Life is a Puzzle

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Life is like a puzzle, with all its loops and sockets, edges and corners. Colorful and shiny on the surface, gray and drab underneath. Deceiving you in an artful way. At times complex, misshapen, or crumbling from decay.               

A good amount of trickery and problem-solving can tempt you to abandon it for a while, moving through the day-to-day, going about your business, seeing through the corner of your eye the pieces and parts calling out to you, “Hey, over here! I need some attention.” You forget what you were working on, striving for. The thing that will fill you up inside.

            Your passion summons you with brazen assurance, “So, take a chance, will you? Sacrifice those long-standing convictions that don’t serve you, except to lead you down a path of uncertainty and self-doubt. Beliefs that zap your confidence, your enthusiasm. Your inner voice misleading you, a superego looking over your shoulder, watching your every move, having you solve the puzzle their way, not yours.”

            You see, in order to do life or to work a puzzle, you’ll need some structure. A solid foundation to provide support when you need it. A starting place. Ambition. Discipline. And perseverance. But the best part is, you get to make your own rules. According to your timeline.

             So, begin with some preparation. You can’t expect all the pieces to merely fall into place, swirling around you with the slightest breeze, looking for the right fit, magically landing in a place of destiny. No. You must collect the pieces, make a plan, and use tactics to decide your next move. You’ll find missing pieces along the way that will help you reach the finish line. 

Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Turn all the pieces right side up so images are clear, visible. See the light. Show your colors. Be honest with yourself. The truth is right in front of you if you look for it. 
  • Begin with the border. If it’s a little rough around the edges, don’t worry. You can smooth things out with some tender loving care. Then work toward the center, safeguarding the innermost parts, the most vulnerable, the heart. 
  • Look for patterns in your life or puzzle. Do you see clear lines and connections that lead you to your purpose? If not, draw them. Be creative. Design it yourself. Afterall, you own it.
  • If life or the puzzle becomes too challenging, categorize the elements. Sort through the clutter. Focus on the pieces that bring you joy. Those that move you. The ones that give you peace. And when you need some help, ask for it.
  • If you feel defeated and you’re ready to give up, look at it from a different perspective. Step away. Take a break. Try something new. But never give in. 

A puzzle is a game you can win on your own. Alone. So is life. It can make you crazy at times. You might talk to yourself while you’re in the midst of it. Or lose sleep, thinking about how you’ll get through it. Imagining what you might have done differently, though you tried every angle. 

Before you know it, a scene will develop, with colors and shapes like you’ve never seen. The image is well-crafted. Exquisite. Delight in what you’ve accomplished. Share it with someone.

But be cautious. Life and the puzzle are fragile. What you’ve built can fall apart at any moment. If it’s unsalvageable, start over. Take a different path. Make a new plan. Then find the glue that will hold it together. 

Book Review: Mindset Medicine by Mari L. McCarthy

One year ago, I wrote a review for Mari L. McCarthy’s book, Journaling Power, and I stand by my statement that journaling has changed my life. This author is a true example of how journaling can heal the mind, body and soul. If you didn’t check out my last review, you can access it here:

In Mari’s latest book, Mindset Medicine, we learn how self-love can have a positive impact on our health, mindset, and relationships. As I began reading this book, I was certain it was written just for me. I could relate with most every example of feeling unworthy and undeserving of the life I have, and not believing in myself or demanding respect from others. 

Some of the strategies Mari teaches us seem simple, but when put to the test, can be challenging. Through journaling prompts and exercises at the end of each chapter, you’ll discover your hidden gifts and talents, learn to focus on joy and laughter, and most of all, begin to love yourself. This means setting boundaries with those who may have discouraged you from being your true self and finding your purpose. I’m learning to think for myself and nurture my soul, tuning out hate and fear spewed out from toxic people and TV shows. Instead, I sit in the serenity of my home, experiencing gratitude for the peace and quiet, the sounds of nature, and the speed of my pen. I try not to focus on past mistakes or worry about tomorrow, but to appreciate this very moment.  

Each reading session with Mindset Medicine is like a therapy session. As the author has written, “Establishing firm boundaries with people is incredibly vital to living a happy and joyous life.” What I wouldn’t give to have learned that lesson decades ago! Without firm boundaries, others can lead us down paths we didn’t choose to take. They’ll take advantage of those of us who will do almost anything to keep the peace and avoid conflict. But as the book points out, once you establish firm boundaries, the people in your life will begin to respect them. 

One of the most impactful takeaways from this book, for me, is losing the word should from my vocabulary and replacing it with could. From here on out, I will commit never to tell my children or grandchildren what they should do. Instead, when confronted with life choices, I’ll think of all the things they could do!

Through journaling, writing has become a key part of my life, which has led me to engage with a community of like-minded people, who lift me up rather than bring me down. These people share my passion. They understand me. And best of all, they expect nothing but the authentic me. Find Mari’s writing community at

The title, Mindset Medicine, is just that. Journaling is medicine, or therapy, that can change your mindset to focus on the people and things that make you happy. Those that bring you joy and laughter. For me it’s simple. It’s my kids, grandkids, pets, and writing. These are the priorities in my life, and I will no longer clutter my brain with drama, conflict and noise from toxic people. 

In her book, Mari tells us to ask ourselves two simple but life-transforming questions:

  1. What’s funny about the situation I’m in right now?
  2. How can I make the situation I’m in right now a 10?

She says this encourages us to make light of most any dramatic situation and shift our focus and mindset to something positive. I love this, and I’ve found that it works!

Another point this author makes is that most of our time throughout life is spent trying to get to a certain destination, whether it’s a career, a certain lifestyle, an academic achievement, or finding love. And that once we reach our destination, we begin a new journey, looking for the next destination or shiny object. Well folks, I’ve arrived at my destination, and I’m not going anywhere for a while. I’ve learned it’s never too late to achieve a self-love mindset medicine mission. It’s simple, it’s free, and all it takes is picking up a pen, putting it to paper and journaling your way to a life of freedom and peace, joy and laughter. I challenge you to take Mari’s advice and give this a try!

Artichoke Hearts, A Love Story

My last blog was about “first dates” and since last week would have been my 37th wedding anniversary (had the marriage lasted), I decided to write about a first date with my ex. This is likely the nicest story I will ever write about him. And, as you might have noticed, I enjoy writing about food. I believe food and romance go together, don’t you? Here goes. 

“You’ll love it,” he said, gazing at me across the kitchen counter where he’d prepared his favorite recipes. As a starter, Tim introduced me to what looked like a large green flower bulb, perfectly arranged on a platter alongside leaves of the same plant and a dip he concocted simply from melted butter, lemon juice, and a dollop of mayonnaise. His sky-blue eyes softened–seeing through my contrived smile and raised eyebrows that this was my first encounter with an artichoke. Without a word, he looked me in the eyes, peeled off a leaf, dipped it in sauce and scraped the flesh with his teeth. 

Getting acquainted with the artichoke and the man behind it, I discovered similarities between the two. Both were “an acquired taste” for me, like some of my favorite wines. Just as I’d never seen or tasted an artichoke, I hadn’t dated anyone like Tim, a knowing and caring man underneath a rustic demeanor. With some insight and inspiration, I found myself falling in love with both. Attempting a new and unfamiliar dish for the first time can be a bit unnerving, so preparation and presentation are equally important in making that first impression. 

What family and friends may not know about me is that I’m a curious and adventurous soul willing to tread, cautiously, beyond my comfort zone to try something new. An open mind is essential and it’s best not to bring high expectations to the table. Just be present in the moment with what is directly across the counter in front of you, and you will enjoy a uniquely flavorful cuisine. Take it slow in the beginning, savoring each mouthful, while gradually becoming familiar with its tastes and textures. This process can take time, and it’s wise to sample something new a few times in different settings to fully appreciate its value. One might find, over time, that this newfound fare is a delightful source of pleasure. 

The artichoke, if not harvested, will become a beautiful purple flower or thistle. Since quality matters, one should learn the source of any new acquaintance–vegetable or human. As it turns out, both the artichoke and Tim are products of southern California. At the core, each has a warm and tender heart, protected by strong outer layers, rough and virile on the surface. Unearthing the heart isn’t easy, but the reward is out of this world. 

The artichoke can be roasted in the oven or on the grill. Tim’s artichokes are steamed until soft enough to peel back layers and get to the heart. This delicacy can be served up at any temperature, but it is best after a good simmer, and it’s always wise to let it cool down before handling. You’ll know it’s done when the stem is fork-tender. 

The artichoke and the man may be delectable, but they can also be intimidating and precarious. The reason an artichoke’s fuzzy center near the heart is called a choke is because it is a choking hazard. The danger of marrying Tim was my bringing unrealistic expectations to the table, moving too fast, anticipating the perfect finish, and ultimately discarding the heart. 

First Dates

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In my last blog, I mentioned one of my favorite pastimes is sitting at a bar observing people and taking notes. This may seem intrusive, but it’s how I get my stories.

You just know when it’s a first date. Body language gives it away. She folds her hands in her lap, nervously fidgeting, her nails perfectly manicured, with a flashy ring on the middle finger of her left hand, evidence she’s unattached. His hands appear misleadingly pure, nails neatly trimmed, fingers soft and fair, as if they’ve never touched a woman or known a hard day’s work. And the hair, a focal point for each of them—hers highlighted and cut into perfect layers, flowing down her back and around her face. His the same, only shorter. And if I had to place a bet, I’d say he’s had some work done on his face. His features are just a little too flawless, perhaps an attempt at youth and integrity. 

Her drink is a feminine pink cocktail with a thin slice of lime clinging to the rim of a dainty glass, to imply: “I’m a ravenous feline, graceful and sleek, clinging to my virginity.” His drink is served in a lowball glass, maybe scotch or whisky on the rocks, and sits alongside an amber-colored beer screaming: “I’m a red-blooded American boy, working up the courage to ask you back to my place.” 

They share an appetizer—herb hummus with grilled flatbread, tomato, cucumber, onion, and feta. Each has placed a small amount of food on an appetizer plate rather than digging in to share from the platter. Yet it hasn’t been touched. She worries about messing up her lip gloss. He’s afraid taking a bite will expose his bad manners. 

He attempts an awkward cut into the pita. Who eats pita and hummus with a knife and fork? If I could get inside his head, I’d say: Just pick it up, Buddy. That’s how it’s done. But he gives it up, sets the fork down, picks up his phone, and… Oh no! He’s showing her a selfie he took while looking in a mirror–the naked upper-half of his body. I gather he wants her to check out his abs: “When I saw this view of myself, I asked ‘where’s the nearest buffet?’” Gag me.

I see he has slipped off his seat and is heading toward the restroom. This is her chance to take a bite. She forgot to ask for utensils, so she grabs the pita bread and scoops up a serving of hummus to devour before he returns. After looking over her shoulder, she tears off another piece, scrapes more hummus from the plate, and quickly consumes it while checking her phone. She takes a corner of her napkin to blot excess oil from her t-zone and gently dabs at her mouth before reapplying lip gloss–just in time to see him rounding the bar to approach his seat. She takes a small sip of her drink, attempting to wash down any remnants of hummus from her tongue. When he returns, he’s seemingly more confident than before his trip to the restroom. 

Before his butt hits the seat, he begins talking about two women he dated previously, both long distance relationships. He explains that the chemistry just wasn’t there. It’s hard to make out the rest of the conversation held quietly under background music and voices around the bar. He does most of the talking as she continues to fidget with her hands, collecting her cloth napkin into a perfect triangle against her lap, now delicately reaching for a sample of pita and rearranging the hummus on her plate.

Both wonder within their individual minds how this will end. “Will he invite me back to his place?” she muses. “Have I impressed her enough so she can’t resist me?” he considers. She gingerly tastes her cocktail and follows it with a quick sip of water to clear her throat, realizing he has asked a question she’ll need to answer. But, damn it, I didn’t hear the question. She’s talking with her hands as he talks with his eyes. The food is barely touched though I see they’re both hungry. Maybe saving their appetites for what comes next. 

A True Food COVID Experience

Let’s talk food! 

As life begins returning to normal after months of stay-at-home pandemic measures, I dare to venture out to my favorite places. 

Prior to February 2020, I made a monthly date with myself to visit a cherished indie bookstore, Changing Hands, and enjoy the afternoon lingering at my favorite eatery, True Food Kitchen. I’ve missed the atmosphere, service, food, drinks, and camaraderie among team members–bartenders, waiters, cooks, managers. And visitors like me–health fanatics with a passion for savoring great food and good company. 

Typically, I sit at the bar to people-watch, read, and record my thoughts and observations while sipping on Cava Mercat (Penedès, Spain) or Sauvignon Blanc Crossings (Marlborough, New Zealand). As a side note, I’ve experimented with several types of wine over the past few years. Reds and whites of various vintages and regions. Ultimately, my preference is any sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. 

Now I safely sit at a “sanitized” table with access to a “contactless” menu, using a barcode scanned with my iPhone. Now that’s sophisticated! It’s a different world. And I’m okay with it. What I’m not okay with is the young hostess who concerns herself that I might need assistance, “Ma’am,” using the barcode technology. I may be old, but I’m not stupid.

Because it’s a new day, I’m sipping on a craft cocktail instead of wine, possibly the best drink I’ve ever tasted. I can’t tell you the name of it because it was muffled under the mask of my waiter. But it’s a cranberry-infused organic vodka with ginger liqueur, cranberry and lime juice on the rocks. Luscious. I’ll tell you what else is luscious. The gorgeous green eyes of my waiter. I’m embarrassed looking at him and feel as if I should look away, but I’m bedazzled. He’s likely one-fourth my age, but I’m also not too old to recognize beauty when I see it. Hot damn. 

For starters, I have in front of me a spectacular herb hummus with cucumber, organic tomato, onion, olive, feta, lemon oregano vinaigrette, and house-made pita. My entrée is an ancient grains bowl with miso sesame glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snap pea, grilled portobello, avocado, and hemp seed. Fresh ingredients in layers of goodness. Is your mouth watering? 

True Food Kitchen will create your favorite meal while meeting the need for gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, or other science-based nutrition. Ingredients are farmed organically and crafted to entertain your taste buds with savory delight. 

If there’s room left in your belly after taking pleasure in this fabulous fare, you might enjoy the Chia Seed Pudding with banana and coconut for dessert. It’s a joyful end to this True Food COVID experience.

Welcome to my blog!

As I write this welcome blog, I’m turning 60 and treating myself to a primo margarita at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I’ve wanted to start a blog for a long while, and now my friends, it’s time!

First a little about me. You already know my age and my favorite beverage. My first memory of childhood is an image of my 8-year-old self, sitting cross-legged on the floor of a small, hallway linen closet, writing poems. I’m not much of a poet now, but I love writing personal essays and memoir. 

Life took me in directions I never would have planned for myself had I known better. I studied business (not my heart’s choice) at Arizona State University, got married (rather hastily), had two amazing kids, got divorced (not hastily), earned a master’s degree, and retired one year ago from a career in health care administration. A mentor of mine asked me a couple years ago what it is I really want to do with the rest of my life. My answer? Spend time with grandkids and write. Committing this to someone I respect was the first step in realizing my dream. Aside from writing and hanging out with toddlers, my companions keep me company—Millie, a ten-pound Shih-Tzu, and Zulu, a 100+ pound Sulcata Tortoise. 

I don’t know about you all, but this pandemic has changed me—in a good way and maybe a not-so-good way. I know for sure I’m more grateful than ever before–for family, friends, home, and pets. But, on the other hand, I’ve had a lot of time to think about stuff, and in a way, I’ve become a little bitchy. All my life, I’ve felt as if I could never live up to the expectations of others. And then one day, I realized I don’t have to. This was a revelation I wish had come to me decades ago. I’ve been told by previous employers that I’m “too nice” and I needed to “be bold.” Readers, I’m happy to say I’m finally taking their advice. It’s never too late to throw out the nice and bring on the bold!

I’m excited to share what I’ve learned from two failed marriages, parenthood, grand-parenthood, “petowner-hood” and the challenge of leaving a successful career to follow my dreams.  I’ll be sharing my projects and publications as well as book reviews. My new adventure feels risky and a little scary. But it’s the best gift I could give myself…the exception being this delicious margarita.

I hope you’ll join me on a fun journey of “new beginnings” and I’d love to hear your suggestions on topics to cover in my blog. Just keep your ideas (mostly) clean and (always) respectful of everyone on this planet. 

Thanks for coming to my Birthday celebration. If you were here, I’d buy you a margarita or whatever refreshment you enjoy. I want to get to know you, learn from you, and share stories about life, love, and everything “women.”

Happy days are ahead.

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