Something Different, Again: Two Announcements and Two New Kinds of Snacks

Announcement 1. With some reluctance, I have decided to put this blog on hold for awhile. Probably for 2-3 months. The reason is that I am currently focusing on other projects, including an intense class to help me improve my skills as a writer and content marketer. I just didn’t feel I could do everything — including this blog — justice, so a temporary break seemed like the best idea.

The good news is that the skills I’m learning in this class will probably make this blog better. I’m planning to try them out with the next part of my post about Words With Friends. So I appreciate your putting up with this temporary change.

Announcement 2. Though I had planned not to blog at all during this “sabbatical,” I’ve decided to stay in touch with shorter, more informal posts, if possible every Tuesday, since they won’t take as long to write – or read.

I wouldn’t want to abandon my vast audience that I now almost need two hands to count, and as a writer I can’t really stop writing for that long. So this is a way to keep writing, keep sharing, and keep trying out new ideas to see what you’d like to hear more of, while keeping it all short and sweet.

I’ll share an insight, an experience, a quote, a poem, a book review, a quick summary of a concept or trend I’ve learned about, etc. Anything I found inspiring or funny or useful that I think you’d also enjoy or find worth applying to your life or work.

Usually these mini-posts will be just three or four hundred words, maybe sometimes even less, so you can think of them as reading ‘snacks,’ rather than a whole meal.

I got the idea of non-food snacks from a concept I’ve been reading about lately. It’s called “exercise snacking.” Hope that whets your appetite, because that’s what I’ll be writing about for next time.

Words, Friends, and Words With Friends: How to Win, Whatever Your Score

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I love words. And word games. And my friends. And my Mom. And my Aunt and cousin. By playing Words With Friends on my phone, I find a way to combine all these loves every day.

And as a somewhat introverted ‘word geek,’ I not only love the challenge of using my vocabulary, along with various strategies I’ve acquired to play the game well – I also love keeping in touch without leaving my house or making a phone call.

I’m able to stay connected while also happily living my reclusive life at the same time. And I can do what I’m good at, which is everything to do with words, and with competing with myself only, to keep getting better.

My Mom and I even use our daily multiple games to keep in touch, and to keep track of each other. We know each others’ routines fairly well, so if one of us doesn’t send words within a few hours of when they’re expected, we get a text making sure we’re okay!

Playing “Words” Bring out the Best and Worst in Me.

I am grateful and amazed that my friends and family keep playing with me, even though I fairly frequently beat them, sometimes hard. And instead of hating me, (though my Dad has reported that sometimes he hears my Mom calling me names under her breath), they congratulate me on those 90 point words, praise me for how I play, and keep coming back for more.

Something I can (mostly) feel good about too is that they also keep getting better, which keeps me growing, and shows that I’m teaching and sharing my knowledge of and love for words, and the game, with others.

I also have one or two players who frequently beat me quite soundly, which keeps me humble, gives me empathy for what it feels like, and continually challenges me to do better.

I’ve never been someone who cares all that much about winning or losing. And I don’t think of myself as highly competitive, except against myself. I always want to do better and beat my record. But I have found that this game tends to bring out my competitive side, and I behave much more assertively in this space than I do in life.

I often find myself apologizing for drawing the high card, getting the better word, or otherwise doing something that might, however unintended, make the other person feel bad. Even with “Words” I sometimes feel sheepish if I win by 100 points, (which, by the way, happens much less often, now that most of my opponent/friends are on to me and learning, literally, how to beat me at my own game).

But still I find that a different personality comes out when I play. Though I still care more about the friends I play with than winning, or even my score, I do get more competitive than I usually am. I’m always trying to beat my best score, my average score and other stats.

The game shows you your own stats on various details of the game, and when I found out I was only playing 90 something percent of 2 letter words, I set out to learn, and play,  more of them, and somehow I reached 100%. I also keep trying to increase the number of “unique words played” and of JQXZ words, which means sometimes straying from the tried, true and convenient to challenge myself to expand my game-related vocabulary, and use more of my regular vocabulary as well.

The Good and Bad of Playing, and How it Affects my Work.

The downside is obvious, especially when I’m working from home. It’s far too easy to let my ‘breaks’ expand into my work time. I try to at least turn off notifications on my phone, so there isn’t the siren song of the game calling me when I’m supposed to be doing other things.

But I do think playing a few words makes for great short breaks throughout the day, which can, when used right, actually increase productivity. I also think my mindset when I play – that of continually wanting to rise to the challenge, learn new skills, and keep trying to beat my own records – may also help me face the challenges and unknowns involved in running and marketing my new business.

I’ll try to view it as a game, a fun challenge, something to keep doing a little better at, a little at a time. Just like I’ve found that meeting new, small challenges in my daily workouts – learn how to turn on the balance beam, increase the minutes I jog instead of walk, and so on have helped give me confidence that I can meet other challenges, in life and work, meeting challenges in the game can also stretch my brain, and my comfort zone, and what I feel is possible for me to do.

A Very Few Words about Strategy in Words with Friends

It’s important to have fun, with words and with friends, to gain vocabulary, and to be balanced rather than to over-analyze all the strategies just to win. It’s about learning and connecting, not just scoring points.

But that being said, let’s be clear that this game is definitely a lot about strategy. A good vocabulary and feel for how words work helps. And you will gain a special vocabulary specific to the game itself. That’s really important.

But you really do need to have a strategy also for how to place your words to maximize special spaces on the board, block your opponent, etc. At the risk of getting beaten more often, I’ll share some tips about that next time, including some from an expert or two that have thought out the whole strategy part more than I have or intend to.

So until next week, have fun and I’ll see you on the screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Meaning in the Mundane: Three Musings on Daily Life – Part 2

2. The resilience of green, growing things.

I don’t know if I could say I have a purple thumb, because I don’t know what that would mean, though I love purple enough that nearly everything else in my life is purple, plum, mauve, lavender, lilac, violet, or something in that category.

All I can say is that my thumb has not been known for being green. In fact, I have for most of my life had trouble keeping any plant alive.

So I feel like I’ve grown (pun maybe intended) as a plant person over the years, because I now happen to have two house plants and two outside plants that are all alive, some after several years. There have been some rough moments, but with help from two or three “plant doctors” in my life, I’ve managed to keep them alive for an impressive amount of time compared to my history.

One thing I’ve learned when it comes to plants: if all else fails, cut off all the brown parts, even if it means leaving only nubs sticking out of the soil, give it water and sun, and wait for it to use its own ability to renew itself.

My most recent addition to my tiny plant family is a small mint plant I’ve been keeping, only partly successfully, by my kitchen sink.

At first I had to experiment with the container to keep it in, and how much water to give it. Too many brown leaves told me I wasn’t getting it right at first. But I cut off the brown parts, encouraged that they would soon be replaced by the miniscule, infant leaves I could see beginning to sprout. Plant procreation right under my eyes. Amazing.

Another amazing thing about this plant is that I can purposely cut off leaves, literally for my consumption, and feel confident that they will soon be replaced by new growth.

The plants in my life have proved to be, not only resilient but forgiving, giving me a new chance again and again, and in the case of this small, fragrant adornment, almost as many mint-sprigged cups of tea and recipes as I like.

I can take, and it continues to generously give of itself, without ceasing to exist. I give back by watering it, admiring it, and celebrating its generous nature with these words.

I think we can also be like that to a degree. Though we can’t cut off parts of ourselves and regrow them (except hair), we can come back from things we thought we might not survive, and continue to grow and thrive. We can also give to others, within limits, without depleting ourselves. In fact we do better when we give, allowing for new growth, sprouting leaves of our own kind.

3. A clean, blank calendar.

Last week I made the observation that this week would bring a new week, a new month, and a new year, all at once. That’s a lot of beginnings.

Though I don’t make new year’s resolutions, I usually can’t resist the pull and possibility of a whole new year stretching out as a blank slate on which to write goals I’d like to accomplish in this seemingly vast stretch of time.

I know the time will go by faster than could seem possible, and there are limits to what I can accomplish, but it is both motivating and inspiring to write down goals, and set out the steps to achieve them.

But this year I find that it is not only the clean canvas of a new year that inspires me, but an actual uncluttered calendar as well. I use my calendar to write down, not just appointments, but goals, to-do lists, business records, small steps achieved, personal reminders, and so on. So by the end of the year I have a convenient record, but also my usual inky mess.

I haven’t figured out how not to do this, but a completely clean calendar to start with rested my eye and my mind, and made me want to fill it carefully and mindfully, not to mention a little more neatly if possible.

But this pure, free space didn’t last long. Before even the first day of January I have (neatly) made notes on squares representing two days of the first month. But I will try to use the calendar, and the time it represents, joyfully, purposefully, efficiently, and well.

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Next time I will try out yet another subject, a surprise, to honor the suggestion of a valued reader.

Finding Meaning in the Mundane: Three Lessons From Daily Life

  1. Carrying Water: My Tiny Glimpse into the Life of a Third World Woman

Because my tap water is truly terrible, and because my budget is limited, some years ago I had to choose among similarly limited options for potable and affordable drinking water. Both an installed purification system and delivered water are too expensive. Buying bottled water by the gallon is also expensive and uses far more plastic than my conscience allows me to do on a regular basis.

A water filtration pitcher worked for awhile, but because my water is so hard, and chlorinated, I went through the somewhat expensive filters too fast.

A friend told me about what has become my main solution. It’s imperfect, labor-intensive, and sometimes less convenient than I’d like, but mostly it works. I go to the Culligan store — yes, a water store– where I fill my bottles from convenient indoor taps, with water that has been purified several ways. The result is satisfactory for three main reasons.

  • 1. The water is pure and tastes really good.

  • 2. Even after the third price increase in several years, it costs only 35 cents a gallon – the cheapest option I’ve seen.

  • 3. The store is close to my home and roughly on my way to most places I go. Since I work at home and like being home, I try to keep my outside work, worship, and weekly errands within about a five mile radius, and this fits well within that.

Of course there are also some disadvantages.

  • 1. It takes work and time and adds another errand to my weekly routine.

  • 2. It’s a bit messy and tedious. I have to rinse each bottle with water and either white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or GSE drops, to keep them from growing science specimens. Then I have to rinse them again at the store, to get the tap water residue out. Then I fill them, find the change to pay for them, carry them to my car, and carry them back inside at home. And of course all of this involves quite a bit of dripping and splashing in several locations.

  • 3. If I’m out of water, I’m out of water. You just can’t go all night without drinking water because the store is closed or you don’t feel like taking a drive. It’s a little bit of a panicky feeling. I’m sure drinking a little of my tap water wouldn’t kill me, especially if I boil it for tea, but I don’t really want to take the chance, or deal with the terrible taste.

That’s where my plan B comes in. I try to buy a gallon at the store once-in-awhile, to have a little extra. If I’m really desperate, I’ll walk to the convenience store close to me and buy a couple of way overpriced small bottles to tide me over. This negates some of the frugality I’m doing all this work for, but it gives me a break, and relieves the fear of perishing from thirst.

So, overall, though I plan to look into other options when they become viable, for now it works, and I don’t mind it too much. At least I’m fortunate to have pure, tasty, affordable water a short drive away, and a car to get there, and I can easily fit a trip to fetch water into my normal routine, if a plan ahead a little.

But being one to look for meaning, connection, empathy and insight in the most prosaic activities, this chore often makes me think of those who don’t have it nearly so easy. Yes, rinsing, lugging, and filling water bottles every week is a bit of an annoyance. But I don’t have to walk anywhere to get to the water (except a few steps to and from my car). And it doesn’t take hours out of my week, much less my day.

There are still so many places in the world where drinkable water is hard to come by. And even if it is available, it is often a long, laborious, constant job to reach the source and carry it back and forth, on foot. And of course this task usually falls on the already burdened shoulders of women and girls. I’ve heard that some girls are even deprived an education because all this trekking for water doesn’t leave enough time to go to school.

I promised myself I would not turn this post into a rant against all the unfair ways girls and women are still treated, and I won’t. I’ll just say that this task that I sometimes resent makes me feel some kinship with and understanding for those women whose lives are much harder than mine.

It also reminds me how truly fortunate I am. Carrying my water is one extra chore. A slight inconvenience. It is not a backbreaking, life-limiting hardship.

I have access to good quality water, at little monetary cost, and for relatively little labor cost. I won’t say I wouldn’t be glad to find an easier way. But in the meantime I’ll remind myself to be grateful for all of these advantages it could be easy to take for granted or minimize.

Water is vital for life, and replenishing my water supply reminds me of what a good life I have.

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I’m getting to like the idea of writing these posts in installments, and since this vignette took all my word limit, I’ll save the other two for next time. (It will give me time to think of the third one). As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and experiences.

Fifty Great Things About Being Fifty Plus – Part 2

6. We’re not in a hurry all the time.

Likely in your twenties, thirties, and forties, you had a full-time job, tried to grow your career, reared children, served on committees, and on and on. Sometimes it was hard to catch your breath and enjoy life as it happened.

Now you are probably still busy, still working, still living an active life, but likely you are also juggling a little less, over the hardest part of the learning curve, and able to slow down a little. Make the most of it. Life goes by fast anyway; we don’t need to make it feel faster by not savoring the moment. The clock, like any tool or technology, should serve us, not be our master.

7. We are in a unique position to help those both younger and older than we are.

We’re right in the middle. We know more and have experienced more than those who are younger, and we can tell them things about life we wish someone had told us. We have likely gained some perspective that can help us and others.

We also probably have more strength and ability in some areas than those older than us. We can drive them where they need to go, shop for them, or just listen. They’ve been where we are – now we can pay some of it back, and still learn from them as well.

Some people call this the “sandwich generation,” where we face the demands of children and parents. But we can also benefit from this place in the middle, learning from and teaching the generations on either side of us.

Take just two examples:

1. Technology – likely those younger than us know more about modern technology than we do, and can teach us some of its uses and benefits. It’s also likely that we already know more about such things than those older than us, and we can patiently help them to use the benefits of technology as well.

2. Culture – while we have lived history that happened before later generations were even born, and can teach them about former ways of life, we can also benefit from the viewpoint of youth, renewing our energy, enthusiasm, and the sense of what is possible. Similarly we can keep learning from those who lived before us, and share our somewhat younger perspective with them.

8. Age doesn’t really matter so much, so we can be more open to friendships with those older and younger than ourselves.

This is basically a continuation of point 7, but it’s about more than just learning and helping, but about a true personal exchange with a variety of people of different ages and ways of thinking. When we view others, whatever their age, with an open mind and heart, we can broaden our viewpoint, deepen our empathy, and have meaningful exchanges that enrich everyone involved.

We may even try new things we’d never considered before, and enjoy spending time with people we might previously have overlooked.

My whole life I’ve enjoyed friendships with people much older than me, but more recently, as I’m less and less often the youngest person in the room, I’m learning to enjoy friendships with people much younger than me as well, and it does help me feel younger too.

9. There is still plenty we can do now to help to improve our physical and mental health in the coming decades.

We can keep using our bodies and our minds, learn new things, eat well, make a contribution, and take care of ourselves and our relationships in countless beneficial ways.

What we do, and don’t do, what we eat, and don’t eat, how we take care of ourselves, how active we are, physically and mentally, can help or harm our well-being as we age. This one, with some research, could become its own post. What do you think?

10. We can have fun.

Since we probably have fewer “have-to-do’s” in our lives, we have more time for “want-to- do’s.” What do you really want to do with the time and energy you have? This time of life is a great opportunity to have fun, seek adventure, and view the remaining years as full of possibility.

We also don’t care as much about what people think, and many in their late middle years have grand-children, so there are built-in excuses to play and try being young again.

Personally I love reading children’s books, both those I remember fondly from my childhood, and those written more recently. I love the sense of innocence and “anything is possible,” as well as the realism and psychological insight that many new books for children and teenagers feature. It’s a great way to tap into youthful thinking, to play, and to de-stress with the soothing ritual of a “bedtime story.”

If our development is reversed, in the sense that the elderly are sometimes considered child-like again, our middle years can be a kind of second adolescence. A better one because there’s less teenage angst, fewer rules, no high-school, and more freedom, but there can still be a sense of anticipation, energy, and possibility.

If adolescents are starting their adult lives, we late middles are re- starting them. It’s time to rejuvenate and consider, with a sense of excitement, what possibilities can still lie ahead for us.

In my last post, I admitted that I would actually consider 10 great things about being 50 plus, instead of 50. But I challenge you to keep adding to your own list, and I’ll do the same.

Fifty Great Things About Being Fifty Plus – Part 1

In the last two posts, I talked about one of my favorite clients, who reached 100 years old, and by extension how we can help and enjoy the people we know who are 80 and beyond.

There is still a lot more to say about, and learn from, people in their final decades, and we all hope to get to those high numbers, and to do it well.

But for those of us in the ‘middle’ years, there are a lot of advantages for us to enjoy, some that we didn’t have twenty five ago, and some that might not be as available in 25 more years. So let’s appreciate what we’ve gained, and reap the benefits as fully as we can now.

Okay, maybe not actually fifty things, but that sounded good in the headline. Let’s try for 10, and see how far we get.

Of course these are generalizations, and mostly based on my own experience, but I think most of them will ring true to others at least a little past 50.

  1. We don’t care as much what people think.

    Of course we should care how other people feel, and we’re interested in at least considering the thoughts and opinions of the people close to us. But peer pressure? Self-doubt? Spending a lot of energy worrying about whether people in general like you, approve of you, find you ‘cool’ or whatever? Not so much.

    We’ve learned to be comfortable with who we are and what we can uniquely contribute. That’s a great place to be.

  2. We have experience.

    Yes, some of that experience undoubtedly comes with scars. But all of it adds to our depth and strength, helps us make wiser choices, gives us more to contribute, and can make us more empathetic toward others. We also know more about what we want – and don’t want — for our remaining years in terms of work, relationships, life goals, and all the rest.

  3. We have more confidence.

    Item 1 – not caring so much if others are judging us, and item 2 – having more experience in all aspects of life, combine to give us item 3. We trust our judgment and skills more, and don’t listen so much to all the chatter, including the self- criticism we might have struggled with when we were younger.

I’m not afraid of people anymore, or of trying new things. If I ask for something and they say no, it’s not a tragedy. Neither is it one if they don’t want to be my friend because I won’t pretend to be something I’m not. And if I try something new and it doesn’t work, I learned something and will probably do better next time. The earth will not shatter if I try and fail. But if I don’t try, I keep my world smaller than it needs to be. Now is a great time to try new things, and see where they can take us.

4. We don’t embarrass as easily.

Since we don’t worry as much about what others think, and since we have experience that tells us what is and is not really important, we’re more likely to give ourselves a break and not obsess over our small mistakes.

Case in point: The other day I was walking up a street in my neighborhood. I thought I heard someone call my name, so I looked across the street and found a group of people walking by and talking loudly. I waved, smiled, said hello, and tried to pretend I knew at least one of them, while searching my memory.

Then I realized they weren’t really talking to me after all! Oh, well. I shook my head at myself, laughed a little, and moved on.

5. It’s not too late to start new chapters, or re-write old ones.

Don’t love your job? Get a different one. Never lived your dream of writing a book, traveling the world, starting a business, learning a third language, or ballroom dancing, or whatever? Start doing it now.

Not thrilled with how some of your relationships have turned out, or not fulfilled by how you spend your days? You can work to improve those things. Break the old mold and invent a new one. Take that confidence, that time, that experience – good and bad, and use it to do something new or to do it better.

Disclaimer: In the case of people, I definitely don’t mean to discard them and start over. Nor do I mean insist on having it all your way. I mean discard the ways of communicating or relating that aren’t working, and work together to make it better.

Well, that’s five. Let’s try for five more next time. And please let me know what you think: what you agree with, what you disagree with, what you would add, and if you even like the topic. Thanks.

Eight Life Lessons I Learned from my Centenarian Friend: Part 2

5. Look at an older person when they talk to you, and really listen.

When someone has trouble hearing, it helps to look straight at them, so when you speak it’s easier to make out what you’re saying. It also shows interest and respect. Don’t look at your phone, your computer screen, your feet, or the other person in the room.

A note for health care professionals: it is especially important for you to look at your elderly patients or clients. If you take notes on your computer and constantly look away, it will be harder for them to hear and understand what you say, and they’ll feel ignored. Also, try not to talk to a younger companion, just because it’s quicker and easier.

Believe me, I speak from experience. On more than one occasion G.’s doctor and I both got in trouble for speaking to each other about G., instead of to her. The doctor was trying to get the information she needed as expediently as possible, and I was trying to make sure everything I’d observed, and what I felt was important, got communicated.  But it was G.’s appointment, not mine, and she let us know it. No competent adult who has taken care of herself for decades wants to be talked over as if she were a child.

Looking at the person, and listening, shows respect. It will help you both communicate more effectively. It also shows that the person still matters, and you care what they have to say. And you will likely learn something worthwhile.

6. Keep your mind and body as active as possible for as long as possible.

G. had been an athlete when she was young, and stayed active all her life. I think she went swimming often in her later years, but by the time I met her, at 91, she had to be happy with more modest pursuits. Still she had her own little exercise routine that she did nearly every day, and we often went for short walks.

Some of the things she could do — like lie down and lift her leg over her head, or bend over while standing and touch her feet – were beyond my reach, literally. I have never had much flexibility, but she maintained hers when she was decades older than me.

She also kept her mind active. She read a daily newspaper, kept up on current events, and read books. She did crossword puzzles from the paper and we played Scrabble or cards. She could carry on an interesting conversation, and as a retired bookkeeper kept her checkbook, her house, and her life in meticulous order.

G. also worked until she was at least 80, and then did volunteer work after that. She maintained an active interest in life, and still lived it – despite the increasing limitations of age — as fully as she could.

I have observed that if you choose not to use your mind or your body, they won’t come through for you when you need them. But if you keep them exercised, they’ll still serve you well, and your life will be more interesting too, because you are really living it, not just watching it go by.

7. Being a little stubborn can help you survive.

G. went through some difficult times in her life – she lost her mother at a young age; she lived through the depression and several wars; she moved from South Dakota to California as a young woman on her own and supported herself and built a new life; she raised a child on her own, starting in her forties. She worked until she was at least 80, and took care of herself all her life.

You don’t survive and thrive through all those challenges without some backbone, and maybe a bit of an “I can do it myself and my way” attitude. This does not always make it easy for family members or caregivers to help, and there were days when I wished there was just a little less “fight” in her, but that strong will helped her accomplish what she needed to.

8. Cherish your time together.

None of us knows how much time we’ll have. But when you have a friend or family member who has already outlived the average life span, that reality becomes more poignant. Enjoy each day, each moment, each story. Treasure them away, so that person will live on in your heart, and you might even be able to share some of their personal history, and some of the lessons you’ve learned, with others.

It’s often the small things you’ll remember later. Taking time to enjoy a cup of tea and a cookie together, or to look at old pictures; really listening to a story of what it was like to live in other times and places; sharing a good laugh over something small but meaningful to both of you.

And giving of yourself to help someone, even when it isn’t always easy, offering the gift of care, of living at home instead of in a ‘home’, of making a day less lonely — these are all things that make a difference, and become gifts to you as well, enriching your life immeasurably.

And remember, if someone is older and lives alone, sharing a meal together with them, whether it’s something you’ve prepared yourself or just a frozen dinner you warmed up, can really mean a lot. They will feel less alone, and they will eat more, so you have helped sustain someone in two ways, and with much more benefit than if you simply dropped off the food and then left. And this will allow you to enjoy their company as well.

So treasure the living historians in your life. Be as patient as you can. Don’t forget to see, and share, the joy and humor in the little things. You can help make the last years of someone’s life more connected and companionable and a little easier, and you will be storing up memories you can take out and savor for years to come.

Eight Life Lessons I Learned from my Centenarian Friend: Part 1

I have always enjoyed the company of people in their last decades of life, especially if they still actively engage in life, with joy and a positive attitude.

In our culture of youth, constant new technologies, and the latest model of everything, citizens in their eighties, nineties, and beyond can sometimes be dismissed as behind the times or even irrelevant. But I think each generation has something valuable to offer, and we can all enrich each others’ lives, if we just take the time to take a closer look, find common ground, and really listen.

It was my privilege to spend the last nine years of her life with a very special client who also became a good friend. She was almost 91 when I met her, and 100 years and 2 months when she died, in her own home. In those nine years, I gained many cherished memories and learned so much from her – about life, history, relationships, and how to support and honor someone in the last years of their life.

I’ll try to narrow it down to eight of the most memorable things I learned. Some of them I already believed and felt deeply but had confirmed by my friend, whom I’ll call “G.” Others she taught me along the way. All of them I think will help others, whether you’re caring for an aging loved one, provide professional services to the elderly, or just want to see the older generation in a new light. I think closing this “generation gap,” benefits everyone.

And one quick side note: The term “elderly” is a term to be used carefully. Don’t ever use it to identify people like my parents – active, vital people in their mid seventies who go to the gym, play golf, drive, and more.

I don’t often use the word for anyone younger than in their eighties, and then it conveys tender affection and respect for a very special segment of the population who can be wonderful teachers, companions, recipients of much-deserved care, and friends.

So here are a few things I learned.

  1. People are not disposable.

    They do not become obsolete, outdated, or beside the point. Unlike last decade’s cell phone, older people are not replaceable, unnecessary or useless. We have all visited nursing homes where, on our way to visit someone, we encounter others sitting in the hallways looking lost, starved for a smile, a kind word, a bit of attention, mostly forgotten and unappreciated.

    Thanks to her own efforts at maintaining friendships, and the devotion of her only son, this was not the kind of life led by G in her last decades. (More about this in item 4.)

    The elderly are living historians, usually much more interesting and accurate than history books. They have valuable experience, perspective, and life lessons to impart. The way we live changes. Technology changes. But being a human being, managing daily life, family, relationships, work, and all the rest of what it means to be human doesn’t change all that much. So listen. They deserve it, and you’ll learn something, maybe even be entertained. Don’t count out someone’s ability to make a contribution just because they move a little slower and are no longer in the work force. They’ve contributed a lot in the past, and they still have plenty to give.

We are not less human, or less worthy of dignity, just because of how many years we’ve lived. Often it’s quite the opposite.

2. Having a sense of humor is vital.

We all face frustrations and indignities in life, but the very elderly tend to suffer these many- fold. Their eyes, ears, and bodies betray them. Life and technology starts to move too fast to keep up with. People sometimes treat them like they don’t matter. You can rail against all the loss and injustice, or you can remember to laugh it off and still embrace life.

One time when G. overheard someone in the doctor’s office make a dismissive remark about her she told me about it and laughed heartily. I was incensed. So were the other people who cared for her. But we all got a good laugh with her too, and she chose not to take it too personally.

If you can still see the humor in life, even when things aren’t that fun or funny, it gives you a kind of power, and you enjoy life more, because you just rise above and get on with living.

  1. Airplanes and computers are great, but indoor plumbing is even more important.

    Once I asked G. what, in her century of living, was the best invention she’d experienced. She’d seen most of the 20th century, when so much had changed, and a bit of the 21st as well. So I was a little surprised when, of all the amazing things she’d witnessed, she picked indoor plumbing as the most life-changing.

    We’ve taken such a ‘luxury’ for granted for so long that it hardly seems like a technological advance. But she grew up on a farm in South Dakota, and I can imagine how life-changing a switch from outhouses and drawing water for a bath to indoor bathrooms and hot showers must have been. It shows that sometimes the simplest things are the ones that improve our lives the most. And most long-established things were once new and wonderful.

  2. Keep in touch.

G. maintained and nurtured relationships all her life. She stayed in touch with her siblings, nieces and nephews, neighbors past and current, and friends. And when she was the last one surviving of all her closest friends and family, she stayed in touch with their children.

She called. She wrote. She visited and welcomed visitors. And yes, she emailed. Because of her efforts, she didn’t end up like one of those forgotten, discarded people in nursing homes who rarely get a visitor.

She stayed to the last day in the house she’d resided alone in for decades, living as rich a life as possible, with a little daytime assistance but still largely self-sufficient until her final months.

She regularly received cards, flowers, food, emails, letters, phone calls and visits. She was never isolated or neglected. She still mattered to others, and they mattered to her, which made her life full and satisfying, even when she could no longer leave her house.

G. was a living example of ‘you reap what you sow.’ She sowed friendship and connection, and reaped bountifully when she needed it most.

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I’ll save the last four points for next time. I hope to see – and hear from – you then.

What Would You Like to Read About?: An Invitation to Help Me Test My Subjects

I’m going to try something new, again, for the rest of this year. Each publication date, (every other Tuesday), I’ll write a post on a different topic or angle, and ask for your feedback on which subject you are most interested in hearing more about.

I would appreciate claps, comments, suggestions, and hearing about your favorite posts.

My usual topic: “Read. Think. Walk. Write” is both literary and practical, providing insights from daily life – reading, walking, etc., adding the twist of a poet’s perspective, and helping you apply those insights to your life, your job, and your business.

My idea is that we don’t have to just assume there is only one way of seeing and doing things. Sometimes we need to question our assumptions, and “the way things have always been done,” to find a better fit for our needs.

This post will be a short version of the same approach, and a temporary farewell to this type of post. Then next time I’ll start the experiment with something new.

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Well Begun Is Half Done.”

For me, movie quotes aren’t that different from quotes and insights I gather from reading, because movies are often based on books, or real life. At the least, they are also based on words, and created by an artist, just like books.

I don’t remember if this phrase was in the movie “Mary Poppins,” but it was in the film “Saving Mr. Banks,” which was about, P.L. Travers, the writer of the “Mary Poppins” books the movie was based on.

This quote was attributed to the author’s brusque, business-like aunt. She tended to use it to get everyone in the household involved in tackling and completing chores, but I think the phrase applies well to any task, small or large, that we may be dreading or putting off.

I am someone who finds “transitions” of almost any kind a natural challenge and source of resistance. If I’m up I don’t want to go to bed. If I’m in bed I don’t want to get up. If I’m home, I don’t want to leave. If I’m away, I don’t want to go home. If I’m into one activity I don’t want to move onto the next. You get the idea.

This resistance is magnified when I perceive the task at hand as boring, tiring, overwhelming, or just don’t want to do it, or know where to begin.

One especially mundane example is washing my (long, heavy) hair. It’s a tiring chore to me, and really breaks up my day. But once my hair is thoroughly wet and I’m committed, it isn’t that hard to get the rest of the job done. I’ve often found myself saying this ‘Poppinsesque’ phrase once I have begun.

When it comes to a more daunting task, such as beginning a new writing project or assignment, the same holds true, and is even more helpful. Just getting something down on the page helps, because then you’ve already started. You have something to add to, gradually shape, and improve, instead of the dreaded blank page.

In this case, as with other larger projects, you don’t have to do it all at once. In fact, if you’re at all dreading it or uncertain how to proceed, just making a start, however small, takes you that much closer to accomplishing the task, with as little pain as possible.

Many of you will be familiar with the “Pomodoro Method,” where you set a timer for 25 minutes (or in practice any time you want), work on the project at hand until the timer goes off, and then quit until next time. You can get a surprising amount done in short, concentrated spurts, which will make it easier to build on your progress in the next session.

This idea of just beginning, just taking a step forward, however small, can be applied to many aspects of life. Sometimes once you start you can finish a small job all at once and have it off your list. Other times just doing something helps make a large job you do over time much less daunting.

Either way, I encourage you to take that first step today. Sign up for that course you’ve been meaning to take, buy paint for the room you’ve been wanting to redecorate, learn two new words in a language you’ve been contemplating learning, clean out one drawer (or if your desk is like mine part of one drawer) in your desk or dresser.

Once you’ve begun, you’re on your way to being done with something you may never have started otherwise.


I hope you’ll join me next time to take part in my experiment. I‘ll call the first post: “What I Learned From My Centenarian Friend.” 

Diary of an Article – Part 2

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of my behind-the-scenes story of the not so glamorous process of article writing.

I will continue my account of the process in this post, though I have to admit I lost track of some of the details of what exactly I did on what day, so I’ll just have to give you an overview and highlights.

Day 10 – Wednesday: Started a new document, pasted in my introduction and the early parts of the article that were working, and started re-writing the rest, which wasn’t really organized yet. This seemed to be a turning point, the start of my actual article.

Day 11 – Thursday: Did more research. Started mining the book I’m referring to for specific points for the article.

Day 12 – Friday: Forced myself to write a little, on the new, cleaner draft. My resistance was especially high today, probably because I’m starting to feel the pressure to get this actually written, but once I finally dragged myself to the keyboard, I had plenty of things to write about. In fact in going to have to do some cutting later. Ended up with over 900 words, and I need to cut to between 700 and 750. Realistically, it will be just about 750.

The good thing about having extra words is then you have plenty to work with. Cutting and editing are easier than facing a blank page, and when you have to get rid of words you get to choose just the best ones.

Sat. to Wed., days 13 to 17, were a bit of a blur, so let’s just say I took a couple of days off, and the rest of the time did more of the same.

Spent several work sessions cutting and polishing. Inevitably added some words as I edited, but eventually managed to cut from around 900 to just over 750, my limit.

Thursday – Day 18: Needed to get serious about finishing the article. I was just about finished, but then I decided to change the order of some list items. After a bit of cutting, pasting, and the occasional technical panic, it all came together, and I think it really was better. Got out a thesaurus and found an alternate word or two, where I had some repetition.

By the end of the day I was mainly finished. Just needed another edit. I emailed my editor, letting her know I was ahead of schedule, and that I’d probably deliver the article (or my draft of it) the following evening, or Monday at the latest.

Friday – Day 19 Finished the article, proofread several times, made a few changes, and checked my references to make sure I had the right page numbers. Found a quote to add. Had to cut a few words, but came in just at 749.

I made a discovery about the kinds of perfectionism that do and don’t work for me. I tend to think of all the possibilities until the scope is too large. So I’m learning that I need to choose my angle, get just enough research, get a draft done, and then let go of further expanding the possibilities.

Then I am free to really polish what I have, working in a limited sphere. I can spend some time finding just the right word, cutting what I don’t need, getting the flow to sound right, proofreading several times, etc., without making it all too big. I’ll call it perfectionism in a small pond.

Saturday Day 20: Did another read through or two, checked the word count, which was back at 749, and in the evening attached the document to an email, held my breath, and pushed send!

I could have taken another day to polish and obsess and still have the article in my editor’s in-box before Monday morning, but I felt it was time to let it go and stop worrying.

Now the waiting begins again.

Monday – Day 22: I can’t keep myself from checking my email often today, but I know editors are busy, so I may not hear back for awhile. I am pleased and relieved though to have turned in the article 3 weeks from the day I received the assignment, a whole week before my outside deadline.

Today I began the research needed before I can send another article pitch. So it begins again.

Tuesday – Day 23: Received an email saying they got the article. Now my editor will send it to her editor for review, and they’ll let me know what they think.

Thanks for joining me behind the scenes.