SuperheroesSuperman’s Song by Crash Test Dummies

Superheroes are not perfect. Despite their special powers and amazing talents, they are not invincible. They typically have experienced a tragedy or traumatic event that haunts and compels them to be overachieving do-gooders, like Batman witnessing his parents being murdered in a dark alley. Although they almost always come out on top, infallibility lurks, like Achilles’ heel and Superman’s kryptonite. Who wants to be a superhero, anyway? That’s about as desirable as being president of the United States or an undercover secret agent, super as they are. Like many youngsters, my son wanted to be a superhero for a good part of his early childhood. He idolized Robin Hood, the Ghostbusters, Spider Man, Power Rangers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Actually, Robin Hood wasn’t really a superhero – he was just a charming rascal with a merry band of buddies backing him up. Come to think of it, the Turtles don’t fit the superhero mold either since their special powers are dubious, but they did undergo the tragedy of being slimed by radioactive goo to become noble albeit goofy crime-fighters. By the time Mac was eight years old, he had determined that being a superhero was a heavy burden to bear, so he morphed into an athlete and all too soon into a rock ‘n roller. He learned very quickly that life is too short to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders and has proceeded to have an awful lot of fun while accomplishing his realistic goals and being true to himself.

There’s a fair number of people who have the superhero mentality and perform marvelous feats. I admire them tremendously but have little desire to be great and powerful like them. Since living in a state of overall happiness is one of my special talents, I am generally content with my relatively unremarkable achievements. It’s important for me to feel like I’m making the world a better place, but I can accomplish that on a miniscule scale instead of globally, a la superhero status. Once in a while, however, something triggers a nagging feeling of inadequacy in my heart. It almost always happens when comparisons are made, if only in my own mind.

A few days ago I submitted an essay for the annual Notes & Words writing contest. Last year’s contest sponsored by Children Hospital asked for essays about raising children with medical and physical challenges. Since our family has been blassed with extreme good fortune in that department, I knew my essay didn’t stand a chance because of its lighthearted nature – besides the fact that it really wasn’t very good. This year’s contest is sponsored by Nothing But the Truth Publishing,  spawned from the beautifully supportive organization called A Band of Wives (abandofwives.com). The essay topic is transitions, so at least I stand a better chance since my life in general has been a series of metamorphoses. We were asked to submit a short biography along with our entry, so I dutifully attached a breezy synopsis. All was well until I ordered last year’s anthology Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God and began to read. Actually, it wasn’t the essays that got to me – it was the authors’ bios. They were all such accomplished women with glowing credentials that I couldn’t possibly hold a candle to illuminate my paltry resume bright enough. It’s a good thing that I didn’t read those bios earlier or I may never have submitted an entry to the contest. It floored me. Here I am, a confident, well-adjusted 52-year-old with nothing to prove, cringing with embarrassment over my lack of splashy accolades. I had to reiterate the words of my wise doctor saying that in her homeland of Russia, raising happy children who become productive citizens is considered the greatest feat. Well at least I have that shining claim to my name.

As I was battling those nasty self-worth demons with my less-than-super powers, I stopped flipping through the bios and began to read the essays in the anthology. The opening entry entitled Overwhelmed, Overworked, and Over It! was written by a life coach who inspires women to take off the Superwoman cape and stop running themselves ragged. It felt like she was speaking directly to me as I read, “…make choices that make you happy, not choices that make you crazy. Tell the world, ‘No, I can’t do, be and have it all the way society has defined it all, but I will make choices… without apology or guilt… I won’t rely on someone else’s measure to tell me when I have done enough or accumulated enough.'” I wanted to jump up and hug Christine Arylo for reminding me that I have always chosen to do the things that make me happiest, even if they are not glamorous, flashy, or amazing.

The most important thing for all of us to abide by is simply to live our own best authentic lives, irregardless of others’ opinions or even what we think we should be doing. We need to teach our children that they can do anything but they don’t have to do everything… and then we need to follow that advice ourselves. To be sure, the world needs a few superheroes, but it needs a whole lot of Clark Kents – happy, healthy everyday heroes who are living a balanced, sustainable life with their ordinary powers.


“Or in the night, imagining some fear

How easy is a bush supposed a bear!”

~ A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

Lion at NIght

Journey to Peace – from Liquid Mind

It began as a typical night in Dreamland: I cozied up in bed at 11 pm and drifted through my book until my eyes sailed off to the Land of Nod. My dreamy ship wrecked at 2:30 am as Bella barked at some imaginary bushy bear, rousting me to the shores of Wide Awake. As I struggled to push off back to Nod, my mind seized upon an encounter that evening, my latest faux pas. I had passed by a group of acquaintances seated at a table in a restaurant, stopping to say hello. I proceeded to introduce them to my companion, calling one of them by the wrong name. Choke. I quickly tried to cover my gaffe with a humorous story about another recent foot-in-mouth episode, which prompted good-natured laughs from my acquaintances. I glided off, mollified that my witty repartee smoothly deflected my slip. But in the murky nighttime hours, I replayed the scene and viewed myself as forgetful and shallow. Not only did I bloop the greetings, but I neglected to show any interest in their lives. That frivolous little incident became a fierce bear of a blunder in the middle of the night. I finally shook that off, only to find my whirring little mind plotting the week’s activities, hoping I would remember the trivial details in the morning. From there I got tangled up in a bramble of worries… my friend’s daughter is being stalked in her peaceful little college town… pray she’s safe… how safe is my own daughter walking around at night in the big city suburbs… and what about my son in homicide-ridden Chicago…? The night-prowling grizzlies transformed into wooly mammoths before my unblinking eyes in the shadows of my bedroom, and I finally escaped to the well-lit safety of my kitchen for a bowl of Special K to chase away those bears.

Dreams and nightmares collide in the deepest hour of the night, conjuring up the most dreadful beast of all – a sleepless night. Every faux pas rewinds on a continual loop, taunting us with what we could have, should have, said and done. Fears, worries and sorrows take on looming lives of their own in the dark of a sleepless night. Little wonder that sleep deprivation is used as a form of prisoner torture.  A body can survive for about fourteen days without food, but keep it awake for ten days and it will perish. Without sleep, you may yearn for your body to perish as depression kicks in. Pure torment.  If misery loves company, this is one big cellblock.  Millions of us, an estimated 70 million it is reported, find ourselves wallowing in our own little nighttime prison cell.  Every out-of-work or overworked employee, stressed-out student, fretful billpayer, strung-out entrepreneur, lovesick romantic, pain-ridden sufferer, hormonal victim, grief-struck mourner, tired new parent or parent-of-teens knows full well the angst. Wake up and rejoice if you are not a part of this pitiful mass of humanity twisting and turning in our beds.

So what are we sleepless writhers to do? First and foremost, we must recognize the value of a good night’s slumber. For years I prided myself on my ability to energize with just five hours of sleep night after night. So tough and resilient, so I thought. There were simply far too many must-do’s on my list to waste precious time sleeping.  Ignorantly, I was deluding myself that I could accomplish it all in those extra three hours of wakefulness. It took me decades to figure out that my productivity of sixteen hours on a full night’s sleep far outweighed the inefficiency of my nineteen-hour days. Rather than avoiding sleep as a waste of valuable time, I have learned to cherish it as a well-deserved luxury and a necessity to an active, healthy lifestyle. Besides, life is just lovelier with deep and dreamy hibernation, each and every night.

Much has been made about the detriments of sleep deprivation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. We should all know by now that lack of sleep causes:

~ Motor vehicle accidents because of the inability to concentrate and diminished motor skills

~ Workplace disasters due to poor decision-making and difficulties handling stress

~ Relationship troubles on account of a lack of libido, impatience, and mood swings

~ A multitude of health problems including depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and immune deficiencies

So now let’s make something about the amazing science of sleep. As medical expert Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago said, “Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body. We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.”

~ The brain recharges and reorganizes itself during sleep, which is critical for learning and memory.

~ The body conserves energy and releases vital hormones during sleep that enables cells to repair themselves, encourages growth, and provides optimal functioning of organs.

~ In resting mode, the body releases chemicals like seratonin to curb depression, as well as hormones like ghrelin & leptin which regulate appetite and melatonin which suppresses the growth of tumors.

~ Sleep decreases a body’s stress hormones which helps prevent heart disease, and it lowers inflammation which boosts the body’s major restorative functions.

Enough said, but saying doesn’t necessarily make it so. How then to make elusive sleep happen?

A bowl of cereal

A rambling list

A dark shower

There you have it – my secret to a peaceful night’s sleep. Oh, we can talk about the magic of fuzzy socks & eye masks, meditation tapes & sleep music, herbal cocktails with lavender & chamomile, and supplements like melatonin & magnesium. We can reiterate the do’s and don’ts, like avoiding large meals & caffeine & alcohol before bed, following a bedtime ritual, shunning the techno overload of blue light before bedtime, and exercising during the day but not close to bedtime, unless of course it’s the amorous sort of exercise.  Those are all tricks to falling asleep. But when the cursed middle-of-the-night insomnia attacks, there is only one panacea that is tried-and-true in my life.

Cereal, list, shower – in that order, post haste. You must not waste time flopping around the mattress trying to fall back to sleep – that only adds to the aggravation. Get up, don a comfy robe and fuzzy socks, creep to the kitchen, turn on a dim light, and fix yourself a bowl of cereal. My choice is always Special K with almond milk and sliced bananas, but it wasn’t until recently that  I learned why the cereal thing is so effective. Dairy foods – along with bananas, nuts, seeds, honey, and eggs – help your body to release tryptophan, which we all know is a sleep inducer. Moreover, carbohydrates – like cereal and bread – complement the benefits of dairy by enhancing the production of tryptophan. Eureka! – what a validating factoid that explains the unconscious wisdom of my midnight compulsion.

While you’re lounging by candlelight with a bellyful of sleep nutrients, make an extensive list of all your worries and to-do’s. Just get it all out. My daughters have called me late-night from college more than a few times when everything seemed so miserable and hopeless, those little shrubs growing into monstrous saguaro cacti, spiny arms grappling with my girls. I finally sent them “Worry Journals” with the order to write down all those dark-induced, sleep-depriving stresses. Seeing everything spread out on paper may make it all seem manageable or perhaps even trivial, but at the very least it’s a way to vent the angst and morph those terrifying bears into pesky little rodents.

Once you have filled up your belly and dumped out your head, slink to the bathroom and take a warm shower in the dark, preferably with lavender soap and a loofa. Slather on lavender lotion, and immediately curl up in bed. Blissful slumber will surely follow. And if all else fails, just think of those millions of other tired souls out there making the same sleep-starved wish upon the same bright star… and feel like an essential part of the collective whole. Everything will feel lighter in the morning, I promise. Sweet dreams, darlings!

Daytime Lion

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” 

~ Irish Proverb




Habitat HouseLet’s Make a Better World by The Blind Boys of Alabama (click to play)

Hey, what’s going on in this bustling establishment? I’m pushing the fork around my plate, and there’s nothing to bite into. My plate is usually heaped full of all sorts of yummy tidbits, but now I’m scrounging for any little morsel to fill me up. And where the heck is everyone? It’s suddenly so quiet around here the walls are talking to me, faintly ringing the bells of Christmas Past. Restless post-holiday starvation… how can I get a little service in this joint, anyway?

Like a wooden dreidel, my top has been spinning so wildly that it’s fallen to the ground in a dizzy heap. That’s not surprising – I always seem to put my stamp on the holidays with a spectacular fall. But this year was different – something was missing in the seasonal tumble. Oh it was a marvelous Christmas season, to be sure, filled with love and cheer and the best intentions. We decked the halls, trimmed the trees, made lots of merry, spread oodles of goodwill, rejoiced in the peaceful glow, and savored every joyous twinkle. I even capped off Christmas Eve with a great spill – in front of the whole family in the kitchen, heading straight for the open oven, saved only by my knight-in-shining-armor’s quick hands. Voilà, that gave the family a little lore to laugh about for many holiday dinners to come.

No, the thing I’m missing, craving – starving for, in fact – is service please. The walls of my humble establishment have been taunting me with the service of Christmas Pasts. Caroling at the retirement homes with my Girl Scout troop back when I was a kid. Collecting toys for the kids in the Phoenix barrios with my church youth group as a teen. Raising money and gathering canned food for families in need with my children’s scout troops. Passing out holiday hams and turkeys with our National Charity League friends. Playing Santa’s elf as a holiday shopper with parents in need. Making and filling stockings for children in the shelters. Wrapping and delivering gifts around the East Bay. Adopt-a-family year-after-year. Where was the charitable elf in me hiding out this year? I spread a lot of Christmas cheer, but I didn’t lift one golden-ringed finger of service to anyone in need. How did that happen? No wonder I feel so deprived!

It has become abundantly clear that in order to be truly happy and fulfilled, I need to be of service. I’ve also figured out that it’s pretty easy to give service as a member of an organization where opportunities abound. The real challenge is creating those service opportunities as a lone elf outside of the bustling workshop. The other real challenge is keeping the charitable holiday spirit radiating throughout the year, when those in need are often most desperate.

In this cruel and senseless world, there is actually an amazing supply of service inspiration. The best part of Brian Williams’ NBC Nightly News is the closing piece Making a Difference each evening that highlights the brilliantly simple things caring folks do out of sheer goodwill, far beyond the holiday season. How about the Danville mother who has made over 500 “superhero” capes for children with life-threatening illnesses through her Kiss the Toad Creations? Or the Fruit Picker Squadron that goes around gathering excess fruit from neighborhood trees for the local food bank? Or the thousands of people who made paper snowflakes to greet the students of Sandy Hook upon their return to school? How easy is that? There is no need for any of us to sit around with empty plates waiting for service when there are so many delicacies just waiting to be devoured if we would only help ourselves.

Service is empowering and leads us on unimaginable adventures. One day several years ago, my daughter and I joined a couple friends to help build a home in Oakland with Habitat for Humanity. We thought we’d be doing some painting, maybe hammering a few nails, but we ended up scrabbling over a 30-foot roof and scaling 3-story scaffolding with big sheets of plywood to nail into the siding. We knew nothing about construction and weren’t particularly comfortable with heights, which made our volunteer efforts that much more rewarding – we gained more in confidence than we gave with our hard day’s work.

It’s quite common to be immobilized by the lack of a cause that we are passionate about or by our desire to do something big and important, our life’s calling. But in the scheme of real life, it’s the little things that make the most difference. I am endlessly inspired by my dear friend who is simply “Everybody’s Best Friend”. She makes a great effort to stay in contact with all of her friends, particularly when they are going through a painful divorce, need someone to accompany them to chemo treatments, or move to a smaller home when their husband dies. I am also inspired by three creative young women I know who joined Ann Curry’s “26 Acts of Kindness” movement to honor the 26 people who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook tragedy (sistersforsmiles.wordpress.com). Their daily kindnesses are as simple as picking up the carts in the grocery store parking lot or visiting their old neighbors to show they still care about them. What a simplistically awesome concept. After 26 days of consciously thinking about charitable acts, the habit of benevolence should be firmly embedded in our psyche. Imagine the world 26 days from now if everyone took on this kindness challenge. World peace, abundant food, no fiscal cliffs… dreamers taking action to manifest profound harmony.

My reverie finds me back in my quiet little establishment that is sorely lacking in service. Well, I can’t sit around waiting for someone to fill my plate. Better start banging the cupboard doors, clanging some pots and pans, rummaging through the pantry, and rustling up some grub. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be fed, and there’s no better place to start than in our own little corners. As noble as it is to feed the world, it’s crucial that we nourish our community. It may not be as splashy and exotic as traveling to Africa to save the starving children, but there’s a whole lot of need right here on our doorsteps. At any rate, it’s far less daunting to start with one little plate before we bust out the big ol’ pot.







Let It Go by Tim McGraw (click to play)

If Barry Zito was a storybook, he would be The Secret of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. Remember this children’s tale that I read to my kids years ago? It’s the story of a boy who learns to deal with a bully by letting go and facing the fear by harnessing his power. The wise old Socrates teaches him how to gain confidence on the path of least resistance. He advises his young student to bend with the wind like a sapling tree. “Never resist someone’s force – use it. If they pull, you push. If they push, you pull. “   I would lay heavy odds that Barry Zito has read the adult version of this book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. It challenges our Western beliefs of masculine power and success, tapping into power not by forcing our will as we are wont to do but simply by letting go. Socrates teaches the value of being conscious over being smart and strength in spirit over physical strength.

Baseball players are notoriously superstitious, but Barry is beyond. His idiosyncrasies and offbeat personality led to nicknames like Captain Quirk and Planet Zito. He plays the guitar, practices yoga, follows Zen, meditates before games, and now embraces Christianity. Zito made his major league debut in 2000 and played for seven seasons with the Oakland A’s, earning the coveted Cy Young Award in the 2002 season, making three all-star teams, and never missing a scheduled start. After the 2006 season, he signed with the San Francisco Giants in the most expensive pitching contract in history at the time… and then he majorly tanked. His struggles were epic during his first five seasons as a Giant, and his riches to ridicule to redemption story is the stuff legends are made of.  After being shunned from the Giants’ 2010 World Series roster, Barry simply put his head down and dug in. He accepted that decision with dignity, never withering in self-pity or giving up to take the money and run. He surprised everyone with a 15-8 win-loss record this season and then went on to shock the cover off the baseball with his post-season mystical comeback. Zito started and pitched 7+ shutout innings in crucial Game 5 of the National League pennant race against the St. Louis Cardinals, magically shifting the Giants momentum and propelling them on their way to the championship. As the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Zito allowed just one earned run in 5+ innings pitched and took the brilliant win for San Francisco. On top of that, he knocked an RBI base hit to left field in the fourth inning, a pitcher’s fluke even for the regular season. Zito was philosophical about his resurrection, simply saying,  “A lot of learning goes on in life. The lows can be low. I’ve made a lot of adjustments. Sometimes you just have to take your lashings; it’s for a reason.”

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you’ve got to appreciate the way that the San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series.  This team embodied the concept of Team Spirit. It began with manager Bruce Boche “Service trumps self interest.”  That philosophy was embraced by each and every Giant around the horn, from pitcher Madison Bumgarner  “Everybody picking everybody up – that’s what’s special about our team”  to closer Sergio Romo  “There’s no personal time to shine – that’s not what we’re seeking”  to MVP catcher Buster Posey  “It just felt good to contribute.”  For the players on this team, their ambitions were for the greater good of the team.

Captain Quirk’s storybook legend reminds me of the lessons that keep dogging me in my yoga practice. One of my favorite teachers inspires us to tap into our personal power, but to do so without ambition. Ambition is defined as an earnest desire for achievement or distinction, such as honor, fame or wealth, along with the willingness to strive for that desire. Ambition is a good thing, but the real power is all about the reason for the desire. Selfish reasons for personal gain are far less noble than striving for the greater good.  Sometimes I try so hard to make something happen and it feels like I’m spinning my wheels. When I’m struggling to strike a perfect yoga pose, it feels forced and shaky. But the moment I just relax and enjoy the pose – however imperfect it may be – is when the real power is achieved. Yesterday another wise teacher espoused the concept that neutrality is underrated.  Neutrality is actually a powerful place to be, and she encouraged us to stop reaching, stop resisting. Just slide into the pose – nice and easy – without striving for perfection. And suddenly my feet were floating in the air, with a quiet power devoid of the falling-flat-on-my-face fear.

What is the secret to effortless trying?

~ Focus on the goal with a peaceful heart and a quiet mind, nary a forceful notion.

~ Enjoy the process and visualize smooth transitions along the way.

~ If it feels like we’re headbanging a wall, it might be time to stop and re-evaluate our ambitions to find the true power resting behind the wall.

~ Translate our personal ambitions to the greater good, and the power is unlimited.

~ And as Socrates bluntly told his peaceful warrior, “If a railroad train is coming your way, for godsakes get off the tracks!”


Heart Still/Beating by Ottmar Liebert

How many times have you slopped a meal on the table to feed yourself or your family? I can’t even begin to count the evenings I have mindlessly thrown together a mediocre dinner, especially back in the thick of my whirlwind motherhood days. Juggling all of life’s nitty-gritties leaves precious little time to prepare gourmet productions, even for the Julias and Marthas of the world. I don’t have any excuses now – my time is relatively my own – and yet I still find myself half-heartedly fixing ho-hum meals on occasion. As someone who loves to cook and appreciates the value of an organic healthy meal, I understand the tremendous difference between feeding and nourishing, like surviving versus thriving. You can have the healthiest ingredients at hand, but if you’re not IN the cooking moment, it may be all for naught. A mindful presence makes all the difference.

Last Tuesday evening was a jamjob in the Haertl household. Obama and Romney were engaged in a presidential debate, the Tigers were up against the Yankees in Game 3 of the playoffs, our daughter in Shanghai was planning to skype us, and our other daughter wanted to discuss her future plans. “Uh oh, I don’t want to miss a minute of the action. Dinner prep better be quick,” I thought, well ahead of time. Broccoli – Leeks – Baby Bella Mushrooms – New Potatoes – Jalapeno Chicken Sausage Stir Fry sounded like the Perfect Easy Quick Fix. How could that go wrong? Mindless cooking, that’s how. Taking a shortcut, I just threw the pre-cooked sausage pieces in with the veggies instead of sautéing them beforehand to get them all browned and crispy. Oh, and I might have taken my eye off the ball and overcooked the veggies too. Mush, declared my husband.

Now let’s get one thing straight – Tony is NOT a food snob. In fact, he has gamely humored me by eating a lot of my bad cooking experiments, always appreciative of the effort. The guy was raised on chipped beef on toast and Campbell’s Mushroom Soup Tater Tots Goulash. No offense to my beloved mother-in-law since she was feeding four boys on an educator’s salary during the Casserole Generation. You’ve got to admire her plucky creativity on a shoestring budget. So when Tony dubbed my Stir Fry Mush NOT A KEEPER, I got a little miffed. I picked out all of the sausage pieces and threw them in the frying pan to sauté them after-the-fact. In the middle of my huffy sauté, Haley got a phone call telling her that the house she was taking care of had a water main break and that there was a geyser gushing in front of the house. Without a moment’s hesitation, she and I raced off to the home to check on it – but not before I put Tony in charge of the sausage sauté.  You can guess what happened. After averting the water disaster, Haley and I returned home to the smell of intensely burned sausage. Yup – Sammi skyped, Tony got caught up in their conversation, and he forgot all about the sausage. Burned it to a smoking crisp. Talk about mindless cooking – Mushy Stir Fry became Charred Sausage Supreme served with a side of frayed nerves and grumpy demeanors.

Autumn is my favorite time of year, but I understand why it can be depressing. Daylight is waning, storm clouds are gathering, a chill is in the air, and people are sensing the impending climate gloom. The perfect antidote to the onset of fall weather is to light the home fires and eat happy foods… mindfully. Happy foods are not like the old Burger King Happy Meals that I regrettably fed my kids years ago, nor are they double hot fudge banana split ice cream sundaes with maraschino cherries on top. They are bona fide scientifically-proven foods that trigger our bodies’ production of the feel-good hormone: SEROTONIN. Entire books are written about this all-natural better-than-a-wonder-drug substance. “The Serotonin Power Diet” by Judith Wurtman, Ph.D and “What To Eat” by Joanna Blythman are two enlightening food reference books about the science and psychology of eating. In an interview with “The Economist” magazine, Blythman said, “When I talk about ‘ideological eaters’ I’m referring to the tendency to become too cerebral about food, over-riding our common sense and gut instincts. Ideological eaters buy foods with their heads, not their stomachs. They become obsessed with something or other, such as eating mountains of a supposed superfood, or avoiding meat to save the planet, or counting calories in the mistaken idea that they will lose weight. My book encourages people to think about what they put in their mouths, but never to lose a life-enhancing love of eating and cooking.” That statement alone makes me happy because cooking and eating are truly two of my fondest life pleasures.

Here are some powerful Happy Foods that help to ward off depression and regulate moods, according to my wise holistic doctor:

Turkey (the power of tryptophan)

Goat cheese

Potatoes, especially sweet potatoes



Dried Cherries

Pumpkin Seeds


Coming off of that frenzied mushy charred stir fry night, we were all a little grouchy, even my Mr. Upbeat. We all love autumn, so perhaps we were getting impatient with the Indian summer that continued to linger. After two days of the blues, I did my own little food experiment. I cooked the following recipe for dinner, and wa-la, like magic we were all back to our contented selves. Try it for yourself…

Happy Turkey 

1 large thinly sliced leek

1 c. ruby port or red wine

3/4 c. dried cherries

3/4 c. pitted kalamata olives

Juice of 1 orange (about 1/3 c.)

1 t. paprika

1 t. crushed red pepper

4 fresh thyme sprigs

1 cinnamon stick

3 ½ lbs. turkey thighs, skinned

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 T. ground cumin

toasted pumpkin seeds

Heat oven to 375. Combine the first nine ingredients in a large casserole dish. Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Sprinkle with a little salt and place in the dish, spooning some of the sauce over the turkey. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 1 hour; then bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds on top before serving. (Note: To avoid the evening cooking fuss, cook this in a slow cooker on low for 6 hours.)


I always seem to be in a marvelous mood when I’m in Boulder, Colorado. Of course that has a great deal to do with the fact that I was happy to see my daughter while she was attending college there. And the fact that Boulder is such a rockin’ awesome town contributes a lot to the happiness quotient. But I attribute some of my Boulder happiness to the Breakfast Muesli at one of my all-time favorite hotels, The St. Julien. I searched far and wide for a recipe that turned out to be even better than The St. Julien’s version and makes me just as happy…

Müesli Bliss

 2 c. regular oats

1/2 c. dried cherries or cranberries

1/3 c. wheat germ

1/3 c. ground flaxseed

1/3 c. maple syrup

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. vanilla extract

3 c. low-fat milk

3 c. plain fat-free yogurt

3 T. slivered almonds, toasted

3 T. chopped pecans, toasted

3 T. pumpkin seeds, toasted

Blueberries & blackberries

1 apple, chopped

Chopped dates 

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a large bowl; pour milk over mixture, stirring to combine. Cover and chill 3 hours or overnight. Mix in the yogurt. Top each serving with nuts and fruit. (Note: This mixture lasts for days in the fridge.)


There is no doubt that good food nourishes the body, and just as importantly, mindful cooking nourishes the soul. Some of my favorite moments in life have been in the kitchen. It’s all about the atmosphere, the passion, the energy, and the intention in the heart-of-the-home that make not only the meal but the cooking experience so richly satisfying, like a well-orchestrated dance. Put on a little Ottmar Liebert flamenco music, and tango away in the kitchen. Oh, and keep a bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds on the counter for snacking… you can’t overdose on happiness, can you?


Ray of Light by Madonna

Living In the Moment by Jason Mraz  (click to play)

Mraz the Grateful Hippie and Madonna the Material Girl make strange bedfellows. Indeed, the only place they will probably ever converge is in my serendipitous Bay Area concert tour last week.  There really was no master plan or method to the madness for this tour. Tony and I were invited to see Jason’s love fest with two other couples on Thursday, and then I jumped onboard a girls’ boondoggle to Madge’s spectacle three nights later. And although these two performers have very little in common, I am struck by the fact that they both genuinely live their truths and walk their talks.

My magical mystery tour began when my daughter and I took Jason Mraz’s advice to get a table at the Gratitude Café. I thought that was just a cool line in his song  “Make It Mine”, but it turns out that he is one of the investors in a small chain of vegan restaurants called Café Gratitude. One of my friends went to his show in Kansas City and mentioned that Jason showed up at the K.C. Café Gratitude for lunch on the day of his concert to grace the patrons with an intimate acoustical performance. Hoping to catch Mraz up close and personal, Haley and I waltzed into the Berkeley Café Gratitude for lunch on Thursday. We pulled up two seats at a corner table with the perfect vantage point for wherever Jason chose to play. We were smitten with the whimsical menu and placed our order with a few giggles: “I Am Luscious” and “I Am Energized” beverages to go with our “I Am Warm-Hearted” and “I Am Transparent” entrees. We admired the cozy venue with its brick walls, rustic décor, and inspirational artwork. We purchased the “I Am Grateful” cookbook and started planning some fun, super-healthy meals to prepare. And then we got a little antsy, so we broke down and admitted to our server that we were hoping to have lunch with Jason. To our dismay, he informed us that the singer already made a surprise appearance the night before. No matter… the trip was more than worthwhile to discover such an uplifting dining experience. They even have the “I Am Grateful” specialty that is available to ANYONE with a voluntary donation – no one is turned away – to enable those in financial need to be able to eat organic food. Best soup kitchen in town.  As Mraz and his pals say, “Café Gratitude is our expression of a world of plenty. “

If you’re familiar with Jason Mraz’s music, you will know that his songs are mellow tunes filled with wise, thoughtful lyrics that celebrate life and love. Cal’s outdoor Greek Theater on a beautiful autumn evening was the perfect setting for his intimate, conversational performance. My husband loves an ear-splitting, hard-driving rockfest, but even he admitted that Mraz’s live performance was much more electrifying than his recordings. Mraz brought in a great brass ensemble and a solid drummer. Best of all, he teamed up with a bang-a-rang female percussionist to really excite the show. Mona Tavakoli, an Iranian world-class drummer, founded the Los Angeles Rock’n’Roll Camp for girls. With her long dark wild locks and screamin’ red spandex pants, she is an onstage presence, and with her flashy way of pounding energy out of anything that makes noise, she is a force to be reckoned with.  Mraz is better live with Mona, but he’s pretty entertaining on his own, and he imparts his wisdom with a touch of humor through his lyrical words. Maybe Madonna should listen to his music and take a cue from his words:

“You’re like a long game token that keeps the game goin’

But your claim to fame is how you like to lay low

Out of the lime light

Which can hurt your eyes

If you’re not careful you’ll become another devil in disguise”

(From You F*in’ Did It)

So what is it about Madonna? She is confounding.  Always controversial and often misunderstood, sexually provocative and politically defiant, Madonna truly is the Queen of Reinvention. In her thirty legendary years of entertaining, I had never been to one of her extravaganza shows, so I was looking forward to finally getting a taste of her over-the-top antics and perhaps a sense of who this most reviled yet respected woman really is.  Madonna is the best-selling female recording artist in history according to the Guinness Book of World Records and one of the 25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century according to Time. She is continually renovating her music, her image, and herself.  Whatever crazy stunts she has pulled and contentious words she has said, you’ve got to admire her longevity and the way she outlasts her harshest critics. Her words and actions may be misguided, but they always seem to come from her heart. I get the sense that she is on a lifelong quest for something, perhaps for her own truth. Her mother died when she was five years old, of which she said, “There was so much left unsaid, so many untangled and unresolved emotions, of remorse, guilt, loss, anger, confusion…” She also claimed that growing up she was a “lonely girl who was searching for something. I wasn’t rebellious in a certain way. I cared about being good at something.”

Madonna seems to have good intentions, but her display of those well-meant sentiments are often in very poor taste. Her latest MDNA World Tour is a crowning glory of misunderstood debauchery. During her Los Angeles show, she did a strip tease in support of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for being an activist for women’s education. So here is this brave young heroine lying in critical condition after fighting for women’s rights, while Madonna is paying tribute to her by baring her own body. Hmmm, there is a disturbing disconnect here.  Madonna has also nobly performed for a number of benefit concerts to aid a variety of worthy causes, and yet her life’s actions appear to be self-absorbed and publicity-stunt worthy, like her contentious adoption of the Malawi African boy. A nice philanthropic effort, but why?

Our evening with Madonna started 150 minutes late, in typical diva fashion. And then Madge sucked the celebratory air out of the Shark Tank arena when she stormed the stage in a macabre bloody mess. Aiden Vaziri, pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle described the scene perfectly: “Madonna arrived onstage all guns blazing. Literally. For the first four numbers she worked her way through a small arsenal of handguns and semiautomatic weapons as she shot up a virtual church, took aim at audience members and, in a scene surely inspired by Quentin Tarantino, bloodied a stream of masked men as she sang ‘Gang Bang’ while perched on a motel room crucifix. The gunplay was supplemented by heavy bondage. Madonna was strung up and suspended upside down by guerrilla fighters… high-contrast images from a funeral played on the video screens while shirtless dancers in gas masks forcefully tangled their bodies.” Ugh. My dancing mood was shot straight through the heart and strangled with dark gloom. I’m sure she was making some poignant anti-violence point, but it was virtually lost on me – take me back to Mraz at the Greek.

The softer side of Madge emerged a couple of times that evening when she paid tribute to young gay men who had been senselessly murdered in hate crimes and when she thanked her fans for making the miracles in her life possible. I did appreciate her quiet expression of gratitude for her amazing 30-year career. It’s just that as a 54-year-old Kabbalah-practicing yogi, I would have liked to see a little more peaceful wisdom coming from this iconic role model. But then I guess she wouldn’t have the same world-wide appeal without the edginess she brings to the stage and to her life.  Why should I expect anything decent out of the feisty prima donna who lives for shock value and re-inventing herself to try to stay relevant in the hip, fickle world of pop culture? Nevermind… for whatever despicable things she says and does in the name of art and politics, you have to admire her desire and ability to put on a masterful musical production, year after thirty years.

We are all searching for truths and meanings in life, but Madonna makes me grateful to be plain old ordinary me, without that unquenchable thirst to be something extraordinary. Mraz, Madonna, and Me – just livin’ our truths the best we can.

“You see that I am hungry for a life of understanding

And you forgive my angry little heart when she’s demanding

You bring me to my knees while I’m scratching out the eyes

Of a world I want to conquer, and deliver, and despise

And right while I am kneeling there

I suddenly begin to care

And understand that there could be

A person that loves me”

(Rescue Me by Madonna)


Sweet Sammi bracing herself          for sublime torture

A Way of Life (The Last Samurai) by Hans Zimmer

OM… that fly on my knee is driving me crazy… why is the pool equipment humming so loudly? i wonder how the stitches on mac’s head are healing… i hope he finally went out and bought himself a bike helmet… my son is like a bobcat with mountain of lives… thank you God… OM… oh shoot, i forgot to pay the insurance bill last week, buried under the endless pile on my desk…. don’t forget to call mimi today… what a game of tag… it’s going to take for-ever to deal with those sixty seven emails clogging my inbox… bella, stop barking at the banging gate… OM… haha! haley’s sign language video was hysterical… i wonder if i can convince tony to go to china with me to visit sammi… nah, its impossible to drag coach away from his team for even one practice… i am ready to kill that fly… that’s not a very benevolent thought… oh no, my foot is falling asleep… mmm… the soup cooking on the stove smells so good… i can’t stand it…must go taste it…

Welcome to the chaos of my mind during a recent meditation session. I have been trying to embrace the discipline of meditation and to reach that state of cultivated bliss for the past year now, but I have made exasperatingly little progress to that end. Here is where this project began in the summer of 2011:

“For the past year, I’ve been spouting off about “il dolci far niente”, but I never truly embraced “the sweetness of doing nothing” until Sammi and I spent three days at an ashram a few days ago… and it was pure sweet torture. Sivananda Yoga Farm in the boonies of northern California is about as close as you can get to an Indian ashram here in the states. We were awakened at 5:30 every morning to the sounds of bells and chanting, calling us to two hours of meditation, prayers, and spiritual enlightenment. Meditation brings peace of mind to the seasoned yogi, but to the novice, an hour of sitting cross-legged without moving a muscle is tormenting, especially when your hungry tummy is growling and your twitchy legs have fallen asleep after the first ten minutes. Tingling pins and needles bring a certain intensity to mindfulness. This forced focus was followed by two hours of yoga, which is particularly enervating with a constant parade of flies alighting on your limbs during the balancing poses.

One of the themes of the Ayurvedic health seminars we attended was mind-body consciousness and mind-over-matter, which we tried valiantly to incorporate during those two-hour sessions. In the afternoons we treated ourselves to holistic health consultations and the “bliss treatment” pampering, our reward for all of the mind-numbing mindfulness. After two decidedly healthy vegan meals each day, it was time for two more hours of yoga followed by two more hours of meditating, singing and illumination. In between all of this “nothingness”, Sam and I found time to hike in the hills, swing in the hammocks, paddle in the fish & frog infested pond, wolf down our contraband un-vegan snacks, and lounge in our eco-friendly cabin-for-two. Doing nothing was never sweeter. Om Shanti… Peace!”

Since then, the past year has been filled with attempts, many in vain, to re-capture the euphoria of that sweet torture. I’ve discovered that the elusive meditative state is much easier to achieve with a rigorous schedule and a few monks ringing the bells of attentiveness. Once we left the ashram, it was disappointingly effortless to lose focus during meditation, and even more effortless to skip out on it altogether. There are so many distractions at home to veer my mind off topic. But a dedicated practice is well worth the effort to help unravel the mystery of who we are. Meditation is not merely a beam of guiding light – it feels like a softly diffused golden glow washing over head and heart. Rather than wax on about the amazing benefits of meditation and mindful prayer, I’ll simply pass on a couple of helpful discoveries that have crossed my trail of switchbacks this year.

  • Make it a daily practice, if only for ten minutes. Since I need to write down something to remember it these days, I even mark it on my calendar like an appointment with myself. It would be best to have a set time each day and stick to it for the proverbial twenty-one days (which is really more like sixty-six days) that it takes to develop a habit, although I certainly can’t lay claim to that feat. Morning is the best time for me, when my mind is fresh and the day is a blank slate full of promise, but frankly I’m happy if I manage it any time in twenty-four hours, even in the middle of the night.
  • The biggest hurdle for me has been to consider this time a treat instead of drudgery. Why is something that is seemingly so easy so very difficult? The more often I meditate, the more content I am, so I’m trying to trick myself into thinking of it as a well-deserved pleasure.
  • The experts will tell you to establish a place for meditation. Some devotees even set up a little shrine to help them focus. I have neither the space nor the inclination to do this, so I just set up a little shrine in my head each time. Some days it’s the ocean, some days it’s a candle, some days it’s complete and utter darkness, and some days it’s just in my car with the a/c blasting. It’s wherever I find myself with ten minutes to spare.
  • Eliminate distractions: turn off the phone, give the dog a bone, just be alone. Far easier said than done.
  • It helps to concentrate on a single point, even if that point is simply breathing. Actually, breathing is an anchor that helps to keep us from drifting off with a flood of thoughts. Each thought is like the rolling tide, and I try to let my breath float each wave in and out. It also helps to set an intention or an affirmation that speaks to you: Strength, Oneness, Forgiveness, Purpose, A Job, Expansive Life, I am healthy, I will write that novel, Let Go.
  • Find the position that works for your body. I like the traditional seated cross-legged lotus position, but you can simply sit in a chair with your hands folded or even assume shivasana aka the corpse pose – if you promise not to fall asleep. Often times the best position is actually movement. My eighty-two-year-old Iranian neighbor looks like he has achieved nirvana when he is strolling around the neighborhood oblivious to everything around him. And one of my favorite yoga teachers encourages us to find stillness in the poses, even as our muscles are quivering and quaking. Now that would be true serenity.
  • Finally, I allow myself a moment of gratitude if I manage any amount of meditation, and I try to stop beating myself up by surrendering those annoying feelings of frustration at my inadequacy to focus for as long as I think I should. There are no shoulds, only dids.

Zen Master Toni Packer said:  “Attention comes from nowhere. It has no cause. It belongs to no one.”  To that I would add that attention is everywhere and belongs to everyone who is willing to welcome it into their lives. There may be no cause, but the effects are profound.



I Will Not Be Broken by Bonnie Raitt (click to play)

We live in a competitive world, and it’s easy to get caught up in the game of comparisons. Unfortunately, this is a no-win game because there will always be someone with more money, more brains, more athletic abilities, more accomplishments, more fun, more everything than we have. Very few of us truly enjoy this comparison game, but the way to be happier while playing is to focus on the other side of the game board – the side where people have less than we do. This is a sure-cure for the blue poor-me card that we draw from the deck every so often. It is difficult to focus on the LESS side, but it’s surprisingly rewarding in so many ways.

The human spirit is an amazingly resilient entity, and I am overwhelmed by the hardships that countless brave souls have withstood, around the world, throughout the course of time. On a recent trip to Berlin, I found myself questioning: How can a person endure the physical torture and emotional destruction of a concentration camp? And how can a city lift itself out the war-torn rubble and restore its splendor, brick by brick? The will to survive, the will to thrive, the will to carry on is nowhere more apparent than in Deutschland. Germany, whose national psyche was destroyed with World War I, whose infrastructure was decimated with World War II, whose very soul was shattered with the Nazi Holocaust, whose spirit of unity was divided and conquered with the erection of the communist regime wall. Germany, whose strength of character, hardworking discipline, scientific brilliance, and business acumen is now carrying the weight of Europe’s economy on its broad shoulders.  Our insightful tour guide in Berlin said, “To understand what Berlin is, you must see what Berlin was.”

It’s hard to fathom how the German people fell for the dubious charms of Adolf Hitler, but reading Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts gives us a better understanding of their desperation for a national identity, sense of pride, and purpose. First they were beaten down and broken by World War I, then they were duped by the Führer’s evil vision, and finally they were quashed with fear.  Thomas Wolfe wrote this about life in Nazi Germany: “Here was an entire nation… infested with the contagion of an ever-present fear. It was a kind of creeping paralysis which twisted and blighted all human relations.” The German people, unwitting perpetrators of the Nazi machine, were victims of Nazi Germany nearly as much as the Holocaust victims. By the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Germans lost their lives, and one-third of Berlin had been destroyed by Allied bombings and street fighting, along with the heart and soul of the people. Even today, we felt the Germans’ great shame in being manipulated by Hitler, the weight of millions of Jewish deaths, and the divisive communist devastation.

Even more powerful than learning firsthand about Berlin’s emotionally tumultuous history was our visit to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. A prerequisite for any political leader should be a stint at one of the concentration camp memorials – surely that would prevent the deaths of millions in the future. One visit in a lifetime is enough to mourn the atrocities we commit against each other and to believe in the indomitable spirit of survivors.  I remember feeling absolutely ravaged after spending time at Dauchau back in 1981. The feeling returned after visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. back 2002, and I’ve really had more than my emotional share. But it was important for the rest of the Haertls to have the experience when we were in Germany this summer, so I wrapped my gray alpaca shawl tightly around my shoulders and steeled myself for a stint in Sachsenhausen outside of Berlin. It was a fittingly cold and windy summer day with a gray pall that matched my little security blanket.

As I wandered alone through Sachsenhausen, I decided that I probably would have just given up the will to live, running and throwing myself into the electric fence that surrounded the camp – until I learned that those desperate prisoners were the very people the guards kept alive. They would shoot them in the leg, just enough to stop them in their tracks and haunt them with injuries to make life even more miserable. I stood in the middle of the vast, windblown center of the camp, trying to imagine how those wretched souls withstood the work duty in the freezing winters with threadbare clothes and ragged shoes. I crouched in the dormitories, trying to envision how three skeletal bodies huddled together in one little hard-as-a-rock bug-infested bed and how they managed to sleep a wink when they were chilled to their very bone marrow under one thin rough gray blanket. I cried in the crematories, wondering if the victims were frightened or actually relieved to be ending their tragic lives. This was a most depressing experience even for us voyeuristic visitors, and yet it was a great depression buster. It made me want to seize every opportunity and feel every emotion in Berlin, to soar with the Brandenburg eagles by day and hoot with the Mövchen owls at night.  I found myself commiserating until 3:00 am with the four Haertl brothers, climbing the 270 steps to the top of the Berliner Dom, running through the pouring rain to marvel at the Gates of Babylon in the Pergamon Museum, clubbing and dancing with my daughters until sunrise, reveling in wunderbar bier in den Gärten, and yes, weeping in the concentration camp.

The trials and tribulations that we endure along with the joys and pleasures shape our character and skew the way we view life. Is the glass half full or half empty? Do the joys outweigh the sorrows? Now if ever I start to have my own little pity party, I remember those millions of people with far LESS than I have in my cushy little world, and I feel enormously blessed with all of the creature comforts, loving relationships, and magical moments in my life. If those indomitable spirits can muster up the will to survive such torture, how can I NOT find happiness in the simplest of pleasures?

“First they came for the socialists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak for me.”


~ Martin Niemöller

Sachsenhausen Prisoner and Survivor


Another Layer by Jon McLaughlin (click song title to play)

Perception colors our perspective, artfully mirroring our outlook on life. This was illustrated last week when our painter left her ladder in our bathroom overnight.  I walked past it with scarcely a glance, vaguely wondering why she still used such a rickety old paint-splattered wooden ladder when she could easily go buy a shiny new sturdy metal one. My keenly observant husband, on the other hand, had an entirely different take on the ladder as he passed by. He stopped to examine it, fascinated by the caked-on layers of paint. To hear Tony describe this humble piece of equipment, it sounded as if he had encountered a colorful work of art. Intrigued, I went back for a second go around the ladder.  Immediately apparent was the startling realization that it wasn’t the sketchy wooden contraption I assumed, but rather the solid metal model that I thought our painter deserved. The layers upon layers of paint gave the ladder an aged patina, reminiscent of a venetian-plastered vintage antique, with a collection of stories resting on the rungs, just waiting to be told.  Gazing at the ladder in a whole new light set my imagination meandering about the houses she has painted and the people who have commissioned her through the years – a virtual gallery of masterpieces.

Our painter herself is a multi-layered treasure. We first met eighteen years ago when she was recommended to faux our bedroom walls.  She was a busy mother of three and a lovely athletic blond. I was immediately drawn to her quiet charm, the elegance of her paint-splattered overalls, the way she expressed her passion and made a living with her artistry. She has painted the gamut from elaborate murals on the halls of the rich and famous to plasters on the walls of ordinary suburbanites. With each coat of paint she layered on our walls over the years, another layer of her beautiful persona was revealed through our conversations, and I have grown to admire her strength of character and the way she lives her truths. When her larger-than-life husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, she bucked up and personally cared for him throughout this grueling illness to the tragic end with no outside professional help, all the while managing to support her family, financially and emotionally. During a recent conversation about this challenging time in her life, I questioned how she was able to handle such adversity with amazing grace and dignity, to which she humbly replied, “We care for family – that’s just what you do.”

Most recently, one of our painter’s grown daughters moved in with her, complete with husband and two young sons. For all the potential downside that many of us would find in these circumstances, our painter has uncovered the boundless joys and conveniences of this multi-layered living situation. She has a live-in cook, handyman and house sitter – not to mention marvelous companionship – while they have a lovely home for their family to blossom in and the wisdom of grandma to help guide them. What are their precious secrets to domestic peace and harmony?

~ Mutually respecting one another on all levels.

~ Giving each other space and time alone.

~ Keeping their mouths zipped shut.  As our wise painter said, “I keep my opinions to myself unless they ask… but when they ask, I can let it rip and say anything I want!”

~ Remembering to treat family like friends. We take time to nurture friendships, but it’s so easy to take family members for granted.

The world according to my painter is simple, true and noble. Life gets messy sometimes, but that just adds to the rich beauty and mystery. There was an article in the Contra Costa Times a few weeks ago about the Italian and Spanish grandmothers – nonnas and abuelas – who are helping their families with children survive and thrive during their countries’ difficult economic times.  Actually, this is nothing new. Multi-generational living is as old as human history, and human beings flourish in family life. Children especially benefit from the layers of love bestowed on them from all angles. Grandparents in the house build feelings of security and help kids stay grounded by creating lots of conversation, encouragement, problem-solving advice, and focus on the future. My father-in-law was always encouraging his grandchildren to be global citizens and tried to convince them to learn Mandarin because of China’s growing presence in the world. I’m quite certain that his gentle prodding is one of the reasons my daughter Sammi is studying Mandarin and spending the upcoming semester in Shanghai. Never underestimate the power of grandparents’ words!

The notion of families caring for each other through the complicated layers is a prevailing way of life in European countries and indeed most other countries in this world – but not so much in America. Perhaps we Yanks are too proud of our independence, displacing ourselves in cities far from our families. Perhaps we are too busy making money and trying to make ends meet to be bothered with caring for ailing, aging, troubled loved ones. Perhaps the hands-on live-in care is too daunting and overwhelming for many of us. Which deepens and enriches my admiration for our painter’s devotion to family even more. In her magnificent simplistic words, “My children were a burden to me, and someday I’ll be a burden to them. That’s just the way life works. We take care of each other… that’s what families do.”

GRANDFAMILIES are prevalent around the world, and the trend of intergenerational families under one roof is rising here in our country. According to the Pew Research Center, about 25% of the U.S. population lived in extended family households in 1940, but by 1980 only 12% did. Since then, layered households are on the increase, and by 2008 there were 49 million Americans – over 16% of the U.S. population – living in a household with at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation. There is a great deal of talk about the disintegration of families and family values, but I’d like to believe that the rise of intergenerational households can only help strengthen the family ties and layers. If families helped each other more, there would probably be less welfare cases and fewer unhappy, disconnected individuals. We are social pack animals by nature, like puppies in a litter happily rolling around the floor all over each other.

If all this layered togetherness starts to feel claustrophobic, just imagine that you and your family members are characters in a movie or sit com that you’re filming. It helps to create a little emotional distance and breathing room, and it often brings a laugh at the absurdity of everybody painting on their layers so thick. Who knows what kind of a messy masterpiece your intergenerational family will create… but just start painting with vision, keeping your happy family in mind, and above all, have some crazy fun. Lay it on the rungs for the world to behold.


Let’s Talk Story ~ Hawaiian Style Band

Tony and his rainbow on           “crawlers ledge”

Don’t ya just love a good story? Even better than hearing a good story is having a great one to tell – the more daring and unique, the better. The intriguing thing about stories is the way they unfold. Doing things with the intention to create a good story usually leads to surprises because stories often don’t end the way we meant to tell them.

Before our recent trip to Kauai with four other couples, we made plans with one of the couples to take on the challenge of the Kalalau Trail that clings to the Na Pali coastline. The views from this trail are edge-of-the-world spectacular, and my husband and I immediately embraced this adventure. However, the Kalalau Trail is not for the faint of heart. It’s a rugged trek with sketchy crumbly twelve-inch-wide trails that hug the cliffs hovering hundreds of feet above the crashing ocean. Our scoutmaster extreme-outdoorsman friend Jeffro was leading us on this twenty-two mile junket which included overnight camping on the secluded beach of Kalalau, accessible only by hiking the eleven miles in or by under-the-radar little boats that make clandestine drop offs and pickups.

Now I’m pretty adventurous, but to my great dismay, a cold clench gripped my very soul one week before the trip. I was suddenly possessed by the distinct gut feeling that this was not my time to hike the Kalalau Trail, for whatever reason. Always a firm believer in listening to my innate instinct, this feeling was compounded by my youngest daughter’s grave warning. After checking out a few YouTube videos of the hike, my daredevil Sammi said, “I wouldn’t even do this hike, Mom!! I really don’t want you to go.” Our family has always encouraged each other to take on challenges and embark upon adventures, so when one of my kids was strongly discouraging me about something, my warning siren began to blare. Three days before the journey, I told our fearless leader that I was out. One of the things I love about Jeffro is his undying exuberance, and he quickly came up with Plan B to handle my trepidation and also curtail the physical toll on some recently-mended injuries for our other two companions: “Let’s hire a boat to take us to Kalalau Beach!” The new plan entailed a drop at the beach Friday morning, exploring the area and playing on the beach all day, camping out that night, and having the boat pick me back up Saturday morning while they hiked the eleven miles out. Great shift of gears, and I was excited to be able to explore this pristine paradise that the Dali Lama called “the eye of the universe” – without risking the heart-stopping, cliff-hanger hiking.

“… a three-hour cruise”

The boat ride to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali coast was breathtaking but rough, and I began to feel a chill in my heart. What if the boat couldn’t make the trip back the next morning? The captain admitted that the ocean was unusually rough for June. And what if I couldn’t make the swim back out to the boat? I would be forced to scrabble my way out along “crawlers’ ledge”. I quickly made the decision to bail altogether. I was sorely disappointed to miss this lifetime experience with Tony and our friends, but I really had to follow my heart saying no go. My three companions battled the eight foot swells from the boat in to shore at Kalalau, followed by their backpacks wrapped in garbage bags. The captain and I then waited in the churning waves for people on shore who wanted to escape the eleven mile hike back via our boat. We watched as they made several attempts to swim out to the boat, and in the end only two virile young surfer dudes half my age made it out. The other two were left to hike out or wait a couple of days until the currents settled down.

Stranded in the “eye of the universe”

If there was a question about my decision to bail, that was one answer. Another answer came as I sat in the middle of the rocking metal dinghy boat watching the struggling swimmers. I was taking a photo of my companions on the castaway beach when our boat was hit by a giant swell in the midst of my little photo session. The captain hollered “Hold on!” but the only thing I could hang on to was my camera. As the tip of our boat quickly rose in the air, my body was airborne and then slammed down hard on the metal seat. Instant respect for the commanding force of mother nature and the power of the ocean. I spent the rest of the rescue mission and the white-knuckle ride back standing at the helm with the captain, gripping the railings. That was a good-enough adventure for me this time around. The final answer to the question of my bailout came the next day when I took a solo hike down to a little beach near my comfy hotel. The trail was short and steep but relatively easy, and yet I managed to slip on a rock and bang up my knee. Clearly the adventure stars were not lined up for me, and I realized that my gut instinct was right-on, once again.

Was I sad to miss the big kahuna adventure? My heart ached. Would I make the same chicken-little decision again? Yes indeed. Perhaps another time my heart will feel stronger and I’ll say yes to the mighty Kalalau Trail. But while my brave companions ventured, I found my own little slice of beach paradise where I wrote, watched fish fly and sand crabs scuttle, soaked up the balmy tropical breezes and ocean magic… and checked my bloody knee every so often to remind myself that I may be a coward but I’m one intuitive little chicken. They conquered the treacherous Kalalau Trail and emerged unscathed, while I chickened out bruised and battered, begging the question as to what gruesome tales I would have to tell had I dared the hike. My hearty husband and friends have much better stories, but at least I was in one piece to enjoy the rest of my Hawaiian vacation – on dry land. My banged-up knee ended up requiring six stitches, but that’s a whole other story to tell.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.  Delicious Ambiguity.”    

—Gilda Radner

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