Whiffling through my bookcases

One great way to prep for the Positive Aging Conference six weeks from now (!) is to kick off a serious browse through my well-stocked bookshelves & share some of my favorite authors with whoever is out yonder, reading this.  So, here’s what’s coming up – each week, will pick a book, browse through it’s corners-turned-down, yellow-highlighted pages, & share favorite bits & pieces.

Started to do that with the books that helped get me from where I was to this amazing NOW, but ground to a halt after realizing I’m meant to LIVE what they taught, not review it.  Besides, the boodle of books that made a huge difference in opening up my life are not going to have the same oomph for another reader – self development is highly individual, the antithesis of cookie cutter solutions!

The  books by Gene Cohen – Dayle Friedman – Wendy Lustbader – Ram Dass – Atul Gawande & other leading lights in the elder care (r)evolution are anything but cookie cutter, but each IS essential reading for people involved on all sides of the caregiving equation.

Bear with me as I whiffle through my bookcases & share the wondrous wisdom insight clarity of authors who opened my eyes -and- touched my heart.

VIRTUAL GRANDMA – Christmas Gift #14

Virtual Grandma, by Alison Hillhouse,  could be a) a great stock stuffer for “grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, overseas military parents, traveling parents, and friends” (per the front cover) who already have a computer or tablet ~OR~  b) the perfect add-on if you’re planning on giving one to any of the aforementioned folks.

As I wrote in my glowing Amazon review, Virtual Grandma is “Practically perfect in every way! Short & not-too-sweet, Virtual Grandma is small enough to not intimidate, clearly written enough to register with the most tech timid, reality-based rather than airy fairy pipe dreams. Best of all, the ideas it shares are bound to give grands the confidence to come up with new projects to share with young kinder… and their own friends. Virtual Grandma gets five stars not only for what it shares, but for the doors it opens to more, much more.

Hard to imagine a better person to present a how-to on virtually connecting than Alison, who is the mother of a young son & VP, Youth Culture & Trends, MTV.  And a marketing genius!  Her book looks just the way it should – the cover graphic of a child baking with Grandma (via tablet) is quietly outstanding;  love that the child seems to be in sock feet, which sends all sorts of comfy messages.

Confession:  Alison had me at her dedication to her son’s four grandparents, where she wished for Charlie, “Gaga’s random creativity, Big Daddy’s goofiness, Mimi’s attentiveness, and Papa’s eye for how things work.”  (Big Daddy & Gaga live in Missouri, while Papa & Mimi are in Texas – Charlie lives in the Greater NYC neck of the woods)

The ideas are inspired yet down to earth – not surprising, Gaga (Alison’s mom) was the fount of many, with others contributed by grands, aunt & uncles from all over the USA.

Imagining all the ideas getting sparked by this wondrous book – sure has me scheming & dreaming of virtual crafting & cooking workshops with beloved youngers in the UK, NC, TX, CA, LA & NSW!

“I didn’t plan it & you didn’t plan it…”

First, Ron Culberson’s Do It Well. Make If Fun.  was the capstone of my decades-long quest to gain a sense of self, of alignment & equilibrium.  Then, Mel Robbins 5-Second Rule kicked off my current quest, to DO what calls to be done.  Followed by Jim Stovall & Ray Hull’s The Art of Learning, which put structure around that intention, provided the mechanics needed to make things so.  And now, it’s Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s What Will People Say About You When You Are Gone? that’s addressing directly the myriad of questions that sprang from reading the others!

This chain of reading is too effective, too targeted to be mere coincidence.  Reminds me of what my very UNreligiousy (but deeply spiritual) John said about the two of us – “I didn’t plan this & you didn’t plan this BUT Someone planned it!”  In a similar vein, SOMEONE put together this reading list!

Yes, it is a matter of attention that our finances are on particularly low ebb.  And we appreciate that friends & pleasant acquaintances fret over our prospects.  To them, we seem unreasonable in our belief that we are on a path of purpose laid out by Powers beyond our trifling understanding.

Writing in a Facebook posting, doing my weebly best to explain, I noted  – “hearing a friend tsk tsk that better some income in a field outside my interest than no money at all, am realizing two things: 1) at 65, with a stellar but ancient resume & no updated computer skills (and a gammy leg that rules out wawa or walmart), i’m overqualified, under-credentialed & aged out for even temp positions; 2) i agree with red stevens in “the ultimate gift” – losing everything can be a great starting place. we value the work we do, even if others don’t. preventive care is rarely given the value of corrective or maintenance. the work we’re doing makes a difference. valuing it means honoring the path that’s been set before us.”

Wrote that this past Saturday.  Then last night, my jaw dropped reading Rabbi Cohen sum up my verbose point in one sentence:  Australian palliative nurse Bonnie Ware notes that the most common regret at the end of one’s life is wishing that “I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Amen & hallelujah!

A few pages further, three more gems spoke to my heart & laid out my reason for living:

  • Marc Angel, in his book Losing the Rat Race, Winning at Life, writes:  “We human beings are placed on earth to attain transcendent treasures – wisdom, love, spiritual insight, moral courage.  If we can keep our lives focused on these goals and if we can direct our lives according to these ideals – then we ‘win’ at life.  But if we come to ascribe greater value to mundane attainments – wealth, power, fame – then we may find ourselves having accumulated things that are ultimately of little worth.  Winning at life means keeping focused on what is truly important and not getting sidetracked by external glitz.  Winning is not a one-time event, but an ongoing way of life.


  • Abraham Lincoln said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true; I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light I have.”


  • How can you harness the gift of life for maximal impact and fulfillment?  You can begin by leading your life as a reflection of your innermost values.  The only way to accomplish this goal is not to wait for external stimuli to jolt you into action but to cultivate an ongoing mechanism to keep your ideal self front and center.


Again – amen & hallelujah!

Every position I’ve held – – from teaching at a small parochial school to working for US HealthCare ~ Prudential HealthCare ~ BISYS Financial Services to teaching at-risk high school students with guns in their car glove compartments & shivs concealed in the shoes – – was preparation for our NOW.  That doesn’t make sense to a lot of people.  They don’t get it.  We do.  We know that John didn’t plan this & I didn’t plan this BUT Someone planned it.  No more to say.



The Almighty invests all of us with the spirit & strength each day to harness this inner power.  The question is whether we cherish the gift of free choice to express our deepest values or live on cruise control and make decisions out of convenience and not conviction.

I’m reminded of the story in Ah, but Your Land Is Beautiful by South African writer, Alan Paton.  He tells of a man who died and came before God.  “Where are your wounds?’ asks God.  “I have none,” said the man.  “Why,” responds God, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”  – – –  DEEV – to me, giving a fair shake to all ages, in all stages is worth the good fight!

At every moment of our lives, whether young or old, we’re called to be our own very best.  We’re charged with living life with passion and purpose.  The world is watching.  If we choose courageously and optimize our opportunities, we’ll know that we gave of our gifts, touched the world, and lived our lives in a way that we’ll be remembered in blessed memory.

In quoting his friend, Senator Joseph Lieberman – “When I decide a course of action, it is not for fear of failure.  If I lose because I stood for my beliefs, I will always be at peace.  I never want to be remembered for playing life safe.  I want to be remembered for doing what was right.”

The longest distance in life is between our heads and our hearts.  Spiritual success requires developing the training to transform our intentions into reality.  We all experience flashes of inspiration when we awake from our spiritual slumber.  In those moments, we embrace a seriousness of purpose & pledge to truly devote ourselves to our deepest values.  Yet all to often, our motivation is short-lived.  Soon enough, we’re back to old habits.

There is no shortage of people who aspire to growth & greatness.  Life is filled with unfulfilled dreams & unrealized potential.  As Henry David Thoreau reflected, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”  You’re reading this book because…  you want to ALIGN (my CAPS) your body and soul and lead life with urgency and a higher purpose.  You have a song within you to sing.

All the good intentions in the world won’t translate into action if we don’t pause to reflect on our life direction and purpose.  If we don’t, it could turn out that all of our investments of time, money, love, and talents were for naught.




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!