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Archive for May, 2014

Grieving by Peeling Onions

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Sometimes you have to peel onions–not to make stew, to make sense of what’s just happened.

Last week, my youngest brother died unexpexctedly. It was a massive coronary event and we’ve been assured he didn’t suffer. But he only got half of the “Live long; die fast” mantra to work. He wasn’t even 60 yet.

Shock comes first. Deep sadness quickly after. Then a whole bunch of stuff that you never expected that feels an awful lot like peeling onions. When your family dynamics get adjusted, lots of stuff bubbles up through the new cracks.

I am part of a fiercely loyal family with seven kids. We take care of each other, whether it was running for help when a neighborhood bully was hurting a sibling at the playground or anteing up to cover expenses for someone who truly needed an assist. That doesn’t mean the relationships have all been smooth as gourmet ice cream. That was particularly true of this brother since he had both physical and mental health challenges of significant proportions.

So in addition to the sadness of losing a family member, there are assorted versions of relief, some of which don’t feel very noble.  I am relieved that he won’t have to go into assisted living.  We weren’t even sure we could find a place that would accept someone with as many challenges as he had.  I am relieved that he got “home safe.”  He lived life differently than most and that made him vulnerable to physical attack from someone bigger and afraid of those differences.  But I am also relieved that I don’t have to worry about what he will need next.  That’s the not-so-noble one.  They are all part of peeling the onion.

What I definitely did not expect was the flood of memories that have come that have nothing directly to do with this brother.  He wasn’t even in the band.  But in talking with one of my other brothers, the memory of a band director who died in my junior year of high school returned.  My brother worshipped him and still does.  I thought his death was a miracle.  Much as I didn’t have the words then–and was way too naïve to use my brain to figure it out–I knew the man was grooming me.  Now we call those people sexual predators and they go to jail.  When I was in Catholic high school?  Not gonna happen.  But then he died and I was safe.  Why is my other brother’s death making me experience all that again?

There are other traumas, experienced long ago and buried that are bubbling back up now, too.  I was not ready for that, but I need to let it happen.  Perhaps my outer shell is more easily cracked because of the primary loss.  Perhaps it’s just time.

I want to honor my brother for who he was–and he was a rarity.  He was amazing with his grasp of physics and mathematics.  The web of fantasy he constructed inside our reality was in a class by itself.  He was not a “regular guy” but he was, even with the distortions his mental illness caused, a good person.

He is giving me something in death that I could never had gotten out of conversation with him.  His death has presented the chance to peel another onion–to go deeper into who I am because of what I have already experienced.

I will miss him–do miss him.  And I will keep on peeling onions.  I promise.

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Mary Lloyd is an author and speaker.  For more, see her website.

Are Cookies Wrong?

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

I owe my older son three batches of homemade cookies. It’s the remaining part of a gift certificate for “one six-month taster membership with Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs.”  I gave it to him for Christmas.  Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs is just me having fun in my kitchen, and this gig has been fun for both me and this son.  (And that doesn’t even count the Guinness Brownies we tried on St. Patrick’s Day).

But I’ve been reading The Abascal Way, a book that explains why what– and how–we eat as a culture is all wrong, and what makes more sense.  Cookies are definitely not part of what makes more sense.   So I’m having second thoughts about saying “I love you” to my son with refined sugar, refined flour, and bad fat.

I’ve given cookies as a demonstration of love ever since I was old enough to make them.  Both my sons, my step grandson, and each of my life partners have gotten full batches of their own favorites many times.  I even managed to ship a batch to Australia that were still edible when they arrived.  I’m a good Cookie Mom.

I do put thought into making them more nutritionally commendable.  Whole wheat flour works–sometimes.  Dried cherries—high in nutrients—taste pretty good.  Really dark chocolate is “healthy.”  The molasses cookies I made with oat bran in them when my sons were teens were favorites for a few years.  (Alas, Abascal doesn’t consider oat bran particularly healthy…) The guys in my life have been okay with me sneaking “good for you stuff” in their goodies over the years.

But this book made me look at this fun part of my life through a stronger lens.  Am I harming my sons—and all of my loved ones—with these nutritionally derelict professions of love?  No matter how much good stuff you cram into them, if you want a cookie that tastes like a cookie (rather than cardboard), you need to use significant amounts of refined sugar, refined flour, and bad fat.

I’ve focused on keeping my kids healthy since they were born.  Have I been wrong with the cookie thing all these years?  Or does the plus of being a tasty “I love you” offset the negative that they’re made with “inflammatory foods?”

This dilemma isn’t just about cookies.  Am I being loving when I serve red meat to guests?  Am I doing the right thing when bringing gourmet macaroni and cheese to a potluck?  Where does “smart eating” intersect with “having fun together?”  It’s just not the same when a group of friends sits down to brown rice, steamed veggies, and ice water.

There are a lot of “shoulds” in this nutrition thing.  How many of them are legitimate? How many of them are essential at all times?  How many of them are too much?

The first piece of the answer lies in giving up the General Manager of the Universe title (one more time).  The only thing I control is whether to create and give the cookies.  The recipients are adults–they decide what to do with them.

When my kids were little, they didn’t get cookies whenever they wanted them.  They had to eat balanced meals and cookies were a treat in addition to those.  They grew up to be both wise about their nutrition and good cooks.  They don’t exist solely on cookies when I give them.  For all I know, they may be choosing to throw most of them away (but I doubt it).

Abascal adds a bit of advice that helps.  She recommends that when you give yourself a treat made of “bad stuff,” you promise yourself to eat some vegetables soon.  It doesn’t have to be in the next fifteen seconds, but sometime that day, eat a few extra antioxidants.  Progress!

I don’t have a lot of traditions with my kids.  I did that on purpose because there were too many when I was a new mother and it was an incredible source of stress for my young family.  But cookies are one of our traditions.

So, after much thought and a bit of angst, I’ve decided there will be more cookies from the Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs.  I might try to make some with brown rice flour.  Or they may arrive with a bouquet of curly kale.  If I give them, they will be tasty though—and they will say “I love you” as always.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and writer and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

What Do I Want to Do Next?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

“What do I want to do next?” We all need to ask ourselves that question on a regular basis. Not so much as we work through the tasks on that pesky To Do list as to keep the sense of adventure in our lives.

What do I want to do next?  Next year?  Next as a focus for learning something?  Next as a way to “give back?”

Asking that question can seem kind of pointless when you are stuck in the daily grind of work, kids’ needs, and then more work.  It still needs to be asked then–as a way to visualize the “brass ring” of getting beyond the hectic schedules and overwork that modern culture expects of us during our career years.

Maybe we don’t ask that key question very often when we’re younger, but after retirement, asking that question becomes critical.  Otherwise you end up in a boring rut of “same old same old.”

When I left the corporate world, my answer to “What do I want to do next?” was easy–write novels.  I set about learning how to do that with the same intensity I’d used to succeed in business.  It didn’t work out the same way though.  Other things came along that deserved my attention.  I had time, and I willingly gave it.  A month wandering around Florida in January makes perfect sense for a resident of Colorado.  Helping sort my deceased brother-in-law’s household so his only brother (my then husband) could get it on the market?  Of course I will do that.  A world cruise?  Of course!

When I finally got back to writing with any kind of regularity, I decided that what I really needed to write was screenplays.  So I took a year-long course online with UCLA.  I do love screenplays.  You have to tell the story in images.  What you write is just the blueprint; a whole team has to use that to actually create the desired product–a movie.  I love teamwork.  This was my last best thing to do.

Then reality intervened again.  You know those complaints about Hollywood ignoring screenwriters over 30?  They’re real.  I was furious after one particularly blatant ageist encounter.  Then “What do I want to do next” was answered with Change this attitude!  After I calmed down, I could see that the Hollywood attitude toward older people wasn’t the most important thing to change.  The important change was with the older people themselves.  So I worked on what eventually became Supercharged Retirement.  And I pushed myself to get it out there as fast as I could rather than writing it and then putting it in a drawer.  (Which is a lot easier, trust me.)

When that book came out, there wasn’t much about how to get the stuff other than money figured out for when you retire.   What I had to offer did make a difference.  I went back to using other skills I’d developed in the workforce to do seminars and promote the book.  Now there are a lot more resources for people to use and that’s good.  For them and for me.  With plenty available, I can look around for “What do I want to do next?” again.

This time, the answer is a rerun.  I want to write novels.

So I am going back to following that bliss.  I think.  The retirement stuff is still important and there are still issues and insights that need to be explored and explained though.  So I’m going to do both.

How this is going to work is anyone’s guess.  I just know it’s time to try.  Stay tuned.

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Mary Lloyd is a writer and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  Her first novel Widow Boy will be out Sept. 15, 2014.  For more, see her website.