This, Too, Shall Pass!

This morning finds me bewildered. I am sure that I am not alone and many others are finding themselves mystified by the recent interpersonal climate in the United States and on the world stage.

There are many articles being written about the anger and animosity being displayed in our U.S. political arena as well as social media. Our nation’s reputation for being a world leader and bastion of freedom, especially in regard to religious freedoms, is tenuous. Countries around the world are struggling economically and global strife fills the news.

The solutions to these challenges, no matter where you fit on the political continuum, are always too simplistic. We’ve all read or heard the opposing opinions, curtail immigration and close the borders/support immigration amnesty, redefine marriage/stand up for a specific definition of marriage, increase the minimum wage/eliminate pensions and benefits, increase welfare assistance/decrease public services, tax the rich/pass a flat tax, bomb ISIS/let foreign countries fight their own battles, expand our military/cut military spending, limit unions/buy American, support gun control/pass concealed carry laws, eliminate religious privileges/advance religious principles.

Of course, it is somewhat comforting to propose a simple solution and state pious platitudes. That is certainly easier than actually dealing with the real source of all strife, my self-centered personal desires and expectations. People are slow to admit that anger, greed, jealousy, envy, gluttony, pride, and laziness, are the vices which fuel many of today’s troubles. In other words, it is much easier to point at the speck in someone else’s eye than to focus on my own near-sightedness or outright blindness.

There is no doubt we are in a time of great change, which can be viewed as both a blessing and a curse! Yet as the adage reminds us, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Some will choose to wring their hands and spread predictions of terror and annihilation. Others will choose to face the future with gratitude for and trust in the resilience of the human person. Still others will find courage by connecting to the awesome power found at the heart of all life.

My family history is dotted with several deaths from tuberculosis, survivors of the Great Depression, an uncle who was a prisoner of war during WWII, a grandmother who died of heart failure at age 32, and women who survived the loss of multiple children. It takes more than questionable presidential candidates to make me tremble. The riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, numerous assassinations and attempted assassinations, gas rationing, 17.5% mortgage rates, Watergate, and the Iran-Contra hearings have all happened in my lifetime. So it is common for me to roll my eyes, sigh deeply, and say, “This, too, shall pass!”

Every era has its challenges, successes, and failures and, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. In this third stage of life, I am more aware of the many things I don’t know and presently I am not certain whether violence has ever advanced any culture. When faced with the atrocities of the various wars throughout history, I do feel a responsibility to defend the downtrodden. I am grateful for our veterans, and their families, who make untold sacrifices on a daily basis, but I also believe that governments have often used young men as “cannon fodder” to promote strictly economic agendas.

In recent years, it has become more important to focus on my own attitudes and interpersonal relationships, which are ultimately my only arenas of influence. I have found that I am trying to remain connected to and supported by an interior peace and positivity that resides at the center of all being. From that core, I am inspired to reach out to those who are in need, first in my immediate family, then to my surrounding community, and finally to the people who I may never meet, but who are living in circumstances I could never begin to imagine. This then extends to a concern and care for all the life and wonders of this remarkable planet.

My mother used to say, “You should always leave a place in better condition than when you arrived.” When I realized that there were more years behind me than ahead, that advice became particularly pressing. I have been blessed with good health, so right now applying this principle can be as simple as spending time with my children and grandchildren, doing small repairs for seniors who are struggling to stay in their homes, contributing to organizations that provide clean water and medical care around the globe, drinking water from a reusable container, and planting a garden. These little acts help to clear my head and calm my soul!

Age is a Work of Art

img_1552 This is the adage that I cross-stitched for my stepdad to commemorate his eightieth birthday. The framed handcraft was displayed on Dad and Mom’s wall for seventeen years. It was returned to me, after their deaths, and has graced a wall in our guest room for fourteen years. Most days I hardly notice it, but recently it captured my attention, fueled my meditation, and raised many “third stage of life” questions. What does it mean to “age well”? What causes some people to die long before their last breath? How does health effect the aging process? On a very personal level, how can I make my life a true “work of art?”

Of course, there are many people who attempt to run away from the process. That is one of the reasons plastic surgery in the U.S. is a booming business, cosmetics are a billion dollar industry, and pharmaceutical companies advertise so abundantly. However, most people don’t mind growing older, we just don’t want to “get old.” There is a big difference!

Growing older means having more experience, endurance, and empathy. Aging well means that as our visual acuity decreases, our spiritual vision broadens. As our heart of flesh weakens, our empathetic core is strengthened. As we weather the storms of life, our psychological levee is fortified. As our physical ability wanes, our capacity for patience grows.

Getting old conjures up visions of canes, walkers, prescription bottles, doctors’ appointments, hospital stays, pain, and suffering, but getting old is really a state of mind. It happens when we emotionally stiffen our necks, refuse to explore or learn, lose a positive focus, and allow the natural physical challenges to overshadow every waking moment.

One of the negative factors that promotes “getting old” is a loss of purpose. Retirement is a critical time for those who have drawn all meaning from a job. Many retirees have related that “free time is nice,” but having hobbies, interests, and social connections is key to aging well. Every person I know who is happily retired says they are actually busier in post-retirement and “have no idea how I worked forty-plus hours a week.” They participate in activities that allow them to deepen their sense of inner contentment. They garden, bake, woodwork, exercise, bowl, golf, volunteer, maintain their homes, cook, bake, rebuild old cars, pray, take classes, visit the sick, care for grandchildren, go to the movies, meditate, travel, dance, do yoga, or build puzzles, play games and write blogs! Anything that helps connect us to our inner value and energy keeps the mind and body nimble, and boosts growth of the soul.

The blessing (and curse) of the gift of a long life, is that we experience the death of friends and loved ones. Oft times the weight of grief, brought on by the losses of a spouse, dear friends, and family members, becomes too much to bear, causing a person to lose their joie de vivre. That depression influences all the components involved in health maintenance. The person becomes sedentary and isolated, eats poorly, suffers the effects of dehydration, and avoids routine health care. Sadly some die before they draw their final breath, by succumbing to mental negativity, loneliness, apathy, and dread, which kill the spirit long before disease destroys the body. It is important to recall that some of the greatest works of art can be very dark.

When we experience grief, we need to be kinder and gentler with ourselves and others. We need to carefully tend to the needs of body, mind, and spirit with special focus on the present moment. We need to be willing to ask for help. If we are companioning someone who is grieving, we need to be patient, attentive, and quiet. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing! We can not remove someone else’s grief, but we can lovingly accompany them as they journey through it.

Certainly, health is a significant player in this drama of life and death. I have heard elders say, “Health is everything!” Yet, for decades, we take our health for granted. As young people, we take many physical risks erroneously thinking we are immortal. We are blissfully unaware that all the energy and impulsiveness of youth, in future years, will impact our naturally deteriorating mechanical systems. Some physician will diagnose conditions like “arthritis,” “heart disease,” “diabetes,” “gastric reflux,” “diverticulosis,” or “emphysema.” However, there is no reason for regret, because those early days of impetuousness and daring contribute to the light and shadow–the deeper beauty of the completed artwork. The voice of Wisdom reminds us, “to everything, there is a time and a season.”

As the body ages, maintaining good health requires greater attention, time, and effort. What we eat and drink, how we exercise, how often we have physical, dental and vision check-ups, must change. These basic activities demand more planning, sacrifice, discipline, determination, and perseverance. The challenge is to accept those new requirements with a positive attitude. It is important to embark upon each new day with a sense of gratitude and adventure. The key is to balance the demands of an aging body with the care for a growing soul. I often have to remind myself, “Yes, I am older than I have ever been, but also younger than I will ever be.”

When it comes to the aging process, I have no universal directions to ensure that each person will discover his/her own inner artist. After all, there was only one DaVinci, one Renoir, one Van Gogh, one Picasso and one YOU! All I can say is that I am preparing the canvas for my masterpiece by incorporating the techniques of those who have been my teachers. My mother taught me the value of laughter. My stepdad, John, taught me humility. My Aunt Lil exemplified gratitude and acceptance. Aunt Alice is my example of joy and wonder. My adopted “Mom,” Charlotte, gave me a love of nature. I believe I am on the road to aging well, because my education is ongoing and there is still much work to do!

Nurturing Peace

This morning I found this quote in my Facebook newsfeed, “Peace, it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” I don’t know the true source of this quote, though one site erroneously gives credit to Lady Gaga. It is evidently a more ancient wisdom that has been reworded many times over. I have been meditating about this topic of inner peace a lot lately. It is a wonderfully simple thought, but not as straightforward in its execution.

So I’ve been collecting wise quotations and trying to develop a list of specifics that could be helpful to me, and I hope to others, in connecting to this inner calm. There is certainly a lot more wisdom in the writings of saints, mystics of many cultures, and yes, even ordinary people, but I really gravitated toward these in particular. I have listed the sources in italics. In some cases, the source of the quote is known only to the Eternal. In either case, here are ten simple suggestions, and three super quotes for each, to set us on the road to becoming a more peace-filled people (even in the midst of life’s storms).

1.   START WITH YOU

  • Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. Gautama Buddha
  • For peace of mind, we need to resign as general manager of the universe.  Larry Eisenberg
  • Let him that would move the world first move himself.  Socrates

2.   SEEK REAL PEACE

  • Real peace is not in power, money, or weapons, but in deep inner peace. Thich Nhat Han
  • Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances. Mahatma Gandhi
  • Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.  John F. Kennedy 

3.   IT REALLY IS THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MATTER

  • Peace begins with a smile. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
  • Talk about your blessings more than you talk about your burdens. Tim Tebow
  • Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace. Gautama Buddha

4.   SLOW DOWN

  • Never be in a hurry. Do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. St. Francis deSales
  • Just slow down. Slow down your speech. Slow down your breathing. Slow down your eating. And let this slower, steadier pace perfume your mind. Doko
  • Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why. Eddie Cantor

5.   DEFUSE THE DRAMA

  • Don’t let people pull you into their storm. Pull them into your peace.  Unknown
  • Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.  Martin Luther King Jr.,
  • The less you respond to rude, critical, argumentative people the more peaceful your life will become.  Unknown

6.   BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH SILENCE

  • You must daily practice the habit of putting your mind at rest, “going into the silence,” as it is commonly called. This is a method of replacing a troubled thought with one of peace, a thought of weakness with one of strength. James Allen
  • When the restless activity of your mind slows down, when your thoughts stop rushing like waves on a windy day, then you will start getting glimpses of the sweet taste of inner peace. Remez Sasson
  • Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah? 1 Kings 19:11-13

7.   SEEK AND ACCEPT FORGIVENESS

  • Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions. Gerald G. Jampolsky
  • Forgiveness is the ultimate spiritual practice. St. John Paul II
  • We are all on a life long journey and the core of its meaning, the terrible demand of its centrality is forgiving and being forgiven. Martha Kilpatrick

8.   NURTURE BODY AND MIND

  • Don’t eat junk foods and don’t think junk thoughts. Peace Pilgrim
  • Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? 1 Corinthians 6:19
  • Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul the work of the soul, and good for either the work of the other.  Henry David Thoreau

9.   CULTIVATE PATIENCE

  • Inner peace is impossible without patience. Wisdom requires patience. Spiritual growth implies the mastery of patience. Patience allows the unfolding of destiny to proceed at its own unhurried pace.  Brian Weiss
  • The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.  Erich Fromm
  • The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.  Arnold H. Glasow

10.  ALWAYS CHOOSE KINDNESS

  • We must sometimes bear with little defects in others, as we have, against our will, to bear with natural defects in ourselves. If we wish to keep peace with our neighbor, we should never remind anyone of his natural defects. Saint Philip Neri 
  • Never respond to an angry person with a fiery comeback, even if he deserves it…Don’t allow his anger to become your anger. Bohdi Sanders
  • Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.  St.Thérèse de Lisieux

So there it is in a nutshell, my collection of the components necessary to bring serenity into one’s life and the many gems of wisdom from the folks who have made this connection better than I. May your heart forever be a place of calm in the midst of life’s tempests.

Freedom and Letting Go

We’ve all heard it! Since the movie Frozen became a hit, and John Travolta introduced “Adele Dazeem” instead of Idina Menzel at the Oscars, the tune Let it Go has been heard in school plays, elevators, restaurants, Disney ice shows, and dozens of other music venues.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, the song is the main character’s (Elsa’s) declaration of liberty. After years of hiding her ability to create ice and snow at will, she treks up a mountain singing, “the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all. It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through.” That’s all well and good, but then she sings, “no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.” Elsa then uses her power to build an ice castle, imprisons herself alone, and plunges her hometown into an eternal winter. She has good intentions, protecting her sister Anna, but there are terrible consequences.

Ever since I first saw the movie, which ultimately has a positive message, and every time I hear the song, I become introspective. For me “letting go” means relaxing into the moment, accepting things as they are, and moving forward without clinging to old hurts, desires, resentments, fears, and disappointments. Elsa’s song is more about giving in to desires and expressing oneself regardless of the consequences. Mistakenly, Elsa thinks that focusing on her own solution is the answer, but her path just solidifies her fears and actually impedes any true freedom.

After much thought, I realize my discomfort comes from the fact that I, like Elsa, have a deep need to control situations and there is a part of me that wants what I want, when I want it. Yet that path does nothing to alleviate any of the fear that undergirds it. I am old enough to know that the only thing I really have any control over is my attitude, and most of the time I experience the extreme difficulty of that task.

My experience has also taught me that whenever I strive to “claim my power,” I am actually less “liberated.” That happens because I am not reaching out for a “we” experience, but I am building my own ice castle, so that I can do things the way I see fit. Like Elsa, in an effort to make the situation “better” I have charged forward, with little introspection, communication, or empathy, believing that my way is the path to freedom. As Elsa and I have discovered, those choices lead to greater fear, isolation, and more chaos.

When I hear people say, “I’m taking back my power,” they generally mean they intend to put themselves in an adversarial position. It also implies that, at some time in the past, they felt their power was taken (or given) away. Since true strength is found at the very core of being, it may lie undiscovered, be buried or suppressed, but it can never truly be given or taken away. It is who I really am.

What most people describe as power is merely an extension of the ego. It is mere window dressing! I may increase my financial wealth. I may strengthen my body. I may improve my mind, I may even have plastic surgery to change my appearance, but the core of my being is beyond alteration. It is the part of me that exists beyond time and place. It is the truest me, the me that belongs to the eternal “we.” It is true power!

Finding one’s inner strength has less to do with worldly accolades and more to do with being grounded. When I have a strong sense of who I am at my center, and focus less on the incidentals and appearances, I am better equipped to extract myself from drama and be a channel of peace. For me, and many others, this also involves a sense of knowing “whose I am.” When I consider myself a son or daughter of the Eternal Source, I have less need to be acknowledged or validated by someone else. My ability to “let go” becomes less of a struggle and I experience greater patience with myself and the other. My soul becomes open to greater expressions of love and sacrifice. I am more capable of seeing and being a path to peace. I am not there yet, but (even at my age) I am a work in progress.

I think that a better song about productive letting go comes from the pen of poet Richard Lovelace.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet
Take that for a hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

I Will Not Bash the DASH

Okay! So you’ve been on a “more healthful eating plan” for a month. You’ve taken “energizing walks” at least five days each week. You’ve lost a few pounds, but something is missing…the sheer enjoyment of food!

If the above statements are true for you, then we are kindred spirits. I’m hoping that if you read to the end, you will find a renewed resolve and realize that patience is the key!

As I noted in an earlier blog, my husband and I received some less than stellar reports during our annual check ups. My husband had reached a point where medication for high blood pressure had reached its maximum benefits. Along with high blood pressure, his triglycerides were elevated, and his A1C (test for diabetes) was rising. Due to various bad reactions/allergies, he had no other medicinal alternatives. Our doctor suggested that losing some weight and cutting out salt might greatly improve his situation.

Though my hypertension was being well controlled (with medication) and I have not yet shown any signs of Type 2 diabetes, my triglycerides were elevated and the 20 pounds I had lost 3 years ago had crept back on.

With spring on the horizon, a good friend started a blog called “Fat Blasters” to encourage us all to get back on track with healthy meal planning, eating, and exercise. We began with enthusiasm and optimism. Four weeks down the road our enthusiasm is waning and, as my mother would say, the bloom is off the rose!

When considering our health issues and what needed to be done, we began the DASH diet. DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” It is largely a low-sodium, high fiber diet. The DASH plan promotes eating significant amounts of vegetables and fruit (8-10 servings per day), with moderate amounts of low-fat poultry, fish, beans, and meat. Since we are also trying to lose weight that means 5-7 oz. per day. Notice I said low SODIUM not low SALT.

Sodium is in almost every food we eat, so the DASH diet promotes obtaining the sodium your body needs to function by eating unadulterated foods, minimally processed foods and no added salt. That means, when TV chefs say sprinkle on a little salt and pepper, you only add the pepper. When you are unable to cook from fresh, any canned product must be very low in sodium or sodium free. Our target is no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day. No, those soups that say “30% less sodium” don’t qualify because they still can pack a whopping 600 mg!

In this month, I have tried 40 new recipes, and have also tried to tweak several family favorites. My kitchen window ledge now contains several small fresh herb plants (parsley, thyme, cilantro and basil). I’ve bought organic fruits and veggies (they really do have more flavor) and I’m using infused vinegars, fresh lemon and lime juices in ways I never imagined.

Here comes the downside. I’ve only found one recipe I would serve to company and 5 or 6 I would ever serve again. Why? They have little to no flavor. Most recipes are either much too spicy for our taste or completely bland. One of the ways that the recipes try to make up for the lack of salt is to add lots of spices including black pepper, cayenne, chilies, and other veggies and seasonings that pack a wallop on the Scoville scale (the measure of spicy heat).

I was speaking to one of my best friends yesterday. The three of us are working on this as a team. She expressed our feelings perfectly, “we are eating for sustenance, but all the enjoyment is gone.” You have to understand, we were brought up in Polish/German, Italian, and Norwegian homes that regularly used butter, salt, olive oil, bacon, eggs, whole milk, sausage, pancetta, ham, and marbled meats. When our moms, and later when we cooked, folks walking in the door, raised their heads and said, “Wow! What smells so good? When will it be ready? My mouth is already watering.”

Today the smells may be appealing, but from the first bite, we can’t deny that “something is missing.” The “something” is enough fat, salt and/or sugar to linger on the tongue that one delectable moment, which spurs you on to take another bite and then another, until you are left with nothing but a memory of the delightful experience of a taste treat beyond compare. I recently made a vegetable lasagna with fresh basil and oregano, carrots, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, whole wheat pasta, a tiny bit of skim milk ricotta and mozzarella cheese. It was aesthetically nothing in comparison to my mother-in-law’s recipe! Her layers of delectable lasagna noodles, mouth-watering three meat sauce, rich Italian sausage, eggs, hearty whole milk ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses were pure culinary bliss!

The toughest part is that the new eating plan is WORKING! My husband’s blood pressure and glucose are staying in target zones. His BP has dropped from numbers in the 170/90 range to an average of 130/70! He has lost 12 pounds and with his current glucose ranges, I’m sure his next A1C will be much lower.  I have lost some weight and my heartburn has improved.

Scientists, dietitians, and nutritionists say that it can take 90 days for taste buds to acclimate to the absence of salt. In a small way, I can honestly say we are trying to kick a bad habit or an “addiction” to salt, fat, and sugar. So we will remain undaunted! I am committed to face one day and one meal at a time! I will approach each new recipe as an adventure in new flavor profiles. I will persevere in my search for meals that are BOTH tasty and healthful.

For now, even though I am seriously tempted, I will not bash the DASH!

Pre-Dawn Pondering

I’m sure we have all been there. It is two, three, or possibly four in the morning. Something has roused you from a sound sleep. You listen for a moment. You reassure yourself that there are no burglars, no dogs barking, no unusual house sounds. If you have pets, they are all peaceful and sound asleep. All is still. You close your eyes and relax, trying to regain the blissful sleep you enjoyed only a few moments before. Then it begins!

The position you are in becomes uncomfortable, so you turn this way and that. You try to find that certain spot in your mattress which cradles you perfectly. You turn your pillow. Then you flip it over. You may even make several attempts to fluff its stuffings. All your attempts are for naught. By this time, your brain has cleared it’s pre-dawn fog and your thoughts begin to run around as if it were daylight!

It is within these minutes, which sometimes turn into hours, that I find it a perfect time for quiet contemplation. Once I have accepted the fact that I am awake and that sleep is not soon to return, I can settle in and begin watching where my mind travels. I must admit, it was not quite as easy when I knew that the alarm clock would ring, at its appointed hour, and there would be a full day of work ahead with no opportunity for even a tiny cat nap. In those days, I would nearly drive myself insane trying to force myself back to sleep.

One of the blessings of my retirement is that I have learned to be gentler with myself. My only regret is that I didn’t realize, in my working days, that the brain frenzy of those sleepless nights, only kept rest and rejuvenation further away. Today, when I relax into the practice of passively observing my thoughts, sleep returns more quickly and sometimes answers to life’s puzzles are revealed.

Early this morning, about 4:30 a.m., I had one of those experiences. After making a casual examination of the house and our pets, I was assured that all was safe and sound. I returned to bed and found a cozy position and began to observe my thoughts as if they were paper boats sailing by on a clear blue lagoon.

The first thought was song lyrics, “at night when all the world’s asleep, the questions run so deep for such a simple man.”

The next “thought-boat” brought the message that the whole world is NOT asleep! Some people, particularly firefighters, police officers, nurses, many in our military, and all those dedicated workers on the “owl shift,” are wide awake and doing their jobs.

Then a quick little boat arrived to say, they are all awake with me! So I quickly said a prayer of gratitude for their services and the gift of their body clocks attuned to such late night tasks.

Several faces of friends and neighbors were on the sails of the next few boats, so I asked for blessings as each of them passed.

The next little craft was playing a recorded message from my childhood, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep….God bless….” I allowed the message to play out in its entirety. As each loved one’s name was played, I expressed how grateful I was to have them in my life, whether they were still here on earth or gone to their eternal reward.

It was awhile before the next little craft came by, so I knew I must have begun to doze. Then the most important vessel of the night came into view. Its message so funny, I think I may have involuntarily smiled. The little paper dinghy had a decal on it which read, “It MUST be 5 o’clock somewhere!”

For a split second, in half-sleep, I felt I was connected, beyond time, to every person who was awake around the world. In that moment, all the hero-servants working the night shift were my brothers and sisters. In my own little community, my spirit was joined with young moms and dads walking the floor with cranky babies, homeless people trying to find a warmer place to sleep, folks who were tending farm animals or preparing for a day’s work, those who were ill or in pain, and the lost and broken wanderers striving to find peace and contentment in these wee hours of the morning.

Beyond my local area, I realized, in that very instant, it was mid-day in Rome and for many of the world’s people it was sometime between dawn and dusk. Billions of people were awake and going about the business of their lives facing challenges and joys of every sort. My wakefulness was joined to that of billions of others!

I don’t recall any other boat passing. I must have fallen asleep!

Pardon My Dust

Have you ever seen the sign, “Renovation in progress, please pardon our dust”? In my last post, Being Healthy and Happy, I talked about the strategies my husband and I were beginning to use to improve our health. The personal renovations have begun, and I am happy to say that the recipes I’ve found have been very tasty and satisfying. As a bonus, I am discovering new cooking and baking ideas, including a great recipe for a decadent Chocolate Cake which was truly delectable and worthy of company!

The “dusty” part is that it will take longer for us to know how these changes will impact our weight and other health indicators. Just as with any renovation project, it will require some patience and what my husband calls “engineered changes.” That leads me to today’s musings!

As I rather blithely said in my last post, we need to develop a new relationship to food. From current (and past) experience I know this is true. However, I’m just beginning to understand the true depth of that process. It is as if something has suddenly shifted, and I need to inspect the foundation, before construction is able to continue.

Another comment I made was that I believed in the adage, “everything in moderation.” What I have discovered, in this past week, is that my previous definition of “moderation” is very different from what my body (and dietary guidelines) are demonstrating. Those of you who have ever measured one cup of pasta or one serving of grapes, who have investigated how much sodium and carbohydrates are in the food we eat, or who have checked out a “nutrition statement” at a favorite restaurant, know exactly what I mean.

Though it has been evident for years, just this week my heart began to accept the fact that my body is changing. For any “youngsters” (those under 60), who might be reading this post, you may want to stop reading right here, the content ahead can be pretty scary. For those who have surpassed me in years, you are probably way ahead of me, and will be shocked it took this long for me to discover what you have long known. Either way, to those who are brave (or foolish) enough to continue, full speed ahead!

The conundrum is that, in my mind, I am still in my twenties or thirties, curious, inquisitive, quietly rebellious, studious, and eager to charge ahead into any subject that interests me. I am always willing to bite off more than I can chew, both figuratively and literally. Yet, my physical abilities, and the choices I have made (and continue to make), create various limits.

For example, I have never had very good hand-eye coordination. I was always the last kid chosen for any sport in gym class. If I truly loved athletics and dedicated myself to long hours of practice and endless drills, I may have developed into a mediocre player at best. Dedication and hard work are important, but there is something to be said for innate physical abilities.

Similarly, because I am in the third stage of life, I am selective with my time. If I was willing to invest several hours each day training, even with arthritis in my knees and hips, I might eventually be able to run a marathon. Though I truly admire the people who overcome gigantic obstacles to complete those competitions, I recognize that their dreams are not mine. I choose to spend my time playing with my grandchildren, taking long walks with my “sweetie,” working in the garden, taking in an exciting movie, and helping others wherever I am needed.

As my mother once said (most likely repeating the words of some other sage), “Today I am older than I ever was, but I am also younger than I will ever be again.” I may have certain limitations, but I appreciate the skills and health that I have. I am no longer a teenager, a breast-feeding mom, or a working woman raising a family and going to college. I am a woman who has been blessed to reach retirement age. I have a loving family, a place to call “home,” and purpose in my life.

So what if the construction site has its boundaries, there are permits that need to be followed, the equipment sometimes goes on the fritz, and the architect keeps making adjustments to the plans? I am certain the project will be completed in its appointed time. In the meantime, please “pardon my dust!”

Being Healthy and Happy

It is the day after my annual physical, which always brings home the realities about what it takes to maintain a healthy weight and nutritional eating habits. It also makes clear the fact that I have not been doing what I know is healthy. After all, I love baking and cooking, which generally means I also like eating yummy things. I often think to myself, if I could just stop eating after one or two little bites, but that one bite always leads to a second, a third, and before I know it the entire lemon loaf is gone. Okay, so eating lemon loaf, instead of a vegetable salad, may also be part of the problem!

My physician said, “Did you know that you have gained two pounds since your physical last year?” Because I am who I am, I had to admit to her that I also lost twenty pounds this year and then put them all back on, plus the extra two! In my 60-plus years, I have experienced this many times. I am the classic yo-yo dieter. However, observing a healthy lifestyle also means I need to keep a positive outlook. With that in mind, I am still below my highest weight, I have not given up on my goal to eat and exercise sensibly for my metabolism, age, and current health, AND most of all, I am not alone!

The arrival of spring and the thought of bearing abs, wearing short-sleeved shirts, capris, shorts, and (God help us) a bathing suit, leads many people to face the fact that we have been eating more food than our body burned through activity. A friend of mine just began a blog called Fat Blasters, and invited friends and neighbors to support each other in practicing good nutrition habits, getting moderate exercise and pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Thanks, Sarah! Together we can get healthier!

As I have said, I know what I need to do. The fact is, I don’t do it often enough or consistently enough to maintain a truly healthy lifestyle. In the past, I have had success using the computer applications My Net Diary and My Net Diary Running. They are terrific (and inexpensive) apps.  My Net Diary allows me to record food by using a huge database or scanning a UPC code! However, the success factor, like most things in life, depends upon using the app consistently and honestly. I have resumed that practice today!

The My Net Diary Running app is great for recording almost any activity. It allows you to record strenuous activities like washing your car or running, but it also lets you record the time you were strolling through a mall, doing your grocery shopping, and other less “athletic” activities. Still, it needs to be used to really be helpful. Therefore, I also resumed that activity today!

If you are not a person who is comfortable with computers, just keeping a hand-written food and exercise diary can be very helpful for people who respond to those visual aids.

No single diet or strategy is perfect for every person! It is really important to understand your own health needs and cravings, and how your body metabolizes food. That is why it is important to seek your physician’s advice for any food or exercise plan you would like to begin. For example, with my physician’s approval, I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian for about ten years. However, as my body changed, the excessive dairy consumption began to drive my cholesterol up. I added fish and soy products to my diet, again at my doctor’s suggestion. After about five years, my husband’s health changed and he developed diabetes. When we examined our meal plan, we realized that the soy alternatives we were eating were very high in carbohydrates. We then began following the “My Plate” plan, suggested by the diabetes dietician, along with a consistent walking plan. That worked, both of us lost weight and our health improved significantly. Now, after almost two years of retirement, we have become careless about our snacking. As the doctor reminded us, “Grazing can be a very healthy way to eat, but only when you eat six to eight small snacks per day NOT three full meals AND six small snacks.”

Maintaining a healthful lifestyle can sometimes be a serious challenge, I realize that as much as anyone who is reading this post. Please know that whenever you take the time to have your doctor monitor your health, plan a nutritious meal, improve your knowledge about food, shop for wholesome food, read labels, take a walk, or participate in active play, you are improving the quality of your life. I know that from experience! Eating healthy does not mean you have to give up every pleasure. You just have to develop a new relationship to food and exercise. I am, once again, examining that relationship anew. My mantra, in the days and months ahead, will be “Moderation in all things!”

Batman vs. Superman

Okay! So, you most likely would not expect to find a critique of the most recent Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in a Grandma’s Door post. Still, here it is! Let me preface my review by saying that my family has long enjoyed all forms of myth and science fiction, especially when it deals with questions of theology, psychology, and morality.

I will do my best to keep any spoilers out of this post. In deference to those who have not yet seen the movie, I promise I will take extra time and effort in editing to ensure I don’t reveal any key information.

My son and I somewhat disagreed about the first part of the movie being overstuffed with information and seemingly pointless plot lines. I felt that several scenes could have been edited or completely cut. I admit that, beforehand, I read several critics who also felt that way during their viewing. I respect my son’s knowledge of the genre, and admit that he has a better understanding of the mythology being created in these comics. He astutely pointed out that much of the information, contained in my disputed scenes, will be important in setting the stage for future movies, which are already in production. I realize that I am not heavily invested in the DC and Marvel universes, so I will leave those technical discussions to the experts.

We both agreed that some of the dream sequences might have been edited, yet I could also see how those scenes were inserted to impress upon the viewer the fact that one of the characters was heading down a very dangerous psychological path of increasingly sadistic behavior.

I have always found the religious symbolism and moral dilemmas of the Superman and Batman mythologies to be very intriguing. When I think back to watching George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman, the morality was very clear. Superman was the “good guy,” who always did what was right, and never questioned the actions he took against the “bad guys.” Because he always fought for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and because I was only a little kid, I never would have thought of George Reeves as a Christ-figure, but things have certainly changed.

In Man of Steel, which preceded the current Batman vs Superman, I felt that Henry Cavill’s lines and actions often mirrored Biblical themes. The religious connection was a little less obvious in the current movie, though it is still a very strong undercurrent and becomes stronger as the movie comes toward a conclusion. One particular scene emphatically portrayed a composite of many of the artistic images of Christ being taken down from the cross.

This most recent interpretation of the Superman mythology also has a greater focus on Kal-El’s internal struggles. Similar to Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ, Superman struggles with the temptation to ignore the high ideals his father has laid out for him. He questions whether it would be easier to lead a “normal” life, rather than use his extraordinary gifts to fight for the survival of humankind. He must decide whether to obediently live out his father’s commission, or live according to his human desires.

The current movie finds both superheroes being internally tortured by the sacrifices they have made to protect the innocent. Batman faces the realities of an aging body and a creeping darkness that has always overshadowed his soul, since the death of his parents. Much of the dialogue between Bruce Wayne and his butler, Alfred, demonstrates that they are losing hope. Batman seems to be losing the certainty in his higher purpose, and succumbing to his “vigilante” reputation.

Superman is weighing the depth of his love for Lois Lane against the needs of humanity. Like Batman, he is dealing with his relationship to his parents and the limitations of a human life span. I definitely got the feeling that both characters were dealing with the tasks of mid-life and differentiating their own life purposes apart from those of their parents.

In this movie, and its predecessor, I could not watch images of large office buildings being toppled and exploded without thinking of the 9/11 massacre. In the current movie, when Bruce Wayne is driving through the streets and rescuing people from the concrete and metal debris, with clouds of dust engulfing him, the audience can understand his visceral anger against the two beings who are destroying his city.

Peace and understanding are only reached after tremendous sacrifice. A true battle royal ensues until the super heroes suddenly, and quite by accident, discover a common cause and begin to resolve the issues which have divided them. From then on, the action is driven by a new purpose and the spotlight focuses on Lex Luthor and his diabolical machinations. The movie concludes by pointing toward the next installment of the superhero saga!

Now we just have to be patient for nineteen months until the release of The Justice League! Of course, in the meantime, we can look forward to Captain America: Civil War, The Huntsman, X-Men: Apocalypse, Star Trek Beyond, and King Arthur. Grandma is going to be spending a lot of time looking at the big screen!

Weeding Out Envy

The Easter holiday is over and, though many people continue to celebrate the “Easter season” for another 40 days, many others have moved on and are preparing for summer. Similarly, for some teachers and students (namely my grandchildren) the “spring break” is over, while many others are only now in the middle of that post-winter respite.

This weekend I listened to my grandchildren lament the end of their spring break. I recalled similar days when I was a child attending Catholic school. Our “Easter break” began with Holy Thursday and we returned to school on the Tuesday after Easter. Some of my friends, who attended public schools, generally were out on “spring break” the week before or after us. I remember saying, “Those lucky ducks, they get off all week, while we only get a 3-day vacation!” My childish calculations ignored the fact that Catholic school students were often given a day off for the feast of the school’s patron saint or some other “holy day.” I’m sure public school students envied us on those Catholic-only free days. Those memories led me to think about the ways envy gets planted and ways to weed it out.

In our society, it is very difficult to escape those temptations. Daily we face advertising that plays on that emotion. Food, drink, transportation, housing, appliances, insurance, even particular medications are presented in a way that tempts people to obtain them or envy those who already have them. Athletes and movie stars are used in advertising to imply that you could live like a person you admire if only you purchase that shoe, cosmetic, cereal, vehicle, or medication.

For many years, I have endeavored to be content with the blessings I have and avoid the human temptations toward envy. I thought I was succeeding pretty well. After all, I had come to understand that the best medical care could not keep a person from getting cancer. I had seen the rich and famous leading lives of profound uncertainty and sadness. I knew that the most hyped medication could cause terrible side effects, which actually stole a person’s well-being.

Still as I entered my sixties, I envied the people who were retired. In my mind, those people could invest time in whatever endeavors they valued and not be bound by the requirements of employment. They had the ability to come and go as they pleased, without asking permission for “time off.” They could travel without trying to cram it all into only fourteen days per year. I believed that, when I retired, I would be free from envy. I expected I would be happier and more content and, on some level, that seemed to be coming true.

Then came spring break! I was enjoying the sprouting crocus and rejoicing in the fresh spring air. I delighted in holiday cooking, baking, and entertaining. I was looking forward to the green buds showing up on the trees. Instead, I got surprised by more shades of green popping up inside than outside.

Social media began to fill with photos of the Caribbean and warm, sunny vistas, as friends and acquaintances shared news of their travels and adventures. With the “heart-I-desire,” I clicked many “like” buttons and said to myself, “I am so happy for their good fortune.” Still, in my “Grinchy-green-heart,” very much like that little girl, fifty-some years ago, an inner voice grumbled, “Those lucky ducks, I wish I had the cash to go on that cruise…stay in that hotel…go on that tour…have dinner in that restaurant!” There I was, gifted with the free time I so desired, and my brain was still playing the lyrics of my youth, “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.”

It was time to seek out the wisdom of true friends because, as a wise man once said, “A true friend knows your weaknesses, but shows you your strengths.” Though I felt quite guilty to admit this old green nemesis was still lurking in the recesses of my psyche, I was glad to have friends to help me recognize that it wasn’t the emotion that mattered, but how I dealt with it. With their help, I began to focus on the love of my husband and family, the fidelity of friends, the comforts of my home, the beautiful places I have traveled, the blessings of my health, and the amazing wonders of each new day.

If this spring season, you happen to find seeds of envy sprouting in your internal garden, take a few moments to consider the people, places, and circumstances which have brought, and continue to bring, joy to your life. Remember, true happiness is not about having what you want, but wanting what you have!