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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Oprah Struggles to Reinvent Herself

O Magazine was started twelve years ago. How many articles do you think Oprah Winfrey has published about reinvention? Yet it seems even for the Big O, it’s not that easy. (Boomers everywhere hide a half-smile of schadenfreude.)

Used to be the only time we had to invent ourselves was in our late teens, early twenties.

“What are you going to do with your life?” was the big question. Now we have to recreate ourselves every decade or so due to job insecurity. Capitalism depends on creative destruction, and the United States is the envy of the world in the way our CEOs can toss workers into the garbage whenever the balance sheet needs more black ink.

Most of us are vulnerable. We’re the little guy, Joe Employee. We don’t have much power, unless you’re one of the few remaining union members and even they are pretty much toast. Witness the tens of thousands of highly trained and educated teachers who stay home every day, losing their edge as opposed to educating the next generation. But I digress.

Little Guy, take heart. You’re not alone. It seems Oprah is flailing about in her new life-phase. (Warning: mute this article because otherwise you’ll be force-fed an annoying commercial.)

Apparently Oprah’s reinvention has hit a rough patch. Her new cable channel is sucking wind. I feel her pain because I’ve been there, stepping off the cliff from where you are golden into a place where you are tin. You feel as if you’re twenty years old again, but not in a good way. In your new incarnation, you have little power or authority, and must slave away to rebuild it. But this time you’re forty or fifty or sixty or more.

In my late forties, I left a profession in which I’d established a twenty-seven year history and threw myself into freelancing. After ten years of trying and failing, changing my mind, feeling lost and/or depressed, wasting time, wasting money and learning things I’ll never need, I’ve finally figured out my new career. Apparently I’m a teacher and a writer. I’m so happy, it’s obviously the right choice.

From my new vantage point, I’d give younger people this advice: think of yourself as a small business. You may have to reshape it or carry it to an unexpected place, but this will be less jarring if you plan for it. What would you do if you were suddenly tossed from your current job?

Burnish that business called You, Inc.

WHILE YOU’RE EMPLOYED, learn everything you can, network with those who can further your career, keep your eye out to alternate but related industries, think of side businesses you can build in your spare time for emergency cash, and save your money. Living within your means is the ultimate power over the unpredictable future.

For the older people, my peers, this is something you’ve already discovered. If you need tips from your contemporaries about reinvention and finding work in mid-to-later-life, here are several:

I wish you success and contentment, and I hope you’ll take some comfort from knowing that the great Oprah is struggling, too.

Leave a comment

27 Comments

  1. So many of us have been forced into reinvention, but the majority of us don’t have the kind of financial cushion that Oprah has. However, reinvention can be fun and there is not timetable in life that says we have to be at a certain spot at a certain time. I am constantly reinventing myself in so many ways.
    Laura

    Reply
    • Good for you, Laura. I’ve heard the recipe for happiness is someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. Reinvention would definitely take care of the latter two.

      Reply
  2. “Living within your means is the ultimate power over the unpredictable future.” Great wisdom found in this sentence. As we go through life our future changes but we seem to hang on to old habits such as spending.
    Sometimes I think we hang on to the habit of thinking we must do what we have done in the past. I admire my sister-in-law Diane who has adjusted her sails to fit the changes in her life. She trained years ago as a teacher. Now at age 75 she has found she needs extra income. She has has always loved animals so now she earns extra income pet-sitting. She meets fascinating new people, enjoys the pets and earns extra income. We are never too old to re-invent ourselves. Maybe it helped Diane that at age 95 her mother volunteered to clean bubble-gum from under school desks. If I live to be 95 my aspiration is to follow in her foot steps and re-invent myself as a volunteer joyfully doing whatever needs to be done.

    Reply
    • Barbara, with that kind of role modeling, you won’t be able to slow down, ever! Thanks for the inspiration.

      Reply
  3. I told my sister once “I hate change,” and she laughed. “Then you’re living the wrong life.” It was funny, but impactful, too. Saplings stay upright because they bend with the wind. At any age, adaptation keeps us nimble and spiritually alive. Thank you, Lynne, for another great post. In my world, the week always starts on Friday.

    Reply
    • Linda, what a kind thing to say. I’m grinning from ear to ear. Fridays are awesome just for being Fridays, aren’t they? Even though I’ve been self-employed for the better part of ten years now, I still feel happier on Fridays! Enjoy your weekend.

      Reply
  4. Peggy

     /  March 9, 2012

    Wow…another good one, Lynn. I, was first a tech writer for 20 years before I got into corporate management. Then…I, too, left my last corporate job in my late 40s. I was Director of Operations for a large software firm in Denver. I made a wad ‘o dough, but hated every second of it. At 46, I said “adios,” started a Phd program in alternative health, bought a 30k electro-dermal machine (tests energy in the body) and opened an office in Evergeen, CO, “The Balanced Body.” I worked as a Naturopathic Practitioner and wrote a health column for a Colorado Magazine. During that time, I also became a metaphysical minister and officiated over weddings on the weekends. Then…I went through another transformation when we moved back home to California.

    Much more costly to open a naturopathic biz in CA, more expensive, and CA law frowns on alternative medicine (believe it or not) so I decided to open Moonforest Sanctuary and Anam Learning Center, a spiritual teaching center. We operated out of our home in Weaverville on our 5.5 acres in the forest as we looked for land and received backing…almost had it, too! Teachers and speakers lined up The local Buddhist Gonpa were set to put in a meditation garden and Quan Yin pond. A Modoc healer was going to put in a sweat lodge and medicine wheel. We were deep in negotiations with Pacific Yurts to build guest housing, and then…BAM…everything fell through. We lost our 8 million dollar funding and everything else, including our land and even our home. We lived for 2 years in a 1995 30 foot Pace Arrow, 8 feet wide, no slides. Boy, did we EVER learn to live within our means. During that time, I became a freelance writer, and taught a poetry class at a Charter School, so I guess I morphed into a teacher/writer, too. Now, I write novels…well, you know that. The end of the story is: I think women (and men, too) are called upon to reinvent themselves many times in their lives. That’s why the dragonfly has become my personal totem…even more than a butterfly, a dragonfly to me means “the power of transformation.”

    Reply
  5. Great advice! I admire the courage it took to pitch in the corporate life for a self made career and look forward to your insights each week on how to handle the one giant transition that no escapes…growing older.

    Reply
  6. Great advice, Lynne, regardless of the stage of life we’re at! Unlike Oprah, the majority of folks currently un- and under-employed don’t have a bucket load of money or time to cushion their search for the better life. You’re so right in nudging everyone to think of themselves as a small business, to save, and to be prepared for periodic reinvention. By the way, I like your new look!

    Reply
  7. We don’t have a TV, but I’d be willing to bet part of Oprah’s problem may be that she’s on a cable channel that people have to pay extra for now. Many of the women I know at this time get their news from their computers, and are not spending a heck of a lot of time sitting in front of a TV screen, but getting much of their entertainment now from computer chats, youtube, etc. Maybe Oprah should think about putting her show online where we might actually watch it?

    Reply
    • Peggy

       /  March 9, 2012

      I think you are right on the money (so to speak) Barbara. People live on budgets these days that don’t allow them to spend money on small luxuries. We don’t have t.v. in our home either, but I did see Oprah’s show a few times. I liked it, but I wouldn’t PAY to see it. I can see how being a superstar for so many years and finding herself out of the spotlight can really mess her up. She probably thought her star would never burn out, that she would never lose favor with the public, but sooner or later (albeit to a much different degree) almost all of us who have successfully climbed the ladder know what it feels like to slip down the rungs and have to find a new ladder, and start climing again. Starting over is just a little more challenging as get a little older, especially if we are inflexible and attempt to cling to a lifestyle that no longer fits ijnto our budget. Gotta change our priorities sometimes and learn to be happy no matter what. Not always easy.

      Reply
      • Right, Peggy, but after all the changing you’ve done, you KNOW you are the master of your life. Strong, yet flexible. Be the bamboo. Or some such. 😉

        Reply
  8. You nailed it, Lynne. But, the big O will survive and so will we. Congrats on the writing gig. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Peggy

     /  March 9, 2012

    Lynn, I read somewhere that the average person changes careers (not jobs, but careers) 7 times in their lifetime. So ain’t nuttin’ special in the changes I’ve gone through. We all have examples of reinventing ourselves. I love your advice to youngins’ and us “wise women,” too. Nicely done! Love the blog.

    Reply
  10. As the author of the first article you mentioned, “In 2012 Career Success is Up to You,” I think your advice is both helpful and accurate. There is much more freedom in today’s marketplace and we all know Janis Joplin’s definition of freedom. So it’s up to each of us to direct our choices, refocus when we need to, and keep moving forward… just like you’ve done. Kudos on your fabulous blog–you’re a role model for each of us!

    Reply
  11. Another great discussion,Lynne on a very relevant topic of using failure to reinvent ourselves. Years ago, when I was a single parent struggling to find the best job to support my two children, I ended up working in nursing administration (best pay, daytime hours=monumental stress) At the mercy of a new hospital administration who decided they wanted to clean house, i found myself without a job. Luckily I was given a severance package to find comparable position. During the transition period, I went cross-country skiing with a girlfriend who asked me a very simple question that stopped me dead in my tracks: “What do you really want to do?” It took me years later, but I eventually found my heart’s desire and it wasn’t administration, it was clinical nursing. I went on to become a family nurse practitioner and spent the last 15 years of my career doing what I loved best. Of course, life is filled with transitions and changes and now I have reinvented myself as a writer after retiring from my beloved nursing profession. Change is scary but there’s always the opportunity to grow in new ways. And if Oprah can do it, so can we. Great post and discussion,Lynne! Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • Kathy, one testimonial is worth ten “what if’s?” Thanks for the testimonial. I hope you will not miss it too badly but from where I sit it appears you’re up to your eyeballs in your new gig! Best wishes.

      Reply
  12. PS, Lynne, I meant to tell you I love your new look!

    Reply
  13. I just shared this Lynne-another timely topic thoughtfully reviewed—-I’m in the middle of editing a novel written a while ago about one woman’s reinvention—-only she took that path before it had a name—reinvention is almost sexy nowadays—you read in mags about this one and that one taking the leap and landing on their feet…but for every success story, there must be as many that aren’t—-we don’t read much about that—-if anyone had the odds in her favor, Oprah sure did—What she didn’t plan on was the economy bottoming out—back when OWN was a ‘new’ idea-in 2006-the mood was much different—-
    Reinvention is risky business—even for women like Oprah–
    thanks Lynne–you always get me going…:)

    Reply
    • Thank YOU, MM. I do know of several buddies who are striving for the joy of reinvention but mostly dealing with the horror of “it ain’t happenin'”. So much of that is due to the economy. I sure hope they find their gear soon. And yes, reinvention these days is almost a requirement. Sometimes I fantasize about reinventing myself into a patio potato.

      Reply
  14. Linda

     /  March 13, 2012

    Great article. I’ve been “forced” into reinvention a few times myself through layoffs and reorganizations. But one thing I’ve learned is that no matter how awful it seems at the time, it’s not the end of world and is actually, sometimes, a blessing.

    Reply
    • You aren’t kidding, Linda. I think I mentioned somewhere that I still have my corporate costumes hanging in my guestroom closet, because it’s the very last vestige of when I was an exec. But now I don’t define myself that way, and I am so much freer to be who I am. Thanks for the reminder.

      Reply
  15. Boy, I’m coming to this party late. For some reason, I had stopped getting your posts. Re Oprah: I think what Oprah failed to see was that people watched her show not for the subject matter per se, but for her presentation and interaction with it. I watched Oprah all the time, but I’ve never watched the O channel. Re reinvention: Interesting piece in Huff/post recently on how the over 50 brain is wired for reinvention. Agreed, agreed, agreed.

    Reply
  16. Renee, I love hearing from you. I saw your flurry of comments. Hope you are well. But yeah, about Oprah, she goes from being a dirt-floor, outdoor-plumbing kinda girl to one who doesn’t know how to pump her own gas (as depicted in the road trip she took with Gail a few years ago.) If I were as successful as her I admit it would be hard to avoid getting into the bubble.

    Reply

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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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Examining experiences and exploring possibilities

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self-publishing tips for authors

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thoughts on the spaces in between

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