Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Year's Promises

We're getting well into the New Year. So how are you doing with your New Year's resolutions? Are they fading from your memory and resolve? Do you feel a sense of guilt and dread when you think of them? Are you giving up on them -- or did you decide not to make resolutions at all this year?

The tradition of New Year's resolutions taps into our desire for fresh starts, new beginnings, finally tackling a long-time challenge like weight or general health and fitness or other necessary or desirable life changes. The problem for many of us is that the resolutions seem like judgements, like setups to fail once more.

Maybe this is the year to try something new.

Instead of resolving to lose weight or get fit or change jobs or get together with friends more, make some promises to yourself for 2017.

Why promises?

Promises may feel more positive and less punitive than resolutions. Promises bring hope.

The best New Year's  promises focus on healthy processes rather than results. Think about it. When you've resolved to lose ten pounds --or sixty -- you may experience frustration, a feeling of being overwhelmed and perhaps be plagued with perfectionistic thinking and behavior that leads you to believe that if you have one minor cheat, the whole day or week is lost. With weight loss and other long-term goals, it can be all too easy to lose heart and quit trying.

A promise that focuses on a process, on the other hand, can bring you pleasure along the way.

What kind of promises could you make to yourself this year?

I promise myself the freshest, most nutritious food and drink possible. This promise isn't about restrictive dieting but about excellent self-care. Losing the fast food, the doughnuts and the soft drinks doesn't have to mean deprivation but liberation to enjoy top quality nutrition. Think about how good it feels to eat a delicious piece of fruit. The doughnut may call out to you, especially if you're at an emotional low point, but how do you feel afterwards? Noticing the difference in how you feel after eating a refreshing salad vs. a double Whopper can be instructive. That doesn't mean you won't occasionally indulge in a doughnut or a Whopper. But focusing on the feelings of lightness and energy you feel after a nutritious meal can help to keep those guilty pleasures as once-every-now-and-then treats rather than daily fare. And there may come a time when you find that you're more tempted by healthier treats. The thought behind this promise is not weight loss but good self care.

What self-care promises could you make to yourself this year?

I promise myself more engagement with life. That can mean getting off the couch and moving more: taking a walk and noticing the beauty around you, greeting others, enjoying active time with your pet, seeing your neighborhood in a new way. It can also mean getting more involved with your community through your church, a local school, a charitable cause. An editor with whom I once worked has never married and has no children. But after he retired and moved to Kauai, he spearheaded efforts in his community to improve resources at local schools, making a huge difference to teachers and students and becoming a loved and respected member of the local community. Being engaged with life means more connection with others -- being kind, being there for friends, being a blessing in the life of another.

How can you imagine being more engaged with life -- physically and emotionally -- in 2017?

I promise myself little surprises and rebellions. This may be the surprise of trying something entirely new and finding that you enjoy it. It may mean taking the risk of learning a new skill and tolerating being being not so good at it -- and feeling glad simply to be learning something new.

I've always regretted never learning to play a musical instrument in my youth. Frankly, that regret hasn't translated into a yearning to learn at this stage of my life, but it's good for our brains to learn entirely new skills as we age. Encouraged by my husband Bob, who is an accomplished musician on multiple instruments, I have decided to start learning to play an electric guitar. Right now, we're keeping the volume low as I struggle to learn cords. What my husband --and so many others -- do so easily, I do awkwardly and have yet to play any recognizable tune. But there is hope for a more tuneful future and a certain pleasure in meeting an entirely new challenge.

Hoping for a more tuneful future....

Little surprises and rebellions may mean challenging the notion that, now that you're no longer young, it's silly to do something you've always wanted to do. For years, Bob has talked of getting a tattoo always with a background of my howls of protest. Last month while I was out of town, he decided to go for it. I came home to see a band tattooed around his upper left arm. And, once I recovered from the shock, I realized, first, that it really did suit him and, second, that it was never about me anyway but something that he had always wanted. And I was happy for him.

Bob and his new tattoo

I surprised myself last week by doing something I had often thought about when younger and had totally dismissed in the past few decades: getting my ears pierced.

I've always loved the look of earrings but found it easy to distract myself from any action with thoughts that I fear needles more than I like jewelry. More recently, I've contended that doing something like that at my age is just plain silly. But this Christmas, my dear friend Tim gave me some earrings -- for pierced ears -- that I really love. Tim and I have been close friends for more than 50 years and are in touch almost daily. But, since he lives in Chicago and I live in rural Arizona, we rarely see each other. So he ordered those earrings from England, thinking that I had pierced ears. I took one look his carefully chosen gift and decided that this was an excellent time to revisit and act on my adolescent yearning.

Tim's inspiring gift

Newly pierced ears!

So, at nearly 72, with my new piercings and learning to play an electric guitar, I'm keeping this particular promise to myself in ways that surprise and delight me.

What ways could you surprise yourself this New Year?

I promise myself peace. This can mean many things. To some it may mean withdrawing from television news, political podcasts, Facebook rants and other sources of stress. For others, it may mean taking action instead of stewing inwardly. It may mean making different choices: not engaging in pointless conflict or being with people who bring you down. To still others, it may mean learning to meditate and practicing mindfulness.

It can also mean finding new ways to be at peace with what is.

My cousin Caron, whose life has been shaken to the core by some significant losses of family and friends and whose worsening COPD has limited her activities in ways she could never have imagined only a few years ago, says that her daily mantra has become "It is what it is." And cultivating peace and acceptance with what is in her life has freed her to appreciate its blessings -- particularly the love of her husband Bud, her sweetheart since they were 14-year-old high school freshmen, as he cares for her with great tenderness. Together, they have discovered humor in the vicissitudes of life and gratitude for the blessing of each other.

Lately their equanimity has been tested by concerns about Bud's health as he undergoes medical testing due to some recent worrisome symptoms. "Sometimes my imagination gets carried away and I think I'm losing my mind," Caron told me yesterday. "Then I have to bring myself back to the present and just appreciate what we have now, this minute. Life is so interesting. None of these bad things were in my plans. But you never know. We just have to keep doing the best we can and reminding ourselves that it is what it is -- and treasure every minute we have with each other."

How might you bring peace into your life this year?

Caron and Bud Roudebush: Married almost 58 years!

I promise to surround myself with love. Keeping this promise to yourself can mean so many things.

It might mean visiting long-time friends and family more often. It might mean adopting a pet from a local shelter or working for a cause on behalf of animals, children or the underserved. It might mean taking time to write a letter letting someone special know you love him or her. Or it could mean taking time to say the "Thank you!" you had always meant to say to someone in your life. It could mean cheering another on, mentoring someone younger, congratulating someone on a job well done or a life beautifully lived.

There are so many ways we can surround ourselves with love.

I thought about this the other day when I got an email from our class representative busy planning details of the 50th reunion of Northwestern University's Class of 1967. The person was asking for love stories -- specifically, the stories of couples who had met while students and married and are still together, with photos requested of then and now. And I thought about how very many different love stories I have from my college years that were not about marriage and couplehood but, nevertheless, are about enduring love: my wonderful roommates, three of whom have passed away, and one, Ruth, who is still very much with me though we live a great distance from each other; friends like Jeanne and Georgie, Bruce, Robert and Mary whose memories intersect with my own and whose lives and love have continued to bless mine. Then there is Tim, my favorite classmate from NU '67, whose constant and loving presence in my life has not only been an incredible blessing, but also has become multi-generational, bringing the joy of friendship with several of his adult children.

With Tim during our 45th Northwestern University class reunion

With Tim's daughter Mary Kate - December 2016

The people whose lives intersect with ours at all stages of life -- school, work, child-raising, retirement -- are all part of the delicious love that surrounds us. Some are easier to embrace, to share loving feelings with than others. But surrounding ourselves with love means reaching out in many ways. In my own life, I reach out to my dear friend Mary with frequent visits to her and to her ailing husband John and, in between, sharing and enjoying insights into life present and future; to my husband Bob, to our "surrogate son" Ryan, my lifelong friend Pat and to my family in ways that celebrate the people they have grown to be; to the special people with whom we can share our authenticity, including silliness; to those we rarely see but are often in our thoughts.

Mary and me - December 2016

In mid-December, I traveled back to Los Angeles for a week, celebrating and immersing myself in the love of some special people. I spent several days with Mary and John Breiner, sharing concern, hope and laughter; a lovely day with Mary Kate Schellhardt, Tim's ebullient, warm and insightful actress daughter, and another with Sister Rita McCormack, my brother's first grade teacher and my dear friend since I was 8 and she was a 23-year-old nun just arrived from Ireland. She's now 86 and frail and I was able to thank her for being there for me when I was an 8-year-old struggling to recover from polio and find a way to belong in my parochial school class of 60. For the first time, she told me a story that explained our early affinity for each other: she had been stricken with TB at the age of 9 and was out of school for two years. When she had seen me, she remembered well how difficult and lonely her own re-introduction to school had been and reached out immediately. And, all these years later, we embraced, thankful for so many years of love and friendship.

Sister Rita, my friend for 64 years!

And I visited my brother Mike and his family -- wife Jinjuta, children Maggie, 7, and Henry, 4 and felt totally immersed in their whirlwind life of traveling between their homes in Bangkok and Los Angeles, challenging work, Maggie's imaginative princess games, recreational political rants, Henry's dinosaur tales, child-inspired chaos and sweet, loving moments.

Authenic family silliness: Jinjuta, Henry and Maggie

My brother Mike and me

Authentic family sentiment: a love note from Maggie

And then I returned home for the holidays with Bob and our four sweet, cuddly cats. It doesn't get any better than that.

    A very Ollie Christmas with our two year old cat Ollie                                 

Surrounding ourselves with love can mean reaching out, appreciating love however we find it and
living with gratitude for the love that has blessed our lives.

What would it mean for you to promise to surround yourself with love?

This promise and the ones that came before it are all about nurturing, not torturing, ourselves. They are all promises well worth keeping.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Reclaiming Your Holiday Spirit

Holiday spirits seem to be sagging this year.

For some, it's the lingering bitterness of the prolonged election process 2016 -- not solely (or at all) because of the results but because of the the toxicity and divisiveness of the campaigns.

For others, life changes keep spirits at low ebb as one longs for days gone by. Holidays are a time of togetherness, for better or for worse, for some. For others, the holidays are a time of missing special people. Those empty chairs at holiday celebrations may have been vacated by death, through estrangement or simply from children growing up, moving away and establishing their own families. These days, their busy lives may not always include getting together with parents for the holidays.

My dear friend Tim once lived in a large house filled with children and pets and laughter. Now the children are grown and living in different parts of the country. Tim lives alone in a lovely, but small city apartment. He wonders if he has room even for a tiny Christmas tree that no one but he may see.

My dear friend Mary, who has always loved Christmas, has a special challenge this year: her beloved husband Terry is in hospice care and the holidays have a bittersweet quality -- gratitude for each day they have together and anticipatory grief for future holidays that will be so different.

Both friends are naturally joyous and love the holidays, but, like a number of people this year, they have good reasons to feel a touch of melancholy.

If you share some melancholy feelings this season, it's important to honor those emotions, to feel your grief and sadness and longing, but then to let memories of the past and hopes for the future happily season the melancholy.

Holiday joy isn't just fueled by our present holiday circumstances but also by our warmly remembered holidays past. All of those memories of Christmas (and other holidays) past are part of us. They're not to be mourned but celebrated.

Reclaiming your holiday spirit can mean going back to those times for a joyous visit in your mind, celebrating the fact that these happened instead of making sad comparisons with the past and today.

So, just for a moment, go back through the years to the excitement and wonder of Christmas as a child. What was this like? What sensations and experiences do you remember?

Christmas 1947

I remember the fun of Advent calendars and being surprised by hidden gum drops under my pillow, left by elves, my parents told me. I remember singing in the church choir for Christmas services, loving the music and the spectacle and the feeling of a deeper meaning to the holiday beyond gifts and feasts. I remember the smell of baking cookies and special pies, the arrival of my Kansas grandmother's fudge in the mail and the creamy goodness of each piece, savored through the holiday season.

Gifts weren't a huge part of Christmas in my childhood home. But I remember some special gifts that are still with me today or that live on in vivid memory.

When I was about ten or eleven, Aunt Molly gave me a boxed set of records featuring my idol Cyril Ritchard reading "Alice in Wonderland" -- a gift I treasure to this day. That pretty much encapsulated my passions at the time: I loved Cyril Richard and I was on a major Lewis Carroll kick. The gift couldn't have been better chosen or more appreciated! I still listen to this magical recording from time to time and think of my beloved aunt with love and gratitude whenever I do.

And then there was the Christmas when I was six and still recovering from polio. I was just beginning the long process of physical therapy and learning to walk again after months of hospitalization. My passion at the time was a local television show called "Frosty Frolics", an ice-skating extravaganza staged anew every week. I asked my parents for a pair of ice skates. They knew I would outgrow them before I could ever possibly use them. But they gave me the skates -- and a boost of hope. So as I watched "Frosty Frolics", I used to lie in bed with the skates on, dreaming of a time when I, too, could glide across the ice. That time never came. But the hope and optimism that gift brought me have lived on forever to become a part of my love for the holidays.

What brought you joy and hope in your early holiday experiences? And how do these linger on?
Now travel back in time to those busy days of raising your own children, delighting in their excitement over the first snow of the season, of trimming the tree together and of enjoying family holiday rituals.

I remember those times so vividly. I wasn't blessed with children, but I so enjoyed getting Christmas cards with pictures of my friends' children and news of their activities and accomplishments. I started a Christmas album many years ago so I could watch these special children grow up in Christmas pictures.. My friend Tim's four wonderful children appear on many pages of this album, growing from babies and toddlers to accomplished and kind, giving adults in what seemed like a heartbeat. Now I'm seeing and enjoying the next generation in pictures that are going into this same special Christmas album.

Tim's Christmas Picture about 1985
From left: Laura, Stephen, Eliza, Mary Kate

I remember cooking and hosting family holiday dinners from the time I was in my mid-twenties until Aunt Molly died in 2004 and my siblings moved far away. I loved the preparations and the celebrations -- in my tiny studio apartment, in a townhouse and finally a lovely house shared with my husband Bob and the scene of many family festivities.

One of the most precious holiday memories from that time: the Thanksgiving that we welcomed my beloved cousin Jack, his wonderful parents Evelyn and Elmer, and his in-laws -- all from Kansas City. The reason for their being in California was tragic: Jack's wife Tanzy, whom we all loved so much, had just died of cancer at the age of 35 three days before. But in the grieving, there was a wonderful intimacy and in our despair, there came to be hope, sparked by the love we all felt for her and each other. It was a very special day. We laughed together. We cried together. And we built some lasting and loving memories together.

What are your favorite memories from this busy time of your life? Which ones linger to warm your heart to this day?

Perhaps, like me, you're now having quieter holidays, with fewer pressures and obligations. Maybe you've become the guest rather than the host. Maybe you still prepare your holiday favorites -- at a grown child's house. Maybe you've begun to make your own holiday rituals.

A friend of mine, whose adult daughter prefers to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with only her husband and two children, has a new holiday routine she has come to enjoy (after recovering from the initial shock and disappointment of not being included in her daughter's family holidays). She and her husband visit her daughter to celebrate the holiday and exchange gifts on December 23. They spend Christmas Eve at home, listening to Christmas music, enjoying the sparkling tree and eating take-out Chinese food. On Christmas, they sleep late, lounge in pajamas all day and read, play board games and share feelings about what delights them -- from Christmases past or present.

A wonderful part of reclaiming holiday spirit is seeing, once more, the fun of Christmas through the eyes of a new generation -- grandchildren or, in my case, my niece Maggie, 7, and nephew Henry, 4, the children of my brother Mike and his wife Amp. They usually live in Bangkok, Thailand but travel to the U.S. for Christmas every year. And together with my brother, I prepare a Christmas feast while Maggie watches closely "so I can make the same food when I'm grown up..." There is a wonderful feeling of continuity in that promise.

                                                     Family Christmas 2014
                                      Mike, Maggie, Me, Vivo and Nora
And there is pleasure in continuing holiday rituals.

My friend Mary and her husband are keeping an Advent calendar and a special Advent ritual. Every evening, they light candles, say special prayers and meditate on a particular Biblical passage. A feeling of peace and warm connection prevails. Mary is also busy picking just the right gifts for family and friends and is stirring up batches of her famous fudge -- nearly as tasty and creamy as my grandmother's.

Mary and Terry 2016
Sharing joy in every day

My friend Tim has decided that he can and will make room in his small apartment for a little Christmas tree this year. He is delighted as he chooses just the right gifts for his children and three small grandchildren Arthur, Lucy and baby Leah. And, while not all of his adult children will be able to make it back to Chicago for the holidays, he looks forward to lots of FaceTime visits and to helping to prepare a Christmas brunch at his daughter Laura's home.

There is so much to celebrate as life comes full circle in a delicious blend of past and present: a first snow, the smells of holiday baking, Christmas carols and the special joy of seeing a new generation thrill in the holiday season.

   Leah Yarbrough  
                                           Daughter of Eliza and Chris                                                                                   

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Surviving Holiday Season 2016

The prevailing mood going into the Holiday Season 2016 is, perhaps, best summed up by a current ad for Stove Top stuffing that warns: "If you run out of stuffing, they'll start talking politics..."

Never has this warning carried more weight than in the wake of a long, bitter presidential race that divided many families in the process of polarizing the nation.

I see it all around me.

A brother and sister are so at odds over the campaigns and the election -- he was for Hillary, she for Trump -- that, as much as they love each other otherwise, they can't imagine getting together over the Thanksgiving feast.

Another friend, horrified that her elderly parents voted for Trump, is torn over holiday plans. "Every holiday, I'm afraid it will be their last. Even though I'm really mad at them, I want to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. I'm just trying to figure out how to make it a nice day for everyone when there is still so much anger between us."

A close friend of mine has been angry with his three siblings, all Trump supporters, and is estranged from one brother who is still not speaking to him even after the election. Is an extended family holiday celebration on his calendar? Not likely.

Other families are planning for Thanksgiving dinner with all the kin -- and, while hoping for the best, are bracing themselves for more than the usual family fireworks.

If you're part of a family divided by the contentious election of 2016, how can you deal with the quickly upcoming holidays in a way that doesn't create more anger and resentment?

First you need to make a decision. Do you want to celebrate the holidays together, despite your differences and fears of a politically-inspired family donnybrook? Do you want to have a calm, quiet
Thanksgiving while leaving Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and/or New Year's open? Do you want to spend the whole Holiday Season 2016 with quiet, scaled down celebrations?

If you're planning to host or attend a traditional, all-family-inclusive Thanksgiving celebration:

  • Consider requesting a moratorium on political discussion. In extending or accepting invitations, request that conversation steer clear of political grumbling or gloating, concentrating on fun family memories, feelings of gratitude and acts of kindness. Or, as a diversionary tactic, bring back games. Haul Trivial Pursuits out of storage. Play cards or charades. Try a family songfest. Head to the back yard for some touch football or catch. Watch football or parades on television together. Do anything but continue to argue about Trump vs. Clinton.
  • Think about taking your family celebration to a restaurant this year. This may lead to more polite, civilized behavior among family members. In suggesting this alternative, you might say that this has been a hard year for everyone and that giving all a break from cooking and cleanup might be just the thing for a more harmonious holiday. 
  • Be kind. Being kind may mean listening without arguing or putting differences aside by expressing love and pleasure in being together. If your candidate won, save your exaltation for like-minded friends. If your candidate lost, save your horror and fears of impending disaster for a more receptive audience of friends. Tread gently with family. 
  • Put love first. As much as you may disagree with certain family members, give them a break. In so many ways in the past, we've made allowances for family members for differences, for  eccentricities or  signs of sheer madness, for quirks that may or may not be endearing. So why not now? Let your love for each other prompt all of your words and actions this holiday.

If you're planning to postpone family get-togethers until later in the holiday season:

  • Be specific about future plans.  If you can't bear the idea of Thanksgiving, but think you might be up for a Christmas Eve or earlier tree-trimming family party, share your plans so that family members will know that you're not removing yourself from family celebrations long-term.
  • If you're having a Thanksgiving dinner, plan carefully.  It isn't in the interests of family harmony to invite only people with whom you agree politically. Either announce and follow through with plans for a simple immediate, nuclear family celebration or with a dinner with or even a holiday getaway with friends. Don't set the tone for further family polarization by inviting some extended family but not others. 
  • Let extended family know you're thinking of them. A card or note wishing them a happy Thanksgiving and talking of your desire to see them at a specific later date can help to smooth ruffled feelings and keep you in touch with each other.
  • Put love first. Though you may be opting out of a full-family Thanksgiving, choosing to stay away for the time being, express your love for family members --those who agree with you and those who disagree -- with a note, a phone call or text, letting each person know that you love and value them.

If you're planning to have a quiet Holiday Season 2016 either alone or with only immediate family:

  • Let extended family know that this isn't forever.  It may be that you will choose to skip the more rambunctious family gatherings well into the future. But it's hard to know. This year has been such a contentious, divisive one. Feelings are still raw. What you know for sure is that you need a rest from the usual this year. Next year may be different. Or not. But focus on more immediate intentions: to get a rest from what has been an unusually difficult year for everyone.
  • Make the holiday special for yourself (and immediate family if applicable). Do something you've always wanted to do but never could when hosting or attending large family holidays. Spend the day at the movies or indulge in old or new favorites via Netflix. Volunteer to serve meals to the needy through your church or a local charity. Take a last minute trip. Visit and celebrate with friends who are at a distance from their families -- either geographically or emotionally. Spend a day of total indulgence: sleep in, then spend the day reading or watching the Macy's parade followed by football. Eat out or get take-out. Call a friend you haven't seen for awhile -- someone who is likely to be alone on the holiday as well. Go for a nice long walk. Cuddle a beloved pet. 
  • Keep in touch with family. Thanksgiving and Christmas cards are easy, fairly neutral, ways to stay in touch. Add a personal note expressing only love. Or send a brief text, sharing your love and best wishes for the holiday.
  • Use time alone to make peace with what is. Chances are, you will always disagree on politics and many other topics with certain family members. Putting aside your differences for a moment, think about what you value about the other person and how you can better keep him or her in your life without making yourself crazy. If you can't think of any reason this person isn't totally crazy-making, give it a rest for a time and come back to this question. If you repeatedly come up blank on redeeming features and reasons to get together, you may well need to maintain a healthy, manageable distance from the other --at least for a time. 
  • Put love first. Whenever possible, let love guide you in your words and actions. This may mean swallowing hard and saying "I'm sorry." It may mean enduring some tedious family gatherings in the future -- one hopes when everyone has calmed down a bit -- in the interest of being part of a diverse, unpredictable, sometimes messy and rambunctious extended family with a long history of love.

Whether you spend this Thanksgiving with the whole family or postpone festivities until later in the season or opt to spend this particular holiday season away from large family gatherings, keep in mind that the people you love -- even if you're at odds with them at the moment -- are much more important than who won -- or didn't win -- this election. Presidential terms end and fade into history. But family and love are forever. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Amazon Glitch

In the past few weeks, I've received a number of emails from readers who have been trying to buy a copy of The Teenage Body Book (2016 edition) and are having trouble finding it on Amazon.


I'm so sorry for the difficulty!

For reasons neither I nor the publisher can understand, an Amazon search for "The Teenage Body Book" brings up only the old 2008 edition. In an effort to solve the problem, the publisher is planning to take the old edition out of print, but in the meantime, you can find the 2016 edition either by typing my name -- Kathy McCoy, Ph.D. -- into the Amazon search. The book will come up third on the list.

Even better, you can click on the following link to access the Amazon page for the new Teenage Body Book:


If you missed my previous blog post introducing this new edition, here's the link to that:
Dr. Kathy McCoy: Living Fully in Midlife and Beyond: The Project of a Lifetime

And here is a new short trailer for the book:

Again, my apologies for the ordering difficulty. The publisher is working very hard with Amazon to correct this as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I really appreciate those of you who have not only wanted to buy a copy of The Teenage Body Book but who also have made me and my publisher aware of the Amazon glitch!
Thank you so much!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Small, Special Moments

It was wizened with age, scarred from historic battles and lying by the doorway of a popular take-out rib joint. The big orange cat barely glanced at us as we approached. But when Bob reached down to let it sniff his hand, the cat responded warmly, rubbing and purring.

Then it walked over to me, collapsing on my right foot and embracing my ankles with both soft paws. It looked up at me and purred as I reached down to pet it. And it made my day.

Just as when...

An old and very dear friend writes a email filled with warm encouragement...

A stranger reaches out a hand to help one climb a high curb...

A child on the beach looks up from digging in the sand with the gift of a radiant smile...

A friend's dog wants to cuddle...

A snail mail letter arrives from a someone special, standing out amid all the junk mail and bills....

A faint wisp of a memory makes one smile...

A lovely moment of connection happens with an acquaintance on the way to becoming a friend...

A spontaneous hug -- just when you need it the most...

Someone treasured and dear says "I love you!"

There are so many moments that bring such blessings to our lives.

And today my blessing was a sweet orange cat lounging on the stoop of the rib joint. Its sweetness and affection was such a joy.

It may have simply been hoping for a share of our upcoming take-out order.

But I prefer to think that this elderly orange cat was an angel of sorts,  blessing us with a moment of pure happiness and reminding us that love and beauty are abundant in so many small moments of our lives.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Project of a Lifetime

My project of a lifetime really began when I was nine years old and in the throes of confusion and embarrassment as I hit full puberty years before my classmates. I swiped one of my mother's nursing manuals -- which dealt with pediatrics and puberty in very technical terms -- to try to figure out what in the world was happening to my body.

I wrote down the highlights -- misinterpreted from the highly technical medical language -- and fashioned my version of the facts of life and puberty in a handwritten book I made for my younger brother Mike so he would never suffer through such confusion.

Mike, who grew up to become an M.D., was wide-eyed and bewildered as he read the book, memorizing parts of it, the better to torture me later on. "And you wonder why I've never married!" he would joke in years to come before finally marrying happily in midlife.

Some years later, after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, I moved sullenly back to L.A. instead of following my heart to New York. Living was cheaper in L.A. and I had student loans to pay off. I was mortified as I watched my Medill friends get jobs at The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, McCall's and The Wall Street Journal while my best prospect in L.A. for working in national media was 'TEEN Magazine.

And then something wonderful happened: I realized how fortunate I was. It wasn't just that working at 'TEEN for nine years allowed me to develop a writing specialty in health and psychology, or that my fellow 'TEEN staffers would be the best co-workers I would ever have, some becoming cherished, lifelong friends. The most wonderful thing was coming to realize that at 'TEEN I could truly be of help to young girls who were wondering, as I had once wondered, what was happening with their bodies and how to make healthy choices and if anyone would ever really love them.

                                  At 24, as Feature Editor of 'TEEN Magazine

I wrote several self-help articles a month in 'TEEN from the late sixties and through most of the seventies as well as doing 'TEEN's "Dear Jill" advice column and editing the "Dear Doctor" column with Dr. Charles Wibbelsman, a young adolescent medicine specialist. Chuck and I used to dream about how great it would be to answer urgent questions from teens without space limitations or having to worry about advertisers objecting to our information or opinions.

That dream came finally came true, with the help of a wonderful literary agent named Susan Ann Protter, when Chuck and I wrote a book together, combining questions from 'TEEN readers as well as his patients with frank, down-to-earth, warmly reassuring answers about so many areas of teen concerns.

THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK was first published in 1979 by Pocket Books/Simon&Schuster. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies, won the "Best Book for Young Adults" award from the American Library Association and morphed into a number of editions over the years with updates published in 1984, 1987, 1992, 1999 and 2008.

                                 Top left to lower right: 1979,1984,1987,1992,
                                 1999, 2008

Foreign Editions, l to r: German, British, Chinese

Over the years, this book has led to a variety of adventures. The 1987 edition landed us spots on Oprah and The Today Show. And that edition also sparked protests from religious groups and a brief media storm in Boston in 1990 because of its frank discussion of sexuality.  I was tapped to fly to Boston to defend our book on television and in a contentious town hall meeting. It was a great experience in giving and receiving empathy (as we all realized that we were united in wanting teens to be healthy and safe, only disagreeing on how to do this) and it influenced editions to come. Over the years, the book has changed, giving more attention to the full range of choices and beliefs that teens and their parents have in these increasingly diverse times.

Now we're happily awaiting the publication of the 7th edition of THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK on August 28 by HatherleighPress/Penguin Random House. This one will be for the first generation of teenagers born in the 21st century. It will also be the first edition to be available as both a print book and an e-book.

                                       The Teenage Body Book 2016





                                      A trailer for Teenage Body Book 2016

I can't help smiling as I look forward -- and back.

Who knew that the error-filled homemade guidebook to puberty that traumatized my wide-eyed little brother so many years ago was a sign of a career to come?

Who knew that the job that seemed so unpromising at the beginning was the best possible start in a professional direction that was simply meant to be?

Who knew that shared discontent over the limitations of a magazine column would lead to a 40 year partnership of three: between Chuck and me and Bob Stover, who did the illustrations for THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK, and whom I married in 1977 as we were working on that first edition?

Who knew that my experience of an awkward and alarming passage through early puberty would spark a lifelong mission to help and inform and reassure so many other young people?

What a delightful surprise and wonderful journey it has been.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dancing in the Rain

I saw it in a posting on Pinterest. I had read it elsewhere before, but today it resonated:

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain."

Why did it resonate today? It wasn't just about the gathering monsoon storm that is darkening the skies, making the air thick and the desert fragrant with the lingering scent of creosote. It's what I see and hear and feel around me: complicated lives with a mix of love and pain and tears and laughter.

There is the close and dear friend whose husband is about to go into hospice. Another beloved friend, having survived the pain of uncoupling after many years of marriage, is re-awakening to the joy he had nearly forgotten. There are friends experiencing serious health concerns and new physical limitations. Lives are forever changed by the storms we encounter as we age.

Even in the absence of major losses and challenges, many of us experience some life turbulence: office politics, misunderstandings with friends or family, struggles with troublesome personal traits and flaws. I'm still engaged in my lifelong struggle to find a healthy balance between the work I love, self-care and being present and supportive of loved ones.

While the challenges of my work-life balance issues pale next to some of the life storms my friends are experiencing, I'm increasingly aware of my longtime tendency to defer fun or leisure or time with beloved others until the work is done, the project finished. What is that? I'm in my seventies, for heaven's sake. If I can't embrace all the pleasure and love and moments of happiness now, when will I?

While not everyone has my scrambled life-work priority problem, many of us have a tendency to say "I'll be happy when...." and then name some distant event or goal. It may be that you imagine happiness when you lose that stubborn 30 pounds or when your daughter finally gets married or when, at long last, you take that exotic vacation or when you're able to retire.

But we can be happy now if we see happiness not as the ultimate goal but as something that happens as our lives happen -- in warm memories during times of grief, in joking with co-workers to ease the tension of a difficult team project, in pausing on a busy day to cuddle a sleeping baby or a delighted pet. Happiness happens in a glance, a touch, a moment of quiet intimacy on a perfectly ordinary day.

Especially when one is experiencing a major life crisis or transition, it's understandable when the shock or grief or fear overwhelms everything else in our lives at least for a time. But whether one is caught up in life-changing crises or simply trying to get through an ordinary day that is definitely a mixed bag of emotions, it's possible to know happiness if you can dance in the rain.

This may mean laughing between the waves of pain in the present. The ability to laugh between the pain, to dance in the rain, can make us stronger for the next wave of pain, the next storm, to come.

This may mean treasuring good times, shared love and warm memories even more, newly aware of how finite life can be.

This may mean finding ways to be happy or simply content in between the moments of grieving or of fear and frustration when facing a life-changing health problem. Or between times of setting and reaching a goal: there is joy in the journey as well as as well as the destination. For example, I've learned to celebrate all the numbers on the scale as I continue with my very long weight loss effort. It makes me smile when I think how slender and energetic I feel as the numbers go down -- and remember how fat and terrible I felt at the same weight when I was in the process of gaining those pounds.

This also may mean taming the habit of perpetual busyness -- re-ordering priorities to make room in our lives for fun and love and the beauty around us.

It can mean smelling the roses, cheering another person on, listening instead of planning a response, paying attention to what matters most to those we love.

My friend with the ailing husband cuddles beside him, reading him the mysteries and thrillers he has always loved. From time to time, there is a moment when they pause, smile at each other, and whisper "Love you" and "Love you more." And in their eyes is a heartfelt celebration of all they have shared over the years.

My friend beginning a new life alone after many years of marriage has been through so much pain-- but, as his new life evolves, there is so much to celebrate as well: a stomach no longer tied in knots, a place entirely his own for the first time in his life, a loving family supportive both of him and of his former wife, dramatically improved health, a sense of freedom and quiet contentment.

There are so many ways and so many reasons to dance in the rain.