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Welcome to the 60s

Well, hello 60.

Cue the Hairspray music, “Welcome to the 60’s.”

 

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Photo by Thomas Curryer on Unsplash

Yes, I’m 60 years old.

Doug planned a little party for me and announced in the invitation that “Her age has finally caught up to her era.”

My age now represents my era of hippies, women’s lib, The Beatles, peace, flower power, countercultural activities, revolution, and protests against social norms.

So for my 60th birthday,  I had a little countercultural, revolutionary experience of my own.

Call it an epiphany — like a little firework that went off in my head and illuminated something simple, but inspiring for me.

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It happened a few weeks before my birthday at an LDS Public Affairs Women’s Outreach Team event in the Relief Society Building on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City.

I was listening to some remarkable women talk about the good, charitable things they are doing to make the world a better place.

I looked around the historic room in the Relief Society Building at the portraits on the wall of the past LDS Church Relief Society Presidents, and was surprised at the emotion that swept over me.

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Portraits of the Past Presidents of the Relief Society adorn the walls.

For those not a member of my faith, the Relief Society is the women’s organization of the Mormon church — the largest women’s organization in the world. Its purpose is to strengthen faith in homes and families and to relieve the suffering of those in need.

I feel deeply proud to be part of an organization with such a noble purpose.

And for a brief, beautiful moment in that Relief Society room, I felt apart from the world around me — separated from the news of hurricanes, political unrest and acrimony in the world.

I felt wrapped in something warm, uplifting, and powerful.

I looked around the room and saw a group of strong, compassionate, remarkable women — most of them working or volunteering for nonprofit associations that benefit other women, and I was struck by the immense value they add to the world.

I wondered if I was worthy to be in that room.

I listened to Sharon Eubank, the new first counselor in the general Presidency of the Relief Society, and the director of LDS Charities, a humanitarian organization that provides generous assistance to millions of people around the world.

Am I that dedicated? I wondered.

I certainly don’t have her large sphere of influence.

But, then the thought came to me — concentrate on your own sphere of influence.

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During the brief few hours I spent in that beautiful and historic Relief Society building, I felt uplifted and strengthened by the women around me and had a profound “countercultural” experience.

A simple message floated into my mind that said, “Be Like Them.”

I looked around the room at the portraits of past presidents, and into the faces of so many remarkable women I admire, and thought, “Yes, I want to be like them.”

I think the reason this epiphany hit me so powerfully was that I was … brace yourself … somehow, without even realizing it, comparing myself to other women and feeling like I should step up my game to be more like them.

I’m ashamed to say, I was thinking about their beauty, their clothes, their careers, their brilliance, their vacations, and even their beautifully decorated Halloween porches.

I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I felt that nudge to try to rise above those types of comparisons and strive to become more like the women in that room.

That little voice basically schooled me, saying,  “Hey, you’re capable of so much more. Why are you envying the woman with gold spray painted pumpkins on her porch?”

The message was so clear: Set your sights higher.

To me, that meant strive to be a quality woman, a woman of true faith and real substance.

It meant be more serene, accept yourself and your life and be happy; settle into yourself, embrace your role and find your own beautiful obsessions, which aren’t found in your closet or in the mirror or in the finest craft or furniture stores.

These qualities  — serenity, acceptance, increased faith, contentment — aren’t found in having more things like gold pumpkins on my porch.

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I’m hoping this new insight will last, that it will be etched in my psyche because aspiring to be a better person from the inside out actually seems within my reach.

It also brings more peace into my life than say, wanting to be taller, which would in turn make me thinner, which, unfortunately is not going to happen in this life.

 

Patricia Holland, one of my favorite inspirational speakers, said,  “I believe that as women we are becoming so concerned about having perfect figures, or straight A’s, or professional status, or even absolute motherly success, that we are being torn from our true selves. We often worry so much about pleasing and performing for others that we lose our own uniqueness, that full and relaxed acceptance of ourselves as a person of worth and individuality. Too many women watch helplessly as their lives unravel from the core that centers and sustains them. Too many are like a ship at sea without sail or rudder, tossed to and fro… until more and more of us are genuinely, rail-grabbingly seasick.”

The solution to this seasickness she says is finding “the steady footing and the stilling of the soul—by turning away from the fragmentation of physical preoccupations … and returning instead to the wholeness of our soul.”

Now, that feels countercultural — focusing on the wholeness of the soul instead of frantically obsessing over keeping up with everyone around me.

This is my welcome to the 60s.

If I can focus on improving the wholeness of my soul, the 60s might feel pretty darn good to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Honor of October

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am reprinting this blog I wrote in response to a salon.com “open call” on the question, “What can’t you bring yourself to throw away?” While it’s a sad reminder of a period of my life I don’t want to revisit, it’s also a reminder that breast cancer is real, and still affecting far too many people. Let this be a reminder that screenings and early detection saves lives. Early detection definitely saved mine.

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It sits on the top shelf of my closet, inside a box, where I don’t have to look at it.

Most days I don’t even think about it.

I store breast cancer in my closet.

It comes in the form of a wig.

Not just any old wig — a custom-made, human hair wig that fit perfectly over my smooth bald head for nearly a year, giving the false impression to the world that I was in good health with a mane of beautiful blonde hair.

When a friend was diagnosed (the first in a series of six friends in four years since my diagnosis), I offered it to her as a gift.

I was done with it because it just shouted, “Cancer!” to me.

She gladly accepted it.

I was exuberant to let it go, like excess weight falling off my body, making me feel lithe, agile, and aloft.

Within days it showed up on my doorstep with a note: “Sorry, it didn’t fit.”

I held it cautiously like a snake I might pick up with a long, sturdy stick to keep it far from me until it could be tossed back into the woods where it belonged.

I could give it to the American Cancer Society, I thought, or just stuff it in the trashcan …

I didn’t have to keep it, but old ominous sayings ran through my head like, “If you get rid of it, you’ll need it.” Or, “If you keep it, you’ll never need it again.”

So I kept it, granting it a cancer-fighting power that would protect me from ever having to be caught up in the maelstrom of a cancer war again.

I tried to give it away at least three times, but it kept coming back with comments about it being too small.

Stupid small head anyway, I thought, as I marched upstairs to store it for the last time.

I climbed up on the stool, reached for the designated floral hat box on the top shelf of my closet, and stuffed it back in there for permanent keeping.

I worried that it kept coming back as a sign that I needed to keep it to ward off cancer.

Whatever works, I thought as I walked back downstairs.

Storing a wig in my closet is a small price to pay for being cancer-free.

I know this is insane, but old wives tales or not, I’m keeping that wig forever because getting rid of it makes me feel as naked, vulnerable and afraid as the day I looked into the mirror and saw a bald woman reflected in the glass, and realized it was me.

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Is it wrong to love a funeral?

One of the advantages of being “home” is being able to attend important events like family weddings and funerals.

 

We’ve lived away for so many years that we’ve missed most of these key family events.

While it sounds morbid, I’ve been reminded of how much I love a funeral.

 

I’m not talking about the heartbreakingly sad funerals for people who suffer from tragic, untimely deaths, I’m talking about funerals for people who have lived long, full lives and are ready for the next step in their journey.

We went to one of these funerals last week for Doug’s Aunt Marge who was 102 years old.

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Marjorie Turner Stevens

A hundred and two years old.

Now, that’s a long, full life.

This was not a depressing, mournful event. It was more like a happy celebration of life, family, and faith.

There was laughter, hugging, reminiscing and story telling. There were reunions of cousins, aunts, uncles, and siblings.

And there was joy — a lot of deep, down-to -the-core joy and appreciation for being part of a sprawling family with a noble heritage.

Doug’s aunt lived in the little town of Holden, Utah where the current population is about 375 people.

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Doug and his family walked around the cemetery and pointed out graves of ancestors — Mormon pioneers whose stories of courage and faith are legendary.

As we drove around this cozy little hometown, I heard stories about water fights with Grandma, trips to the only store in town to redeem pop bottles for penny candy, and sleepovers on the back porch.

Doug mentioned “The Holden Effect” and said he’d like to learn more about how that little town has affected so many people with roots there. I enjoyed feeling the “The Holden Effect” while there for just a day.

I think this effect has more to do with the people and the families that have lived there than the actual place. Its the family memories in that quaint little town that create the special effect.

We loved being immersed in the warm pool of familial love in Holden, and felt the truth behind Henry B. Eyring’s words that “When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us. We feel part of something greater than ourselves.”

 

A core Mormon doctrine is that family life is eternal and that after this earth life, we will be reunited with those we love. This helps ease the pain of goodbyes and provides hope for future reunions.

I always leave a Mormon funeral feeling a renewal of my faith in that doctrine.

While standing at the burial site on a small hill overlooking the town, I was struck by the fact that even though we go through life forging countless relationships, in the end, our big lives and our big circles of friends shrink down to a strikingly small number of mostly family members standing together near the casket, saying goodbye.

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It’s an interesting phenomena in today’s world that we can amass and stay in contact with hundreds or even thousands of friends through social media,  but in the end, how many of them are the kind of friends that will show up (and travel!) to our funerals?

No matter where we go in life, and no matter how much we contribute to this big, wide world,  it’s the contributions we make to our families that matter most.

If we’re lucky, we have a few cherished friends that are like family. I’m blessed with some of those friends. And, I hope they are around to attend my funeral.

But, for most of us, it will be our family members standing at the pulpit paying tribute to our lives, extolling our virtues, laughing at our quirks, and retelling our funny stories.

Being reminded of that truth is one of the reasons I love a good funeral.

 

 

 

 

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What’s on your summer bucket list?

On the cover of the recent Conde Nast magazine Traveler, there was this:

We Live for Summer

That caught my eye because it is so true.

Winter is finally over. The snow is gone. The temperatures are hot and delightfully dry; and in Utah, evenings are refreshingly cool and comfortable.

Oh, there are the occasional temperature extremes, some rain, and wind.

But, still, it’s summer, and it’s time to plan some fun.

Many years ago, we gathered with some friends and brainstormed what we wanted to do for the summer.

We made a list — outdoor concerts, road trips, theme parks, festivals, fairs, celebrations, and cookouts.

Oh, how I love a good list.

list-2389219_1280.pngThen, we narrowed it down to the things we wanted to do most, and worked to make it all happen.

We bought tickets, divided up responsibilities, and wah-lah. We had a summer to live for.

We still look back and say, “Remember that one summer?”

We remember it as the summer we didn’t let slip away; the summer we actually did all the things we loved.

Since we’re newbies here in the Great State of Utah, Doug and I have made a very long summer bucket list; and we’re quite busy checking things off of it.

We’ve already experienced the exhilaration of riding in and driving a Razor RV with my niece and her dirt bike racing husband, who did his best to give us a “tame” or beginners mountain experience.

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IMG_6386I may have looked like Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons, but boy, we had fun.

We checked off a local baseball game — not the Washington Nationals — but a summer baseball game nonetheless…

We attended an outdoor theater where the best seats in the house were lawn chairs that cost $14; and we smiled through an impressive, high-energy production of Hairspray.

We discovered a few new hiking trails with spectacular views.

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IMG_7910Next up is to explore some hikes with waterfalls and wildflowers, eat at some new outdoor restaurants, attend a Shakespeare festival, volunteer at an arts festival, and, of course, squeeze in a trip to the Outer Banks, among other things.

 

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Summer officially starts tomorrow, Wednesday, June 21.

So you better get planning if you want to have an unforgettable summer — you know, the one you always remember as “that one summer.”

It will be over before know it.

So, get busy.

Make a List.

Then, share it with me.

It might help us make our Summer 2017 bucket list a little longer and a lot more fun.

Happy summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Perspective

I’m not sure whether this blog is about the power of perspective or the need for remembering.

Maybe it’s both.

I stumbled upon a blog entry I wrote May 28, 2007 that reminded me of some lessons I thought I’d never forget.

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The result is a refreshed attitude with a heavy dose of gratitude.

2007 was the year I was recovering from cancer — the year I swore I’d never forget what I learned.

Among some of my lessons:

  • Don’t complain about bad hair days because, HELLO, I have hair.
  • Don’t complain about wrinkles, freckles and sunburns. They are all better than thick, jaundiced, tender-to-the-touch skin.
  • Oh, and the weight. Don’t complain about that either because at least I’m not puffed up on steroids, looking like the Good Year Blimp ready to soar over Yankee Stadium.
  • And, aging. Really, I’m complaining about aging? Aging means I’m alive! I’m getting older. I’m living. Living is a glorious thing.
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This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

 

So, here’s the journal entry that brought me to my senses:

 

“The most important thing to write is that I feel good! I am so happy to be a healthy person again. I love my hair — even though there isn’t much of it. It feels soft and luxurious on my head. I am thrilled every morning to shampoo it and feel it’s soft growth under my fingers. My eyebrows and eyelashes are equally as beautiful.

“I have so much energy I am wearing myself out. I have missed being me! I am thoroughly enjoying stepping back into my go-go-do-do life.”

This whole moving-to-Utah experience has left me feeling a little unorganized — so many boxes to unload, so many drawers and closets to fill. Sometimes it feels draining and I just want to feel settled. This little gem helped:

“I have felt a strong need to organize my house — room by room and drawer by drawer. I started small with my linen closet. Then, moved on to my jewelry box, then the bedrooms and bathrooms. I think I need to feel some control again. I’ve hated having no control over my life. Cancer took that away. So being able to clean and organize my house is such a gift.

“I’ve gone nuts reorganizing my house, and I love it. I am enjoying living again. The further away I get from chemo, the better and happier I feel. I’m amazed at how truly sick I’ve been, and how deeply I was entrenched in the chemo fog. It is so liberating to be done with it all.”

How is it that we forget these poignant life lessons?

I had to reminded of the pure joy of feeling like myself again, reorganizing my jewelry box, and feeling hair on my head. Such small things, but so full of meaning for me.

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What life lessons do you need to remember?