The Heart of a Volunteer: full of joy, full of sadness.

This posting is written as a wisdom story for my grandchildren. They all have wonderful hearts and an instinct to help where they can. A Special Olympics group, a depressed friend, insuring everyone gets the meds they need at a reasonable price, the marginalized and poor. They have helped me hand out lunches to the homeless, coats to the cold and collected shoes for children in Guatemala. And, as young adults, they are learning that it seems there are never enough volunteers or resources to help (or save) the world.

About eighteen months ago when my research began on groups that could train me to be a volunteer for refugees and asylees, my conviction was that the education and work experience under my belt would prove useful. It did,  but some where in my life I missed the training for being able to distance myself from the pain of the families from their traumas of moving and isolation and fear. Just like anything else in life, the person going through the trauma has to push through it, him/her self. Watching and not being able to “fix” the problem has human pain no matter how extensive your training.

Last week, after a month of time changes and miscommunication and plans changed, our original family matriarch, H. was ready to go to an English class that was to last for an hour each Wednesday. She would need transportation and could take her children, as child care was provided. She had realized at the end of the school year that her not being able to speak English kept her from questioning her daughter’s teacher and also needing a translator when she wanted to speak privately with a doctor. She is an adult learner who can recognize the alphabet and English words, but has great fear getting them out of her mouth. Everyone else in the home is advancing well in the language that is new to them.

I was the substitute driver and was happy to help H. with anything she needed. We went to pick up her brother’s aunt by marriage and a woman who is in the newest wave of Afghani families who are here because the husbands were involved with the American special forces. I am suddendly surrounded by people who have no idea what I am saying. Luckily the class was a three-minute walk and we headed out. The women were talking six miles a minute to each other like a group of any other students on their way to class.

They settled themselves at a table and it was time for me to take a break while they worked their brains. Let me tell you about the non-profit that offers classes. They are called Project Access and they help low-income people who live in affordable housing with health, education and employment. There were seven women around the table from at least three different countries and some of their children were settled about 50 yards away completing art work.

When I returned each of “my” women proudly pulled out papers and showed me what they had written and H. even said a few of the words to me. She was beaming with a new sense of empowerment. The teacher told me that several of the women were illiterate in their home language because the ruling group of their home countries did not allow women to go to school. I started getting that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and the overwhelming feeling of a world problem still so big we could not personally make a dent in it. On the way back to the apartment of the woman newest to the United States, she and H. could not talk fast enough. It was the first time in several months that the woman had spoken to another woman in her language…..and she is six months pregnant. They laughed and smiled and it reminded me of the novel The Red Tent, and about our need for support for each other in a world or culture where women are stifled.

H. wanted to go to a program about healthy eating for children the center had two days later. High and happy on her success she had secured transport from us and asked her husband. He said no. English classes were the only reason she could leave the house without him.

Now, dear grandchildren, you can imagine your Nana’s disappointment and sorrow. Some of you remember my rants after the first two seasons of the TV show MAD MEN, since personally living thought that time of struggle for women once had been enough. I did not need to watch a show about it. As a volunteer, my job is to facilitate what is necessary for survival for the physical needs of the families. I cannot change the culture, the education, the minds and hearts of the groups other than by being a role model and offering suggestions. I can introduce our varied American cultures and try and explain them. My heart is there to serve and not to interfere. Thus, joy at the new experiences they will have and sorrow at the limitations they will set for themselves in this first generation.

Loading groceries at a local food bank as a volunteer would be easier, but then I would miss the shine on the faces of the children when I stop by to read them a story, or take a new nature magazine to the women.

Joy wins over sadness.

Nana Joanna




Natural Healing

On my daily gratitude list, the inventors of medications that help or heal the diseases of the flesh and body systems could be mentioned every time my pill-box is opened. Actually, if penicillin had not been invented when it was, my first round of pneumonia in the late 1940’s would have been my last. But, extraordinary elders, you may have noticed that the medical community occasionally seems to push the meds on us instead of looking at more than a symptom. If you have reached the age of older, you may have gone through not only the health care wars, but the finding -medical- personnel- who -really- listen- to- you- battles. (My brother and sister-in-law fit in the “listen” medical personnel category)

When pain from various chronic issues started controlling my life too much, to my delight I found that an internist who is a STAR, was practicing again at the Anschutz Wellness Center. She could help me get a handle on how to manage this next few years of aging with a body that is not allowing a quality of life I want. Balancing movement, sleep, nutrition, mindfulness, stress, and activity level with pain caused by different body parts as they deteriorate is the goal. Keeping good records to track what helps and what needs to be improved is half the battle. Being able to utilize as much “natural” healing is also a goal for me. If you know me or have taken a class or seen a reading list, you know that the book Never Say Die, by Susan Jacoby is one considered a must read by me.

My doctor sent me to the small town of Kittredge, on Colorado highway 74 to a set of greenhouses that grow organic hemp. Now that Colorado allows the growth of marijuana, various health related business ventures have started to stand out.  CBD is the part of the plant that is used for various ills. The research is incomplete, FDA doesn’t regulate so you are guessing on a strength of a salve or tincture that will help, but the owners are very knowledgeable and in addition to a purchase they gave me several samples to try. Ambary Gardens being the choice of my doctor and her medical friends tells me a lot. I trust this woman with my life and now that I have been to the gardens I can see why the doc is excited about the product and the people.  If the salve just relieves the inflammation from the arthritis in my hands for several hours during a flare up, the trip was worth it. Of course, because it is in the mountains and I had breakfast across the street with my friend it is already worth it

Natural ingredients that are in the product in addition to extract of the CBD from hemp include shea butter, almond oil, coconut oil, argon oil, Calendula, arnica, essential oils of jasmine, ylang ylang, bergamot, geranium, and clary sage. It smells heavenly.

I have used arnica for several years and found it effective for bruises, and general pain from hitting my head against the wall–accidentally. If you read stories and books about the middle ages in Europe there is always a wise women (or man) who lives at the edge of the village and has a herb garden. If the person isn’t killed for being a witch, she or he will have all types of tea and salve to help the physical pains of living…especially living long when you would also like to prosper.(they also have the best gossip) My children have aches and pains from sport injuries years ago and the specter of an aging body right in front of them. My journey is for all of us who hate to take pain pills, believe in physical therapy and massage and acupuncture as methods to try. I just added hemp oil.

The cottage picture above is mine (in my mind) and we should all go and plant a garden of good medicines and good memories.

Here is to health and quality of life


ps give the guys a call and ask about hours and payment options and the store dog who is walking better because of the salve.




Piece of Cake, Easy as Pie, A Walk in the Park, Easy- Peazy- Breezy….

And No Sweat! My life for the past two years has been full of adventure, new people, loving family and a couple of hundred people talking to me about aging and what their experiences in life have been. In the past year a number of these people have started a gratitude journal to help diffuse feelings of several unpleasant emotions: anger, narrow-mindedness, quick judgements, fear, social impotence, marginalization and confusion. The need to be introspective as an elder in order to feel centered is a common occurence.  The political climate and chaos of acts of terror urges an elder, who still wants to make a difference in the community and the world on a higher moral plane, to search in writing personal journals, reading, classes, lectures, deep conversations, prayer and generally reaching out for answers to hold onto.

Then we remember—-life is suffering with a few moments of joy beyond our dreams. And then there is the suffering. For me, the more my heart aches for the victims of storms, any human violence and the aftershocks of human trafficking or drug trade, the less I can function with positive energy toward the ills of the people or animals in need that can be helped. Trauma is trauma and the only thing that varies is the degree of pain and details. Letting the trauma of the entire population of the world overwhelm you is a waste of your extraordinary elder status and wisdom. Practice letting things go into a pile of events placed in a closet on a shelf wrapped in a soft blanket that contain people and places broken so badly you may not be able to help. They will wait for you while you make chicken soup for your neighbor next door who just gave birth. Work on what you can work on and be mindful about your energy and gratitude and focus on the now.

None of the above applies if you one of Nelson Mandela’s council, an editor of a national newspaper, a well-respected magazine or any of the richest people on earth. You, my newest friends, can come over for a cuppa tea and a piece of my chocolate cake so you can learn how easy-peazy-breezy it would be to help the suffering…for you all, a walk in the park I am sure.

Pecan Pie with vanilla bean ice cream please –easy.