A Crash Course in Aikido: Living a Healthy, Memorable Life with Martial Arts

Most of us don’t start thinking about health and longevity until an unexpected death occurs. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for bad news to make changes. The challenge for most of us is to balance lifestyle, diet and family history with physical ability. A great way to take care of the externals is to join a martial-arts school. It’s easier than you think, and with rewards like new friends and mental and physical agility, Aikido may be perfect for you.

There are some unique benefits to joining a dojo like Aikido SF. Aikido is a good way to reclaim health and flexibility, replenishing stamina and energy for doing things with the people who matter. Training with a robust group of children, adolescents and adults at all levels of Aikido provides community and emotional connection. Plus, most people place a high value on staying independent in their advanced years, when it will really count. Maintaining physical and mental plasticity are important ways to promote long-term resilience.

While you may think it’s impossible to train in martial arts after a certain age, it’s really not the case with some non-competitive forms, such as Aikido. And apart from the benefits of increased physical prowess, evidence that intellectual capacity, social intelligence and positive personality traits are boosted by an athletic lifestyle is mounting. The martial-arts community emphasizes community work, civic engagement, respect, participation, health and meditation as part of the practice.

Opportunities to learn in a dojo vary greatly. An example is the annual Aikido SF Seminar, where I watched skilled teachers and students from SF Bay Area train for a half day. There’s a lot to be gained from the venerable tradition of observation, disciplining the mind to understand physical principles, then applying those skills later.

Need more incentive? There’s ample evidence correlating a lack of exercise and poor diet to increased incidences of early onset dementia like Alzheimer’s. That’s evidence I’m not willing to ignore. Most of us want to call our spouses, friends and grandchildren by name. When the consequences of a sedentary life means risking the loss of precious memories, the idea of Aikido training gets even sweeter. After all, a sharp mind is critical to longevity. And, Aikido’s non-competitive discipline is a great habit to cultivate.

With huge gains to garner, like optimal brain functioning and a smaller waistline, Aikido is a big winner. Add caring instructors and supportive peers, and it’s clear that anyone can learn to take better care of her body in a nurturing environment, where physical and mental training are important aspects of good health. Of course, you don’t need to study martial arts to improve your health A small commitment to walk just 15 minutes a day could turn the tide enough to impact the rest of your life. Do it for you. Do it for your family.

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The Color of Fear: Friends (Diversity Series, Part II)

When friends come over for dinner, does everyone look like you? In an exploration of what it means to make room at the table, I recall the years in the late 90s when one of the most popular shows on television was Friends. From 1994-2004, as many of my coworkers rushed home to see Friends, I had to give the popular program a pass, wondering why none of the pals on Friends looked like me. I was never invited to the party. I didn’t find that not-so-subtle notion amusing. There’s nothing funny about exclusion. My circle of friends didn’t look like the cast, and I wanted more than tunnel vision from my entertainment. Fast-forward a decade and the country is contorted with the searing pain of misunderstanding, mistrust and fear. This shows me the real, everyday value of diversity. If we pick our friends, then the friends we pick matter.

Fifty years after Jim Crow officially and legally ended, there is widespread discomfort and stereotypes about people with dark and non-European phenotypes. It’s possibly a self-perpetuating cycle, wherein racism, discrimination and injustice against people leads to a deep fear of retaliation of the same brutal isolation, disenfranchisement and alienation. It’s still common to hear good people claim color-blindness, a banal lie that undermines honest communication. The commonly held theory is that by the age of 3 or 4, children can already discern racial and ethnic differences. Well, honestly, I can see why some folks continue to rely upon the failed trope of “colorblindness”: The truth requires an awareness regarding individual power, position and the ability to communicate. Only by relinquishing the myth of colorblindness can we breathe new life into our extraordinary society.

The first step is to embrace the nuances of the complex collective history of our dear nation.

Let me say that this is not academic. People are community-minded creatures. We literally need each other to survive and thrive. True, there are the odd cases of those who go it alone, but most of us are looking for our clan—it’s why people easily gravitate to people who look like them. Here’s the challenge. A clan need not solely be based on skin color, socioeconomic class or religion. In a sense, there is a false sense of safety there, when in reality, those groupings merely ensure a baseline of respect. There is the expectation that everyone in that group knows how to behave and can read the covert social cues, allowing them to understand implicit rules that outsiders may miss. But those rules shouldn’t be enough for one group to relegate another group to the margins of acceptability as if they were numbers in some neat binary system.

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Moving toward the middle requires opening to not knowing. Shifting our perspectives into curiosity mode may be the very salvation our society needs.

The answer to some of woes is to make diversity a priority. Visible, discernable differences are part of the natural world. The human species’ varied spectrum of shapes, hues and sizes are spread thinly over virtually identical biological matter, with only small variations of genetic coding to give us our unique external appearance. We are all mammals, capable of sophisticated language and superior intelligence; it’s up to us to end the artifices of separation.

If you want to make a difference, start by acknowledging the realities of whatever is in front of you. Instead of holding on to prefabricated fantasies about people, ask questions. Make a new friend. See the beauty in someone, anyone, who isn’t just like you. So maybe a little discomfort is required, a little awkwardness and just enough vulnerability to invite humility and authenticity, but not so much as to create anxiety. From this opening there can be a dialogue, the invitation to not know and to welcome the time investment needed for the knowledge and friendship to grow. Be willing to possibly feel a little silly to get to know a colleague. Ask about hobbies and favorite foods, and listen. Start small and build on the currency of your good will. Empathy and connection bring people together in friendship. We can solve the crisis of fear by laughing or crying together. Firing off mirror neurons in the company of new acquaintances will humanize both parties. Take the risk. You could just find yourself with a whole new group of friends.

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Gratitude: A New Year’s Resolution

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This year I’ve not made any New Year’s resolutions, something that in the past had often marked the metaphorical turning point in my life, the cyclical chance to begin anew with the start of the calendar year. Even without a resolution, however, I still inhaled deeply in 2016, all too ready for a change and excited to feel a cool bit of crisp newness, a turning away from the past. I haven’t planned to go to the gym or dance or go to church more though those things sound nice. As I thought about ways to say goodbye to a most difficult year, one that included unemployment, health issues, a foot in a cast and the death of my beloved, estranged sister, resolutions seemed trivial. I didn’t want to make myself any promises that I wouldn’t keep. I didn’t want to waste time consumed with myself. What I wanted most was relationship. I wanted to face the portal of time represented in the New Year with love, with the practice of gratitude, to attempt to really see who and what is right in front of me and the blessings offered.

 

I am grateful for my nephew’s first unguarded smile as he leans into me for a picture beneath the Redwoods. Thank you.

 

I feel gratitude over the rain thickly blanketing my garden and the earth after these long many years of drought. Thank you.

 

I close my eyes and hear my niece’s robust laughter and the way she clings to me at bedtime, not wanting to close out a day of sharing. Thank you.

 

I am grateful for my steadfast companion who stands by me through the sadness and joy that life heaps upon us in blizzards as seamless as the seasons. Thank you.

 

I give thanks for the meditation and prayer practices that rebalance me daily. Thank you.

 

And then there is also the open heart and keen intellect to be counted as bounties in times of fleeting health. Thank you.

 

This list goes on and on, counting each friend, naming the lessons and seeing even the tiniest of gifts in difficult situations and the transcendent ones alike.

 

To whom do I give thanks, this contemplative gratitude? Often it is to God in a soft acknowledgement to the sky where a Red-tailed hawk circles above our home surveying her territory. At other times, more directly aware of the richness of my life, I thank people. I thank the children for playing with me. I thank my friends for a visit. I send thank-you notes in acknowledgement of any gifts or small kindnesses. This practice is transformative. Thanking God is a wordless endeavor of the heart; in our hearts words are elegant braille in God’s hands. With people, we have to put the words together. We need to hear it to feel it and match the words with the deeds and awaken to present moment and each other.

 

Gratitude requires skill, practice and technique. When done correctly, our loved ones can feel heard, seen and appreciated. Use her name when you say, “I’m so glad you’re here, Lissa.” Make sure you look him in the eyes when you, “I really liked how you said that, Max.”

 

We all need to feel valued. Showing gratitude is one small but important way to esteem the people who bring us happiness. When we recognize and honor the sources of our blessings, we invite more. That is why in the mornings I greet the birds or the rain with the same enthusiasm as I do loved ones. This is our time. Make it special by appreciating the people all around. Don’t wait. Speak from your heart today.

 

Thank you.

Allies for a New Generation of Conscience

This semester I’ve been taking the time to listen to my students’ stories, the ones they never tell. I’ve been asking them what they’re afraid of and what’s on their minds. And they have started to tell me, because I’m listening. One thing is clear: They’re hurting. They’re burying their friends at alarming rates. They’re terrified that their cars will break down in the wrong neighborhood or that they’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the police are looking for a criminal and they’ll do just fine. They worry their fathers and mothers will be deported. They’re afraid their brothers will not come home and that a teacher will suspend their six-year-old brown child for biting or having a tantrum. They’re scared of being homeless because of the predatory housing situation in San Francisco. Each day they’re bleeding resources, looking for jobs that will allow them to live and care for their families and not merely survive moment to moment.

 

For the past eight years now I’ve been teaching young adults, and this year, something different is shining through the cracks in the veneer youth wear when confronting the scary new places in their lives—into the college and the world it represents. They are paying attention with their hearts to the pulse of these times, and they are answering with conviction, demanding to be heard and seen—demanding the right to live. The galvanizing force of injustice, personalized, is a powerful motivator. Reminiscent of the disenfranchised population of eligible Southern voters demanding their right to register and cast ballots a half century ago, young people are moving again in this country.

 

Once more, deep, prolonged and repeated psychological trauma, sustained within families has erupted into undeniable discomfort. They’re acting up and speaking out, entering the political debate from the margins, uninvited. They will not go quietly. They risk everything, their civil disobedience punishable by death by bombs in the night and bullets in daylight. Dr. Martin Luther King was asked to go quietly and wait for the right time and place to speak, not to make noise and not to agitate and draw attention to the suffering of millions of anonymous people. The time, it seems, is never right. History has repeatedly shown us how our collective silence only makes the oppressor’s work easier. Reflecting on the Jewish Holocaust, I imagine how many well-intentioned Germans sat silently in their living rooms, while their neighbors were hauled away by the train-full to concentration camps.

 

As we grapple with the notion of civic responsibility, who do we become? Our silences are no longer convenient, because if we remain mute and when we absent ourselves from compassionate witnessing, we heap the burden of the work on the youth, who both ready and willing to perform the tasks of resistance, suffer the consequences alone. They need allies in their struggle, voices of support, our intention to be present and defend, the collective memory and wisdom of years to push through the entanglement of business-as-usual. Dr. King was convinced “that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” To me those values must shift to include all the human beings within our borders, whose lives and presence make up of the tapestry of a loving society. People must come first.

 

In August, when Bernie Sanders was interrupted by young activists—ordinary and plain young women with brown skin, the children of the Black Lives Matter revolution, on fire with indignity, the public’s response was familiar if disappointing. Why were people outraged when they interrupted the status quo with their fiery hearts, conjuring up wet streets, soaked with the blood of their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, their palpable rage appropriately directed to a society blindly looking away from unspeakable violence doled out lavishly in their communities? As the comfortable and affluent sit shaking their heads at their audacity, these girls have shown up on their TV sets, ordained as themselves, speaking for the nameless and voiceless masses, resisting the irresistible urge to comply, to behave and be silent—that age-old mantra girls are still taught to adhere to all their lives—putting their lives on the line while we ask them to sit passively, ask them to be more appropriate, to wait.

 

I’m reminded of the infamous letter written to Dr. King by eight clergymen and printed in the newspaper asking King and the entire African-American community to wait for justice and to which he famously responded with his letter from Birmingham Jail. It’s obvious that those young women are walking in the footsteps of the greats, using their very bodies as the front line of change as their predecessors Fanny Lou Hamer, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Lucy Burns, Cesar Chavez.

 

History seems to have weighed in on Dr. King’s side. Too many of us are all too ready to cry at cartoons depicting the loss of childhood of innocence, only to turn a blind eye to the real pain of people living under the daily strain of grief and oppression. We have to learn to feel the same pain in our guts when people are hurting, regardless of the color of their skin. People of color have become refugees of compassion in this country, ignored by ordinary citizens and pushed up against the corrugated steel borders by politicians.

 

Everything that can be lost to this generation, has already been lost to them: education is compromised; ministered by a jaded justice, prisons swell with their ranks; lynching has all but supplanted policing; people of color are relegated to vast food deserts, where fresh vegetables do not exist. And through it all we ask young people not to riot, not to act up, to wait patiently for jobs, housing, respect, the right to walk down the street alone at night with a hoodie on or to blast a stereo in their own cars. We have grown intolerant of ordinary youth when it is wrapped in hues not labeled “white”. We move these young people into the category of other, while we demand equal opportunity, but we mean only that room should be made at the table for white women to join white men in positions of leadership and power. We continue to delay the imperatives of diversity and plurality in the workplace, school, college and government, moving them down on the agenda when a woman is named CEO of a tech firm. We define this ‘progress,’ even while infant-mortality and unemployment rates for Black and Latino/a families surpass their white counterparts at shocking rates for an industrialized superpower nation such as ours.

 

The question is, how do we support the young people in our communities and encourage them in their uncharted courses toward justice? To start, we must step into the awkward spaces with a voice of dissent, displacing our indifference in the process, and embracing the notion that our lives are intertwined, for better or worse, so we ought to try for the best-possible scenario. It is of vital importance to shield young people from random bullets and comfort the parents of children slaughtered on the way home. We have to place a new bounty on their heads, one that reads “Wanted Alive.” But first, we have to hear what they’re saying. We have to listen. We have to soften our hearts when we see their suffering explode during a political debate, just as we’re willing to tolerate the demeaning and inappropriate presidential candidate who is constantly given the right to speak even as he has earned our censure.

 

The recent political unrest and mass unease around the world has led to both organized and disorganized resistance, protest and strife. The waves of this emotional and psychic upheaval have swept the globe from the Middle East to Europe and Asia. Even the 99% movement has taken us by storm. People are no longer content with their lots in life. The status quo has become passé. The trend has not stopped at our carefully guarded borders, nor has it missed its target in the hearts and minds of Americans, particularly young people, who continue to connect with their own causes and bring them to the attention of the nation. We are called to stand with them, however we are able, as they struggle to create a brave new world.

 

Devastated by my students’ stories, I listen all the same. I’m learning to ask how I can be of service, but I offer something specific: A book, a cup of coffee, a hug or my undivided attention. I acknowledge their pain with a touch and my own regret. I offer condolences and let the heavy words land where they will. I mentor, feed and look at each one. I insist they tell it again and write it down. I share my own story, jagged edges and all. I congratulate them for showing up in distress, broke and physically broken, hungry and grieving. Sometimes, I’m struck dumb with listening-heart pain, but I don’t turn away. They need to know their pain is real and that their lives really matter.

 

Believing in People: Practical Practice in Supporting Each Other

 

 

I’d like to think that as a teacher, it’s my job to believe in people, especially when they don’t believe in themselves. But even when I’m not wearing my teacher hat, I find myself looking for the sacred in other people, looking for that one particular element that is precious and perhaps goes unseen, some overlooked dollop of goodness even we may not see in ourselves when we look in the mirror. We may miss it entirely. This, unfortunately, happens to many of us. Life batters and abuses us. We make so many mistakes we become strangers to ourselves. Perhaps we can no longer look upon ourselves with compassion and kindness. Our self-love is fraught with conditions. Negative thoughts can spirals into decisions that are not always made with our well-being at heart. That’s when we need someone to believe in us, to look into us with the loving light of compassion.

 

This is no trivial matter. Many people feel or become invisible after setbacks, withdrawing into pain and isolation.

 

Believing in someone can save a life. It is a human need to be seen and recognized. When John Legend accepted the Oscar for his song, Glory, he told everyone watching the Academy Awards that evening that he could see them. It was a powerful moment, symbolic of a soul seeking to water the goodness in our society, a flood of recognition and an outpouring of love from a public figure to nameless witnesses. It was Legend’s way of saying that the daily struggles of our lives are not in vain, acknowledging our collective journey toward a more just society. For Legend, “seeing us” was an affirmation of us, showing his belief in us, in our ability to change institutions with our awareness and activism. His simple act of seeing affirmed the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and witnessed the continued unseen struggle and toil of the many people working for societal transformation.

 

We all need to be seen. We all want someone to believe in us, in our ability to surpass self-imposed limitations and external barriers, to act with courage in the midst of our fears and doubts, to involve ourselves for the betterment of our communities, to stand with conviction. It’s not clear to me if we can believe in someone else if we can’t believe in ourselves. My hunch is that we can build up a reserve when we practice this act of loving kindness. Like a muscle, it will atrophy from disuse and strengthen with repeated exercise.

 

Essentially, this is time sowing and watering seeds. We do it for friends and family or strangers; it will form the foundation wherein we allow love and support to flow back to us. The Rev. Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist philosopher and teacher, talks about the importance of watering the seeds in oneself and others that we want to nurture. The seeds are attributes, traits or emotions. He asserts that the seeds that get the most attention, intentionally or otherwise, are the ones that will thrive. Therefore, it’s vital that we look deeply into at each other and really see the gifts therein, and to selectively water the ones that foster health and wealth in all their forms.

 

Unfortunately, if the seeds of love, peace, and joy are not watered, they will not bloom.

 

The path to connecting can take many forms. We are the bees in the garden touching every flower. Maybe it’s taking a few minutes to affirm an aspiration without interrupting. We can mentor an older woman starting something new, or listen to the dreams of young people around us. Take a moment to be kind to folks in transition or depression and recommend and promote their gifts. If you see a spark in someone, name it, because it’s one of the ways to grow a society that is strong and good: by looking into a heart and honoring those gifts. We can step up for each other when it really counts.

 

The truth is, believing in someone else sets us free. We get to leave behind our judgments, criticisms and fears and just let ourselves see the light in another person. We create an environment for ourselves where feelings of appreciation and friendship can be reciprocated. In other words, we get to be seen, supported and loved because we’ve made room for those things in our lives. Imagine the wonderful world we can create by taking time to believe in each other.

Four Great Reasons to Get a Game Night Going

 

 

While I make time to play with children as often as possible, I also love to play games with other adults. This is a time to unwind and let out my stored up sass. The benefits of play are well researched, and game night is one way to make sure you get a free booster shot of psycho-emotional wellness. As a teacher I believe we can only reinvent the world when understand the one we’re living in. This applies to the game of life. I’m almost always open to changing the rules of a game to make it more interesting, challenging or fair. I look at this as an important life skill. It’s agency at its highest potency. Like will power, we can store up skill sets and cash in when the time is right. Can I negotiate the salary I really want? How well am I at playing by the rules? What happens when I don’t get what I want? Games teach us about and help us to improve upon the parts of ourselves that we want to strengthen.

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For starters, game time involves communication. It’s a time for discussing rules, finding answers, problem solving and sharing. A new game usually requires careful reading—often out loud—and lots of review. These are core skills that can be useful when we’re proposing ideas at work or presenting to a room full of strangers. Game time is face time. There’s opportunity to try on different roles and experiment with personality.

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Some games require lots of negotiating skills. Interesting dilemmas come up when you play a game like Settlers of Catan: Should you trade with an opponent? What’s a fair trade? Whose resources should you raid? These are difficult choices that have to be made while directly facing the intended person. These are small, but not insignificant, ways of dealing with confrontation. They are opportunities to get comfortable asking for clarification, explaining complicated ideas, sticking to a hard decision or ditching a game plan that’s not working. These are real life negotiating skills that can toughen us up for when it really counts.

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Learning a new game requires patience. When I first started to play Scrabble as an adult, I thought I was a complete idiot. I no longer think that. Achieving a score of 333 points helped boost my confidence. (I still keep the scrap of paper with my winning score in the Scrabble box in case I need to charge my battery.) Scrabble is a word game, yes. But it’s also a game about strategy and knowing how to use the board to maximize points as much as it is an actual measure of the extent of one’s vocabulary. This mirrors real life. Sometimes half of what’s happening is how you’re using what you’ve got. Sometimes it takes time to see the possibilities in life and to actualize them. One doesn’t always win the first time around.

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Let’s not forget the oodles of fun to be had. There’s often a great deal of storytelling, laughter and sharing involved in a game night. Frequently, we partake of a meal together prior to the game and invest time getting to know each other throughout the play. When you play board games, it’s a time to sit around and share memories and see how others respond to setbacks and understand what makes them laugh. There’s also competition, which I think needs a positive outlet. And, if you’re really enjoying yourself, playing games with friends can also lead to higher levels of serotonin and dopamine in your system. You can start out playing a game and end up contributing to your own emotional and social wellness.

 

Children and Board Games Go Together

These days, video games are all the rage with young people. They’re everywhere and really fun. They’re exciting because they move fast and give big rewards for achievements. They have their place in our society, and I’m sure they’re not going anywhere. Board games, on the other hand, have to prove themselves. Most aren’t portable, take longer to play, require a time commitment and multiple players. They also have something not too many video games provide: built-in skill sets that provide several forms of intelligence and offer a tactile experience that supports the development of well-rounded individuals. That’s why I’m advocating for classic-board games, and some new ones, that the entire family can play.

Here’s what the traditional board game can do for you:

•    Literacy that translate directly to math and English skills. Many board games require reading at regular intervals. Instructions for learning a new game are dense and require analytical skills involving step-oriented processes. It’s also a great opportunity for adults to coach children with reading and following instructions.
•    Even simple games require some strategy, which is working on higher-level cognitive reasoning. Even choosing which piece to move or what play to make in a game of Sorry is a life skill. Board games require making long-term plans, or at least thinking ahead several moves.
•    These games help build emotional resilience and patience. It may not seem obvious, but learning how to lose can strengthen character. Chances are, a child who plays board games will lose once in a while. They can learn that losing is not the end of the world, and that there’s always another opportunity to win if they don’t quit. This helps with regulating emotions and keeping life in perspective.
•    Even small children can setup and clean up a game. Particularly with children around four-years, participating in the prepping and clearing stages teaches them responsibility. Sometimes asking for them to put away just four pieces can yield unexpected results like cooperation, initiative and problem-solving skills. Also, they may also like having all the pieces around the next time the game is played.
•    Maybe one of the most important reasons to play board games is to have family time. Making a ritual of sitting around the table talking, laughing and having fun can only lead to memories and deepening friendships. Conversation is built into most games. It’s an hour well spent.

Nothing prepares people for reading the “fine print” in life like board games. The more complicated a game is, the more rules; the more rules there are, the more navigational capital gets stored for when it counts, like applying for jobs and college or buying a house. If you’re new to board games, I recommend you start with these: chess, Sorry and Carcassonne. Hal’s picks are backgammon, Stratego, and Go.

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Learning to Age with Grace and Dignity

 

Now that I’m older and more aware of the cycles of life, I see how critical it is to stay open to care, love and support from family members and from unexpected people and places. I have a small fragmented family and no children, so I can’t expect that care will come from the traditional people. I’m open to receiving love from family and other sources of care and love. I’m also open to giving it where and when it is needed. That’s how I became involved in caring for my good friend’s aging mother last year. The experience has made me think more about aging, and more specifically, how I want to age, because I do believe we have a choice to make.

 

After a series of accidents and unexplained injuries requiring medical treatment, my friend’s 80-year-old mother needed round the clock support for several months in order to prevent further unexplained harm. Various factors undermined her independence: her inability to continue driving, extreme memory degradation and physical limitations, stemming from inflamed joints. Because of her impaired memory, no one could account for periods of time in which she went missing; objects disappeared from her home and purse. She created fantasies about her adventures and repeated her fantasy narratives constantly. Most of this was about medication, but trying to manage and assess the cause of the problem was challenging. For one, she didn’t want help—she was outright belligerent at times and did not want anyone around except for her daughter, who she asked for constantly. Two, she could not remember from moment to moment what was going on. Three, she was often irritable, gruff and occasionally angry, which was often connected to over-consumption of coffee, diet or personality. Notwithstanding, we joined the team of community members ready to pitch in.

 

To care for her, I resorted to tactics, not all successful and not all tactful. I spent time in the car, waiting for her to show up; we pretended to renovate our home so we could sleep in her house. Eventually, we fell into a routine. We ate lunch together and read magazines and newspapers together, gossiping about local news and the celebrities, and found in the midst of it all, that we shared a love of gardening and floral arrangement. We drank tea and watched the light change in the afternoons.

 

The things that were a hard for her were about her perception of giving up of her freedom; independence is indispensable, and she is a fighter. When she fought me, I knew she was fighting to be the resourceful, energetic and bossy lady she wants to be. The problem was, we were working, all of us, to keep her independent, safe and outgoing. But I was an interloper in her private domain, the earwig in her dahlias—I wasn’t wanted. I was a reminder that our society seldom lets us age with dignity.

 

She’s better now. Her medication doesn’t cause her problems; she’s adjusted to walking to places in the neighborhood rather than driving everywhere. This experience made me thinks about what it will take to remain in our home with the familiar things we love as we grow frail. It makes sense to fight for liberties, but we have to know when to entrust ourselves to others, when to open the door to friendship and kindness.

 

I sense the places where it will be difficult for me. I have to let go having things done my way, now. I have to give in to the yielding part of myself, to let others do things their way, even in my space. I never thought about my control issues as a potential hindrance to relationship, but I can see that if I allow my perspective to get entrenched, no one will ever be able to wash my dishes, cook my meals or launder my clothes as well as I can, and those are the exact openings for a friend to step in and lend a hand with the least intrusion.

 

Instead, I’m going to try to infuse my day with more mindfulness. I’m going to breathe when it’s not as I would have it and just say, “Thank you.” So what if it’s not my way? At least someone else is sharing my load.

 

I have to learn to “yes, please,” while there’s very little at stake, so when my time comes, I can say, “Yes,” with grace and dignity and let someone do for me what I’m willing to do for others.

There’s Still Time for Broccoli!

 

 

Hello, all you fresh-vegetable lovers. This message is for you. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s definitely not too late to grow your own greens. This includes collards, kale and broccoli, known as the Brassica—the mustard family. In fact it might be an excellent time to start them, since when it cools down around here, these veggies thrive and the white moths that obliterate them during the summer months seem to disappear altogether.

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To start, get yourself some organic seeds at a plant shop or supermarket. I recommend you start the sprouts on a sunny windowsill and transplant them outside once you have a true leaf or two. You can put them in the ground or in a planter box with some organic fertilizer and organic chicken or steer manure. Don’t worry about the foggy weather; these guys love it. You’ll be eating fresh broccoli in about six-to-eight weeks. You could be ready to serve them by Thanksgiving. Imagine that!

 

I almost forgot: Brassica includes delicious homegrown cauliflower. It’s the best when it goes straight from garden to table. Come to think of it, it’s the only way I really like cauliflower. It’s gotta be fresh.

 

Let me know how it goes, please.

Crafting a Connection

 

Spending time with my partner’s mother is important. We live far away from each other, and I only see her in person every few years. One way that we stay connected is via correspondence. She makes and sends us the most beautiful handmade cards. They are utterly perfect and charming and chuck full of love, so when we scheduled a visit to the Twin Cities to see Hal’s family, I made a special request that his mother teach me to how to make cards.

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Like any great artist, Glenda has a process. The perfection of her cards comes from her careful attention to detail. She’s not afraid to start over, either. No glue goes on a card until the design, pattern, and shapes are just as she wants them. The paper must be folded just so and a burnisher used to align the edges. After stamping, Glenda patiently cut along the edges of the ink until there was an entirely different object. Paper and ink color must be sampled and selected; cut and matched. I know she does it this way every time. Each card has suddenly become even more precious to me, now that I see how much time she puts into each one. They are an act of love.

 

My inclination was to rush in and make several cards, but we spent the afternoon talking, sharing and explaining, and it yielded only the one collaboration. From cutting the paper to reviewing a catalog, it was clear to me Glenda’s intention was to give me an introduction to an art form and her passion. I don’t know that I can keep up her standards, but I’m thrilled about the memory and the card we created. I know what’s important to her. It’s the little things that count.

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