What are you afraid of? How do you move past fear?

I’ve never thought of myself as a fearful person. Sure, butterflies are normal before I speak, and alone on a dark street at night, adrenaline races and I’m particularly watchful. But I’m not afraid as a general rule. Yet, when I joined an estimated 25,000 women and men at the Des Moines Women’s March, I found myself face-to-face with my own fear.

In marching, I came face-to-face with my own fear.

One of the speakers – a 65-year-old lesbian – recalled life for gays and lesbians in the early 70s. “There was a time,” she said. Then she shared the reality of life for homosexuals at that time. A time when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. A time when gays could be forced to undergo shock or conversion therapy to “cure” them. A time when you could lose your job, or be kicked out – possibly even killed – for being who you were.

The description of the reality of that time hit me like a wrecking ball to the chest. Because I knew it personally.

Facing my own fear

I married for the first time in 1968. Four years later, I learned that my husband was gay. For a variety of reasons, we elected to remain married. To remain married and to present ourselves as a “normal” couple. At least part of my personal decision was influenced by my upbringing when I learned that how things looked to others was a most important consideration.

In choosing to keep quiet, we also chose to don the cloak of secrecy and fear. At any time someone might discover our secret. The ramifications could be many, and none of them looked good. Would he lose his job? Would I lose mine? What would happen to our families? Would we and they be shamed in public, ostracized in church, lose our friends?

Meanwhile, others – mostly on the coasts – were coming out of the closet and out of the shadows. They were marching. Demonstrating. Speaking up and out. They were brave. Maybe they felt fear, but they didn’t let it stop them. Because they stood up, they effected change. Not right away. Not all at once. Not even yet. But bit by bit.

Divorce did not remove the fear

When my husband and I divorced – almost 36 years ago – I thought I’d left that time and that fear behind. Listening to the Women’s March speaker, I realized how grateful I am for the people who marched for change. We’re all better off for people who march.

We’re better because of the suffragettes. We’re better because of the Freedom Riders. We’re better because of LGBTQ activists. We’re better because of activists who believe women should have control of their own bodies. We’re better because of people who will not accept being demeaned, downtrodden, or beaten any more. We’re better for those who put their fear aside and act.

Another woman faces down fear – Mesothelioma

Coincidentally, shortly before I faced down my own fear at the Women’s March, I received an email from Heather Von St. James. Heather is a 10-year survivor of mesothelioma, a cancer that took one of her lungs. Talk about fear. Instead of being ruled by the fear, Heather started “Lung Leavin’ Day.” Every February 2, Lung Leavin’ Day not only marks another year of survival for Heather, but also an opportunity to educate people on mesothelioma – and the value of overcoming fear. Follow any of the marked lengths to read more about Heather’s story.

At the March, I realized I still hold some fear in my core. The March helped solidify my sense that I was done with hiding. It’s time to face fear rather than let fear own me. Everyone had their own reasons for marching. I didn’t realize moving beyond fear was one of mine. Now I know.

To get past fear? Get up and get marching.

So, dear readers, how has fear been a factor in your life? What fears to have? How do you set fear aside?

This is what democracy looks like – Women’s March

Marching to support a cause is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. The suffragettes marched more than 100 years ago to secure the vote for women. Civil rights activists marched in the 1960s to raise awareness of the inequities suffered by African Americans. The LGBT community rose up in the 1970s.

This marcher got to the core of a problem we have in Iowa and nationally – one group trying to force their idea of rights on others.

Achieving human rights is not a one-and-done deal. Each right is fought for. And once achieved, there’s no guarantee you’ll keep those rights. If it were not so, we would not be here in 2017 still marching for those same rights. 

On Saturday, I joined more than 20,000 women, men, and children for the Women’s March in Des Moines. We united in spirit with the millions who marched worldwide in support of a full range of human rights.

It took a while for my friend and I to find each other in the crowd.

The reasons why people marched varied. The messages they carried, equally so.

I’ve been on the political sidelines my whole life. I’ve let others carry the load. This past year, though, I’ve seen how easily rights can be trampled on. How people are marginalized and dismissed. I’ve seen us going back – and not in a good way.

A young boy carried his hope for the march.

I elected to get up off the couch and engage. I didn’t realize what an empowering experience the march would be. Speakers roared into microphones, got us chanting, shared their stories, inspired.

When we finally marched around the Capitol grounds, I was reminded of being the slowest person in a marathon, the one who waits a half hour to even start running. In our case, there were so many people, the first people were back at the starting point before the last people began. 

Marchers wrap the entire Iowa State Capitol grounds.

Participating in one of the fundamental rights of our democracy – the first amendment rights to assembly and free speech – was a powerful rush. Where will this all lead? Time will tell.

When I woke up a couple of days after the march with the words of the State of Iowa motto running through my brain, I knew I was in the right place, doing the right thing.

“Our liberties we prize. Our rights we must maintain.”

Ah, democracy. Did you march? What was your experience? If you didn’t march, what was your reaction?

Word of the year for 2017? – Wonder

Choosing a word of the year is popular. The Oxford Dictionaries chose ‘post-truth’ as their word in 2016, while Merriam-Webster settled on ‘surreal,’ and Dictionary.com tapped ‘xenophobia.’ All  good choices given the year’s events.

A number of my friends choose a word that focuses them for the coming year. Serenity and Mindfulness are some examples. As friends shared their words for the 2017, I wondered how they do it. There are so many words that might apply.

I am frequently in awe of nature. This full rainbow caused me to stand in wonder.

Immediately, I recognized ‘wonder’ as a good word of the year for me. Wonder has many meanings so I am not trapped in one idea for the entire year. And my life circumstances already tell me this year will be full of moments that will cause me to pause.

Wonder encompasses curiosity, amazement, awe.

  • I am in wonder at our granddaughters who bring such joy to our lives.
  • I wonder if our neighbors who raise Percheron horses will let us ride them sometime?
  • I wonder what it will be like to tour the ancient Greek monasteries, to stand in the middle of the 2500-year-old Parthenon, to ask the Oracle at Delphi my own questions?
  • When I travel to Greece, I imagine I’ll be in wonder at finally fulfilling the very first travel desire I ever articulated, in eighth grade when we studied the Greek gods and goddesses, and again in college when I studied Greek theatre.

Wonder leaves room for doubt and uncertainty.

  • I wonder what our country will be like under President Donald Trump?
  • I wonder if any of the agents I pitch my novel to will like it enough to represent me?
  • I wonder what I’ll do if they don’t?
  • Now that I’ve finished the manuscript that occupied my time for two years, I wonder what will rise up as my next project? A question for the Oracle, no?

Wonder encourages emotion excited by what is strange and surprising.

  • Standing in the midst of my prairie, I feel wonder that pioneers could actually cross through miles of tall grass.
  • It is a wonder that I like ouzo. (If I actually said this, it truly would be a wonder. But who knows? I’m open to the possibility.)

Having latched onto Wonder, I imagine I’ll find even more reasons to experience all facets of the word. Having chosen the word, I’ll be reminded to appreciate more deeply each of these moments. An added value to choosing a word.

Do you chose a word of the year? If you have, please share. If you don’t have one but find that Wonder resonates for you, be my guest. I’m sure there’s plenty of wonder around for all of us.

 

Perkins Corner – love and comfort in a package “to go”

My mother had a tradition. Whenever we visited, when it came time to leave, Mom put together food for us to take along for the drive. It didn’t matter if we’d just eaten and the trip only a couple of hours long, she sent food along for the drive.

As a result, I was charmed – and not a little homesick – when I heard that Nan Johnson’s family named this common tradition. As we enjoy this holiday season and associated travels, I invite you to take a little “Perkins Corner” love along.

A to-go bag makes that hug last longer.

A to-go bag makes that hug last longer.

Perkins Corner – love and comfort in a package “to go”

by Nan Johnson

Recently, as our daughter packed her car to leave after a visit home, my husband stepped out of our pantry holding a package of Mint Milano cookies. “These will be good for Perkins Corner – Kathryn likes these.” My husband caught me by surprise, because in that simple, off-hand comment, he connected generations of my family, paid a loving tribute to my late mother, and demonstrated that he pays more attention than he lets on.

A “Perkins Corner,” in my family, is a bag of treats assembled for the person leaving. It is an assortment of fruit and snacks, and may include a coupon for an oil change or a free smoothie. Practically speaking, of course, they are road trip provisions. Symbolically, they are a loving gesture to the family member who is leaving that says “we are reluctant to let you go; here’s a small part of us to take with you.”

While the practice is undoubtedly common among families, the name for it is not. It comes from my great-grandparents, Dutch immigrants who arrived two years before Ellis Island opened and settled in a community of fellow Frisians in northwest Iowa farm country.

Pakka was a stone mason and Beppa supplemented their income by making and selling cheese. Every summer in their childhood, my mother and her sister took the train from Rochester, Minnesota, to Rock Valley, Iowa, to visit their grandparents. These days, it is a three and a half hour trip by car; back then, the trip by rail probably took the better part of a day.

My mom and aunt spent the long summer days fishing with their grandpa, weeding the garden with grandma, and playing in the hayloft with cousins – children of their father’s siblings who had married other first generation Dutch Americans­­.

When it was time to leave the idyllic life of loving attention only grandparents can give, the tears began. To soften the sting of good-bye, Beppa handed her granddaughters a brown paper sack as they boarded the train with instructions not to open it until they reached Perkins Corner, the first train stop down the track. During that eight-mile journey, as Mom would tell the story, the sniffling subsided, cheeks wiped dry, and curiosity peaked as to the contents of that mysterious brown bag. When the conductor announced the Perkins stop, the sisters peeked inside and pulled out apples and cookies – one last figurative hug from their loving grandparents.

I grew up hearing the story, but never experienced my own Perkins Corner since my own grandparents lived in town. But after I married, had children and we visited my parents, who now lived in faraway Tucson, the tradition began again.

“Just a little Perkins Corner,” Mom would say tearfully as she thrust a brown paper lunch bag into my hands as we pulled up to curbside check-in at the airport. I wasn’t always as appreciative as I should have been; flying with three young children, our hands were already full of toddlers, strollers, diaper bags and luggage. What do I do with this extra sack? But I accepted the gift anyway, dutifully nodding at the updated instructions to not open until the airplane’s wheels retracted after lift-off.

Moments after we left the ground and felt the rumble of the wheel doors close underneath us, our kids would turn in unison toward me, and I would pull the slightly squashed bag from my carry-on. Mom got pretty creative over the years. She included candy made from prickly pear cactus, chocolates shaped like cowboy boots, decks of playing cards with colorful photos of Arizona. Whatever minor irritation I felt from being forced to hold on to an additional package faded at the sight of our kids’ smiles. After all, it was one last hug from loving grandparents.

So, when our grown-up daughter, with car packed and ready to go, came back inside to grab her travel coffee mug, she saw a brown paper sack waiting for her on the kitchen counter. Her eyes lit up and she said with delight, “Perkins Corner!” I felt three generations smiling with me.

Do you have quirky names for common traditions? Take a moment to share. And Happy Holidays.

Nan Johnson is a former reference and rare-book librarian. She lives in Missouri where she writes and where she and her husband maintain a tallgrass prairie. Her first book “The Open Road” will be available in April 2017.

How do we handle rejection? Find a new path.

This past week rejection hit me right between the eyes. While I was not altogether surprised by the rejection, I was still disappointed. To the point of tears. In that moment, it helped to be reminded that even the best of writers have been where I am now.

I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”Sylvia Plath

Fortunately, Sylvia Plath’s quote showed up when I needed it most. On the very day, in fact, that my new manuscript was rejected by the publisher who acquired Go Away Home. The reason I was not surprised is that my new manuscript is an issue-driven, contemporary story while Go Away Home is historical fiction. Yet rejection is rejection. And it stung.

Y in the road

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Plath’s quote reminded me that I had tried. I had done my best, writing the best story I could. During a good long walk, I came to see the opportunity, to realize that while this rejection diverts me from the comfortable path I’d been on, it opens another publishing path to explore.

My writing journey reflects the many faces of publishing. For a variety of reasons, I elected to indie publish my memoir Growing Up Country. That experience connected me with a host of talented, supportive indie authors who helped me learn the business. My marketing background offered the comfort zone from which I launched and promoted a book that continues to find readers 10 years later.

That effort was so successful that when it came time to publish my first novel, I didn’t even look for a publisher. The indie world had treated me well, and I launched with confidence, using everything I learned from the memoir.

Lake Union’s offer to acquire Go Away Home came out of the blue. I could not have been more surprised or delighted. The publisher’s editors built my writing skill, and their team opened marketing avenues I’d never have accessed on my own. The partnership remains a success even if it stops at one book.

Having experienced the power of a good publisher, I want that for my next work. So I embark upon a new path – Find an agent.

Finding an agent

Research is the place to start. I’ve begun to amass a list of agents who specialize in my genre and are open to new submissions. I’m researching the best query approaches. I’m preparing myself for the wait and see and inevitable acquisition of more rejection slips. I remain hopeful that one of these agents will love the story and want to work their magic with publishers.

No matter what happens, I know I’ll learn a lot. And that’s always good.

Authors, have you been this route? Do you have recommendations on agents or the process?
Readers, any advice on handling rejection?

What traditions make the holiday for you? – A Thanksgiving story

Thanksgiving is a time laden with tradition as family and friends gather to share food, fellowship, and fond memories. As I texted my nieces this year, sharing our plans for turkey and all the fixings, I couldn’t help but remember one particular Thanksgiving. I share this story written a decade ago and published in The Iowan magazine as my Thanksgiving gift to you.

A Holiday Story

I have always believed that Thanksgiving dinner is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult meal to make. Easiest because there is no wondering what will be on the menu. At least at our house, the meal is always exactly the same, from homemade pumpkin and mincemeat pies to cranberry sauce cooked up and cooled in an aluminum mold used only for that purpose to the dinner rolls my aunt bakes on Thanksgiving morning. A turkey with sage dressing is the centerpiece.

A new, young cook takes to the kitchen, continuing old traditions and creating new.

A new, young cook takes to the kitchen, continuing old traditions and creating new.

At the same time, the meal is difficult because of the high level of expectation attached to all holiday family gatherings. For me, sage dressing is the food I desire most. I can pass on potatoes and gravy, forgo cranberries, even skip the turkey. Fill my plate with the sage dressing that I wait all year to taste.

So it was with more than casual interest that I listened to the phone conversation my mom was having with her granddaughter in Pennsylvania about Thanksgiving dressing.

“Say, Clorinda,” Mom said. “Your mom says you do a great job making dressing. If you want to make it when you’re here for Thanksgiving, I’ll get everything around so it’s ready when you are.”

Mom cradled the telephone between her shoulder and ear as she reached for a pencil and paper. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said, pencil poised to write. I knew she anticipated a list beginning with dried bread and progressing through sage seasoning.

Watching from across the table, I could see the list as Mom wrote down the ingredients Clorinda detailed: Stove … Top … Stuffing. Mom hesitated as she took in the words and glanced up at me. I couldn’t stifle a laugh.

For nearly 60 years, my mother had put three square meals a day on the table, all made from scratch, mostly using produce grown in her own garden. The very idea of making a Thanksgiving dish so basic and so traditional as dressing out of a box nearly made her go into shock.

But she’s quick on her feet, my mother. “How many boxes do you think we need?” she asked Clorinda.

Though Mom takes justifiable pride in the meals she prepares, she has her priorities in order. If her granddaughter wants to help make the meal, and that help comes out of a box, she won’t bat an eye. But don’t underestimate what a mental shift that took.

From the time my sisters and I were 10 years old. Mom taught us not only to grow the food we’d eat but also to cook it. She guided us through the basics of growing and canning peas and beans, tomatoes and corn. From there we explored the complexities of meal planning and cooking. Mom made cooking easy, measuring out ingredients before we knew what we needed, cleaning up every drip and spill as we made it. We knew no failures in her kitchen.

When 15-year-old Clorinda arrived in Iowa that November, Mom swept her granddaughter off into the kitchen as her newest apprentice. Some lessons were a snap. To make eggs over easy without flipping them, for instance, Mom shared the trick of putting a lid on the frying pan, drizzling a few drops of water at the edge, and letting steam cook the egg top. Some lessons were more challenging. Gravy without lumps took two tries. These cooking experiences continued throughout the week up until Thanksgiving Day.

By 5 a.m. the kitchen was a hive of activity directed by Mom and guaranteed to deliver the traditional Thanksgiving meal we all knew and loved. As noon approached, I watched in amusement as Clorinda opened the Stove Top stuffing mix and under Mom’s watchful eye completed a cooking task in five minutes that done in the traditional way would have taken a good two hours.

When the turkey came out of the oven at precisely 11:30 a.m. and a parade of heaping dishes made it to the dining room table at exactly noon, among them was a large bowl of Stove Top Stuffing. We all ate it. And it was good. Grandma agreed.

Would stuffing from a box ever replace homemade sage dressing and become the new tradition at our holiday table? Probably not. But Mom keeps Stove Top stuffing mix on her pantry shelf, ready for the day her granddaughter comes for another holiday visit.

Much has changed since this story was written, but much stays the same. Our tables will be surrounded with love, and I wish the same for you.

Will the real Donald J. Trump please stand up? #WordsMatter

The election outcome has a lot of people wondering what Donald J. Trump as president will be like. The reason: President-elect Trump has taken widely different stances on the same topics, sometimes within hours. I find myself wishing for a return of the 1950s TV game show “To Tell the Truth.”

Which Trump will show up as president?

Which Trump will show up as president?

On “To Tell the Truth,” a panel of four celebrities sought to discern which of a group of contestants had an unusual occupation or had undergone an unusual experience. The two imposters could lie, but the central character was sworn to tell the truth. At the end of the questioning, the moderator said, “Will the real … please stand up?”

In our modern-day version, Trump plays all the characters – those lying and the one telling the truth. We in the public are left trying to guess what’s real.

Here are some examples:

A. Candidate Trump: He said to Hillary Clinton: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation. … Because you’d be in jail.” (Oct. 9, 2016 – Presidential debate)
or
B. President-Elect Trump: “I don’t want to hurt them … They’re good people.” (Nov. 13, 2016 – CBS 60 Minutes Interview)

In the same CBS 60 Minutes interview, this exchange:
A. President-Elect Trump: “We have great generals.”
Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.”
B. President-Elect Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. … They haven’t done the job.”

A. President-Elect Trump: On Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump – Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair.” (Nov. 10, 2016)
or
B. President-Elect Trump: “@realDonaldTrump – Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!” (Nov. 10, 2016 – nine hours after first tweet)

A. Candidate Trump: The one who brags about assaulting women, attacks Gold Star parents, calls Latino immigrants murderers and rapists, threatens every person who is a Muslim.

B. President-Elect Trump: “Don’t be afraid. We are going to bring our country back. But certainly, don’t be afraid.” (Read the entire 60 Minutes transcript here.)

So, if the moderator said, “Will the real Donald J. Trump please stand up,” which one would it be? The one who rallied followers and votes around the idea of putting Hillary Clinton in jail or the one who lets her off? The one who praises generals or the egotist who claims he knows better? The one who believes people exercising freedom of speech is unfair or the one who speaks for all Americans?

The proof will be in the actions

As a public relations counselor for 30 years, I reinforced to my clients that their words were important, but equally important was that the words were backed up by credible actions.

So far, Trump appears to say whatever he thinks the audience in front of him wants to hear. Because of that, President Trump has a challenge on his hands.

To bring the country together, he will have to prove to people of color, Muslims, and women that they have nothing to fear. Yet, to satisfy the people who elected him, he needs to fulfill his campaign promises: bring back steel jobs, put Clinton in jail, build the wall, deport millions of immigrants. 

Less than a week after the election, President-Elect Trump began backing off on the wall, on completely dismantling the Affordable Care Act, on mass deportation. Will his supporters stay with him now?

At the same time, Trump has named as one of his closest advisors alt-right Stephen Bannon who promotes anti-Semetic, racist, sexist views. Can Trump really convince people he supports all Americans?

For my part, I’ll be using one of President Ronald Reagan‘s favorite lines: “Trust, but verify.” Ironic that this is a Russian proverb, no?

Along with the rest of the country – and the world – I’ll be watching to see which President stands up.

Words matter. The actions behind the words do, too.

How much does the truth matter? Too little in politics.

Count me among those who were rocked by the vitriol of the presidential campaign and shocked by the outcome. I suggest one of the reasons for public dismay was an inability to believe what we heard. It appeared that putting truth behind the words mattered little to either candidate.

From the earliest days of the campaign, candidates displayed alarming disregard for the truth. This is a common complaint with every election, but the problem crescendoed this year. Each candidate accused the other of lying while simultaneously spouting falsehoods of their own.

Fact Checking the Truth in Claims

Donald J. TrumpAccording to independent fact checker Politifact, 70% of the claims made by Candidate Donald J. Trump were judged Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire false. Only 15% of claims he made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Claims made by Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, were gauged to be Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire false 26% of the time. Over half (51%) of the claims Clinton made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Hillary ClintonShould Clinton supporters feel smug because their candidate lied less than Trump? Because only a quarter of the things she said were false? No.

Would any of us accept our children lying to us a quarter of the time, let alone 70% of the time? Our spouse? A friend? A business associate?

Maybe I’m bent out of shape over nothing. Do I care that Trump lied when he said he drew bigger crowds than Beyonce and Jay Z? My inclination was to blow it off. Who cares who gets bigger crowds?

But, when Trump said at a campaign rally that President Obama “spent so much time screaming at a protester, and frankly it was a disgrace,” he flat out lied, fabricating a situation, ripping down the President, who had, in fact defended the protester. Meanwhile, Trump had himself shouted down protesters many times. That I care about.

One of the greatest strikes against Hillary Clinton was that the public believed her untrustworthy. Initially, I cut her slack about the emails. I believed what she said. Much unsubstantiated ado about nothing, I thought. When it finally became clear beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied about the emails, I was heart sick.

I should care about all lies. Because they all speak to character. Yet, I made excuses for Clinton just as others made excuses for Trump. We sank into a tar pit this year, apparently willing to accept candidates for whom lying and corruption are standard procedure.

The Impact of Lying

The results of lying are many. A damaged reputation for the speaker. Difficulty going forward, because what can you believe when someone lies about even the smallest things? A disillusioned, disheartened, apathetic, cynical public. Greater distrust in the political system as a whole.

If the candidates don’t care enough to build trust in their audiences by searching out, presenting, and sticking to the truth, how can they expect us to care about them? Yet, apparently, we did.

What can we do?

How do we climb out of the tar pit? I’m trying to figure it out. I know I need to care more at the outset. I need to vet candidates more closely. Speak up. Speak out. Because the weight of our current situation isn’t just on the candidates; it’s on all of us. We will get more of what we accept.

I want to believe what people say. I need to believe what people say. I’m desperate to believe my president. Words matter.

How did you process the ongoing, escalating falsehoods during this presidential election? How much does it bother you that candidates play so fast and loose with words and facts? What do you propose we do about it?

68 years – 68 reasons to be grateful

October 11 is my 68th birthday. I’ve had – am having – a great life. Borrowing another idea from Laurie Buchanan, author of the soon-to-be-released Note to Self, and to recognize the years with which I’ve been blessed, I’m sharing 68 reasons why I’m grateful.

In no particular order, here they are:

  1. More than a house – a home
  2. My logical, practical husband who invariably has whatever I need
  3. My son and the happiness he’s finding in his life
  4. Two delightful granddaughtersCarol & Eliza on Tractor who give me so much joy
  5. Parents who loved me and gave me a solid foundation of values
  6. A lifelong love of education
  7. Hearing devices
  8. Glasses
  9. Living in an area with ready access to great medical care
  10. A positive attitude
  11. Readers who’ve supported my writing – and chosen to write and tell me what my stories meant to them
  12. Book club friends
  13. Bible study friends
  14. Lifelong friends and brand new ones
  15. My sister who’s living and another one I had for 58 wonderful years
  16. Good health
  17. The ability to travel
  18. The trips I’ve taken and the ones I see ahead
  19. Farmers
  20. The change of seasons
  21. My prairie and all the lessons I learn theremonarch in prairie
  22. Birds at the feeders and those in the trees
  23. Cheese
  24. The Percheron horses that pasture adjacent to our back yard
  25. The Internet and Google
  26. Libraries and librarians because Google doesn’t know everything
  27. Good editors
  28. The smell of lilacs
  29. Electricity
  30. More good memories than otherwise
  31. Curiosity
  32. Green trees, green grass, green
  33. Nurses like my sister and her daughter
  34. Teachers
  35. Authors who inspire me
  36. Our service men and women
  37. The police
  38. Summer tomatoes
  39. A deep freeze full of the bounty of our garden
  40. Hostas
  41. My washer and dryer
  42. My hair dresser
  43. A “good stick” at the blood bank
  44. October and the advent of cool weather
  45. April and the return of warm weather
  46. Chocolate chip cookies
  47. Vanilla ice cream
  48. Being ‘old enough
  49. Good health
  50. The ability to walk easily
  51. Colorful sunrisesIowa sunrise
  52. Thunderstorms
  53. Birkenstocks and Chacos
  54. Breathing
  55. All the colors of the rainbow
  56. Music of the 60’s and 70’s
  57. The breadboard my dad made me
  58. The smell of fresh-baked bread
  59. An appreciation for hard work
  60. My nieces and their families
  61. My smart phone
  62. Oakridge Neighborhood and all the places that help individuals, children and families in need achieve a better life
  63. Givers
  64. A good bed
  65. Children laughing
  66. My writing buddies
  67. A wealth of ideas for what comes next
  68. Another birthday

What things are you grateful for today? Leave a note with two or three.

How old do you feel? Time to Reflect.

Recently, I felt the need to journal and reflect. But where to start? I recalled a social media post I read a few months ago that offered a list of questions. As usually happens, though, I couldn’t recall exactly when I read the post or the people involved in the discussion.

However, the list included the kind of questions Laurie Buchanan, a holistic health practitioner and transformational life coach, shares on her blog Tuesdays with Laurie. I took a shot and contacted her.

note-to-self_finalLaurie generously sent a list of 365 questions that form the core of one chapter of her soon-to-be-published book Note to Self. From the book cover:

Note to Self is about offloading emotional baggage – something that’s especially important when we realize that we don’t just pack for one, we pack for seven of our selves – self-preservation, self-gratification, self-definition, self-acceptance, self-expression, self-reflection, and self-knowledge. Each plays a vital role in harmony, overall health, and well-being.

Exploring one question

I chose this question from Laurie’s list: How old do you feel?

To begin, I catalogued my physical aches and pains of the last three years, including how breaking my wrist caused me to go from healthy to  invalid. The transition occurred in my brain, since the wrist healed quickly, and I recovered full movement. The broken wrist became an excuse to exercise less, to question my balance, to move cautiously instead of with confidence, to begin to see myself as “old.”

Understanding I had no legitimate physical reason to feel old, the catalogue led to an exploration of what I’ve done to regain control of my health – from ears to feet to core strength to weight.

All this led to what society and the media have to say about age. What they say someone who’s nearing 70 years can and can’t do. The decidedly mixed societal messages caused me to affirm that how old I feel can be my own decision, not one imposed by others.

So then I journaled about what I want to be able to do with my life. A long list included things like playing with my granddaughters, traveling, hiking, riding bike, gardening, having enough energy to do whatever I feel like doing. All activities associated with good health.

Concluding that barring serious illness, “old” is a state of mind, I meandered into the positive sides of being “old.” I realized I’m Old Enough:

  • to have enjoyed a good long career doing something I loved.
  • to have made some good friends; to know what a friend means, and to value having and keeping them.
  • to have figured out (finally) what I want to do while I’m still able to do it.
  • to have made lots of mistakes, learned from them, and be young enough to make more mistakes, but maybe handle them better now that I’m old enough.
  • to know I’m lucky to be as healthy as I am, to live where I do, to have the life I have.

While feeling old may be a physically-imposed reality, barring that, feeling old appears to be more of a state of mind. I don’t “feel” 68 any more than I “felt” 40 or 17. If I even know that that means. Some comparative measure against others, societal expectations or my own, I suppose.

After pausing to reflect, I realize I don’t feel any particular age.

I feel like me.

The result of reflection

What a journey, Laurie’s question inspired – journaling for three days and returning in thought to the topic repeatedly since. After pausing to reflect, I realize how much of age is perspective. Reflecting reminded me again to be grateful.

Laurie Buchanan, author of "Note to Self"

Laurie Buchanan’s philosophy is “whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

If even half of the questions unlock such self discovery, I’ll be journaling not for 365 days but for several years. I pre-ordered Laurie’s book Note to Self and I encourage you to check it out too.

How old do you feel? What impacts your attitude about age? What tools do you use to reflect?