February 8, 2013
On Valentine’s Day, we’re going to do something different.
No gifts. No flowers. No dining out.
This year, we might still wear something reddish and drink a sparkler, but we’re staying home. Could sound rather humdrum—but I’m excited because this will be a creative and meaningful Valentine’s Day.
We’ll start by making a tasty vegetarian lasagna (from my own spontaneous “recipe”) and a chopped salad with veggies fresh from the farmers’ market. Then after dinner, we’ll clear off the table and <drum roll> … make our own Valentine’s Day cards with our own personal messages right on the spot!
I’m thinking about it now because I need to capture “art supplies” from our cupboards, recycling bin, and elsewhere:
- cardboard cereal boxes
- address label stickers
- ribbons from recently opened packages
- greenery from the garden
- dried beans
- wrapping paper
- colored pencils
If you can think of anything else that might be already in the house to use as art supplies, please let me know.
Although it is early, I wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day 2013.
December 23, 2012
These dark days—literally, it’s winter, and figuratively, recent school shootings—have consumed my thoughts at this time of the longest night of the year. We have no control over the amount of darkness in the sky or what someone else does, especially something so incomprehensible as shooting young schoolchildren. So what can we do when it all seems so overwhelming?
Buddhists tell us that we live our lives only in this very moment, to be aware of what we’re experiencing now and to bring ourselves back to this second. Concentrating on the breath is one way that I stop the pondering over the past or the planning for the future, but in doing so, I open myself to the sadness and helplessness I feel about the recent, senseless killings. Is there anything I can do in the face of such horrific happenings? After a recent session with my meditation group, I realized the answer is yes. And it isn’t complicated or impossible.
It is as simple as choosing to show love—saying the loving thoughts and stopping to touch my friends and family. I don’t always take the time to think of and say the positive things, and touching doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t usually pat an arm to express my caring, and others usually initiate a hello or goodbye hug. Why? I feel vulnerable—I can’t control the outcome, and there’s always the possibility of rejection.
At the same time, I know that showing our soft underbelly to each other and going toward our fears is how we connect and create a caring community—which is what I so want in the world and precisely what the world needs. It’s risky, but I’m thinking that there’s only good in resolving to show love, and it might just bring about the transformation we want.
October 29, 2012
Right after we bid farewell to Chucky, our feline love bug, I had this strong urge to clean and organize. Closets, the refrigerator, cupboards—all got my frenzied attention for about a week or so. Now I look back and see that my cleaning mania was my way of coping, of doing something I had control over in response to the loss and change we were experiencing.
As we paged through photos of Chucky, we shared our remembrances of him, which was very healing. We plan to put his photo on our dresser so we can look at him anytime … and see that beautiful kitty face looking back at us with so much love and gentleness.
October 14, 2012
I think it was late spring or early summer. I was in the kitchen and saw something in our backyard out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look out the window and saw an unknown cat drinking water from the birdbath.
I am a sucker for a cat or dog in need—I’ll stop in my tracks to help. So I hurried to the cupboard for some cat food, opened the back door, and sat down on the stoop about 10 feet from the birdbath so I could get a better look. He was sitting by the birdbath, looked to be about 4 years old, very dirty grayish fur with black accents, long-haired with large mats that stuck out on his sides and chest. He didn’t run away, so he probably wasn’t feral, but he was scared.
I lobbed some dry food close to him, and he ate it. He moved toward me as I put food closer and closer to me. Then, in a bold move, I put some food on the stoop and kept my hand closeby. When he bent down to eat, I scratched under his chin, and he responded by leaning toward my hand, letting me know that he had known humans in his past. I put more food down, he ate, and then he left. The next day, he came by again, and I put food and water on the stoop for him.
You should know that we already had two indoor cats. I knew that my husband was not in favor of adding another cat to our household because we had taken in a stray from the neighborhood the year before and our two cats were getting along well. I told him that I wanted to take care of the new cat, but that I understood that he would be outdoor only.
The cat kept showing up, and I started calling him Charley because that seemed to fit. When I called his name, he would appear. To keep him safe at night, I started carrying him through the kitchen and into the garage. I set up a chair in the garage, and when I would sit down, he would jump onto my lap. Oh, yes, I was in heaven!
I don’t think my husband or I saw the handwriting on the wall, but Charley, whose name became Chucky as we got to know him, ended up in the house full-time soon thereafter. That was in 2001.
What a social, curious love bug Chucky turned out to be. Once inside the house full-time, his coat turned from gray to snowy white with lots of pink: pink paw pads, pink nose, and pink ears. He loved getting brushed/petted/scratched, sleeping on our bed all night, and snuggling with us on the couch. He was the greeter, always visiting with whomever came by the house, including dogs!
Yesterday was our last day with Chucky. We are feeling sad and feeling the loss, but we know that it was the right time. He spent a wonderful 11 years with us.
We miss you, Chucky.
July 1, 2012
The gold beets, yellow-fleshed potatoes, and Dijon mustard give this simple salad a sunny glow.
Golden summer salad
- 6 medium gold beets
- 4 medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, like Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold
- 3 Asian or Mediterranean thin-skinned cucumbers or 1 English cucumber, sliced into half-moons
- 6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
- 2 tbsp. mayonnaise, Vegenaise, or olive oil
- 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- Fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
- Trim beets to leave 2 in. stems if greens are attached (leave root ends untrimmed). Rinse and put in a large saucepan. Add potatoes and water to cover by 1 in. Simmer covered until tender when pierced, about 25 minutes (pull out potatoes as they become tender). Drain and transfer potatoes to a cutting board to cool.
- Add cold water to saucepan to cool beets. When cool to the touch, slip off beet skins, stems, and root ends. Transfer to the cutting board. Cube the potatoes and cut beets into half-moons.
- Put potatoes and beets in a large bowl. Add the cucumbers and basil.
- Whisk together the mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Pour dressing over the salad and toss. Make more dressing if needed.
- Top with sunflower seeds right before serving.
June 23, 2012
I do some of my most creative thinking and problem solving in the morning when I’ve just awakened and still horizontal. So early one morning this month, I took the fun challenge of coming up with a potluck lunch dish from what I knew was in the fridge (zucchini, carrots, scallions, cilantro) and in my pantry (dried fruit, seeds, nuts).
I don’t usually eat raw zucchini because of its slightly chalky mouth feel. But it was going to be a warm day, so I thought, Why not make a salad of shredded zucchini and carrots, dried fruit, Asian influences, and crunch? Here is what I created in about 30 minutes (toss and serve immediately for best flavor).
Asian zucchini and carrot slaw
- 3 zucchini
- 3 carrots
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 to 1 cup raisins
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 3 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
- 3 tbsp. toasted sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup roasted cashews or almonds, chopped
- Shred the zucchini and carrots into a big bowl.
- Add the scallions, raisins, cranberries, sun-dried tomatoes, cilantro, sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. Toss and add more sesame oil and vinegar and/or salt to taste.
- Top with sunflower seeds and cashews or almonds and serve immediately. (As it sits, this salad gives off fluid, which dilutes the dressing and softens the seeds and nuts. If that happens, pour off excess liquid; add more sesame oil, vinegar, and salt to taste; and sprinkle on more seeds and nuts if you like.)
April 10, 2012
Just got back from L.A. visiting my mom, who is almost 89 years old. The visit was a complete watershed experience for me. During the visit I felt so many different things: helpless, empowered, sad, enlightened, clueless, impatient, uncomfortable, surprised, anxious … and more.
I cooked for her, gave her a mini pedicure, lotioned her skin, folded laundry, organized some of her things, watered plants, and cleaned out her house a bit, throwing away dead plants and broken stuff.
While I was there, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling anxious and overwhelmed, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I thought about the what ifs and fretted that I could end up alone, unfocused, and unable to take care of daily life like my mom (who had always been energetic and strong). Powerful and scary stuff.
I’m still processing what I experienced, but her situation motivated me. I was struck that nothing is private in this world—someone will be going through my house either before or after I pass. When I returned home, I saw with fresh eyes, clearing out stuff I didn’t need from my own cupboards, drawers, under the bed, etc. (thank goodness for freecycle.org). I want to be the one to do the lion’s share of the cleaning out as I age and not burden someone else later.
I believe that my mom got into this fix because she stopped making friends and connections years ago. She hasn’t had a reason to get up in the morning or enough of a structure to her life for a long time.
What makes a good life as we age? How to set a course to a different outcome and what would that plan look like?
While I was waiting for my plane, I came up with a few points for my “blueprint” for a good life now and in the future:
- Create a structure/routine and accountability
- Find hobbies/activities that motivate me
- Belong to communities/groups
- Nurture relationships continuously
- Give time to others
- Connect with younger people
- Stay limber physically and mentally
- Set aside financial resources for future care
I’m still figuring out if more is needed and what actions relate to each point. Having overlaps between the points promotes more of a net.
February 3, 2012
I love animals. My husband says that taking a walk with me is like going to a networking event or attending a mixer for my mayoral campaign because I “shake hands” and “chat” with every neighborhood dog and cat that we meet on our way.
So when we were awakened around dawn by a cat howling in our backyard, I wasn’t mad. There he was—a long-haired black cat I had never seen before. When I opened the back glass door to give him some food, he dashed away, but he returned a moment later to eat.
Within a couple of days, he was humanely trapped, neutered, immunized, and in our garage recuperating overnight. It was obvious that he was feral because he was absolutely terrified at being inside, so I opened the garage door to let him go, sure that I would never see him again and fearing that he would equate me with pain and captivity.
But lo and behold, he was back in our yard the very next day, sitting on our back stoop right by the glass door looking in and waiting for his breakfast. And he kept showing up at our back door day after day.
We decided to call him “Backyard Boy,” or “BYB” for short. We didn’t want to give him an official name or get too attached, knowing he could be out of our lives in short order. A feral cat’s life is neither long nor comfortable.
To keep him dry and warm, I got a doggie “igloo” from a neighbor that I put in a covered area in our backyard. To get him to go into the igloo, I put cat nip in it (I think I must have been the first person to give him that treat). BYB would come and sleep in the igloo when it was raining or when the late afternoon rays of the sun would shine directly inside it. I felt so good knowing that he had a safe and warm place to relax.
When I would see him in the igloo or sleeping elsewhere in our backyard, I would sometimes go out just to be with him. I would sit in a chair or work in the garden several yards away. When he wanted cat nip, he would jump on a particular low wall and wait. It was so much fun to see him sniff it and roll around in it. What joy I felt knowing that he was having a good time!
Soon BYB was coming by several times a day, sometimes to sit on the back stoop and other times just to be in the backyard. We would feed him whenever we saw him. If I came home late and missed his usual dinner time, I would call him in the same sing-songy chant, and he would show up no matter what time. Still whenever I would open the back door to put out his food, he would dash away and return to eat after a few moments.
Sometimes when I was feeding him, instead of immediately closing the back glass door, I would kneel down next to his bowl and put my head down to be near to him but not make eye contact. I could see him out of the corner of my eye: He would sniff me and hesitate, but then he’d very gingerly come up and eat, allowing me to be within a foot of him. That was the closest I could get.
Our routine went on for several years. Then, one day, he didn’t show up in the morning, which was unusual. And he didn’t show up that night or the next day. I called and called to him, but he didn’t come. I was worried. I went around the neighborhood calling him and asking neighbors about him, but he was an enigma—I don’t know think anyone was aware of his existence except us.
A few days later, I was so happy! He showed up at the back stoop, sitting there as usual looking in through the glass door. I put out his food and turned away. When I turned back, he was gone—without eating. That’s the last time I saw him.
In my heart, I know that he came to say his goodbye. Years have passed, but to this day, I look out the glass door and hope to see him there on the back stoop, waiting to be fed.
February 1, 2012
Everyone where I worked was a bundle of nerves. The management at the high-tech company had just announced that there would be another layoff. We who were left had weathered layoff after layoff, so the feelings weren’t new. But morale was very low, and anxiety was very high.
It was a Thursday in September 2007. My boss asked me to come to his office, so I knew that my number was up. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. My heart was pounding and my face was frozen in a smile as I signed away my job, after 10 years. I was the only one in my group to get the axe, so I felt alone—kicked out the door and into the street. I had no idea what I was going to do. I was angry, sad, anxious, and ripped from life as I knew it. No way was there a silver lining to this layoff cloud!
As part of my severance package, I was provided with job transition services to help me navigate through this change and get motivated for a job search. At first I was in a funk and in no mood to participate, especially because the economy was tanking and jobs were rare. But I knew I had to start making progress, emotionally and otherwise.
The several weeks of job transition services ended up being very helpful for many reasons, but immediately I realized that I was not alone. Many people from my old company showed up. We told our layoff stories, and some complained about what it was like to work there. Listening to them, I realized that I had prejudices about people who got laid off—that they didn’t somehow live up to the company’s standard for work performance or teamwork, and that’s why they were asked to leave. I couldn’t believe that I was being lumped in as one of “those people,” and I felt quite raw. The more I participated in the classes, though, the more I could see the others who were laid off as individuals with skills and talents, and that we were in the same boat—trying to cope with what had happened and taking baby steps to move on with our lives.
Through the transition classes and coaching that I received plus some volunteering at a local nonprofit, I began to slow down and think more carefully about what I would do next. I reviewed my time at my old company and concluded that I had been ready for a change for a long time. I couldn’t connect my recent work with a direct, positive effect on the world, which was becoming more important to me. I didn’t like the intense competition between employees and the politics of working for a company that wasn’t doing well. Yet, I never would have quit.
As I reflected, I began to see that I had choices—that something totally different could be in my future. Where was I in my life? How did I want to spend the time I had left? Was working full time necessary? How much money did I need to make? For whom and with whom did I want to work? What skills and talents did I want to use and for what purpose? Maybe there were industries other than high tech and other job possibilities?
Several years before my layoff, I had submitted my résumé at a local magazine because working there had always been a dream of mine. But I didn’t hear back, so I put it out of my mind. Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by them about working freelance a couple of days each month. I jumped at the chance, even though the pay didn’t compare to what I had been making. I found the work to be totally exciting and worthwhile, about topics that I’m passionate about. As I rethought my options, the possibility of becoming a full-time freelancer started to dawn on me, and I decided to take the radical step of starting my own business.
My layoff opened my eyes to a new world and gave me back my time. I was given the opportunity to put work in perspective, that it wasn’t my whole identity or my whole life. I work only part-time, allowing me to explore individual and group activities. I started a blog. I take a weekly ceramics class. I attend a meditation group. I am a member of a charity knitting group. I do pro bono editing and writing for nonprofits, family, and friends. I volunteer at my local farmers’ market. And I’m open and available to pursue additional possibilities.
If I hadn’t been laid off, I would not be involved in most of my current life, yet I would never have made that change on my own. My lifestyle is a bit different than when I was making a full-time salary, but that isn’t as important to me as being in full process and connection with my life. It’s a little scary, but I continue to gain a better understanding of my values, what motivates me, and what makes me happy.
I had thought that being laid off would be the worst thing that could happen to me, and at first, it certainly felt that way. But it turned out that there was a silver lining after all. My layoff was actually a gift in disguise.