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Remember that leap your heart made when a friend knocked on your door and asked your mom if you could play?
Please oh please oh please say yes, mom, say yes…
You bolted out that door and ran from all the adults as fast as your Keds would carry you.
Those words, “Come play,” still makes my heart leap.

I’ve decided not to age. Technically, we age from the moment we’re born. Technically, parts of our body peak at 30. But I’m not talking technically. I just don’t identify with this whole aging thing. It’s like death. Who gets death? Technically we die. Our pets, our loved ones, apple trees and hummingbirds, right whales and honeybees. We die. But do we? We fight death literally and metaphorically. Our brains, our hearts don’t know how to reconcile with this concept. It never feels right, does it?

My thought is because we don’t die. We transcend.
Various religions have given names to this basic belief. Eternity. Heaven. Hell. Reincarnation. Even if you say you don’t believe anything about the afterlife. Even if you say we become dirt or stardust which is still a form of transcendence we believe that something of our souls, for lack of a better word, lives on.

With that thought I whip back around to the title. If we have such a hard time with death then doesn’t it make sense that aging, just foreplay to death, doesn’t sit well either?

I know, I know. Aging isn’t all bad you say. You are rocking your new shock of white hair. You kind of like stepping out of the sexy game and wearing comfortable clothes and not worrying about the priss and preen that goes with attracting a mate. You love being retired and not feeling the pressure of getting out there every day. You argue that these are the perks of aging that come with the not so great perks of bad knees, high cholesterol and actually contemplating dentures.

Before I sound uncompassionate let me say that I know too well what it’s like to be a caregiver, to grieve, to take a sharp blow so hard that no breath comes, to be so relieved that a year that held so much pain is over even though I don’t even know or care what comes next. Life can be too full of all things shitty. That’s why I’ve decided to live with gusto whenever I can. Not because I’m oblivious to sorrow but because I am acutely aware.

Now that I’ve posted my disclaimer let’s get back to the fun stuff.
So instead of aging this is what I plan on doing for the next, oh, 30-50 years:

Play.
Be downright silly.
Laugh until I snort.
Goof off and waste loads of time navel gazing or the equivalent.
Nap.
Flirt.
Create.
Lighten my load–physically and emotionally grow lighter.

How?
By playing first of all.
By choosing to strip my backpack of hurts I’ve been nursing like sucking like crazy to get one more drop out of a dried up teat. By saying lots of nos and no thank yous–not for me, by saying big, crazy risk-taking yeses, by not doing a damn thing I don’t want to do and realizing it’s damn near impossible to do anything I don’t want to do. That means owning some scary shit. Then laughing at my own hand-made messes.

By standing in my own life and getting out of everyone else’s. Boy is this one tough. It’s a lot like hide-and-seek and running back to home base again and again.

By not taking myself, my darkness, my ugliness, my blinding ambitions, my tail-chasing avoidance laden quests, too serious.

Serious is too f*ing serious. (I love to curse folks, so I just might have to let loose and be my true self a little more often.

I just don’t give a shit about all the rest.
Arguing exhausts me.
I don’t give a rip about religion or politics or whatever else folks post on the almighty Facebook just to get a rouse out of everybody else. Vote. Sign a petition. Serve soup at a shelter. DO something with those beliefs and respect everyone else’s rights to think for themselves.

I’m going to have to feel my way through this growing younger thing.
Today, I’m going to doodle.
Swing so high my feet go over the lake behind my house.
Pull weeds.
Go to the beach and the pool with my granddaughter.
Make love to my husband (check on that one–accomplished that by 7am!….sorry if that’s a TMI but let’s get real!)
Eat watermelon.
Do some damn good writing (which I hope I am accomplishing right now.
Nap. It’s summertime people. Naps are mandatory.
Make up stories about fairies.
Eat food grown in dirt. If I’m going to eventually get back to motha-earth I might as well eat the rainbow and swallow a few dirt-crumbs along the way.
Then I’m going to the gym tonight and kill it on some weights. Sweat like crazy. Listen to some Kanye–nothing like gritty music to get you pumped.
Then I’m going to play with glow in the dark bubbles as the stars come out and at last fall into my hubby’s arms.

Good life.
Today is a play day.
I hope (and plan) to play my way through this life.
I will be the silly, goofy, crazy hat dancing in the streets 90 year old–and every day until I get there.

I have one question for you…Wanna play?

Wanna play?

Wanna play?

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Seth Rogen spoke to the Senate committee on behalf of the over seven million Americans who suffer with Alzheimer’s–five times as many people who suffer from AIDS in America–and yet all but two senators left. Why? Maybe they stepped out because Seth is perceived as a celebrity, but he wasn’t there for that reason. He spoke out for Alzheimer’s because this disease has hit his  family–his mother-in-law.
Maybe the problem is that Alzheimer’s isn’t sexy. It’s scary to most people. It turns our loved ones into strangers. It’s unpredictable. Even former President Regan was hidden away. We didn’t want  to see him “like that,” all undignified.

I too, have seen Alzheimer’s up close and intensely personal. It scared me, too, I won’t deny. But then I just got used to it. Not that it got any easier–the outbursts, the vacant eyes, the chaos and destruction that can ensue, the absolutely frustrating issues with the medical community and their lack of understanding what families are facing, the lack of support that leaves caregivers so often alone physically and financially as they try to do more than is humanly possible, the deep ache of losing a loved one drop by drop and not being able to comfort them because this disease won’t let you in…I know it well. My adoptive mother, who had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, spent her last almost two years in our home and I held her as she left this  earth.

So Seth,thank you.

Thank you for your crass humor that gives us permission to laugh at ourselves.

Thank you for daring to call the senators out and ask why they left, why this didn’t seem important enough to stick around for–even if they didn’t agree with the message or the messenger it would seem that there shouldn’t be Senate hearings if nobody is going to listen.

Thank you, Seth. I know you’re just an actor, that you get paid to entertain, but for one day you hoped to use your celebrity-dom to talk about  something that a wholelotta us are facing in our families, with our mothers, mother-in-laws, grandparents, spouses and partners. I say we get used to messy. We educate others by sharing the nitty gritty. We speak out and speak out some more. We help each other through this.

Maybe you did more good because they did not listen–that it made the news in a big way–so now more people are listening.

You done good, Seth Rogen. You done good.

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/video/seth-rogans-impassioned-funny-plea-alzheimers-awareness-22690205

 

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You heard me. Love twice as much. Do half as much.

Most caregivers I know do way too much. They try too hard. They care about everything and everybody.

That inevitably leads to exhaustion which leads to burnout which barrels head first into resentment, anger, and then boomerangs into guilt because let’s face it…you can’t ever do enough or be enough.

So, I say chuck it.

Leave the beds unmade.

Don’t go to all the doctor rechecks–you know the ones you can skip.

Say  no to endless procedures checking for this or that.

Even forget balanced meals. (you know if you’re to this point)

We nixed the Ensure and my mom lived her last few months on Klondike bars. Who cares? At some  point don’t you get to eat what you love?

Christmas is two weeks away. My tree is half up. My sink is half full of dishes. Not a holiday card in sight. We’re recovering from a stomach virus and today the washer is chugging with sheets and towels, (a necessity) and we’re munching on crackers and drinking Sprite and Gatorade. It is what it is. I’ve already  missed two appointments this week, and yes, I  forgot to call. I’ve been in PJs for three days. Oh well.

It’s half-ass time.

Everything is being reassessed.

I’m sending a few holiday emails or better yet a phone call. 

“Love you! May you and yours be blessed”

Is there anything more important to say? Who cares the mode of transportation? (stamps, call, email)

A few gifts will be ordered off the great and mighty Amazon…and I’m buying for myself FIRST. I’m not waiting for someone else to figure out what I want.

I’m making a list of what we love–foodie  items, comfort items that mean Christmas to us. 

Half-ass means looking hard at all you think you have to do.

Half-ass means keeping only what truly needs to be done and only what is truly valued. Even some of the needs must wait–some of the time.

What to keep?

Your sanity.

Your sleep. Anytime. Anywhere. I’ve been known to grab a car-nap before or after a pharmacy run.

Your connection. The only real and lasting gift you have to give your loved one  is your connection–whether you’re their spouse, partner, adult child, friend or neighbor, that is infinitely more important than the never ending to-do list that comes with caregiving.

If you have to choose:

Choose to hold hands.

Choose to share a Snickers bar.

Choose to ditch the to-dos and grab some fun. Rebel against your own schedule. (Nothing like playing hooky!)

Choose to let go.

Choose who and what you hold onto.

Half-assed means letting go of the stuff  that in the great big scheme of things matters a whole lot less.

And then embracing what (and who) you hold most dear.

Happy (and Half-Assed) Holidays to You and Yours!

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Mary (on the left), Diane, and the bears

Mary (on the left), Diane, and the bears

My dear friend and writer bud Diane lost her husband this summer. They were soul mates finding each other after several starter marriages went bust. Two amazing people each in their own right who found sweetness and LIFE and spent  20 years side-by-side. They rode his Harley, got tattoos, water skied, and made a home for children and grandchildren. Then cancer came along and the last couple of years were tough. We (the Chats) joined Diane and Wally’s family and friends at his memorial service and witnessed a man who was and is so loved. Then Mary, another of our writer buds, offered to make Diane and her family teddy bears out of pieces of Wally’s clothing.

Diane lined up Harley, Corona, and Marine Corp tee shirts alongside a rugby shirt, a few Hawaiian prints, and even some plaid golf shorts and asked the kids and grandkids to chose whichever item of clothing they were drawn to, the one connected with a memory. Then, Mary got to work.

See, Mary makes bears.
Bears and puppy dogs and other critters.
She makes them so you’ll have something from your loved one to hold.
This isn’t all Mary does–she makes sanitary pads for young girls in Africa who will miss school because there aren’t disposable feminine products available, or they can’t afford them anyway. She makes quilts for sick babies. She’s that kind of gal.

Here’s Wally’s Hawaiian print  on a bear with a navy blue bow.

Here’s Wally’s rugby shirt turned puppy dog for a grandson–with a collar piece to boot.

Here’s another dog sporting plaid from Wally’s golf shorts.

She has seven more to make. Each adult child and each grandchild will have a bear or a dog to remember their dad/paps by. They get to hold a piece of him. They will no doubt be comforted in the days and years to come–all because Mary offered to make a bear.

Mary is like that–thoughtful, empathic, generous.

Perhaps you’ve lost someone you love.

Perhaps you’ve held onto articles of clothing, a favorite jacket or vest, something that links you to your loved one. Most likely your keepsakes, like so many of mine, are stored in chests, in the back of closets and boxes we keep under the bed.
Why not take these beloved items and do something with them?
Turn your missing into something tangible you get to touch.

Diane stood, amazed, when she saw her bears. The exhaustion lifted from her brow and  the sorrow in her eyes gave way to light. It was as if she were giving a piece of Wally to the family they both so love. The plaid, the  Hawaiian blue palm trees, the rugby blue and red are all parts of what made Wally who he is and how he will be cherished.

When we take our loss and so something with it–write a poem, tell a story, wear their dog tags as a necklace,  make a bear–we make something new in us. They live on in this transformation, “reincarnation,” if you will.

We take our sorrow and turn it into something that offers comfort and connection.

Wally is now a bear–and a dog–and  he’ll be tucked in at night, taken on vacation and get to play tea party with his granddaughters, and if you ask me, that’s exactly where he’d like to be.

If you’d like a bear, shoot me an email at writecarolodell@gmail.com and I’ll get you in touch with Mary

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I heard a child education expert comment that we are always learning. (Pardon the blip/change of subject–this post was meant for my other blog–Risk, Play, Create–but I’ll leave it here as well). If a child is playing Legos he’s learning. If he’s playing a video game he’s learning. If he’s building a fort and having pine cone fights with his friends–he’s learning. We can’t NOT learn. It’s how we’re hardwired. Even if a kid is glued in front of a television channel flipping–he’s learning. Not all our learning is good/productive/healthy–but we are learning something all the time.

Annie Murphy Paul author Brilliant, The New Science of Smart reminds us that each of us have a learning quotient:

“How we learn shapes what we know and what we can do. Our knowledge and our  abilities are largely determined not by our IQ or some other fixed measure of  intelligence, but by the effectiveness of our learning process: call it our  learning quotient.”

Professor Randy McKay at the DNA Learning Center has this to say on the subject:

“…So, on top of the basic biology, there’s a huge flexibility and it’s that interaction that makes the nervous system such a powerful device.”

Why do we remember certain things we learn and why do other bits of knowledge  (such as information we regurgitate on a test and then dump before we get our grade) disparate?

Two reasons (this is totally me coming up with this part)

1) Information you need (for your job, your interests) that you will continue to use and reapply

2) Information you acquire out of need/curiosity, that is  also cross-referenced and overlaid with other pertinent information.

I offer this personal example. My knowledge is based heavily on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. In gathering my  research I took the following actions: (not an extensive list, just what  I can remember quickly)

  • Perused the ‘net for quality information–separating it from “junk.”
  • Found the mother-lode at www.vangoghgallery.org. This is the official site affiliated with the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
  • Researched authors who had written on Van Gogh.
  • Bought (collected) relevant books ranging on everything from the diseases that plagued him to studying his color theory to his numerous letters to his brother and others, to the women he loved.
  • Began a checklist of visiting every museum possible to view his work.
  • Emailed/spoke with experts on various sub-set subjects related to Van Gogh.
  • Painted replicas of his work so that I could get into his head/heart and experience these works of art for myself.
  • Visited Amsterdam/Paris/South of France–locations where Vincent lived, worked and died.

That  was the gathering phase. Since then, my studies led me down many fascinating rabbit holes. Here’s what I’ve learned. Some subjects I took to a deep level of learning and others are merely skimmed, cross-referenced and applied as needed for my book.

  • I made a list of the books and music Vincent read and enjoyed and read them/listened for myself.
  • Bought Rosetta Stone and brushed up on my French
  • Mapped where Vincent lived and traveled and made my own creativity trek
  • Studied the science of turbulence found in his painting Starry Night and learned about the mathematician that founded this area of math and physics–after Vincent naturally painted it.
  • Studied the provenance of many of Vincent’s works from the 1880s to present day.
  • Studied how a painting is valued, and why art is stolen.
  • Studied how art was confiscated particularly in World War II (rent the film The Rape of Europa–appalling).
  • Studied temporal lobe epilepsy (what physicians/psychiatrists have given as Vincent’s diagnosis).
  • Studied the history of syphilis (Vincent and Theo, his brother) both contracted this  STD)
  • Studied the lives of fellow artists and Vincent’s mentors: Millet, Delacroix, Gauguin, Lautrec, Cezanne, Pissarro…the list goes on.
  • Studied the art periods that preceded and followed after the Post Impressionists (Vincent’s era)–Impressionists, modern/abstract art.
  • Studied the history of photography of the 1800s.
  • Studied asylums in the 1800s and the use of hydrotherapy.
  • Studied the  discrepancies of Vincent’s final days–did he really commit suicide? What did his last cryptic words mean?
  • Studied the Salon des Independents.
  • Studied the history of Arles, St. Remy, the history and layout of the city and  surrounding area and why Vincent was attracted to this “certain slant of light.” That led me to study the Roman influences in this area as well as the L’Occitane language.
  • Studied Joanna Bonger-Van Gogh, Theo’s wife and the person most responsible for sharing Vincent’s works with the world after the two brother’s deaths (they died six months apart.
  • Collecting, studying, and preparing historic recipes from France in the 1800s.  
  • Studied the history of absinthe and its scientific properties and how it affects the brain.
  • Studied the history of gypsies and Sara the Gitan, patron saint of the five gypsy tribes of Europe
  • Studied the golden mean as found in sunflowers and other natural forms–which led me to The Power of Limits–an amazing book that looks in depth at this  mathematical and architectural influence.

I could go on but perhaps this fascinates me more than you.

I encourage you to take whatever interests you and make a list of what it has led you to–the people, places, books that you’ve naturally gathered along your way.

The word I just used–naturally–is key.

Natural learning sticks.

Cross-referenced learning is applied learning.

Finding  what you love and allowing yourself to gather, sort, process and apply without pressure, just because you’re curious, with your own set in challenges, is true learning. 

I am no smarter than you. Trust me on that one. But I am curious and I’ve learned to indulge my fascinations. My life and my home now reflect my passions.

Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci was known for not finishing things? Do we really care? The man serious must have had OCD and ADD–but who gives a rat’s patootie? He dabbled in nature, cut up corpses to studied human anatomy, created weapons, studied engineering and applied what he learned to Florence and other cities, drew, painted, sculpted. The world is a far more beautiful place because of this one man. I, for one, I am grateful that he was a dabbler. Follow through might just be overrated!

I ask you–and I hope you’ll share:

What subjects interest you?

Have you started collecting information?

Do you go internet diving on these subjects?

Do you allow yourself to follow whatever questions arise?

Does your home, your conversations, how you spend your time reflect your interests?

How has this impacted the quality of your life?

Even if it’s just for you, if no monetary gain, no fame or fortune befall you, would you still be glad you spent your time on these endeavors?

 

Read more on how we learn at:

Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2011/10/12/the-science-of-how-we-learn/#ixzz2dGmR5uBp

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A couple of years ago I had a major talk for a college coming up. Mothering Mother (my book) was the spring selection read for the entire college. I was invited to not only come give a talk, but to also visit several departments, talk with students, a luncheon talk with the staff, a one-woman play in the community, and any other publicity (television/radio) that might arise. Pressure. I had to ON. I needed to be prepared, present, interesting, educational, entertaining and all in all, a razzle-dazzle kind of gal for all of the upcoming events. And that’s when it hit me: I need to rest.

This isn’t just woo-woo. Rest is crucial to creativity. A recent study out of Harvard Health shows a direct correlation between creativity and rest. A group was given a complex problem to solve and then divided. One half of the group was told to work on the problem all day. The other half was encouraged to nap. Not only nap (not just a ten minute break), but were allowed to rest long enough to enter REM sleep. You guessed it. The group that napped showed a 40% cognitive improvement in problem solving. “Those whose naps were long enough to enter REM sleep did 40% better on the test than nappers who didn’t get any REM sleep and non-nappers. Rather than simply boosting alertness and attention, REM sleep allowed the brain to work creatively on the problems that had been posed before sleep.”

No wonder Google now  encourages naps. Other great nappers include Albert Einstein, Salvadore Dali, Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison.

Salvador Dali

Back to my story: I spent two months (or more) preparing for the various components of my upcoming events–preparing  posters, writing blogs, tapping into social media to help promote the event, lots of phone calls, printing of new materials, practicing endless hours so that my talks were seamless–and yes, plucking the wiry eyebrows and checking off a rather formidable list of personal hygiene items.

But as the time came closer my world grew quiet. I stepped aside from other commitments. I spent time in my garden. I rode my  bike. I took naps. I envisioned myself fully present with folks who needed me not only to talk, but more importantly, to listen. Every time an anxious thought entered my being I imagined us (students, professors,  community  folk) in a circle laughing, talking, sharing, reading, crying. I decided that going to these events rested and fully present was the best gift I could give myself–and everyone else. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, I wrapped us in love and light.

So…how’d it go?

Amazing.

I was received with kindness and ease. I was treated with respect and appreciation.

I was able to handle several days of a busy schedule and welcomed each event and each  group of people with joy, sweetness and intention. It is truly one of my best “author” experiences that will forever cherish. And I don’t believe it would have turned out so well if I hadn’t tapped into the secret of rest.

Rest doesn’t mean sleeping (although it includes sleeping).

Rest is a state of regeneration.

Our brains are “free” from our consciousness (and  critic) while we sleep. Solutions can “come to us,” when we stop trying so hard.

Rest doesn’t just mean catching some zzz’s. It’s whatever feeds your spirit.

Clean water, long walks, talking with people who invigorate your  mind and spirit.

It might mean creating a meal, deadheading a bed of flowers, bird watching all afternoon, pouring through magazines and surrounding yourself with  positive images. It might even mean addressing some minor irritations that are sapping you of your thoughts. It’s also body care–yoga,  stretching, getting a massage, swimming, catching up on dental appointments, perhaps doing a juice cleanse.

It means time for quiet. For  reflection. For envisioning how you want to feel at whatever is coming up for you. I wanted to feel deeply rested, present, and have the energy to give myself wholeheartedly to this endeavor.

Flash forward three years:

New opportunities are swirling around me. Several possibilities at once.

My head is spinning and my first thought is:

“Whew! There’s a whole lot about to happen–I better rest!”

 

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I never thought this day would come–when I’d write about making peace with my mother. My mother was difficult, and that’s an understatement. It’s not that I’ve ever known anything different. When some people read my book, Mothering Mother, they ask how I could have forgiven her, much less taken care of her. The reason is simple: caregiving is more about you–your character,  your journey–than it is about them.

While my mother was demanding,  domineering, rather self-serving, somewhat violent (I grew up in the day when spanking, whipping, and  even slapping your child across the face (which she did more times than I can count) wasn’t all that unusual–mine was just a bit more extreme), but my mother was also funny, bigger than life, and she ironically adored my daddy and me.

I spent  my 20s pretty darn angry–about being adopted, about her  rages, and in general, just one big hot  mess. Eventually, I got tired of being angry. I got tired of carrying such a huge “life isn’t fair” grudge around all the time.

So, in essence, I simultaneously wore it and decided to let go.

Not because she  did or didn’t deserve it, but because I did.

And in full disclosure, there were many times (teen years especially) where I was not the ideal daughter and she had every right to be beyond frustrated/irritated and  at a complete loss as to what to do with me.

We continued to have  our tiffs and rifts. I still had to stand up to her–toe to toe–and she still managed to wield her emotional  knives and sometimes I didn’t see them  coming and  would once again buckle under the hurt. Still, this formidable woman gave me more good than ill. I honed my strength, my courage, and my faith by having it tested again and again. And in time, as I  married, birthed and  raised children, I became aware that  all mother-daughter relationships are fraught with a tangle of emotions, regrets, and misunderstandings. I  have  more compassion for my mother these days and I ask mercy from my own adult daughters. Yet I know  there will be so much I won’t understand and they won’t understand  until it’s time. Until then I will be their whetting stone and they  will sharpen their axes on me just as I, in turn, did to my mother.

I am finally at peace with my mother. Not in some Pollyanna way. I am at peace now because I am somehow able to open wide and embrace all of it–I can remember and absorb the pain and it no longer poisons me.

I remember the day  I opened Jack Canfield’s book, The Success Principles and read his first entry:

I am  100% responsible for my own life.

That day I finished growing up (not that  we are ever done growing).

The angst of a mentally ill birth mother, a alcoholic-addictive father, a cold grandmother saddled with grandchildren to raise, being  abused and  being adopted by the age of four to a mother wrestling with religion and force and hardened old and narrow  ways–all of it burned by some holy fire, no more than ashes.

I am 100% responsible for my own life.

Peace.

Only by loving what is–all that she was, that I was, all that we are and will  forever  be–am I now capable of holding us in that sacred and loose place. I can smile and say with  an open heart and wide arms,

“Oh, we’re  such a mess, aren’t we?”

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