What Keeps You Together?


Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade (Picture from http://discoverblackheritage.com)

I was filled with both sadness and happiness while listening to the story of Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade with Elizabeth Blair on NPR this week and hearing about their 59 years of love, partnership and marriage. You might remember him from the Roger Moore, James Bond days playing the villain in “Live and Let Die” or 80’s 7UP commercials and she has been a dancer for most of her life, dancing with Alvin Ailey, the Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway.

Mr. Holder passed away earlier this month on October 5th. He was 84 years old. Ms. de Lavallade spoke to Ms. Blair about going on with the show, she has a one-woman event at the Kennedy Center called “As I Remember It” where she is dancing and reminiscing about her life and a little bit about her life with her love. I was really touched by this quote from the story;

“De Lavallade says she wasn’t counting the years they were married, but she’s pretty clear on why they stayed together for so long.”

He allowed me to be myself,” she says. “He was my champion, he was my biggest fan, and I was the same way with him.

The story had me reflecting, as I approach my 25th wedding anniversary early next month, on what has kept me and my husband together and what I love about my him in no particular order;


  • He always let’s me win – just kidding – we know when to compromise
  • We never go to bed angry
  • He tells me I’m pretty, even when I am feeling anything but pretty
  • I cook the food and he cleans the kitchen or vis-a-versa (I usually cook) – we share the responsibilities around the house
  • We enjoy a lot of the same things – travel, food, reading, etc
  • But we don’t enjoy all the same things – and that’s ok – having our own interests keeps it interesting
  • I can talk him into things he thinks he won’t like – and then he does like them – our sweet puppies are top of that list – 3 years to talk him into one, now he can hardly stand to be away from them
  • We allow for each others bad habits – his for leather jackets(sorry to my vegan readers) and mine for bed linens – we both have enough for two lifetimes.
  • I know he has my back and I know I have his back
  • We make each other laugh
  • He drives and I navigate – it works – we get where we need to be in our car and usually in our life.
  • We love each other no matter what!

Have you been married or with your significant other for a long time – what are your secrets to marriage longevity?

What Keeps You Going?

My husband just turned 77 this month and he is still working full time, my 75 year old step-father still works at various money making ventures including his profession as a Chiropractor and my 86 year old grandfather, who officially retired more than 20 years ago, still works harder than most people I know even with his daily catnap. I have spoken to my husband several times over the last couple of years about whether or not he has any desire to retire yet and he continues to tell me “No, not yet.”  What keeps them going when all three of them could sit back, not work and “enjoy” their lives? Or is it the “keeping going” that “keeps them going?”

I know, for my husband, he definitely doesn’t want to sit at home and wait for me to get home from work. He doesn’t have a bunch of hobbies that he participates in or really too many regular friends around where we live now so I think work is his hobby and where his social interactions and friendships take place. With my step-dad and my grandfather they just both have always been busy with work, friends, fishing, chores, golf and other activities that keep them active and engaged.

I was inspired by a recent New York Times Magazine article “Old Masters at the Top of Their Game” with interviews by Camille Sweeney who spoke to several of the 70 and 80 plus active artists, writers, business people and one supreme court judge about why they are still working;

I loved this comment from Frederick Wiseman the filmmaker who is 84 about being in  denial about his age and how useful that is to him;

“Early on, did you ever think you’d still be making movies at your age?
I didn’t think about it at all. I have a hard time recognizing that I’m 84, almost 85. I’m in complete denial, which I think is extremely useful. Of course from time to time I allow myself to be aware of it, but it’s not something that I dwell on. I like working. I work very intensely.”

The amazing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is 81 had this response when asked about what has been the most surprising thing about her 80’s;

Nothing surprised me. But I’ve learned two things. One is to seek ever more the joys of being alive, because who knows how much longer I will be living? At my age, one must take things day by day. I have been asked again and again, “How long are you going to stay there?” I make that decision year by year. The minute I sense I am beginning to slip, I will go. There’s a sense that time is precious and you should enjoy and thrive in what you’re doing to the hilt. I appreciate that I have had as long as I have. . . . It’s a sense reminiscent of the poem ‘‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’’”

And this one, from the wonderful actor Christopher Plummer who is 84 and the oldest actor to win an Academy Award, when asked what besides staying in shape past a certain age is important;

“…..so is doing the work. It uplifts you. The idea that you’re doing what you love. It’s very important. It’s very sad that most people in the world are not happy with their lot or with their jobs and they can’t wait to retire. And when they retire, it’s like death. . . . They sit at home and watch the television. And that is death. I think you’ve got to continue. We never retire. We shouldn’t retire. Not in our profession. There’s no such thing. We want to drop dead onstage. That would be a nice theatrical way to go.”

And this answer, from the great architect Frank Gehry who is 85, about what has changed the most for him about his work since turning 80 made me laugh out loud;

Buildings take seven years from the time you’re hired until you’re finished. There’s always that pause in my mind now when we get a new project. And then I think about it for a few minutes, and I say: ‘‘Ah, screw it! Full speed ahead.’’”

I love it, “Screw it, Full speed ahead” that is what life should be – get out there, do it and don’t let anything deter you from doing what you love, having fun and creating things.

Another recent article in the New York Times by Bruce Grierson “What if Age is Nothing But a Mind-Set?  got me thinking about some similar territory. The story looked at the work of Harvard Professor Ellen Langer, who has done dozens upon dozens of studies about how the mind affects the body, including idea’s about how it feels and heals. A study that she conducted in the early 80’s, the Counterclockwise study, looked to reverse some of the effects aging was having on a group of generally healthy 70 something men;

“…eight men in their 70s stepped out of a van in front of a converted monastery in New Hampshire. They shuffled forward, a few of them arthritically stooped, a couple with canes. Then they passed through the door and entered a time warp. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan welcomed guests on a black-and-white TV. Everything inside — including the books on the shelves and the magazines lying around — were designed to conjure 1959. This was to be the men’s home for five days as they participated in a radical experiment…”

They were asked to “inhabit their younger selves” during the stay, to make a psychological attempt to be the persons they were two decades earlier and they were treated like they were younger with expectations for taking care of things for themselves. They were tested on several things prior to the study and then again after the study;

“At the end of their stay, the men were tested again. On several measures, they outperformed a control group that came earlier to the monastery but didn’t imagine themselves back into the skin of their younger selves, though they were encouraged to reminisce. They were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had “put their mind in an earlier time,” and their bodies went along for the ride.””

The study has been “replicated” for reality T.V. purposes a few times, including “The Young Ones,” a BBC documentary that sought to recreate the experiment (Professor Langer was a consultant) with six aging former celebrities and showed similar results as the study.

The power of positive thinking or positive psychology or the placebo effect have all been shown to help many people live better, but this experiment with some hotel house keepers was even more interesting;

“A few years earlier, Langer and one of her students, Alia Crum, conducted a study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involving 84 hotel chambermaids. The maids had mostly reported that they didn’t get much exercise in a typical week. The researchers primed the experimental group to think differently about their work by informing them that cleaning rooms was fairly serious exercise — as much if not more than the surgeon general recommends. Once their expectations were shifted, those maids lost weight, relative to a control group (and also improved on other measures like body mass index and hip-to-waist ratio). All other factors were held constant. The only difference was the change in mind-set.

Critics hunted for other explanations — statistical errors or subtle behavior changes in the weight-loss group that Langer hadn’t accounted for. Otherwise the outcome seemed to defy physics. “To which I would say, ‘There’s no discipline that is complete,’ ” Langer responds. “If current-day physics can’t explain these things, maybe there are changes that need to be made in physics.””

The housekeepers were primed to think differently about their work and it seems to have had a pretty powerful effect on them.  I have not read the study to understand the full details, but now I want to know more. I love this stuff when it is used to help people be better and do better, but I also hate it when it’s used by advertisers to manipulate me into buying something and I know that does happen all the time.

The article also taught me a new word, “nocebo” and it’s described as the opposite of placebo, as in “the placebo effect”;

“The nocebo effect is the flip side of the more positive placebo effect, and she says that one of the most pernicious nocebo effects can occur when a patient is informed by her doctor that she is ill. The diagnosis itself, Langer says, primes the symptoms the patient expects to feel. “You change a word here or there, and you get vastly different results,””

This definitely hit me, but more from the aspect of how my environment effects me. I work in, at times, a very negative place; customers are negative about my very existence (I’m a public servant), most of the interactions with people are about negative things and complaints and my co-workers tend to be very, very negative about work and this I believe is influencing how I look at and respond to the world. I think I am generally a positive person with an attitude that almost anything can be fixed, relationship repaired, error corrected and people taught; but some days I find that everything I think and many of the things I say are negative and in direct contrast to that positive attitude.  And I really notice it once I get home and away from the workplace; I recognize how I was speaking or reacting to a situation that normally would not get me upset.

I will have to work up my own experiment to conduct in my workplace to see if I can turn the tide of negativity with some positive psychology or maybe a placebo Prozac for everyone in the building.

I will leave you with a lovely quote from the “Old Masters at the Top of Their Game” article from naturalist and writer T.H. White;

““You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.””

What keeps you going?


Mind on Fire

Sleep won’t come and my mind’s on fire.

Each mistake replayed and everything feels dire.

A worry for every assignment, a worry for every chore.

They make me question my own judgment,

and it’s exasperating me to the core.

Avoid caffeine and let things go,

some Namaste and still my restless mind is my foe.

Make a list and count those sheep,

still the morning comes with very little sleep.

My problems are small I say again and again,

still they wash over me like an unwanted friend.

I search for balance and a simple life,

but still I stress and am full of strife.

Pick a path and make it mine,

but which one, I don’t want “just fine”.

Up all night and I am beginning to tire.

Still sleep won’t come cause my mind’s on fire.

Is Karma in Charge of Your Future?

Money  I’m sure most of you have heard the rumblings and rage over the comments of Microsoft chief executive, Satya Nadella, when he was asked by an attendee at a women in tech conference, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, about how to ask for a raise, when he replied;

 “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.” 

He went on to imply that it is not good “karma” to ask for a raise. Ok, now I am going to rage for a moment; seriously a CEO of a major corporation is talking about letting karma and the system determine a woman’s future. I am sure that is exactly how he has handled his rise to the top.

That’s good karma. It will come back. That’s the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to.”

Hell yes he wants to give more responsibility to those that don’t ask for raises, he can pile more work on them and not have to pay for it. Isn’t that just good CEO economics; getting more, for less and adding to the shareholders value. He has since been backtracking fast and furiously from that statement, but you know the truth now about how he really views his team, no matter how much spin his PR people put on it.

In one of my very early blog posts here at Random and Rhyme I wrote about “Money” and some of my ups and downs with it, but in it I also commented about women and negotiations an excerpt below;

“I read the Get Rich Slowly Blog to keep me focused on paying off those debts and building that emergency fund. But there was an article recently on the site that caught my attention; also about women and money, Money Mythbuster: Women Don’t Negotiate by staff writer April Dykman. She writes about her experience with trying to negotiate and the results she ended up with, as well as provides some links to studies about women and men and their salary disparity. Particularly disturbing was the negative effect on a woman who negotiates her starting salary vs a man who does.”

““If a woman negotiates her starting salary, the employer might hold it against her. According to a 2006 study, when a woman negotiates her salary, both men and women are less likely to want to work with or hire her. The negative effect was more than 5.5 times greater for women who negotiated than for men.””

I learned in my early twenties that I needed to negotiate my starting salary, if for no other reason than, because it affects what you make in the long run. I also know I have lost out on at least one position because of my professional request for a better starting salary. But you know what? Not getting that job, where I wasn’t going to be valued led me to finding a better position, in a better organization and at an even better salary. So keep asking ladies because no one is going to pay you what your worth unless you assert and value yourself. And the organizations or companies that do not value a smart, assertive, contributor who professionally asks to be paid commensurate with what value she is bringing to the organization are going to suffer because they are afraid or too intimidated to hire the person that will likely help them the most.

Do you negotiate your salary or anything else like vacation time or just a better price on that couch you’re buying?


Do You Think About Death?


My great-grandmother Kate standing near the grave of her late husband. (picture from a relative who uploaded it to Ancestry.com)


It’s something I think about occasionally; a fleeting thought, a sad reminder or at times it comes when thinking with regret about something I wish I would have done before a loved-one passed away. I do think about how I hope to die; peacefully in my sleep after a nice meal on a beautiful summers day spent with friends and family when I am really old.

After I’m no longer using this body I have considered donating it to science, but I am kind of hoping it is old and used up before that happens. Maybe I can put an age clause on my after life disposition; If I am “X” years old and in a state of interest to science please donate, but If I am old and have used my body to the fullest please cremate me. I think that is reasonable, don’t you?

The right to die or “Death with Dignity” is also on my mind. I live in Washington state, one of only 5 states that allow for “death with dignity” along with Vermont, Montana, New Mexico and Oregon. Oregon has been in the news recently because of the story of Brittany Maynard, the young woman with an terminal brain cancer who has moved from the San Francisco area of California to Portland, Oregon so that she can have the right to choose when she is ready to die. From a CNN interview;

“”I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms,” she wrote on CNN.com.

“Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.””

I hope I am not faced with that choice or need to choose, but I am thankful that my State does allow for that option if I were to become terminally ill. I have watched a couple of people deal with the end of the lives of loved ones, who are having little to no quality of life, yet they have been medically kept alive because they are holding out hope or because the medical system just does not allow for an assisted end. Just because a life can be extended does not mean it should be extended. A rational adult in control of their faculties should be able to make a decision about how they want to live their life and how, if necessary, they want to stop living their life. They should be able to do it humanely and peacefully rather than being forced to end it in trauma because the medical system isn’t set up to treat humans humanely.

During my husbands 10 days in the hospital last December, right before he was moved to ICU, a nurse asked me if my husband had a living will and told me to bring it into the hospital. My husband and I both have completed living wills and have made it clear to each other what the other is to do if we are facing making that decision for the other. The nurses request was frightening at the time, but I was glad that I did have an answer even if it was one that I didn’t want to face.

In a recent “Fresh Airinterview conducted by Terry Gross on NPR’s she speaks with Caitlin Doughty, a mortician, who has written a memoir and has a series of uTube videos about death, dying and some other pretty weird stuff. Her memoir is “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory.” An excerpt from the interview;

“On how she once romanticized crematory work, and how that compared with reality

I think it was probably more romantic than it actually ended up being. I thought of the idea of … the open-air pyre and leading the body to it and placing it on the pyre and everybody’s weeping and it’s beautiful. But the reality that I found is that modern crematories are really industrial environments and the body goes into large industrial machines and oftentimes I was the only one there. And it’s hot and it’s dirty and you get covered in dust [ashes] as you’re working.”

I have never had a romantic or mystical view of cremation or dying, but I guess that is because our western culture just doesn’t do that sort of thing and my family is a rather stoic lot. Several members of my immediate family have been cremated, my father’s mom and dad, my father and most recently my mom’s mother. My father’s parents, my grandparents, were cremated and their ashes were spread in area’s that meant something to them. My grandfather was spread in a field he used to love to go with his dog to hunt duck and pheasant and my dad and I spread my grandmother’s ashes around their home on the lake.

I took care of my fathers final arrangements and picked “him” up from the funeral home after he was cremated. I remember the person at the mortuary warning me before  giving me the wrapped square package that it was heavy so that I wouldn’t drop it when they handed it to me. It was heavy, the size and weight of a large brick, but wrapped in paper that looked like it could be used to wrap a wedding gift. It took us a couple of years to decide what to do with his ashes. Finally we decided, my little brother, my grandfather(my mom’s father) and I, to pack into the North Cascade mountains on horses and spread his ashes in a place that we thought was special to him. That is a day I will always cherish and remember.


Grandpa Chuck and my little brother Andy sharing a drink on top of the mountain after we spread my father’s ashes.

My grandmother, who passed away on mother’s day over 6 years ago now(wow time does fly by), was cremated and set in a mausoleum at the cemetery where her mother is buried. There is a spot for my grandfather to be beside her when it’s his time to go. I like the idea that they will be together someday, hopefully a long time from now, for eternity in their little spot on the wall.

Today, my wish is to be cremated and my ashes spread in Clear Lake near my grandparents home and around the lake where I spent many happy years as a child. I say today, because things can change, life goes on and some other place may develop that enduring impact on me that that place of my early childhood had on my life. In fact, I hope it does; that will mean that I have been truly living my life, tasting what it has to offer, enjoying it, finding pleasure and other places to be myself.

Do you think about death? Do your loved ones know your wishes after you are gone? Do you have a living will? Do you want the right to choose if necessary “death with dignity”?