Connecting Through Stories

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde

At night after we’re done reading, I’ve been telling my kids stories from my life. It feels like a lot of work sometimes after a long day, but it also has this strange power of connecting past to present.

Some of their favorite stories are about Simon the bad cat. He was a cat that a neighbor left with me when she moved to Hawaii. Before he was my cat, he’d wait outside my house in the morning for me to take my 150 pound mastiff for a walk, jump out of the bushes, playfully smack my dog on the rump and then walk with us for 12 blocks.

Suffice it to say, he was a character perfectly made for bedtime stories. He got into all sorts of trouble – he’d break into other people’s houses, get stuck, and he fought with other cats. One time he must have ended up with a tooth or a claw stuck in the area between his shoulder blades because it abscessed and the vet had to do surgery to drain it. Simon died on the operating table and they had to do kitty CPR on him. It worked and he sprang back to his adventurous life.

There was one neighbor, Steve, who particularly hated Simon. One day when Steve was showing the new tenants of the duplex he lived in the shared basement laundry room space, he was telling them something like, “Whatever you do, close the door because there’s this terrible cat that comes in here if you don’t.” The new tenants asked what the cat looked like and as Steve described Simon, they pointed to the shelf behind Steve’s shoulder, “Oh, you mean that cat right there?” Simon had snuck in to listen to Steve’s whole speech.

When Steve worked on bicycles in his front yard, Simon would memorize where everything was laid out. And if Steve moved something or added a part, Simon would pee on it. It drove Steve crazy – but also fascinated him that the cat was that smart…and that bad.

Surprisingly, given all his dangerous antics, Simon lived to a ripe old age of 19 year old and died right after Miss O turned 3 years old. When we got the new cat, we just added an “e” to Simon so that Simone could share his Xmas stocking (always filled with coal of course). The quote for this post is a little tongue-in-cheek but I admit I felt a little relief when Simon went to Cat Heaven that I wouldn’t have to be apologizing for his antics any more.

Steve, the neighbor that hated Simon, has also moved on. He no longer lives on our block but must be in the area because I see him from time to time.

After several nights of these Simon the bad cat stories, one morning last week the kids and I were stopped at a stop sign on our drive to school when a man rode by the front of our car on a bike. It was Steve from the Simon stories! I yelled, “That’s Steve.”

We laughed all the way to school.

If you have a moment, I have another fun story from my past, a climbing story on the Heart of the Matter blog this morning, On The Way To the Top

(featured photo is mine)

Changing Someone’s Ride – Small Acts of Kindness

Some stranger somewhere, still remembers you because you were kind to them when no one else was.” – unknown

Miss O was 3-years-old when I got a bike seat for the back of my bike and took her for our first ride around the neighborhood. She loved being in that seat, even though she could primarily only see my back. As we rode around in the September sunshine, she would exclaim. “This is fantastic!” and also yell “hi” to everyone.

Her delight and enthusiasm were so infectious. It reminded me of my favorite lines from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children,

It seems that in the late summer of that year my grandfather, Doctor Aadam Aziz, contracted a highly dangerous form of optimism. Bicycling around Agra, he whistled piercingly, badly, but very happily. He was by no means alone, because, despite strenuous efforts by the authorities to stamp it out, this virulent disease had been breaking out all over India that year, and drastic steps were to be taken before it was brought under control.”

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

It also reminded me of the summer I did a lot of tandem bike riding with my friend, Eric. I was in the back seat so I had no responsibility for steering and braking. All I had to do was stay on the bike and pedal. That left a lot of time for looking around and waving to people as we passed them.

I must have been going about this quietly because Eric didn’t have any idea I was waving madly from the back of the bike. Until one day when we passed a group of tough looking teenage boys and he was surprised that they smiled and did kinda of a cool, low-down wave at him. The next time we passed someone, Eric watched the shadow of the bike and saw me waving. He stopped, laughed, and then asked, “Have you been doing that all summer?”

Well, sure I had. And listen, I came by it honestly because my dad when we’d go hiking would greet every group we passed. “How much farther to the Starbucks?” or “You’re doing great. Almost there!”

What did I learn from riding with Miss O, my dad, and tandem biking? It doesn’t take much to change the experience of those around us.

This is also the topic of the HoTM podcast today, Episode 16: Nuggets of Kindness with Stuart Perkins Vicki and I talk with Stuart about one of my favorite posts of his — and how his powerful writing touches on parenting, kindness, inspiration, people paying attention to how they can help others.

It’s such a fun podcast – you may even find yourself shouting, like Miss O, “This is fantastic!” 🙂 I hope you enjoy listening!

Links for Episode 16:

Listen on Anchor: Episode 16: Nuggets of Kindness with Stuart Perkins or search for Sharing the Heart of the Matter on Apple, Amazon Music, Spotify and Pocket Casts

Stuart’s blog:

Stuart’s post: A Nugget of Kindness

(featured photo from Pexels)

What To Do When We Stink

We are all human. Let’s start to prove it.” – unknown

There’s a famous set of mountain climbing twins from Seattle – Jim and Lou Whittaker. They are 94 years old now but back in the day, Jim founded the gear and outdoor company, REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), and Lou founded RMI (Rainier Mountaineering Inc.), the guiding company that for many years was the only way you could do a guided climb on Mt. Rainier.

Jim and Lou both had sons who are also climbers. There’s a notable story about one of the sons – maybe Peter Whittaker. Could be Win Whittaker. Regardless, one of the sons was climbing on Everest and was with his climbing buddies up above the Khumbu icefall when he had to go to the bathroom.

Several minutes later, he still wasn’t back and his buddies started to worry and wonder. Finally he reappeared but looking a little soiled and worse for the wear. He was wearing the down suit most climbers wear above base camp – one piece, puffy and hooded – and when he pooped, it had, unbeknownst to him, landed in the hood. When he zipped himself up and flipped the hood back up. Well, ewww!

I was thinking of this story because my post on The Heart of the Matter today, Marketing, Mountaineering, and Making Meaning, is about telling stories – and making meaning of the stories we tell.

And the meaning of this one? Well, there are a lot of ways this can go so I’ll just say this. When you are trying to do something hard, it’s best to surround yourself with people with whom you can laugh at your s…

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Story of Life

Just because they are a story doesn’t mean they’re not real.” – H. M. Bouwman

I was listening to Brené Brown’s podcast, Dare to Lead last night and the first question she asked her guest was, “Tell us your story.”

It is probably an offshoot of my dad – who loved parables more than directives and could tell a great story – but I love stories. Hearing them, telling them and the way they stick with you. Like yesterday, I read Ally Bean’s story of the self-scan mishap and then when I went to the grocery store, I chuckled all the way through check out.

So stories are the topic of my post this week for Wise & Shine: The Power of Story.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Life Banged Me On the Chin

Turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey

The other day my 6-year-old daughter and my mom were climbing into my car when my daughter said, “Mom, I hurt my chin.” I scanned the car to see how and she explained that she’d hit it the evening before when she was having an overnight with her aunt and uncle. Then they’d taken her to drama camp, my mom had picked her up so I hadn’t seen her all day and she was reporting something that had happened almost 24 hours prior.

It is unusual that we spend that long apart so of all the things she had to tell me from her many adventures that day, it’s funny that was the one she picked. She didn’t need any extra hug or even an after-the-fact ice pack, she just wanted me to know.

I’ve had to think about it for a couple of weeks to piece together why she told me. Then I happened upon a book about parenting I read a couple of years ago. The Whole-Brained Child by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. In it they explain the different parts of the brain – the logical left part of the brain, the emotional right part of the brain, the upstairs brain, which makes decisions and balances emotions and a downstairs brain that is in charge of automatic processes, innate reactions (fight or flight) and strong feelings (anger and fear).

They explain that the work of parenting is to help kids wire the parts of the brain together. By letting kids tell stories, they wire the words of the left brain to the emotions of the right. And by helping them calm the downstairs brain of fight or flight, we can then engage the upstairs brain to “think” about it.

But I don’t think this is just the work of parents. I think as friends, partners and bloggers, we are continually helping ourselves and others to make sense of experiences. We all need help interpreting, finding perspective, extracting the “lessons learned” from life.

I remember a particular friend in college whose long-time boyfriend had cheated on her and then broken up with her. She told the story over and over again to anyone that would listen. She was trying to figure out why it happened. It was a perfect example of this quote from The Whole-Brained Child, “The drive to understand why things happen to us is so strong that the brain will continue to try making sense of an experience until it succeeds. As parents, we can help this process along through storytelling.”

The reactions from our college-aged friends tended toward the sympathetic “What a jerk.” and “You were better than him anyways.” As momentarily comforting as those were, it wasn’t until someone pointed out that breaking up was always messy but she had faith in other parts of her life and she had to have faith about this too that my friend started to see the bigger picture and heal. Helping her see the mystery of life was just what she needed to become unstuck from the mire of life not being fair.

So we tell our stories to each other and the process hopefully helps us turn our wounds into wisdom. Because sometimes life bangs you on the chin and then you need to understand why it happened and what to learn.

(featured photo from Pexels)


“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln

My best friend since second grade, Katie, was telling her college aged daughter that I was one of the smartest people she knows. I laughed knowing all the stupid stuff I’ve done over all the years that Katie is very well aware. But getting my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering was one of those things that made people think of me as smart and so I just smiled.

But it also struck me that it’s been a long time since someone called me smart. And then I heard a 10 Percent Happier Podcast yesterday that explained why that might be. The podcast featured Arthur Brooks, a professor at Harvard who has just written a book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. In it, he discusses two types of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is raw smarts, solving problems and doing it quickly, thinking very quickly. It is the brain power of young brains and it starts to decline in our mid-30’s to 50. Young tech entrepreneurs tend to rely on a lot of fluid intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence is what emerges as fluid intelligence declines. It is the ability to synthesize so that we become better story-tellers, teachers and are able to put ideas together and explain them to others. Historians are great examples of people that are using their crystallized intelligence to its fullest potential.

Which brings me back to thinking about my friend Katie. She graduated with honors as the 11th in our high school class and I graduated 12th. The reason I go to Katie for advice isn’t because she’s smart – it’s because she’s wise, kind and understanding. Most often, she is using her crystallized intelligence to relate the stories of her life to mine.

It also struck me that with those descriptions, all of us over 50 bloggers are in our sweet spot. Telling stories and synthesizing life, we are making the most of our crystallized intelligence as it starts to come to the fore. And if I’ve done a decent job telling this story, you all should be feeling great that you are right where you need to be!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Moral of the Story

Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” – Allen Ginsberg

My 6-year-old daughter told me a story she heard from her Parkour coach, Lewis.

Lewis and his brother were at a water park. On one slide, there was a man and his daughter in front of them. The man, who was really big, put his daughter on his lap and pushed off when it was his turn.

When it was Lewis’ turn, he found that the man had gotten stuck and he had to push him all the way down the slide. At the bottom the man said, “That was fun!”

My daughter then turned to me and said, “Do you know what the moral of the story is?” I waited with baited breath until she revealed, “When you go to a water park, you’ve got to have fun!”

Ha, ha, ha. Not the moral I was expecting. But we all get to have different takeaways on this thing called life!

What Made Me Laugh This Week: Dec 5th

I was digging in my dad’s humor note cards again this week and found this story:

A woman hired a carpet layer to put down a huge new carpet. It was a job that took most of the day. After the largest room was laid, the worker stepped outside for a smoking break. But he couldn’t find his pack of cigarettes. He went back in to look for them and saw a small lump in the middle of the huge living room carpet. There was no way he was going to pull the carpet up – so he got a mallet from his truck and pounded it flat.

Just then the woman came in. “Oh” she said, “I found these cigarettes in the other room. Are they yours? Now if I can just find my parakeet…”


Life is not measure by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Maya Angelou

I met my friend Phil on the side of Mt. Rainier in the middle of the night 20 years ago. The group I was with was just crawling out of our tents to get ready for a summit bid. The group he was guiding had started 1,000 feet lower down and was passing by on their way to the upper reaches of the mountain. He gruffly joked with me, “Keep that tent open, I think I’ll just crawl in and sleep awhile.”

Phil is a very accomplished climber and mountain guide – the first American to climb the north side of Everest, the eighth person to climb to the highest place on each continent, over 500 (I think) ascents of Mt. Rainier. But one of the most noticeable things about him is his ability to tell stories.

It seems like mountain climbers and story-telling often goes hand in hand. Probably because there is a lot of down-time waiting for the right time to summit. On our way to Everest base camp in 2001, we would trek one day and rest one day so that the group of 5 people who would be climbing Everest that season could acclimatize. On the days off, we’d just sit in the mess tent, play cards and tell stories.

Blogging reminds me of that. I’ve been blogging every day for over 6 months. The other day reading this blog post about lessons learned in marriage and parenting a special needs kid by Ab, I realized that blogging is part of my self-care. It’s a way of processing and sharing the things that I want and need to learn from. But it’s also just daily practice in telling a story.

On every trip I’ve done with Phil I’ve noticed how deep his relationship is with the people his climbed with over and over again. I’m thinking about a really nice man from Michigan that we climbed with both in Nepal and Peru, that Phil used to joke, “I keep saying to Bill that he reminds me of a helicopter. Just looking at him, it doesn’t look like he should be able to climb, but he does!”

Phil is now 70 years old and doesn’t climb much any more. But when I’ve visited with him over recent years, I’ve found that telling stories is a way to bring what means most alive to the fore. May we all live our best stories and then tell them again and again to celebrate where we’ve been.

My Mother the Spy

Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” – Lewis Carroll

My 6-year-old daughter and her friend have a particular camper van that is regularly in the school parking lot. They are so fascinated by its story – it has a license plate that says VANLIFE and they wonder if anyone lives in it or if it belongs to a teacher. Playing along, I suggested that if we were spies, we’d put a tracking device under the bumper and see where it goes. They thought this was a great idea so I suggested my daughter should ask my mom for practical advice because we’ve always suspected she’s a spy.

My mom learned Russian in college while getting her major in Far Eastern Studies. When she graduated in the early 1960’s, the CIA offered her a job. She’s always said that she turned the job down and instead chose to get married.

But would there be a cover any better than being a pastor’s wife? In the 1970’s we lived in the Philippines and my mom took private Russian tutoring lessons. She and my dad visited the Soviet Union in that time when very few Americans ever did. I believe they even smuggled jeans in to give to their hosts.

When I was in college, my mom returned to college as well to get another degree in Russian Language and Literature.

After the wall came down, my mom lived in Moscow for five weeks to teach English. She developed such strong bonds that she and my dad led “work trips” there for most of the 90’s for people who were interested in supporting some soup kitchens and religious studies programs that were non-profits that she supported.

When I went to Russia almost 20 years ago to attempt to climb Mt. Elbrus, she sent cash with me to give to her contacts. They gave me the most vibrant walking night tour of Moscow in August I could have imagined.

And the last piece of “evidence” – she’s smart enough, adventurous enough and driven enough to pull it off. When you ask her if she’s a spy, she just smiles.

So it was my mom’s “professional” advice to my daughter NOT to track that van. She said she wouldn’t want anyone knowing where she goes so it’s best not to know that about others. 🙂

The funny thing about family lore like this is that the secrets are so much fun to speculate about because don’t we all have mysterious sides? And by that I mean avenues we could have pursued and alter egos we might have been had the Fates come down just a little differently. I’m guessing that now that my mom is in her 80’s, it’s safe enough to hit publish on this – or so I hope.

(photo by Pexels)