Billy Joel famously sang “Leave a Tender Moment” alone back in the 80’s and I thought about that phrase this week as I tried to push feelings away.
Hey! I’m busy! I don’t have time to get all misty right now…
Ah, but I am alive. And so are you.
We are not machines, though it can feel like it sometimes. Especially when you realize hours have passed by and your to-do list isn’t any shorter than when your day started.
We zero in on “get it done” mode and pay no attention to those pesky feelings behind the curtain.
Despite trying to ignore the interruption, sometimes a feeling visits you. One that is tender and swathed in lovingkindness. It nudges your soul, penetrating your stonehearted busyness so inconveniently.
So easy to push it away.
My Google mini takes one song suggestion and regales me with a day’s worth of music; some are songs I haven’t heard or thought about in years.
I plug away at my computer making work happen, largely ignoring the background noise.
Then, involuntarily, I felt my heart squeeze. A tender moment interrupted “machine-mode.”
It was this song by Stevie Wonder:
It’s a tender song, evoking all the feelings of the love we have for family and friends. And since Aunt Mary’s transition, the need to say these three words while we can is top of mind.
When you stop and let a tender moment breathe, your heart swells. Tears can spill. But oh, how alive you feel!
And then you make the phone calls. Or texts. The “these three words” messages that let someone know they starred in your tender moment.
I’m with Billy Joel.
Leave a tender moment alone.
Thank you, Mark (and so many of you) who “hold up the light.”
And if you’re experiencing a setback, don’t forget to consider the comeback!
My need for connection causes me to whine to Mark at least once a week.
Poor guy, he must be thinking, “What am I? Chopped liver?”
He’s perfect. But he’s here with me all the time. Knows all my stories.
We are embedded in the daily rituals of life together, which are Groundhog’s Day-like in this era of COVID-19.
It’s tedious for me to kvetch to him because he can’t FIX it. (He loves fixing things.)
Joyful, impromptu connections used to fuel my spirits regularly.
Conversations across tables at restaurants, bonding over food envy (what DID they order?) Seatmates on airplanes telling fascinating tales of business and travel. Fashion shows in and out of dressing rooms with random patrons oohing at just the right moment, sealing the sale.
The dressing rooms are closed. You have to buy stuff and bring it home to try it on, which takes half of the fun out of it.
And you KNOW there’s no flying around happening anytime soon (for me, at least.)
Restaurants? On occasion, but have you noticed that people don’t make eye contact any more? It’s so hard to create connection behind a mask. I think I gained a few more eye wrinkles just trying to OVER express my hidden smile.
Which is why, THANKFULLY, this past week was my BIRTHDAY.
Anyone who knows me even a little knows I make a big freaking deal out of my birthday each year.
And not just because of presents, though anyone who knows me knows I LOVE PRETTY BOXES AND BOWS and surprises contained within them.
I love my birthday because people make a genuine effort to connect with me. Cards (rather than bills) in the mail! Bouquets (flowers AND fruit) were delivered to my door this year! Video messages and my brother-in-law Tony even performed an original song (written by my sister, Shirlee) sung as Elvis.
Dear ones connected through Zoom, Marco Polo, e-mail, text, phone, Vox, Hallmark, Facebook.
Other than smoke signals, every form of communication was employed.
I soaked it up like a dry old sponge.
Like a dry sponge.
Before we get into this week’s video, I gotta tell you a funny. Mark’s daughter, Tara, sweetly called me to wish me a happy birthday.
Not knowing me as well as most of YOU, she began, “I know when you get older birthdays aren’t a big deal…”
I gently protested, “Oh, I may be older, but birthdays are ALWAYS a big deal for me.”
Because birthdays mean connection.
And that’s the best gift of all.
(But the Ritz Carlton is a close second.)
More on connections, asking for what you want, and telling your story the way you WANT it to be here:
When we are hard on ourselves, is it because we think going soft lets us off the hook too easily? Do we brutally hold ourselves accountable to validate our goodness?
We’re not parking cars, here. We need no validation.
We must be kinder. To ourselves.
There are plenty of critics, naysayers, judges, and frenemies who won’t hesitate to point out our shortcomings or pounce on even an unintended slight.
Let’s not join their chorus. Life is already kinda hard.
At a recent (virtual) workshop, I began teaching on one of my favorite chapters in The Public Servants’ Survival Guide. All about how perfectionism is our foe and that yes, we are flawed, but we are awesome.
We’re flawsome – and should embrace our flawsomeness!
I felt the audience’s eye-rolling and inner protestations even though I was the only one on camera. Which stoked a little fire and brimstone message from this normally perky uplifter.
Some of you talk to yourselves like you wouldn’t talk to your worst enemy! Your inner voice is MEAN!
If those thoughts you allow yourself to think about you evoke tears or despair, here’s one thing I know for sure: You’re NOT voting with your inner being. You’re letting your human being win.
Now, your human being can be kinda fun. It can be bought new shoes or bake in the sun. It loves a good, dense cheesecake and a rich rerun of Empire. But in the deep and spiritual matters of life, it’s a bust. Your human being is easily cranky from lack of sleep or traffic or that intermittent fasting you’re trying 16 hours out of each day.
The struggle is real for your human being.
But your inner being? It’s ALWAYS love. Loving you and others is its constant state. It bears all things, believes and hopes and is constantly rooting for well-being, which is your natural state,
To often we vote with the unnatural states of confusion, frustration, self-degradation, and other lesser feelings.
When I reflect on the times when I raked myself over the coals for a mistake made, it NEVER made things better. My self-inflicted suffering didn’t change what was wrong, it just made me feel worse. No amount of tears, nausea, or sleeplessness could change my screw up.
Several come to mind. Like not proofreading a calendar project well enough and going to press with two August 13ths. Or slinging a sharp retort to an undeserving and kind partner. Oh, the pain of words spoken that should rather have been swallowed!
We all miss the boat. But must we drown ourselves to prove our sincerity?
Unfortunately, unless you choose to truly become a student of feeling good who believes well-being is everpresent, voting with your inner-being feels like hard work.
Until it becomes a habit.
Then, thinking kindly toward yourself and others is the happy flow of life. It is the path of ease and least resistance. And when you live there, life is easier (and you’re definitely not so hard on yourself.)
Screwed up? Join the club.
No one came forth for a perfect ride, but to enjoy it – bumps and all.
Stop making a mountain out of that molehill. Feeling terrible doesn’t help anyone, least of all yourself.
You don’t need to prove your sincerity or good heart to anyone.
And it’s beautiful.
Now start acting like you love yourself. Or even better, get to that most-important business in this life journey and really fall in love…with YOU.
My interpretation? Our dreams sustain us through difficult times. They are unsinkable corks, bouncing up as lifesavers (sometimes despite our best efforts to drown in our sorrows.)
Like flowers yearning to break through the cracks of cement, these resilient buggers called dreams stretch onward and upward.
“A dream deferred makes the heart sick…”
Oh, boy (or oy vey!) I’ve had some sick hearts over the course of 56 years. From not getting the part of Dorothy in the 4th-grade play (and instead, cast as the Lion) to watching my younger friends marry during my single 20’s and 30’s, life dumped some #$%^@ on some of my dreams.
“…but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12
Beating out thousands to land a job as one of the original QVC Show Hosts! Finally walking down the aisle to a packed church cheering the end of my single days!
Some of you quizzically read those last two lines, knowing that I was unceremoniously dumped by the shopping network and cut bait on an unfulfilling marriage after 14 years.
Hey, weren’t those dreams fulfilled supposed to be trees of life?
Well, they were. For a season.
My tears dried after losing the part of Dorothy. Life went on. Life marches on! What mattered SO much once is just (as my friend Roseann likes to say) a pimple on an elephant’s ass.
Gotta love my spicy Roseann-isms.
Thoughts of dreams stirred my soul this week when immersed in a Sex and the City marathon. The show begins in their twenties with invincibility fueled by cosmopolitans and a fabulous foursome of friends. Over the course of a decade we watch breakups, losses, cancer, babies and so much more that Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte could never have imagined.
Had they a crystal ball, they might have avoided most of their adventures to avoid pain.
And so might have I, as I pondered this photo from my past:
This photo captures the moment in time when I prepared to graduate from college. Already working in my chosen field, there was no doubt in my mind I would be the next Diane Sawyer.
It was my dream to write and speak words. To use them skillfully to inspire and inform.
Also, to be fabulously wealthy and famous. (Look, I’ve never claimed to be Mother Theresa.)
Oh, had I a crystal ball I would have definitely bypassed that QVC audition, kept driving past the church (that ended up being a cult)…
…but in the choices made to avoid pain, I would have lost some of my best stories. And my best friends.
I may not be Diane Sawyer, but I’m really glad to be Brenda Viola.
Yes, Viola. I loved my ex, still hold affection for him, and love that last name. It fits!
Just as I have changed over the years (my taste for pitch black, sky-high hair replaced by golden highlights), my dreams also evolved. Some have come true! (Published author, anyone?) Some remain to be fulfilled.
But that’s the beauty of life.
I believe the dreams of our hearts are Divinely planted. And they must grow! They will materialize in perfect form when the gestation period has ended.
But aren’t we supposed to learn lessons from disappointments?
And once learned, we move forward. To think that life is meant to be a constant string of lessons learned from heartbreaks runs counter to the idea that God (Source, the Divine, All That Is) is good and life should be happy.
I believe life should be happy.
Perhaps my message today is if you are pregnant with a dream, don’t abort it.
Turning your back on your dream is to turn away from your very self.
Your dreams are intertwined with your gifts and answer the question, “Who am I?”
They light you up. You feel most alive when expressing from that deep, holy part within you where the dream lives.
This is what you were made for!
John Russo croons a standard from the Rat Pack. My sister, Shirlee, acts on a moment of inspiration and whips up a calligraphy masterpiece. Artists are brave souls!
I have friends who claim they don’t have dreams. Oh, but when they express their gifts, they so beautifully live their purpose.
Maybe that’s a better word…purpose.
But I’ll stick with dreams. And I hope you stick with them, too.
On this topic of how what we want evolves over time and how when WE change, everything changes, here’s this week’s video:
This week, I got all worked up. For nothing. A few times!
When I realized just HOW nothing these matters were (and how wrong I was in each case!) I had to kind of giggle. Really glad that I didn’t complain publicly or tell anyone off, I filed my misstep in the back of my mind for future reference.
Before you have a cow, make sure it’s worth having.
My first “Never mind” involved an appointment with a contractor. “I’ll be there between 12 and 12:30,” said the text.
At 12:45 I was harrumphing! The nerve!
When dear old Sam arrived, Mark said, “Yeah…I saw him driving around in front of our house for fifteen minutes, but figured it couldn’t be the contractor because he kept driving past our house.”
Sam meekly said, “You texted me 6852 S. Lockwood Ridge Road.”
I replied, “Yes! 6852 S. Lockwood Ridge Road.”
Mark looked at me like I had two heads.
“Honey, that’s not our address.”
Oh my God! It’s NOT!
Now, back in 1990 I lived at 6852 Clover Lane in Upper Darby, PA. But that was 30 years ago!
This is a classic example of mental-pause, but for the life of me, I don’t know why I would conjure up that old address.
Sam went from being on my #$#%@ list to being the recipient of several mea culpas.
Next, I got into a fight with Google.
I’d been humming the song “Sweet Life” all day and finally asked my Google Mini, “Hey Google – play Sweet Life by Paul Stewart.”
It said, “Okay. Here’s a playlist from the 70’s of lite rock hits.”
I don’t want lite rock hits. I want a very specific lite rock hit!
Maybe if I say the artist first.
“Hey Google! Play Paul Stewart’s Sweet Life.”
Some godawful song that was CLEARLY not Sweet Life began playing.
I thought if I said it more forcefully, Google would finally obey.
HEY GOOGLE!!!! PLAY SWEET LIFE BY PAUL STEWART!!!!
My blood pressure rose. The lovely lyrics and the melody that made my heart smile all morning was GONE.
I was pissed off at Google.
A good twenty minutes passed before it even occurred to me that maybe I might be wrong.
I shifted from my verbal orders to an online search of the song “Sweet Life.”
By Paul Davis.
When I finally said it correctly, Google began playing to perfection.
I went from being all worked up to chair dancing and singing loudly:
This old world seems to be in a hurry But darlin’ we’ll just keep on takin’ our time ‘Cause we’re livin’ such a sweet life Oh what a neat life Sharin’ my love with you We’re livin’ such a sweet life Oh what a neat life Makin’ our dreams come true We’re makin’ our dreams come true
– PAUL DAVIS (NOT STEWART)
As Mark Twain so perfectly stated: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
This quickness to frustration, even anger – it’s not my normal way of responding to life. It likely is somehow related to this eternal pause button we’re ALL on right now, in the midst of a pandemic that has disrupted every plan once held for 2020.
What can you do when you get all worked up?
Take that little step away from the instigating event and think (sooner than I did) that perhaps YOU may be at fault.
And if you are, laugh at it. Apologize. (Though Google doesn’t really care, Sam sure did.)
Getting worked up is a choice. I want to expend precious energy on things that later don’t make me say, “Never mind.”
Our WOW was “relaxation” and there I was, getting all worked up! How did I resolve it? Well, the story is to be continued, but here’s a start:
Integrity (to be truthful) isn’t what causes me to whip out my credit card.
No, it’s usually a vision of a new, improved me. Insert the word “serum” and I’m a goner. Show me that Lori Greiner from Shark Tank gave it a thumbs up, and I say sign me up. Before and after photos? They’re eye candy to me and I look for the PayPal prompt.
I love buying hope.
Who knew my love of seductive advertising would collide with our Word of the Week (WOW), integrity, this past week?
It’s usually easy-peasy to find some inspirational quotes that resonate with our WOW. But integrity?
Look, I’ve got a glaring half-inch of gray hair at my temples. My toenails are an unkempt, chipped, sick blue color. You can now pinch way more than an inch (if you dare try) and my fingernail-less hands now fly unhindered over my keyboard.
The truth? I’m thinking about my next meal or series to binge-watch.
Even though it being the word of the week nudged at me. I should get some inspiration on this, right?
Then my sister called.
Shirlee is the perfect example of integrity and I’ll give you two of boatloads of examples I could share. These are just from THIS week.
I belong to Backstage, an online portal for voiceover artists, actors, and all types of performers. We see gigs that appeal to us and submit auditions. It’s fun! And voiceover work always provided shoe money for me since my early twenties.
Now that my sister is building quite a reputation as a gifted actress, I sometimes see ads for jobs she’d be perfect for. And I sent her one, this week:
WOMAN WHO IS SIXTY; MUST LOOK FORTY.
Well of course, that’s Shirlee!
I read further. The commercial promoted a skin cream. And it was a paying gig, non-union. Perfect!
So I sent it to her, already planning how we’d record her audition and spend the booty.
Not so fast, Brenda.
We’re heading into a showdown with INTEGRITY.
She graciously thanked me, then sweetly said, “But wouldn’t that be lying? I mean, I’ve never used the cream…”
“It’s a paying gig! Who cares!”
Had any of the thousands of models hawking serum possessed an OUNCE of integrity, I may have saved THOUSANDS of hard-earned dollars.
She’s one in a million.
Example number two: While coexisting on lockdown at home, she and Tony have made fabulous meals, watched wonderful movies, created art with pasta…
…and she also taught Tony – for the first time in his life – to play Solitaire.
As she completed the deck, which resulted in a “no win” Tony said, “So now what?”
“What do you mean, ‘what’?”
“I mean, that’s IT?”
“Yes. When the deck is done, you either win or lose.”
“No! Don’t you shuffle what’s left and try to win?”
Shirlee had never cheated at Solitaire.
Perhaps the memories of Mom-Mom’s favorite admonition: “Thou God See-est Me” ingrained on her heart from youth kept Shirlee’s sinful nature at bay.
Or maybe she simply doesn’t HAVE one.
Who knows? I say thank you, Shirlee. You gave me something to write about during a week when all I wanted to do was eat cheesecake.
When the Word of the Week is adventure, it conjures up places to go, things to do and people to see. But when the world is on pause and the only adventures to be had are within the walls of your home, it forces a different kind of adventure.
See, you can’t escape yourself.
There you are. All the time.
If you’re fortunate enough to live with a saint like Mark, you don’t mind being hunkered down together.
But perhaps you, like me, are going a lil’ bit stir crazy?
My personal quarantine story is amplified by a thrilling new twist: weaning myself off of hormone replacement therapy.
Some people are going grey during COVID-19.
I may grow a beard!
Okay, that’s a poor attempt at humor (but I hope you laughed.)
My goal for 2020 was to be completely pharmaceutical-free. This journey began in 2017 when I quit Zoloft. The only drugs remaining in my system were low doses of estrogen and progesterone. And I fully intended to say goodbye to them, too…
…then COVID-19 hit.
When the pills ran out, I called my doctor and fully expected the refill to go through without a visit to her office. After all, the world is social distancing and if the situation isn’t dire, who should leave home to sit amongst sick people, right?
Told that I needed blood work to get my refill, I did what any hormonally-challenged woman would do. I burst into slobbering tears. Heaving, gulping tears.
The sloppy wailing held no sway with my doctor’s gatekeeper.
And I had no peace about venturing out for blood work. This stalemate, I knew, was a sign from the universe to stick it out and cold turkey the detox.
Kind Mark looked at my tear-streaked face (the third in as many days) and said, “Are you sure?”
He’s no fool. He’s got to LIVE with this wrecking ball of inflamed human emotion, wrapped in a bow of irrational thoughts, suspicions, dread and overwhelm.
I fully understand why he thought getting me some drugs might be a good idea!
However, the FLIPSIDE of this adventure in detoxing is the depth of emotion I’m feeling.
It’s not all happy emotions; some are so empathetic I can hardly bear all the feels…
…but at least I am fully ALIVE.
And for that, I’m incredibly grateful. First of all, I consider all of the poor souls suffering in sickness right now. The many who have died a victim to this deadly virus and who have sadly made their transition in the solitude social distancing demands.
I may be a bit of a hot mess right now. But I am healthy and alive.
Second, stuff that normally gets a pass or rolls off my back now instigates a full-blown experience. This amplified state of emotions REQUIRES examination. There’s no ignoring the rage, depression, anxiety, or vitriol. It must be inspected because ain’t no way I want those ugly tenants hanging out in my psyche.
So, being at home with me and my hormones has been an adventure of epic proportions.
We’re two weeks in and the science says it’ll take six to eight to be free.
Please send Mark your prayers and well-wishes.
His path to sainthood is almost assured as he quietly and calmly observes this circus of a roommate as she mines the depths of despair. Only to be perfectly fine minutes later when distracted by a ludicrous episode of Tiger King.
More on adventures and an interesting new Word of the Weeks!
Sheltering in place has spurred a tug toward cooking and cleaning.
Office closets, filled so haphazardly their contents would bonk me on the head when opening the door, are now pristine. A pile of unworn clothes is packed for donation to Goodwill. The whir of the vacuum and the smell of Fabuloso make more regular appearances on Lockwood Ridge Road.
Or should I say “Lockdown Ridge Road?”
Yes, I’m going stir crazy. I’d much rather be shopping, dining out, and otherwise frolicking than cooking and cleaning.
But the harsh reality? I should well appreciate the privilege of sheltering in place when others must work outside of the home. A million thank you’s to the healthcare workers and grocery store cashiers who carry on in the midst of a scary, insidious, invisible threat.
Nope, I’m not leaving the house. The one time I had to? It involved picking up a prescription for my mom (who I still can’t visit). I wore plastic gloves and a mask, and handed the meds (along with her favorite, People magazine) to an attendant who wouldn’t let me traverse the doorway.
PS – I am SO GRATEFUL Mom is at Atria Assisted Living. They bring her meals, deliver wine for happy hour, and protect her health like it’s Fort Knox.
So back to the domestic arts. When cleaning one of the aforementioned closets, out popped a recipe. This is not unusual. I’ve spent a lifetime collecting recipes for dishes I’ll never make.
Ah, but THIS was for Cassia’s flan.
More than the memory of the richest, creamiest, most delectible desert EVER, I remembered Cassia.
I met her back in the church days, and she was the light (and fire) of every room she entered. Gorgeously Brazilian, she was an elegant, refined lady who would surprise with her sassy comments. Everyone was darling – or rather, “dah-link” – but she did not suffer fools. Oh, but if she liked you? Or loved you?
Well, Cassia’s love was a force to be reckoned with.
She was ready to leave the church/cult when I was getting married but kept silent about her intentions because she didn’t want to put a damper on my party.
Soon after, she left. When I finally had MY awakening to leave, she was the first person I called.
“You were right! Cassia, you were right!”
She loved me enough to give me the space to come to my own conclusion. But was right there to comfort and love me back from the brink of despair when the place I had given my life to was revealed to be a sham.
Cassia loved passionately, and it always showed up at her dinner table. When she invited you to dinner, you dropped everything to be there for a veritable feast that would always end with her life-changing flan.
After almost 20 years of storing the recipe, I finally decided this week to make it.
But here’s where the story gives me goosies. The day that recipe reemerged from the dark corner of my closet was Cassia’s birthday.
I had forgotten the date! Only later that day when I scrolled through Facebook did I see her adoring widower, Luis, post a tribute to his beloved wife.
On her birthday, Cassia gave me a gift. A tap on the shoulder from beyond and a resurgence of happy memories.
I am probably the age of Cassia when we met. A woman could only hope to aspire to her unique beauty and the quality of her love.
And to the deliciousness of her flan. Of course, you want the recipe! Here you go (by the way, I doubled the ingredients to make the version you see above):
With patience our recent Word of the Week, it made sense that I’d try something out of my wheelhouse that required a little bit of the WOW. Here are my parting thoughts on patience, and a zippy new reveal!
When your word of the week says, “Relax!” and the world as you’ve known it becomes completely upended, it’s like a bad joke.
You want me to relax when I can’t leave the house?
It’s a bit counterintuitive. You’d think not being able to leave the house; not fulfilling obligations; not even being able to go to the gym would offer abundant opportunities to relax, right?
Ah…but relaxation is a mindset.
I wish I could uninstall my rampant thoughts as easily as a computer USB.
Remembering that every fearful thought begins with “What if?” has helped me to stop negative momentum.
And, if the thoughts we are thinking don’t feel good? Stop milking them.
Further, if the news we listen to heightens our anxiety? Power down that device.
I’m not suggesting to stick our heads in the sand. But I am saying as the CEO of our lives, we need to (more than ever) listen to our internal, emotional gauges. When we feel information overload, take a step back.
Wash your hands.
Then watch something funny or play catch with the dog.
Social distancing needs to be offset by healthy doses of laughter, virtual connection, and generosity.
Rather than focusing on lack, I’ve been considering how I can give. And some of you have been inspiring me greatly!
My friend, the amazingly talented John Russo, has been crooning on Facebook live. What a joy! (I’d pay to subscribe, John, if you had that option…)
The Main Line’s Martha Stewart, Pat Nogar, does live cooking demonstrations on her page (seasoned with big doses of inspiration.)
And I considered, “What can I do?”
Ages ago I bought a software subscription to offer live webinars and it collected dust because of my busy life. Plus, my favorite thing to do is to speak live and in person!
But who’s doing that now?
However, behind my desire to encourage groups in person is not what I’m paid to do, but what I’m made to do.
And that is to be an uplifter.
Nothing else makes me feel more alive. So I’m hosting my first virtual book club webinar on Friday, March 27th at Noon. Pat Nogar is co-hosting with me, it’s free, and will focus on one of the chapters of The Public Servants’ Survival Guide: REST.
We’ll be chatting about how REST is more than getting a good night’s sleep, and that those who master resting in peace have become adept at sidestepping drama. Please register by clicking here.
(Breaking news: There’s always drama. Always will be! )
Long after this pandemic is a memory, there will be drama among in-laws, frenemies, cubicle-sharers, and the real housewives of any community.
I read where the Spanish Flu in 1918 resulted in 50-100 million deaths, but also ushered in a wave of unprecedented self-reflection and personal growth among the populace. King Lear was written when Shakespeare was quarantined during the plague!
What beauty will come from these ashes? Let’s find it together.
And boy, the cards don’t lie. Wait’ll you hear what the new Word of the Weeks is!: