My thanks to Jim Stovall for the ultimate gift

Not for the book he wrote nor for the movie it inspired.  It was through something eles that Jim Stovall helped drape language over this second quest on which I’m embarked.

My first quest was one to find a sense of alignment, of balance & equanimity.  A quest to find my own true self, buried under layers of distraction, misunderstood messages & misguidance.

When I started, at 24, my goal was to empower my inner swan to dive down down down through the depths of a pond to the very bottom, to connect with its riches & discover my basic self, then return safely to the surface (no small task, given a swan’t buoyancy).  When that quest came to a close in July, the image my 65-year old self held was more of a beautiful stool made of precious wood – mahogany or cherry – painted over many times, frequently with beautiful touches, that’s been stripped down & restored to its original appearance.

By the end of this past summer, it was clear the first quest was finally over -and- that I’d struck out on a new – – but what it was, where it was meant to lead, was outside my ken.

Until reading Jim Stovall’s portion of The Art of Learning.  Ray Hull co-authored & contributed wonderful chapters, but Jim’s chapters hit home.  Especially Chapter Seven – Living to Learn:

The highest utilization of learning is to apply knowledge & wisdom in our lives in productive ways.”  Amen & hallelujah!  The goal of learning is its application, not accumulation.  Revolutionary thought!

“Productivity is the pursuit of creating more efficiency & results in all that we do…”

“If we are going to understand & apply our learning in productive ways that will make a true difference, we must master motivation, communication, and implementation.”

“All learning is valid & legitimate, but some learning is more productive given that we all have individual goals, dreams, and aspirations.”

Just because I can memorize information & repeat it doesn’t really mean that I’ve really learned it.

“In order to determine what type of learning is most productive (for us), we must understand where we are trying to go & what goals we want to reach.”

“Motivation is the key to learning, and learning is the key to staying motivated.”

“Collaboration is (a) key to success.”

“Just because something motivates me, it doesn’t mean that it motivates anyone else.”

“Assuming you understand other people without taking the time and effort to learn about them is a form of prejudice.  Prejudice is a lazy exercise.”

“Be careful what we learn & who we learn it from.”  

“The Internet is an amazing learning & communication tool, but we must be able to discern the validity & accuracy of what we are learning.”

“People communicate most effectively in different ways.  The best communication is two-way communication – open, consistent, free-flowing.”

Jim tells the story about a resort hotel where he stayed frequently;  they realized that since Jim is blind, a flashing light on his phone wouldn’t alert him to messages – so they wrote the messages out on paper & slipped them under his door.  It showed while they realized  he needed a solution to a basic problem, their response wasn’t a helpful answer!

Never assume that the person you’re talking to has correctly processed your intended message.  “The most powerful message you can ask is, ‘What do you understand?”

“Unless we apply that which we learned in the real world, we can never make the impact that we are intended to make throughout our lives.”

“Implementing, sharing & teaching that which we have learned does not diminish us.”

“If you share information, knowledge, or wisdom with others, they will have more, and you will find yourself elevated in every way.”

“Constantly revisit the books and other learning resources that have impacted you the most.  No matter how many times you have reviewed a great book, you will find hidden treasures when you read it again.” 

“Memory is like a muscle.  You either use it or lose it.”

“People in their 80s, 90s, or even over 100 who continue to learn stay vital, alert, and relevant.”

“Those people who stop learning and pursuing knowledge begin to waste away both mentally and physically.”

“(Anything) can be valid learning tools at the right time and in the right proportion.”

Jim Stovall co-founded the Narrative Television Network, designed for people with vision impairments with popular with sighted people, too!










Creating a Life of Legacy – book review

Okay, the full title is What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone? – Creating a Life of Legacy, authored by Rabbi Daniel Cohen, the book that I’m devouring at the moment.

Let me back up, to mention the books that came before Rabbi Cohen’s wondrous read.

Had the AMAZING experience of reading Ron Culberson’s surprising Do It Well.  Make It Fun.  ~ surprising, because it turned out to be the last book of what I’d assumed would be an endless quest.  The messages it held wrapped up the core lessons learned along the way in beautiful boxes, beribboned with gorgeous bows.  It was a remarkable, unexpected experience – feeling 41+ years for searching drawn to what I never expected:  a clear ending point.

Mel Robbins5-Second Rule came next, the first post-quest books, which built on what I’ve learned from Mel’s shake & wake videos.  (What will I quest for next?)   Mel’s 5 4 3 2 1 technique is simple & simply life altering.

Am in the middle of James Hillman‘s excellent The Force of Character, set aside when Rabbi Cohen’s book arrived.    The sub-title is what grabbed me – creating a life of legacy, not leaving one.  Being one, right now.

Much of what Rabbi Cohen writes speaks straight to the heart of what drives me – helping all ages live a life of purpose meaning worth.  His book contains so many nuggets that I look forward to fashioning into something wonderful to use with all ages, while giving special attention to those that speak directly to oldsters elders ancients.

We want more out of life.

We all possess a deep-rooted desire for a life of purpose.

You’re blessed with inherent gifts, and your life is trademarked.  There is only one you.   

The time is short; the task is abundant.

Four lines that speak directly to the reality of olders, the reality our mothers lived every day of their lives.  The reality we’ve seen in our clients, in the lives of many of our older friends & pleasant acquaintances right here in my little hometown.

Sadly, it is rare in the lives of too many older people, people who need their sense of purpose restored, their feelings of personal worth renewed.  Rabbi Cohen is clearly an exceptional ally in that quest, helping us understand & embrace that purpose is the ageless reason for our existence, to live fully in this day without glances back to yesterday’s regrets or projecting our energies onto tomorrow’s promises.

Stopped, totally still, reading, “Are you living out your higher purpose or allowing each day to blur into the next?”  So many of the people I see at every manner of senior residences describe their days as blurring, bleeding into the next until time no longer seems to exist, just a long fuzz.  John & I are over-the-moon with the strategies that Rabbi Cohen shares to help us help them rediscovering a sense of purpose, reconnect with their worth – to turn fuzz into FIZZ!

What Will They Say About You When You’re Gone is a blend of Rabbi Cohen’s personal experience & stories, insights from the famous & the utterly unknown. It’s deceptively simple, down to earth & heart inspiring.  It sends its value soaring by including work pages!

This blog is called All Ages, All Stages because we – especially I – work right across the age spectrum.  My clients have been as young as 18 months & as old as 95, from bright young things to olders facing dementia; we are the first to admit our work with oldsters elders ancients most grabs our hearts.

It can be daunting to be 70+, of sound mind & body – there’s an abundance of resources for those olders grappling with physical & mental challenges of aging, but precious little for those in relatively fine fettle who find themselves in a new stage of life with precious little training, leaving them to see the unknown as filled with hobgoblins rather than as a culmination, a capstone, a long final bow.

Rabbi Cohen has written a book that’s for all ages, all stages, that appeals to people of any faith, or no faith at all.  Personally, John & I hope to convince our weekly spiritual growth discussion circle to use this as a basis for a six-week read ponder share.  We sense our shoulders tapped by the Divine to spark conversations on what it is to be alive, at any age;  what it is to have a body that does less yet is teamed with a mind that understands deeper;  what it is to to know our core values & live from them – and respect that others are doing the same.

What Will They Say About You When You’re Gone? is a great start to that & to so many other conversations, with others, within community, with just our self.

Love those comic strip collections! – book review

The holidays are a great time to haul out book collections of classic comic strips.  I was a huge Peanuts fan & Mom loved For Better or For Worse & Family Circus.  It would be fun to look over our many books filled with Charlie Brown & Lucy, Elly & John/Michael & Elizabeth & April/Farley & Edgar.

I have no doubt that Mom’s treasured For Better or For Worse collections would have come in handy had she faced dementia.  The family story lines, the distinctive characters, the connections she made with the dogs could have been bridges to her own memories.

As we move closer to Thanksgiving & all the special times that follow, thinking about books that were dear to Mom’s heart, how Mim shared her love of Helen MacInnes while I was almost as big a fan of Rosamunde Pilcher, shared loves that might have made for interesting discussions had we needed the hooks of beloved characters to spark conversation.

How many people know their parents’ favorite authors?  Their favorite quotes?  Hymns?  Comic strip characters?  Those might seem like fluff, but for people with the challenge of dementia, they can be lifelines to connection.

LIVE LIFE LAUGHING – the naturally funny Rosalind H. Trieber

Gene Cohen & Roz Trieber – I don’t know if the two knew each other (it is possible, since both lived in the Metro D.C. area), but the world was certainly a much sadder place after they died, within two months of each other.  They surely seem kindred spirits.

Gene left us with his legacy of humor & creativity on November 12, Roz – who just entered my life – left it on December 31.  How different our lives would be if both were still with us, pioneering the use of the arts & especially laughter in working with patients, the dependent, the elderly.

Gene’s classic, The Creative Age, was my awakening to the importance of the arts & nurturing creativity in helping people remain vital purposeful connected as we age upward.  Roz’s Live Live Laughing, which I read & reread for the first time this past weekend, is a blessing on all I’ve seen first hand about the power of laughter in alleviating confusion distress unhappiness depression despondency isolation helplesness…  In my experience, a dose of laughter immediately helps reduce those spirit killers in most people.

Laughter – silly, burst-out-loud, unrestrained – turned my 89-year old mother from self-denigrating to self-loving.  Where reading failed, reasoning failed, counseling failed, laughter succeeded.  For my part, it was discovered by sheer desperation, on an unthinking whim.  Roz would have understood, would have been able to explain the WHY behind the WOW that we experienced from simple silliness.

Live Life Laughing – An innovative & imaginative approach to living a healthier, happier & more prosperous life.  Roz was a Naturally Funny Lady who helped connect me to a deeper level of silly.  Her book is way more than how to get more chortles out of life.  It’s practical, grounded, full of simple ways to get to happy.  Like sharing Maggie Bedrosian’s terrific exercise – write down the first ten words that come to mind hearing “How do you feel when you’re feeling really well?”  Great question to use with any age, as intriguing for a 30-something to ponder as a 65 year old.  Roz considers it a good treatment for emotional constipation & I see what she means – it might first be met with glib answers, but once asked it drills down into the mind & hangs around,  resurfacing & reconnecting to thoughts focused on feeling gooood.

It would be fun to put together a workshop based on Roz’s work – a first aid kit of comedy to have on hand when we need a life-restoring laugh.  As Roz says, “No benefit plan provides a greater vale than a daily dose of compassionate humor.  It provides hope, reduces tension, includes all people & creates bonds.”

As Roz points out, you don’t need to go to clown school to master laughter.  And it doesn’t matter if you are laughing on cue instead of after hearing a joke – the body feels the mechanics & kicks in on its own.

The book is easily read over an evening, perhaps sitting gingerly on a whoopie cushion (or at least with a whoopie pie in hand), noise maker at hand, Patch Adams nose securely in place.  It has a smattering of ways to tuck humor into the various parts of your life; even more, it nudges the READER into spotting ways to spike their day with laughter.

When I think about the power of a hearty guffaw, I think about a visit Mom had about three weeks before she was reunited with her O Best Beloved.  She was at a local hospital, with her doctors still anticipating a successful round of rehab followed by a return home & a fairly full recovery.  A younger friend – around my age – made the 30 minute jaunt for a visit.  Esther’s energy is impossible to convey – she loves life & embodies verve.  She & Mom talked about her trips to Florence, about her husband, about teaching & house mothering at a local boarding school (Mom’s alma mater!).  It was a joy for me, experiencing how much Mom was loving the visit – all smiles & laughter.  Then, Esther gave me a golden moment – she made a crack about something or other & Mom just put her head back & LAUGHED.  A big bold-faced no-holds-barred LAUGH.  That one moment did more to make her feel whole than all the meds she was taking.  How do we get more of those moments into medicine?

I can tell you from my experience this summer at an international conference of gerontologists & geriatricians, the interest is there, the willingness to consider “if not meds & traditional treatment, what?

The moment is open to Roz’s message in large part because of her work.  Would she were here – praise be her book is!

DO IT WELL. MAKE IT FUN ~ a still-reading book review

Mea culpa – this post is not accepting paragraph breaks.  CONFUSING.  Tried to fix, failed.  Each new paragraph starts in bold.  My heartfelt apologies.  ~deev~
It is great FUN being 65, seeing how things unfolded over my past, giving me confidence in this Now that the the future will do the same.  Consider how Ron Culberson’s DO IT WELL.  MAKE IT FUN came into my life.
Was super psyched last week, discovering that JOLENE BRACKEY is making a rare East Coast appearance next month, giving the keynote presentation at the Northern Virginia Dementia Care Consortium’s Creating Moments of Joy Caregiver’s Conference.  Almost bounced off the walls – an author I admire beyond words, giving a talk on the very thing that’s presented itself as my true life work, partnered with John.  Infusing as many moments as possible, whatever the age or circumstance, with joy glee fun.
The schedule showed Jolene opening the conference & a fellow named RON CULBERSON closing it with If Not Now, When?  Immediately caught my eye, because it happens to be the title of a beloved Reb Zalman video.  So, checked out Ron, who turned out to be  NOTHING like what I expected.
According to the conference brochure, “Ron Culberson, MSW, CSP, CPAE, spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of Do it Well. Make it Fun. The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between, he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations.”  A lot of words that left me without a clear sense of the person, whether his presentation would be worth sticking around after watching Paula Kyle (Dance for Parkinson’s) at 1:00 p.m.  Looked him up.
wow.  Wow.   WOW!  Ron is no less than a FUN!sultant & deeper I get into his book, the more he is my newest super hero.
Ron’s opening certainly caught my interest, as well as a tremendous amount of skepticism.  He totally trashes personal development books, proclaiming that HIS book is the only one anyone needs.  As someone writing a BOOK thanking the very “earnest psychologists, new age gurus, and overexposed Oprahs” he brushes aside on Page 2, it would be reasonable to think his opus would be headed for the thrift shop, pages pristine, not a single corner turned down.
Not so – I was over-the-moon to find a book that shouts from the rooftops the author’s belief in the power of FUN to make life work well.  Yes, he’s cocky confident that what he has to offer has more value than my book mentors, but I had an immediate strong sense that the Universe had commissioned Ron to write a book for ME, in this moment.  Am up to Chapter 6 & that feeling just gets stronger with each page.
Ron’s approach, his writing style is different than any of the 29 books that I’m thanking in my own tome.  Its unique cadence is unusually engaging – feels like we are at my favorite cafe, simply talking together over a cafe au lait & chocolate chip scone.
I am just finishing up the chapter on faith & already amazed & delighted by what & how you’re sharing.  It’s not just that you have an engaging writing style – it’s hard to find a unique cadence, which you do – but that it feels like we are simply talking together.
Yes, Ron disparages the very personal growth authors I celebrate, but the fact is that I am the rare bird who actually CHANGED due to reading the scores of books that line my shelves.  Sadly, too many feel energized by doing a deep dive into self-help material, but come up short at implementing what they read.
Maybe those remarkable books worked for me because I stepped out of any normal time expectations, letting it take as long as it took, always believing that better was possible.
I’ve long believed there was a Ron Culberson out there, with the book that would help me make sense of it all.  That would clue in this unrepentant Pollyanna to something I couldn’t identify but knew existed.
That we are meant to do life well by making it fun. That we get there by focusing on excellence AND joy.   “It’s about the value with which we live rather than the amount of time we have left.  When we focus on VALUE, we achieve a higher level of richness & success in our lives.
Thanks, Ron – I needed that.  And it was just on page 3  – wasn’t even out of his intro yet!
At first read, I thought Ron had it wrong – surely he meant that making things fun helps us do it well.  Nope, he had his order right.  We need to start out with the intent to do something more than okay;  we need to set out to do it well, to aim for excellence rather than okay.  Do it well, make it fun.  The order matters.
Right now, at this very moment, I am proof that life can be broken down into series of steps that lead to or away from success.  For the past week, I’ve drifted away from the very steps that have created an environment where excellence could thrive.  I’ve gone backward, toward old familiar patterns that left me getting by but not soaring, away from the steps I know work best for me, when I put out the effort to follow them.  Am back on track – getting up early, greeting the day, doing my series of Namastes, going out on a pre-dawn walking meditation, taking my blood pressure meds with a full glass of water, journaling, playing my Song of the Month (currently Lady Gaga’s La Vie En Rose), reviewing my calendar.  Moving on with the day, aiming for excellence rather than the comfortable mediocrity that never pushed but never pleased, always remembering that “every step in every experience has the potential of being improved and being more fun.”  Sing to me, Ron!
“The past is gone.  It won’t be back.”  When I read those few words, my life shifted.  The books I celebrate in You Come Too are my past, form my foundation.  They’re the solid ground on which I stand.  Do It Well.  Make It Fun. shows how to get those feet dancing, keeping it simple, doing it with unique style, striving for excellence rather than settling for comfy okay.
Each chapter –  infused with Ron’s humor, which is I guess what makes it so singularly HIS & so easy to slip into – ends with the Well-Fun-Now Process, steps for integrating the chapter’s topic into our life.
Ron had me hooked by the end of the second chapter, but it was his third – Have Character, Don’t Be One – that won me over completely.  It is not easy for anyone to talk about their personal values without sounding preachy;  it’s much more difficult to do in static writing – the words extolling values can so easily be read as pompous, even sanctimonious.  Not Ron’s.  He comes through as a man who values the principled life, who openly shares his personal values & work principles, but does so as a prompt for us to look inward & consider our own.  As he says, “Done well, our life & work have more integrity.  And on some level, that’s more fun.”
If sharing values is challenging, talking about faith without coming across as holier-than-thou is almost impossible.  Ron pulls it off.
It seems to me that so much of the confusion we see in today’s society is because so many people seem to lack faith in something Bigger, More Important than themselves.  True faith in something Higher – whatever that faith may be – liberates rather than restricts, empowers rather than demands, enlightens rather than dictates.  Ron gets that across.
Where I fell at Ron’s feet in gratitude was reading Developing the Skill of Skill Development.  Reading that subheading, was certain sure the Universe commissioned Ron to write this book for me, to be read in this Now.
For decades, it’s bothered, perplexed me that I’d missed the core skill of skill development.  Plagues me to this day.  And there it was, in bold print near the top of page 43.  And then he brings in the squirrels, which totally rang all my bells.  I do well with visuals & what better one than a squirrel keeping at something & at something & at something until they ace it.  “Squirrels are skilled.  And they don’t usually give up until they improve their skills enough to get them what they want.  We humans, on the other hand, tend to give up too quickly, often settling for less than we want.  I hate to say it, but we should  learn from the squirrels.  If you had a squirrel’s determination, what would you work on?”  JUST what I needed to hear, a reminder & shove toward completion rather than Great idea!
That brings me to page 49 – It’s All In Your Head… Sort Of.  129 pages to go.  Should I have waited until I’d finished the book to do my review?  Couldn’t wait with Life Is Good & for the same reason – impatient to let others in one a great thing.  I’m 65 years old & life’s taught me not to dawdle, to go with my gut, to share what’s great in my life as soon as I can.  And I  know in my bones that Do It Well. Make It Fun. will be as big a life-shifter as the Jacobs brothers’ guide to living life to the fullest.
Thanks, Universe, for introducing me to Ron & his remarkable book.  I appreciate your bounty & welcome more.  Keep it coming, ’cause this is beyond wonderful.

DAVID & the PHOENIX – You Come Too

One of the most precious titles in my library,  David & the Phoenix was my brother, Ian’s, favorite book.  It was published not long before Ian’s death, but one read & it immediately beat out the 1957 Wild Geese Flying for top honors in his heart.

Both books are in my library – a recent edition of  David… (over the years, his was read & reread to pieces) & Ian’s own copy of Wild Geese…  

It’s the story of a young boy – just around Ian’s age I always imagined – who seeks  adventure & finds more than he could have dreamed in the form of a Phoenix, who lives on the mountain behind David’s new house.  The Phoenix, a very eccentric sort, befriends the lad, swearing him to secrecy about his existence & filling him with a justifiable fear of the bird’s arch-nemesis ~ The Scientist.  The very young boy & the very old (almost 500 years!) bird form a strong bond & embark on all sorts of dandy adventures just right up Ian’s alley – run-ins with a Banshee, an almost tragic encounter with a faun, doing a bit of business with the Sea Monster ~ ~ and always standing a wary watch for The Scientist.

Even writing about it fills my eyes with tears, knowing how short a time Ian had adventuring with David & the Phoenix, no more than a few months.

When I read the Phoenix beginning his preparations for he knows not what other than it’s a “magnificent destiny” toward which he is compelled by instinct rather than inspired by his magnificent intelligence, I think of Ian in those last months, of that last day, Easter Monday, the first day of our school vacation – still see him dashing out from the front door, across the “Top Lawn,” then dropping out of sight as he headed down Rose’s property to Alden Road & up to a friend’s house.  Gone.

SPOILER ALERT!  THE REST REVEALS THE END:  My heart crumples, as David first fights his feathered mentor’s fate, finally coming to a poignant acceptance of his great-in-every-way friend’s destiny, saving the risen-from-the-ashes new incarnation from the returned deadly threat, The Scientist.  A tender end that finishes off with a sense of more than renewal – of triumph of good over forces set on harm.

Even as a very little girl – I would have been around seven when Ian read it aloud to his baby sister – I equated Ian with the illustrations of David.  With his death at 11, the book was immediately enshrined in our hearts.

But the tie goes beyond a much-missed brother’s favorite book.  From the start, it showed that we find friends in the most unexpected places, that just because someone is an Expert & is seeking to do something “in the public interest” does not make it right, that sometimes things beckon yet it’s folly to follow.

As I grew older, the concept of having a “magnificent destiny” unfold only with years became a beloved theme, as did the Phoenix taking the steps that were laid out for him by his nature, culminating in his ultimate renewal, a new life emerging from the old.

The closing paragraph brings up memories of my young self, heartbroken for David but feeling triumphant for the glorious new creature risen from the “traditional cinnamon pyre of the Phoenix, celebrated in song & story” – – “Understanding dawned in the amber eyes at last. The bird, with one clear, defiant cry, leaped to an out-jutting boulder. The golden wings spread, the golden neck curved back, the golden talons pushed against the rock. The bird launched itself into the air and soared out over the valley, sparkling, flashing, shimmering; a flame, large as a sunburst, a meteor, a diamond, a star, diminishing at last to a speck of gold dust, which glimmered twice in the distance before it was gone altogether.”

As a child, that was my favorite passage, imprinting my heart soul mind with a still-powerful image of renewal, a bold new beginning born from the ashes of what was.

More even than The Bird’s Christmas Carol, Edward Ormondroyd’s  David & the Phoenix taught my young self how to grieve, braving separation & loss, knowing that something new was born out of the ashes of sorrow.  It helped during the shattered years, having David to hold onto – he knew my sadness.

For someone in a family that did not open up about what was felt most deeply, having that other – even if found in the pages of a book – helped keep me standing up.

Which brings me to my favorite passage, starting in my teens, is still enshrined in my heart & hopes -~ ~ “Besides, my boy, we shall see each other again. I do not know how or where, but I am positive of it.”



So, doing the face-off the TWO David Richo books vying for space on my list of 25 books that got me to Now showed me how to introduce the rest of them.  Except I’m totally bustin’ up that template for this remarkable book by Charles Foster.  Taking the super easy way to give its intro – share the Amazon review I wrote some 12+ years after first reading it:

This book was published the same year I totally mangled a sensitive conversation with someone who really mattered in my life. Reading Dr. Foster’s book a couple years later, winced every time I saw one of the mistakes I’d made.

His book lifted up my spirits – I hadn’t been as dumb & thoughtless & ham-fisted as I’d thought, only a typical human making the typical mistakes around a delicate conversation.

By delaying talking about it, by bringing it up in precisely the worst way at precisely the worst time in precisely the wrong place, I turned what should have been an uncomfortable but reasonable request into throwing a Molotov Cocktail into our relationship, blowing up any semblance of friendship between us & creating an emotional crisis that remains to this day.

It was a shock to me, but hardly news to Dr. Foster – the scenario is described, almost moment to moment. And a better way is provided.

I completely agree with the reviewer who wrote that There’s Something I Have To Tell You helps develop better communication & social skills. It changed my life, helping learn when where & how to communicate more effectively.  Should be required reading for every human!