Donna's Blog


Savoring Watershed Moments

Hello, it seems I have been missing in action these past months since I last reached out to you. I have had a lot going on, including a ten day escorted tour of Canada’s Maritime provinces for which I hosted my daughter Julina and her only daughter Jaycelin. We had planned the trip many months prior, and were excited about spending time exploring a part of the world together where we had never before ventured.
I’ve been back a week or so returning with Covid and am finally over my covid isolation. Our claims are in to the airline for the three cancelled flights, the lost luggage and the nights spent in the airport. So, finally I can mentally focus on the experience of the adventure itself with two of my loved ones. We learned so much; about the Acadians, the French Canadians who settled in Eastern Canada and suffered consequences in the 18th century due to their Catholicism; the story of the 80,000-100,000 Loyalists to King George III who fled to safety in Eastern Canada during the American Revolution; the intricacies of the oyster farming industry; the immensity of the 110 million pound haul of lobsters harvested annually out the deep Canadian waters; and so much more. All of what we learned was fascinating including meeting the generous, friendly Canadians themselves. However, it pales when put up against the experience of time spent as roommates with my daughter and granddaughter.
As I continue to mull this over, the mental picture projects of Jaycelin jumping up on my queen sized bed and tucking herself under my left arm as I sipped my morning coffee in Nova Scotia. The image fills my heart with joy. She snuggled in just as she did twenty years ago as a five-year old girl. Another mental vision that makes me grin is being on the top deck of the ferry as it crossed from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia, and looking down through the pouring rain to a lower deck where my daughter and granddaughter were delighting in the raw weather. I called to them for a photo and they smiled up at me and spontaneously slipped into dancing an energetic jig right there on the deck of the huge ship! It is all the sweeter for my awareness that Jaycelin’s life in the future will probably not allow the luxury of so many days traveling with her grandmother. 
Exploring these magical trip experiences has provided a channel down which I can see other such long ago precious watershed moments in life. I can look back through a nearly sixty year lens to the last day of my undergraduate education. I was the last roommate to vacate the Lavender Room in the Alpha Gamma Delta house on 28th Street in Los Angeles. It was 1964 and I can vividly see my younger self sitting on my roommate’s stripped down bed, staring out the front window as other students on the Row moved packed boxes back and forth to their cars. I was then keenly aware that my life was about to change drastically, for I would be married the following Saturday. I knew then that I was having a watershed moment; I contemplated what living in the sorority house had meant to me for those two years, and how my life would be very different as I moved into my future. I was right. I did move into my future but not before I took it all in, savoring it.
I shared the idea about these watershed experiences with my husband, Ken, and he too pulled up some exquisite time dividing moments he has savored with his girls’ wrestling team, a journey he began 15 years ago when many of his peers headed for retirement. Perhaps as we move further and further through life, these mindful pauses where we take it all in become more and more valuable.
The agony of our lost luggage and cancelled flights is fading and I am left with some treasures of memory that I will enjoy far into the future. Another such experience was with our tour of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Nova Scotia. Bell, the inventor, was fascinated by flight, inventing flying machines, based upon his study of kites. The museum offers up kites for the patrons. Julina, Jaycelin and I spent a delightful few hours laughing, running, and flying those kites, catching the strong wind off the world’s largest salt water lake, and being somewhat shocked that we had mad kite flying skills!
Travel has many advantages, in that it can allow us to be in the path of opportunities that might not exist in our daily lives. Our trip offered such experiences. I would not ordinarily spend an afternoon successfully flying a kite.
So my take-away from this trip is not just the time spent with my daughter and granddaughter but the value of being mindful of these precious opportunities when they present themselves. They are rare and worth everything. What watershed, time diving moments, have you enjoyed which you can take out and think about in your own life? I would love to hear about them.
My best, donna

Treasure?

I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of “saving” bits and pieces of memories. This morning I got in the mood to clear what I refer to as “my debris field”; the growing stack of thank you cards, invitations and clippings evolving near the phone in the corner of the kitchen desk. I dug into my task, out! Out! out! The thrill of tossing things carried over to my dressing room catchall travel drawer. I got so into my task that I dragged the big kitchen trash can into the room to have at it; sorting through the saved “treasures;” complimentary airline eye masks, combs, tiny packets of extra buttons, cards, receipts, and foreign coins. As I got closer to the bottom of the drawer, I came upon a small stack of blank hotel stationery from my travels. I scolded myself, “Come on Donna, you’ve got to stop saving these sorts of things. People no longer even write letters.” I heard that critical voice in my head.
I stopped what I was doing and stared out the window. Possibly a bit lost in thought, I wandered around the house with the small bundle until I found my husband. “Ken, Ugh! I have been saving blank hotel stationery. How silly I am.”
“I’m not so sure it’s so weird. “ He said, smiling as he drew me into a hug. “You are my revered, possibly strange wife.”
We both laughed. I tried going back to my sorting but the past pulled me into it. When I was a little girl my grandparents, who lived across the street from Farmer’s Market in Hollywood, were my frequent babysitters. Both my grandfather, Big Ray, and my grandmother, Maymie, had a profound influence on the woman I would someday grow up to be. 
In 1929 as a young mother, my grandmother traveled, by herself, around the world, on a six month tour. Her habit was to take a sheet or two of the hotel stationery from every exotic hotel in which she stayed. Across her life, she doled those pieces out in long and friendly letters. She treasured those pieces of paper and taught me to do so.
My grandmother modeled so much for me. When I was 18 years-old she took me as her companion on a six week cruise of the South Pacific on the Matson Line ship, the Mariposa. It was time-dividing for me as it was six weeks of being treated as a real adult. She modeled high values, the importance of independence, and taught me about investments. In 1963, before I married, she drove me around the Venice, California peninsula (now Marina Peninsula) and showed me lots for sale filled with oil wells. She explained that I could purchase such a lot, a block from the beach, for $10,000 and that she would help me. I decided not to do that, but the fact that she took me real estate looking at age 20 was an important lesson.
She taught the value of world travel and having a heart for other cultures and people. It was she to whom I ran as a ten year-old in the Woolworth’s ten cent store in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was eager to show her that I had found a drinking fountain that served mineral water, surely that’s what “Colored Water” must have meant? 
She taught me to have compassion, to treasure the past, and to have an appreciation for the family collection of hand painted porcelain. Only recently did I realize that my living room looks an awfully lot like the living room in her house during my growing up years, complete with her small Chinese nut bowl on the coffee table. Certainly, without her guidance during my impressionable years, being a port of calm in my chaotic childhood, I would not have come to be who I am, to appreciate the past, or to love history, or art. In rethinking about my stash of blank hotel stationery from the 2017 Japan trip, staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo, I am realizing it is emblematic of my grandmother's great influence. 
Maybe I need to relax a little. If saving some sheets of stationery for letters I will never write is some small act which connects me to my heritage, maybe it’s something for me to celebrate rather than to criticize. Surely Maymie helped to mold the anxious girl I once was into the woman I became. Perhaps those little blank pages are in many ways a bit of buried treasure. I shared this with my youngest sister, Diana, who came along 27 years after me. [I have 4 sisters and 3 brothers]. Diana says she too has the same stationery habit! We both laughed and understood that this is one more lovely connection that further binds us to our past. So “treasure?” I think so.
What quirky little habits do you have which draw you closer to some moments in your past? I love hearing what you are thinking. My best, donna

An Extraordinary Encounter

I’ve been aware for a while now of the incredible power of serendipity, placing ourselves in the path of opportunity, where remarkable things often occur. I had such an encounter Sunday at Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Eight weeks earlier, I had signed up as a volunteer to lead a tour for the Wounded Warriors Project. I looked forward to it. That morning, as I donned my docent attire I was aware of a shimmer of excitement charging through my body. I knew the day would be a challenge, that it could rattle my emotions in ways I did not yet know, as I would be touring a small group consisting of veterans who might be wheelchair bound and or blind. I mentally prepared myself. I might need to become the eyes.
I arrived at the mission early on a warm April morning and waited patiently for my guests. I was told that today only one Wounded Warrior would be joining the tour. Soon a tall woman, near my age, with one leg encased in a heavy metal brace, using a white cane, slowly ambled through the gatehouse door on the arm of a young woman guide. I greeted them and introduced myself. I learned their first names.
“Do you hug?” the veteran asked hopefully.
“I do, of course.” I responded as I leaned in. She dodged my big Spanish hat and proceeded to kiss me on one cheek and then the other. Later I realized she was using her remaining senses of smell and touch to get an idea of who I was. That embrace alone was astonishing. She next asked her aide to take our photograph together.
Feeling a bit rattled, and to ensure that I had their names straight, I repeated my name and she offered, “I am Angela Longboat.” I was startled by her intriguing last name. She elaborated, “I am Mohawk. My DNA says I am 93% Mohawk. I am descended from longboat builders, you know, the big canoes which carried ten to twenty men, hence the last name “Longboat.” I grew up on the Rez in upstate New York. When I went to Indian school the authorities changed my tribal first name to Angela.”
Flabbergasted, I shared that I had seen photos of the big canoes the Tongva people built in the Los Angeles basin, I explained how they had extensive trading with the inhabitants of the Channel Islands. I could see that I had Angela’s full attention and she certainly had mine. We proceeded to the grinding stone where my explanations continued. I handed acorns to her and described the pockets in the grinding rock. Narrating, as we slowly walked through the gardens, I described the colorful red hollyhocks, the abundant yellow and pink roses, and the physical structure and texture of the mission. Angela’s recreation therapist joined our group.
Arriving at the museum room dedicated to the local Acjachemen people, I described the display items; the decoy duck, the handmade fishing nets, the beautiful baskets exemplifying the many skills of the indigenous people of the West Coast. Angela said that she had earned a doctoral degree in Native Studies and began telling me of the life and skills of the native people of the East Coast. I was spellbound. I could not imagine that I had a Native American sharing all this with me!
The tour continued. We wandered into the wine making room and I told them that my fourth grade students loved to mash imaginary grapes. I offered that they could go down the three steep steps to the bottom of the vat if they wished. I was thinking it was too much. I was wrong! Angela was up for anything! The three of them slowly descended the stairs, I continued talking about the wine making. At the bottom of the vat, Angela held onto the rail and using her strong left foot, we all began delightedly stomping imaginary grapes. Angela’s face was beaming with joy! As she stomped she exclaimed, “My people placed skins on top of the fermenting vats to enhance the process!”
The tour continued like that, she would ponder what she was hearing and then share her own knowledge. The narration had become a conversation. Understanding she was from out-of-state, I was not sure how much she knew about California geography as I elaborated on the mission’s vast land holdings.
She explained, “I attended Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, and then I transferred to USC.” Having Cal-Poly grandsons, I am particularly interested in San Luis Obispo. I told her that the Mission at San Luis Obispo was an “accidental mission.” Father Serra had not planned on it, but during the early days of the Spanish arriving in Alta California, the soldiers and missionaries were starving until they discovered bears in the San Luis Obispo area. The bears provided a rich food source which got them through a cruel winter. Father Serra decided then to build a mission in that area to ensure the food supply. Angela knew of the area’s bears, “Los Osos”, the bears. She then told me a lot more about those bears, and what kind they were [black bears], than I had known before!
To say that my 90 minute encounter was exhilarating would be an understatement. I would have never imagined sharing one of my favorite subjects with a person so deeply engaged with it, who had lived it. I could tell that I was in the presence of a great intellect, an intellect both humble and fascinated by history, an intellect eager to exchange ideas.
As the day unfolded I learned that the injuries she had sustained were so devastating that she was not expected to ever walk nor talk again, but there she was walking, stomping “grapes,” and offering me a view into the indigenous Native American experience that I could not possibly ever achieve on my own. I was inspired by the who of her; an injured warrior defeating all odds and walking and talking, enjoying life and sharing her knowledge. I mentioned about being inspired to write about her. She handed me her card.
At home I did an Internet search to discover that she had sustained massive injuries during an explosion while serving in Iraq, that she served 25 years in the military and retired as a Colonel. I put myself in the path of possibility and came away being inspired by a true heroine, a warrior, a patriot, and a great intellect. I feel blessed.
I love hearing what you are thinking about. Have you recently had an extraordinary moment or encounter? My best, donna
Internet search included this photo from 2011

The Thrill of the Unexpected

Do you recall a TV show back in the day, People are Funny? It was hosted by Art Linkletter. A theme from that show became a very popular book, also by Linkletter, Kids Say the Darndest Things,” and the phrase became a part of our national lexicon. Other such humorous shows have delighted us across the years. The fact is that people are funny and when one has the sublime pleasure of encountering such a person in such a rare moment, it is something to marvel at, perhaps even to cherish. Last week, I had such an encounter. I am still smiling about it.
It all started when my bestie from the fourth grade, Leanne, learned that her out-of-state twenty-five-year old granddaughter, Raven, was coming from Colorado to stay for a few days, to be accompanied by her friend Lauren. Lee and I had been prone to laughter as girls and teens and pretty much giggled our way to adulthood. Anyway, as Lee got to planning their stay, she discussed possible itineraries with me. Recalling our sun-kissed growing up years, I enthusiastically volunteered to be “Uber” driver and tour guide, as I knew four of us gals together would have an enjoyable time.
SoCal put on its best show for the out-of-staters, gifting us with 80 degree Santa Ana days, the kind of days which Easterners only dream about as they dig out their snow covered cars. The first day, was filled with browsing the boutiques at Balboa, ferry rides and feasting at the historic Pavilion restaurant. The second day was a tour of Ole` Hanson’s Casa Romantica on the cliffs above San Clemente Beach Pier. All of it was as much fun as we had hoped. On the pier, overlooking the surf, our visitors marveled at the California beaches and wet-suited surfers. We stuffed ourselves with delicious seafood at the Fishman Restaurant overlooking the water.
Sated, we strolled along the rough planks of the pier, admiring the day, when we came upon a strikingly beautiful seagull. We stopped and stared at the elegant bird. He did not blink. He stood like a sentry, feathers gleaming in the mid day sun. Lee commented on the beautiful spots on his tail feather. I noted the red mark on his beak. Raven considered its relationship to albatross. We stared. The bird continued to stand erect. We four studied him in awe. We were transfixed.
Suddenly, from across the width of the pier a fisherman appeared, speaking in a falsetto to mimic the seabird, he declared, “Five dolla to look!”
A bit startled, all of us glanced across to the ventriloquist’s grinning face. We, all four, are experienced international travelers and understood at once his joke. In many parts of the underdeveloped world, it is common practice for visitors to ask to take a photograph and to tip for such an opportunity. It is considered a great faux pas to simply take a photo without seeking permission, nor sharing a small payment. Knowing all this, we grinned back at the beaming fisherman, as we began to chuckle.
Soon we moved off a bit from the bird. The fisherman understanding that his audience got his jest persisted, louder this time, still in the bird’s high voice, “You wanna picture? You pay ten dolla!”
That cinched it! It was too funny and we nearly doubled over in giggles as he had hit a nerve of common experience. Between gasps of hilarity, Lauren offered a memory. She explained that as a student in Ghana, she was the first white woman many villagers had ever seen and people often stared openly. Smiling at us and recalling her own joke, she would grin at those gathered around her, and say, “That is five cedi.” We laughed some more.
We had a golden visit, perhaps all the more enchanting for enduring the endless months of mask wearing and fighting to avoid the ubiquitous coronavirus. In any event, the next day the young women made their way to Venice and the sights of Los Angeles. We had luxuriated in their energy, laughter, and in seeing our own corner of the continent through new eyes. My favorite take-away, however, was our delight in the unexpected. Imagine a chance meeting with a fisherman ventriloquist! Maybe the thing about joy, is that it can pop up anywhere, proving once again that people are funny.

On Being Alone: The Power of One

Happy New Year!
For the second time in two years, our coveted tickets to see Hamilton were cancelled due to Covid. Frustrated, my daughter, her husband and I purchased admission for that particular Sunday, January 2, to see the well-reviewed Jane Goodall exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. On the eve of our departure both of my companions fell ill. I considered aborting the trip. After all it is a long way into the city, and I almost always travel with a companion. I realized of late that I had developed a habit of going places with others. I decided I would go alone. Off I went to Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
Upon entering the museum and providing my vaccination card, I was admitted to the spellbinding Goodall exhibit. Wonderful technology allowed a video presentation of Jane explaining to us the importance of anecdotes, observation, and the immense power of the single individual. Goodall fervently believes we can save the environment if we each work together toward that goal. I was inspired. The exhibit further explained that paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey was instrumental in starting Dr. Goodall on her chimpanzee project in Tanzania. On a 2011 trip to Ngorongoro, Tanzania, our family had been captivated by the 3.5 million year-old fossilized footprints of an early hominin discovered by the Leakey family. The Leakeys had been on my radar for years, ever since Richard Leakey was a guest speaker when I taught at Cypress College, and I had the privilege of hosting him.
After an extended time in the Goodall exhibit, I made my way to the Becoming Los Angeles rooms where I encountered photos of the oil fields on Venice Beach where I grew up. I had never seen these powerful views before. They were remarkable in that they showed the density of the 1930’s and 40’s oil wells on the beach shore where I grew up in the 40’s, sandwiched between derricks. As I continued to appreciate the beginnings of my birth city, I became more rapt when I came upon a portrait displayed on the wall of my friend, Jacque Nunez from San Juan Capistrano. Jacque is a Native American and a prominent spokesperson for indigenous people. She has dedicated her life to representing the important contributions of Native People.
I realized that had I been with companions, my tour of the museum would have been far different. After a way too short three hours, I drove myself to Venice Beach where I spent most of my childhood, and where Ken and I visited many times researching for my Venice book in 2020. However, the pandemic lockdown limited our access. I wanted to walk around and take it in with its current bells, whistles and quirks.
I parked on the beach lot at the end of Washington, and walked the few steps onto the fishing pier. I was astonished to discover that I had serendipitously caught the King Tide at its lowest point!! Controlling my impulse to jump up and down with joy, lest others think me strange, I quickly pulled off my shoes and set out walking south on the wet sand toward Ballona Creek. It was a venture I had not taken since 1964, in the summer of our marriage when Ken and I lived in an apartment over the fish market at the pier. The extremely low tide revealed dozens of perfect sand dollars, scallops, razor and large clam shells set among muscle remains and seaweed. I was immediately transported back to my shell collecting, beach walking girlhood on this very stretch of sand. I was delighted and became lost in my old ways of being at the beach, on the edge of the continent, which included a whole lot of alone time, thinking, and being in nature with myself.
When I got home I shared my adventurous day with Ken. Smiling at me he said, “You know Donna, I wasn’t so sure about you driving alone all the way into the inner city, but I am glad you did. I see now that you still know how to be alone. I’m proud of you.”
Continuing my pondering, I recalled two things one of my favorite authors, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anna Quindlin has to say. She urges us to live more in the moment while she wishes that she had simply paid more attention to her children when they were young. She regrets that she kept so busy. The other idea of hers I admire is how important it is for us to be alone with ourselves. I realize that’s what my Sunday was about, a day of being alone with myself. Perhaps when we allow ourselves personal time we have the luxury of thinking about bigger things such as the environment.
I have been writing and thinking about my new year’s resolution for a while now. I resolved to have more open spaces in my calendar, but maybe that is not really it. Perhaps I simply need more conscious alone time. I know that when I am alone to think, creative ideas flow to my consciousness. So my new year’s resolution is to carve out more alone time and to give myself permission to live more in the moment, to set the To Do list aside, and be more with myself. I want to find ways to do more about the environment as well. How about you? Are you taking time to be alone with yourself, to celebrate the power of one? What kind of New Year’s resolutions are you contemplating? I am interested in your thoughts on this subject.
I wish you a wonderful, healthful, peaceful new year filled with respect for yourself. My best, donna

Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us
As I adventure through my life my radar is always on, scanning for unique moments. The other day I went birthday shopping with my granddaughter Kate, who is turning seventeen. We were strolling through the mall after an indulgence at the Cheesecake Factory when Kate encountered a school friend, Angelina. After hugging their greetings, Kate bent down on her knee to meet Angelina’s five brothers, two of whom were toddler ages. The greeting became extended to the point that the children’s dad, Scott, and I introduced ourselves and began to chat as he stood sentinel over the mighty stroller where the two jumpy three year olds were contained.
“Hey, what a beautiful big family you have!” I admired.
“We adopted them all out of foster care.”
With that proclamation my heart did a little skipping thing. Here we were on the eve of the season for giving thanks and appreciating family life, and I got to meet a big, strapping dad who described himself as a stay-at-home-dad while his wife held down a job. Joking, he offered, “She’s the one who has it easy!” We laughed.
Our conversation continued and he shared their personal story of wanting a big family. This was the boisterous result. I told him that long ago, my husband, Ken, and I had fostered a teen for a few years and how well her life had turned out. After learning the names of all the smiling boys and their ages, we parted. Continuing down the mall, Kate filled me in about Angelina and how in the fifth grade she was formally adopted, and how jubilant she had been telling Kate all about it on the school bus.
Later that day when I could really think about this husband and wife growing a lively family of five boys and one girl out of the foster system, my heart swelled to comprehend the colossal commitment this couple has made to change the lives of these very fortunate children. I could feel Scott’s steadfast strength, pride and commitment. Poems and TV profiles are offered up about our unassuming neighbors, people of valor and pluck quietly making the world a better place, but you do not necessarily encounter them at the mall!
The next day I was able to have a conversation with the mother, Aubrey, of this beautiful brood and she reported that she was moved to tears by my “take” on her family. She described how humorous and what a “rock star” her Scott is. She said that she remembered looking in the rear view mirror of their van about a year ago, seeing laughing and screaming children running amuck, and saying to Scott, “How did this happen?” In his wry way he answered, “It escalated quickly!”
She further explained that they had six adoptions in a five and a half year period and that as the mother she feels incredibly blessed, and that having such a husband who would adopt even more and loves them all abundantly is huge.
So often we hear naysayers complaining about the hopelessness in the world, the problems with our youth and more. To me this couple proves that individuals can have a positive impact. Their loving influence on these six children will magnify into the future. We must not believe others when someone decrees that individual efforts make no difference.
Do you recall that Starfish story? The one where the cynical old man is walking along the beach at dawn when he spies a youth far ahead, bending and reaching his arms near the shore line. He had thought the person was doing Pilates poses. When he neared he saw a youth who was bending down, sifting through the debris from the previous night’s storm and grasping a starfish which had washed ashore.
The critical man demands, “What are you doing?”
The young man replies, “When the sun rises the starfish will die. They cannot get back to the sea!”
“Ha. You could never save all the starfish washed up here on the sand. Look, the debris goes on for miles. You cannot possibly make a difference!” The man concluded.
Bending, the youth smiled and flailed a starfish out to sea. “Well I made a difference to that one!”
Indeed there are angels walking around among us. My heart is full as I think of this robust family quietly changing lives and making a positive impact on the world. I wish you a beautiful holiday season. I would love to hear what you have been thinking about, about what angels have been walking nearby. My best, donna

The Little Engine That Could!

Generally, I pride myself on being fairly well evolved in terms of my inner life, but recently I have caught myself believing some internal messages that limited my behavior in a negative way. I am guilty of some bad thinking. Ugh. I hate to admit it but it is true.
Last time I wrote to you, I had discovered yoga through an experience with my daughter and three granddaughters at Goat-Llama yoga. The takeaway from that day was that perhaps there was something to this whole yoga thing. That was 43 days ago and I have enjoyed at least one yoga practice each day since then. What have I learned? I realize now with a back that no longer aches and a new spring in my step, that I was influenced by an inner constraint. I had told myself that the exercise I got with the dog walks, horses, mucking, and such was enough. Well maybe it was, but it was NOT enough for my back. I had limited my behavior with a “I am exercising enough” message. However, I had a tendency to stoop over and my lower back hurt a lot of the time, so there was a need for more.
Enough exercise was limiting belief number one which I am rectifying by continuing yoga. My sister-in-law, Kassie, further inspired me when she shared that she had 250 straight days of yoga and recommended Adriene’s Yoga channel on YouTube. This has been life changing for me. Adriene offers a meditative experience encouraging her participants to set an intention each day. This is not to suggest that there have not been some obstacles to my daily practice; when I began and the dogs were in the living room with me, River, the puppy, thought that because I was on the floor that we were going to wrestle. Well, that did not work. I locked the dogs up. Today when I turned Adriene on my Ipad, the kittens were about. It did not take Apollo but a minute to jump on my back during “Table Top” pose. Not being one to give up, I ignored him. When Adriene had us move to “Mountain,” I was startled as the five month old kitten jumped all the way up to my chest, grabbing hold of my shirt. I staggered a bit realizing this was not all that productive, as I pressed on. I felt like that Little Engine in the children’s story, The Little Engine that Could, as I bravely moved through my poses, thinking, “I think I can, I know I can.” Finally, I realized that Kitten Yoga is not my jam. I am locking them up tomorrow.
The next limiting message I have been hearing in my head is, “You don’t need to travel any more, you’ve seen everything. On the last three small group adventures you were the oldest one. It’s time to hang it up.” I was so cozy at home during the pandemic lockdown with Ken and the animals, enjoying our rural environs, that I had decided enough was enough. I’d stay home in the future. However, I had that Iceland trip planned, paid for, and postponed for two years, so when Iceland opened in September, my daughter-in-law, Jenny, and I went on the trip.
A few days into the expedition I found myself on an amphibious boat cruising around a lake stuffed with ice bergs in the south of Iceland. Hmm. It occurred to me then and has stayed with me, that perhaps I have not seen everything, there is still so much more out there. I certainly had NOT been in an amphibious boat chasing huge pieces of glacier. So I have booked a trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada for next June and I am investigating kayaking in the Arctic Ocean.
The point is that we can create life limiting thoughts in our heads, and then act upon them in a way that shrinks our human experience. I was chatting with my husband, Ken, about this and he shared that he sees the effect of negative self talk on his high school girl wrestlers all the time. He observes girls who must walk off the mat in mid match because they have succumbed to a panic attack. He must constantly work to help them overcome their limiting belief that they are “not good enough.” Their negative thoughts paralyze them. This contrasts with his other athletes who seem fearless, listening to internal messages such as “go for it!” or “what do I have to lose?”
 Our internal world has a profound influence on our behavior, and often times it is unconscious. Once again I am reminded of that Little Engine as he sets off up that daunting hill, “I think I can, I think I can…”
Maybe we can take a lesson from that Little Engine. “I know I can, I know I can, and I know that I do not need to listen to my limiting thoughts when they infiltrate my behavior.” What limiting messages have you had to overcome? What messages are still plaguing you? You know I love to hear what you are thinking. My best, donna

Goat Yoga and a New Perspective

Goodness, I find myself at this “well seasoned” stage of life once again reevaluating my choices, creating a new action plan, and purpose statement. Really? Again?
This has come about in the wake of the long lockdown due to the world wide pandemic. Honestly, I got so comfortable staying at home, entertaining myself with the animals, writing, reading, and exercising that I had sort of decided that I was through with all my running around the world adventuring on big trips. I had kind of thought I would simply mellow out my life at home with my husband and family. That was what I was thinking when suddenly last month a very long postponed journey to Iceland was back on..
I admit I was hesitant. Iceland is far away, and the prospect of being squeezed into a crowded airplane while Delta Variant raged on did not inspire me. However, my daughter-in-law and I had paid our money and Iceland was ready for us. We met up with our dozen or so tour mates and enjoyed the hikes and sights of an eco tour; glaciers, geysers, an active volcano, waterfalls, and more. It was all marvelous, but the higher and further we hiked, the more I was hearing my trip mates commenting on how “spry” I was and that I was an “inspiration.” Mind you the travel mates, excepting my daughter-in-law, were well into their 60’s and 70’s. As the most senior in the group, I felt a sting of being outed as “other.” These “compliments” felt “ageist” as they kept coming to me, making me uncomfortable. I admit I began to feel annoyed. Probably the comments were well intentioned but they hit a sour note and were not really welcome.
However, the majesty of the vast volcanic lava fields, the expedition through ice bergs in an amphibious boat, and the enormity of hiking to Europe’s largest waterfall, were telling me a different story, that there is still so much more to see and do. Then I saw this REGRETS OF PEOPLE WHEN THEY ARE DYING chart by Barry Selby on social media and I began to question my earlier thoughts.
All that was roiling around in my brain on Saturday when I joined my daughter and three grand daughters for Goat and Llama Yoga in San Diego. It was a sprawling class of 30 under a shade at a farm. Not having practiced yoga in a decade I thought I was situating myself at the back of the class where I could hide out. I was wrong. I had inadvertently put myself in the front row a few feet from the instructor, thus challenging me to do my best, to rise above my reticence. Class began. I contorted into the poses, the goats came out, the llamas came out, but my attention was focused on the where of my arms and legs. By the end of the class my back, sore from all the plane rides and driving 1500 miles around Iceland, felt good, really good.
My takeaway from Goat yoga was that I must keep it up, maybe without the goats! I have committed to a practice every day and have been loyal to that decision. In addition I have reevaluated my earlier plan, I am not giving up traveling until I have to. I do not want any regrets. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “yes it was a good life, but I regret that I succumbed to the expectation that older folk should live a smaller life.”
 Also I am changing my perception of what it means when people offer to help me, comment on my stamina, and set me apart. I am going to graciously accept the help when my fellow shoppers at the grocery store want to lift the water or the bag of carrots into my cart. I am going to smile and say thank you. I am embracing who I am, but I will not let it shrink nor annoy me. I am changing my ways. I will make a conscious effort to not let others define me. This is our time now. If we can go for it, why shouldn’t we? I think we need to embrace the attention, say thank you, and keep on keeping on. If any of what I have recently been experiencing resonates with you, I would love to know what you are thinking.
My best, donna

Sometimes the Silver Lining Has Some Mildew

Greetings as summer winds down. Recently, I learned a lesson that sometimes joy comes with a price tag that’s not readily apparent!! The incident reminded me that “no good deed goes unpunished.” On a warm summer day Ken and I adopted a litter of 8 week old kittens. Our home front gang of cats had gotten so old that we joked that they were carrying around their AARP cards instead of hunting critters on our rural property. Ken was insistent that we adopt more cats.
Striking out at the shelters, I turned to Craigslist where I found three male Bengal kittens up for adoption. I made arrangements to meet them and perhaps adopt them. Ken and I met the kitty lady in a motel parking near Knott’s Berry Farm.
We parked in front of the motel, which had seen better days, where we were offered easy viewing of the woman loading the kittens into a personal metal shopping cart at the back of a fenced parking lot. Kittens on board, they were wheeled toward us.
We said our hellos, admired the strikingly beautiful young cats and quickly agreed to adopt them. We placed them into our cat carrier, thanked her, and headed home in the 5 pm. traffic.
I was over the moon!! Shangri La! I had never seen sweeter kittens, nor had we had any kittens in over a decade. As we made our way down the 405 Freeway Ken said, “Donna you do realize that the motel is a county reimbursed homeless shelter, right?”
“Huh?”
Ken continued, “I saw four adult people going in and out of that room where the lady was organizing the kittens. Do you remember that she mentioned that they had a dog and the parents of the kittens with her?”
I didn’t say anything, but I thought that’s a lot of folk and animals in one room. We dropped the topic and discussed the kittens’ transition at our home. I did not think more about it. As the days unfolded we discovered that we had the most loving, happy kittens. They were used to be being handled, leaping into our laps for petting and love. We were smitten. The granddaughters and my mother came to meet them. We were all beyond delighted with the new additions. Our days were filled with fun as we played with them, especially after the vet gave them gold stars during their wellness visit as their vaccinations began.
A couple of weeks passed and my son and his family returned from a Lake Powell houseboat vacation. He casually mentioned that his youngest daughter had come down with ringworm on the boat. They used an antidote and the spots cleared up. I assured him that it could not have been from the kittens as they had passed the veterinary inspection. 
However, my son had planted a seed of doubt in my mind. I began to study what I thought were “poison oak” spots on me more closely. Oh no! I realized that I had not contracted poison oak during my horse ride, but that I had 12 ringworm lesions on my face and body. I looked like the Zombie Apocalypse! There were panicky calls. I managed an emergency dermatologist appointment; oral and topical medications were prescribed, and I frantically called the veterinarian, The vet immediately prescribed medicated baths for the kittens and oral medication. We cancelled all our plans and commitments for the next two weeks. I was contagious!
That was the turning point where the bliss had morphed into something else entirely. Conscientiously, our 12 year old granddaughter, Caroline, and I began our nursing duties. We played YouTube videos on how to bathe small kittens. We followed the directions. As we dried the kittens after the first round of baths, we could hear suspicious rasping sounds in their tiny lungs. They had inhaled water. Real worry began to set in. No longer was ringworm the focus but we were concerned that our “cure” had threatened the lives of the kittens. We tucked them in for the night and hoped for the best by morning.
I had a terrible time sleeping for concern over the kittens. The next day, their breathing was still rough and they had developed coughs. I sounded the alarm and the veterinarian worked us into her busy schedule. I worried. The doctor diagnosed pneumonia and prescribed morning and night administration of antibiotics on top of the oral anti-fungal medication. We began a ten day regime of administering three oral syringes of medication per day to each of the three kittens. I was a bit frantic. I spent my time vacuuming, running loads of laundry and disinfecting the kittens’ area.
Slowly, the babies recovered and my lesions and those on the granddaughters healed as well. I no longer looked like a Zombie and the kittens returned to their playful selves. We are all recovering. The kittens never did show any symptoms, the doctor described them as “asymptomatic” and told the story of being an intern in an animal shelter where all 30 of its cats had ringworm. She said it was a nightmare to resolve.
My dermatologist was more philosophical saying, “Well this is the price we pay for loving our critters.” I am still cleaning like a maniac, but we seem to have turned the corner. The lesson I have learned from all this is that sometimes the silver lining has a mildew beneath it. Would I do it all over again knowing what I know now? Hmmm... Of course I would!! They are precious and I know we will have years of enjoyment. Eventually they will be old enough to take over the hunting tasks our older cats have abandoned. 
Did your summer go okay? Are you staying healthy? I would love to hear how you have been doing. My best, donna

More on the 'Power of Yes' - Trang's Graduation Party

Greetings! Across the years you might have noticed that some of my favorite themes in life seem to be marinating myself in serendipitous situations. I practice noticing the small everyday happenings, and perhaps saying yes, when it would be just as easy to say no.
Well, last Sunday was just such a day. As my husband Ken winds up his girls’ wrestling season at the high school, he has been invited to some of the senior girls’ family graduation parties. Last Sunday, he wondered if I would like to join him at one of them? Up for a new experience, but not holding any particular expectations, I joined in for what turned out to be such a thought provoking and sensational feast that days later I am still thinking about it.
We arrived at a beautiful Spanish colonial house on a hill in San Clemente, greeted by Trang, the wrestler and her father. We met a few other guests in a room with about ten people who had also arrived right on time. Within a few minutes, Trang’s mother, Linh, came up to me and said, “The food is ready!” I could see that the thing to do was to grab a plate and get started. As my eyes took in the expansive offering of, perhaps, a dozen Vietnamese dishes, I caught my breath. Incredulous, I asked of the hostess, “Did you cook all day?” Smiling she confessed that she and her daughter indeed had cooked all day, perhaps even some the day before.
Her commitment to her daughter, the party, and the guests, filled me with awe. I understand Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and to see the language of Acts of Service performed by Linh for her wonderful family warmed my soul.
As the first guest to be invited to the food buffet that dominated Linh’s kitchen island, I was so stunned by the presentation that I asked if I might take a photo. Not having my phone with me, she offered to take some for me. I pulled her family into the picture as we posed in front of the colorful dishes. Seeing my enthusiasm she explained some of the what was offered.
Fascinated, I asked further, learning that she had been a sous chef at the Riverside 3 Hotel in Da Nang City where she met her American husband, a retired Marine. I did not know what all of the many dishes were, but I identified chicken parmesan, tender beef ribs, a meat skewer, barbecue pork spring rolls with rice paper (goi cuon), salads, homemade cream puffs, homemade cheese cake, and cut up melon. Following up the next day, I texted Linh my questions about the food. I learned that there was a pasta salad and a banana flowers salad with chicken.
With my plate full of a sampling of most of it, I found a seat at a long table and joined the others, who by now also had plates. The conversations were easy and I enjoyed making some new acquaintances, but what has lingered with me is witnessing Linh acting out her devotion to her family.
She has invited me to coffee and she is offering me her story. For now I know that she with her two daughters, and her new husband, arrived in the US in 2017. Upon arrival, Linh and her teen girls had little English. I admire her bravery to take on a new land, new culture and new language. I know that her daughter Trang is an A+ student with a bright future at the University of Arizona. Linh and I are planning on becoming friends. I feel energized by having had a cultural adventure. When we meet for coffee I will learn more of her life.
I’m still smiling about that day. I said yes, wandered out of my comfort zone by the fact that I knew no one at that gathering, and I was honored to get to be a part of something very special, just because I said ‘yes.” Maybe this is something for all of us to think about as our global seclusion comes to an end. Maybe it’s time we simply wander 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. For now I admire the courage of this one mother of two who came to a new land.
I love to hear what you are thinking. My best, donna

Waking a Sleeping Bear

California is racing toward the less restrictive yellow tier; all around us we can feel the stirrings of new beginnings, as our world returns to taken-for-granted lives where we could hug one another and visit in-person. Closed down for fifteen months, I almost feel like a bear blinking her eyes open as she staggers out of a long, dark hibernation.
Last evening, my husband, Ken arrived home after a victorious night of wrestling in which his high school girls’ wresting team sailed undefeated to another South Coast League Championship. Their sights are now set on the CIF-SS Dual Meet Tournament. What seemed almost impossible months ago became a reality, the girls have been allowed physical contact. I have watched Ken and his co-coach struggle all year, trying to keep the teen wrestlers engaged in the combat sport when they only had imaginary opponents. The coaches used creativity and ingenuity to help pass the agonizing months of no contact, social distancing, and mask wearing. Somehow they succeeded.
How have you fared? Were you successful in holding yourself together during the deprivations of: no contact, no outings, no parties, no activities? About five weeks ago, fully vaccinated, my daughter hosted a belated 21st birthday outdoor dinner party for her son James. I was the beneficiary of my first grandchildren hugs in over a year; I felt embarrassed when tears appeared on my cheeks. It shook me to see how much those hugs meant to me. I had been practicing “a stiff upper lip” in the absence of physical contact with my loved ones.
Hopefully, such an event as a worldwide lockdown will not be upon us again. It has been such a complete time-out in our lives that there are lessons to be learned on how we can do better moving forward. What did you learn? Last week, I met with a much younger, single, lady friend for dinner. As we were seated, she removed her mask, and offered that the pandemic taught her that she is unwilling to live the rest of life single. She is going to start a dating campaign and find a life partner.
Well, that certainly opened a serious conversation on the important understandings we have gained from this crushing time. For a vast majority of us we had never heard of Zoom meetings before the spring of 2020, much less understood the advantages of them. We have learned that we can work from home. Probably in-person office hours will never be what they were in the past.
On a more intimate level I found that not being so involved out-of-the-home allowed me to have the zest to act on my creative thoughts. As you know, I woke up the second month of the lockdown with an idea to write about growing up in the 4th most productive oil field in California, on the beach in Venice. I wanted to preserve that piece of my lived history. The months researching and writing that book felt like a pleasure trip because I had the LUXURY of time. I was not trying to cram in writing between teaching college classes, raising a family, or leading tours at the mission. I had nothing but time, glorious time, and because I did not feel rushed, it was an extremely pleasurable writing experience.
Across my life I have not been a “foodie.” My son-in-law’s favorite story to tell on me is that upon all of us arriving in Rome one year, hungry and wondering where to eat, I pointed to a Chinese restaurant across the square. He is still laughing at the idea of being in Italy and me thinking of chow mien! Admittedly, I eat to live, not so much living to eat. However, cooking during the lockdown, three meals a day for 15 months got me more interested in things culinary. I bought an Instant Pot and fell in love with it. When I joined a Facebook Instant Pot cooking community, they welcomed me in as a fellow “Foodie.” I was beside myself with joy for this new designation in my life. I have thrown myself into it all; reading recipes, studying ingredients and how they relate to one another. All this has led to a new orientation toward mindful eating. The result, Ken and I have each lost more than 20 pounds during this lockdown.
Another thing I practiced was creating pockets of silence within me. I’ve carved out long moments of quiet where I let my creative right brain hemisphere have at it. The daydreaming and mulling have allowed me to come up with some new ideas for my art and writing. It has helped me to be still.
Excited about this topic of Lessons Learned from the Pandemic, I did a bit of research asking others what they too have learned. Some of the responses: “to recognize the value of the people that surround you. The pandemic really makes one think about what others bring to your relationship and how important they are.” A friend who lives alone reports: “I have learned even more than ever how important staying positive is and recreating your life in a way to stay safe and active.”
 “The pandemic has taught us that we are way more flexible in our routines than we imagine, but that we still want our routines back as soon as we can have them. We are all very resilient, but we really do prefer to be around people.”
Other insights: “If I can live through this, I can live through anything.” 
“I had to find my inner introvert because I love people.”
“I learned to do handyman jobs and how to prepare for on-camera Zoom meetings and that you can get a pitcher of Margaritas to go!” 
“Slowing down is important. Time with friends and family is most important. Work is secondary. Covid put a spotlight on our necessities and made everything else seem silly. Outdoor activities really are fun, and I don’t need to be around people all that much to be happy. Thank God for the Internet. Lockdown would have been a completely different experience without it.”
What have you learned? I would love for you to share it. Going forward I intend to keep more space open in my schedule. I think I will mark off days in my calendar and not fill my life up with quite so much doing, and aim for more being. I am waiting to hear from you. My best, donna

Simmering Below the Surface

Recently, I experienced some emotional triggers which have given me pause. Yesterday, for example: dressed in my mission docent costume, mentally prepared to deliver a bang-up history tour, I parked my car in downtown San Juan Capistrano. I glanced up to see three big flags in front of the new hotel next to the mission, all flying at half mast. Suddenly the painful reminder of the two recent mass killings filled my soul. It felt like a knife in my heart. I took a few deep breaths to get hold of myself. That grim reminder was sobering. As I walked the short block to the mission I fought down the despair of the senseless violence of the last week. By the time I met the tour guests, I had pulled it together.
Later, I had time to reflect on my emotional reaction to those low flags flying. I checked in with myself. I recalled another such trigger; it was seeing cars in the parking lot of the local elementary school after so many months of mandated lockdown. I had been embarrassed that day to feel tears falling down my cheeks as I noted teachers’ cars; a bit of “normal” was coming back. It caught me off guard.
I kept studying this phenomenon of my interior life, tears at seeing cars in a parking lot? Bummed by flags? My thoughts flashed to the past weekend and how dazed I felt being hugged by my loved ones!! Our daughter and son-in-law had hosted a backyard 21st birthday party for their youngest son. I received hugs! There were 15 of us there, and finally, because Ken and I are both well vaccinated, they felt safe hugging us for the first time in a year. I appeared to keep my cool, but as a hug-starved grandmother, the sensation of gathering up love was layered with more intense emotion than I care to admit.
I think for many of us, perhaps for most of us, we have been in a mental state of “guardedness,” waiting for the next thing to pile on. I think we have been far more stressed during the last year of lock down, our worlds upside down, than our conscious self allows. We are brave, resilient people. We put on our “Can Do” masks and move forward. Of course we do. It is who we are, but I think for many of us there is a simmering vat of emotion seething under the surface. Perhaps now as the world begins its slow return to normal, with 90 million of us vaccinated, and predictions that by summer all who desire vaccines will have them, we can begin to let our guards down.
I am coming to understand that I have been through something extremely challenging, something difficult. During the 15 months of the trial against my father, over 30 years ago, I understood the need to take care of myself, to treat myself gently. Maybe by admitting that we have endured a year unlike any other in our lives we can give ourselves permission to be vulnerable humans. Maybe my tears at the parking lot, the agony of the flags at half mast, are a simple expression of my humanity. 
Perhaps more than ever we must take back up our search for precious moments, for finding joy in the littlest of things, like looking at the passengers in the car next to you at the signal and smiling because they are singing their hearts out, or getting a kick out of something others say. I had a fourth grader on a mission tour the other day, and I asked, “Max, I hope you are not getting information overload!” Max looked at me with his sparkling eyes and exclaimed, “That’s impossible, I live for facts!”
I laughed at his charming candor. The world is a beautiful place, admiring a stunning sunset or the way light plays along the carpet in your home, precious moments are waiting for us. My horse-riding companion, Christine, and I burst out laughing the other day when, on horseback, we had to almost dodge the dozens of swallows who were frantically diving into the mud near us to build their nests. 
Of course living in gratitude for being alive, can help us return to some kind of normalcy. I would love to know how you are holding up and your plans for keeping yourself happy. My best, donna

They Came Before Us: Trail Blazers

I recall how nervous I felt the day in 1951 when my eight-year-old self reluctantly appeared on my grandmother’s weekly children’s TV show!! Today I realize that she, Vera May Lewis, was a pioneer in television! This month, National Women’s History Month, allows us to celebrate the pioneering women on whose shoulders we stand.
Our sagging family album revealed her photo on the set of The Playcrafters Club. It aired on Channel 5, KTLA, Thursdays at 5, from 1950 through 1955. According to the Los Angeles Mirror, Playcrafters Club was the oldest educational children’s program on the West Coast. My grandmother was breaking new ground. Today there are hundreds of programs for youth, but back in the early days of TV, in the late 40’s and early 1950’s, the pickings were slim, relying heavily on regional programming. Hers was a local show sponsored by Los Angeles County. As a Senior Recreation Director, she was assigned as host. It was a 30 minute-long craft program where local children created art projects for those at home.
Today our devices allow us to watch anything at anytime, nearly anywhere!! Ninety-eight percent of Americans have televisions. Back in the beginning things were far different. There was one national children’s program, The Howdy Doody Show on NBC which aired from December 1947 until 1960, and by 1956 The Mickey Mouse Club, and soon others, but hers was an important early step.
I am proud of my grandmother, Vera May Cooper Lewis, born in Los Angeles in 1901. After marriage and becoming a mom, she went on to graduate from the University of Southern California in 1929, majoring in Speech. Her career modeled possibilities for me.
What about your own fore bearers on whose shoulders you stand? What family member pioneered for you? I’d love to hear about them.
Still pondering the trail blazers, I examined a few more pages in our decrepit album and came upon my father’s grandmother. A pioneering woman; she raised her two small children while working full time in the family store. She was Lydia Cram Lewis, born in Minnesota in 1859. She, with her pharmacist husband, Charles H.V. Lewis, arrived via rail to the City of Angels in the late 1880’s leaving the civilized comforts of Des Moines, Iowa, for the rugged frontier of the rough “out west,” where gun fights on Saturday night were the norm, and the population was about 15,000 people.
In my mind’s eye, I can see them lumbering off the train, their hands heavily laden with bags, struggling to hold on to their two small children. Their children, daughter, Fayetta, was six and their son, my grandfather, was two. The trunks and cases would have held their worldly household possessions as well as the starting stock for their intended pharmacy. This 1894 photo is of Lydia behind the counter of the Lewis Drug Company at 4th and Broadway in Los Angeles.
They would ultimately become a family of druggists, owning nine pharmacies and cigar shores in Los Angeles. Lydia would earn her California State Board of Pharmacy certification in 1901; as would both of her children. Fayetta, after owning and operating her own pharmacy, would go on to manage the pharmaceutical department of the Hollywood Hospital, while her younger brother, Ray, would also own his own businesses.
My memory skipped to my favorite of his stores, at Sunset and Gardner in Hollywood. I loved the sparkling medicine ball hanging over the front door. Upon arrival at the store, my little sister and I would spring from the car and dash, giggling, through the front door heading straight for the candy counter! 
Lydia and my grandfather were very close, hence my childhood was filled with his fond narratives about her life. One of my treasures is a collection of his 1903 letters to her. For several months at age 19, for health, he needed to live in the Mojave area, a long, dusty, and bumpy 66 miles in a stage coach from Los Angeles. The penciled, hand written pages describe tasks of everyday life like his packing his trunk for the stagecoach and oiling his gun. Like teens today might do, he asked his mom for clean socks! These stories allow us a peek into lives lived in Southern California almost 120 years ago, and the pioneers who settled our land, making possible the lives we live today. I realize that through my grandfather’s stories, Lydia Lewis has influenced the woman I have become.
I would love to know of one of the women on whose shoulders you stand. I enjoy your thoughts. My best, donna

Enchanted Tide Chasers

As the worldwide pandemic has moldered on with California being particularly locked down, my husband Ken and I have been motivated to discover new ways of living our lives. He is still seeing his high school girl wrestlers a few days each week, and I am just getting back to leading tours at the mission, but it still leaves many hours in which to find creative ways to live.
Our new “thing” began serendipitously back in January after my emotional reaction to the January 6th Capitol insurrection. We began, in earnest, looking for active ways to keep me settled down. More than ever we started taking little adventure trips around our county particularly to the seashore. Our first such visit was on January 12th to Doheny State Beach. We nearly opted to stay cozy on the sofa watching the news, but forced ourselves to go out and we were glad we did. Our timing happened to coincide with an extremely low tide. The tide was so far out that huge rocks far beyond the surf line were exposed. With great delight we hopped from rock to rock, laughing and snapping photos of the flocks of seagulls which refused to be scared away. Later we walked around the harbor and discovered several Black Crowned Night Herons, Blue Herons, and an Egret sunning on the hand railing next to our path, they were far too at home to fly away. I had entered a birder’s Eden and was dizzy with excitement as I snapped dozens of photos.
That trip got us excited to begin studying the tide charts. A few days later we ventured to Crystal Cove, just south of Newport Beach. At the trail head we were chatting with a man, explaining that we were following the tide charts. He looked at me and exclaimed, “Are you a surfer?” I smiled, “No, just a nature lover.” Ken got the biggest kick out of that; he loves the idea that his septuagenarian wife could be taken for a surfer!
These many weeks later, we have both downloaded the tidal app into our cell phones. We think of ourselves as “Tide Chasers!” We have adopted a new habit. We are having the best time following low tides while getting our steps in everyday. Part of the thrill is that we never know what we will discover. Late yesterday, at Salt Creek we came upon a sunset photo-shoot of a very expectant mother, her small child and husband. She was on the wet sand in a long lavender tulle and lace gown, cupping the enormity of her expectancy while holding the toddler’s hand. The husband smiled down at his budding family as the photographer snapped away. Tears filled my eyes. It was beautiful.
Leaving them, Ken and I proceeded down the beach when two single-passenger motor-gliders buzzed twenty feet above our heads, dizzying all us spectators with their crazy dipping, and soaring antics. They came by three different times. It was wild fun to watch them! Walking and chatting about the gliders, we soon encountered several elaborate drip sand castles, one with rock towers adorning it, and endless flocks of seagulls!
As the sun began to sink behind Catalina Island, some kind of magic seemed to settle across the area. Spectators began arriving and staking out their sites to watch the sun’s spectacular Technicolor goodbye. We realized this was becoming a consistent experience: hundreds of spectators assembling each evening up and down the coast. It seems that the setting sun has become a new kind of pandemic spectator sport.
The Covid-19 restrictions have brought on new ways of being, not all of them good. According to some of the posts I see on Facebook, the threat has led to depression and feelings of isolation and desperation. People live with grief, and loss, and worry. These past twelve months have been extremely traumatic for most Americans, and specifically devastating for others. Our suffering is real.
Neuroscience has discovered that it is possible to change the way our brain is thinking when we are “stuck.” Being “stuck” means that our brain mulls a negative thought over and over while it is trying to problem-solve. After that January 6th Capitol incident, I could feel myself being pulled down. This can lead to the arousal state of feeling overwhelmed. We can change that pattern but we must take action to do so. My daughter, Julina, sent me an interesting quote yesterday. “Crisis does not create character, it reveals it.”
We humans are resilient. We can be mindful that we must take action to feel better. Habits come from deep neural maps for thinking and doing certain things within our brains. It is possible to change those maps and create new ones but it takes effort and being conscious of what one is thinking. 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.” We need the good kind of habits!
I think it is essential to focus on what we HAVE instead of what we do not have. Aristotle said, WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO. EXCELLENCE IS NOT AN ACT, IT IS A HABIT. I invite you to walk outdoors and embrace nature in a new way. Look for a moment of joy. This morning I saw an egret sitting on top of my neighbor’s gazebo. Really? How delightful! Maybe you can become a sunset aficionado, taking photos of its color show, or a recorder of all you see on the walking trail, or a lover of birds or wildlife? For now Ken and I are enchanted by all that can be discovered at the seashore as we chase the tides.
I want to hear what you are doing during this stressful time to keep yourself in a positive state of mind. What delightful habit have you developed? I love to know what you are thinking. My best, donna

Getting On Up That Trail!

I learned a difficult lesson two weeks ago about the impact of our past upon our present. In an attempt to live in the now, many of us actively ignore or suppress old, painful events. Why wouldn’t we?
In all innocence last week, I wrote to a friend who is a self professed “Foodie.” Not knowing that many Foodies, I thought he would be excited about my new Instant Pot and the world of fun which it has opened up to me. My new Instant Pot Facebook friends have welcomed me into their “IP” community as a fellow “Foodie.” I knew my friend would appreciate my newly discovered passion. He also happens to be a rabbi as well as an experienced marriage and family therapist. I dashed off a detailed Instant Pot email, and as a P.S., I confessed that I had suffered a meltdown and an unexpected return of my PTSD symptoms during the horrifying insurrection at the Capitol two weeks earlier. I admitted that I was still a bit shaken by my unexpected reaction to the violence.
He immediately emailed me back, skipping past the Instant Pot message, saying, “Such a strange time. Every therapist I know has been totally overwhelmed. These times have unmasked formerly dormant and, for many, unrecognized traumatic stressors. It reminds us that these wounds never really resolve, but sit beneath the surface waiting to be triggered.”
Oh ugh I thought as I read this. I had hoped, believed even, that my peaceful, secure life filled with creative work, loving people, dogs and horses, had cemented over my ancient childhood agonies. Of course I understood that the dark side of my growing up years, suffering profound abuse at my father’s hands, had left scars. However, as time has passed since the trial thirty years ago, that sent him to prison for his crimes, I have tended to white-wash the enormity of the trauma. Hence, I was ill prepared for what unfolded on January 6th as I sat down on the couch with a fresh cup of tea in hand to witness the certification of the Electoral College vote.
As I watched angry aggressors scale the walls of the Capitol, beat Capitol police officers with flag poles, use stun guns on the necks of others, and throw a heavy fire extinguisher into a crowd of defenders while chanting “Get Pence,” I felt my composure begin to slip. The camera scanned to the gallows that had been erected and showed plastic handcuff ties hanging from violent assailants’ pockets. Glass was broken, a fatal shooting occurred, and the inner sanctum was breached. Violent mayhem was playing out before me. Helplessness washed over me as tears filled my eyes. They rolled down my cheeks. Old feelings of despair overwhelmed me. I could not stop a personally devastating situation. Was our country falling before me?
Before long, Ken, my husband, who had been working at his computer, entered the room. Seeing that I was overcome, he turned off the news, and tried to understand what was wrong. It took him about one second to realize that I had been catapulted back into deep-rooted feelings of my past horror. He got me out of the house, onto my horse, and up the trail. He walked beside my horse. Before long I felt better, and could finally talk about it.
I was stunned to learn that those archaic, helpless feelings were lurking beneath the surface of my happiness. I had no idea that our democracy was so fragile, that such a breach was even possible. I had no clue that I could be rendered defenseless against an attack on our way of life. In the last few days, I have learned that others experienced similar reactions. One woman we know awoke at 5 a.m. the day after the terrorists’ attack, and was repeatedly physically sick to her stomach. Other friends have confided that they cried all day on January 6th. It seems to me that we need to more fully recognize what lies beneath our surface; that we need to respect our pain that has gone before.
The temperature on our national political stage has turned down some, and perhaps as a country we are getting back toward something more acceptable to most. I know that a whole lot of fun is going on in social media with the Bernie Sanders memes, and that millions of us are still celebrating our young poet Amanda Gorman. I think one of my takeaways from all of this is that dramatic events on the national and international stage can profoundly affect us. Being human, we do not have to pretend we are okay when we are not. We can admit to real feelings. We can understand that perhaps there is no such thing as “cementing over them.”
We have been through a lot. Isolation alone is hard on our spirit. Sheltering in place, not seeing or hugging our loved ones, unable to gather and celebrate with each other, or worship together have been incredibly traumatic. Mixing in rising death rates, the weakening economy, and extreme political unrest adds up to a recipe for astronomical stress levels.
More than ever it is important that we take extra special care of ourselves, that we find new ways to engage our minds. Probably no one would have imagined that I would go crazy playing with my new Instant Pot, but I have. It is an adventure! Even my children are sharing their favorite recipes with me. I’m making dishes I only dreamed about, and learning new techniques. It’s exciting!
The future cannot help but hold events that can trigger our old feelings, but we can acknowledge those feelings, and use our tools for mindfulness and maintaining our resilience. We can focus on the positive in things, celebrate our daily victories, and nourish our bodies. These actions are key to feeling better. We know that daily exercise and interacting with positive others (and finding fun where we can!) are ways to keep ourselves moving forward. Perhaps we need to find time to leave the Instant Pot to do its thing and get on up the trail! I enjoy hearing how you are holding up and what you are doing to stay okay. My best, donna

Let the Ordinary Become Extraordinary!

This morning on my dog walk along the oceanfront, I encountered this remarkable rock art left by an anonymous stranger for anyone who is paying attention to enjoy. I could not believe what I was seeing; a small flock of birds created on the edge of the beach parking lot. A shiver ran through me as I pondered the simple beauty and magnificence of the tiny flock.
As the dogs and I strolled along, I reflected on the sentiments expressed in the Christmas letters my friends have been sending. The dominant theme is: “Out with 2020,” “I haven‘t done much this year,” “A terrible year.” Such sentiments are part of our collective experience, perhaps exacerbated by California’s most recent shut-down, again limiting our freedom. Together we have endured the worst national health crisis in a century, and witnessed an unprecedented political polarization. To say the least, it has been distressing. However, as 2020 comes to a close, it affords a perfect opportunity to take a personal step toward healing. We can begin to have hope as the Covid-19 vaccine is administered, and the national political hotbed cools down for awhile. Perhaps we can work on where we allow our thoughts to carry us.
Where go our thoughts, so follow our feelings. Even though another mandatory lockdown leaves us more isolated than ever, there are certain actions we can take to redirect our outlook toward the positive. Ten years ago this week, I packed up my office at Cypress College and loaded the boxes of books and papers into my car. I said my goodbyes, and as in many retirements, I was physically escorted to my car. Adios! After 44 years of appearing on campus every school day, the uncertainty of my future plagued me. Could life possibly hold as much meaning without my students? Truly, I had no idea.
Those who have followed my posts have witnessed the fact that I have, indeed, found some interesting places to focus my attention. I have long adopted the HABIT of looking for Precious Moments. Historically this is a good time for all of us to do just that, mindfully adopt the HABIT of focusing our attention on the small delights lurking around many corners, like the impromptu flock of stone birds this morning, or another rock sculpture I saw yesterday. My daughter, Julina, has the habit of photographing the sunrise many mornings and sharing the extraordinary colorful photos with me. My friend, Sioux, discovered a beautiful hand-painted rock in the shape of a heart the other day, and has gleefully posted it on social media.
If one has their eyes peeled there are unique forms of public art hidden in small corners. Several cities around SoCal have invested in public art. At the corner of Coast Highway and Palisades Drive in Dana Point there is a beautiful portrait of famous author, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. adorning the electrical transformer box. That painting is sponsored by the City of Dana Point. Another city with awe-inspiring public art is Venice, California, where whole buildings are adorned with gorgeous murals. Our pets offer moments of delight as well. My granddaughter, Caroline, often shares photos of her cat, Stella, doing hilarious things.
The habit of keeping our eyes open for little delights can be our challenge for this holiday season. The universe has even seen fit to help guide us toward a positive outlook for the coming year. It has aligned the planets Jupiter and Saturn so close to Earth that on December 21st they will appear as one glorious bright star. Imagine that, a huge bright “star” visible to the naked eye. The last time this “Great Conjunction” occurred was in 1623, and before that in 1226. This bright “star” is most often referred to as the “Christmas Star”.
Developing the habit of looking for “surprises” is a valuable tool for making the negatives in our lives to seem to be a little less important. More than ever, this year I wish you a safe holiday season with a heart full of promise for a better year to come. I cherish the words you send me and look forward to reading what you are thinking about. My best, donna

Staying Sane During This Insane Time

It has been interesting to me in conversations with my husband, Ken, to reflect on how his 50 San Clemente High School female wrestlers are handling coming to in-person classes knowing that there is only a small chance they will get to wrestle at all during this year of Covid-19. He says they keep showing up and that their spirits are pretty good. He and his co-coach create alternate activities for them. On Veteran’s Day they had a voluntary “meet” with Dana Hills’ girl wrestlers on the beach in Doheny where they participated in sort of a socially distant “fitness Olympics” with the other team. From the photos it looked like a great turn out and that the girls were engaged and enjoying the competition.
So Ken and his co-coach are being creative. Maybe that’s part of the solution to how we can stay sane during this insane time. There’s no argument that keeping safe during this pandemic is a huge challenge. My daughter who teaches 7th grade English feels like she is talking to herself when she teaches her students on Zoom. Sometimes she resorts to dancing to keep their attention. I know that my grandchildren are struggling to understand the materials in their classes while staying engaged. It’s hard not seeing our loved ones or hugging them. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Depression is rampant. Food scarcity is real, but we still have hope. We know a vaccine will be coming soon.
Living on the “corona-coaster” I hear some of my associates saying they miss people they don’t even like. Others report that “they are bored with being part of a major historical event!!” For me, personally, I am at a place where running errands and walking the dogs are big highlights which count as “going out.” Of course all of us get that it is up to us to figure out how to accomplish contentment when our old activities are shut down. We are now forced to become even more inventive in how we live our lives.
My sister Diana, after months of lockdown with all four of her family members working from home and going to school on-line, had a genius idea. It was very difficult to execute, but she was successful. She finally found a cabin high in the San Bernardino Mountains which has good Wifi and needed work and a family to love it. They closed escrow. Last week they enjoyed their first snow-fall while working on-line from 7200 feet elevation. They are bewitched by a new life.
Others in my life have discovered the thrills of RVing, and are planning road trips around America. My friend Mary is taking two art and drawing classes on Zoom. She is full of more energy and excitement than ever as she faces new art challenges. My daughter, Julina, has taken up Pickle Ball and is playing several evenings each week. For my part, you know I wrote that memoir-history book, Growing Up Venice a few months ago. That led to me embracing my Los Angeles roots and joining the Los Angeles City Historical Society. I kept pulling on that historical society thread which led to me becoming a part of their board of directors. It’s captivating to meet new people (on Zoom) and to think about new ideas.
Our challenge is how to adapt to this crazy period in the world. We know time is slipping by quickly, like warm sand through our fingers. We cannot afford to waste any of it; it’s too precious and too fleeting. You may recall that brain science has discovered that we humans have some 50,000 thoughts per day, and that about 80% of them are negative. They kept us safe during the cave-man days, but negativity can tear us down in today’s pandemic. It can freeze us into inaction. We need to be actors in our own lives to live to the fullest. Here’s a remedy to overcoming negative thinking’s detrimental effects:
 1. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS – ACKNOWLEDGE JUDGMENTAL,. CRITICAL, IRRATIONAL, AND FEAR BASED THOUGHTS AND THEN POKE HOLES IN THEM AS YOU WOULD A BUBBLE AND WATCH THEM DISAPPEAR.
 2. EXERCISE DAILY – OUR BODIES DESPERATELY NEED THE GOOD ENDORPHINS WHICH ARE GENERATED THROUGH MOVEMENT. MY SEPTAGENERIAN MOUNT EVEREST CLIMBING FRIEND ALWAYS SAYS, “MOTION IS LOTION.”
3. FIND SOMETHING NEW TO FOCUS YOUR THOUGHTS UPON. JOIN A NEW GROUP, TAKE UP A NEW HOBBY, DISCOVER SOME DIFFERENT RECIPES, PLANT A WINTER GARDEN, START A VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB, TAKE UP YOGA OR MEDITATION, ADOPT A PUPPY.
This is our time now and it’s more important than ever that we make the best use of it. You know I always enjoy hearing from you. Happy Thanksgiving, My best, donna

Fire Drill!

Ah it’s Fall! I know you are staying safe, and you were probably isolating a lot during what seemed like an endlessly long hot summer. Such a weird time in our lives!
A week or so ago Ken and I had settled down to watch our favorite Netflix show on a Saturday night about 8 p.m. when we got a call. Four of our granddaughters were on their own for the weekend as their parents were out of town. A brush fire had broken out across the street from their property and the main road into their development was lined with more than a dozen fire engines. Authorities were stopping any traffic in or out of their community. The loud water dropping helicopters were racing back and just above the girls’ home earnestly trying to stop the fire. At the same time, the West Coast of the USA was pretty much on fire and we were all in hyper-vigilance mode.
The youngest (15 year-old) sister was starting to freak-out for obvious reasons! Her older sisters made the decision to ease her anxiety by calling us, the grandparents, and getting her out of there! Of course they were welcome to evacuate to our home.
Within thirty minutes, the girls had filled three cars with nine chickens, two dogs, two cats (one feral in a cage), a turtle and two snakes, and arrived at our home. Luckily, Ken had built a cattery for my mother’s cat which has since found a home. The chickens quickly took over that space. The dogs were nestled in my large home office, while the girls settled the cats. The snakes and turtle remained confined (much to our relief) as we recalled raising our own family with snakes and guinea pigs sometimes living under the dishwasher or behind a drapery! Settled into beds, the youngest began to relax. Ken and I finished our show. Within a few hours the firefighters had the brush fire under control and the immediate danger had passed.
What has stayed with us across these days since the alarming event is the behavior of our four granddaughters. This had been a for real fire drill and they performed like a well trained Army Special Forces unit. The fifth and oldest daughter, Jill, who lives elsewhere, dropped her plans and hurried to her sisters. She talked to the sheriff, and they had agreed that the girls should evacuate. Jill saw the girls to our home. Knowing her sisters were safe, Jill left.
Preparing to leave, the four evacuees tended to first things first. There was no bickering or questioning the steps in the evacuation. The first order of business had been the well-being of their youngest sibling. Next, valuables, jewelry, photo albums, computers, animals, and essential clothing were stuffed into the vehicles. Upon arrival at our house, the reverse order; securing the many animals and organizing sleeping arrangements. While one sister found a litter box and set up the cats with water and food, another walked the dogs on the back lawn. It was almost as if they had prepared for this for years. Each found a task and carried it out.
One incident particularly impressed me. Our 20 year-old Emily, future veterinarian, who has been taming the feral cat, considered allowing it out of the cage into a closed bedroom. Megan, at 23, was a capable general. She decreed, “No, the cat will be better off in its carrier overnight.” Emily, the lieutenant in charge of animals, deferred to her older sister. No push back.
Animals and girls and even grandparents got through the night without further event. The girls didn’t sleep much, but they knew they were safe and had done all they could in such an emergency.
For our part, as the older generation, we often worry about the future of our fragile civilization and our precious planet, and then something like this emergency happens and the youngsters step up. Whether they are saving themselves, fighting wars, fighting wildfires, or policing our cities, we see that they come through. I personally feel humbled by the competency of the younger ones coming up behind me.
Once we were the youth. I recall a Spanish teacher in high school telling our class that we were “the do nothing generation.” That stayed with me. We were only sixteen years-old. That seemed a rude thing to say to us, considering we were barely getting our driver’s licenses! As the decades unfolded, my generation and those behind us, saw to some of the important human rights and environmental changes ever known. We were not a “do nothing generation.”
During this global lockdown I had so much time on my hands that I looked back at my growing up years and have written about it. Growing Up Venice: Parallel Universes, is now available at Amazon in Kindle, paperback and hardcover color formats.
In this book, which is the history of some lost aspects of Los Angeles/Venice history, I share my lived experience on the oceanfront in Venice. I grew up during the 1940’s, side by side, with a working oil well in one of the most productive oil fields in California. My story visits the Holocaust and Bolshevik survivors who lined the benches along the boardwalk in Venice, the Gambling Ships in Santa Monica Bay, the arrival of the Beat Generation to the Gas House, and the subsequent Hippie invasion. We journey through time past the amusement piers, to the new ethos of Venice, the craziest beach in the world, and to Silicon Beach, a new home to the electronics industry. You might enjoy my tale, certainly a love story is woven through it.
I always enjoy hearing from you. Let me know how you are doing. My best, donna

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.

 

Sammy


     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.

Coco


      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 granted....it 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 Amazon.com 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.
Best,
donna

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!
Best,
donna

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 today...it 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
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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

 

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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
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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
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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
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Opening Our Eyes to Awe

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

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Carving Out Habits of Excellence

CARVING OUT NEW 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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

 

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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.
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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.
   
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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
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"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
 

 

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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

  

   
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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
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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
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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
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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
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The Big Yellow School Bus

school-bus.jpg 

     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. 
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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.
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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.” 
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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. 

 


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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 r