THE HARDEST WORD TO SAY

Food Truck

 It’s only two letters. You’d think that it would fly right off the tip of your tongue. Nope. It protects you not just from yourself but also from others. It can be your strong defense or a gentle offense. It encourages you when you’re about to give up and discourages you when you want to do something that you shouldn’t. In the 1980’s, Nancy Reagan, during her anti-drug campaign, coined it in the phrase: “Just Say No!” At the time, people made fun of her but I think she was spot on.

 I have been saying, “No” since I was very young. You’d think I’d be a past master at it. Eh, not so much. Don’t get me wrong. I say it probably more than most. If you don’t do so with conviction and often, you’ll be run ragged by demands, expectations and guilt trips ad infinitum. Until recently, I was sure that most people my age also knew when to call it quits, not just at the gym or in relationships but in the workplace, too. They don’t.

Last weekend, 25 of us, ages 12 to 80, volunteered to unload food donations from across the city to replenish our community food bank. From 2-6 PM, outside in 97-degree heat, we sorted and boxed foodstuffs. We laughed, sang and talked through the work. By 5 PM, the 20 something’s finally figured out that they needed to do the heavy lifting and we older folks continued to bag and sort the incoming goods.

 By 5:30, I noticed that the much older man next to me was bright red in the face, perspiring and visibly wincing as he opened the incoming bags.

            “Darlin’,” I said to him, “It’s time for you to go home.”

            “Oh, no, I can’t,” he argued. “We still have a half hour left.”

            “That doesn’t matter,” I said. “You’ve been on your feet in this heat for 3 ½ hours. That’s more than enough. You’ve done great work. It’s time to go now.”

            “But I volunteered until 6,” he protested.

            “Sorry, we’re going,” I said, taking his arm.

            Reluctantly, he let me lead him away and out to his car. As he got in, the relief in his face was obvious.

            “Now go home, take a shower and put your feet up,” I said.

          For those of you reading, I advise the same.

           

 

          

UP TUMAMOC!!!

Up Tumamoc

Too many of us, old and young, are loathe to get out of our comfort zones. It’s nice feeling cozy in your routine, always knowing what the day will bring. Thing is you can’t grow by sitting still, anymore than a muscle gains strength without use. Any challenge, no matter how small, builds us and makes us bolder.

 Which explains the hike I took yesterday with my 24 year-old up Tumamoc Hill. It was billed as, ‘an easy, hike,’ until you read the fine print: It was a 750-foot ascent to the top and a three-mile round-trip! Now, I haven’t hiked in. . . Well I can’t actually remember when, but I did learn a thing or two along the way:

  1. Don’t over-analyze the route before you start or you may never take it.
  2. Swing your arms when you walk whether or not it makes you look foolish. It helps.
  3. The real climb is in your head. Your legs are just there for support.
  4. Don’t worry if someone passes you. Don’t even notice or you’ll alter your own momentum. Besides, you may pass them later on.
  5. Don’t be afraid to pause and admire the view. It will help you catch your breath if nothing else.
  6. Encourage your fellow travellers. You are in this together.
  7. Don’t be shy asking for help. Most people love to offer it and it makes them feel important.  (My daughter’s left shoulder was a great support to me most of the way back down as I have no knees.) 
  8. When you’ve gone as far as you can, turn around and look how far you’ve come.  It will encourage you to go further.
  9. Be present in each step and reaching the end won’t feel so overwhelming.
  10. And finally:

 The view from the top is exactly the same as it was from the bottom, only now you can see it!!!

 

BROKEN BUT BLOOMING

broken but blooming

 I’m a pretty adept gardener but removing mistletoe from Palo Verde trees and pruning huge, spiny branches is not my forte. So, last week I hired a gardening crew for a few hours. When they arrived, I cautioned them to, ‘be careful’ of some of my new plantings. Now granted, most people do not scatter sunflower seeds among rocks but I do. It gives me immense pleasure to fill barrenness with beauty.

 It wasn’t until the following morning that I noticed one of the men had stepped on several of my sunflower shoots and broken the stems. They probably did look like weeds. I was tempted to pull them out and start over but stopped when I noticed that each one had a round, green bud that someday would yield a yellow flower. So I left them, broken and lying flat on the rocks. Perhaps the birds might peck out a bite or two I surmised.

 This morning, I was alone in the pool, which is both blessing and curse. Blessing, because I don’t have to fight for a lane and curse because I am alone with my thoughts. Today, I was a bit blue because there is so much less time ahead of me than behind me. I pictured the older people who are often here, many of who can no longer swim at all and merely tread water. I wondered if that would ever be me.

 Then I thought of the gal who arrives daily on crutches, sits down, removes her prosthetic leg, slips into the water and swims a vigorous mile.  My brief depression ended abruptly. I returned home to find this beautiful flower, which actually bloomed more than a week after it had been trampled!!  ‘Such spunk,’ I thought to myself– just like the girl with no leg and just like the kind I intend to cultivate in myself.  As Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

 

  

SHADOW BOXING

Shadow Boxing

Last night at an alumni gathering from my college, something became very clear to me: I am NOT ready to be old yet. Don’t get me wrong—I know how old I am. I’m just not ready to act it yet. After being around my contemporaries for several hours, I came home thoroughly depressed. Maybe it was all the white hair and wrinkly skin around me. Maybe it was observing others struggle to find words, or the way they ate their food cautiously, or the clothes they wore. Perhaps it was the resignation in their eyes and voices, but whatever it was, it wasn’t for me.

 Right now, my Inbox is inundated with articles entitled, “How to Fight Aging.” Are you kidding me? You can’t fight aging. That’s like shadow boxing. It happens in spite of yourself and all your many machinations to keep it at bay. Recently, I even stopped buying Oil of Olay “age defying” lotion. Why? Because it’s an expensive cream guaranteed to make my skin look younger, and in the last 20 years has not removed one single DAY from either my life OR my skin!

 This week, AARP magazine’s cover story was, “50 ways to Live Longer!” It was the usual, ‘exercise and eat your vegetables,’ routine that everyone spouts. Now, if following those 50 things makes you feel better, then go for it. As for me? I plan to drive with the windows down, the music pumping and sing at the top of my lungs. I will continue to start conversations with complete strangers. If music is playing, whether at the supermarket or in an elevator, I’ll be dancing. In short: I plan to live while I’m still alive.

 Here are the top 4 things I vow NOT to do:

  1. Say things like, “My memory must be slipping.”
  2. Discuss my bodily functions or the pills that I take.
  3. Complain about my aches and pains.
  4. Stop dancing!

 Last week, my aunt turned 79. When I asked her how she was dealing with almost being 80, she laughed. “It is what it is,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Aging is just part of life. It happens. You go with it.” Now that’s advice worth following.

IS SHUT EYE THE NEW DAYLIGHT SAVINGS?

Sky and I napping

I’ve never been a napper. Even as a kid I could not close my eyes during the day for fear of missing something. To me, sleep was tantamount to being dead. In the last 35 years, I recall taking only one nap. I was 8 months pregnant and one afternoon, decided to lie down and close my eyes. A few minutes later, terrified that something was horribly wrong with me, my husband shook me awake. He had never seen me nap!

 We all know that sleep is important. If you’re between the ages of 18-64 you need 7-9 solid hours of it! Recently, biologists have even discovered that part of sleep’s job is “pruning back” some of our synapses. They enable neurons to send signals to each other quickly and efficiently when we are using our minds. The idea is that they grow so exuberantly during the day that our brain circuits “get noisy” and sleep gives them time to quiet down by pruning some of them back. Interestingly, a fifth of our synapses during sleep remain unchanged as if they encode well-established memories that shouldn’t be tampered with. Scientists refer to this as, “forgetting in a smart way.”  

 The Journal of Neurology just published a study, which shows that new ‘long-sleepers’ have an increased likelihood of developing dementia. Those who have recently started to sleep for more than nine hours were found to have a 20 percent increased likelihood of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They also appeared to have smaller brain volumes. Researchers emphasize that this longer sleep is not a direct cause of dementia but rather a sign that chemical changes are happening in the brain. The development of dementia can also make people feel more tired.

 If you have a cat or dog you know that that they can nap anywhere, anytime. If you are a regular napper, you are boosting your immune system, mood, alertness and creativity. Science has even proven that if you nap right after learning a great deal of material, you are more likely to remember it. Someday, I may just have to bear down on my pillow and imitate my dog. I will put a sign on the door first so that my husband doesn’t wake me! Until then, I’ll keep my eyes open so I don’t miss anything!

DRINK UP!!

coffee

 Just imagine how delighted I was to read this week that drinking coffee actually lowers your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and Type 2 Diabetes by 65%. Not only that, it seems that drinking up to four cups of the lovely stuff a day might well be the charm. This information came from several studies over a long period of time and you can Google them for yourself.

 But that’s not all. Not only is coffee rich in B vitamins and minerals but it is also loaded with antioxidants. Caffeine, it turns out, not only increases your metabolism but also enhances brain function by blocking adenosine. In addition, coffee drinkers have an 84% lower risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver and a 40% lower risk of developing liver cancer. Even better? Coffee drinkers have lower rates of depression and suicide. No wonder I’m so happy!

 But lest you get too giddy reading the above, I also want to counter these findings with another article that I read in The New Yorker this week. It was entitled, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Opinions.” Apparently, we humans are subject to something called, “confirmation bias.” That is, we tend to embrace information that supports our beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.

 Incredulously, our bodies actually release dopamine when we read or hear information that supports our beliefs. Uh oh. Maybe I’m doped up right now?? “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding.” Another ‘uh-oh.’

 I guess it all goes to say that you should take these lovely findings on coffee with a grain of salt. (Whatever you do, don’t put those grains in your coffee). As for me, I am blissfully looking forward to my double espresso with non-fat milk tomorrow morning. I will sprinkle it with cinnamon and nutmeg, both of which are known to boost the immune system, strengthen cognitive function and lower heart disease risk. Oh, and did I mention that they also are anti-inflammatory agents? So, drink up my friends. Drink up!  

ANONYMOUS VALENTINE

heart-leaf

 This lovely leaf appeared on my doorstep last Valentine’s Day. No tree in our yard had leaves like that, so I pondered its’ arrival. Did the wind blow it smack to the center of the doorstep? Had someone put it there? I picked it up and put it in the kitchen window and all day admired my anonymous valentine.

 Valentine’s Day has always been my favorite holiday. My love affair with Cupid began in 1st grade. I had abruptly been skipped from kindergarten the week before Valentine’s Day. I was the smallest, newest addition to the class and didn’t know anyone. The teacher had us make big, red, colored paper hearts with our names on them. Then she stapled them to the bulletin board with the tops left open. We were to slip our Valentines into each other’s open heart.

 My mom bought me a stack of valentines with sweet tarts already attached. Excitedly, I began writing the names of all my new classmates on each one. The next day, I arrived early to slip them into their red hearts. Some were too high for my reach, so the teacher gave me a little step stool to stand on. All week, I watched my classmates stuff their treasures into each other’s Valentines, too. A few of them even bulged at the seams.  I was so excited that it was hard to sit still in my seat.

 The big day came. The teacher pulled all our valentines off of the board and placed them on our desks. The kids around me were pulling out lollipops, bubble gum, and chocolates. I opened mine and reached inside. There was only one valentine and it was from the teacher. She had also put in a Hershey’s kiss, which was my very, best-loved candy!

 While the memory is bittersweet, it reminds me that it only takes one act of kindness to make someone’s day. I was thrilled to get a special valentine from my teacher with my favorite candy. In fact, all day I wondered how she knew. At the time, it never occurred to me that she gave ALL the kids a Hershey’s kiss! Sometimes I think it’s better not to know how something happens and simply appreciate it when it does, like finding a heart-shaped leaf on your doorstep.