A thought from Stephanie
March 5, 2024

Trusting the Value of "Not Knowing"!


According to just about everyone, we’re living in a time of uncertainty. 

The truth is, things change every day, even when we wish they wouldn’t, and NOTHING is ever certain…....except of course Ben Franklin’s famous edict of “death and taxes”!

How is now any different from the enormous uncertainty of centuries ago?
 
Change is uncomfortable, especially when it’s unexpected and out of our control but change can also shake things up and help us move forward with a new perspective.

I was never one who felt like I knew much about anything, and it used to bother me…A LOT!  Yet somewhere along the way to becoming the “me” I am today, I learned to embrace it.   

I am grateful to be still learning, growing, and, most importantly, STILL trying to figure things out.  

Seriously! 

Being okay with “not knowing” allows me to be creative, open, and willing to live in a state of curiosity and possibility, like kids do. 

The easier it is for me to admit I don’t know something, the more likely I am to either learn it, let it go, ask for help, or be at peace about it, helping me achieve a deeper sense of self-acceptance and self-appreciation.

Which brings me to gatHERing.

Last year we focused on living life with intention in our bonus years.  That is taking time - in these years of additional life and health span to do more of what matters most and less of what is expected!   It certainly helped me be more intentional about what my life can be.

In 2024, gatHERing continues to underscore living intentionally while also embracing “not knowing” what is next for us!  We’re taking a step back from our old way of manifesting to allow something new to unfold.  And, trusting that it will!!

That said, we are still passionate about creating space for women to gatHER for meaningful conversation, community, and connection to positively impact each other and the world around us.  We know that the uncertainty we live in makes finding support - through deeper connections – essential, and that our health and wellbeing depend on it

We are challenging ourselves, and YOU, to seek out and take things on - that you don’t understand, know about, or think you can’t do.  Doing this helps us to expand, build confidence, and practice hanging out in the unknown and uncertainty of life - which is where reach growth, change and transformation can take place.  
 
A thought from Stephanie
October 31, 2023

Rethinking What Is Still Possible? 🤔

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.”     
         -   Bernard Baruch

 
In our one-day Bonus Life retreat last month, an extraordinary group of women gatHERed in community to take time to reflect on what is possible in the new adult life stage we call our ‘bonus life’ - a time of longer lives, more resources, and of, hopefully, greater health.  We think about this time as a new beginning and a chance to approach life differently by creating networks and communities that help us open the door to new awarenesses about ourselves and about how we can still learn, grow, discover, and have a positive impact on the world around us.
 
Of course it takes more than a one-day retreat to peel away the layers of socialization and influences imposed on us over time.  Our launching off point was reassessing our values, priorities, and what we stand for.  
 
The truth is, most of us inherited our values about lifestyle, relationships, family, politics, spirituality, and so on, from the way we were brought up.  At some point we might have realized that certain choices didn’t work for us and chose a different path but, like it or not, throughout our lives, we are constantly up against the push to adopt the values of others, like when we’re in school, at work, and in relationships.  We are, after all, social animals that are hardwired to worry about the impression we’re making on others.   
 
Not surprisingly, my biggest takeaway from our bonus life retreat is that it takes courage to forge a path in life that is truly our own.  Life has a way of beating us down with the responsibilities we put on ourselves and the endless noise and distraction of a world that is constantly changing.  Often it can seem easier to hold on to what is familiar instead of taking a chance on the unknown which is why taking time to “retreat” and “rethink” who we are (or want to be) and what we truly value, is so important!
 
It's also important to acknowledge that no one stays the same over time.  As we change and adapt to new realities, our values change too, and that’s okay.  Rather than having a rigid approach to what matters most to us, we accept and reflect on how we, and our values, have evolved.  
 
We are how we live, and what we value we become.  
 
Rethinking, or better yet, refreshing, what we value in our bonus life helps us determine what we stand for.  For me, after caring for my elderly parents for nearly ten years, I’ve become more compassionate about all seniors living in my midst. I saw too clearly how easy it is to look away from, even dismiss, senior adults and realized that even a simple smile or a kind “hello” can make a world of difference to them, and to me!  Afterall, no one should be invisible.
 
Have you thought about what you stand for and how you can impact others? 
 
Our Bonus Life gatHERings are both fun and enlightening especially when we genuinely connect with our true north.  With guidance and support from other wise women we can go deeper into ourselves without judgment or distraction, and we CAN rethink what is still possible! Several years ago, when I first heard my gatHERing partner, Kate Coughlin, speak on the topic of ‘Bonus Life’, my life was forever changed. 

 
A thought from Stephanie
August 15,  2023

Who Do You Admire for How They Live?

“Knowing what you admire in others is a wonderful mirror into your deepest, as yet unborn, self.”     
 -   Gretchen Rubin

 
Several years ago, when I first heard my gatHERing partner, Kate Coughlin, speak on the topic of ‘Bonus Life’, my life was forever changed. 
 
Among the powerful questions Kate challenged the audience with, the one that profoundly impacted me was when she asked us to think of an example of someone we admire for how they lived; someone we knew personally or from history.  We wrote down our reflections and then shared them with one another.
 
The first person that came to my mind was Eleanor Roosevelt (whom I’ve loved reading about since I was a young girl) but after hearing what others had to say, I realized that Eleanor was someone I admired more for what she accomplished rather than how she lived.  Instead, I truly surprised myself by deciding on a woman I knew personally from my childhood.  Her name was Betty and she was one of my mother's closest friends.   I had always secretly admired Betty's vibrant and sunny personality and her warm and compassionate heart.
 
Betty never went to college or had a professional career.  She worked as a hospital and school volunteer, raised four girls, was happily married, and despite her fill of life adversities seemed to always see the world with rose-colored glasses.  She was the ‘lighthearted and unconventional’ Ying to my mother’s ‘no-nonsense and do what’s expected’ Yang.  When Betty visited, she brought a positive, cheerful, and embracing energy, that lifted the hearts, minds, and moods of all she encountered.  Betty's delightful and fun loving sense of humor could make us laugh with and at her (including my normally reserved mother), and at ourselves.  
 
I’ve met other ‘Bettys’ along the way whom I always gravitate towards - not because of what they do - but because of how they make me feel.  They are unconventional, idiosyncratic, comfortable being different, and freely express positivity and encouragement to those around them.
 
My mother recognized the value of surrounding herself with encouraging and supportive women with qualities, characteristics, and approaches to life, different from her own.  And she inspired me to do the same!

Our exciting new "bonus life" retreat coming up this September 16th will be an opportunity to expand awareness of your true essence in a unique time in our lives.  How do you want others to feel when they are in your midst?  We will explore how and what we want to create as a legacy and design daily practices in support of how we can live life fully, fearlessly, and with intention.

Please accept our invitation to consider how you want to live your "bonus life" - this time of longer lives, more resources, and greater health than any other generation could have ever imagined.  The setting will be inspirational - high above the city of Chicago and Lake Michigan, and will feature wonderful women, delicious food, time outdoors and most importantly time for you.  To reflect.  To laugh.  To appreciate all your life has revealed to you and what might be next. 

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."    -  Maya Angelou

 
A thought from Kate
July 26,  2023

Everything the Light Touches

I just returned from a remarkable week of vacation. It was with all of my children and their partners. And with a family that we have shared vacation with for all our children's lives. They all came too with their spouses and, so profoundly, the newest addition to their family - a beautiful, joyful son. Three generations. It was miraculous, fun and went much too fast.

The setting was a lake that my father's family had been traveling to since 1916. They didn't purchase - just rented - all those years, and my brothers and I made that purchase 30 years ago. 

Touchingly, my son's fiancé posted a picture of me looking out over the lake with the caption "Everything the light touches". It is a quote from "The Lion King", where Mufasa says the following to Simba:

"Everything the light touches is our kingdom. A king's time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king."

Now of course, I claim none of what she so beautifully shared. We ALL created the memories we so cherish. And I am not a ruler (although I may act like a petulant queen when the garbage isn't taken out!)

But that scene from the movie is so touching. Simba doesn't think about his father leaving this earth. He is awed by the enormity of what he might one day rule over. And Mufasa wants that for Simba.

This is a perfect reminder of legacy. The legacy this family vacation is leaving for that new grandson. What my father and his father before him gave all of us. The passing of our joys and values to others who can mold and shape it in their own way. And the deep love we give to that next generation. Whether we have children or not.

Our exciting new "bonus life" retreat coming up this September 16th will be an opportunity to explore how, at this unique time in our lives, we can think about what we want to create as a legacy. Now, that family vacation that started 30 years ago was never intentionally thought of as that. It was intentionally created to have a great time in a beautiful setting. And that one small step led to something greater. That is what we will explore. What is the next step, and the next, that will be aligned with an intention we want for our lives? The setting will be inspirational - high above the city of Chicago and Lake Michigan, and will feature wonderful women, delicious food, time outdoors and most importantly time for you. To reflect. To laugh. To appreciate all your life has revealed to you and what might be next. 

Please accept our invitation to consider what your intention is for your "bonus life" - this time of longer lives, more resources, and greater health than any other generation could have ever imagined. 

Come and participate in the circle of life.

 
A thought from Stephanie
June 20,  2023

Are You Truly LIVING?

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”
  • Lucille Ball

Flipping channels the other night, after a particularly tiring day, I happened on a movie title that caught my eye called ‘LIVING’.  Intrigued, I pressed the ‘play’ button and was soon engrossed in the story of Mr. Williams (played by Bill Nighy), a man trapped in the monotonous clockwork of everyday life while working in the Public Works Department of a post war town where paper gets shuffled around but nothing actually gets done.  When Mr. Williams discovers he is terminally ill, he confronts his past and decides to salvage what he has left of his future.   

This story isn't a new one, is it.

Over a century ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said that "many people die with their music still in them --- they are always getting ready to live but, before they know it, time runs out!"  If we're being honest here, many of us hold off on truly living until, well, often it's too late!

The good news is that over the course of the last century, we’ve added 20 plus potentially healthy and productive years to our life span with the help of significantly improved medical treatments and immunization protocols, among other factors.   At gatHERing, we refer to this exciting new adult stage in life as our “Bonus Life!” 
 
Because this is still a new and relatively unexplored territory, taking time to be intentional in creating our own path, instead of following a trail led by others, is essential especially if we want to leave behind a legacy of lasting positive impact. 

Here’s where gatHERing is here to help.  This fall we’re offering a full day retreat/workshop, “Design and Live a Bonus Life with Intention," on Saturday, September 16th that addresses this exciting life correction opportunity.  The retreat includes a welcome dinner for all participants the night before.

What will we address in the workshop?

First, we will confront the possibilities that this extra adult life stage might have for each of us.  What are we willing to let go of, embrace, or reconsider.

Next, we will imagine what living into this unique time of life with intention might mean.  There are the things we’re still waiting to do – travel the world, take more risks, spend more time with loved ones, go to college (or not), start a business, write a novel, ask a crush on a date.   You decide what’s on your list.

Then there are things we can still do to have a positive impact!  Creating a life with impact can be as simple as practicing the art of giving.  Giving love to our children, our family members, our friends, thereby creating a legacy of love.  Or perhaps you can offer job opportunities, mentoring, inspiration, or financial support, thereby creating a legacy of service to others.

Creating an impactful life can also be about making or building something that benefits others, whether it be through a multitude of art forms such as penning a poem, painting a picture, writing a book or a song, and sharing it with others.  We can also help in the construction of something using actual brick and mortar - as Mr. Williams did in the movie LIVING when he pushed through the Public Works Department approval to build a children’s playground in an underserved neighborhood.   

The key to any of the above is simple.  Just start.  Write the first (or maybe the last) line of the novel, google travel destinations, pick up the phone and make a call.  Start somewhere, anywhere! 

 
A thought from Kate
May 17,  2023

Artist's Dates and Travel!

I recently had the great good fortune to take a solo trip to Japan. 

The trip was wonderful. The cherry blossoms were still clinging to the trees, allowing me a hint of the grandeur that envelopes the country at their peak. A friend pointed me to islands that had amazing art installations and museums that surrounded me in aesthetics I never have experienced in the States or in Europe. The food was beautiful and delicious. The gardens and shrines were inspiring. The Peace Museum in Hiroshima gave me an unflinching view into the horrors of the nuclear bomb. 

All of that was reason enough to take that trip to Japan. But there is always another underlying benefit to travel, near or far. To know myself a bit more. To test and stretch myself. To try new things. To get out of my comfortable lifestyle. To learn and change in some small way. 

For me, living is learning and travel gives me visceral ways to expand my world through all five senses. But travel is expensive - both in time and money. And so I want to find ways to continue the benefits of travel without that cost. 

This summer, I will intentionally plan excursions that do what travel does for me - new experiences, new adventures, new ways to interact with the world. A hike in a new area. A farmer's market I haven't visited. A museum or other cultural institution I haven't seen or can revisit with fresh eyes. 

Julia Cameron, in her classic book The Artist's Way, calls these "Artist's Dates". They allow us to absorb new ideas, experiences and sights so that we can fill up our minds and bodies with creativity. Once we have given ourselves time to learn and grow, we can then be creative in our own lives. 

This spring and summer I invite you to join me in planning some Artist's Dates of your own. Let's see what we can discover close to our own back doors. 

"I was discovering that adventures in the wider world are often attempts to discover who we are when we are alone in our room with the lights off."
~ Bono, from Songs of Surrender
 
A thought from Paula
April 26,  2023

Moments and Being Human Go Together!

My Thought this month is not mine. What you are about to read are the words of Jeff Foster.   They were passed on to me by a dear friend, and I want to pass them on to you, for they cannot not touch your soul and the beauty of your humanness. Our lives have changed over the past three years; however, the moment remains a steady constant in our human experience. Any moment contains the answers to our questions, and it’s where we can realize the true meaning of life. Stepping into it helps us to adjust to how we want to be with the radical changes in the world and our private worlds. Jeff Foster is inviting us to go there.  
 
You will notice there is no title. Create one for yourself if you’re so inclined. Read the words three times. The first reading is to just let them wash over you. The second is to read for understanding and meaning for you. And the third is to read them like a message written just for you.
 
And now, the Words by Jeff Foster ……

“Whether you are alone or in a crowd.  
Whether your body is young or old, in full health or broken and infected.
Whether you have a decade to live, or a day.
Any moment. Any moment can be a great portal.
To joy. To love. To holiness. To the Infinite.
Live with your heart open to loneliness and bliss, then, let being infuse all your
doing, and do not refuse any moment, even the most ‘ordinary’ moment, for each
moment is here to help you, and heal you, and awaken you, and save you, and
complete you.
 
A flutter of sensation in the belly. An ache in the shoulders.
The cry of a child. The glare of the afternoon sun.
An image, a memory, a mysterious figure floating through the mind.
What it feels like to walk. To wear clothes. To sit, to stand, to carry. To bend and to lean
And to fall.
To speak words. To stay silent. To not know what to say.
To feel empty, and to fill that emptiness with yourself.
To be a human being, here, now, on this strange planet, just for a moment.
To drench all you do with a curious, playful, child-like awareness.
This. This. This.
This is the Kingdom.”
 
A thought from Stephanie
April 4,  2023

Sometimes Letting Go Isn't the Loss You Think!

A couple of years ago, my Facebook account was hacked, and later suspended altogether by FB.  After relentlessly trying to retrieve what I lost, and believe me I TRIED, it eventually dawned on me, that I truly didn’t miss engaging with the ever popular social media platform at all.   In truth, I felt liberated without the distraction.   Without realizing it, FB had become a major time suck for me and worse, a chore.   God, forbid I didn’t check in daily and 'LIKE' every post in my news feed.  Instead of scrolling through endless “friend” vacation pics and photos of parties I wasn’t invited to, I found myself doing things that really mattered to me like reading books again and putting pen to paper in my daily journal.
 
Holding on to what is familiar, whether it be a home, a job, a marriage, a toxic self-perception, or an unhealthy habit, is as old a human tendency as the Bible itself.   Estelle Frankel, a therapist, and teacher of Jewish mysticism has written that when “Moses led the Israelites to freedom, they often yearned to return to Egypt.   Despite being oppressed and enslaved by the Egyptians, according to Frankel, the Israelites could not bear the uncertainty they faced as free people.
 
Letting go of what is known can be agonizing and scary.  It requires the ability to be OK with uncertainty and to trust in what unfolds in the journey ahead.  

At the same time, letting go is an opportunity to wake up from “sleep mode” and fill in the open space with learning new things, exploring new experiences, and best of all, engaging in activities that bring satisfaction and joy rather than dissatisfaction and annoyance. 
 
The Buddha said it best that “the root of all suffering is attachment!"

 
A thought from Kate
March 21,  2023

This past weekend had me thinking about the time in life I call a "bonus life" - the years when we have completed a significant part of our lives, whether it is a career, raising children, etc. and can embark on something new in our next "chapter". 

Saturday, I had the good fortune to meet a community of very successful women who gather frequently to discuss what is important in their lives. They had invited another coach and me to talk about this "bonus life" topic. I was struck by something that I see frequently when I work with people (men and women). Namely, that this isn't easy. Figuring out what is next for us can be so challenging. Even those of us who had great success can stumble and find ourselves at a loss as to what and how to do the next thing. 

Sunday, I watched the last performance of a play in Chicago. It featured two older actors and I saw great emotion on the stage that day, both during the performance, but also during the curtain call. Now, perhaps I am reading too much into what I observed. But it struck me that part of the emotion I was witnessing may have to do with the ending of a gift at this time in their acting careers. Will they find a similar experience, or will this opportunity be their last? What is next?

First, I wish for all the people I met and witnessed on stage they will carry with them hope. There is every reason to believe that there are wonderful experiences and fulfillment in store for all of us that desire it. Second, I believe that they can achieve that next goal if they take time to discern what they need at this time in their lives, find resources to support that vision, and be part of a supportive community with similar goals

Those 3 elements - self understanding, resources and community - are the 3 legs of the stool that support us in crafting our bonus lives. And we will be exploring all 3 in our upcoming workshop. I hope you can join us. Please click on the link below to see the event on our website.

Our society will be a better one if the women and the talented actors I was privileged to encounter this weekend can continue to use their enormous skills and talents. All of us can make our bonus lives meaningful and generative!


 
A thought from Paula
February 22, 2023

"The YES, AND Way of Doing Life" 

 
“Yes, but my situation is different.” “Yes, but you don’t understand what I’m going through.”  “Yes, but I’m the one with the experience.”  “Yes, but I’ve got it under control.” “Yes, but I’m the one responsible for….”
 
Ah, the great Yes, But! It’s our almost-immediate response to a suggestion, an idea we see as coming out of left field, or a viewpoint different from our own. Yes, But says, “Don’t rock my boat.” “The way I’m doing life is just fine, thank you very much.”  Yes, But keeps us safe and secure in the name of being right or fending off change. We all respond with a Yes, But occasionally, and for some, more often than not. It doesn’t matter how often we come from that place; it’s more how it keeps us trapped in living statically in a dynamic, constantly changing world. How do we shift out of it?
 
A long time ago, I was introduced to Yes, And as the antidote to Yes, But. Yes, And diminishes the constrictive energy of Yes, But and shifts to the feeling of freedom and expansiveness. It acknowledges the “Yes” rather than discounting it, and this “And” invites potentiality, possibility, a consideration, a stretch beyond what we think we know is best for us. Yes, And allows us to keep our thoughts, viewpoints, and rationales, making it easier to open ourselves up to hear something different. It doesn’t say we must now agree with the suggestion or idea. It just wants us to be open and consider.  
 
Take a minute to reflect on the part(s) of your life or yourself that feel constricted. Did a Yes, But help contribute to it? How so? Do the same for the parts where you feel expansive or where your life has expanded. Did a Yes, And play a role? How so?
 
Consider that your reflections have primed you for an experiment in becoming more expansive in the moment.  Choose a day you dedicate to responding with a Yes, And to situations or people where you would typically respond with Yes, But. For each Yes, And response, notice what is expanding in you. Then write or think about what may be possible now that you have chosen to be open to something more or different.
 
May you find liberation in your Yes, Ands. 
        
  
A thought from Stephanie
February 1,  2023

"Enjoy Life, It's Later Than You Think!" 

           - George Skouras, winemaker

Truth be told, despite my training as a Duke Certified Integrative Health Coach, I still struggled to live each day with intention – also a core value of gatHERing’s mission - until the fateful moment when I read the words to “enjoy life, it’s later than you think” imprinted on the wall of a winery I toured last fall in Greece.

It’s a fact, after all, that life doesn’t last forever.  Yet, as a culture, we are unaccepting and often in denial about this unavoidable certainty.

In that pivotal moment when I read those words I felt a seismic shift in my being, finally fully comprehending that there truly isn’t any time to waste. The time is NOW to seize the day!

Why then, you ask? 

It probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was touring the winery with my husband, John, and a group of longtime (high school) friends and their spouses - several of whom we hadn’t seen in many years.  This was an unprecedented reunion that came together with only a few months of planning.  John reached out to the group informing them that we’d rented a house in Athens, Greece for the month of October and inviting all to come for a visit; never for one minute thinking that any of them would.  

One by one, slowly but surely, they all signed on!  We couldn’t believe it was going to happen.  And IT DID happen!  No one backed out, miraculously no one got sick, and best of all, John and I had the time of our lives showing these lifelong friends the land of our ancestors.  Even more remarkable was the sheer joy everyone experienced in each other’s unvarnished company, the passage of time erasing the pretenses and facades of our younger selves.
  
In a word, it was “magical!”  

Since then, the group vowed to keep the momentum going and plans are underway to visit Iceland together later this year.
  
Shortly after we returned home from Greece, we learned that another dear friend, John Smyth age 77, had decided to end his life because his body, ravaged by ALS, was no longer his own.  My husband and I have always marveled at how John (and his wife Gay, who were more family than friends) seemed to live each day to its fullest.  John's parents never reached old age, and John feared the same for himself, so he retired at 61 and spent every day of his early retirement living life with an unrelenting openness to new experiences and curiosity about life, traveling the world, spending time with family and friends, and engaging in numerous hobbies including drawing, painting, dancing, and whenever possible, traveling the city on mass transit.   He’d had a remarkable life and was grateful for each moment and his decision to end his life was made without a shred of regret.  While John was totally at peace with his choice, we, his close friends and family, struggled with letting him go.   
 
True to form, John showed us how to meet death with dignity and, of all things, intentionality.  He said his goodbyes, made certain his finances were in order and his wife and family were taken care of, and left this world grateful for the life he lived.  

While so many of us felt robbed of time during the pandemic, there came with it a realization of how truly precious time is, not to be frittered away with meaningless activities.   I, for one, took the passage of time for granted…….that somehow it would always be there.  But the undeniable truth is, impermanence is inevitable.  And our dear friend John taught us that accepting, rather than fearing, death can be profoundly gratifying and peaceful.  We can be better prepared for the inevitable and we can be more intentional about how we spend our time now.

I recently learned that the ancient stoic philosophers, Seneca, Epictitus, and Marcus Aureleus, not my friend John, were, in fact, the first to champion the notion of accepting, even embracing, impermanence and that we can both live and die with intention.   In the words of Seneca, “let us postpone nothing.  Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

Or, put another way, when you wake up each day remember, as I do now, to “enjoy life, (because) it’s later than you think!”

 
A thought from Kate
January 12,  2023

How do you think about resiliency?


Lately I have been hearing about and experiencing for myself the great yin and yang of life.  The wondrous birth of my dear friends' precious grandson.  The death of so many of my friends' parents and of my contemporaries and even those younger than me.  The sudden loss of a colleague's job.  The festive retirement from a long career for others.  The warmth and closeness of the holiday season.  The cold and loneliness of January. 

Each of these experiences - both joyful and challenging - ask us to be resilient.  Resilient is defined on my phone's dictionary app as "springing back; rebounding" or "recovering readily; buoyant".

I never think of resilience that way.  For me, resilience is the ability to fully experience the happiness or the pain, integrate it into who you are and move forward with wisdom.  To me, resilience means staying authentic and vulnerable amidst all that life throws at us, and turning those experiences into lessons on how to be more ourselves, more compassionate and more kind.  Buoyancy and rebounding?  That sounds like trying to get back to where we were before the experience.  For me, I would rather be changed by the experience.  More human. More aware that I can handle what comes my way.  And by handling it I don't just bounce back.  I grieve.  I celebrate.  I change.

But I never want to be alone in my resilience.  Sharing grief and joy is so much richer than doing it alone.  Friends, family and authentic communities (like gatHERing) can be mirrors to ourselves and show us ways to use our hard won wisdom in service to others.

One of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes comes to mind. "Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life - it has given me me."

Wishing you a very happy New Year filled with wisdom, love and community.  And resilience in the face of all that 2023 may hold.  

 
A thought from Stephanie
November 30, 2022

Discovering the Silver Lining's in Life's Unexpected Obstacles! 😳


Thanksgiving didn't turn out the way I expected.

In truth, few things in life ever do.  But, that's actually the good news!

We certainly learned to roll with enormous and unexpected disappointment during the pandemic, but now that we're back to gathering in larger groups again, most of us have reverted back to planning ahead for the holidays and "expecting" everything to work out. 
 
I know I did this Thanksgiving.

My "plan" this year was to host a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for my family on the holiday but my youngest son, who was traveling in from Philly for a several day visit, called last minute to say that he had to be back at work first thing on the Friday morning afterwards.  I held onto to the notion that we could still have dinner earlier on Thanksgiving Day until I discovered that there were only early morning return flights on the actual holiday.

"Hmm", I thought, "it won't be much fun cooking and eating turkey and mashed potatoes before 9am." 😩

After mulling the situation (and my disappointment) around in my head for a day or two, I decided to check with my other family members to see if they were available for a Thanksgiving dinner on the Wednesday night before, instead.

It turned out that everyone was free and able, so that's what we did.  And, it worked out sooooo much better than I expected - especially since Thanksgiving day turned out to be a totally "chill" day for us all and the leftovers tasted better than they did the day before - that we might very well do the same thing next year!!!  

The good news is that when we face the unexpected, as so often happens in life, there are always silver linings.   All we have to do is find them!

 
A thought from Paula
November 6, 2022

Blessings! Blessings! Blessings!


There they were, eight children huddled in a circle around my nephew's birthday gift - a seven-week-old miniature Dachshund named Ringo.   He was held, petted, and whispered words of endearment.  I got the idea of having them engage in a ritual - something where they could each contribute to this puppy's new life.  So with an enthusiastic voice, I commanded: "Raise your hand if you want to baptize Ringo!"  Of course, every hand shot up.  I had it that each child would have a teaspoon of water to pour over the puppy's head.  I quickly realized that we might drown him.  I scratched the baptizing idea publicly while their vocal pleas convinced me otherwise.  I quickly regrouped and instructed my nephew to be the "baptizer" while the rest would each bless Ringo by making a cross on his forehead and saying: "I bless you, Ringo."  Everyone happily participated in the ritual.  That was 28 years ago, and it continues to impact me profoundly.  

To this day, I continue to bless the dogs.  I experience a soulful connection with them just by looking into their eyes and gently tracing a cross on their forehead.  Then I ask myself, "Who's really getting blessed here?"  The dog is happy, and I am in joy!  I've expanded to blessing all animals, plants, trees, and best of all, people I know and don't know.  The essence of everything and everyone in that moment appears when it is blessed.  It has become one of my favorite spiritual practices.

My story is about capturing the sacredness of life and experiencing our true selves more regularly and consistently.  Spiritual rituals are prayers, rites, ceremonies, and celebrations to honor our connections with that which is greater than us, our fellow human beings, community, nature, and the world.  Spiritual practices are specific activities to deepen your relationships with the sacred and the world around you.  If reading this sparks something in you, welcome it, live with it, and make the decision to tap into your essence.

Endnote: Ringo lived 18 years having a very blessed life!

 
A thought from Kate
September 14, 2022

What Do You See Coming?


We saw it coming. 
The Queen was 96 years old and frail. We knew the day would come and she certainly had a full, "rich" life. And yet, the news of her death hit many people hard. Tears, flowers and concern over the future of the monarchy fill the news this week.

Certain news or events may not come as a shock, but facing the reality can still yield surprising or extreme emotions we weren't prepared to experience. Our children moving out of the house. Retirement. A move. A Covid surge. A new grandchild. Not always sad. Not unexpected. But the emotions come. How do we navigate them?

As I watch the coverage of this week of mourning for the Queen, it strikes me that the solace many are finding is in community. Going to the residences - Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Windsor - and leaving so many flowers I wonder how the florists are keeping up with the demand. Lining up for miles for the public viewing. Crowds outside those same residences greeting the royal family as they meet and greet with handshakes, hugs and even kisses. 

Community. Sharing our emotions with others for comfort and solace, or to share unbridled joy. I know when my son moved away, it was so helpful to hear from my friends who have already experienced a similar move that the connection is still there, that it will be ok. Without that reassurance, I don't know how I would have gotten through my sadness. Community. Whether we know each other or meet for the first time to share the experience, we are drawn to be together.

Which is what gatHERing is all about! I am so grateful for this community and our sharing of wisdom, experience and insights.

 
A thought from Stephanie
August 10, 2022

No one is "Youer than You!


If you’re anything like me, somewhere on a laptop, cell phone, journal or coffee mug you're keeping a running list of quotes or words of inspiration that moved you in some way.  Perhaps it’s a meaningful story someone told you, a charming observation from a child’s mouth, or some practical advice from a mentor.  My problem is that as soon as I record those words, I promptly let them slip away from my mind along with the memory of exactly where I placed them.

One of our frequent gatHERers, Jean B., suggested we share those thoughtful quotes, wise words, and stories in our very own “Words to Live By” guide, to inspire, motivate and support each other.  Kate, Paula and I loved the idea so much we decided to dedicate our next Voices Carry storytelling event to this end. 

This experience will be a wonderful opportunity to hear the anecdotes, quotations, and words of wisdom others have selected as personally meaningful, and a chance to share your own.  The best part is that Paula, Kate and I will compile a summary of everyone’s contributions and email a recap afterwards to all who attend. 

Since I personally can’t wait for this special gatHERing to take place, I decided to reveal a few of my own favorite quotes in advance of our October 4th virtual event - see below for a smattering of my personal picks and for the link to sign-up for the next Voices Carry: “Words to Live By”.....
 
Steph’s Top Picks:
  1. "Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!" 😍😘     
  •            Dr. Seuss (Cancelled? Maybe. But not the words.)
  1. "If you see someone without a smile give them one of yours." 😊
  •           Unknown
  1. "Today’s goals: coffee and kindness. Maybe two coffees, and then kindness." ☕️
  •           Nanea Hoffman
  1. "If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be." 🤗
  •           Maya Angelou
  1. "Nothing is impossible; the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!" 🙋🏻‍♀️
  •           Audrey Hepburn
  1. "Life is too short to drink bad wine." 🍷
  •           Goethe
  1. "I refuse to live in fear." 😧 😂
  •           gatHERer, Beth C.
  1. "It’s never too late to have a good day!" ☀️
  •           gatHERer, Leslie G.  
And, finally, "I am who I am who I am, and for some unbelievable reason, that's what God has chosen to love." 😇
  •           Fr. Richard Rohr
A thought from Paula
July 27, 2022

Here's Looking at You, Kid


I've been camping out at my sister's home for the past seven months.  It sits on a large pond secluded by beautiful trees and occupied by sweet birds, impish chipmunks, industrious squirrels, and, let's not forget the Canadian geese.  I was a voyeur to their comings and goings, everyday routines, communication styles, and mating rituals.  They lightened my heart and made the never-ending gray days of March and April a lot more tolerable.

On a cold March morning I watched the geese pair off with their "squeeze," six couples in all.  Throughout the early Spring, I would go out on the deck and talk to them while they quietly grazed the water together.  My eager anticipation was high all through April.  I couldn't wait to see their babies.  But the geese went away, and I felt their absence; I missed them.

One Saturday in late April the sun broke through.  I took a spectator chair out to a piece of my sister's property surrounded by a small patch of woods leading down to the pond.  I placed myself at the top of the slope and began reading my book.  I heard a rustling sound behind me, and there they were!  Mom, Dad, and their sic baby goslings walking through the woods and up to my chair.  Mom and Dad were so proud.  They said, "We know you were waiting to see them."  Nothing was separating us - no animal kingdom classifications.  We were each an expression of life - our common denominator.

I'm sure that many of us get out into nature to relax, reflect, be in the quiet, nurture our souls, or just take in the beauty of it all.  How many of us just stop, be in the moment and listen - listen to our own breath, listen to Her breathing?  When we do, we can actually feel Her acknowledging us.  Feeling "One with nature" is no longer a cliche.  We can use Her to feel what so many people are longing for themselves and the world - our Oneness with everyone and all things.

So the next time you're in your favorite nature environment, stop and listen to its occupants.  You'll hear them saying, "Here's looking at you, kid." 

 

A thought from Kate
June 30, 2022

Connection is the way through these troubling times!

We are excited to share with you the line-up of our programming for the remainder of 2022! Over the second half of the year, we are inviting you to a rich array of programming both in person and online. Please be sure to click on the link below to go to our website to see offerings that include a NEW Salon to be held in a Chicago apartment, a unique dining experience at a Chicago restaurant, the continuation of our powerful "Voices Carry" online events and two new online workshops!


In the meantime, we want to wish you, your family and friends a wonderful Independence Day weekend and a terrific summer.

As I type this, my heart is heavy. Yes, we can make this long holiday weekend a delightful experience. But we all are carrying the burden of what we are seeing around the world, in our country and in our neighborhoods. It is distressing and stressful. It is sad and troubling. It is something we have all been carrying for far too long. 

How do we manage to find joy and meaning amid all this sadness? I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do try to go back to what I know is important. Faith, gratitude, staying present and being in community with friends, family and others who can give me strength to carry on. It takes real intention and effort, but staying true to what is life affirming is the only way through all that troubles our world. Being of service and staying connected. And being grateful.

And so, let me thank all of you in our gatHERing community for that connection and life affirming wisdom and joy that you all bring to me, Paula, and Stephanie. Together, we can lift each other up and find the joy, possibilities and hope that we all need. I look forward to connecting with you in the weeks and months ahead.

"Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day." E.B. White

 

A thought from Stephanie
April 19, 2022

Controlling the Narrative through Storytelling!

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”   Sue Monk Kidd, author.

I have been living in Greece, the country of my ancestors, for the last three months and having the time of my life, something I didn’t expect.  My only wish is that my maternal grandmother (“Yiayia” in Greek) who left this country almost one hundred years ago to live in the United States was still around for me to hear her stories of what life was like here, way back then.   There is still much of her story growing up in a remote mountain village outside of Sparta that I wish I knew about.  I was 30 years old when she passed away at 90 and in all that time it never occurred to me to ask more about her early life in Greece.

Of what I do know, my Yiayia’s tale is a remarkable one in that after her mother died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, as the eldest, she became the female head of a household with 6 younger siblings and her father.  Life in the mountains was grueling, and her labor intensive work day was unrelenting and tedious.   I know she dreamed of a better life and that at 23 her father introduced her to a man almost two decades older who proposed both marriage and a new life in America.   Yiayia wanted out and she agreed to the man’s - my grandfather’s - proposal.  In the years ahead she endured heartbreaking loneliness, child loss, and other daunting challenges but, in the end, created the home and family life she longed for.   If Yiayia was alive today, I’m certain she would tell her story with humility and self-deprecation.   

My own mother never saw Yiayia (her mother) with the same lens I did.    My Mom’s biggest takeaway from her mother was of self-sacrifice and of being in service to others, remarkable attributes in their own right, but generally not viewed with the respect and admiration they deserve.  

And, that’s where I come in, to retell both my grandmother’s and my mother’s stories with the emphasis on the fierce feminine bravery and heartbreaking love and determination they deserve.  Afterall, their stories are my stories too!

gatHERIng is excited to bring back storytelling with "Voices Carry" where we will unleash the feminine power of our collective voices through the art of sharing our stories.  

Sharing your story gives you the power to own it. 

Sharing your story does not mean you have to do great big things.

Your story can be about little and big things because each creates a path that another woman hasn’t walked on, before.  When you share your story of failure or triumph, you show others that they are not alone. You build a sense of community and your stories survive and thrive as they are told and re-told.

Stories make you pause and reflect on your own journey even as you inspire others to tell their own stories.

There is power in sharing your story with another.   It is what makes stories last forever. 

 
A thought from Paula
March 22, 2022

Leaving Behind a Regular Life


I entered a dressing room at a boutique clothing store, and hanging off the mirror was this quote:

              "We had such a wonderful time
              That we couldn't bear to go back
              To our Regular Lives, so we decided
              We just wouldn't

              And then
              All the greatness
              Began"

I finished reading it, and I smiled.  Then I reread it, this time letting the message find its way to the wise part of my heart.  I began to recollect the times when I left my regular life behind in pursuit of what I "knew" would hold the promise of something more, something that would put me over the edge.   And then I recollected what it felt like, what it gave me, and where it took me once I left it.  And I felt the greatness at that moment.  

When was the last time you experienced greatness in your life or yourself?  And how did you come into it?

Maybe greatness occurs in the mere choice to break from comfortable situations, programmed daily routines, tried and true ways of keeping busy.  Or perhaps it comes from the belief and courage to allow possibility to shape our life.  Or maybe greatness is just us. Our greatness comes alive in our curiosity, closing our eyes and just jumping off the high dive, or just going for what we long for, what we desire.

Our world longs for and needs our greatness now!  If we take up the call, we may never want to go back to our regular lives, not because we were having a wonderful time, but because we see the good it brings to others in small and big ways.


 
A thought from Kate
February 1, 2022

Choosing a theme for your year.

Recently, the New York Times published an article entitled "What's Your Word of the Year?".

Like many of those people cited in the article, I have been choosing a Word for many years. I don't do New Year's resolutions, but I do like to pause at the beginning of a new year. There is, of course, nothing special about the new year to do this, other than it can be a relatively quiet time after the holidays to reflect and consider the past and imagine the future with some intentionality. 

Using a word of the year gives me a theme for the year. It can act as a guidepost to consider how I might make choices as opportunities or challenges come my way. 

Last year, my word was "elevate". I wanted to elevate my experiences, elevate my work, elevate my relationships. Honestly, I had forgotten my word at some point in the year (this happens a lot for me I must confess.)

But in reflecting on the past year, and considering my word for 2022, it struck me that elevate was indeed the perfect word for 2021 because at the end of the year, I had sold my house and moved to an apartment on the 46th floor! 

This happens frequently, I find. Whether I keep that word front and center in my consciousness, or the intention stays with me in more subtle ways, having that guidepost can be a way to set the tone for the year.

Would choosing a one word theme be beneficial for you as you consider approaching 2022 with intentionality? Or, why not do it quarterly? Or even monthly? If you haven't already read the New York Times article I would encourage you to do so. The recommendations they share on how to choose a word are exactly the way I have done so - particularly in choosing a word that has several meanings. I have also looked at a thesaurus to see if synonyms and antonyms support the choice by enriching the meaning of the word.

My word this year is devotion. I had started with the word commitment, and realized it was a forceful approach that didn't align with my intention. When I arrived at the word devotion, it felt right. I will hopefully remember this word more frequently this year as I devote myself to the things that matter most to me.

What is your word?

And as we begin 2022, check out our first event for the new year - a four part workshop with a bonus personal coaching session...See below and go to our website for more information!

 
A thought from Stephanie
November 2, 2021

Redefining Hero - Why Our Stories Matter!
 
In 1972 two young sisters, age 8 and 12, watched their family home go up in flames.  It was nighttime and they were home alone.  Their parents were out at a school meeting.
 
The fire was an electrical one that originated in faulty wires behind a TV the girls had just turned on to watch a show.  Within seconds sparks began flying with smoke rising from behind the screen.  The younger girl, overcome by fear, started crying uncontrollably while the older one called a neighbor for help.  As smoke began filling the room, the elder sister realized there wasn’t time to wait for the neighbor.  They had to get out of the house.
 
The younger girl grew hysterical, and her sister had to lift her kicking and screaming body, to carry her out the front door.  The screams caught the attention of another neighbor across the street who immediately called the fire department.
 
This is story that could have ended tragically with lost lives and a lost home.
 
But it didn’t.  Those young girls ended up not only saving their own lives but their family home as well, albeit a home in need of considerable repair.
 
Those young girls were my sister and me.  And, as I share it again now, I recognize an unspoken truth.  My sister and I are the heroes of the story.
 
gatHERing’s mission is turning the spotlight on the bigger truth that women of all ages and backgrounds do remarkable things every day!  And, when we tell our stories to others, we learn that, while the specifics may differ, we all share extraordinary journeys sometimes veering to work or to family, and sometimes in unexpected directions due to factors beyond our control.
 
At gatHERing we are redefining hero together!  In our women-centered storytelling events we speak our truth, and our voices are heard. Truth is our power and when we vocalize our truth we build our confidence, courage, and consciousness to positively impact the world.

 
A thought from Paula
October 13, 2021

A Soul Stirring!

I’m moving! I sold my house a few weeks ago, and I’m moving – somewhere. I’m closing a chapter in my life that lasted 42 years.  It was the chapter of living in one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world, and I am complete with this experience.  Now, I can look at this move and focus on the act of moving, and that would be an overwhelming and empty experience. But when I sit still, breathe, and inwardly and softly say, “I am moving,” I can feel a more profound movement taking place within me. It’s becoming the more of who I am, fulfilling my deepest desires, and honoring that part of me who wants to live in the “river of aliveness.”  I can feel the stirrings in my soul beckoning me to continually look for my deepest desires and be aware of who I am becoming.
 
Something is moving within all of us all the time.  How many moments do we devote to being awake to the stirrings of our soul? I would venture to say, not enough.  To name them, grab on to them, and work with the gifts they bear is the sacredness of our life’s journey. Let’s not stop going for it, just settling for what we have.  Let’s go for it with all the courage, and fortitude, and openness we can muster inside of us. 
 
What is moving in you?  What is getting stirred up?  


 
A thought from Kate
September 22, 2021

The Gift of Intentionality!

A few weeks ago, I realized I wasn't feeling that fall feeling - a sense of a new beginning, fresh school supplies, meeting new people. I realized what was missing. This is the first time I was out of the fog of last year's pandemic experience and no longer had a child to usher back to school.

Last year, my youngest son graduated from college, one of many students who had to navigate their senior year in a pandemic. He did it brilliantly. When the fall rolled around, I didn't even realize the loss of the "fall feeling" as we were so caught up in the specter of going back indoors without a vaccine. Remember that dread we felt? 

Now, a bit of the fog and dread has lifted (not all of it to be sure, with the delta variant and its troubling implications) and I want that feeling back. The sense of a fresh start. The joy of new pencils, fall clothes, bursting colors.

But now, instead of the usual cycle coming to me effortlessly by virtue of my sons' school years, I need to be intentional about seeking out the autumnal glow I so enjoy. I visited a store and got some new pens and a new journal. I will get out my butternut squash recipes. I made an apple dessert for a dinner I hosted. I'll have college football on my TV more often. I'll pick up a new sweater and boots for my wardrobe. I am off on a trip to the east coast to enjoy the fall colors.

From now on as an empty nester, as with so much in life, intentional action will be needed to find the rhythm of the seasons. 

And in some ways, that is almost better. Intentionality allows me to choose what I love and drop what didn't serve me. And I will never want to miss out on the new year that fall means to me. What would you like to be intentional about? 
 
 
 
A thought from Stephanie
September 1, 2021

What We CAN Do!
 
The power of the feminine spirit is unlimited. When we honor our unique experience, wisdom, and creativity it is possible to achieve most of what we want in life.  I recently read a quote by Helene Gayle, President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, that got me thinking about how I can better navigate the ever-changing COVID 19 landscape by focusing on what I can do versus what I cannot or, in the interest of the greater good, I should not do.
 
Helene, in reflecting about growing up as part of a “protest” generation, realized “it’s easy to think that by being against something you’re standing up for a cause, but if you want to have a great impact, you need to ask yourself, ‘What do I stand for and what do I want to happen?’”
 
In the context of what we’re all living through right now, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking about what we can’t do again, especially after thinking the worst was behind us.  But, by simply shifting our mindset to consider ‘what is possible’ in our lives today, we can use the power and spirit of our wisdom and experience for the greater good.  Put more simply, no matter how crappy life gets, we CAN always smile. 😊

 

 
A thought from Paula
August 12, 2021

Your Report Card
 
Our August storytelling topic is “School Days,” which got me thinking about all things associated with them – memories of great teachers, the “weird” kids in class, the science fair, report cards. Oh yeah, report cards.  I have a vivid picture of my grade school report card. The grading scale was:  E = excellent; VG = very good; S = satisfactory; F = fair; U = unsatisfactory.  And now my memory settles on how anxious I was when I opened it to reveal a picture of how good I was.  That’s right – how good am I? For me, my grades told the picture of me as a student, and they shaped my self-image and self-worth. I looked at those grades and measured them against my expectations of who and what I wanted to be.
 
My “report card” went with me wherever I went for a good portion of my adult life.  Was what I produced, created, and achieved an “E,” “VG,” “S,” “F,” or “U?”  Who would have thought that those grammar school report cards would leave such an imprint on who we thought we were. And it’s not so much the grade as the judgment we pass on ourselves, whether negative or glorious.  If there’s one golden nugget I’ve taken from judging myself, it’s this – you are who you are and live from that awareness. What greater act of self-love is this?
 
If there is a “report card” on some part of you, thank it for whatever gift it gave you.  Bless it and release it. You are now free to be in the essence of who you truly are!

 
A thought from Kate
July 12, 2021

What Will We Do With Our Freedom?

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
~ Viktor R. Frankl

"Freedom is not the right to live as we please, but the right to find how we ought to live in order to fulfill our potential."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

This month, we reflect on freedom as we celebrate the fourth of July. For some of us, we are feeling some freedom too as we venture out into the world again and navigate with more freedom and choice.

These quotes from Viktor Frankl and Ralph Waldo Emerson serve as good reminders to me about how I can navigate this freedom responsibly and in a life affirming way. 

How can I make choices, now that there are more options in my life again, that are not the same type of choices I made pre-pandemic? What have I learned these last sixteen months and how will my choices reflect that growth and insight? 

And how committed am I to living up to the potential that my gifts and wisdom have given me?  Am I using the gift of this "one wild and precious life", as Mary Oliver said, through choices that are joyful, meaningful, and helpful to others?

May the freedom we hold dear be used in ways that bring light and life to others!  I truly want to embrace post-pandemic life but there’s still enough uncertainty out there that’s making it difficult for me to figure out exactly how.
 
A thought from Stephanie
June 1, 2021

How Do We Move Forward?

I truly want to embrace post-pandemic life but there’s still enough uncertainty out there that’s making it difficult for me to figure out exactly how.
 
I’m tired of hearing the same questions about “what will my new normal look like” or “how will I move forward” as pandemic restrictions continue to roll back.  Sure, I’d love to embrace life with greater clarity and purpose, as is often suggested since we’ve had some time for deeper reflection, but maybe I’m just not there yet and, in that case, how should I proceed?
 
Amidst all the trauma, isolation and sorrow during the pandemic, there were some silver linings.  I got to travel around the US with empty airports and hotels and it was cheaper than ever.  Pivoting to online platforms for gatHERings and visits with friends and family from distant locations turned out to be a boon. Best of all, my credit card bill dropped exponentially when dining out was no longer an option.  I also discovered I still knew my way around the kitchen.
 
So, how do I/we go forward?  After mining tons of research, I’ve come up with a couple of suggestions to help me (and hopefully you too) get started:
  
  1. Savor and celebrate small things.  After a year of virtually connecting with others, many of us want to revel in the sacred act of gathering again IRT (in real time). Celebrations help to cultivate and reinforce relationships and I think it’s time party hardy.  It’s not about the big events or occasions. Savoring is about appreciating our friends, our health, our precious life, and that we’re still here! It’s about being aware of what we have.
 
  1. Establish a weekly gratitude dinner.  It felt so good to express gratitude during the pandemic, whether clapping for health care workers or thanking the grocery checkout person.  Creating a weekly gratitude ritual with people that matter to us will solidify the habit.  There are scores of studies showing that taking time to reflect and share what we’re grateful for improves our quality of life and personal well-being.  So, let’s make time to gather with friends, family, or at a gatHERing, to elevate life in the here and now.
 
My final thought is if you’re at all interested in long term health and longevity, every study I’ve ever come across points to social engagement as the single most important factor.  Bottom line, go forth and gather with all who you make you feel good about your life.
 
A thought from Paula
May 13, 2021

The Girl in the Yellow Dress
 
Kate, Stephanie, and I were in one of our creative planning sessions when at one point, Stephanie exclaimed, “I love to daydream! It’s so fun, and I read that it has a lot of positive effects.”  I heard that, and I was immediately transported back to the most vivid daydream of my life from some 50+ years ago.  I can still recall how and where I set myself up for the daydream (I had it numerous times that summer). I was at our neighborhood park, making sure that I was the only person in the playground, stood in the center of the Monkey Bars, and let the daydream begin.  I wasn’t eight years old anymore but a young woman in my 20’s.  I donned a yellow chiffon spaghetti strapped, full-skirted dress that daintily ruffled at the hem touching perfectly mid-knee.  I wore yellow three-inch heels, and I was in heaven.  I daydreamed that I was a dancer.  I’d sway to a romantic tune playing in my head, and I imagined my dance partner lifting me in the air.  I felt all grown up. 
 
This daydream is more than just a fantasy and a memory for me now.  I see it as a portal opening up to have me explore the stirrings of it. In that daydream I am centered, confident, and graceful.  That was the real me, and I wasn’t aware of it at the time. But I know I loved myself when I was in it!  I wish that I had put that daydream to work for me all these years – to be a touchstone in times when I saw myself less than who I am.   
 
Now I see what Stephanie was saying about the benefits of daydreaming. I was eager to find out more about it.  I did a bit of research and created this month’s gatHERing workshop: “The Realness of the Unreal Daydream.” What are your most vivid daydreams?  Learn what they are giving you. Revel in the act of daydreaming.  Think about how you want to use your daydreams to guide you.
A thought from Stephanie
April 6, 2021

What Overload Does to Our Brain!
 
A funny thing happened on my way to sharing this thought.  After writing a first draft, I was notified that my personal Facebook account had been HACKED and I quickly discovered my profile - with over 10 years of timeline pictures and memories - had totally disappeared! 
 
Now, what's so funny about that you wonder? At first, I wasn’t laughing either.  I was angry, upset, and desperate to get back what I lost! Sadly, not only was all of my frantic effort to no avail, I wasted an extraordinary amount of time trying.  When I finally accepted my fate it dawned on me that two of the top brain saving tips I had just written about – and the two most important I might add -were these:

1) limit technology use, and

2) do one thing at a time. 

Ok, now I’m thinking….. that is kinda funny!
 
Our brains are actually wired to only do one thing at a time and when they become overstimulated by trying to process more that they can handle, the circuits overload. That kind of stress is both physically and mentally toxic to our brains and our bodies. In fact, neuroscientists have coined the term “digital dementia” to refer to the harm constant overuse of technology has on our right-brain functions - short-term memory, attention span, and focus.
 
While I was never a prolific FB poster, I did like the fact that I could memorialize important moments – my kids’ birthdays, vacations, family holidays - with picture posts. I also appreciated the “friend” birthday reminder feature.
 
But, the more I thought about it, I realized there was a lot about FB that my brain and body were absorbing in a negative way.  Whenever I posted something, I’d feel compelled to take time to scroll through my "friends" posts and, of course “Like” everything because I knew the peeps behind the posts will probably “Like” mine in return.  I’d easily get sucked into comparing how many “Likes” I received to others and the comparison envy I felt totally annoyed me!  Not only was all of this a waste of my precious time, it was a colossal waste of my finite focus and attention energy.
 
Our brain is our body’s control center. It consumes 25% of our energy, 25% of our oxygen, and is intricately connected to every part of our body, including our gut, heart and immune system. When it becomes stressed, because of information overload and trying to do multiple things at once  – it’s a really big deal! As much as I'll miss my Facebook pics I'm now actually relieved NOT to have the distraction in my life anymore and I feel better knowing I'm actively preserving and protecting my brain for the future. 

Now, you absolutely don't have to suspend your Facebook account to protect your brain - unless the universe sends you a similar message - but you can limit your exposure to all tech distractions (including your "smart" phone) and that will go a long way to help.

 
A thought from Kate
March 17, 2021

Have you ever considered how incredibly rich and varied the knowledge, experiences, and memories currently stored in your brain are? What have you added in the past 5 years? Ten years? Or conversely how a new born baby has so very much to learn and experience? It is overwhelming to think about all that baby will add to the newly born mind.

When I was cleaning out my mom's house after her death, it struck me how wonderfully full her life was. As I considered which art books, travel brochures, and opera programs to keep as a remembrance of her passions, I marveled at all she learned and experienced in her life. And then it hit me. It was all gone. All that was internalized in her carefully curated reading, traveling and theater attending left with her.  

How do we use the wisdom and knowledge we have gained in our lives? Perhaps it is enough to fill our own minds with all the pleasures and the pain that life brings us. But maybe there is another way. Consider how the extra decades of longevity might allow us to take what we have learned and share it with others. Through teaching, writing, volunteering, working, mentoring, and a thousand other paths, we can share what has taken decades to acquire and our most precious gift - our wisdom - to others. How wonderful it would be to let others in on what we know. Not in a patronizing or know-it-all way. But in a way that can light a path, share insights, provide a perspective.

I wish my mom had journaled about how the travel, art and opera she loved informed her life. Did seeing Monet's garden in Giverny give her insights into the nature of beauty? Did listening to opera teach her something about love? I should have asked those questions when she was with me...

 
A thought from Paula
February 6, 2021

There’s a stone engraved with the word “CREATE” that sits on my kitchen counter.  It was a gift from a friend from a long time ago.  Over the years, I had it take on different functions.  First, it was to inspire me to create.  Next, it was to remind me that I needed to create.  Then it was to motivate me to keep creating.  But today, its sole function is to help me remember that I am a creator. Along with every person on this planet, I came here to create; to bring something of  mind, heart, and soul into existence. 
 
I had to ask myself why I would want to write about creating.  Creating has been my salvation for the past 11 months. My creations have supplied me with a sense of meaning and an inner richness that I can claim most days. They keep the “Ground Hog Day” syndrome non-existent in my world, for many it seems to be right around the corner these days.  I love my creations, great and small. I delight in witnessing how I take something that I dreamed, and slowly how the imagined becomes something to see, read, hold, hear, and feel. 
 
I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Many of my creations are nothing more than things on my “to do” list, but now they come alive with just a shift in my perspective.  We see the items on our ‘to-do” list as just that – things we have to do.  They become our obligations, promises we make to ourselves and others, time fillers to living our day. There are also things on the list that we want to do, and therein lies my paradigm of creation.  Every creation has an impact. I ran down a mental list of everything I did yesterday – texted messages, took a walk, petted a dog, designed a webinar with a beautiful colleague, made vegetable soup. I saw them as creations because they came from my creator self – the self that gets things done with heart and a lot of soul.  Everyone on the receiving end was positively touched, even the dog!  All creations matter.  I invite you to do this exercise. Take any one of your creations today and think about how it touched your life or another person in some small or big way. When you see that, repeat it until you can get it in your bones that you are a creator!

 
A thought from Stephanie
Jan. 22, 2021

What are You Waiting For?
 
I know, I know, we’re all waiting for something these days, especially with our lives basically on hold as a pandemic relentlessly rages in our midst.
 
Nevertheless, this is a new year!
 
And, as such, an opportunity to see life in a new and different way. Let’s face it, we just lived through a year of unexpected and constant change. Did we learn anything about ourselves that we didn’t know before? Absolutely! For one thing, we learned how to wait.
 
For me personally, my husband and I have been waiting for resolution in a business conflict that we were told the judge would decide in 7-10 days, that was well over two months ago. The excuse? Well, there isn’t one, except that we don’t have control over the courts and, yes, things are generally moving slower as COVID cases surge around the country.
 
Yes, I know, we’re not the only ones waiting for a result or an outcome that we have no control over. We’re all waiting for the pandemic fog to lift so we can hug our loved ones again, eat inside restaurants, run into a store without a mask  – all things we took for granted before March 2020.
 
Waiting for anything isn’t particularly pleasant or fun in a world – especially the one we were used to before COVID – of instant gratification. Yet, there is much we can learn from waiting. With time to ruminate and reflect, conflicts sometimes resolve or even disappear. We may even change our minds, or better yet, open them up to new ideas or possibilities.  
 
Waiting for time to pass isn’t something that comes naturally to us. But, what if we used our waiting time as an opportunity to reassess what is most important to us?
 
I’ll be honest, the longer time passes for the judge to make a decision in our case, the more perspective I gain about what my real priorities are. Of course, I want a ruling in our favor (who wouldn’t), but now, as opposed to when we started, I know that the outcome (positive or negative) won’t change what is most important to me in my life, e.g., family, friends, health……you get the picture! And, worrying about an outcome I have no control over is, in fact, a total waste of my time.
 
While we’re all still in the COVID waiting room, let’s try hard not to fight it! Instead, intentionally embrace it and be grateful for it! Waiting is our time to take stock of what our values are – what is most important to us – and to create a new or different way of living life. One thing we know for sure now is that we CAN live with uncertainty, but we can also make certain we reclaim what we truly want!
A thought from Kate
Oct. 29 2020

It is something that comes up in many of my conversations these days... "How are you handling the holidays?". Many holidays have come and gone during this pandemic but, somehow, these year-end celebrations feel more important. Maybe because they serve as rituals of light as we approach the shortest day of the year. Maybe because we have endured so many adjustments to our lives that adjusting again feels like too much. We yearn for family, for friends, for celebrations, for building happy memories that can sustain us in the coming short and dark days. I speak of the literal experience for those of us in the north, but we are all experiencing this coldness in our hearts in many ways.

This feeling of sadness and anxiety about how to "do" holidays "right" reminds me of my first Christmas after my divorce. How can I build a warm, loving experience for my children? A wise coach that I was seeing asked me to do an exercise that I invite you to consider. She asked me to imagine a "perfect" holiday. Use all my senses and imagine what it might look like, feel like. What were we doing, saying, smelling, eating? From that vision of utopia, begin to shape my plans based on the reality at hand. Make the adjustments necessary due to others' needs, desires, and what is really possible. Starting from what my ideal was and then adjusting it, rather than starting from reality and working towards an ideal vision was, for me, a really important shift. I plan on doing the same exercise for this challenging time.
A thought from Paula
Oct. 14 2020

In the days before the gatHERing event on Life Transitions, I happened to tune into 60 Minutes where I watched an interview with architect, Chris Downey who went blind at age 45.  Ten years later he continues to design award-winning buildings by listening to architecture, a gift he maintains, from his blindness.
 
I was hooked on listening to him share how he got to the “other side” of this perceived insurmountable life event and moreover, how he went on to create a life larger than the life he was living prior to it. I wanted to know his ‘secret.’   Well, he didn’t have a secret.  What he did have were two thoughts that could inspire anyone to take up their life transition with courage and what matters most.  His first thought: “I looked at my situation not from what I miss, but from what I was missing when I had my eyesight.”  His second thought: “There’s got to be a way to figure this out.”  While I know that Chris hasn’t gotten a leg up on any of us, I did put him up on a pedestal for a moment. Then in that split second, I realized that I could climb up there with him or take him down from the pedestal to where I stand.  I chose the latter because we all stand on a level playing field to take on our life transitions with reflective thought and accepting the unknowns of them.
 
Granted, like Chris and the rest of us we face tough times in any transition, and in the words of the learned Dr. Seuss,
                    
                     “But on you will go up many a frightening creek,

                      though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.
                      And I know you’ll hike far,
                      and face up to your problems whatever they are.   
                      And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!
                      (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed!)”
Stephanie Vlahakis
A thought from Stephanie
Sept. 13, 2020

I’ve always loved the Vivian Greene quote, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  And, in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn - Zen guru, medical professor, and founder of MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – “You can’t fight waves, but you can learn how to surf."

At our next monthly gatHERing we will dig deeper into how we handle life changes, as in those proverbial curve balls that keep coming our way. A friend of mine was recently cyber bullied on social media because of a perception that the name of her longstanding women’s group was offensive to indigenous people. After days of feeling the hurt and pain of having her integrity personally attacked, she decided to reflect on what was happening with a more open mindset. She asked herself “what is this moment teaching me” which led to the realization that if even a few folks were offended by the name, it was time to own it and make a change. Long story short, a few days later she posted a sincere and heartfelt apology online while also unveiling a new name and logo for this ongoing group.
 
The best part is that my friend quickly realized how much she LOVES the new group name and logo design much more than what they were previously. Change may feel unwelcome at first but when we stop and drill down to what there is to learn from and embrace about what we’re experiencing, we may find that the unexpected curve ball is an opportunity to knock it way out of the park!
gatHERing