get to the end. If that were the case, we would buy our ticket and the orchestra would play the last booming chord and we would leave. The goal of the music is the music. He says a dance is about the dance, not about getting to the edge of the dance floor. He believes we are missing the point when we live every day like we are going somewhere. Where are we going? Are we are aiming for the place called "success?" Where exactly is that? Maybe Watt is correct to see life as something musical, that we are supposed to sing or dance while the music is being played. Perhaps life itself is the music. Surely Vincent Van Gogh was at his best with the paint brush in hand painting for life. Certainly, we need a plan, goals, but it is important to cherish the experiences that come with reaching them; so that when one is completed we are excited to start again with something new.
     I'd love to hear what you think of this idea!

A Confident Young Lady

Hello my friends, you have not heard from me for awhile as I've been working on my new book and traveling, but something happened the other day that I simply must share with you. You know I am constantly scouting for precious moments.

     Last week, a big family group of us gathered at Catalina for our annual reunion which coincided with Ken's 75th birthday and our daughter's 49th. We enjoyed days of swimming, boating, and
Ken's 75th Birthday - Beach Style
celebrating . On one of the days, all the dinghy drivers were away from my son's boat as they were wake boarding, leaving only myself and my daughter and son-in-law on board. Ken called from shore looking for a ride out to the boat. I looked at my son-in-law, Justin, he looked at me. We called up to Julie sunning on the flying bridge, she answered, "between the three of us we can figure it out!"

     At that moment, seven and a half-year-old Caroline walked out of the cabin. I asked (kidding), "Caroline do you know how to run the engine on the dinghy to go get Poppa?"

     "Well, I'm not the best..." she replied as she walked over to her life vest. 
     "I will need this." She explained matter-of-factly, as she donned her life jacket.

     She did not lose a beat as she settled her aunt and uncle into the rubber boat, took the wheel, turned the key, and started the engine. The adults cast off, and with great confidence she motored through the very busy Avalon Harbor to the pier to get her grandpa. Uncle Justin sat next to her to ensure that the journey went safely.

Captain Caroline (age 7!)
     I was speechless with wonder, sporting a huge grin on my face,as I watched the event from the stern of the boat. Soon they returned. As Caroline climbed out of the small craft, she exclaimed, "Mimi that wasn't bad for my second time running the boat!" 

     Well I should say not!!!! I thought, keenly aware of her young age, as I assured her that it was a stellar effort. What amazed me was her high level of confidence. She wasn't afraid. She wasn't tentative. She just went for it. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can pass on to our children and grandchildren is the confidence to become masters of their universe.

     In that same spirit, yesterday afternoon her father, my son, drove her to Rawhide Camp (her first time away from home on her own) where she will stay for the week learning horsemanship. She will have two cousins there, but not in her age group. She is by herself, but has the personal fortitude to know that she will meet new friends.

     Through my life coaching and grief counseling, I frequently
Captain Caroline with her Uncle
encounter people who are paralyzed by indecision. They say they are afraid to move forward. They seem to fear that they may fail. Well they might, but so what? They might succeed as well! I believe that the greatest design project in existence is that of figuring out the best version of our own lives. It gets tricky because life is constantly changing. One of the concepts I teach is that we humans are infinitely resilient. I believe that we are strong and capable. Many of us sell ourselves short, worrying that we might look bad or that success might not be ours. We cannot succeed if we do not try. Little Caroline gets that. If there is something you've been wanting to do, I encourage you to go for it. I loved Ralph Waldo Emerson's thought, "Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is to you."

      I wish you a wonderful summer. Of course I always love to hear from you. 

My best, donna

Gathering Up More Precious Moments

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 

Be Brave

Greetings! I hope you are enjoying our colorful spring after therecent heavy rains. While riding with my friend Christine Baumgartner, on our horses today we identified 20 different types of wild flowers growing. The cactus flowers are especially colorful. As we quietly rode our horses through the winding paths along the waters of San Juan Creek, my thoughts floated back to last week in our loss support group. One of the new members shared poignant last words from her husband when he passed away in January. He had been suffering dementia, and no longer knew her, but at the last critical moment he somehow forced his mind through the tangles of that terrible disease, and said to her, "Be brave." Then he was gone. Listening to the power of that statement sent chills down my spine. What an immense act that was; not only that he knew her for that moment, but that he gifted her with such a strong admonition.

     I am sure that during these hardest early months of grief she has held on to that thought. His advice works for all of us. My friendChristine is a dating and relationship coach, and she often talks about what courage it takes to dare to risk getting back into the dating pool. Putting oneself out there and owning the changes that life forces on us can yield a new kind of being, a different, perhaps new kind of fulfillment. Yesterday, I helped host a retirement party for a colleague: a big life change for her. My husband and I again have changes as two of our grandchildren graduate this spring from their universities. Our eleven grands are mostly grown up now so I am embracing the change, and even removed my Mimi (grandma) license plates. Changes are all around us, aging, loss, retirement, health issues, demographic relocations, and in our careers. The truth is that life presents serious challenges, and our job is to find the strength to face the parts that scare us and move forward, making the best life we can.

     Last week I started reading Facebook chief Sheryl Sandberg's excellent book on surviving the loss of her husband two years ago. It is Option B and she talks about leaning into the "suck." Face it and move on. Cry when you have to, but know it could have been worse. Her book reinforces how truly resilient we humans are. You are resilient! I don't know what challenges are facing you right now, but I do know you have the wherewithal to handle them. I like when Mark Twain said, "Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of it.


     A good place to start is to ask yourself, "WHAT IS RIGHT WITH ME?" (contrary to our cultural question about "what is wrong?"). Make a list. Then make a list of all the blessings in your life. Then practice gratitude thinking, marinating your thoughts in all the positive things in your life. Resilience is an active process of coping. The positive thoughts help dump happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine into your blood stream. Hardiness is about our ability to have insights into life, about being independent, using our initiative, relying on our creativity and humor, our sense of justice, and savoring our relationships and human connections.


     Why not make entries into your Goals Book? List what more you want to Do in lifeHave in life, and Be in life. There is something about consciously making plans, looking forward, that gets the universe to align with us.


     I had a little dream niggling in the back of my brain and last January I acted upon it. I enrolled in a docent training program. By
the end of February I became a certified Mission San Juan Capistrano docent. This new chapter of my life is bringing riveting rewards. My tours are mostly with fourth graders, and you can guess the fun I am having as I have the students imagine that we are all in a time machine. We pull down our imaginary control panels, adjust the dials, and we step back to the early days when the Acjachemen Indians resided in our sleepy Capistrano Valley. From there we come to 1776 as Father Serra strode into our part of the world and established a mission. The students revel in their time travels and of course I'm getting a huge kick out of teaching them! The world is a great big place with plenty of opportunity if we can just buckle up and embrace it. We don't need to be reminded to be brave, I think we are brave. I think we can go out there and create a new way of being. 

     Of course you know I would love to hear about your response to life changes, about your personal resilience. I'm thinking of you. My best, donna

I'm experiencing Deja Vu

     You haven't been hearing much from me lately as I am practicing what I preach and seizing the day. My days have been jammed with fun new endeavors, but I have been thinking about you and hoping that your Happiness Tank is heading toward the "full" mark . Yesterday was especially noteworthy and I had to share with you.

     So last Saturday, perhaps having lost my mind once again, I drove to pick up my new eight week-old golden retriever puppy, our
Picking Up Dixie
dog Lacey's sister, from my friend Linda. I've spent the last few days getting used to having baby gates all over the house and my new routine. It's been going well, however yesterday morning while she was napping I grabbed my minutes off to use the garden blower on the garage. Clean garage, right? About fifteen minutes later she woke up and we went out on the lawn. It was all good, until she sauntered into the garage to have a look around and came out racing with something dangling out of her mouth! Oh no! I gave chase. I don't think you have seen a puppy race so fast in your life! All the while I was yelling, "No Dixie, No!" That just caused her to run faster!! Around the patio, the yard, and the garden we raced. Finally she backed herself against a tall planter and I managed to grab the still warm dead gopher out of her mouth with my bare hands! Yuck! Clearly my cats are very serious about clearing the yard of critters and their pride in their achievements has them delivering the bounty to my back door.

     When I picked Dixie up from Linda, she shared her recent rapid-
Meeting Sister Lacey
fire pursuit of one of the male puppies all over her yard, as he had somehow found a rat. Oh my! This is the side of raising a puppy thatis often overlooked in the dazzling joy of their fluffy cuteness. Linda laughed as she shared that moment with me as she knew I had had a similar scene with Lacey four years ago, when Lacey found something awful the cats dragged in as well. Of course I had forgotten all about that! For sure I was now experiencing Déjà vu! I recalled that episode. Lacey had been older and even faster than Dixie! I was so thankful then and now that the World's Funniest Videos producers were not in my back yard watching these crazy chasing scenes! 

     As a diligent puppy mom, I am on guard against the dangers lurking around my big yard for a baby small enough to slip through the wrought iron fence, but I had completely forgotten about what joys Dixie would find in the cats' hunting activities!! Perhaps in the future I would do well the scan to the yard for any hidden cameras--- or dead gophers!

     It is lively around here and a permanent smile is etched on my face as I watch the dogs in their wrestling matches, and running around the yard with the Dixie's new toys.

If your Happiness Tank is not on "full," I think this could be a good time to entertain something new that has been swirling around in the back of your mind. Spring is good for planting flowers and vegetables, signing up for a new class, planning a trip, or perhaps taking on something new (ahh, I am not recommending a puppy unless you are feeling very energetic!). It's possible that you can imagine something altogether new to stimulate your mind. This is our precious time on the planet and it just seems urgent to me that each and every day offer us something soul enriching. I want that for you. This is YOUR time and there's not a minute to waste. Let's ensure that our Happiness Tanks are all the way to the top. You know how much I enjoy hearing from you. I'd love to know your thoughts. My best, donna

For Whom the Bell Tolls

On the stormy Friday just past, the wind was howling through the Mission San Juan Capistrano courtyard; as a docent-in-training (a tour guide of history), I was following behind a group of 4th graders
4th Graders on blustery Friday
on their school field trip. The rain began to fall and the children opened their colorful umbrellas, when suddenly, the mission bells began to toll. It was 11 a.m. For the past 44 years our family has enjoyed the tolling of the church bells heard easily across the valley. They ring on a regular schedule for Mass or for special reasons. As I realized that the bells were not ringing at a regular time, the tiny hairs on my arms stood at attention. Serra Chapel was closed to our tour. It was in use. I understood that the bells tolled for someone in our community who had passed away. My memory flashed on the 3:15 p.m. ringing on the day that Tony Forster, an important leader in our town, died in 2007. I stood for a moment as that memory washed over me, made keenly aware of the unstoppable passage of time.

     My thoughts focused on what it is to be inside a "living museum," a place with a working church. I was walking in the footsteps of the past, a center of human activity for 240 years, during California's entire recorded history. Our docent class has been studying Don
Donna's great grandfather at Mission SJC
Juan Forster, Tony's forefather, who owned and lived in the mission from 1845-1864. My children and grandchildren have attended Marco Forster Middle school, more of Tony's relatives. In fact Tony's family continues to live here. History is alive. It is not gloomy words on pages in old books. I was standing where Don Juan had stood, and before him, where Father Serra and the early mission pioneers had worked hard to build something for our future. To study the mission is to respect its history and that of the peaceful Native Americans who lived here quietly for thousands of years. If you look closely, evidence of the Indians' lives can be found in many places of California. When our children were young we were having
Grandaughter Jayceline discovers native grinding stone
a snowball fight along the Santa Ana River headwaters, not far from Big Bear, when they yelled to us. They were excited to show us that they had found an Indian grinding stone from prehistoric days! A few years later we discovered an even bigger grinding stone further down the river. When our son, Dan, was a little boy digging around in the rain run-off behind our San Juan Capistrano home, he found an arrowhead. It was thrilling to think we lived where the natives had hunted. It is still fascinating to understand what we have inherited. If we take time to reflect on this: the Mission system, the Spanish, Mexican, Russian, English, and Indian influence on our way of life, one can perhaps appreciate the depth of our local history. For me, I am falling in love all over again with "place."

     Personally, I notice that I am once again reinventing myself. Maybe that's what we need to do as time passes. Nothing stands still. I am energized and excited over my recent mission studies. Perhaps one of the keys to human happiness is appreciation and gratitude. It may be that novelty fits in there as well; something new to think about. I sat with a new person at a luncheon the other day. As I explained about my grief work and life coaching, she asked, "So what is the most important thing that you teach?" I said, "To live in gratitude." She smiled, "ah..." I also believe that if we can discover new things to fall in love with our lives will be richer. Right now, I am
Historical marker along north bank of San Juan Creek before La Plata
deeply researching where the first site of the Mission San Juan Capistrano actually was before it was moved to its present location. It was right around where I live right now, writing this note to you........where exactly? Hmm. Records from the National Museum in Mexico say: "This mission was founded November 1, 1776 but because of water failure at the place where it was first founded, the site was transferred to that which it occupies is located about three fourths of a league (about two miles) distant from the original site." (Two Hundred Years in San Juan Capistrano, Hallen-Gibson, p. 20, 1990). There is a brass marker in Reata Park on Ortega Highway pointing across San Juan Creek in this direction. I will keep you posted. 

I hope you are finding new areas of endeavor to excite your soul. I would love to hear what you are thinking about and working on. My best, donna

Oh How Precious is Our Time!

Two things happened today that got me thinking about the unknown limits of our time on Earth and how we carve out our place here. This morning my beautiful sister-in-law, Kassie, missed being killed as a giant Eucalyptus tree fell inches from her car at a stop sign near her home. Later
I see my children as they are 
in the world.
I took myself to see a provocative film about a single mother struggling to raise her teenage son. The film, 20th Century Women, starring Annette Bening, depicts a significant conflict between the mother and the son. She yearns to "know" him, to grasp the inner workings of his heart, all the while remaining closed off to him. In a telling scene she complains to another woman, "I will never see him (the son) as he is in the world, as you do."
     The film addresses the teen's heartfelt attempts to engage his emotionally sterile mother in meaningful dialogue. In one failed try he reads to her from Sisterhood is Powerful, a feminist anthology, a quote about older women becoming invisible. The mother reacts, "You think I'm invisible?" then stubbornly turns and walks out of the room.

     I don't think we have time to waste. Kassie's near brush with catastrophe and the frustration of the characters in the film point out to me that our time on the planet is brief. It is precious. My husband often reminds me that "we are going to be gone from this world for a 
Giant Tree that nearly killed 
my sister-in-law
very long time." In Kassie's case I cannot think of anyone I know who is living her life more fully. In the conflict of the characters in the film (which the critics say is personal to the director) their unwillingness to be knowable to each other seems like a big waste.

     For many of us time is quickly escaping, slipping through our fingers like warm sand. For twenty-two years my cars' license plates have boasted my glee in being a grandmother. But times have changed. The children are mostly grown up now, taller than I. The Mimi plates came off this month, as did the eleven plaster-of-Paris baby handprints from the walls. Our grands have grown. Time is accelerating by. I think it's essential that we make each day count, and find new ways in which to do so.
     I've listened to women lamenting the fact that they no longer turn 
Donna with Megan and Jaycelin. 
It is important to Listen
heads when they walk into a room, or about feeling invisible after a certain age. It seems to me that if we live a life of meaningful engagement with others, our lives will be fuller and we will remain visible. I still don't quite get why the mother in the film believed she'd never really see her son as he was, perhaps she suffered tunnel vision. I'm not sure. But I do know that when we interact with others in a meaningful way, magic can happen. When we ask others about their lives, and then actively listen, the most interesting phenomenon often occurs, we see them and they see us! It can become a rich reciprocal experience. People are honored when we show our interest in them and they often return the attention.

     When I was a little girl, the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie came into my grandfather's pharmacy to be sold. One of my jobs was to put the incoming books and magazines in the racks. I read that book, and even though I was 
Our Moments on the Planet are Finite
just a little girl, I began to understand that humans have a hunger to connect; that when others see and acknowledge us, we will open like flowers. Dale Carnegie told his readers to ask questions of others and then to really listen. It is the key to meaningful conversations, the antidote to shyness, a way to make friends, and a way out of loneliness. Today psychologists are teaching about emotional intelligence, pointing out the value of practicing empathy and drawing others out. One of the most powerful and priceless things we can share with those in our sphere is the gift of our attention; listening to them, giving our time. I think we humans hunger to be seen and acknowledged. Perhaps the riddle in the film about the mother being unable to "see" her son, is the fact that she was unwilling to be seen herself. Remember the old adage, "See and be seen?" If we are unknowable, then how can we know another? Time is too precious to waste like that. I love hearing what you think. How are you staying engaged? 
My best, donna



Putting the Brakes on Magical Thinking

     Happy New Year! I hope the holidays were kind to you. This year
Grandgirls ready the Santa Bucks.
our family tried something different, a Santa Auction. Each of the 34 participants (we have a big family!) brought a gift which they then had to "sell" to the group. Each bidder had about $200 in over-sized Santa Bucks. We were nervous about trying something new, but, happily, it was a big rowdy success! It was hilarious watching as family members pooled money and bid hundreds of "bucks" on the item of their dreams! A basket of Almond Roca and a Starbucks card easily going for hundreds!! My daughter and I were proud that it was a hit, as we had ventured out of our comfortable old White Elephant tradition to try something new.

     With the New Year, maybe this is a good time for you to try something out of your comfort zone. Maybe set a new goal. I found my 2016 goals list last week and was pleased to see that I accomplished all of them. I've been trying to work less and play more. For years I have written "more balance in my life." Woo hoo I made it!! What do you want to do?

     One "comfort zone" that many people fall into is the zone of Magical Thinking. It is easy to unconsciously slip into it and it can 
"Magical Thinking"
be an unpleasant place to go. In Loss group last week the discussion centered around the disappointing fact that for some, extended family members such as grandchildren or siblings do not pay as much attention to us as we imagine they "should." This disappointment can easily fester into hurt feelings, to irritation, to anger, to withdrawal, leading to unhappiness.

     Magical Thinking is fantasy thinking. It is the mental "chatter" that
Cousins Enjoying the Auction
goes on inside our heads, the dreamy stuff of reverie. There's nothing wrong with a bit of it, but it can become mixed up with reality and affect a person's expectations. Relationships are fertile grounds for it. All we have to do is listen to a song, turn on a TV sitcom, or watch a romantic film and fantasy is delivered right to us, happily ever-afters and all! Magical thinking can contaminate our thoughts so that they are not grounded in reality. This thinking can become toxic if it affects our sense of what we can realistically expect from others. Here are some common fantasies:
"I'll get as much as I give."
"Relationships are 50-50."
"Love conquers all."
"Every problem has a solution." 
"If I love them enough, they will change."
"They will love me back the same as I give."
"There's only one true soul mate for me."
"If I am agreeable there will be no conflict."

     If we can recognize some of this fantasy thinking we can label it and put a stop to it. We can become more realistic in what we
Donna and her Mom
expect. The harsh reality is that our loved ones lead very full lives. Our siblings might be working, raising families, worrying about money, dealing with health issues, while our children and grandchildren are struggling with their own concerns with lives more jam-packed than we can imagine. I know that my grandchildren work to maintain high grades, participate in Greek life, compete in sports, maintain friendships and romances, and work hard at earning money, as they hone skills for their future. They are thinking forward. It is important to for us to remember that they have a lot going on and not let our feelings get hurt if they don't always have as much time for us as we'd like; and to understand that it does not lessen how much they care for us. I hope you are taking very good care of yourself. I always love to hear from you.
My best, donna

Finding the Magic of the Season

Finding the Magic in the Season
     Perhaps this is a good time of year for marinating ourselves in the many wonders that abound in everyday living. One of the most powerful action steps we can take toward happiness is living in gratitude. Why not take up the challenge in these days leading up to the holidays to search out what is precious in your daily rhythms and celebrate them?
 Our twenty-two year old grandson returned last week from a six-month study abroad program in Australia. As our wonderful Jake returned to the family fold, with longer hair than we'd ever seen and a hairier face it called up an old, sweet memory for me. I want to share it with you as a holiday "feel good." 

      As I recall it was a dampish winter afternoon ten years ago, when I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter as she picked her three children up from elementary school in San Diego County. The energetic enthusiasm of the children freed after seven hours in the classroom was contagious. A huge smile was stuck on my face as the children raced past us, some playfully pushing and poking at one another, glad to be free.

     We gathered up two of our kids but after some time, the oldest, Jake, still had not come out of his room. We went in search of him.

   Upon arriving at his classroom an electric wave of excitement spilled over us as we crossed the threshold. I blinked my eyes. I was stunned to find that the room was still full of sixth graders who were happily working at their desks! By now about 20 minutes had elapsed since the dismissal bell and yet the students were not leaving. The culture of the classroom engulfed me in its warm embrace. It seemed almost magical. Soon Jake introduced me to a key element of the class: Tank, a big yellow service dog that the students supported and loved. I thought, why would the children want to leave?

     Tank was their philanthropic project. They supported him and one other service dog, Foster, through their non-profit business. The students made and sold dog biscuits and dog houses. All of this was to help support the service dogs which assisted in their reading-buddy project with the younger children. Clearly the opportunity to know Tank and Foster, to
Donna's painting of Foster the service dog
 support them, to have a business and a business plan had brought out the imagination and enthusiasm of the children as it was teaching them life skills. I recall how proudly Jake showed me the cubby area where the service dogs, the 2nd graders and the 6th graders worked on their reading. The young children read to the dog under the supervision of the older student. Jake explained to me that research evidence showed a gain in confidence on the part of the young reader when the child reads to the dog. I could see that confidence was gained by the 6th grader as well. As a lifelong classroom teacher myself, I was simply overwhelmed with excitement at what was going on in Jake's educational world!! I wanted to share this with you, to celebrate the everyday heroes, like his teacher Mrs. Benowitz, who are making a difference out in the world, quietly, with no fuss, just accomplishing amazing things.

     There are examples like this all around us, regular folks 

adding magic to life. My son and his girls joined a dozen or more volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club last weekend for Operation Homework. The volunteers created an assembly line, wrapping donated gifts so that the children can "buy" presents for their families through the points they earned doing their homework. It was a noisy and fun work day of helping a few hundred children to do their "shopping!" I hope you look for these little acts of magic and celebrate them.

I wish you a wonderful holiday. My best, donna

Surviving the Holidays

Surviving the Holidays
     While the advertisers shout out Black Friday deals and the malls shimmer with their glittering holiday cheer, it might be important to remember that for many the season can be loaded with emotional landmines. Even the most positive may succumb 
Take a Walk and Celebrate Nature
to feelings of anxiety or depression. The enormity of gifts to gather, a house to decorate, or the food to prepare, could cause the most hearty to feel overwhelmed! Memories of past years, perhaps with one's original family, or the loss of a loved one, could also trigger the grief response. Some of the participants in my Loss of a Loved One support group have expressed the idea that they wish they could fast forward through the holidays to January 2! Truly it can be a tough time.
     Anxiety can be controlled by making "to do" lists and scaling back. The lists get it out of our heads and the scaling back makes it easier. Simply admitting how you feel can be a relief. Many of 
Daughter Julina Creates New Holiday Tradition
us tend to "should" on ourselves by demanding that we must do what we have always done to make the holidays "perfect" for our loved ones. Often they don't even notice if a certain dish is homemade or store bought, or whether something is beautifully wrapped or is in a Dollar Store decorative bag! If you suffer the "Be Perfect" admonition why not dump it right now? Your friend Donna here is telling you that we don't need to be perfect! Where can you slim down the details in your life to make your experience less nerve wracking? What can you change?
     If you or your friend have recently lost a loved one, this first holiday season can be particularly difficult. Here are some survival ideas:


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.

3. Create a new tradition. My friend enjoys a morning of eating pie at a friend's house each Thanksgiving. Perhaps there is a game to play, or an art project the family or friends could enjoy such as decorating cup cakes, stockings, creating a gingerbread house, making ornaments.
4. When invited somewhere consider whether you want to go or are you going to be polite. Answer conditionally, "May I tentatively say yes, and if I feel up to it that day I will come?"
New Traditions - Walking on the Beach
5. Let one trusted person know how you are really doing behind the social mask of cheerfulness.
6. Carry out one of the traditions or rituals of your loved one to honor him or her.
7. Most important of all know that it is okay to cry.
8. Take good care of yourself by eating properly and sleeping properly and avoiding excessive use of alcohol.
9. Live in gratitude. The prescription for negative thinking is to be grateful for all your blessings.
10. Make a goals book and begin to look forward. What more do you want TO DO, TO HAVE AND TO BE in life?
  Mark Twain said that courage is to face our fears and go forward. You can do that even though the holidays may bring more than social gatherings and beautiful music. I would love to hear your idea for Surviving the Holidays. My best, donna

Opening Our Eyes to Awe


     Last Sunday Parade Magazine had a most provocative article by Paula S. Scott science of Awe. The Project Awe labs at UC Berkeley are studying this powerful phenomenon; the experience of feeling something huge beyond our selves. As my dogs and I clicked off our miles this morning, my brain flashed to some of my most memorable moments when I was so awestruck that tears pierced my eyes. A few years ago my friend Suzanne and I were touring the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam when I came upon his famous sun flowers painting. Standing in that gallery, as I interpreted what I was seeing, I was overwhelmed. My heart rate accelerated and those darned tears fell down my cheeks. I was held hostage by awe. After a bit, Suzanne came over to check on what was holding me up. She immediately understood as I had shared with her that during my apprentice years as an artist, while my babies played at my feet, I sat in my kitchen painting those Van Gogh flowers, perhaps a few hundred times. My desire to become an artist had burned so intensely that I wanted to learn through the master. Seeing them in person brought anew that intense drive I felt decades earlier, and then the realization came that I had somehow become a competent painter. Well, all together, it was just too much. I was both awed and humbled.
     This Project Awe headed by Dacher Kelmer describes awe as "the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond

 human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things or experiencing an electrifying emotion." The article cites gazing at the Milky Way, seeing the Grand Canyon, or something simpler like receiving an act of extreme kindness. The project teaches that awe helps us see things in a new way, binding us together, allowing us a fresh point of view. I know that when I was at my worst time, having to hold my father legally accountable for deplorable acts against our four year-old niece, the mostcomforting place for me was at Mammoth Mountain, where I could sit in the shadow of the majestic peaks taking in their ageless enormity. It helped put my small self and those smaller problems into perspective. It was healing for me.
     Scientists are learning that Awe experiences seem to help overcome depression, that there may be a healing potential to awe. Awe is a positive emotion reducing levels of cytokines, a marker of inflammation linked to depression. Considering the 

research, maybe we can begin to open our eyes and collect our own awe moments. Many of my Facebook friends frequently post beautiful sunsets, funny videos of their pets' crazy antics, the beauty of their child's face. I now realize they are sharing "awes"with us. Perhaps we can look at awe in a new way, with new respect. As I recall the birth of my only daughter, the nurse saying "you have a baby girl!" I was overcome. When I first saw my husband, Ken, at age 14, through our friends' glass-paned door, I could not eat nor sleep for a week. I was overcome. When I was baptized in the Jordan River the emotion I felt was so intense I have never forgotten it.

     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


Carving Out Habits of Excellence


     Through careful planning Ken and I booked a lovely five night trip into Yellowstone National Park last week. We had a great time watching the herds of bison roaming on the plains; one mama buffalo was nursing her baby along the road. A mother elk and her two calves were quietly grazing along the parking lot by our inn. They wandered closer. I had no sooner whispered to Ken, "I guess their defense is running away," when suddenly a park staff member in a hushed stage voice called to us, "back up quickly!" We did. He explained that the mom elk will charge when threatened and can toss a human twenty feet into the air! That stopped us in our tracks! 
     It was a fine get-away abundant with wildlife, geysers and boiling sulfur mud pots. Very early Friday morning we left the Old Faithful Inn and headed down the mountain in time to catch our Friday afternoon flight to get us home for Ken's many Saturday morning soccer obligations. Our flight was delayed; then delayed again and again as we sat ever hopeful of getting home in a timely manner. Finally as dark fell the agent announced, "All flights cancelled!" As we struggled to find a room in a town booked for a special event and re-rent a vehicle, we grumbled. Ken was upset, but managed to get his friends to cover coaching the two soccer games and we found a room.
     In the dark of 5 a.m. the next day, we once again made our way to the airport. I happened to be sitting next to a handsome thirty-something clean-cut man who appeared to be a veteran. He was using cuff crutches. He and I chatted about our postponed trips. He said, "I've learned to take things in stride, I am going fishing at Coos Bay in Oregon." We talked about his fishing prowess. As it happened, once on the plane, his seat was just behind ours. As the woman who was to be his seatmate appeared, she saw the crutches and asked, "Do you want the window as it might be easier for you than getting up. What happened?" 
He responded, "Sure" as he moved over. "I have ALS." 
She looked confused.
"Lou Gerhig's disease," he clarified. 
She said, "Oh good." (Clearly not comprehending what ALS was or perhaps she did not hear him). 
He muttered, "Not really..."
     That exchange has stayed with us these several days since we have been home and it quickly put into perspective how small our problem of missing our flight was in the great scheme of things. Once home, I reviewed ALS, as I knew that it was rare and serious. I learned that in a majority of cases it is fatal within two to four years.
     I had noticed the young man's wedding ring and could imagine a lovely young woman kissing him goodbye that morning. I could visualize him tucking in a little child or two and saying good night to them the night before. My heart breaks for him, but there he is making absolutely the most of life in the time he has left. He had mentioned to me about another fishing trip in Boston when he met with his doctors. Clearly he is not going down without a fight.
     Since I have last written to you, I have met my new class of women in transition. I've heard their stories of profound despair and feelings of hopelessness. I empathize. What they suffer is real. Many ended their stories saying they were, "stuck." I see that. The new research in neuroscience shows that by understanding how our brain operates we can increase our ability to change its thinking, our thinking. That science teaches that our brains are hard to control, but that the brain has a deep need to be in control! In other words it can take over, mulling and mulling around in thoughts of despair, thus causing many people to be held captive in the arousal state, running an awful, silent internal narrative of desperation. In Loss Group, one year, a new person announced to the entire group, "I am helpless and hopeless." She stated her internal message out loud. Neuroscientists call that story a narrative, it's what one tells oneself; it can easily become a life-limiting habit.
     Steven Covey in, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, "Our character, basically is a composite of our habits... habits are powerful factors in our lives because they are

 consistent, often unconscious patterns that daily express our character and produce effectiveness or ineffectiveness. In Transitions I am working hard to guide the participants toward seeing what their assets are instead of focusing on their deficits. The first night I asked if any of them had her health? Most of the hands went up. "Can you see?" All the hands went up. "Can you drive?" All the hands went up. Then I asked, "What is right with you?" That took some thinking as often there's a tendency to focus on what is wrong.
     I am hoping to guide the women toward taking control of their thoughts and celebrating their many assets, seeing their possibilities, as they set goals and strive toward moving forward. It is not an easy task as our habits mean that we have deep neural maps for thinking and doing certain things. It is possible to change those maps and create new ones but it takes effort and being conscious of what one is thinking. We know that one's attitude is what frames one's state of mind, one's happiness. It seems to me that it is essential that we focus on what we HAVE instead of what we do not have. The young man at the airport was going fishing while he still could. He was embracing his assets. Aristotle said, WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO. EXCELLENCE IS NOT AN ACT, IT IS A HABIT. That young man was practicing what he probably always practiced, embracing life.
What are you doing to be at your best? I love hearing from you.
My best, donna

In the Blink of an Eye

In the Blink of an Eye
     That's how it seems to me. It feels like two minutes ago I had a house full of tiny little grands and their sippy cups and then suddenly in the blink of an eye, grown. Yikes!!! Last week our second youngest grandchild began Middle School. We are now down to only one grandchild in elementary school. It is going so fast!!!! Too fast! Changes are all around us as school starts and Fall closes in. For those of us not tied to the school calendar perhaps it is just about getting back to normal. Maybe it's just time to take a deep breath. If your "normal" routine is not thrilling to you, now might be a good time to change it up, perhaps to become "unstuck?"
Sunflowers at Everglades
     In a few weeks the Womansage Fall class of Life Transitions will begin and I will enjoy meeting a room full of women who want to do just that, become "Unstuck." I will begin the program by having the participants examine what is "right" with their lives and then we will begin to look at ways to be more fully alive. We will learn about MINDFUL LIVING and taking charge of our thoughts and dreams. The individual participants will examine their goals and imaginings in a serious way. I firmly believe that when we vividly visualize what we want we can begin to make it happen.

     Last Spring when President Obama opened up Cuba to US travelers, I began to imagine myself meeting some Cuban neighbors whom we have been kept apart from since I was in high school. I imagined swimming in the Bay of Pigs. I talked to my 19 year-old granddaughter about going and she was all in and very eager to get me salsa dancing! Well that sounded intimidating and I realized I probably needed another generation in the mix. I invited her mother, my daughter, and off we went, first to check out South Beach in Miami, then to flit around the Everglades in an airboat. When we finally got to Cuba we fell in love with the people. One of the biggest highlights was swimming and chatting with the locals in the warm water of the Bay of Pigs. We never did find salsa dancing. I think we had the wrong country for that! But the point is I imagined something and because of that I found a way for it to come true. What are you dreaming of?
A Cuban landfill turned into beauty
The life we are living today is a direct result of the choices we made in the past. If this current iteration of your life is not pleasing you, now might be a good time to make new choices; Life 2.0 or 10.0. I am always having to reinvent myself. It used to bug me, but now I get that we cannot not change. I might currently be on the 20.3 version of Donna!

     Have you noticed that sometimes people get stuck in "auto pilot," as they sort of go through the motions of life? A tool to alleviate that, which my clients find helpful, is creating a Vision Board. This consists of taking a huge piece of construction board and making a collage of sayings and photos from magazines that appeal to you. It is a Right Brain activity. It can help you visualize what more you want to do or have in life. It can be a starting point. Then simply choose one of those desires and begin to work toward it. You can set a reasonable goal and take action toward accomplishing it every single day!
Pretending to try Cuban cigars
     We cannot not change. We age. Life moves forward. Albert Einstein liked to talk about the important role imagination and creativity play in our daily lives. 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? Paint, lose ten pounds, take a trip, repaint the bedroom, make a new friend, take a class, learn a new language, plant a garden? Remember this is your life and if you are like me it is going by in the blink of an eye! I'd love to hear about your plans. You could even photograph your Vision Board and email it to me. 
My best, donna

A Shiksa Goddess is Born

I found this last Friday as I was cleaning. I wrote it thirty-two years ago. Our daughter was sophomore class president and needed to provide chaperones for a class trip into Hollywood. Ken and I climbed into a bus full of San Clemente High School students going to a TV show taping. 

A mother's midnight reflections-March 28, 1984.
A "Shiksa Goddess" is Born

     The audience at the KCOP taping session for a popular evening television game show is brought to a hush by the handsome thirtyish host as he carefully selects nine candidates from the audience to participate in a pre-show contest. As my almost-graceful fifteen year-old daughter is drawn from the ranks of the eager contestants, my stomach tightens in wonder, will she be able to hold her own and answer correctly in front of all these people?

Julina age 15
    The chosen participants line up in front of the audience as the dashing emcee asks them to name one of the Great Lakes. As my daughter's turn approaches, the number of possible selections is diminished by each correct response. My concern mounts. I sigh in relief as I hear the huskily whispered answer, "Lake Michigan." I bask, momentarily relieved.
     My attention returns to the emcee who has just discovered how lovely this young woman is. Portraying sudden adoration, grabbing his heart, he swoons as he says to her, "Well, anything you say!" 

    Several more questions, my apprehension continues to increase with every approaching turn. With each correct answer the young man displays ever increasing ardor toward my daughter. Finally, he explains that his deep desire would be fulfilled if only he could get to know this beautiful creature better, but alas his wife, "Moose," would never allow it! The audience laughs in appreciation of his good taste and delightful humor.

     Before long, the time for the taping arrives and the pre-show warm-up activities are rushed to a close. The contest is over. As my daughter is sent back to her seat, the young man sadly bids farewell to the "Shiksa* Goddess!" 
     In this moment, I am validated. My deepest convictions are publicly declared for the first time, my guess is that this is just the precursor to a thousand such incidents. As my only daughter makes her way back to her seat, I find myself thinking back over almost sixteen years to that early summer morning on which she was born. I remember the intensity of emotion I experienced as I expelled her from my protective body into the world. It was the single most powerful event of my life and I burst into tears of unbridled joy. I got my girl! Instantly the nurses were on me, admonishing me to not cry! They teamed up on me, insisting, "Dear, you will mess up your hair!" I stuffed those tears. Later, during visiting hours, I heard my grandmother's declaration that this was "the ugliest baby" she had ever seen. 

Julina age 13
     Visions of that awkward girl with orthodontic braces and size ten feet on skinny legs danced before my eyes as my thoughts brought me to her intense tenderness toward animals and little children; how concerned she was the day she discovered the baby swallows who had fallen out of their nest, how she fed them around the clock for days with an eye-dropper. I always knew how beautiful she was on the inside. And now as she glides to her seat, I see that the feet easily fit the tall firm young frame, that the lush blonde hair flows around her arrestingly beautiful heart-shaped face, set off by tantalizing green eyes which sparkle with devilment. I know that long ago on that certain day, a goddess was born indeed!

My best, donna

*Def: a non-Jewish girl or woman

A Trip Inside Cuba 2016: A Study in Everyday Contrasts

A Trip Inside Cuba 2016: 
A Study in Contrasts

Visiting American Embassy in a classic Ford
I didn't know what to expect as we embarked on our Cuba "Face to Face" adventure two weeks ago with 17 other travelers. What would the next eight days reveal? Would we be looked down upon as Americans, ignored, or welcomed? I hoped I was doing the right thing by encouraging my daughter and granddaughter to go with me.

Our travel group got off to a shaky start in Miami. We were belted into our seats on the charter airline to Cienfuegos. Some of the passengers could view the luggage and cargo being stowed in the plane. After a while those same passengers could see suitcases being taken off, apparently the plane was over its weight limit. That is when the riot broke out. Passengers were screaming in Spanish to the non-Spanish speaking flight attendant, Pola, who in turn was demanding that the most vocal of the leaders, a hot tempered woman, be removed from the plane! Others shouted, "We have rights!" It was an ugly scene with perhaps 20 passengers fully engaged in the battle. We watched in amazement at a spectacle we had never before seen. After a very long half hour or so of yelling, the captain ejected all of us from the plane. There was more shouting as our little group circled the tour leader. "You are a coward!" one of our new, not very well mannered, tour mates yelled. He demanded that the tour manager decide whether we were all going to get back on the plane or stay in Miami until everyone had their luggage.

Some four hours later, we all got back on the plane, taking our chances on whether luggage would arrive with us or not. As it turned out six of our group of 20 had no luggage and never did get it until the next week. Upon arrival in Cienfuegos, while the plane was in motion, taxiing to the gate, about twenty passengers got up and started removing their bags from the overhead bins! They were walking about on a moving plane! Yes, a strange and shaky beginning. Clearly I was already privy to a bird's eye view of a dissimilarity in cultural norms. Well, I wanted an adventure, I just didn't know it would be in the very first hours!

My elderly mother, a devotee of the Sunday travel section of the newspaper, had been warning me for months that Cuba was not ready for tourists, that I must carry my own roll of toilet paper and take shampoo and soap, that it was Third World. So what a lovely surprise to discover that the rooms were clean and up to American standards and that we did not need toilet paper. They have lots of toilet paper! However, we did need a certain inner toughness as Cuba is a study in contrasts. Here are a few:

l. Government workers make $12 a month. All Cubans are given a monthly ration card for five eggs, a pound of coffee, one pound of sugar, soap, etc.; the essentials. It did not seem like much, and the women in line in the ration store told me it was not enough, but everyone we encountered seemed well fed and adequately dressed. The government provides free education, mandatory through the 9th grade, excellent free medical care, and housing on paved streets. However, the citizens are not free to travel to other places. 

2. Our luxury air conditioned motor coach speeding through the lush green countryside was another contrast as I noted the ubiquitous horse drawn carts and water buffalos working in the fields of sugar cane.

Chatting with the Locals in the Bay of Pigs
3. We visited Girone, the beach at the Bay of Pigs where our American forces invaded Cuba in 1961. It is the home of the anti-American war museum where we watched a black and white news film depicting that losing invasion. We were continually referred to as "Yankee Imperialists." Two hours later, my daughter, Julina, and granddaughter, Jaycelin, and I were swimming in the Bay of Pigs with another tour mate when some children came to join us. Soon the little band included about twelve Cuban youth ranging from perhaps six years of age to 25. We floated in the warm water for an hour or more laughing and teasing in a mix of English and our inconsistent Spanish. Two of the youngest climbed on my shoulders (once an abuela [grandmother] always an abuela, I guess.) That impromptu face-to-face was a delight as we learned more about their lives. One youth, a 25 year-old engineer, shared his dreams and opportunities with us. Their excitement about us and the warmth toward us were in stark contrast to the name calling in the war museum's film.
Anti-American Billboards

4. The Cuban government is tightly monitoring visitors as it is "hyper-sensitive about sovereignty" as we were told during a university professor's lecture. The government does not want Cuba to become a tourist place like Cancun. We were permitted to visit only under the controlled conditions of meeting Cubans "face to face." Careful records were kept of our visits to a boys and girls club, several senior centers, art studios, community clean up campaigns, music projects, mural and literacy projects, and more. Our visit included a lot of dancing, singing, listening and eating with the Cuban people, and never a mention of Guantanamo Bay. 

5. To my delight my granddaughter had us rent a bright pink 1950's classic Ford Fairlane for our visit to the newly opened American Embassy. My eyes filled with tears at the sight of our American flag waving freely. Today there are still four United States laws in place stating that Cuba is the enemy. However, it did not feel that way. The Cubans seemed to be very excited about us as Americans, and very interested in our politics!

6. Our eight days were filled with colorful and poignant observations. Standing near Ernest "Papa" Hemingway's favorite typewriter at his home held meaning for me as a writer, but the fact that no one seemed to know or say that he may have run guns for Fidel was striking. There were monuments and pictures celebrating Che Guevara all over Cuba, but we were told that he died in an airplane crash, when in fact he was probably executed. I observed oral history being rewritten...

7. The last afternoon of the trip is imprinted on my memory. I was resting in my comfortable waterfront room in the Nacional Hotel, when I heard a light tapping on my door. I opened it to find the middle-aged woman who was the maid for my room. She spread her arms wide and I stepped into her embrace. She hugged me and kissed my cheek goodbye. Was she digging for tips? I don't think so. Earlier in the week I had been in a too warm room and she had helped to move me. At that time I offered her two CUC ($2.00). She would only take one. We encountered many helpers along the way who would only accept the minimal tip they thought was appropriate. 

8. A last common practice we discovered revealed another aspect of the Cuban character. When we would ask a person for directions, they would stop what they were doing and escort us to our destination, sometimes a few blocks away. What a generous and accommodating people!

We found them to be warm, welcoming, articulate and surprisingly informed about our politics. They don't have freedom to travel, to watch more than the four government sanctioned TV stations, or to hear world news from several points of view. They do not have freely accessible Wi-fi nor the material goods that we take for granted, but their hearts are full of love and they very much wish the embargo would go away. I'm glad I made the trip. I don't see how Cuba can remain the same for too long with the influx of Americans eager to meet their neighbor.
One of the most important life lessons my travels have taught me is that happiness resides within the individual. Over and over again I see my fellow humans delighting in the smallest gifts of life when by our standards they seem to have so little. It warms my heart. I always love to hear your thoughts. 
My best, donna

Ripe with Possibilities

"A Lost Daughter Speaks Out and All of China Listens!" (March 30, 2016, FP News) is the touching story of recent Yale graduate, Jenna Cook. She is a former abandoned infant, left on the streets of Wuhan, China, who went looking for her birth family. Having long
Adoptive Mom and Her New Baby
been interested in the "One Child Policy" of China, I recall being seated next to an American couple back in 2005 as we made our way to Beijing. They were on their way to adopt their new daughter. The flight was long and they were far too excited to sleep. I provided an eager audience. I learned about the hundreds of abandoned babies, the orphanages, and that some families in China needed a son over a daughter. The couple explained that the baby girl they were getting had been left under a tree in a park. I listened with rapt attention. As an American, it was difficult for me to imagine a socio/economic climate that could force people to abandon their children.
     As our family toured Beijing, we rode on rickshaws through thetiny streets of an ancient hutong, a very old neighborhood of tiny homes and narrow alleys. As we wheeled by we could not help but notice that only boy children were out playing. A few days later, we were visiting the Great Wall and, much to our surprise, we discovered an entire "class" of adoptive couples who happened to be there as well. They were gathered with their new little daughters in bright shiny strollers. I struck up a few casual conversations with the beaming mothers, and was even allowed to hold one of the babies. 
     It made an impression on me. On the trip back home I was again seated with an adoptive family. Their new 11 month-old daughter crawled from one of our laps to another. As the airplane grew quiet
Strollers at the Great Wall
and the baby fell asleep, I thought of the opportunity that lay ahead for her. I knew about the success my friend had some years before with her two adopted Chinese babies. Those girls were thriving. I leaned back in my seat and scanned across my teaching career to the hundreds upon hundreds of students who were given opportunity and achieved remarkable success. My thoughts paused on one young Hispanic man I had in my public speaking class. He had regaled us with stories of his life in one of the more infamous Southland gangs. He confessed that when he had stared down the muzzle of an opposing gang member's gun in a dark Los Angeles alley, he knew he would soon be dead if he did not get out. In order to accomplish that, he had to withstand the ordeal of being "jumped out" which meant he had to endure a horrific beating. I followed his progress through college. He was a magnificent student and when he graduated from UCLA Law School he came back to share his triumph with me. 
     From gang banger to lawyer, from abandoned infant to Yale graduate; it interests me to note that often when people are offered
Boys playing in the  Streets
the opportunity for a different kind of life, they grab hold and soar. I hope as we stare at the nightly news and see the animosity and dirty fighting of the current presidential primary campaign, that we do not become so disgusted and disillusioned by what we are hearing that we lose sight of what it is we have here America. We have freedom and opportunity. My travels from the heights of the Himalayas, to the plains of the Serengeti, to the meager dried mud huts along the Nile, to the volcanic mountains of Ecuador, have taught me that what we could all too easily take for granted in the U.S., is just a pipe dream to most of the people of the world. For all of our public blemishes what we have achieved here in our amazing country ultimately works. I think it takes all of us working together to ensure it.



Love Never Dies

 You know my posts often reflect precious happenings, however within the past fourteen days five people in my  friendship circle, dear to me, have passed away. Ken and I will be attending two different celebrations of life this week; up front and personal reminders of this unavoidable, natural transition in life. In our Loss Support Group we never talk about getting "over" the passing of a loved one, we work on learning how to live with it as we acknowledge the comfort talking about our cherished one brings us.

     Social media allows a place for this. My grief stricken friends are posting photos, memories, and heartfelt thoughts about their loved ones. These postings invite us to share their feelings. As I look at the pictures and read the poems, I am humbled by their willingness to allow us inside. I admire their courage as they draw us into their private agony. As I witness this process, I understand that they are reframing their pain into joyful memories of love.

     Neuroscience teaches that we can "train our brains," that we can grow new neurons, that it really is possible to learn new ways of being. For those of us haunted by grief and anxiety, we can learn to become more fully mindful by striving to control our  thoughts. Right now I am a part of the support of those left behind who are choosing to think of their loved one with joy and gratitude for the life they shared with them. They are purposefully choosing to reframe the loss into an opportunity to celebrate the love and times they shared. This positive thinking functions to "calm" the mind. When grief comes,it is essential to take the best care of ourselves as possible.
     As I grieve with those left behind, I think of this poem one of them posted,

"If the people we love are stolen from us
The way to have them live on
Is to never stop loving them--
Buildings burn
People die
But real love is forever."

     Death cannot be avoided, but when we stay mindful and
 see that through the pain we can more than ever appreciate all of God's gifts. We can rejoice in the magnificence of a full moon, a magenta sunset, a surprise splash of colorful flowers along amountain trail, the peals of joy in a baby's laughter, or the gentle purr of a beloved kitty.
     Life requires us to be courageous. I believe It is in us to meet the challenge. I see that my friends are doing just that.

Lean Into Your Life: The Power of Yes

 On Friday I was making my way north into Los Angeles to be the guest at my nephews' Grandparents Day, when I passed by two elementary schools. The crossing guards stopped our cars as a few dozen pint-sized cowboys and girls crossed in front of us. I smiled as a kindergartner, glad in pink cowboy boots and pink 
Nephew Parker at Grandparents Day
western hat, walked in front of my car. Laughing out loud, I scanned across the more than four decades that our family has been involved in Swallows Weekend, with three generations of us marching in the famous San Juan Capistrano parade. As I cruised up the freeway I marveled at our human ability to find meaning in life, for creating incredible institutions and rituals. 

     On Saturday, we joined the 20,000 celebrants gathered along the parade route. Laughter and music and the enticing aroma of bar-b-cue filled the air. The eager expressions on
Swallows Day Parade Clydesdales
the faces of the spectators as they thrilled to dancing horses, brilliantly costumed Aztec dancers, and massive Clydesdales pulling antique fire engines, revealed how totally present they were in the moment. That is what we have, each individual moment. Life does not just "happen," we have to make it happen. The massive crowd and the hundreds of marchers were making a joyous life happen at the moment.
     Placing ourselves in the path of opportunity is key to growing our happiness and living to our full potential. I met our new class of Women in Transition for the first time a few weeks ago, and already I can see the change that has come over them. They are moving forward even against serious life challenges. They have put themselves in a situation that can lead to opportunity. They adopted the Power of Yes. The parade participants chose "Yes" to marching, the spectators chose "Yes" to join in. Your life right now is the result of your past decisions, but you do not need to be 
Youngest Son Dan and Donna
bound to them. If you are not happy with where you are, you can alter your course today, this minute. You can choose "Yes." You can move out of your comfort zone and try something new. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook and recent widow, implores people, especially women, to LEAN IN (the title of her book) to our own power and abilities. She says, "We hold ourselves back in both big and small ways by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, by pulling back when we should be leaning in."

     On my dog walk this morning, my neighbor Kay and I chatted a moment, "Donna next year let's ride our horses in the parade!" 

     "Wow, that's an idea!" I responded. 

     I didn't say "No," perhaps I will lean into that! Mark Twain once said, "courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of it." What opportunity is knocking at your door? This morning I had a post and delightful photos from my former Transition client Sonia, who is in the Peace Corps right now in Africa. Sonia has leaned in. What more do you want to do? Maybe you want to march in the parade next year? Take a trip, learn to Salsa dance, or volunteer at the hospital? It is up to us to make our individual lives meaningful, to find joy even against difficulty. You are powerful. This is your time.

Our Days in the Sun: Kicking the Worry Habit

     Always on the look-out for precious moments, I caught one this morning while the dogs and I were strolling through the park. The rising sun blinded us to the vehicles coming into the overflow parking lot by the park which serves the high school. We waited as a big SUV passed by. As it turned in front of us,
Emily - A Watercolor by Donna
I saw my beautiful angel granddaughter, Emily, behind the wheel, my first time to see her driving since she got her license last week. My heart did a little flip and the dogs and I scrambled over to greet her. We walked her to the path, hugged goodbye, and as she set off for her day and I for mine, I was left bathed in love. I had been listening to Barbara Streisand'sMemories from Cats on my Ipod where the poor ancient cat laments that all she has left are her memories of her days in the sun. I had been thinking about the fact that we are living our "days in the sun" when I saw Emily. It seems essential to our well being that we revel in them. Several of my clients cancelled their coaching appointments with me this week because they had not taken the steps forward to which they had committed. They were stalled by self pity, worry, and anxiety.

     It is easy to fall prey to the paralyzing effects of worry.To worry is to torment one's self with disturbing thoughts. When we are in a state of anxiety and worry it is hard to appreciate the gifts in life, let alone the precious moments. In Mallika Chopra's book, Living with Intent, she confesses that, "I spin the busyness into chaos by worrying about the future and rehashing the past...could it be that my concern about an unbalanced life is a self-created myth-one I perpetuate by overdramatizing the bad things and under appreciating the good?" I think the answer is "yes" to Mallika and it goes for my clients as well. They are in the worry habit.
Emily and Blaze
     Next week I am speaking on "Growing Happiness" to 85 moms. I'm going to remind them of the power of positive habits, that our behavior is a reflection of our thoughts, and that our brains like the status quo. In order to break the dreadful cycle of worry, we must decide to either change our attitude(move to gratefulness), ourbeliefs (I'm lucky to be alive in America!), or our actions (I'm taking steps forward today!)

     We can grow happiness by changing our ways, by learning to say "no" when necessary; by "eating the big frog first" which means to do the chore you hate the most first; to stop procrastinating. Another way is to eliminate meaningless time stealers, and to clear your mind before you go to bed by making a list of what needs to be done the next day instead of troubling your sleep with it. It is possible to be happier, to experience the joy of our days in the
Savoring one's Precious moments. 
Em and Elizabeth
sun, but worry and anxiety will rob us of the exhilaration of seeing that smile on a young girl's face, or catching the sweetness of certain moments, if we let them. This is our time, let's keep our happiness tanks full to the brim! 
I'd love to hear what you think. My best, donna

"You're Up for a Party!" - The Power of Reframing

This morning as the dogs and I were about to enter a fenced trail where they could run free, a young woman and a dog came jogging out. We waited. "So three dogs, huh?" She asked, slightly out of breath.

     "Yes! I smiled. "What does that say about the psychology of me?" I responded half joking.

     With a big grin and a cheery tone, her answer was easy, "That you're up for a party!" .

     What??? As I continued, I thought, That was interesting. In the woman's simple reframing of my many dogs, an epiphany flooded into my awareness. Really? I had long supposed that my canine passion was more about something leftover from my less than delightful childhood, about my inner child longing to be whole. I flashed on the day before as the dogs and I went off to coordinate the refurbishing of one of my rental units. The music in the Jeep was up high, Lacey with her head partially out of the window, had her ears flopping in the breeze, Zoe's tail was thumping, and Tessie was keeping beat to the music. (Well, maybe not...) But we were a happy gang going off to work. "Hi Ho, Hi Ho!" 
     Hmm. Going off to work felt like fun.... Making the bed this morning to the backdrop of three huge dogs wrestling all around me was fun... They were certainly having a party; and a raucous one at that!

  Maybe the lady was right, maybe one's old take onsomething is just that, old. I know that reframing is one of the most powerful personal tools one can have. It is a skill that grows out of adversity. It is the ability to look at something from another perspective. Resilient people have it in spades. It is their ability, when in distress, to reduce the appraisal of perceived threat and to increase their coping effectiveness. For example, if your feelings are hurt because your friend forgot your special day, it could be that by reframing it, you can see that something else might have been going on. The forgetfulness might not have been personal. EVERYTHING MIGHT NOT ALWAYS BE ABOUT US!! (Thatis a complicated thought to digest!) In Loss Support group we use reframing to shift to gratefulness, to celebrate all the years we have had with our loved one....It helps stem the agony of loss. It is possible to examine our old beliefs and reframe them. We have the power to draw new conclusions from what we know. The jogging 
lady did that for me. Now instead of thinking I am a bit over-the-top running through life with three big dogs, I see that I take my party with me wherever I go! How fun is that? I'd love to know your thoughts. 
My best, donna



They'll Eat You for Breakfast


      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



Let's Plunge Head First into this New Year

Oh happy new year! 
     In the frosty darkness of New Year's Eve a sturdy band of about thirty of us braved the freezing chill to venture outside into the orchard at our mountain home to partake in the ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition of
Waes hael - "to be well, hale." We gathered around the trees dancing and singing, "Here's to thee old apple tree; hats full, sacks full, great bushel bags full. Hurrah!" Then we sprinkled the waissail mixture of mulled ale and wines on the sleeping trees, a practice from antiquity. Perhaps our dances to scare away the worms and bring good wishes for a plentiful crop were more subdued than in eons past, nonetheless we enjoyed the ritual linking us to our bygone roots.
     As we sang, my musings slipped from the past to my personal goals for this fresh new year. I was warmed by the deliciousness of new beginnings. Then I thought of you and that Kris Allen song, Live Like You Are Dying, which reminds us how precious our days are. I hope you are happy with the way you chose to live your days in 2015. If not, for 2016 why not reaffirm the importance of mindfulness and finding the positive in situations. Happiness experts tell us that we are the happiest when we are pursuing something that has meaning for us. As we ring in this new year, let's commit to living with the best choices possible, to strive toward our most joyful selves, to live with meaning. If you aren't that satisfied with the life you are living right now, you can turn things around quickly by making a transformative decision for the future. 
     My great wish for you waes hael, that you be well and enjoy the comfort of your spiritual life, that you thrive within the warm embrace of your family and friends. It is your time now. You have the power to create wonderful days. I hope that you plunge head first into this brand new year with all the excitement and energy at your command.

     I love hearing from you. My best, donna

Being Pulled In All Directions


     Early the other morning my dogs and I were coming out of the field where they had been running free, heading home. As I cinched their leashes on, I noticed a woman struggling with her two big dogs. Each dog was pulling her hard in the opposite direction. She noticedme and crossed the street to keep away from us. Clearly she did not want the dogs to meet. I had Adele crooning to me from my Ipod and did not think much about her, though I could hear her yelling through my music. My group kept up our pace as the noisy skirmish continued across the street. Finally she halted and called to me. I unplugged my ear buds and smiled as she called out, "I want your dogs! Mine are stubborn. This one wants to walk in the middle of the street!"

     My dogs paused politely as I, ever helpful, asked, "Did you ever try a pinch collar?" The dialogue continued for a few more sentences until she again stumbled forward with her recalcitrant duo. I plugged back in. My brown eyed doggies looked at me as if to say, "Oh my, they have bad behavior."

     As my grand girls as I decorated the tree my mind went back to that woman being pulled in every direction. Her morning walk was anything but an enjoyable meditative experience in the crisp morning air. If the holidays are beginning to have you feeling like you are being pulled in ways you'd rather not be pulled, now is a good time for a boundary check.
Donna & Ken enjoyed a snowy Thanksgiving.

     An important aspect of healthy living is to respect your own personal boundaries and the boundaries of others. If one is not taught to set boundaries he or she might not even be aware when they are being violated. I know that we don't like it when someone in a doctor's office sits down next to us when there are a dozen open seats available. Our psychological boundaries are like that as well. We feel uncomfortable when others cross them by telling us what we should think or how we should feel, or have us agreeing to things we do not want to do. Here are a few simple tests to check the state of your boundaries:

1.  Do others behave as if I don't have a life?
2.  Is "no" unknown in my vocabulary?
3.   Do others take my belongings without asking?
4.  Am I afraid to tell my loved ones the truth, which is that I don't want to?
5.  Do people ask me to do little things which I resent doing, but I do them anyway?
6.  Do my family members expect me to drop everything when they need something done?
7.  Do I feel guilty even considering not doing what everyone else wants?
8.  Do I sometimes dread the holidays because I don't get to do what I want?
9.  Am I taking care of everyone but myself?
10. Is it bothering me thinking about this?

     If you answered "yes" to some of these questions  it could be that your personal boundaries have become blurred with some of the people in your life. If the holidays are beginning to have you feeling like you are being pulled in ways you'd rather not be pulled, now is a good time for a boundary check. It is an important step toward self care to protect yourself. You don't want to be like the woman with her unruly dogs, being pulled in every direction. This is your time, you are in charge of your life. Our happiness is up to us. My hope for you is that this holiday season is rich with joy and blessings. I always love to hear from you. 

My best, donna

Holiday Resolution: More Fun and Less Fuss

Last week I was standing in line at Vons when I realized that the music playing was Jingle Bells. As the others around me groaned, the lady in front of me lamented, "It isn't even Thanksgiving yet! I feel so much pressure!" I smiled with her as I considered this common sentiment.

If holiday anxiety is beginning to threaten your
Taking Time over the Holidays for FUN!
equilibrium, now is a good time to push the RESET button and stop yourself from becoming overwhelmed. You are in charge of your feelings. Admit to sometimes having succumbed to holiday anxiety and resolve to stop it NOW! Give yourself permission to celebrate the holidays a bit differently, with less fuss and stress. What if you strive toward peace instead of perfection, fun instead of fuss? Here are some proactive steps you could choose to take. 

1. Talk yourself out of the old perfectionism of the past. Just because you have done things a certain way forever does not mean that you have to continue. What parts of your rituals could be trimmed away or changed all together? My single friends enjoy "Pie for breakfast," a Thanksgiving tradition where everyone brings a pie and from 9-12 a.m. they enjoy fellowship and pie. Any angst of being alone on Thanksgiving is banished.

Spending Time with Friends
2. If the holidays are a painful reminder of the past, change up what you do. Plan ahead by becoming proactive to protect yourself: visit a mission, take a trip, greet people in the hospital, go to church. 

3. Start today and make lists for gifts, food, shopping, and events to attend, so that you do not have to keep all of that in your head. Slowly chip away at your list.

4. You are allowed to say "No." Take care of yourself by declining invitations and expectations that are just too much for you.

One of the most meaningful books I ever read was Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, by Eugene O'Kelly.  O'Kelly was a man who stopped for nothing, go go go! He made millions and flew hundreds of thousands a miles a year, missing out on a personal family life. When he learned at age forty that he had just weeks to live, he transformed his life. His last weeks were his best
Donna and Ken at Book Festival Awards
because he stopped and appreciated life. He said, "I collected more precious moments in those weeks than in all the previous years of my life." He learned how to really live life. Kris Allen's song, Live Like You Are Dying, carries the same message. Now is our time. It seems a waste to spend it wigged out because we have allowed too much to be on our plates or we are mired in grief over the past.

I don't think happiness is found spinning around, faster and faster on a treadmill. I think happiness is found through a life of gratitude, through feeling hopeful, by taking time to reflect on the positive in the world, and by taking care of ourselves. The holidays do not have to be a marathon of shopping, wrapping, too many parties and fatigue. They can be a time of peace and joy as we celebrate this wonderful life we have been given and our many blessings. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Of course I always love to hear from you. 
My best, donna

Life Starts Outside Our Comfort Zone

My daughter Julina and I enjoyed a wonderful Saturday at the Mindful Her event with headliner Mallika Chopra held at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. As we rolled our yoga mats out onto the wet grass, we could not help but smile to see a hundred others doing the same thing in the shadow of that magnificent structure. As a student of the new brain research, I am deeply rooted in the idea that we humans can feel better if we adopt MINDFULNESS STRATEGIES. This event solidified my thinking. 

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, giving your full awareness to what is occurring and accepting it without judgment. It requires that we are conscious and aware - that we learn to choose our response instead of simply reacting. 

As a life coach, I am working to help my clients to have more purpose in life. Many feel too scared and nervous to move forward. The necessary action steps just seem too hard. When we practice mindfulness we acknowledge our negative feelings and let them pass through. It is human to be nervous and scared. Life is hard, but difficult does not have to dominate our behavior. It is possible for us to manage our internal world. The first step is awareness of our feelings, the next step is to rewrite what we are telling ourselves about them. If we are thinking, "I'm too old to get this job" rewrite the narrative to, "I am a hard worker and I know I can contribute to the workforce."

Our bodies believe what we are thinking. To move forward and get unstuck, change the internal messages you are creating. Your body responds to those negative messages, hence the sleeplessness and anxiety. I love this Iceberg Metaphor. What we are thinking is unseen, it is below the water line, but it is powerfully influencing our behaviors, that which is seen above the water. If you want to move forward, check what you are telling yourself, acknowledge that you are afraid and do it anyway. Give yourself a deadline. The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal has a completion date. Courage is the bridge between our scared selves and taking action. You can do it. Start today. Life starts outside our comfort zone!
One last thought, I attended the conference to learn more about using meditation as a mindfulness tool. One break out section was about "Getting Your Calm On." I listened intently to four different ways to meditate; how important it is to empty our minds and BE. 

The next day, I got up in the dark of early morning,settled my dogs around me, poured my coffee, and turned on the fire place. As I stared into the fire I had an epiphany! I laughed out loud! I have been staring into that fire every morning for thirty years and never realized that I have been meditating all this time! I
have always known that my quiet time is the part of the day when I still my mind. It is non-negotiable. It energizes me. It keeps me on track. 

I invite you to practice telling yourself positive messages so you feel better, to still your mind every day, and when you feel scared to take the action step, do it anyway.. I'd love to hear what you think. 

My best, donna

That Treacherous Goddess: Habit

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Being Alone with Ourselves

     In the dark of early morning today, I poured a steaming cup of coffee and sat on the love seat on my second story deck to escape my too hot house and to enjoy the inky quiet. It wasn't quiet for long, the dogs had just resettled around my feet when the shadow of a big bird 
Being alone with one's self
flew into the branches above my head. Soon the air was filled with its low "hoo hoo." I leaned my head back and stared at the stars, relaxing to the humming of "hoo hoo."

     Sitting there, I identified my favorite constellations and my thoughts skipped to an essay I am enjoying by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anna Quindlen. She writes about how important it is to be alone with yourself; that it is sometimes valuable to be in a state of boredom. She thinks that time-outs from our hectic schedules, including feeling bored, allow our engines to recharge, allow true creativity to bubble forth into consciousness. She also believes that our children are overly programmed with little time off for play or being alone with themselves.
Down time can allow creativity to bubble forth

The power of boredom.

     Lately I have been playing a bit of scrabble on my phone (clearly a statement of technologic time-filling), but it speaks to my need for a break. While at this, I am noticing that my inner creative person is poking up into my consciousness. That person is getting itchy, maybe wanting to write the next novel, wanting to research Bipolar Disorder for one of the novel's characters. I notice that she has dragged out her watercolors and that paintings are showing up all over the house. That inner Donna is also thinking about stepping up into a more intense exercise regime. It's interesting what can result from some Scrabble on your cell phone... 

     Perhaps Anna has something about us being alone with ourselves. I am still processing the regret she describes in her book, Loud and Clear, that while she was raising her three children SHE DID NOT ALLOW HERSELF TO BE MORE IN THE MOMENT. She writes that she was too "other" focused. Now those children are long gone, removed from her into their adulthood. She writes that she studies old photos with little recognition, wishing she had paid more attention.Living in the moment. 

      For many of us our lives are on turbo thrust. I'm
Donna in the moment with grand daughters Ashley and Elizabeth
blessed with a busy happy life, but sometimes busy is just busy. Maybe we should heed Anna's sage thoughts, perhaps we need more time to be alone with ourselves and to strive to live more in the individual moment. It would be a shame to miss out on some of the best parts of our own lives. What do you think? 
My best, donna

The Big Yellow School Bus


     As the big yellow school buses again appear on our neighborhood streets, and the school yards fill with the music of children at play, a wave of nostalgia flows through me, recalling my own excitement at the beginning of each new school year. For 45 years I thrilled to the challenges of learning the names of my eager new students and preparing to excite them about communication. Those years are now in the past.

Pursuing our Interests
     Smiling to myself, I acknowledge that momentary yearning as I place my boogey board in the back of my Jeep. It isn't the worst thing to pursue new challenges and to have the freedom to do so. But the longing for that other life is tangible and I'm not alone. More than ever my coaching clients are contacting me for help as school starts, perhaps it is a trigger for them, as they too look back on another life they once lived. This is normal, but anxiety may seep in around the edges as we struggle to figure out new ways of living life, especially for the newly retired, the empty-nesters, and the recent widows. 

Enjoying Fun Activities
    It is up to us to imagine new and meaningful ways to live. Happiness experts teach us to live in gratitude, to take up new challenges and activities, to have something to look forward to. We are in charge and we can choose happiness or desperation, it is up to us. 

     One of my all time favorite books is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, in which the author teaches us to set goals, live in the present, and to immerse ourselves in compelling activities. This requires that we become mindful of our dreams and make the effort to fulfill them. This is our precious time and we need to continue to make the most of it. The Pacific is warmer than usual this summer and there are some waves out there waiting for me. Perhaps they are waiting for you as well. We can choose joy. I would love to hear what you have to say. 

Rising to the Challenge

     The other day my friend Christine and I were riding our horses on the trail in the riverbed. We were serene as we chatted, striding along enjoying the power of the horses beneath us, as we breathed in the crisp morning air. We were slowly making our way back home when suddenly a horrendously loud bugle call interrupted the quiet, as it sounded at an adjacent construction site. The food truck had arrived. Instantly Mr. T, under Christine, reared his huge head to take off! As a retired race horse his DNA must have activated an old memory. Right before our eyes he seemed to shed about twenty years as he morphed into his younger racing self; stomping, tossing his head, lunging and prancing, preparing for hisMr T & Christine/Donna & Pixie
imaginary starting gate.

     Oh my goodness! I thought. Christine immediately went into emergency mode as she used all her strength to reign in the mighty thoroughbred, her own survival DNA activated. I was behind them on Pixie, who within a nanosecond also became energized. Both horses, agitated with adrenaline, were instantly prepared to run the race of their lives! The stomping, head tossing, strutting, and snorting continued. We reigned in. The intrusive bugle call sounded yet again! Knowing how dangerous it would be to let the horses have their way, we both pulled back with everything we had, fighting to stay in our saddles. 

     Overwrought with excitement, the horses' fierce instinct to race continued as we clomped our way home. Maintaining my forceful grip, my mind scanned back to another such experience, only that time I was actually competing in a community cross country horse race. I recalled the practice sessions on my Arabian horse, Windy. In the weeks leading up to the race, when I would arrive at her barn for practice, Windy would be electrified by excitement, her entire body shivering in readiness, her natural urges brought forth by the race. Still holding firm, I smiled recalling those racing days.
     Safely back at the barn, Christine and I unsaddled our horses, exclaiming how sometimes out of nowhere a sudden challenge may present itself, and how important it is to be ready. During my teaching years, I saw it with my scared-to-death public speaking students. No matter how nervous they were, they rose to the challenge. I see it now with the widows in my Loss of a Loved One support group, no matter how devastated, they dig deep and find what it takes to go on. I see it with my clients facing the issues of aging and illness, who bravely look ahead. I realize that our own DNA, memories and experiences, must be embedded within and are at the ready when called upon. I admire the fact that we humans, on so many levels, are more prepared than we think. When the going gets tough, we seem to hang in there. New challenges are as close as the next corner, keeping us on our toes, but the happy news is that somehow we can meet them. I would love to hear about your challenges.

Digging Deep

     Happy Month of our Independence! My recent travels have left me inspired. Last week, I was part of the support team for my two sons who were Ironman competitors in Coeur D Alene, Idaho. When the starting cannon sounded, my eyes filled with tears, as over 2000 very fit men and women dived into the lake to begin one of the most grueling physical contests in the world. The 2.5 mile swim began at 5:30 in the morning, with the 112 mile bike ride up next, and finished up with a 26.4 mile marathon, closing 17.5 hours later. The racers knew they faced 108 degree record breaking temperatures and yet they were digging down deep into who they were, racing undaunted.

     As I cheered on my sons, a blind veteran leashed to his trainer ran by me. I was seized by emotion imagining what the event would be for one who could not see. I wondered where do we get such people; fearless humans putting themselves on the line? We have a country full of them. I thought of our mighty volunteer military as my mind scanned to World War II and the effect of those deadly bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor in 1941; their impact on our American psyche. They awoke our “sleeping giant.” As America’s arsenal for democracy became activated, our factories poured 

out an unequaled volume of planes, Jeeps, mortar and artillery. With our able bodied men at war, our women stepped up; hundreds of thousands, taking over in the factories, keeping the war machine going. I thought, this is what Americans do

With that in my head, I was particularly interested in the 4th of July piece by my friends, doctors Pedro and Priscilla Partridge de Garcia, who documented just what the signers of the Declaration of Independence endured to ensure our freedom. They wrote that of the 56 signers: “five were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.” The article went on to explain that they were gentlemen; lawyers, merchants, farmers and plantationowners. They were educated men knowing that the penalty for their acts, if captured, was death. This proved to be true, yet they signed.

     This is our heritage, a story of bravery and commitment. During my 45 years in the college classroom I was continually reminded of our American story as the Viet Nam vets rolled into my classroom on gurneys and wheelchairs, eager to finish their educations so they could support their families. Then later the Desert Storm vets, men and women warriors who taught us about sacrifice and desert warfare, and then the Iraq War vets who shared about IED’s and canvas doors on their Humvees. They all demonstrated a bravery and a commitment to our freedom that I will never forget. As many of you know I have traveled the corners of our globe, and almost everywhere I visit, I learn the people of others places can only dream of the freedoms we enjoy everyday. How blessed we are to live in the “home of the brave.” 

Stepping out of our Comfort Zones

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. 



The Magical Power of Rest: Restoring You!

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 to reserve your served dinner.


Grab the Brass Ring!

Grab the Brass Ring!

     Have you grabbed hold of the brass ring lately? If you are old enough you recall that back-in-the-day the merry-go-round offered a tray full of rings for the merrymakers to grasp as they twirled by. The luckiest of the lucky caught the brass one which was worth a free ride! Heady rewards indeed!! Do you still feel that way? Last night I was presenting to the teens at the Boys and Girls Club about what it takes to live a winning hand. We contrasted that with non-winners and losers. The teens immediately recognized that winners try new things, risk, follow through on what they say they are going to do, and exude a sense of zest for life as they delight in their own victories and those of others.

     It seemed like big ideas for young people who were attending the 6 pm program after an already long day at school, but young as they are they get it. Earlier in the afternoon I was a panelist on a Sexual Assault Awareness panel at Cypress College. It was particularly poignant for me as the very fact of the program was a dream of mine to come get sexual misconduct out in the open. The campus worked hard to that end including flash mobs and meetings to help students protect themselves. As an advocate for women and children, my dreams are coming true. What are some of your dreams? Maybe it is time to accelerate forward.

     In the next two weeks I am participating in three events which might be just right for you. I am inviting you to any of these. If you have a book mulling around in your head, you might want a chance to talk about that, about getting your thoughts into print. If so, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is hosting a book event for me where we will discuss such things and my inspiration for writing The Unraveling of Shelby Forrest on THURSDAY APRIL 30, 1-3 in the Barracks. Let me know, and I will leave your name at the gate house. Free admission.

      May 2-3 from 9-4 pm Goin' Native presents an Eco Garden Expo with speakers and demonstrations. It was a huge success last year. It is in Los Rios Park in San Juan Capistrano near the Depot. No charge. I will be there on Saturday with my books and materials on the Loss of a Loved One Support group, and the free Women in Transition Program through Womansage.

     "Get Happy! Six New Life Changing Habits" is the title of my MAY 12TH program for a Mother's Day fundraiser for Womansage. It is a served dinner at the lovely Center Club in Costa Mesa, a book signing event with this Happiness Program. We hope you bring your mothers, daughters, and sisters. Doors open at 5, with dinner at 6 and then the program. Visit: to make your reservation.

     For spring break last week my husband and I took four ofour grand-daughters to Hawaii. I had a stunning experience last Friday. My eyes filled with tears as the baby dolphin swam over to me, squirted water at me, and then came into my open arms for an embrace! I was awestruck by the encounter. The world is a big place with opportunity for all of us to squeeze the most joy out of it possible, to grab the brass ring. I think we can be happy for no reason, and cherish our time of being alive in the world. I would love to see you at any of these events. 

If you've had a brass ring moment lately, I'd love to hear it!

My best, donna

Piecing Together A Lifetime

 On Sunday Dr. Zavala's Positive Living post included this quote, "For there are no ordinary moments. There are only precious feelings and memories we piece together one by one. We call it a lifetime," Leslie D. Stuart. Having spent a wonderful three-day weekend with my husband, oldest son, and three of his daughters racing the Catalina marathon and smaller races, I took it to heart. 

KUCI Show with Kimberlee Martin
     Last week I was the guest on the KUCI radio show Real People OC hosted by Kimberlee Martin. During the hour-long interview many questions regarding my difficult childhood needed to be answered. She wanted to listeners to understand where I have come from in order to get a handle on who I am today. They were tough questions, taking me back to those horrible years. 

Avalon Race: Donna, brother Chuck, son Rick
     On my own, hiking the trails of Catalina, I thought more about those questions and how that beginning has colored the who of me today. The best answer I can come up with is that the obstacles of my abuse and neglect have heightened my awareness and appreciation for all that is good and beautiful in the world. And so if I linger too long on the beauty of a sunset, the silly antics of my dogs, or the victories of my many grandchildren, it is because of this. I make no apologies. It is who I am today.

     The show is airing soon and I have attached the link to it here

"Neither Sticks Nor Stones..."

     I am looking forward this week to the monthly meeting of the Loss of a Loved One support group which I facilitate, as well as the kick-off to a new ten week class for Women in Transition through Womansage. As the life coach for these programs, my brain is gearing up to lend a hand. I know that life has thrown these women some curve balls. I know they are often nervous, scared, and excited to begin their self-actualizing journey. As my ideas come into focus, I recall some of Kathy Guzman's thoughts in her article I found online, "Against All Odds" in which she points out: 

To stand alone in the sunny meadow - facing the sun and living a peaceful existence while there are stones being thrown at you from the shadows - is a test of courage and fortitude that we must all be prepared to experience. The actions that others take are out of our control... Sometimes, in our own stillness, we can find the strength to push through - without scars and nightmarish recollections - but rather with dignity, pride and the certainty that sticks and stones are just that -sticks and stones - and they will not dent the armor that is our true character. 

The Frog Pond was a center where One learned to stop Froggy feelings
     Her words take me back to the 1970's when Dr. Eric Berne's "I'm Okay-You're Okay" ideas were just becoming popular. For some months I flew to Sacramento to a place called The Frog Pond for weekend classes to master Dr. Berne's skill set. In one class the leader was talking away when suddenly a student stood up and screamed, "You don't know what you're talking about! You're a fake, an imposter! I have wasted my money taking this program!"

     We class members were dumbfounded. We'd never before seen such behavior! As we looked more closely at the shouter, we noticed that he was wrapped from head to toe in white muslin. Across his chest was huge glittery sign that read: Certified Crazy Person. We glanced to the leader to see his reaction. He was laughing out loud. It was a gag! 

     They were illustrating a new interpersonal skill; that when people say mean things (sticks and stones) we must learn to REFRAME their toxic behavior and turn it around. 
We must negate their power. We can secure our armor in place by discounting whatever horrible thing has been said or done. That stunning role play has stayed with me across the years. When my clients are hurt by the verbal jabs from others I remind them to reframe it, to find confidence in their own dignity. It is one of the techniques for becoming mindful; taking control of our reactions and emotions so that we are not blow away by others. Eleanor Roosevelt used to say, "Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." She understood that we must take control of our feelings, instead of simply reacting. You know the blindsides will come, of course they will, we live in the world. They add to our education and strengthen our character. It is in these moments that we grow and come to understand who we are, and how important it is that we center ourselves to live in peace. We are far tougher than we may realize. I would love to hear about your strength in adversity.
My best, donna

A Family Affair

 Valentine's Day is upon us, which causes me to reflect on something I observed over the weekend. I had a front row seat to witness the power of love. On Saturday night I assisted our daughter in hosting a pre-formal dinner party for her high school senior daughter and 45 of her teen friends. It was stunning to see the event morphing into a family affair as about thirty parents and siblings came along to wish them well and photograph the very dressed up youth. As the boys showed off their tuxedos, and the girls preened in satin and lace, I felt the tremendous connection between family members. This has left me awed. Anyone who has raised kids knows it is a messy, frustrating business, but all that was put aside as parents and siblings eagerly snapped photos of their loved ones. 

     An exhilarating vibe rode the air; pride, reverence and devotion. Some parents confessed to me the angst they felt pushing toward the empty nest; photographing their last child and last formal dance. My own memory scanned back to holding my newly born daughter, then to holding her newly born daughter, the center of the dinner party. It must be this, this powerful attraction, this commitment to each other that binds civilizations together, which empowers our military to risk their lives to protect our families and our freedom.
     My daughter and some of the other parents kept thanking me for helping out. I thought, "Are you kidding? I would not miss being a part of this for the world!" 

Happy Valentine's Day. 
My best, donna

Our Indomitable Human Spirit

  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.

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Beauty in the Ordinary

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.

Stroller Warriors Bring Sweet Memories

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.

Life Should Not be Lived, But Celebrated!

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!

On being an Encouragement Machine

 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.

The Power of Reinvention

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!

Way Up the Hill!

 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.

Maya Angelou: A Hero

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!

Paris Observations May 2014

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.


So Maybe there ARE Limits...

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!

A Wise Person Chooses his Battles!

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.

Granddog Buddy

     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!

Planting Happiness

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. 


I listened with Ears on my Heart!

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

The Power of Yes: "Why Not You?"

     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?" 


On Taking A Breath

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. 


Beauty is All Around Us

 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 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. 


Six Degrees of Separation

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.


A Sense of Community

     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.


On the Power of Cooking

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. 

Journey to the Center of the World

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

Road Trip to the Past: Laughing Sals

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!

Look! A unicorn!

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.

Princess-loving Caroline


"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. 

Finding Courage

Finding Courage

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'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. 


Start Horn Blasts in the Early Morning Dark!

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

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!

"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.

Gone Fishin'

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.

Go Beyond

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.

Love, Newfoundland Style

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!

Meeting "Spider Woman" - A SE Asian Adventure

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.

It Takes a Village: Trials of a Toothfairy

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 Whale of a Tale

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?


Snake Charmers: Drawn to Danger

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...

The Great Catalina Marathon Adventure

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

A Valentine Memory: Pretty Woman

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



Just Thinking About 2012

Happy 2012!


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!


House of Joy

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. 

The Magical Classroom: 6th Graders Who Just Won’t Leave

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.

Water and Elephants: A Mixture of Bliss

“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


Relationship Corner: Does He Really have Hearing Loss?

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!

For the Love of Students: A 45-year Perspective

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.