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This is a post that I wrote five years ago for my other blog, The Caregiver’s Corner. I’ve always identified with Sir Edmund Hillary, who grew up in New Zealand where my grandfather was born. I’m reprinting it here because it is quoted on my home page, and has special meaning to me, as I hope it will for you.

The Caregiver’s Corner

When Charlie turned 100 back in the 1970s, I went to interview him. There I was, twenty-something, with my whole life in front of me. I’m sure he got a kick out of our meeting.  I wanted to know the secret of his longevity, and he was happy to oblige. 

He greeted me at the door with a big smile and twinkly eyes peering out over his coke-bottle-thick glasses.  His hair was snow white but remarkably thick, despite a bit of balding going on at the top.  He wore grey slacks, a professorial cardigan sweater, and a crisp white dress shirt. On his feet were a comfortable pair of sneakers that somehow gave him a youthful appearance, and even though he used a cane to steady himself he did not lean on it much. Rather, he carried it along for security. 

His home was comfortably messy.  His son and daughter-in-law checked in on him every day and did errands, brought him meals and he had a lady come in once a week to clean. But Charlie was in his own house, surrounded by his life. Photos and books and collectibles marked his passage through time, and he was blissfully unconcerned about the future. He made me a cup of coffee, and showed me the book he was writing.  It was a hand-written, loose-leaf notebook, and each page was titled with a memory.  He told me that whenever he remembered something worth saying, he wrote a few lines about it. He didn’t worry about the order, or the punctuation, or if anyone would read it.  He just got it on paper, and often liked to re-read it himself.  There was a page on his school chums, about his passage from Norway as a stowaway, the day he met his future wife, building the GunderDink boat with his son – all the important parts of a man’s time on earth.  It gave him joy. 

“So!” he said emphatically.  “You want to know how I got to be this old.”  I’ll never forget his words, and he said them this way-almost verbatim:  “One, I have two oatmeal cookies for breakfast.  Two, I drink a glass of red wine with my dinner each night. Three, I enjoy a good cigar every now and then.”  Then he peered intently over his coffee mug to make sure I was paying attention.  “The last is the most important: You should never get to the top of one mountain until you see the next one you want to climb.”

I understood exactly what he meant.  When I was in school, people used to call me ‘the little mountain climber’ and ask if I was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who made it to the top of Mt. Everest. I can’t say for certain, but it has influenced the way I look at things.  I’ve always quoted Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” I am a firm believer that challenging ourselves to achieve a goal not easily attainable is what gives us the most satisfaction.

Charlie picked up a photo to show me.  His look was somewhat wistful.  “My one son and his wife and children live close to me.  My other son died when he was only 60.” 

I mumbled that I was sorry.  I didn’t know what else to say.  To have a son die so young and to live to be 100 yourself must be particularly painful.

“He had no more mountains to climb.”  His meaning was clear, and I had my story.  

Charlie at 101
Charlie, Scott, Chris and me at Charlie’s birthday party.

I’ll never forget that day.  And today I’ve turned 65. I am a bona fide ‘senior citizen.’ But honestly, I don’t feel it.  I don’t think about white hair (my hair is long and has been going gray since I was 40), or wrinkles (I don’t have a lot of them as I stay out of the afternoon sun and eat very little sugar). I try to get enough fresh air and sunshine and drink lots of water, but I don’t always succeed. My gourmet cooking days are over.  I prefer whole foods to processed, plain over fancy, raw over cooked. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss my thirty-year-old body and energy level, but I keep active taking care of my 88-year-old mother and walking up and down the stairs a million times a day. 

I mostly exercise my mind. Mom always said that only boring people get bored and I know she is right. I have more projects going than there are letters in the alphabet, and that alone will keep me young for years to come! I now have the leisure to do things I couldn’t when I worked in an office in Manhattan. I just have to reel in my enthusiasm and tackle one thing at a time!

So, my prescription for a long, healthy and happy life is to heed Charlie’s advice-maybe not the cigar part, but occasionally something rich and ‘forbidden.’ Get out the hole-puncher for your own loose-leaf book…
and wear sneakers.

They would have burned me at the stake


“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be someone.
Now I realize I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin

October 5, 2020

Last week I wrote about how re-reading my old journals brought to light a practice that has probably helped me through my darkest hours. During the 1980s when I was a single mom and worried about so many, many things, I would write down the mixed up, fearful things on my mind. The act of getting my thoughts down on paper was liberating and somehow helped me to navigate the dark waters of my life.

Throughout those pages, I also created bulleted lists of things that I wanted or needed. They weren’t things like trips to Europe or diamond tiaras, but answers to what I should do about an issue, or a request for overtime at my job, or perhaps to find a lost item. I was alone for the first time in my life, and my problems were not the type that one could chat about with coworkers, so my journal became my best friend.

Those were the days I would get up and catch a bus at six in the morning to go to a temporary job in Manhattan. Money was so tight that I could only afford a twenty-five cent banana for breakfast, and I walked thirty-five minutes each way in all kinds of weather to save the fare. Some days it would rain so hard that I called it a ‘two-umbrella day’ because I had to stop at Rockefeller Center to change from one to the other to stay dry. It’s odd the way we can look back on times of adversity and find that they are when our Creator annealed the steel that was to become our character.

As I said in My Own 800 Words, I was startled to see how many of the things I asked for did materialize, and there were a few that happened with such proximity to the request that I learned never to doubt that there is a Listener who always hears our call for help.

One of the first incidences I can recall in detail happened back in 1989, and it has become a touchstone to me. I had been fixing up some little nagging details around the house and noticed that I was missing a wooden door stopper. It was not the kind that you could just go out to the hardware store to buy, but was common in the 1920s when my house was built. I recall saying out loud, “I wish I had a stopper to match.” Nothing earth-shattering. A simple statement, and I let it go.

That night it rained like Noah’s flood, and the next morning the streets were full of flowing rivers of water and huge puddles that I had to step carefully around to get to the bus stop without drowning. As I passed a streetlight, something caught my eye, and I bent down to pick it up. There, in the middle of the road, was a wooden door stopper. I kid you not! It was almost, but not quite, like the others in my house. As I held it in my hand, I had to hold back the tears lest they ruin my eye makeup.

It’s hard to explain the joy which that one little piece of wood brought to me that dark morning and continues to do so till this day. As I sat on the hour-long bus ride, I contemplated how many other times my requests – or prayers- had been answered and I just hadn’t realized it.

Now, of course, I can look back on decades of events that happened so frequently for me that people used to ask if I was a witch. There was the time that I needed a back door – again, a wooden one – and an odd, custom made size that couldn’t be purchased in the store. I called and searched everywhere, but most doors were metal, or without windows, or horribly expensive. I didn’t have the money for a carpenter. Then one day before going to the market, I felt the urge to measure my old door.

Not five minutes later, I drove past a house on the highway that had some construction work going on and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a door. I made a U-turn, parked in the driveway, and asked one of the men if the pile was all trash. It was, and so I pulled out my measuring tape and found it would be the perfect size if cut down two inches. The men helped me put it into the back of my hatchback, and off I went with a kind of thankful daze across my face. “What are the odds,” I asked myself.

Here’s the pièce de résistance: When I got home, my eldest son was with a friend who just ‘happened’ to be a carpenter, and who had his tools with him. Within the hour, I had a brand-new door installed and working properly! His payment was a nice dinner.

What I learned was that I need to be precise about what I ask the Universe for. I once said, “I want to go to Paris with someone I love,” and I wound up going with my sister. We had a fabulous time, and I’m really glad my first trip there was with her, but the lesson was clear: Be specific. Be so minutely exact about your asking that there is no room left for interpretation.

So, what do I want today?

My own 800 words

I’m about to start the second of my 30-day writing challenges: A personal blog.

There is a wonderful television series that takes place in New Zealand called, 800 Words. The principal character is a journalist under contract to produce a weekly article for an Aussie newspaper. George can string together the most poignant Life Lessons by examining his own behaviors and experiences. He does this in – you guessed it – eight hundred words.

What I have learned over the past month is that when I purposefully sit down to write I can produce between 600-1000 words in an hour. Experts say that the best length for a blog is about 1700 words, so a decent post would take me a good two hours. However, considering that the average speed of an adult reader is 200-250 words per minute, and most people’s attention drifts if they try to digest something longer than a four-minute read, I think I’ll stick with George’s limit.

My second 30-day writing challenge will be to publish 800 words, once a week, on a life lesson that I have recently learned, or one that has bubbled up through my subconscious. I wonder whether George (or the show’s producers) starts with a theme in mind, or if he/they just let it develop over the course of a few days. He always finishes the last bit of his story at the eleventh hour.

In my case, I get sudden bolt-out-of the blue ideas that many times go unnoticed because I am up to my neck in another project. Yet what I have also found is that a lot of my writing seems to occur when I am not even thinking about anything much at all. The hum of the vacuum or the sound of water as I do the washing up after dinner seems to be the time that these ideas come fast and furious. I’ve tried using a recorder or keeping note pads and pens handy throughout the house, but nothing seems to work as well as ‘Morning Pages.’

Now that I am in the company of a lot of serious writers from the Unchained Writers Group, I see that Morning Pages, walks in Nature, journaling, sketching, meditation or prayer is very important to them as a way of calming the inner demon that would wreak havoc on us all. Personally, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past fifty years without therapy, drugs or some form of distraction without seeing my thoughts on paper or on a computer screen.

I could always tell when I had neglected my Morning Pages, as Julia Cameron named them in her excellent book, The Artist’s Way. I would feel disorganized, confused, overwhelmed, or what my mother would call being ‘at sixes and sevens.’ After decades of filling dozens of notebooks and creating thousands of electronic documents, I realize that journaling is one of my most comforting and illuminating pastimes.

Comforting, because I use several techniques to express myself, and when the session is over, I might produce anything from a paragraph to dozens of pages. Sometimes I bullet my thoughts; other times I fictionalize a story with someone other than myself as the main character. I’ve recently started to include photos, sketches, or flow charts. I love the fact that there are no rules; you can’t do it wrong. And although I may have to ask my sister to burn my books like Virgil or Jane Austen, when I’m gone there will most likely be no one who would take the time to slog through all my to-do lists and pages of complaints.

But here’s the interesting part: those books sat untouched for decades in a box at the back of my closet. I would sometimes remember a difficult or exciting event in my life, and I’d go looking for a particular volume. I found comfort knowing that whenever I’d read a passage, I could recollect everything in minute detail. But I never took them all out to read – until this past month during my first 30-day challenge.

What I saw as I leafed through those journal pages made the hairs on my arm stand on end. Peppered through my entries were ‘wish lists’ of things I wanted to do, see and have. Many of them were so far flung I probably never thought they would happen. But every night, I would write down what I needed – whether it be someone to paint my house, or a couple of hundred to fix my car, or an answer to a problem. Every night I envisioned myself getting what I asked for. And I often did. It was almost uncanny.

My mother often quoted from the Bible. The one from Matthew 7:7 was perhaps the most important one: “Ask and it shall be given.”

Be the change

I began this blog site to augment a writing challenge I initiated while a member of the Unchained Writer Group. This group’s creator, Joseph Michael, offers courses, coaching and support to writers of all genres.

September 29, 2020

There comes a moment when the student must become the teacher. A time when the consumer must learn to produce. Though there are many, many reasons to complain about where the world finds itself today, we must stand back and view our future from a distance.

We would do well to look back on our past, because what you and I have experienced is not what our children and grandchildren will see.

We stand at the threshold of infinite possibility.

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