Category Archives: Happiness

A Letter To My Mom at Thanksgiving

Mom Presents the Turkey
Circa: 1953
Photo by Marv

Dear Mom,

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us and with it, a memory of waking to the smell of roasting turkey and the sight of you at the kitchen counter, hands white with flour, rolling out dough for your cinnamon-spiced, two-crust apple pie.

All these years later, I write to tell you how much I appreciate the devotion and thoughtful attention you gave to every detail— the bread stuffing infused with sautéed onions and celery seasoned with sage, the crystalized sweet potatoes with melted marshmallow, the creamy potatoes mashed by hand, the cranberries, cooked down to a sweet confection, the steamed peas infused with fresh mint.

It was generous, how you included Dad’s widowed sister, Aunt Betty and cousins Caroline and Sylvia, to celebrate Dad’s November birthday on Thanksgiving. Always, you managed to bake a two-tier, chocolate frosted cake in advance.

What a quiet marvel of organization you were. In retrospect, I have come to appreciate the days of planning, shopping and cooking in that 1941 small and square kitchen with a compact refrigerator, single-oven and the one long counter. It helped that our kitchen table sat smack in the middle.

You were, of course, my model for Thanksgiving. Even in your eighties and widowed, you managed to continue to gather the family. You were fierce about your independence and cooking was your passion. That last Thanksgiving, in spite of waning energy, you took such pride in your turkey, still moist and delectable, and your single crust apple pie, the filling as always, a tart sweetness.

I recall your pleasure, from the few times you joined us in Newton—at how I experimented with new recipes—sweet potatoes, sans marshmallow, just a little nutmeg and maple syrup. I never did perfect a piecrust. With a full time job, I sought out shortcuts; freezer ready crust filled with my own sour cherry filling (Marv’s favorite) did the trick.

We have three generations following in your footsteps. When it was time for me to stop hosting, Beth stepped up and I became a helper.

My granddaughters, Genna and Shayna, were nine and six the first time they helped prepare your “Grandma Goldie Stuffing.” I toasted bread in the oven. Genna sliced the celery and soldiered through onion tears, to create perfect cuts for sautéing. Shayna zested the orange skin for the fresh cranberry sauce and helped snip the green beans. The three of us mixed the stuffing.

This Thanksgiving, the girls now grown, Genna has taken over the stuffing preparation while Shayna will join me the day before  to start a new tradition. We plan to bake pumpkin pies, a new recipe, and of course, trim the beans in preparation for my traditional sesame green beans.

All these years later, I am grateful for the nourishment to spirit and body you ignited. As always, I will miss your sweet smile of contentment at the table.

Much love, your daughter,

Faye

 

 

 

Piano Lessons Redux

Faye at piano; circa 1953
Photo by Marv

These days, my time-out is at the keyboard, stretching my fingers, practicing exercises, rag, and blues pieces. After 9 years of classical training, at age 16, I precipitously walked away from my year-end recital. Likely cause: adolescent angst, frustration over a Beethoven Sonata’s arpeggios, my teacher’s adamant distaste of Boogie Woogie and popular music.

Two years ago, at a music store, I noticed a beautiful Roland electric piano. When I opened it and sat down to play the full keyboard, I was delighted by the sound. The price was right—reasonable as the two lowest keys were irreparable and this being a professional keyboard, it was not selling. On impulse, I bought it; a balm against anxiety during the presidential election.

Did I immediately sit down to play? My music memory muscle failed. I could no longer amble up and down the keyboard with Deep Purple or I’m in the Mood for Love, favorites I had played all during my young adulthood. Parenting and launching two musically talented children, a full time therapy practice, and marriage challenged all my resources; I had drifted far away.

I felt regret at the sight of the silent piano. I knew well the difference between my adolescent skill-set and my flailing Octogenarian effort. I needed help: a teacher who could relate and guide me. All these months of gratitude practice had taught me the benefits of embracing the beginner’s mind. My hubris long dissipated, I needed to begin again.

In September, I returned to the place where my children had grown as musicians: The All Newton Music School, which, thankfully, is ten minutes by car from my home. The woman in charge of new enrollees interviewed me on the phone about my preferences. “I’d like a teacher who can relate to an Octogenarian, but who also teaches children,” I said.

The first day, Kim, her eyes dancing, greeted me as I walked through the front door. “Are you Faye?” she said. I was her first student, 12:30 for a half hour. I told her my story, how far I had drifted from proficiency, my trepidation. She taught children in a group, had students of all ages, and instantly began to talk goals, how to proceed.

Eight lessons later, I am grateful to be coming into my own. I started with a simple version of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer and now am challenged by an intermediate version. The goal—to follow the music , maintain the tempo, integrate the offbeat rhythms, and keep my hands in sink.

Last week, as I expressed frustration over my dogged rendition, Kim explained that I was approaching the piece as I had long ago— counting methodically as if I were playing Bach. Joplin’s pieces are dance pieces, alive, fast, and driven by varying rhythms. I needed to tackle small segments, practice each hand separately, each day setting the metronome a little faster. In time, the hands would come together.

Gratefully, I report progress. Sometimes, the past calls with a treasure: a gift of engagement, a lost passion, waiting like the sound of Joplin, deftly played and up beat.

 

 

On Empathy and Repair

Women with Buckets
Thanks to Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters

I spent my entire professional life as a social worker/psychotherapist listening to my client’s struggles, their questions, and feelings. Through it all, in every hour, with each person or persons, I learned that empathy for another, understanding of another, came from mindful attention to the details of another’s life.

Without empathy, I could not imagine the dilemma of others; I could not think through what it would be like to lose a mom at eight years old, to be a first time mom and deliver a stillborn child, to carry on in spite of losing a job to a younger person.

Perhaps, that is why, no matter how hard I try to move away from the subject of President Trump’s personality and leadership style, to consider and write about other subjects, I return to his influence on the mood and lifestyle of our country. His war mongering speech at the United Nations, his name-calling tweets and bullying threats days after Hurricane Irma’s shattering strike reek of empathic-deficit leadership.

Okay, that is the reality; but how does one live with gratitude and hope in the face of such astonishing and aggrandizing tone-deaf leadership? I have concluded that each of us must do our part, the best we can. Individual efforts, actions grounded in empathy, can and do make a difference.

I was transfixed by CNN and MSNBC’s empathic reportage of the Mexican earthquake, the lines of volunteers of all ages outside buildings, a decimated school, passing buckets of debris, energized by care, hoping to rescue adults and children from the crush of burial.

I watched images of rescue operations— electrical workers checking gear, loading trucks from sites all over our country readying to travel to Florida to help remedy thousands of outages. When I think of the networks attending to the detail of reportage, the camera crews on site, the reporters dressed in tall boots and rain gear sending out image after image, I am grateful for the details of efforts to rescue.

Yes, it rained a bit here and as it turned out, more than a bit in my home where water seeped into our solarium (once again) where windows open to sky and trees gave way to the pressure of an all night tropical storm, the after effects of Hurricane Jose on the East coast. I am grateful for an immediate response from Mike, a home team helper, whose attention to and knowledge of details traced the source and helped set the stage for repair.

In some way, we are all responsible for repair. It is in the seeking of ways to help, in the interest of others, to extend beyond ourselves, each in our own way, that will help right the imbalance in empathy. This day, I am grateful to readers of this blog; you inspire me to extend into difficult-to-articulate areas and to connect through writing. Please comment and share your own experience on this topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRATEFUL FOR CHAUTAUQUA

Amphitheater
Derek Gee/Buffalo News

As I write this, I am grateful to be anticipating and preparing for a week of learning, walking and socializing at Road Scholar’s Chautauqua Experience in Summer. This is Marv’s and my 4th summer!

The Theme of the Week: Media and the News: Ethics in the Digital Age. I cannot believe the timeliness of the topic. When we chose our date almost a year ago, we had no idea that Trump would be elected or that issues such as real or fake news, and ethical dilemmas in both the media and news would be so pertinent.

Every Chautauqua Road Scholar event has a resident scholar who provides a daily lecture on background and current information in preparation for the Amphitheater public lecture series. During two of our prior visits to Chautauqua, Marc Glassman, a radio and print journalist, and his wife, Judy Wolfe, a creative arts consultant, provided exceptional content through lecture and video examples. At luncheon and dinner, the couple circulated among our various tables to continue the conversation.

Gratitude for their friendship and a rich and varied learning experience influenced our choice for this summer. Who could predict the serendipitous possibility last July, over lunch, when we decided to join Marc and Judy for their gig in August, 2017!

Yes, I am up to my eyeballs in news, fake and real, trying to discern, stay the course, to be informed. I need a “chill” vacation and yet I need to understand more about how the news and media are influencing the day-to-day behavior worldwide. Just this week, with Trump’s impulsive shoot-from-the-hip Fire and Fury response to a news reporter, we are looking at nuclear warfare; the possibility of another Korean war outbreak is front and center.

How to manage what seems real from what is real? How to manage multiple perspectives? Hopefully, I will come away more able to discern, assess and distinguish what has heft and meaning from what is fear mongering.

Here’s the lineup:

Monday: Jeff Rosen, liberal media critic, writer, professor of journalism at New York University. He authors the PressThink blog on “the fate of the press in a digital era and the challenges in rethinking what journalism is today.”

Tuesday— Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and the director of The Annenberg Public Policy Center. She runs Fact Check, an organization devoted to examining the factual accuracy of U.S. political advertisements.

Wednesday— Arzu Geybullayeva, columnist and journalist. She has been a co-director of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation since 2011, an organization that fosters relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Thursday—Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time Magazine

Friday—Marty Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post, with Eric Newton, Innovation chief, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.

I’m pleased with the distribution of men and women and their varied expertise. I’ll be taking notes with the intention to distill and share in future Gratitude is as Gratitude Does blogs. In the meantime, be mindful of options that can bring gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

On Gratitude & The Integrity of Two Women

Susan Collins & Lisa Murkowski

I am but one of the minions who are grateful to Susan Collins, the GOP Senator from Maine and Lisa Murkowski, the GOP Senator from Alaska for their courage and conviction in following the tenants of their own integrity. They voted “no” to the passage of the Republican health care bill.

Of the twenty female senators, five are Republicans. Consider this, Senators Collins and Murkowski were the only two GOP members consistent in their opposition among 50 senators, 47 of whom were male.

According to a New York Times opinion column by Gail Collins, “their joint stand was the logical outcome of a year that has been marked by utter Republican indifference to women.” It turns out that both women serve on the Senate committee that handles health care.

Ironically, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not appoint either woman to join 13 men to write a health care bill in which the needs of women were bi-passed. There was no effort to control maternal care costs, to cover contraceptives or to protect Medicaid reimbursement for any and all Planned Parenthood services.

It turns out that both Senator McConnell and the males in committee had little appreciation for the importance of services that Planned Parenthood provide to women, especially in states such as Maine and Alaska where services are spread over vast landscapes and hands on prevention and health information for women are in short supply.

It was no secret to Patty Murphy, the leading Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that Senators Collins and Murkowski would vote “no” upon facing the decimation of Planned Parenthood. They were clear in their values and concerns.

There are times in one’s life when one gratefully looks back before moving forward. Thus, I offer this quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt, my first model of an outspoken, courageous pro-active woman speaking out to women.

… The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong…what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.

In 1953, in my early twenties, I came upon Matty, ashen-faced and hunched over in pain, as she made her way along the Wayne University dormitory.

“What’s going on? Are you okay?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “I just had an abortion.”

I was shocked. A sheltered Yankee, I knew that abortion was against the law and had no  close-up experience. Matty’s horrendous story of a “back alley abortion” and the lack of good care she endured never left me. Her struggle thereafter still lingers: the thought of returning to coat hanger abortions unthinkable. Her story has fueled my need to support and thank these two brave GOP women and to speak out for viable and safe options for women’s health care options.

 

 

 

AGING,GRATITUDE & ONWARD

SOLSTICE FUN

As I age, gratitude is more present and possible. When I turned eighty, I was nervous about the future, how to live my life fully as an Octogenarian. I met the challenge of that birthday by committing to a daily gratitude diary. It compelled me to practice, to call to mind and appreciate the what, wherefore and how of a gratitude practice.

I’m not one for gratitude lists. A list, in its very form, is brief, shorthand. I needed to widen the context, to assess and ponder the meaning of my choices. The diary, all those lines on the page, cried out for descriptive language, mined from the senses, the story of my encounters. At the end of a year, I had amassed 8 notebooks of gratitude writing. Some notations took the form of short essays. Some explored definitions, where I searched for truth of a word, of language chosen. I followed what fascinated me, the usual and unusual, reflections in the moment, from memory.

At the end of a year, trusting my ability to “show up,” I turned the daily practice into a weekly blog— a commitment to friends and potential readers to write and share 500 words about the experience of gratitude.

Now, in this era of Trump, I write bi-weekly—sadly, a necessity so as to distill all the political and emotional input and pull out a meaningful kernel or two to explore and amplify. I am grateful to subscribers and followers on Facebook.

As I write, I keep my readers in mind. I feel supported, less alone. It’s curious how, as I age, I am far more able to discern, take notice and note grateful encounters. By putting pen to paper, I am challenged to shape the story of each encounter.

Earlier, this past week, a childhood friend who suffered a mild stroke remarked on her experience in rehabilitation. As she began to learn to use a walker to regain strength and balance, she assessed her good fortune at being on her feet and moving on her own. She was not wheelchair bound nor was she bedridden. She was able to read, talk, recall, laugh and complain.

I have learned that gratitude accrues as one ages. It’s inherent in the landscape of the odds as Carl Reiner, age 95, explains in HBO’s documentary If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast . “ I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed,” he jokes in the film,

I am privileged to have many younger writer friends, the result of having graduated from Pine Manor’s Solstice MFA program in my mid-seventies. During the course of two years, I worked with three different mentors on creating and crafting long personal essays, mostly memoir of family and my professional work. Ageism was nowhere in sight. I was an aspiring writer among other aspiring writers. This past weekend, I attended my 12th Solstice residency as an auditor in several classes where I was again a student—learning and refreshing my dedication to the craft of writing. I am ever grateful for the generosity of a program that invites return and renewal.

NATURE PACKS A PUNCH

First Lilies

Near sunset, the Solstice sun blazes late in the day. Facing west, I am grateful to sit on my marble bench, a fireplace hearth from my former home secured on two cement blocks overlooking the garden pond. From this vantage point, three tall Japanese red-throated lilies rise above the budding green shoots of the lily bed. They are parade masters setting the pace for the vibrant blossoms ahead.

Over the last two decades, my soul tracking practice has demonstrated how gratitude comes with ease during the season of summer growth. Science is now proving the connection between nature and our well-being. Yesterday, John Douillard, a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, posted an article on The Life Changing Benefits of Forest Bathing. He cites 4 scientific articles, which attest to how our conscious immersion in nature can make a positive difference in our mood, state of mind and relationships to others. He writes,

The Science is Convincing

Four studies were done measuring the psychological effects of nature immersion. They found that those who regularly “bathed” in nature were more pro-social, focused on supporting others, and those who did not spend time in nature were more self-focused and self-centered. The group that spent more time in nature were also found to be more generous in their decision-making. These studies suggest that nature immersion supports a more community-focused, giving mindset.

In another study, after just a 4-day nature immersion and a disconnection from any type of technology, creativity and problem-solving skills were enhanced by a whopping 50%.

In other studies that were part of the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), nature immersion was shown to boost executive processing and cognitive functions such as selective attention, problem-solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking.

The effects of forest bathing were measured by comparing the inflammatory markers of 2 groups of ten healthy adults. One group was immersed in a city and the other group immersed in nature – both for four days. The nature-immersed group saw reduced oxidative stress, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and less inflammatory markers along with greater signs of energy and vigor compared to the city-immersed group.

Day lilies provide excellent practice in mindful immersion. After coffee, I arrive at the lily bed early when the petals first open to feed on light. I steady my gaze and relax my breath as I focus with deliberate intention on the shape, color, smell, and overall aesthetic of the blossom before me.

A peach and striped lemon lily appetizer, a prelude to the main course, appeared two days ago. I photographed it, to savor deep in winter when the season of white pervades. Douillard reports that in another study, many of these nature immersion benefits were mimicked by exposing a group to a virtual reality nature experience. This suggests that if you cannot regularly expose yourself to nature, having pictures and murals of nature in your living environment may deliver some of the nature immersion benefits. I have found that pictures from nature, especially those evoking contentment, can buoy the spirit.

If I were a flower, I would be a day lily. Swelling until I burst, petals splayed with color— yellow edged, pink center, black stamen—I raise my face to the sun, quenching my thirst for light through the long day until the chill of dusk causes me to shrivel and wane.