Tag Archives: happiness

Summer Changes, Summer Chances

After a long, cold winter, I feel a bit like I’m coming out of hibernation. It’s time to get moving and doing. A friend is leaving New York City in August and has a bucket list of New York memories she wants to create before she goes. As I looked at her list, it got me thinking about what I wanted for myself this summer.And what chances I wanted to take.

I have my own agenda of places to go and people to see and kicked off the celebration of warmth and light with a conference in Orlando that felt like a family reunion.

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Since we were staying in a Disney hotel, we had a number of interesting guest appearances. I used a free morning to pop over to Universal to commune with the folks at Hogsworth. Had a great time and can now check that off my list. My advice: walk around, admire everything, stay off the rides! (I spent most of the time with my eyes closed, praying that my glasses wouldn’t fly off.)

At the conference, I focused on renewing and strengthening friendships – less content, more collaboration – and fun.



We’re moving forward with some wonderful collaborations this year and will be connecting virtually until we are together again next May.

The Clearwater Festival was another opportunity for celebration and reunions. In the face of so many sad and terrible examples of hatred in the world, the message on Pete Seeger’s banjo – “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” – rang loud and clear in the faces and voices gathered on a peaceful weekend. Saturday was a flashback to Woodstock 1 for some of us – music despite torrential rain. Sunday was sunny and delightful, a time for deep conversations and planning along the bank of the Hudson.

My promise to myself for this summer is to have an adventure a week, large or small. I will stretch my muscles and my mind. I wi explore my city and myself, renew old friendships and create new ones, write, learn, laugh and dance like no one is watching.

Don’t Give Up Thankfulness

I was sitting in Marble Collegiate Church yesterday listening to the pastor speak about things we should not give up for Lent. Loving others was at the top of his list, followed by thankfulness. Don’t give up thankfulness, he said.

This is not a new message. Many of us keep gratitude journals. One friend writes daily thank you notes to the Universe.

I wonder, though, if this doesn’t become pro forma after a while. Oh yes, we think, I need to get an entry into my gratitude journal. I need to write my note. I need to say thank you. OK – one more thing checked off of my list for the day.

What if we practiced mindful gratitude every day? What if we reflected on all the gifts we have been given and focused on the one that has a special significance in this moment, on this day.

I close my eyes after I make my journal entry and bask in the wonder of each day’s gift. Some days, it’s easy – one thing jumps out at me – a special moment or a kindness or the first crocus. Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find anything at all. Sometimes there seem to be so many things that it’s hard to single out just one. Reflection helps. Sitting with an idea, a vision, some new thing, brings clarity.

I used to make gratitude lists. Now I focus on that one important thing. I relish the good feelings that one thing brings. I close my journal with a smile.

Don’t give up on thankfulness. It just keeps the good things coming.

Friends (of) … With Benefits

No, not that kind of friends with benefits. This is about the many wonderful organizations that give you wonderful free things in return for your support. On Saturday, I attended a percussion concert at Alice Tully Hall, courtesy of a friend’s contribution to the Julliard Association. Here’s what the membership includes:

Two complimentary tickets by mail for six performances per semester (12 per year). Selection can be made from orchestra, chamber music, and dance performances based on availability.
Access to the Juilliard dining hall in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building adjacent to the School
Advance ticket purchase by mail to Juilliard Opera productions, the Alice Tully Vocal Arts Debut Recital, and the William Petschek Piano Debut Recital
Advance ticket purchase by mail for special Juilliard performances, including Juilliard galas and Carnegie Hall concerts
A subscription to the Members’ Calendar of Events and The Juilliard Journal, published eight times per year

If you prefer art, the Whitney Museum allows you to curate your own membership. This can include

tickets to their summer opening cocktail reception to preview and celebrate our newest exhibitions with other members, curators, and artists
Invitation for two to the annual champagne reception in the Trustee Boardroom for informal mixing and networking
Ongoing invitations to cultural events throughout NYC, including receptions, gallery openings, and art fairs
Two guest passes so you can invite your friends or entertain colleagues
Invitation for two to a Behind-the-Scenes tour of the Museum, including access to normally restricted areas
Exclusive presentations by our curatorial staff with insights on the curatorial process and Q&A
Quarterly recommendations from curators and art insiders about cultural activities not to be missed in NYC

and more.

Interested in dance? Here’s what Alvin Ailey has to offer:

Priority notification of American Ballet Theatre’s Spring Season at the Met
Two (2) passes to a special ABT Working Dress Rehearsal at the Met
Two (2) passes to a Working Dress Rehearsal in selected tour cities
Subscription to ABT’s publication On Point and ABT’s member e-news

The list goes on – and it’s all one search away. There’s community theater; there are local music groups for every taste.

What can you find?

The 55 Days of Christmas? Twelve Survival Tips! (my annual tradition)

And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Did you notice the Christmas decorations going up on Halloween? Did a chill run down your spine? The holiday season seems to be getting longer and longer and shorter. Yes, shorter. Look at the expectations this season puts on you.

Yes, this post is now an annual tradition.

Fifty five days are nowhere near enough to achieve Countess MarthaRachelNigelaPaula FoodNetwork perfection. I’m not sure I’m even up to Real Simple standards. So much to do! Are your cards out? Did you shop ’til you dropped on Black Friday? Did you make wonderful decorations out of recycled materials? Have you picked the absolutely perfect gift for everyone on your list? Do you have color-coordinated wrapping paper, tags, and ribbon? Can you tie a perfect bow?

When will you be having your holiday party? What will you serve? What will you wear to everyone else’s event? Do you know what to tip your hairdresser? What’s the politically correct holiday greeting? So many questions, so little time!

Holiday madness really set in when I visited a friend for Thanksgiving a few years back. She had decided that she didn’t feel up to cooking, so she ordered from her local supermarket. And then began to obsess. It wouldn’t taste good. There wouldn’t be enough. Turkey, cranberry sauce, whole wheat rolls, roasted butternut squash, mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie clearly was not enough for five people.

We added extra side dishes – home made cranberry sauce, candied chestnuts, fruit stuffing, baked onions, candied sweets, baked sweets, peas with fresh mushrooms and three more pies. Oh – and at the last minute she ran back for a turkey breast – just in case.

Everything tasted great, and we all had a good time, but it really made me think about how easy it is to get caught up in holiday excess. So – how will you have a peaceful holiday season? Here are a few simple suggestions.

1. Just like Santa, make a list and check it twice. While you’re checking, do a little reality check. Are you buying gifts for too many people? Are you planning on spending an unrealistic amount on each? Have you burdened yourself with impossible-to-find items? (No, my cousin will probably NOT get that antique fruit bowl this year.)

2. Only accept invitations that make you happy. If that means none, go for it! An unbreakable prior engagement is always a valid excuse. No one needs to know that the engagement may be with your couch.

3. Wear comfortable clothes. Always. Don’t let tight shoes or a dubious neckline spoil your fun.

4. Shop in comfortable shoes. Carry your wallet someplace easy for you to reach but hard for anyone else to get at. Don’t burden yourself down with too many packages.

5. Buy on line. Presents, dinner, cards, reservations – all just a click away.

6. If you must send packages, remember that the Postal Service will now pick up packages at your home.

7. Don’t bake unless you would go into a serious depression if deprived of the experience. If you do bake, set limits. I will never again have more containers of cookies than can fit on a fully extended kitchen table.

8. This one is for next year. Pick up interesting gifts throughout the year. If you travel, this is a great way to have truly unique gifts. Just don’t forget where you put them. Last year I gave several lovely objects I’d bought in Sicily three years ago. I’d put them in a safe place. At least they eventually surfaced.

9. Simplicity is very classy. Repeat that twenty times, then start cutting back on your plans.

10. Gift cards are a wonderful thing. Want to give the perfect gift? Not only are gift cards perfect, but you can fit them in your carry-on luggage.

11. Travel light. Carry your pills, jewelry and one-ounce containers or the liquids you need. Wear something comfortable and a bit classy so that if your luggage is lost you’re reasonably prepared.

12. Block out time on your calendar to do absolutely nothing but take care of yourself – whether that means go to a movie, meditate, get a massage, or just take a nap. Pace yourself.

Autumn Comfort Food and Ancestors

It’s autumn and the thermometer has dropped, so, as I sit bundled in a sweater, my thoughts go to comfort food. Specifically, to soup. Memories of my mother making escarole soup rise to the surface like steam off the soup pot. She made her own beef stock, so escarole soup also meant marrow bones. I can still taste that marrow, spread thick on a piece of bakery rye bread, then heavily peppered. And then the soup! Thick with escarole, scented with garlic and heavily ladened with Parmesan.

I will make my own soup today. It is a distant relative of my mother’s recipe, adapted to my expanded waistline and desire to minimize cholesterol, and it will be delicious in its own way. My grandmother’s spirit is at my side as I saute cabbage with onions to create a base. Next come tomatoes, bok choy, carrots and butternut squash. Pepper, perhaps a touch of dill, a few red pepper flakes. Green beans and cauliflower, if the spirit moves me. These are my own additions to replace the heartiness of the beef marrow.

Finally, I will add lots and lots of escarole. My mother’s spirit nods in approval. The soup will simmer on until all the flavors have blended. I may thicken it with some turnip puree (thinking of the old children’s book Rutabaga Tales). Later, I will feast on my soup, trying to avoid dipping in too many huge chunks of sourdough bread.

It’s a good day to bake some apples, too. I think of Auntie Adelaide, who made the best apple pie in the world, and honor her as I core apples. As they bake, I smell Auntie’s pie.

Autumn days are perfect for comfort and memories. Family members long absent visit in my kitchen on days like this and I am content.

Are You Dancing at the Shame Prom?

Twenty seven courageous women write about their dance in the moving compilation of personal stories that is Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small. Some of the stories made me laugh; some made me cry. All of them moved me.

How, I wondered, could some of these women have survived such abuse? Could I move on from seal abuse passed off as “God’s will?” What would me life have become if my alcoholic grandfather had escheated from verbal abuse to physical? If he had poured a jar of sauerkraut over my head? These were powerful tales of survival. Some shocked me; some made me cringe.

Other stories were much lighter. I laughed at one woman’s revelation of what happened in the sandbox. I smiled in understanding as I read about the beautiful but dumb boyfriend. Some seemed beyond my understanding. I will never truly understand what it is to be biracial, but the story reminded me of what it was like to be excluded for not being Jewish enough or Italian enough or Waspy enough. There are so many ways to not quite fit and you too are likely to find emotional connections to stories that are outside your life experience.

Sometimes, it was hard to not be a little judgmental – is that really a shameful experience, I asked myself a few times. It is in these stories, though, that I found the greatest learning. I had no problem relating to the body dysmorphia shame stories, but I had a hard time seeing frizzy/curly hair as a cause for shame. Of course, I must admit I have plenty of body issues of my own but happen to really love my hair, so that has something to do with it.

So, it was a surprise to find that the hair story was one that had a strong impact on me. Every time I have recommended this wonderful book to friends, I’ve mentioned that story. I love the author’s act of courage – jumping into a pool because she promised her daughters she would and emerging with no further though about how her hair looked. Don’t go with my oversimplification – read the whole story. Read the whole book. Share it. Buy it for your friends.

Finally, think about your own participation at the shame prom. Are you a wallflower? Are you pretending you weren’t there at all? Or are you ready to speak up, own your shame and move on? I want to be as brave as these women. What about you?

No, 60 Isn’t the New 40 (Revisited)

This is a story about my new shower curtain liner. And age and agility.

I’m sixty seven and I’m proud of my age. I don’t mind a few crinkles around my eyes or even that things are not necessarily in their original locations (ah, gravity). I don’t think that 60 is the new 40. On the other hand, I don’t believe that 60 is old. I don’t think age defines what we can or can’t do, but maybe sometimes it’s good to be a tad more careful.

So why is this about a shower curtain liner? My old liner had gotten dingy and seemed to plan to stay that way, so I went out and got a new one. No problem – I didn’t mind having no shower curtain overnight because the drying rack was in the tub (yes, some of us still do hand laundry).

Fast-forward to the next day. I decided that I wanted a quick shower. No problem – I moved the drying rack and then realized that I hadn’t put up the shower curtain.

OK – this is easy, right. Not so much, it turns out. At 40, I easily balanced on the rim of the tub. Today, it made me shaky. And dizzy. OK – stepladder. Not as much of an improvement as I’d hoped, but it works.

Now, somehow, I’m not lining up the hooks correctly. It takes three tries to have them in the right spaces. Not necessarily a standing on a stepladder task, perhaps. This is taking a lot longer than I’d expected. Should have considered the ladder.

Task completed. But it reminds me that 60 is not the new 40. While long walks and dancing stay on the agenda, maybe there will be fewer substitutions for actual ladders. Or – I have more money than I did at 40 – I can pay someone to climb and lift and carry.

I know that some 90 year-olds run marathons. I wouldn’t have been able to do that at 20 and I don’t want to. A friend can still do a cartwheel at 70. Now that’s something I aspire to. And maybe even go nyah-nyah – bet you thought I couldn’t do it AT MY AGE afterwards.

There are all kinds of distinctions. And just because at 25 I didn’t have the sense to realize that I couldn’t lug a 30 pound turkey a mile doesn’t mean I haven’t developed a little judgement over the decades. I believe in shopping carts and the occasional car service when I can’t just get something delivered. And I believe in shopping online.

I’m saving my energy for the good stuff – vacations, parties, nights out with friends, long walks. And I’m admitting that there are both things I don’t want to do and things I can’t easily do. And, more and more often, I think I’ll choose not to do those things.

Hey – I earned it – don’t bother me!

Trying Serendipity

I love it when things just appear exactly when I need them, don’t you? This has been a week of serendipitous happenings – from perfect people showing up to something as simple as the perfect tomato. I’m just dancing!

On Saturday, I called a friend to check on the date of a street fair that turns out to be next week. There was another fair that Saturday, though, and my friend had an unexpected empty space in her normally packed schedule, so we were able to spend a beautiful afternoon together. The weather conspired in our favor and it was one of those perfect, cool, breezy September days. We had a wonderful stroll, admired many beautiful things and managed to buy none of them.

We needed coffee, though, and on the way discovered a new store, where I found the perfect dress for an upcoming event. And, on a side trip to check on a second dress (that turned out to be wrong for me), I discovered the perfect shoes to go with the dress.

The day before, a quick trip to the Greenmarket yielded some perfect tomatoes and a bargain – delicious – lunch at a new pizza place.

Sunday, completing the last of the seasonal closet switch-over led to the discovery of my long-lost silk thermals and a favorite shirt I thought was long gone.

A brief check-in to plan a meeting this morning led to the discovery of a perfect interview for my book project, an invitation to join a group, and this week’s Woman of the Week.

The more good things come along, the happier I’m feeling. And the happier I’m feeling, the more good things appear. It feels like magic, but it isn’t really. If you’re looking for the good, you’ll see the good. If you come to expect wonderful surprises, well, there they are.

There will be gloomy days, rainy days, frustrating days, overwhelmed days, I’m sure. And it will be tempting to wallow and look for the negative. And see the negative. And expect the negative.

And on those days, I’m trying serendipity.

The Grass is Really Greener on My Side of the Fence

How much time do you spend looking at other people’s lives and thinking that maybe they have things better than you? It’s easy to forget that we only see what we’re shown – and even then, we tend to see things the way we want to see them.

On balance, the grass is looking greener and greener in my own back yard. And I’ll keep what I have, weeds and all. Today, I’m thinking about a colleague who was healthy and strong and successful until a week ago when a mysterious illness put him in danger and his life on hold. I’m thinking about so many who are mourning eleven year old losses today. I’m thinking about friends who are in pain and finding their quality of life diminishing.

As I sit here in my cozy office space, surrounded by things I love – not for financial value but for sentimental value and for comfort. I look at my Thurber dog, who always makes me smile. I download a picture of my Godson heading off to his first day of kindergarten. I nod to a picture of me sitting on a wall, staring lovingly up at my mother. When I’ve finished writing, I will enjoy a few perfect strawberries.

I’ve moved from a gratitude journal to a variation suggested by coach Natalie Tucker Miller. Every day, I write a letter to the Universe, expressing my gratitude for something. I now start my day in anticipation, What new things will I be grateful for?

Sure, my floors need resurfacing. And it would be nice if there was a bit more of a breeze in this room. But there will be smiling faces at the bus stop tomorrow. And friends to met. And art to see. And new adventures. I’m liking the grass right here.

What’s going on in your yard?

Butterflies, Joy and Change

I’ve seen a few Monarchs floating through Brooklyn this week. If you’re lucky enough to live on the New Jersey shore, you’re likely to see many more flitting by around now. They’re beautiful and I always hold my breath for a second as I watch them.

I’m in the process of emerging from my own chrysalis right now, so I have a lot to learn from butterflies. And they’ve been following me around lately, just to remind me! The lesson of the butterfly, it turns out, is letting go of old behavior and moving on to the next phase.

Moving on is not easy – at least for me. I like to dig in and hold on. I remember reading that for every successful woman you could see the fingernail scratches on the furniture where she’d tried to hang on to the old, and I know that’s true for me. Change doesn’t come easy.

But then I look at how beautiful the butterfly is. Maybe change is worth it. Butterflies float on the breeze; they dance in the air. They don’t cling to the branches or hug the ground. Butterflies always look like they’re having a good time. Can you watch one without smiling? They bring joy. They are joy.

I’m almost ready for my butterfly moment. I’m ready to push out of the shelter of that chrysalis, where I’ve been growing and stretching and absorbing energy over many months. I’ve moved out of a toxic business relationship. I’ve returned to full mobility, thanks to the wonders of hip replacement. I’m ditching my old business model.

Right now, my wings aren’t quite dry and I’m a bit shaky, but I know that is changing. I can’t wait to see what’s next!