Friday, December 26, 2008

Things to Bear in Mind As We Round 2009


I’ll be on away the first week of the New Year, taking a mini-vacation from blogging. So, I’m writing ahead some thoughts to bear in mind as we enter 2009.

January 1: This is the first day of my inner journey.

It’s a new day, and a new year. The whole world is making resolutions, thinking about a new start—a new slate.

I’m going to suggest that you reconsider.

Our
Gregorian calendar has led us to live off-cycle with nature for nearly 500 years. The natural New Year begins at the Spring Equinox, on or about March 20. A diet, a new project, or new beginnings are much more on cycle with the seasons and rising energy in spring. They’re more likely to work for you then.

We, too, are part of nature. Our figurative seeds need to be planted at the time of year when they are most likely to germinate, flower in summer, and be ready in autumn for harvest.

Then what is this winter change of calendar all about, like the changing of the guard?

It’s another way of counting things, often more worldly things. Happiness comes from taking time to connect with All That Is and your innermost being. Here is where your spirit meets the Great Spirit and your Higher Power. The right thing to do in winter is to take a cue from our friends the bears. Hibernate. Take quiet time. Be introspective.

This year, put the inner journey on your calendar from Day 1. Give yourself one precious moment—one minute—to make your day with a short meditation. Here’s one I love that works any day of the year:

Take three deep, healing breaths—deep inhale, deep
exhale—three times, slowly. Ask Spirit—what do you want me to know—and what do you want me to do—today?

January 6: Breakfast at Epiphanies

In addition to celebrating the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem and the conclusion of the Christmas Season, epiphany is a word that means an aha or a flash of insight. Visit last year’s post,
Epiphanies, to learn more about this wonderful day and why the everyday usage of the word makes Epiphany the official holiday of this blog.

While I’m called Hot Flashbacks as the short form of this blog’s title in my e-mail address and on most social networking sites, the real emphasis in both my book and on my blog are the cool insights. I write about my insights all the time, but today, I thought I'd put the insights in your court. Let's do some exercises together to get some new aha’s. This is something we can do, like a guided meditation, as you read this post. Just pause to get some writing materials—and open a notebook or computer file. (Don’t forget to name and save the file right away to avoid accidentally losing it.) Alternatively, you could print out this post and do it later in a quiet moment.

Meditation: Imagine you are at the manger scene, coming to visit the baby Jesus. You have been following an awesome star for weeks. It is brighter, more spectacular, and shaped unlike anything you have ever seen. You know it’s a sign! You are one of the wise astrologers, an expert at deciphering larger meanings in life. This is just like a time machine, and you can create it however it would happen because you’re you—and only you have your unique gifts to give.

* What are your most precious gifts that you bring to the baby—and why?
* What will Jesus do with your gifts?
* What gifts do you get back?
* What gifts will you bring into 2009 because of this magical experience?

This is the first week of the last year in the first decade of the Third Millennium. Think of all that has happened since we worried about the Y2K crashes and food stashes on the cusp of the Year 2000! May you find some new tools and perspectives in this post to shine the star of your own inner light. The key is to slow down, rest, and visit the “manger within,” the rebirth of Love accessible inside us every day of our lives. Spirit can only speak to us when we stop talking--and listen.

A sweet, soft New Year with many moments of replenishing silence …










Monday, December 15, 2008

Vanity Fair



My parents nuzzled me gently, “Wake up, honey. Santa’s come!”

It was the most magical morning of the year. I didn’t have the slightest idea what Santa might have brought me. I was only five. I was so excited. I felt like someone plugged Christmas tree lights into a socket in my belly. I felt lit up in rainbow colors.

Padding down the familiar steps in my jammies with feet, I smelled the pine tree. A log burned on the fire in my mind, even if we didn’t have a fireplace! Then I saw it--the most spectacular thing near the Christmas tree that I had ever seen in my whole life. It was a toy vanity, my own little dressing table, just my size, with a real mirror, brushes, combs, and pretend make-up.

Santa had somehow succeeded in bringing me something so perfect; I hadn’t even thought of it myself. A vanity wasn’t in my letter to Santa that I dictated to Mom, and in that moment, I didn’t really care what was. Somewhere there was this Benevolent Being who knew my needs better than I did myself. What’s more, I sensed that he was intimately connected to my mother and father—that maybe he could only do this because they told him all about me.

The ultimate meaning of this indelible, magic moment only became clear once I was as grown-up as Mom and Dad. Christmas is about new beginnings—the rebirth of self in the light of love—the message Jesus first brought to earth on his birthday. Thinking back on that snowy morning in the suburbs of Chicago and to the first Christmas in Bethlehem, I now see a big parallel. Some of the greatest gifts we ever receive are not the ones we ask for but rather those that pleasantly surprise or hide in right in front of us, to be discovered under the tree of everyday life.

A deep one growing up, I found myself easily led to the experiences I needed for my own development, as long as I was open-minded. I didn’t always see, right away, the bigger picture of what was right for me. I’d think back at those times of the vanity—a big and obvious gift with my name on it. I was a glamour girl at heart. I loved to primp and preen. Our cat Suzy was probably the only one in our house any better at it. How did Santa know?

From this simple experience of letting love surprise me, I have since been open to many other surprises stranger than fiction, especially when taken together. I was led to find my birth families--we were separated for 38 years by adoption--and the man who was the lost love of my life and my most unhealed relationship. Once I had a decade to digest these life-changing, lost-and-found experiences, the lesson of the vanity continued to sink in a layer deeper: Be willing to look at yourself.

One day, I was sitting at my computer doing just that by scanning my feelings. I got the nagging suspicion I had someone else to find. I had a rather animated conversation with God. “What now? Who else could I possibly have to find?”

In that moment, I remembered a dramatic dream I had six months earlier about my first boyfriend. Luckily, I am an avid dream journal keeper, and I reread my night movie recap with new eyes. There was a clear message that I needed to touch base with what happened in my very first boy-girl relationship. We were only 12 to 13 in our two years together, but I knew it was more than puppy love. We only broke up because his mom was worried we were too young to be “so serious.” While I wasn’t expecting a romance after 35 years, I still missed his friendship and hoped I’d discover what it all meant by following this surely divine direction.

With the Internet by then connecting phone books and people worldwide, I popped Tim and his unusual surname into a search engine and found him living in Texas. I wrote him a long letter. He wrote back. We were stunned to see how our lives had gone down similar paths over the years—same kind of work, same church, major life moves during the same years. Surprisingly, he had never married. Before I knew it, we were traveling between cities, and he moved to mine less than six months later. We married the following year. Now together eleven years, we are still amazed by the subconscious connection we retained, our grammar school pictures he kept, and how like the vanity, our relationship was there for both of us, under life’s perennial Christmas tree—the perfect gift when the timing was right.

Too bad we call it a vanity with all the egotistical connotations of that word. In my life, the mirror is about having the bravery to see myself and trust in the lesson of that surprise gift by simply making the journey to self-reflection. It is not always an easy trip as we relive pain and others’ imperfections, not to mention our own. Eventually we learn the truth—we are love.

We are the light of the world, a mirror of the love, which is born and reborn annually in this amazing season of peace and hope. Every year we have a new chance to celebrate light. No matter how many visits Jesus or other enlightened ones make to this planet to remind us, we still carry the guiding light within us wherever we go.

It’s the same message in the Chanukah lanterns that refused to burn out; in the sun god, whose return early worshippers sought to ensure at Winter Solstice. It’s in the Muslim Hajj, the annual trip to Mecca all adults must make around this time of year at least once in their lifetime. The ritual promotes the bonds of spiritual family by showing everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah—All One Light.

Regardless of faith, the message is the same: the inner light of love joins us all like twinkling stars in the night sky.

That’s why they call it the Christmas spirit. You can only see it with the inner “I.”

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Note: The original “Vanity Fair” appeared in
Unity Magazine in December 1988. This updated version celebrates the 20th anniversary of its publication.

Need more Holiday Hot Flashbacks? Visit these previous posts:
Not So Silent Night, Where Are My Christmas Cards?, and Turn on the Lights!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter Solstice




  • I have been doing celebrations at the change of seasons since 1988—twenty years of honoring the cycles of life. Since I’m Santa Claus at heart, it’s no surprise how much I love winter and all the wonderful celebrations from various spiritual traditions that merge into a time of blessings and good humor.

What’s a Solstice?
The word solstice is derived from two Latin words: sol, which means sun and sistere, to stand still. Winter Solstice is one of the two days a year when the Sun stands still. At Summer Solstice, the sun reaches its highest elevation, on or about June 21, our longest day. At Winter Solstice around December 21, the sun is at its lowest height and we experience the longest night of the year. (These dates refer to the solstices in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, the two solstices are exchanged—winter in June, summer in December.) Implied in the solstice standstill is a moment of pause before a significant shift.

Why Celebrate?
Various cultures the world over have celebrated the Winter Solstice for many thousands of years. Winter Solstice observes the beginning of the solar year and rebirth of the sun. Many assume that while the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, there is no accident that the ancient Christian Church selected December 25 to celebrate Christmas. (Based on the astronomical data of the time and reports of the Star of David, believed to be the conjunction or coming together of several planets in the sky, Jesus was much more likely born closer to spring, probably in March.) Winter Solstice was already a day of celebration. As Ellen Jackson conjectures in the children’s book,
The Winter Solstice, “It might as well be Christmas, too.” Winter Solstice is much more ancient. It is also known as Yule, and it has many things in common with Christmas, starting with the parallels in the homonyms Sun/Son and the warmth and salvation the birth and rebirth of Light brings to the world.

If Yule captivates you, give yourself a Google little Solstice and check out some of the amazing facts, prayers, meditations, and ceremonies connected with this ancient feast. I won’t focus on them here, because there is a true festival of information right at your fingertips.

I want to do three things in this post: introduce you to one of my favorite solstice myths and walk you through two things I do at every Winter Solstice ceremony that you can do to celebrate the Solstice at home.

Raven Festival
I say often how I find inspiration in many places, and one of my favorite winter myths is from the Alaskan
Inuit. I learned their winter solstice story in an episode of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Northern Exposure. Picture Marilyn, Dr. Joel Fleischman’s secretary, telling this tale, then later in the episode, seeing the natives of Cicely, Alaska portray it as a play:

A long time ago, the raven looked down from the sky and saw that the people of the world were living in darkness. A ball of light was kept hidden by a selfish old chief. So the raven turned himself into a spruce needle and floated on the river where the chief's daughter came for water. She drank the spruce needle. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy who was the raven in disguise. The baby cried and cried until the chief gave him the ball of light to play with. As soon as he had the light, the raven turned back into himself. The raven carried the light into the sky. From then on, we no longer lived in darkness.

What captivates me about spirituality is how every “flavor” of it repeats the same universal themes, especially a Light in the sky or from the sky that keeps us out of the dark and changes everything.

Burning the Old
I first did a burning bowl ceremony at my local
Unity Church. The idea is to write on slips of paper whatever you want to get rid of in your life, whether it’s twenty pounds, a bad attitude or your anger toward your ex-husband. The women in my Solsisters group write fast and furiously in this segment of our Winter Solstice get-together, often scribbling into overtime. I can’t help but be amused sometime at all the catharsis and wrists flying. They line up and burn the paper in the fire. Like confession is good for the soul, dumping old burdens works in this form, too.

Ceremony of Recognition
One year, I realized there was something missing—something we needed to do to complement Burning the Old. We needed to recognize the accomplishments we had each made in the past year. We burn what we want to let go … but how do we memorialize or make permanent what we want to keep?

In the Ceremony of Recognition, we take another few minutes to write down what we feel we accomplished, completed … anything we each feel we deserve to recognize or thank ourselves for. I think many of you will agree that women tend to do too little of this. So here’s a meditation you can use to do your own recognition ceremony. Have pen and paper ready when you’re set to go:

Meditation

Take a three deep breaths and center yourself. Feel at one with Earth.

Now, look at yourself in the Year 2008.

-- What was your proudest accomplishment?
-- What baby steps did you take toward something new?
-- What giant leaps?
-- What did you do that you deserve credit for?
-- How did others recognize you?
-- How did others not recognize you in ways you wish they would have?
-- How were you disappointed? (It is important to recognize our disappointments.)
-- If 2008 had a name or a title phrase, what would it be?

Candlelighting Ceremony
Our Winter Solstice celebration always culminates with passing the light. We each light individual candles, igniting them from each other’s candle, passed down the line. Then we hold them up to show how our lights, merged, light up the entire room—just as the light of our spirits, when joined for good, light up the world.

I hope Winter Solstice is just the beginning of a blessed Yuletide season for you. This year’s theme at my house is the Magical Child Within. I like hosting Winter Solstice, so I can continue to soak up the warmth the Solsisters create that night through the New Year.

I want to end with two quotes, one that honors the eternal child within us and another that honors the sage stage of life represented by the baby boomers who read this blog:

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” –Victor Hugo

“For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned it is the season of harvest.” --The Talmud

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Notes: Visit these previous posts for more information on
Winter Solstice and celebrating the seasons. This Year’s Solstice Moment, when the Sun Enters Capricorn: Dec. 21, 4:04a PDT (adjust for your time zone in the US or World).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Fairy Godmother


I have the gift for gifts. For the most part, I find unique and personal presents my friends and family love. I’m not sure if it’s a talent or just a combination of caring, listening and a dash of creativity. Whatever it is, it’s a skill I’m glad I to have developed. I think most anyone can learn to do it. It sure comes in handy this time of year!

While I wish I could be like the Fairy Godmother or genie in a bottle and grant my loved ones three wishes, the title of this post refers to a business I used to dream of—a boutique where I’d make this gift giving talent a paid gig as an owner/gift consultant. It didn’t take long for me to figure out; it wouldn’t be half as much fun without the personal connection to the recipient.

Some of these gifts I have given stand out in my memory.

· Joyceisms for Tim - When I first reconnected with my childhood sweetheart, now husband, I was influenced by a dream for the first Valentine’s Day gift I gave him in 36 years. I got one of those beautiful wooden boxes from
Things Remembered, and I had engraved on the gold plate, Joyceisms for Tim. In the dream—the one that ultimately nudged me to look him up— he was a relationship book author. Tim was coming to a signing in my city where I’d see him for the first time in all those years. In his book, he wrote about me with great warmth as his foundational relationship. When he talked about someone doing things in his or her own inimitable style, he said it was to “Joyce it” after me. “Joyceisms” were things I had said or done that he found endearing. My Joyceisms in the wooden box were little typewritten slips of paper, rolled and banded into mini-scrolls. Each one is a reason why I love him. Under Joyceisms for Tim, I had engraved Valentine’s Day 1997. Not only does he enjoy them any day; he especially enjoys dipping into the box on days I’m crabby, when he’s wondering if I even like him!

· The Boundless Birthday Wish Box – This gift consists of a colorful, square box, the kind that can be found at stores like
Michael’s or Beverly’s. Inside are a small spiral notebook and a birthday candle. (Michaels sells them in tins for travel, with Happy Birthday literally written on the lid, and they’re only $1.) Lastly, I made a card in MS Publisher on my computer that explains what the Boundless Birthday Wish Box is all about. Why celebrate your birthday a measly once a year? Especially when it’s all about the candle and the wish?

This box contains all the materials to make magical wishes any day of the year. Directions on the inside of the card advise: (1) Use the spiral notebook to write down and date your wish, also creating a wish diary; (2) Prop the wish diary open with the candle in front of it. (3) Say the wish to yourself—light the candle; (4) Blow it out after the universe has time to absorb your desire; and (5) Check back now and then to see how many wishes have come true. Note them on the back of each wish sheet. This one-of-a-kind blessing box costs only $3-5 to make and is priceless to the recipient.


· The Duct Tape Basket – One year, I was at a loss about what to get my brother-in-law who works hard as a handyman. I stumbled across a wallet on Amazon made out of duct tape material. A spark went off in my brain, and soon I was searching for books on uses for duct tape. I found one that had all kinds of artsy and practical ideas of what you can do with this versatile material. I added the book, the wallet (with a $10 Home Depot gift card in it), and a roll of duct tape to the basket. He was thrilled.

· Chicago Hot Dog “Picnic in Winter” Basket – Tim and I come from Chicago, and there’s no dog like a Chicago dog. His sister and her husband met there long before we all moved to California. My sis-in-law had just talked recently about a hot dog stand she missed from the old days. This inspired me. I looked up the fixin’s and recipe for a Chicago dog. I found information online about the hot dog stand and its history, along with the general history of Chicago-style hot dogs. Along with the recipe card and the hot dog history in a presentation folder, I added everything but the dogs and buns—bottled green peppers, celery salt, relish, and an onion—and a grocery store gift card to buy the rest of the ingredients fresh. My special card suggested an indoor wienie roast in the dead of winter to remind them of the warmth of summer days when we usually eat hot dogs. How much fun would that quick dinner be in front of a roaring fire? I guess you could even roast the dogs over it.

I love gift baskets, as you can tell, and I’ve done a lot of different themes, including one called “Our Favorite Things,” spinning on
the tune from A Sound of Music. It contained all kinds of products and foods we particularly enjoy or find helpful like a jar opener and Goo Gone, that stuff that gets off those sticky price tags, or Downy Wrinkle Releaser, my favorite alternative to ironing. I always create a card that explains how it all fits together.

This year, I’m giving my sister- and brother-in-law a gift cluster I call Ménage à Tweet. (Nope, it has nothing to do with Twitter.) I found this wonderful bird feeder—a metal squirrel with bright orange leaves on the umbrella-style top. It caught my attention because my sister-in-law and I share a love for autumn. I’m including a package of gourmet birdseed. Finally, there’s a bottle of one of my favorite blend wines, Ménage à Trois by
Folie à Deux Winery. The card will explain that this is winter entertainment. You feed the birds that didn’t fly south for winter; then, you open up the wine, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show as their fine feathered visitors go nuts at this high-end bird diner. Husband, wife, and the birds—a Ménage à Tweet.

Since I have no real time to be your Fairy Godmother, feel free to use any and all of these ideas. However, I am going to offer a special holiday gift to my readers. If you’re stumped for a gift idea on your shopping list, Comment and tell me something about the person. I’ll give my wand a quick flick and offer you some suggestions! I’d also like to hear about unique gifts you have given or received.

In my next life, I’m coming back as Santa Claus. Ask me if I like Christmas …


Photo: I always knew that this Christmas ornament I have had for eons would be the model for the logo of The Fairy Godmother boutique. The motto: Your wish is my command. Here she is on a wand too big for her wings, britches—whatever!


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friendship Feast

My guest co-blogger today is my dear friend, Dana Stone. We’ve known each other since 1980, and neither of us is sure how we’d have made it this far in life without each other. In 2005, we celebrated the Silver Anniversary of our friendship. I am grateful for her every day, but Thanksgiving seems an especially good time of year to share our thoughts on what makes a great friendship tick.

Joyce: Dana, please tell the Cool Insighters a little bit about yourself.

Dana: I am old soul refining the gold and polishing the silver of my Higher Self, while keeping my karmic commitments. I have been a world traveler since birth (courtesy of the US Air Force) and spent my formative years in England and California. This is how I learned diplomacy and an appreciation for all cultures. My native American (BlackFoot tribe) and North African ancestry (Watutsi tribe) instilled in me a great sense of rhythm and a deep appreciation for the spirit of earth and all her resources. My interests run the gamut from teaching Jazzercise to Metaphysics. I love all forms of art, music and dance. Sensitive in the extreme to all things toxic (people, places and hair dyes included), after 32 years of government service, I am embracing my role as an earth elder teaching others authentic empowerment and wellness. I am currently working on developing an intuitive leadership training module for government and corporate professionals, focused on earth-friendly policy development.

Joyce: Let’s swap thoughts on the qualities that make for an enduring friendship. You go first!

Dana: Shared interests, honesty (by this I mean candor with kindness), integrity (will take a confidence to the grave), trust, loyalty (not blind but supportive), common sense and an earthy sense of humor are on the top of my list. A friendship that grows and changes, as you do, is also important.

Joyce: Agreed on commonality of interests—add worldview—between us. It’s as though in the friendship department, we were made for each other—companions on the paths we have chosen, side by side, that parallel through the same woods. How many times did we joke about our first marriages with issues so similar, we sometimes felt like we married the same man? (What a blessing we each did so much better the second time around.) I think just like marriage, our most important friendships have something to do with making a good choice and recognizing “a great match” when you see it. I never thought about it till this moment, but you and I have some of the same things in common that I do with Tim. That is, the same religious background and values. Of course, I have friends from different faiths, but add to the spiritual perspective, so much of our faith is in each other!

Next question: What actions do you see us taking that keep the fires of friendship glowing?

Dana:
I see us sharing tips and tools as we embark upon the joys of navigating the Social Security system. I also see us traveling to new vistas, laughing, loving, singing and dancing our way into our dotage.

Joyce: It’s about quality connection. Naturally, a certain quantity is important, but over the years, the various demands on us have meant we couldn’t always spend a lot of time together. Yet the time we spend together is so special—always a treat. We never miss celebrating birthdays, Christmas, or important personal events together. And with our common interests, I can’t count the number of workshops we’ve attended together. Loved our spa weekend getaway for our 25th friendship anniversary, reprising something we did more often when we were both single and life was a little less frenetic. We take time for our friendship, and when we can’t take a lot of time, we make it a celebration—which spills over into the whole quality of our relationship. It is one big celebration of gratitude for us both, and we tell each other how much we mean to each other often. Man, I didn’t think about it much till now, but we’re real gushers!

How ‘bout this: What things do I do for you that are the most supportive?

Dana: You are the best non-judgmental listener ever!!! You hear what I am saying and the intuitive thoughts and emotions behind the words. You are positive and enthusiastic, no matter what crazy idea or undertaking I am proposing, and you have the best referral/resource information database in your planner.

Joyce: For me, you’re “always there” in the most meaningful way to listen and give a positive spin on whatever I’m going through—or to shake a fist at the bad guys who do me wrong! (Especially when I’m being “too nice” to do it myself.) I’d say one way you support me is the same way my mom did—you only see the good in me. When I tell you about some fit I had, you act astonished that I could “lose it.” I don’t need to lose it with you; we’re so simpatico. That’s why you’ve never seen it. My mom had on rose-colored glasses about me, too. Reflecting from adulthood on times I acted like Baby McEvil, she’d insist I was always an angel. Luckily, love is blind (maybe even a little senile!) in motherhood and close friendship, too. You also give great input when I seek advice, keep secrets, and never judge. You liked Tim right away, which was an important barometer for me. I don’t think I could marry anyone that didn’t “feel right” to you. Thanks for all the class you demonstrated on some of my weirder boyfriend choices throughout the years. You’d never discourage me from walking the path of my learning, but you’d never fake enthusiasm, either.

Lastly, what are the qualities I have in our friendship that you are most grateful for?

Dana: I am grateful that you always listen with your heart, are perpetually positive, have awesome creative ideas and can find humor in anything!

Joyce: Laughter is definitely a close second to anything that comes first. How we have howled together! You’re so intelligent, witty, and spiritually savvy. To know you is to love you, and I feel honored to have such a special place in your life. You’ve got a very full dance card when it comes to friends—a line even!

Wrap-Up
I had said this so many times, I was grateful to hear my thoughts echoed on an episode of Sex and the City when Carrie came to the realization that men may come and go, but your friends are who you’re left with when you’re a Golden Girl. It’s rough to think about, but women outlive men on average by more than five years. Many times the woman lives much longer. In some ways, choosing your closest friends is one of the most important decisions you ever make.

May your friendship harvest be like mine and Dana’s—the cream of the crop! We’d love to hear your Comments and special friendship stories.


To read more about Dana as coach, visit her Astral Coach site.


Photo by
Theresa Hayes, Dana’s sister, at the wedding of Dana’s stepdaughter on October 5, 2008.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hot News Flash! Writer Joyce Mason Website





It’s complex, dense, deep, and fun. It’s a web site years in the planning. It’s
joycemason-dot-com!



If you wonder about life's mysteries, your purpose and special gifts ... my new website is for you.

Discover my many other facets as a writer. My memoir-writing baby boomer persona is just one.
Joycemason-dot-com will be home to everything else I write besides this blog, starting with my body of literature that has proven timeless for decades on astrology, dreamwork, and other symbol systems. If there is one thing that joins all my writing, it’s this: I play the symbols. I see signs in commonplace occurrences as well as the moon, stars, and meaningful coincidences.

There are articles, old and new, and links to my writings on other web sites. I look forward to introducing current readers of Hot Flashbacks to my other works. I also hope to reconnect with many old friends and clients who knew me when these topics were on my front burner—and when I still did individual astrology charts and other spiritually oriented consultations. You’ll find links to other people whose works or products help me share what I’ve learned in the Symbol World. The last tool in my medicine bag from my former practice, Inner Growth Work, is
flower essences. Who knew a few drops of a tincture taken under your tongue a few times a day could transform emotions?

There’s an expanded bio, information on books and publications already in print or online, and previews of writings in progress. You’ll discover my poetry—my first genre, also symbol rich—and my genres I call M-in-M’s for short—memoir, inspiration, and mystery.

But the mystery of my new site? Don’t let it linger! Why haven’t you clicked on that link yet? Or
this one?

Thanks to all my Cool Insighters who check it out, and if you find it’s for you, I hope to be seeing you in both my cyber “pads” often.

Join me for the fireworks! And let’s crack open some champagne.





Monday, November 10, 2008

Kukla, Fran, and OLLI


The stars of the old TV show, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and its Kuklapolitan Players, are among my favorite childhood icons. Spend some time on their blast from the past website for some delightful déjà-vu, boomer style.

Today I want to introduce you to a different “OLLI.” Rather than a snaggletooth dragon, it stands for
Osher Life-Long Learning Institute. I love the hidden truth in words. If you don’t want life to “drag on,” meet the anti-dragon—the OLLI of life-long education.

There are 119 OLLI’s throughout the US. The National Resource Center website for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes is located at the University of Southern Maine (USM). OLLI disseminates information on effective educational programming for older learners. In addition to providing information and connections via its web site, the Resource Center publishes a national research journal, plans an annual national conference, and provides a number of other ways for OLLI’s to connect with one another.”

That’s OLLI on the macro scale, but let’s talk about what it can do for you. For example, the OLLI at West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown hosted a week-long event in September called “Learn 50+.” The theme was Keeping Our Brains Alive. It featured research on boomers/retirees who engage in learning activity—how continuous learning exhibits physical changes in the brain and leads to better mental and physical health. To
find the OLLI nearest you, click on your state on the OLLI map site.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about our
OLLI at Sierra College in Rocklin, California. I think you’ll be amazed! The ads aren’t exaggerated when they call them personal enrichment classes without tests or grades and high-quality learning experiences.

First, these classes are free to anyone 55 or older. While designed for the older learner, any adult student is welcome. Additional special lectures are available for $35 per year or $65 per couple along with many other member benefits. They even offer a three-month Sample Membership for $19 for the those who just want to put a toe in the water.

Credit where credit is due: My husband Tim discovered OLLI and has been taking t’ai chi and other classes through the program for the past few years. This month, we’re taking—together—“The Films of the Coen Brothers.” That’s Joel and Ethan and Blood Simple
(1984), Barton Fink (1991), Intolerable Curelty (2003), Fargo (1996), and No Country for Old Men (2007), last year’s Academy Award winner for best picture. I look forward, while dissecting these films, to getting a clue about what were those Coen Brothers thinking when they wrote those movies, especially Fargo, one of my favorite dark comedies.

To give you the flavor of other local OLLI offerings:

· Art of the City: Florence
· Personal Investments
· Classic Italian Film
· Modern American Comedy
· Tough Women in Classic Hollywood Films
· Writing Your Life Story
· Haunted: The Life and Words of Edgar Allan Poe
· Franz Schubert: His Music and Life
· Beginning A Cappella Singing
· Fitness Options for Older Adults

Granted, anyone who reads or writes blogs is probably already on this life-long learning quest. If you’re like me, though, you might relish the opportunity to rest your eyes and take a screen break, even though mine is just from the small to the big screen, so to speak. It’ll be cool to have some face time with some new friends. The Coen Brothers class is great!

When you meet your OLLI, please Comment. Let me know how you like him! Or tell us about any of your other life-long learning adventures.

Photo credit: Ollie by the late Ted Drake, Kuklapolitan artist.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Venus Girls/Boomer Beauty

Two of my close friends and I are Venus Girls. This refers to the signs Taurus and Libra, ruled by the planet Venus—goddess of love, relationship, beauty, peace, and justice. Venus’s love of justice is why the Scales of Balance symbolize the astrological sign.

When an individual has an abundance of these planets in her chart or has Taurus or Libra Rising, she is influenced or “ruled” by Venus. This is the case for the Venus Girls Trio. When we go to lunch, you could recognize us by overhearing these kinds of conversations:

Wendy: So, would it be so awful if we had just a little work done sometime? A little nip ‘n’ tuck?

Lucy: I’d be for that. Nothing too unnatural; after all, we’re all into natural …

Me: Maybe we could get a package deal with a local plastic surgeon and do it together. Maybe he’d consider a quantity discount! Take a few crinkles from around the eyes. Nothing drastic or too artificial …

Wendy: A trio facelift! We could play soft music, have a massage therapist come, do aromatherapy, recover together …

Lucy: Yeah! Sip herb tea and hold each other’s hands.

If you know even the slightest bit about these signs, you’re laughing out loud at how typical we are, creating ambience by the yard, worried about our good looks and being beautiful—so into relationship, we can’t even have our faces fixed without each other.

Boomer Beauty
Whatever your astrological or bare minerals make-up, turning the corner on 50 or 60 leads you smack into the issue of how you will handle aging from a cosmetic perspective. To one degree or another, we all bow—or refuse to bow—to the Goddess Venus.

Genes and self-care both play a role in how “well” we age. I’m lucky to have great skin, but my bottled auburn hair has very gray roots, nearly every one of them. I have friends my age and older without a single gray strand in their entire heads, but some of them show visible signs of aging in other ways such as wrinkles or liver spots.

How each of us handles the transition to a more seasoned look is a personal choice. I’m not willing to have my face drawn and quartered, the kind of work that ultimately looks fake and more unattractive than au naturel … but if I could afford it, I might go for a mini-lift, just because looking youngish and vital is more uplifting than my Maidenform bra. And believe me, at this stage of the game, I need all the uplift I can get!

I am in no way ready to see myself in a head full of gray hair, although I often wonder, as I risk potential brain cancer every time I use those chemicals on my head, if I don’t have a hole in it. Then there is the practical consideration. If I ever wanted to grow it out, how would I do that without looking like I took an ugly pill? A gorgeous gray highlighted wig, I’ve decided, as a transitional stage, “when the time comes.” (Around 95?) Meanwhile, Lucy told me just tonight that she knows of a holistic plastic surgeon.

Beauty is important to me. When I look as good as I can, I feel like I’m doing my part to help keep America beautiful. I don’t deny that I’m vain, but Venus types honestly resonate to beauty and harmony so much, we are miserable without it. Almost nauseous.

More Fundamental Questions
The bigger issue, of course, is our inability to see the inherent beauty in every age and stage of life. If we worship Venus, the Goddess of Beauty, it’s only because we worship Youth like a god even more. Granted, so much of our obsession with this false idol stems from advertising, Hollywood, and our belief that men are only drawn to nubile creatures. (I bet
Demi is glad no one told Ashton.)

As women, we buy into these stereotypes, too, and the sexism perpetuated in aging men who have “character” while aging women “need work.” We buy into it by our desire to maintain a maiden appearance when we’re long into the crone stage of life.

Yet baby boomers are expected to redefine aging itself.

How Will We Do It?
It is a big job. Appearance is just one issue. To redefine aging is more than skin deep, because our skin will again never look like the ads we see in
Glamour, if it ever did.

I don’t have all the answers. I think a lot of them are individual. Just like some girls go through a tomboy stage, others, like me, never had one and preferred dresses to pants from little girlhood. Some never got out of their tomboy stage, never were much for make-up and frills or high heels. That’s who they are—as natural to them as primping, preening, and color coordinating are to me.

Part of me thinks that looking as youthful as possible is OK, at least until we evolve more in our group-think about beauty in all stages of life. Looking young and feeling young and vital seem to be linked somehow, and no one would fault us for a second for wanting as much vitality as we can hold all the way to the finish line.

Yet, another part of me feels like a traitor. I am part of the community of boomer women, and our mindset toward aging and beauty won’t change unless or until I, too, change my mind. That sort of change creates a divine domino effect.

Hints from a Pro on Stretching Appearance
I’m fond of the movie, The Birdcage, especially its anthem of self-expression, the song, “I Am What I Am.” In this 1996 comedy Robin Williams stars as Armand, a gay cabaret owner. He and his drag queen companion, Albert (Nathan Lane), agree to put up a false straight front when their son wants to introduce them to his fiancé's conservative parents. Her father is a U.S. Senator (Gene Hackman). As with all comedies, things go horribly awry. While I always thought Albert’s attempts to look womanly fell a little short, he manages to charm and convince the Senator, who is quite taken with him as “her.” But when the paparazzi threaten to storm the house conjoined to the cabaret and splash the Senator’s presence at it in the tabloids, it’s time for drastic measures. All bets are off; all secrets must be revealed. Albert rips off his wig and sings “I Am What I Am.” It’s a tune of the ultimate freedom—of self-acceptance. I hope I can sing it proudly, someday, when it comes to being what I am as a woman of a certain age.

This is a “think post.” No answers, just questions to ask yourself.

The question I keep asking is
why the statue of Venus is depicted with no arms. Like Venus, many of us have no arms to wrap around true beauty just yet … and when we acquire them because of a change of heart, Beauty herself will be What She Really Is.

Photo Credit: Venus deMilo Statue, (c) Maninblack/Dreamstime.com





Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lessons from My Creep-o-Meter




Even though I was born just hours after author Stephen King, I have no taste for anything too creepy. In 1973, I saw two movies that sent my Creep-o-Meter into overdrive.

It was before I moved to the Left Coast. I was visiting from Wisconsin, on vacation to see my poetry editor/ love interest in San Francisco. He suggested we see the movie,
Play Misty for Me. Remembering the beautiful song Misty by Johnny Mathis, I figured it was a love story. Turned out to be the Fatal Attraction of its time, the tale of a woman fan obsessed with a DJ, played by Clint Eastwood, also in his directorial debut. The suspense and slow revelation of his stalker’s mental imbalance sucked me in and scared me in the most visceral way. I wanted to crawl under the seat or inside my date’s jacket. I never considered seeing Fatal Attraction after the indelible impression Play Misty left on me. I was deeply weirded out by this movie and cannot erase some of the scenes from my mind to this day. Some people, who have seen them both, think Misty is actually creepier than Fatal Attraction. Misty starts out seeming like the love story I expected—then the twist. I didn’t mind doing the Twist in the ‘50s, but movies that were too twisted didn’t play well for me in any decade.

Then there was
Harold and Maude. It opens with young Harold in a bloody suicide attempt--slashed wrists--then minutes later, Harold’s mom walks into another room to find he has hang himself. She remains sarcastic and unfluttered, and soon we learn the joke is on us. Harold stages all these death scenes—now we know they’re fake--in a desperate attempt to connect with dear old Mom. I almost walked out until I recognized it as a dark comedy. I was glad I stayed the course, because this cult classic endeared itself to me, living on the border of life and death and total unpredictability. It scared, then delighted me. I cannot think of this movie without reliving the hilarious scene where a priest tries to counsel Harold about of his “unholy” relationship with Maude, old enough to be his great-grandmother. He imagines out loud, in increasing verbal crescendo, the comingling of his young, firm flesh and hers—wrinkled and sagging. I apologize in advance if I hurt the feelings of any baby boomer readers, in case this hits home too closely. (I meant robbing the cradle, of course, not the wrinkles.)

I have had many personal encounters with people and things that are not as they seem, and learning to deal with these scary surprises seems to be one of the great skills we acquire as we accumulate birthdays. There are the milder forms of the unexpected—the relationships we imagine through our rose-colored glasses to be soul mate material when they are really a joke on us for not seeing every red flag the love object is waving in our face, not even attempting to be dishonest. “Oh, the lies we tell for the sake of love!” Especially to ourselves. Or so goes the opening line of a poem I wrote that amuses me still for my moment of clarity while swimming in that much self-delusion.

Back at the cinema, from these two movies emerge two distinct kinds of unpleasant surprises. Play Misty for Me is an encounter with true danger, something to be avoided at all costs and to run from the minute you see the switch from Jekyll to Hyde or you get the scent of something that gives you goose bumps. Before online dating, I sometimes tried the local singles ads. I connected with a man so smooth, I actually agreed to meet him for the first time at his home—very risky. A switch flipped inside me during one of our conversations, and I called him and backed out. I said if he wanted to meet me, it’d have to be in a public place the first time. I just wasn’t comfortable on a first encounter any other way.

When we met at a restaurant, he chose to have more than one drink, and in the middle of a sentence, his Evil Other emerged. He criticized me unmercifully for not keeping my word about coming to his house—just the warm-up for an onslaught of verbal battering. It was amazing to me that I had given him so much ammunition and personal information in our phone conversations to turn against me. He glommed onto my strong sense of integrity, knowing that the worse thing he could accuse me of is not being forthright or true to my promise. I walked out, fuming, mostly at myself for being so vulnerable, but not without having the last word, which I threw over my shoulder, “You have just proven why I made the right decision not to go anywhere near your house.”

Harold and Maude, on the other hand, represents the experience that seems a little strange at first, but something inside you knows there’s a hitch—some incongruity just sucks you in. Like Harold’s mother acting irritated with his “suicide attempts” instead of screaming or calling the paramedics. Ironically, I almost left Harold and Maude faster than my brush with the singles ads weirdo and my own potential
Looking for Mr. Goodbar. There’s another movie I avoided, knowing would be too scary for me to see—especially considering the risks I probably had no idea I was taking during my “bar phase” in my twenties.

We all have an internal alarm system that will keep us out of Harm’s Way if we choose to hear it, but sometimes it conflicts with our desire to keep an open mind—or the way too open heart, eager to find love anywhere. If you feel a chill up your spine or witness any kind of behavior that seems “off” when you really don’t know someone well, that’s the time to run, not walk to the nearest exit.

On the other hand, if something is tickling your funny bone or you can remind yourself it’s “just a movie,” maybe a touch of the creeps is a relatively cheap thrill worth the occasional indulgence. I admit it. I have an approach-avoidance conflict to the bizarre as witnessed by my love of the cult TV show,
Twin Peaks and movies like Fargo. I can take dark drama/comedy, no matter how bizarre, as long as there is a lot of comic relief. Often these flicks or shows are too crazy to be real—and somehow the humor dilutes the horror. For the same reason, I’m a fan of the “cocktail mysteries” by J.A. Konrath.

Life without a skipped heartbeat now ‘n’ then might be just a bit too boring for the generation that grew up in the era of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. And, for me,
before that, who grew up on
Shock Theatre every Saturday night. I thought I had the most liberal parents on earth in the ‘50s because they didn’t censor my viewing and allowed Marvin and “Dear” to baby-sit me for a couple hours each weekend.

Meanwhile, ready, set, go—trick or treat! May all your things that go bump in the night be imaginary, not real.

Happy Halloweird!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Incognito: Costumes and Other Cheap Thrills




I have always loved costumes and reported in a previous post my penchant for getting up like Auntie Mame, the Purple People Eater, and a Christmas Tree, among other alter egos.

My first mystery novel, on the back burner for editing, is set at a costume affair called The Crystal Ball. It’s the 25-year anniversary of a longevity organization in San Francisco. The revelers are invited to Come As You Will Be in the Next 25 Years. You have no idea how much fun I’m having with that! I can invent costumes without regard to the problem I have in real life—mechanical execution. For example, Micki Michaels, the protagonist and head of PIOPEA, the Physical Immortalists on Planet Earth Association, attends the bash as a DNA molecule. Think the bar scene in Star Wars gone biotech.

What is it about costume parties, costume balls, and dressing up that gives us a cheap thrill like no other? In fact, the longstanding costume shop from the hippy dippy heyday of Sacramento is called
Cheap Thrills. It remains a local cultural icon.

Psychology of Costumes
No question in my mind will remain unanswered a click away from Google. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to know that our choice of costume says something about us. However, I found a
fascinating exercise proposed for teachers of clinical psychology. In a way, that’s all of us. Life is the clinic! The exercise: (1) Write down costumes you have worn in the past, (2) Write the costumes you’d like to wear in the future—then, (3) Let others in a class setting (or a gathering of family or friends) tell you what costumes they’d choose for you. Do I want to know?

I even found suggested
costumes for introverts! Again, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that introverts don’t like being the center of attention, but certain costumes are easier to hide behind than others. Or bestow a bit of of the brazen. And for those of you who want some costume interpretations without thinking too hard, click here for some expert opinions from a psychologist.

My Stab at the Costume Exercise
1. Costumes Past: You already know I’ve been Auntie Mame, the Purple People Eater, a cosmic cowgirl, and a Christmas tree. Oh, and Glitta from the Planet Glitz in a Golden Galaxy, dripping gold, not 14-carat.

2. Costumes Future: I decided I had to write down my pure desires, regardless of how ridiculous I might look in these get-ups at my current age, weight, etc. Try not to laugh too hard: trapeze artist, ballerina, CSI (complete with disposable gloves and that nifty specimen collection kit), and a private eye (beige trench coat and sunglasses). I suppose these all make sense, as I try to keep my balance while navigating the mysteries of life.

3. How My Friends Would Dress Me Up. Several of them were game! I just sent them an e-mail. Here’s are some of the surprising results with my parenthetical reactions:

-- I could see you in a Dorothy costume with cute little Toto in tow. (I hope it’s only my wide-eyed wonder of a child and my tendency toward glitzy accessories. I’d kill for those sparkly red shoes!) Yes, plus your persistence to get to your goal and help get others there, too, and to overcome obstacles and pick up friends along the way that are definitely not mainstream thinkers… which is a good thing! All of the
Joseph Campbell mythic journey is wrapped up in the one little story... you’re living it!

--I am not sure what costume I can see you wearing, but one of my favorite all- time costumes is a clear trash bag filled with colored balloons and the person inside wearing a leotard and tights in a bright color – and they are a bag of Jelly Bellies! (You were channeling! I love Jelly Bellies!)

-- Don’t laugh…I can see you in an Elvira costume. Also, Lily Tomlin as the little girl with the big lollypop. (I’m nothing if not versatile.)

Now, don’t you just have to try this for yourself?

All-Time Favorite Costume Ideas and Incidents
I tend to be most impressed with costumes that are objects of some sort. I think it’s much easier to portray a person—I already am one—than a thing. Morphing into an animated object takes real talent. One costume that caught my eye was someone in a paper box crafted as a traffic light, complete with ovals of changing colors—Go, Caution, STOP!

Here’s my most hilarious costume incident. Our neighbor down the street, a fun guy, but never known to be on the bold side, showed up early on Halloween night as an adult trick-or-treater. He was wearing one of my coveted costumes—a trench coat—only he had a different job in mind for it. As I opened the door, he ripped opened his coat like the proverbial dirty old man played by
Arte Johnson on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. His exposé revealed a large salami and two rounds of cheese hanging from his belt. (He was otherwise fully clothed.)

He got the last surprise when he stepped across the threshold and saw that he had just “exposed himself” to my sixty-something mother-in-law. A proper lady, Mom fortunately had a great sense of humor, but she still couldn’t put Paul at ease, who skulked home, embarrassed about his flashdance.

Probably the most clever costume party I ever heard of was called a Cocktail Party, and it was literal to its name. It happened in Wisconsin in the ‘70s. People came dressed as cocktails. I can only imagine the Harvey Wallbanger. I would have gone as a mint green Grasshopper. There was a Pink Lady, a Tequila Sunrise, and my favorite—six people who walked in together with a big brown box around them, bottle caps on their heads—a six-pack! Contest: Tell me how we’d adapt this to modern day. How would Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, or Charlotte from Sex & the City dress up like a Cosmo? I can’t begin to imagine where this would take one of my favorite boomers, the
Martini Diva, but I know she’ll Comment and tell your herself! (Sex on the Beach-a-tini would, no doubt, be the life of the Cocktail Party!)


Sacred/Secular
Like Day of the Dead that follows it on November 1, Halloween is a mixture of the sacred and secular--of life and death. Overall, the holiday has become highly commercialized and more people, adults included, are into decorating and dressing up. Seasonal costume shops are cropping up on more corners. For those sensitive to it, there is no denying that All Hallow’s Eve is a night where the veil between worlds is thin.

Halloween is a celebration of the hidden mysteries of life and the mystery of our own multifaceted natures—the parts still hidden inside us. As you get ready for this annual night of tricks, sugar rush, and brushing elbows with ghosts and goblins, see what you discover about yourself in the fun, in the disguise—in the touch of the forbidden—in the magic.


Photo: Joyce as Auntie Mame, Halloween 1985. This photo is featured only because I could not find the Purple People Eater or Christmas Tree pics. Maybe they’ll surface by next Halloween.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Word Peace

Words are as strong and powerful as bombs.
Dorothy Day, journalist, social activist, pacifist

Let the truth be your delight … Proclaim it, but with a certain congeniality.

St. Catherine of Sienna, contemplative, server of the sick, reformer, mystic

These quotes from two sage women touch on the effects of being outspoken—its impacts on others and ourselves. In the past week, I heard about two clergymen who risked their jobs and flocks to speak their peace. A friend urged me to blog about it. I hesitated, because this is more controversial than my normal fare, but following the lead of these two brave men, I felt it was worth the risk.

How do we deal in the modern world with deeply held beliefs, even those we consider matters of life and death, while honoring those who disagree with us? When do we simply have to speak out—and how?

Practice Makes Perfect, Not Practicing Makes War
The American presidential election gives us plenty of opportunity to practice what we do with our differences of opinion, both religious and political. On the broader world stage, these differences often lead to bombs of the literal variety. But as Dorothy Day observed, we volley the first bombs in our words.

Word bombs, incendiary debates, and inflammatory e-mails have no place on the path toward peace on earth with the possible exception of venting frustration among our sounding-board intimates—not aimed at those with opposing views. The longer we live, the more younger people look up to us and even our peers take our opinions more seriously. They know what we think is seasoned with a fully built character and a lifetime of experience. If anyone should watch our words, it’s those of us considered older and wiser. I am a work in progress when it comes to keeping my cool in hot debates. If anything, I tend to take the more cowardly route of avoiding them.

Example of a Heated Debate—Same-Sex Marriage
Here in California, the State Supreme Court has opened the door to same-sex marriage, determining it is unconstitutional to deny gays the right to marry. As we are infamous for on the Left Coast, we self-govern by ballot initiative. Proposition 8 would overturn this Supreme Court decision, if it passes next month.

I was wowed by the way a local Sacramento minister and a priest in nearby Fresno spoke their consciences on this subject, even though they hold opposite views of Proposition 8. One is for overturning the Supreme Court decision; the other is against it. Both respect and welcome gays into their spiritual communities. Their courage and heart give me hope that love is overcoming fear in our world. In case you haven’t heard of them, let me introduce you:

Rev. Rick Cole is pastor of a huge, conservative church in Sacramento called Capital Christian Center. While he supports Prop. 8 to overturn same-sex marriage, he is disturbed by the hateful rhetoric around it. His sermon drew tears as he talked about his sense of duty to speak out. "Jesus addressed the issues of his day," he says. "But he spoke with gentleness and compassion." The
Sacramento Bee contains the full details of his moving pitch to treat all people by the Golden Rule.

Fr. Geoffrey Farrow was pastor of Saint Paul Newman Center on the campus of the University of California - Fresno. I say was, because predictably, when he came out against Prop. 8 and out of the closet as a homosexual, all in one homily at Sunday Mass, he was summarily dismissed from his priestly duties. He knew he would be. A day later, the new pastor’s bio was already on the Center’s website. Fr. Farrow could no longer remain what he considered “an accomplice to moral evil” in denying rights to gays. That he is gay, himself, he believes is a secondary issue. Here are details of his
homily. For those interested in following up on the aftermath, visit Fr. Farrow’s blog.

“We Should Worry Less about How We Love and More about How We Hate”
An acquaintance of mine said this to me when, to her surprise, she discovered she was gay. This happened long after she was divorced and still co-raising children with her ex. If people get so upset over love between consenting adults, how do we control our passions over the truly life-and-death disagreements such as abortion, euthanasia, and war?


Protest the War of Words
I am not here to persuade you toward my worldview, which is moderately left of center in most matters. I do encourage you to think about how you use words.

Here are some examples of what I see peers doing that do not promote peace and some suggested alternatives:

-- Abstain from name-calling and mud slinging toward political candidates. Whatever side of the fence you’re on, railing and playing “ain’t it awful” with your friends against the candidate you dislike has little purpose but to keep you riled up and vibrating with negative energy. (After awhile, if you’re forwarding endless emails poking fun at one candidate or fomenting fear, rather than sharing objective information, you may want to reconsider.) Why not do something positive with your passion, like volunteer for the party of your choice or send a financial contribution to help your candidate win?

-- Listen objectively to views opposing yours. Sarah Palin does not lack intelligence, even though she may be uninformed about things some voters consider crucial. Barack Obama is not some sort of “Muslim Manchurian candidate,” a great summary of the latest flap by Jake Tapper, Senior National Correspondent for ABC News. And even if you think John McCain is too old and out of touch to be your choice, he gets my vote for making the most compassionate political move I’ve observed of late. He asked people at his town hall meeting to tone down their inflammatory rhetoric about Obama, who thanked him for it publicly.

-- Take political humor with a grain of salt. My husband and I love to watch
Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Bill is liberal to the extreme. Sometimes hyperbole helps a person solidify where they stand. I respect many of Bill’s conservative guests and often take their points, even though their views differ from mine overall. I am unhappy, though, with Bill’s rants against people of faith. He thinks all people with spiritual beliefs are childish idiots, who cannot think for themselves. This is a mild paraphrase of language he uses on his show. According to his bio, Bill’s father was Irish Catholic, his mother Jewish, and he was raised Catholic. I relate to this combo and some of the angst it can cause (raised Catholic in a Jewish neighborhood. Talk about guilt!) Bill could have become a man of true tolerance with his exposure to two religions. Instead, he has thrown out the baby with the holy water. He makes fun of believers, insisting they cannot be both intelligent and spiritual. Still, one of my friends who suffered much pain because of religion finds his humor hysterically healing. I would have, too, at a different phase in my life. I am lucky to have worked through my early religious traumas—to have put them in perspective. I don’t feel like seeing his film, Religulous, no matter how tongue-in-cheek or funny. To see his movie would be a vote for intolerance and misinformation—a step back to sulk in old pain—even though I support his right to make it and even to make fun of me. But is it peacemaking? Maybe, ultimately, for those it helps heals, but not for me. On political topics, Bill criticizes the current administration relentlessly for what he considers warmongering. Maybe he could make peace by looking at his wordmongering.

What You Say Matters
I have been on a spiritual quest most of my life. It has taken me to the doors of many different churches, temples, and mosques, whether as a seeker or visitor. It has helped me appreciate the gold in many faiths and how so many of the core teachings are the same. Same God/Spirit, different flavors—like the Baskin & Robbins of Beliefs. All ice cream tastes good. Why would we diss and hiss at people who like Fudge Ripple instead of Vanilla Bean? You could argue this is oversimplified, but one’s spiritual path, or lack thereof, is really a matter of taste and resonance.

Same goes for politics, the other heated topic. My example of the same-sex marriage decision in California brings politics and religion together. It’s becoming more difficult to separate them, even in a country founded on the separation of church and state. I’m not sure where we draw the line. Most of our politics come out of our ethics, formed for most of us by our spiritual beliefs. What both Fr. Farrow and Rev. Cole have done is to speak their truth with congeniality, as St. Catherine advised, with respect toward those who disagree with them. This echoes the same kind of peaceful protest I was first exposed to, as a child, by Rev. Martin Luther King.

Perhaps the best “between the eyes” commentary on our habit of letting our emotions and language run wild was spoken by a fictional politician, Senator Robert McAllister, on the TV show
Brothers and Sisters. Played by Rob Lowe, Sen. McAllister angrily asks his wife’s high- drama family to stop acting like children who blurt out everything they feel unedited and to “get some filters.” That’s what grown-ups do, even if it’s difficult.

Words are our medium of communication and understanding. We make or break peace every day by how we use them. I invite you not just to visualize “word peace,” but also to verbalize it in every sentence you speak.

In the powerful words of an unforgettable song,
Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Watts New? A Contest!


Sometimes Cool Insights are more literal than those figurative light bulbs of meaning that pop into our heads more often, the longer we live. After reading my last post on eco-shopping and the Sierra Club Sock-athon, the PR staff at Home Depot asked if I’d share this cool contest with you. I am happy to oblige:

The Home Depot wants to know how people are saving energy in their home in its video contest: “Save Money. Save Energy. Win Big.” Just shoot a short video to show how you're saving money and helping the environment by making your home more energy efficient.

Anyone can log on to
www.homedepot.com/youtube to enter their video between now and Nov. 9, 2008. The contest winner will receive a $5,000 Home Depot gift card and up to $2,000 for installed insulation or radiant barrier products from The Home Depot.

Good luck! May the best bulb win—the idea that turns into the best energy savi
ngs.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Retro, Eco, Reinvented, Recycled!


As baby boomers, we may want to “explode the old Old,” but we still appreciate a blast from the past and retro anything. We are also made for buying products fashioned from recycled and earth-friendly materials. Not only do we know the benefits of oldies but goodies, whether people (ourselves!) or things; we have usually put materiality into perspective by now. We want to do our part to use less and waste as little as possible. We want to keep our planet green for future generations, especially for our own grandkids.

In my past life as a civil servant for three decades, I worked for over half my career for a unique agency, the
California Integrated Waste Management Board. My jobs at the Board over the years focused the 4 R’s—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and buy Recycled and earth-friendly products. I’d like to tell you about two of the programs where I worked and what I learned about how to green up your cupboards and closets. Then—teaser!—I’m going to tell you about an exciting way you can check off some items on your holiday shopping list while making the planet more sustainable and a few homeless people warmer this winter.

Green Jobs
One of the best jobs of my long career was Coordinator of the California Materials Exchange—
CalMAX for short. CalMAX helps California business, government, schools, and nonprofit organizations save money by matching them with materials others want to get rid of. One of the best parts is the price—cheap or free! The business offering materials reduces its disposal costs. The business receiving materials cuts its costs for making products.

At the helm of CalMAX, I felt like I was like running a dating service for “stuff.” You could not believe the amazing exchanges that took place and the human interest stories behind them. For my retrospective on the program, including some of the most exciting exchanges, see
Thanks to the MAX for the Memories or the Connections page. Don’t miss my all-time favorite exchange, Cradle to Grave Recycling. I like to point out that CalMAX began in 1992, three years before the start-up of eBay. It remains a model for how networking can redistribute wealth, create relationships, and make the world a better place.

Following four years at CalMAX, I spent the next seven in the
Recycling Market Development Zone program--RMDZ. This is the job I retired from in 2005. RMDZ offers technical support and low-interest loans to help businesses use recycled materials to make their products. By now, there are many gorgeous recycled or eco-friendly items of every kind, but I have been “in the biz” since many were still prototypes on the drawing board. Thanks to the eco-commitment of these visionaries over the last decade or two, we now have gorgeous everyday items to choose from that support the planet while giving us comfort and even glamour.


Green Home
From
funky to fabulous, just Google “recycled furniture” and prepare to be dazzled! For dinnerware, there’s nothing more breathtaking than the recycled glass products from Fire and Light. Here are some folks who got creative with eye-popping results, morphing used plastic tableware into lamps. Unique clocks, anyone? Choose from retro and recycled, kitchen funky, gorgeous recycled glass, or paintings on old vinyl records. If they can put hands on it, someone has “clocked” it.

Anything you need, search with the adjectives recycled or eco-, and you’ll find it—including architects and decorators. On that score, I can recommend two magazines my husband reads faithfully—and loves—if you want to morph your home to your own earth-friendly castle. Dwell focuses on green architecture, while Natural Home is on planet friendly interior decorating. It has even recently introduced its own line of sustainable products.

Green Chic
Move over Carrie Bradshaw! Yes, you can be fashionable and green. Here are just a few links from the potpourri of choices: Green Loop, Eco Fashion on a Budget, Green Fashion Formerly Hippie, Now Hip. Even Elle Magazine has jumped on the eco-fashion bandwagon. Here’s a list of eco-online fashion stores, and you might be surprised to find some cool, green choices right on the racks of your local Target store.

Sock It to Me!
While I’m not talking about the old TV show Laugh In, it’s always a good retro memory. Instead, I’m making good on that promise for an earth- happy holiday shopping idea. Buy Sierra Club Socks and participate in this non-profit agency’s Sock-athon, starting November 1. Check the Socks link for a hilarious spoof on a famous crime family, The Sockfather. One of the stars of the short film is Leslie Flowers, a sister member of Boomer Diva Nation. Great job, Leslie!

As to the socks themselves: Sierra Club socks are made from organic cotton, bamboo, soy and other earth friendly yarns. They're comfortable and they support Sierra Club programs. The socks link will tell you why they help the planet and how the proceeds will help the Sierra Club with donations, pair for pair, to the
National Coalition for the Homeless.

There’s a link on the Sock site for registering to participate and making a commitment to buy socks during the Sock-athon, but I’m repeating it here, so you can jump right in with both feet.

Think stocking stuffers or decorating these cool socks to hang on your mantle. Stuff them with more socks. They look like the kind I want to pad around in all winter. At the rate we lose socks to that black hole the dryer; I ought to buy them by the bushel.

Why not make eco-friendly your holiday theme this year?
Bing me! I’m dreaming of a green Christmas …


Photo Credit: © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mentors and My Favorite Myth



The
Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the animated film, Fantasia, is one of Walt Disney’s most memorable characters. In the millions of images swirling in the subconscious of baby boomers, Mickey Mouse plays an apprentice who gets too big for his britches and starts playing with magic before he has the skills to control some of his experiments. This is just one of many good reasons for a monitored apprenticeship!

Mentoring is a lot like an apprenticeship. Mentors take their mentees under wing to teach them a job, a craft, or a life skill—anything from music to magic to managing to be a kind and loving human being. Mentoring is often more informal than an apprenticeship training program. If you’re a parent, aunt or uncle, an older brother or sister, or a teacher, you mentor others all the time, usually kids. Bosses may ask a long-time employee to mentor another employee new to the job. In
Toastmasters, the Vice President of Education assigns all members a more experienced mentor.

The Mentor Years
Now is the perfect time in life for baby boomers to serve as mentors. One
definition of mentor is an influential senior sponsor or supporter. Mentors bolster and cheerlead. Memoir writing can be a form of mentoring by example—why I write this genre and encourage other boomers to do so. With 28 percent of the US population reaching the wisdom years all at once, boomers represent more than a brain trust. We’re nearly an embarrassment of riches. As “seasoned citizens,” we have the ability to share what we’ve learned about making life meaningful—not just with other people supposedly entering the golden years—but with people of all ages. Indigenous elders have done this in their tribes for eons. I call this practice indi-genius. In the Foreword of Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights—the book—I talk about a boomer icon, the stage play Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. Your tribe needs you now more than ever!

Chiron, Mythical Mentor
One of the most fascinating and useful things I learned in my study of astrology is mythology. Planetary bodies are named after mythical beings, mostly from the Greek tradition. Since I’m half-Greek by ancestry, I was probably drawn to the mythology more than most people. It’s in my blood.

I fell in love with the meaning of the planetary body
Chiron (KY’-ron), discovered in 1977. As both a planet and myth, Chiron is primarily symbolic of how we find wholeness. Chiron, the planet, was named after the famous and kind centaur, whose upper half was man—his bottom half, horse.

Chiron mentored heroes in Northeastern Greece on Mt. Pelion. His charges were famous in the galaxy of Greek mythological stars, among them Hercules, Asclepius (the Father or Medicine), and Achilles. Chiron became my astrological specialty. Not hard to understand why I fell in love! Chiron symbolizes a skeleton key that unlocks the portal to where we find fulfillment. I learned there is both a personal and community aspect to “finding ourselves.” We all have gifts we must give in order to feel complete. I write about this need in a chapter of Hot Flashbacks called, “It’s Just Got to Come Out of You.” However, it’s not satisfying to live our passions in a vacuum. We must find how to give our gifts in a way that also benefits our community.

How Chiron Mentored Heroes
Chiron provided a well-rounded education to young heroes-in-training at his boarding school on Mt. Pelion. His education was holistic and included not just the martial arts, but the creative arts, as well. He taught in a balanced way, the full spectrum of skills, from archery to music. The discovery of Chiron coincides with men getting in contact with their animas, helping to rear children, like the many Chiron both foster-parented and mentored. Once there was matriarchy, then there was patriarchy. The discovery of Chiron signals a chance in our lifetime for true integration of all polarities within us and the “oppositions” we experience with others. One of his astrological meanings is bridge between heaven and earth. If we’re not in inner or outer conflict, that’s heaven!

My Mentoring Assignment
I was just sitting at my computer minding my own business one day recently, when I got a surprise request from a friend. Would I be interested in mentoring her daughter, a high school senior, in a writing project? My heart said yes immediately—it nearly leapt out of my chest. My mind, of course, said “too busy.” After asking some questions about time commitment and specific need, I sat with the idea and got a green light from Spirit. Kayla and I have teamed on her book-writing project. I love playing Chiron, and I can’t wait to see how this relationship contributes to the development of her special gifts. I could tell from the first paragraph of her book: she is a terrific writer and visionary in the making. I am already proud of anything I can do to coach her into what leaps off the page as her true destiny.

Where Can You Mentor?
Of course, there are many opportunities to become a mentor, if this idea appeals to you. Transmit your desire from your mind-spirit and bolster them with prayer, meditation, or however you connect with the larger cosmic consciousness. This intention will often bring a chance to help right to your doorstep, telephone—or e-mail box!

However, if your inner guidance says
seek, and ye shall find, you can start with the organization, Mentor. It defines mentoring and provides a list of organizations, such as Big Brothers & Big Sisters, searchable by zip code and within a designated mile radius. I was surprised to find a dozen organizations within 15 miles of my home providing mentoring services to young people. Churches and nearly every other kind of organization offer opportunities to help show the ropes to members, both young and older alike. In my own church, I am a lay minister in a program that mentors individuals returning to their faith after a long absence. Since I’d been there and done it—returned after more than 40 years away—I wanted to share the excitement of how I integrated my larger spiritual journey into my homecoming to the church of my childhood.

Mentoring Magic
If I can help Kayla take even a single step toward claiming the place where she lives her passion, while sharing her greatest gifts with others, it will be one of my most fulfilling accomplishments. There is a divine domino effect in “
each one, teach one.” There is no doubt in my mind why no man is an island. Earth is a school, and each human being we encounter is one of the many mentors or teachers in the custom curriculum of our soul development.

Who could resist helping create a planet with a lot of soul?



Image: The Education of Achilles (ca. 1772) by James Barry (1741-1806), oil on canvas, depicting the education of Achilles by the centaur Chiron. Located at the Yale Center for British Art. Public domain.