Photography as prayer

Can photography be a form of prayer? Howard Zehr, author of The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, thinks so. 

Photography can serve as a medium for reflection and meditation, and encourages mindfulness, he says. “By slowing down to reflect and meditate, by heightening our visual awareness and our imaginations, by cultivating receptivity and a more holistic way of knowing, we can renew ourselves while gaining new insights into ourselves, the creation, and the Creator.”

Some photographic subjects present themselves in an obvious way. An amazing sunrise practically screams, “Quick! Grab your camera.”

As do the brilliant fall colors in this park scene.

However, mindfulness is also about “being aware of and appreciating the ordinary, of being open to beauty and insights in the commonplace,” Zehr says. 

For example, who knew that chives going to seed could be so pretty?

“We often overlook things that we experience as ordinary or everyday,” Zehr says. “We tend to make preconceived judgments about what is worth looking at or photographing, valuing the ‘picturesque’ or ‘spectacular’ and failing to recognize many of the visual possibilities around us.”

How about a coneflower blossom?

Throughout his little book, Zehr gives us exercises designed to increase our awareness of the visual richness of ordinary objects and scenes. One exercise: Set out to photograph without a specific subject in mind, remaining open to whatever seems to present itself. 

Like a leaf that has floated to the ground.

A pair of acorns.

Or a single perfect rose.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place,” Zehr says. “I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Like bright red berries against a deep blue sky.

Or a starkly bare tree with a cloudy sky shortly before sunset serving as a backdrop.

“Ordinary things, when really seen, make extraordinary photos,” Zehr says. “Such photos seem to make themselves. They seem like presents that were given.”

I snapped this photo of icicles dripping from a twig on a bush next to my porch.

These fall leaves still flashed their brilliant colors as they peeked out from under a very early snowfall.

“One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself,” Zehr says.

Of course, one can’t help but respect this goose walking straight toward me in the park, who just begged to be noticed … and photographed.

“A contemplative approach to photography is an expression of wonder grounded in respect and humility,” he says. “As such, it calls us to live in right relationship with our Creator, the creation, and our fellow human beings.”

An attitude of wonder “requires that we look anew at the familiar, that we stop taking the world around us for granted,” he adds. “An attitude of wonder is essential if we are truly to experience the creation and the Creator.”

Recipe: Chicken and vegetable pozole

Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup made with hominy, meat (usually pork or chicken) and lots of delicious seasonings.

As anyone who regularly follows my blog knows, I’m always looking for ways to sneak more wholesome stuff like vegetables and fiber into my diet while ditching the bad stuff like added salt and sugar.

So I’ve created a variation on this favorite that reduces both calories and carbs, features extra veggies and eliminates added salt without sacrificing a bit of the flavor. It’s also gluten-free (be sure to check the label on the hominy). If you omit the chicken and substitute low-sodium vegetable broth for the chicken broth, it can even be made vegetarian.

This recipe makes about 10-12 cups of soup and is perfect for batch cooking. The soup can be frozen for up to three months.

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
  • 1 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2½ teaspoons chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 small zucchini or yellow squash, sliced and quartered 
  • 4-5 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 4-5 carrots, sliced
  • Medium green pepper, quartered and sliced
  • Medium onion, quartered and sliced
  • 1 16-ounce can white or golden hominy (pozole)

Directions

Stir together the oregano, cumin, basil and black pepper in a small bowl.

Add the chicken, blended spices, lime juice, bay leaves, garlic and cloves to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer.

While the soup is simmering, chop/slice the squash, celery, carrots, onion and pepper and add to the mixture.

Add 4-5 cups of water, or until the soup is of desired thickness.

Continue to simmer for about a half hour, or until vegetables reach desired softness (slightly al dente) and chicken is completely cooked.

Add the hominy when the vegetables are nearly cooked through.

Nutrition information

Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 75 | Carbohydrates: 8 g | Protein: 9 g | Fat: 1 g | Saturated Fat: 0 g | Cholesterol: 25 mg | Sodium: 130 mg | Potassium: 372 mg | Fiber: 2 g | Sugar: 3 g | Vitamin A: 85% | Vitamin C: 30% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 3% 

Book excerpt: One small step

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my previous excerpts, link HERE.

As I’ve studied the polarization problem and its negative impact on both ourselves and our society, I’ve begun asking myself these questions: 

  • How do we engage people who disagree with us, while keeping in mind God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves? 
  • How can we be part of the solution and avoid becoming part of the problem as our society grows ever more partisan and angry?

I’ve decided one of the first small steps I can personally take is to examine my relationship with social media. As I’ve begun doing so, I’ve come to an inescapable conclusion: I need to pay much more conscientious attention to what I post, share and “like” on sites like Facebook and Twitter. 

If there’s one thing many conservatives and progressives agree on, it’s that social media have played a huge role in keeping the culture wars going. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center (link HERE), 55 percent of adult social media users said they felt “worn out” by how many combative political posts and discussions they see on these platforms. 

Seven in 10 respondents also said they found it “stressful and frustrating” to communicate on social media with people they disagree with about politics. The sense of exhaustion and frustration held true across political parties, according to the report. 

Several culprits contribute to social media’s role in dividing us. Algorithms that create “echo chamber” bubbles of one-sided information and opinions. Viral spread of false or misleading information in “fake news” stories with click-bait headlines. Political “discussions” that amount to little more than judgmental blaming and shaming, name-calling, insults, character assassination and demonization of opponents. Endless memes promoting hateful and inflammatory messages.

The worst part? I have to admit I’ve been part of the problem from time to time. Too often in recent years, I’ve found myself getting sucked into social media fights – even with people I ordinarily like – over politics and contentious “hot-button” ideological issues.

Whenever a Facebook skirmish erupts – whether the trigger is a Supreme Court decision, a political candidate’s suitability for office, or a crisis playing out on the news – my first instinct is to try and stay out of the fray. 

Alas, I tend to have strong opinions about a lot of issues (imagine that!) and sooner or later, someone will post a meme that I just can’t seem to resist sharing against my better judgment. Okay, I know it’s a bit snarky. Maybe a bit judgmental or even mean. But it’s SO clever. Then, of course, someone on “the other side” will beg to differ with my assessment of the meme’s cleverness, and before I know it, I’m bogged down in another argument.

One evening, I realized I had just spent the better part of a whole day arguing with total strangers on a Christian Facebook page over this question: “Is it racist to make jokes about lutefisklefse and jello at Lutheran potlucks?” (No, I’m afraid I’m not making this up.) I further realized it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened.

So what can I start doing differently?

I’m not ready to go “off the grid” when it comes to social media. With family and friends scattered over two continents, I would not be able to stay connected so well without Facebook. This has been especially true during the current pandemic. 

However, I can take some constructive steps to avoid getting lured into flame wars and to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem when it comes to divisive social media behavior.

  • I can fact-check articles I want to share before posting them. I personally see nothing wrong with sharing thoughtful, well-researched articles about issues I care about. But I have a responsibility to double-check these for accuracy. Some good sites for fact-checking my sources include Snopes.com (link HERE), FactCheck.org (link HERE) and PolitiFact (link HERE).
  • I can respect people who don’t agree with me. I’ve learned it’s best to resist lecturing people on their lack of personal integrity or intelligence, even if I think what they’ve shared is just plain wrong. I can’t remember ever changing anyone’s mind about an issue because I sufficiently shamed them. If a Facebook friend posts an inaccurate or misleading article, meme or video, I can skip the snark and simply respond with a link to a Snopes.com article debunking the item in question. 
  • I can practice selective attention. If I don’t agree with someone’s post, I always have the option to keep on scrolling and not respond at all. (What a thought!) 
  • I can set my own standards of behavior for my own posts. When the vitriol starts, I’ve begun deleting comments from people who choose not to respect others, and even blocking some of the worst offenders. I have blocked or “snoozed” both conservative and progressive Facebook friends who insist on insulting my other Facebook friends.
  • I can be aware of what I enable. What am I encouraging others to post by hitting the “like” button? Am I inadvertently rewarding name-calling, character assassination or polarizing comments? 
  • I can resist “click bait.” Sometimes I can tell from the headline that an article is pure negative spin. (Watch Politician A school Politician B on life in the real world.) Given the fact that clicks generate ad revenue, do I really need to contribute one more click to that scurrilous article? 
  • I can avoid using memes to convey complex ideas. One of the problems that keeps us all from resolving issues appropriately is our modern emphasis on brevity. It is nearly impossible to give an issue the depth it deserves when our communication is limited to 15-second sound bites, 280-character tweets, bumper sticker and t-shirt slogans – and all those endless memes.
  • I can reduce mindless surfing. If I go online with a specific purpose in mind – to check emails, research a blog article or catch up with the latest updates from Facebook friends – and limit my time on social media, I’m less likely to absent-mindedly click on headlines like Did Michelle File for Divorce over Barack’s Pregnant Mistress?

Finally, I can use Facebook for its original purpose – to help me keep up with family and friends. How are all my nieces and nephews and dozens of cousins doing? Who’s getting married? Who just had a baby? Which friend got a promotion at work or went on a fabulous vacation? Who just went to the emergency room and needs prayers?

Or I can share cute photos of my adorable pets. I’m happy to report I have never had anyone threaten to block or “snooze” me because I posted too many photos of these little guys. 

Fortunately, my Facebook friends love Olaf DaVinci and Champaign Le Chat as much as my camera and I do.

Questions for readers: How has our society’s polarization impacted you personally? (If you live outside the U.S., is there similar polarization going on your country?) How do we become part of the solution rather than part of the problem? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on this article. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

Cleaning house

When I review my priorities each year on my birthday, one lofty goal remains the same: Maintain our home as a sanctuary for ourselves, our family and our friends.

On each birthday, I promise this will be the year I finally sort through all the accumulated STUFF in our house, recycle or give away anything we don’t need, and find a place for whatever we decide to keep. And get some more pictures up on the walls.

Alas! The goal of a spotlessly clean house with a place for everything and everything in its place, even in the garage and basement, continues to elude me. So I especially love the abundance of housekeeping memes that remind me I’m not alone in my never-ending struggle.

I mean, this seems like a perfectly reasonable question:

This is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Love our cleaning ladies! Can’t wait to get them back once this crazy pandemic is over.

Ah yes! I’ll plead guilty and Pete likes to tease me about it.

I do have to make sure my sweetie Petey sees this one.

Happens to Pete and I every time …

Before I retired, a clean house was also a sign I had a looming project deadline that triggered my procrastination tendencies even worse than housework.

No truer words ever spoken.

I yearn for the magic dustpan that actually does its job.

But, of course, what we really need is some perspective!

Meeting my 3-5 Challenge

One of my priorities is to stay healthy for as long as possible and help my husband do the same. Toward this end I’m working to develop the habit of eating 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, as recommended by nutrition experts. 

I must confess that, for too many years, our eating habits resembled those of a rebellious 10-year-old. (Vegetables are gross! Give me ice cream!)

Add to that, the challenge of finding veggies my husband and I can both stand. We each have veggies we like and veggies we loathe. Problem is, the ones I like are too often on his “loathe list” and vice versa.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered all kinds of relatively painless ways to sneak more fruits and vegetables past our lips:

  • Add a glass of juice or a small bowl of fresh fruit to our breakfast (one fruit serving).
  • Add a small salad to other meals (one or two veggie/fruit servings, depending on the salad ingredients).
  • Turn a ho-hum sandwich into a Dagwood by piling on shredded lettuce, tomato slices and thinly sliced purple onion (one veggie serving).
  • Cook up enough vegetables for each meal to ensure leftovers. This means I can create a veggie plate from time to time (several veggie servings in one sitting!).
  • Add vegetables like spinach, broccoli or mushrooms to pasta dishes such as lasagna or mac and cheese (one veggie serving).
  • Munch on raw vegetables rather than potato chips. Baby carrots and celery sticks dipped in hummus make a great snack when I have that irresistible urge to nibble, and I usually consume enough of them to equal at least one vegetable serving.
  • Add cut-up fresh fruit and a couple spoonfuls of granola to a bowl of fat-free plain yogurt for another healthy snack (one fruit serving).
  • Replace my afternoon soda with an 8-ounce glass of V-8 juice (two veggie servings!).
  • Throw chunks of frozen fruit and yogurt into a blender – adding some Splenda if necessary – for a dessert that looks and tastes like soft-serve ice cream (one fruit serving, plus a bit of protein).
  • Order a la carte at restaurants. Although restaurant meals tend to include only one vegetable, I can often order a second one on the side for a small “upcharge.” 
  • Ask for substitutions, if this is allowed. When I mention my dietary restrictions, I can usually persuade food servers to replace fries or chips with a serving of coleslaw, fresh fruit or no-sugar-added applesauce (one fruit or veggie serving). 
  • Bring healthy snacks to gatherings. I’ve found that bringing a bountiful veggie platter with dip gives me something to nibble on instead of the fat and sugar-laden hors d’oeuvres usually on offer. This helps me add an extra veggie serving to my daily quota as well.

For more ideas and recipes, see the new “Recipes” page I’ve created. Link HERE.

My priorities in a time of pandemic

In what has become a birthday tradition, I like to start my “personal New Year” by reviewing my priorities. Are they the same as they were last year? Or does something need to change? This annual exercise helps me stay focused so various kinds of clutter – material, mental or spiritual – don’t crowd out what really matters. I use my morning meditation time to identify what is most important to me. For each priority, I set a long-term goal, evaluate my progress for the past year, and create an intention for the coming year. 

To say this past year did not go as planned would be a huge understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended every familiar activity and routine in my life. Dulcimer group – cancelled until further notice. Choir practice – cancelled until further notice. Stay Fit classes – cancelled until further notice. Visits with family and friends – cancelled until further notice. Groceries – delivered to our home. Church, Bible study, book group and even some doctor appointments – all online.

However, I’ve decided the priorities I identified last year are still good ones, so they will remain the same for now: my personal relationship with God, self-care, family and friends, our home, my writing, service to others, elimination of backlog tasks, and serenity/gratitude.

Since it looks like the pandemic will be with us for a while, my challenge is this: How do I continue to work on my priorities in the face of the restrictions and disruption? When the lockdown began in March, I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels, struggling to establish new routines and warding off mild depression. But with a bit of creativity, I’ve begun finding ways to turn this quarantine experience into productive time. 

Priority: Relationship with God

Long-term goal: Develop a better understanding of God, so I can fulfill God’s purpose for my life, discern what my core values should be and live accordingly.

Progress/changes this past year: I continued to meet with my spiritual director, but due to the pandemic and underlying health conditions for both of us, we’ve begun meeting by phone rather than face to face. Fortunately, we’ve developed enough of a relationship over the past three years that the phone meetings work just fine.

Intention for the coming year: In addition to sessions with my spiritual director, I need to make sure I keep morning meditation part of my daily routine. Since the ongoing quarantine almost entirely prevents Pete and I from leaving the house, there’s really no excuse not to do this every morning, except for Sunday when we “attend” our church’s online service. We also participate in a weekly Bible study group via Zoom.

Priority: Self-care

Long-term goal: Stay healthy for as long as possible and help my husband do the same.

Progress/changes this past year: Ugh. Our Stay Fit exercise program has been cancelled since March, and my healthy eating plan went off the rails about the same time. The lack of exercise – except for an occasional walk – coupled with way too much comfort food has me well on my way to gaining the dreaded Quarantine 15.

Intention for the coming year: Our bodies are still the temple of the Holy Spirit – pandemic or no pandemic – and I’ve resolved to take better care of mine! Doctor appointments have definitely gotten more complicated, and I no longer have access to the spa for the massages that were so helpful in relieving arthritis pain. But if anything, this makes routine self-care more important. I need to focus on eating healthy food, getting the right exercise, and getting enough sleep.

Priority: Family and friends

Long-term goal:  Keep in contact and nurture good relationships with the people I love and care about.

Progress/changes this past year: All face-to-face visits with family and friends have been off the table since just before Easter. Thank God for Zoom and FaceTime.

Intention for the coming year: Learning some new technology has been really helpful. I plan to schedule regular “get-together” FaceTime sessions with family and friends while we’re under quarantine. And, of course, we can continue to stay in touch via Facebook. 

Priority: Our home

Long-term goal: Maintain our home as a sanctuary for ourselves, our family and our friends.

Progress/changes this past year: Alas! The goal of a perfectly clean house with a place for everything and everything in its place eludes me at the best of times. But now we can no longer use the services of our marvelous cleaning ladies because we can’t safely let them in the house. Yes, I know this is a First World problem, but it does create some extra work I wasn’t expecting.

Intention for the coming year: Now that so many of our regular activities are on hiatus, I have no excuse not to commit to one hour each weekday for cleaning and sorting. I’d love for this to be the year I finally sort through all the accumulated STUFF in our house, recycle or give away anything we don’t need, and find a place for whatever we decide to keep. And get some more pictures up on the walls.

Priority: My writing

Long-term goal: Write articles, essays, blog entries and at least one book.

Progress/changes this past year: I’ve actually been keeping up with my blog pretty well, posting nearly once a week. I’ve also finally begun writing my book. Believe it or not, this is one priority that actually seems to have gotten easier to achieve under quarantine.

Intention for the coming year: I’d like to devote at least one hour per weekday to my writing. I sincerely believe my writing ability is one of God’s gifts to me. If I can discipline myself to stay off the Internet unless I’m doing something useful such as research or communicating with real people – and avoid the kind of mindless surfing that wastes hours and hours of time – I could really start to produce an abundance of writing. We’re not going anywhere for possibly the next year, so I want to come out of this enforced hibernation period with a BOOK! No excuses. This needs to happen. 

Priority: Service to others

Long-term goal: Use a portion of my time, money and talent to help others and create positive change in the world.

Progress/changes this past year: For the first half of the past year, my volunteer work involved a lot of church activities, along with participation in a musical group that entertained residents at a local retirement center. That all ended when the lockdown began in March.

Intention for the coming year: My congregation has extensively discussed ways to “be church” even with our building closed. Pete and I have decided to adjust some of our charitable contributions upward since we’re less able to contribute volunteer hours and we can afford it. And I plan to volunteer for a couple of my favorite candidates in this year’s election by writing postcards and letters, something I can do safely from home. 

Priority: Backlog

Long-term goal: Eliminate clutter and backlog tasks that drain my energy, render my life more chaotic than it needs to be, and distract me from achieving my long-term goals. 

Progress/changes this past year: Quarantining threw a monkey wrench into my best-laid plans. For example, doing my taxes got more complicated, so we’ve had to ask for an extension for the first time in years.

Intention for the coming year: I need to make a list of tasks that are hanging over my head and commit to crossing off one thing each week. This is a perfect time to get some of those backlog tasks done that I’ve been putting off for years, like going through our financial records and cancelling subscriptions we no longer use.

Priority: Serenity/Gratitude

Long-term goal: Achieve serenity by practicing mindfulness and finding at least one thing each day to be grateful for. 

Progress/changes this past year: I’ve experienced quite a bit of stress for the past several months. But the good news is, I do have a lot to be grateful for. Unlike so many essential workers, Pete and I have the luxury of being able to shelter in place and stay safe. We have some amazing delivery services in town, which reduce our need to venture outside for high-risk activities. And I’m so grateful I have Pete and the kitties hunkering down with me.

Intention for the coming year: If nothing else, this past year has reinforced my desire to actually live my life rather than sleepwalking through my days while I rush-rush-rush through deadlines and appointments. The quarantine has forced me to slow down and evaluate how I spend my time. Pete and I are finally taking walks! We need to keep this up. And each morning for the coming year, even as the pandemic rages on, I plan to start my day by reminding myself, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

God’s other book: Backyard friends

Several members of our church congregation have t-shirts with the following slogan: “God’s work, our hands.” I like to think of the habitat-building work my husband and I have done in our backyard as an example of this philosophy in action.

I adore the wildlife that shares our backyard space. Pete and I have done a number of things to make our yard more critter-friendly, from installing goodie-filled bird feeders to planting flowers loved by pollinators to letting our lawn go “wild.”

For several years, we’ve been luring a variety of feathered friends to our yard with sunflower seeds, suet and other assorted munchies. Of course, the squirrels never got the memo that all these enticing treats were for birds and not for them. I finally gave up trying to keep the squirrels out of our bird feeders. I mean, why? I could watch their antics for hours. They are SO much fun.

The birds are patient, waiting their turn until the squirrels have had their fill. One day as I watched the birds and squirrels during morning meditation, I counted at least a dozen different kinds of birds who visited our feeders, ranging from cardinals and bluejays to woodpeckers, doves and sparrows.

We’ve been adding pollinator-friendly perennial flowers and herbs little by little each year. Here, a butterfly and bee (you can see them both if you look close) feast on some blooming chives.

We’ve traded in a neatly manicured lawn for a wildflower meadow since we stopped using chemicals of any kind in our yard. Now the grass is interspersed with violets, white clover, dandelions and assorted small wildflowers that provide both nectar and pollen. This chipmunk seems to like our new lawn as much as the bees and butterflies do.

For several years we even had a fox living under our deck. She would have the cutest babies each spring.

I had become accustomed to sharing my lettuce, tomatoes and other “salad crops” with my furry backyard friends. However, the rabbits have for the most part stayed out of my flowers and veggie beds since I started sowing white clover for them. (Shhhh! Don’t tell the neighbors.) The clover also does a nice job of filling in bare patches in our lawn.

Small mammals may not be so glad to see this guy, but we think our resident hawk is magnificent! Pete likes to joke that we’ve provided a nice backyard deli for him by attracting all the other critters. I don’t like to think about that part. I just admire the hawk.

We proudly display this sign in our backyard. Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife, says the National Wildlife Federation. This is true whether you own 100 acres of land or live in a small apartment that only has room for a container garden.

To find out how you can make your green space of any size more wildlife friendly, and turn it into a certified wildlife habitat, go onto the National Wildlife Federation web site (link HERE).

Thoughts on turning 65

Unlike many people “of a certain age,” I still get excited about birthdays. I have always considered my birthday to be a personal holiday. This year is a milestone birthday – I’m turning 65 and officially entering Senior Citizenhood.

So here are some thoughts as I embark on a bright, shiny new chapter of my life:

Time is limited. Of course, I’ve always known – intellectually, at least – that we’re not immortal. But in recent years, this has started to register on a deep-down level with the loss of both my parents and a best friend my own age. Bottom line: Nothing is guaranteed. I need to let family and friends know how important they are to me and how they’ve impacted my life. I need to do this now.

I survived adolescence once already, thank-you. These days, I swear I’m experiencing more bodily changes than I did as a teenager. My husband and I have acquired a new pastime – looking up medical problems on the Internet after the doctor sends us for tests based on the latest unnerving symptoms. At least my biggest priority is no longer “be popular.”

Perfection is an illusion. All my life I’ve struggled with perfectionism in areas ranging from my diet and my housekeeping to my career ambitions. But I probably need to face the fact that our home will always look like real people – and pets – live here, no matter how much time I spend cleaning. There will never be a time when my house is in perfect order inside and out, including the closets, the garage and the basement.

So is eternal youth. Is 65 really the new 40, as Baby Boomers proclaim? Some say my generation is redefining old age. But truth be known, I have wrinkles. I have gray hair. There are some things I can’t do anymore – like burn the figurative candle at both ends and get away with it. Actually, I wasn’t getting away with it when I was younger either. I just thought I was.

Perhaps I should say I’ve survived adolescence twice. I did have one of those midlife crises the shrinks talk about – that second adolescence complete with acne at age 45, identity struggles and acting out behaviors (red car, drastic career change). As I prepare to enter this new territory called Senior Citizenhood, I’m thinking maybe it’s time for my flaming midlife crisis to be over already! On the other hand, a friend sent me a Facebook meme that advised, “If you haven’t grown up by the time you’re 60, you don’t have to bother.” Whew! Maybe I’m off that hook.

Believe it or not, I do not spend all my time wishing I were younger. Yes, there are days when I wish I had my 20-year-old body back – especially when my arthritis flares. But only if I could keep my 65-year-old mind and all the experience and wisdom about life that I’ve accumulated. I’m old enough to know what’s important and young enough to still act on at least some of it. Besides, when I am 90, I will most likely wish I still had my 65-year-old body, so I might as well appreciate it now.

 “Respect your elders!” never sounded so good. I can tell I’m getting older whenever I’m tempted to direct that admonition toward 25- and 30-year-old kids. Oops! I mean young adults. On a serious note, it’s gotten more scary to encounter young adults who regard their elders as people who either need to move out of the way or be thrown away rather than people to learn from and respect.

It’s time to let go of regrets. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have picked up that first cigarette. I would have spent fewer of my younger years striving and competing for that brass ring that didn’t seem so shiny once I succeeded in grabbing it. Alas, I can’t change what happened decades ago. What I can do is make better decisions in this 24 hours. When my father turned 75, he said, “I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.” I hope I can say that when I’m 75!

I have set some boundaries with the fashion world: 1. Clothes must be easy to care for. If they need dry-cleaning, forget it. 2. They must be comfortable – nothing that binds or scratches. 3. They must look good on a 60-something woman who’s never been a size 0 and never will be. 4. Since I don’t have the time or inclination to constantly shop, my wardrobe must stay in fashion for longer than a month. If clothes don’t fit all these criteria, they don’t go into my closet, no matter how many cute young things are wearing them!

I’m much less materialistic than I used to be. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s more THINGS!!! If I need to be reminded of this fact, I can go to my basement and gaze upon the 48 boxes marked “miscellaneous” that make me scream when I think about sorting whatever is in them.

But there are some things I continue to wantI want to spend more time on what’s important – enjoying life with my husband, entertaining family and friends (even if only on FaceTime and Zoom these days) – and less time mindlessly surfing the Internet. I want the courage to stand up for my beliefs and values and let the chips fall where they may. I want to stop worrying so much about what others think. I want to stop fighting with my own body.

Yes, I still have dreams. Now that I’m retired, I have never been in a better position to achieve dreams like writing a book or making a constructive contribution to our society through meaningful volunteer work. The time to do these things is now, not some future date when everything will have settled down and fallen into place so I can start living my life in earnest. Especially since writing a book has been on my bucket list since age 10. (See “Time is Limited” above.)

I’m entering the Age of Wisdom. Or so I’m told. When I was in my 20s, I had the world figured out. But the older I got, the smarter my parents got, just as Mark Twain predicted. Now I’m convinced only God has all the answers, and it’s my job to keep asking the questions.

I have a LOT to be grateful for. I have a terrific 35-year marriage to the best man on the planet (I’m only slightly biased here). I have wonderful enduring friendships. I have a beautiful home and – for the first time in my life – some real financial stability. I’ve had a successful writing career, followed by a challenging career in human services, followed by fulfilling volunteer work. Despite minor ailments, I’m relatively healthy. And I’m thankful God has given me another year.

Recipe: Spinach quiche

What a delicious way to sneak an extra veggie serving into our meals and meet our daily 3-5 fruits and vegetables challenge! By using Egg Beaters and fat-free feta cheese, I cut out most of the fat and cholesterol usually found in this kind of recipe. 

I use store-bought pie crusts – much easier! If you’re looking for a healthy alternative or have dietary restrictions, Wholly Wholesome makes whole wheat, as well as gluten-free ready-made crusts (link HERE).

One thing I love about this quiche is its versatility. I may have a slice for breakfast, for lunch or for a light evening meal. Depending on the meal, pair it with either a fresh fruit cup or a salad.

Another thing I like is that this quiche freezes well for up to three months, which means the recipe lends itself to batch cooking.

Ingredients

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach
Dash of black pepper
1/2 cup fat free feta cheese
1½ cups plain Egg Beaters or similar product
9-inch frozen pie crust

Directions

Allow pie crust to thaw for about 20 minutes before adding filling. Using a fork, poke holes evenly throughout the pie crust to prevent bubbling. 

Thaw spinach in microwave for about 5-10 minutes or leave in refrigerator the night before to thaw out. Make sure spinach is thoroughly thawed and drained. It is important to press out all the moisture from the spinach before using.

Sauté the garlic in olive oil. When the garlic is lightly browned, add the spinach. Lightly sprinkle black pepper over the mixture and continue to sauté until the mixture is heated through.

Remove from heat. Add the eggs and feta cheese, stirring only until blended.

Spoon the spinach mixture evenly into the pie crust.

Bake in pre-heated 350-degree oven for approximately 75 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

I usually top a slice of the quiche with a dollop of Hollandaise sauce, which I make from a pre-packaged sauce mix. Knorr makes a sauce mix that is very quick and easy. 

If heating up leftover quiche, pop single servings into the microwave for approximately 90 seconds to two minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information

Calories: 225 | Carbohydrates: 16 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 12 g | Saturated fat: 3 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 396 mg | Potassium: 93 mg | Fiber: 1.5 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 9% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 20% 

Oley and Champaign

During our time in lockdown, Pete and I have been blessed with the company of two adorable companions. They’ve certainly made our extended quarantine much easier to bear!

We adopted Olaf DaVinci and Champaign Le Chat as a pair from a shelter back in 2007. They’ve given us an abundance of love and cuddles ever since. And kept us thoroughly entertained.

Oley is the tabby-striped Maine Coon and Champaign is the yellow domestic longhair.

Here’s the King on his throne.

Or is it the Prince and the pea?

That water in the dish on the floor? Boring …

Our boys love our sunroom. Or maybe I should say their sunroom. Just chillin’.

Good thing there’s a window separating these two and the critter outside …

Helping grade papers is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Champaign will have us know: “It’s not a dulcimer case. It’s a cat bed.”

Boundaries, kitten. Boundaries.

Chasing each other around the house at 3 a.m. while yowling at the top of their furry little lungs can be tiring. The boys need their rest.

The kitties teach us how to live in the moment …

… While keeping us focused on our priorities.

We love them to pieces. That’s for sure.