Food For Thought ~

At 20, we worry about what other people think of us.

At 40, we don’t care about what other people think of us.

Weekend Cheer from The Queens of Quite-a-Lot

Weekend Cheer from The Queens of Quite-a-Lot

At 60, we realize they haven’t been thinking about us at all!

And, I think that’s a very good thing.  Happy Friday.

To Violet ~ with Gratitude

Ensconced in her window seat in the front of the plane, tray table down, sorting through all of the treasures she had stashed into two cotton carry bags, a most delightful slip of a woman looked up as I moved in to take the aisle seat.  She smiled at me and her blue eyes twinkled.  Wispy white hair peaked out from the sides of her knit cap and a fringed pom-pom danced on top.  The word elf came to mind.  I sensed this was going to be more of an adventure than my usual Portland to Phoenix flights and boy was I right.

Her name was Violet and when I sat down next to her on that flight a few years ago, she was 86 years old.  She wasn’t an elf at all.   She was a treasure and a very special gift.

For the next two hours and twenty minutes Violet regaled me with stories of her life and the wisdom of her years.  She talked and talked.  I listened and learned.  For Violet, life had always been, and still was, one hell of a grand thrill ride.  At 19, as a young war bride, Violet and her baby moved to Portland where she found work in the shipyards.  Yes, she was the real-deal Rosie the Riveter.   Husbands, jobs, kids, moves, grand kids, births and deaths – the daily act of creating a live well lived that often seems so mundane to many of us – came vividly to life as my new friend spun out tale after tale.   Just an ordinary life some might think, but oh not so.  What Violet knew and what so many of us miss – what makes every life special and unique and amazing – is when we pay attention to the details, embrace the challenges, open to the opportunities. It’s in how we choose to experience each of our moments.  Violet chose to see adventure.  She chose joy and she chose to stop and savor the tiniest details.  She has never stopped exploring or learning.  She loved meeting new friends.  And, at 86, this beautiful lady was just beginning her latest adventure as she flew across the country to Oklahoma City to take up residence in a new apartment.  She couldn’t wait to settle in, get herself a computer and start using the internet.

Opinions?  She had (more than) a few – on the health benefits of dark chocolate and avocados.  That most doctors didn’t know what they were talking about and nobody would benefit in the long run from popping prescription drugs.  She told me she loved people but was pretty much over sex.

Two hours flew by (pun intended), we landed in Phoenix and reluctantly I had to leave.  I gathered the paperwork that I not even bothered to look at and stuffed everything into my travel bag.  As I stood in the aisle waiting to de-plane, Violet called out “Goodbye Nancy!  Goodbye.  And say hello, say hello to all the people I haven’t met yet.”

Over the next few days, Violet kept coming into my mind.  Not her words so much, just a  feeling.   You could say this was just a chance meeting with a lovely old lady on a plane.  I choose to believe that Violet was a gift to me on that day.  A beautiful reminder of things that I often forget in the busyness of being – I forget to remember to PAY ATTENTION.  If you ask me what I did last Tuesday, I’m not sure I can recall.  It’s all so much, so fast, so busy and it often feels like I’m just sliding through.  Getting it done, but not savoring it, not really seeing it, sometimes not feeling it.   The magic is in the moment and Violet knew that instinctively.  Me?  I’m still learning.

It’s that time of year when we pause for a few moments to remember all that we are grateful for.   Today I am grateful for the special “elfs” that pass through my life sprinkling the wisdom I need, just when I need it most.

Thank you Violet, wherever you are.  I hope we meet again someday.

Happy Thanksgiving to All.

A Pair of Classics ~

Meet Margaret Dunning, at 102 years very young, I’d say she’s definitely a classic and so is her 1930 Packard 740 Roadster.  Yes, Margaret still drives and in fact she is still showing her classic beauty at concours d’elegance.  In a recent appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours, she told the audience that she changes her own oil and spark plugs and that “Before old age overtook me, I could scoot under the car very nicely.”  Margaret owns several classic vehicles.  The Packard may be her favorite, but these days you’re like to  see Margaret driving around her hometown of Plymouth, Michigan in a 2003 Cadillac DeVille.  It’s her “everyday car”.

Margaret, you are an inspiration to us youngsters in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  A true classic.  Keep on driving!

Both videos are from Utube.

Write something dammit! ~

I’ve got nothing to say.  Really.  I’ve been trying to think of something brilliant, witty, inspiring, informational, heart warming to post for days. But…I’ve got nothing.  I’d call it writer’s block, but that would mean I’d have to call myself a writer.   Which I definitely am not able to do.  I have a blog in which I share a few of my random thoughts… but, I am not a writer.   I am SO sure of this it’s crazy.   I know writers.  Some very good ones.  I am in awe of people who have their magic way with a word or a phrase. Those folks WRITE.  Me, I blog.   Works for me. I never thought of myself as a writer and honestly as I was as surprised as anyone when I went home one afternoon after lunch with a couple of friends (thanks again Ingrid and Lois!), settled into my chair and set up Just a Backpack.  Ideas flowed and words appeared on the page.  The Force was with me.  And so it’s probably as natural as the ebb and flow of the tides, that eventually I would find myself staring at a blank screen and think “This it.  I’ve had my last idea.  Written my last post.  It was fun while it lasted.  I’ve been expecting it.”

Last night I had a girl’s date with a friend and we went to hear Cheryl Strayed speak and read from her new bestselling book Wild – from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.   She was warm and funny and brilliant.  And, she has known she was a writer since she was eight years old.  And, still it took her 20 years to write this book.   Because, sometimes…she had nothing.  But she kept on writing.   Picking it up, letting it go until she had completed her life changing story.  Cheryl Stayed found herself again through an 1,100 mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail.  She had lost her way, but not her compass – writing.  And through her writing I felt her loss, her fear, her pain and her joy.  For a few minutes as she read, I was right there with her.  That’s what a writer does.  Shares herself.  And her stories.

So, I’m not a writer…or maybe I am.  Maybe I never will be.  Or maybe I will.  I don’t really care.  I’m just me and for whatever reason, at this moment as I’m trying to navigate the waters of change at 64, I do have a few stories to share and thoughts to explore.   I think we’re all in this together.   We all have stories and it’s in the sharing that we connect and learn and explore new ideas.  So, let’s get on with it shall we?

Turns out I did have something left to say.  And one more thing.  Buy this book.  I bought it last night and I’m only on page 30, but I am hooked already.  Thank you Cheryl for sharing your story.  I’m sure it will help me understand my own just a wee bit better.

Don’t you just love it? ~

It really tickles me when a lovely moment of serendipity strikes. You never know when you go out the door for a bite of lunch who you might meet.  Well, that moment of serendipity struck today when I slipped down to Nordstrom Cafe for a quick mid-day break from the office.  It was noon and the place was packed.  I ordered my half salad – chicken/apple/walnut/feta – yum! and had to squeeze myself into a tiny table along the wall between two other tables.  I settled in, put on my reading glasses and pulled out my current lunch time companion – 65 Things to do When You Retire. It’s a compilation of essays from people like Jimmy Carter and Gloria Steinem and many lesser known but still very interesting and inspiring folks.  They are true stories of people in retirement who found meaningful new opportunities.  It’s sort of a user’s manual for making the most of your retirement.   A few moments later, the lovely woman on my left (I believe her name was Carol) tapped my arm and asked “May I take a look at your book?  I’ve just retired.”   “Of course” I said and I passed the book over to her table.  I then took the opportunity to introduce myself and share my newly acquired knowledge about retirement and traveling on the cheap. Carol was interested, excited and open to all of the possibilities and adventures ahead.  I told her about the backpack and rollie plan and how I had come to be a blogger.  I learned about her career as a teacher and her recent trip through Spain, Italy and France with her daughter who was sitting across the table.  We chatted for quite a while about home exchange, house sitting opportunities and even WWOOFing.   She was a sponge for information and I was thrilled that I had lots of ideas to share!

It was a lovely exchange with a truly lovely woman who, like so many of us, is excited and eager to get on with her new life.  Carol, it was a true pleasure to have met you.  I’m glad fate guided me to that tiny table in the middle.  You brought a spark of joy to my afternoon.  I hope we meet again somewhere out on the road.  I’ll be the one with the backpack and the rollie.

Everything I Know I Learned from Knitting ~

Ok, this is not a true statement.  Especially since I took my first knitting class ever exactly one week ago.  But, what IS true is that being in that beginner mind again, did bring up a few very important life knowings that I apparently need to keep learning over and over again.  I’m a lifelong learner.  I step with great anticipation and high hopes into each new learning space like a blank white canvas just waiting for paint.  I am a creative soul still searching for my medium.  And believe me when I say I have tried a whole bunch of creative mediums – photography, collage, water color, drawing, pottery, and more.  I have the one pound, three inch high pots as my badge of honor.  But, here’s the rub, and apparently the lesson that is tied up somehow in all of this learning… I am not good at being a beginner.  I want to be an artist, but I have a problem with making beginner’s art that might not stand up to the creative output of some third graders I know.  I love the process but I want to love the end result just as much. Right away.  I’m not a fan of the do over (and over and over and over).  I try.  I’m not good.  I move on.  This routine does not lead to success.

So, imagine how it played out this week with my knitting.  It started out as it always does.  I’m casting on, grasping the knit and the purl.  The teacher keeps coming by and telling me I’m really doing great.  I’m catching on very quickly.  I beam inside and I’m filled once again with hope.  I’m on my way!  All it will take is a lot more rows of knit and purl and my fingers will start to work automatically and everyone will be the recipient of my gorgeous and unusual scarfs for Christmas.  The very next night, eager to propel my mastery, I pull out my knitting and sitting next to the hubs, ignoring the TV, I’m in the zone – a knitting fool – for about 15 minutes.  That’s when I notice something is wrong.  Really wrong.  I don’t know how to fix this wrong.  Now what?  I decide to rip out the rows back to the first mistake but having done that, I have no idea how to get everything back on the needle.   Hmmm.  Maybe I should just rip it all out and start over again.  Great idea but at that point I realize I don’t remember how she showed us to cast on.  Less than 24 hours and I’ve forgotten everything.  That’s scary in itself.  I try watching one of the 100+ Utube videos showing how to cast on.  Nothing works.  I’m done.   Stumped. Stymied.  Throw it all in the bag defeated.  And here’s what I’m learning from knitting.  It is art.  It’s not easy.  I’m all thumbs and that’s OK.  It is not relaxing and in the beginning it is stressful, not stress reducing.  And, I WILL keep at it and I WILL master at least the basics.

I may never be the artist on the outside that I feel on the inside, but I’ll keep playing and learning.  For me, it’s the dabbling that is the most fun.  Perfectionism and art are not good partners.  I love the art.  The perfectionist in me has to take a long hike.  The older I get, the more I realize the need to just slow down.  Take my time.  Let things ripen on the vine.  Why am I not applying this to the creative process?  It turns out you can’t rush knitting.  I’m walking back into class tonight a complete beginner all over again.  And, I am good with that.

Juicy Tomatoes ~

It’s September and everyone around here is knee high in ripe tomatoes.  My friend and I got a jumpstart a few weeks ago and already canned 40 pounds of Early Girls.  Lovely little jars of sweet/tart red juicy goodness.  I’m planning on picking a bunch more now that the local heirlooms are down to 85 cents a pound.  One night this week I’ll be steaming up my glasses and cooking up a big batch of spicy salsa!

All kinds of ripe deliciousness is happening, and for some reason that reminded me of a book I read a couple of years ago called “Juicy Tomatoes – Ripe Living after 50”.  Since I’m well past 50 and it is my plan to live juicy well into ripe old age, this book called to me from the shelves of Barnes and Noble.  It’s filled with stories of women in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond who have discovered their own juice later in life and are changing the landscape for the rest of us.

Sometime in my mid-50’s I started asking myself “What’s Next?”  Not so long ago most women my age would have been putting on their support hose and sturdy shoes and settling in to retirement.  Shrinking into a smaller life.  Instead, like so many other women I know, I’m enthusiastically searching for new adventures.  I’ve been auditioning Second Acts for the past ten years.  I read a great blog post a couple of weeks ago about the joy of being a “flitter”.   That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, but I’ve decided to see myself more like a pollinator.  I’m learning from each endeavor and sprinkling my new-found knowledge as I go.  For many of us, somewhere around 50, our lives begin to transition.  We become restless and some of us feel a deep yearning.  (I’m talking to the women here.  Men, you’ll have to speak for yourselves.)  We know that there is something more; we’re just not sure what that looks like for us.  We need time to explore, to learn, to look closer, to test the waters, and of this can be a wee bit scary.  Treading into uncharted territory doesn’t feel safe and let’s be honest, most of us (me for sure) spent our lives building safety and security for ourselves and our loved ones.  Why rock the boat now?  I’ll tell you why. Because we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Because Life is short.  Because there is still so much left that we want to try, to do and to become.   We’re not done yet, dammit!   As for my own flitting –  some of you know that at 57 I decided to become a certified personal fitness trainer.  This, after years of being a certified professional couch potato.  I joined a gym, was inspired, and wanted to share what I learned with other women.  From there I moved on to creating an organization for mid-life women to connect and learn and share in a fun social environment – in short to flourish.  Flourish grew into a great network enjoyed by hundreds of women each month.  I loved every minute of that time and all the amazing women I connected with.  Then one day I woke up and I was done. Time to flit on.  Lately, I’ve been researching retirement and travel on a limited income and I’m trying my hand at blogging.  Who knows what’s next?  I don’t.  And I’ve stopped worrying about it.  With each new endeavor, I’m discovering “juice” I didn’t know I had.  I’m keeping my mind active.  I’m feeding my creative spirit.  I’m becoming the ME I always wanted to be but didn’t know it when I was so busy being what I thought I needed to be or who everyone else wanted me to be.

Tomatoes are hardy.  They don’t require a lot of pampering.  Give them a little water and encouragement and they always deliver, even in bad dirt.  If you add a dash of salt and a pinch of pepper, they really come alive.  The longer they’re on the vine – the sweeter, saucier and tastier they become.  All the green tomatoes want to become them.  That’s my definition of a Juicy Tomato.  I ought to know.   I’ve spent enough time on the vine.