The emotional truth of words

Uncle Sid 2 Cropped

Dear Uncle Sid,

I hope you’ll allow me the liberty of calling you Uncle since we’re not family.  I take this great liberty because you have made a most miraculous entrance into my life.  This is how it happened.

I have an inordinate fondness for dictionaries, especially old ones.  The older the better, like Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary published in 1961.

The one that follows me everywhere is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, but I only like the Second Edition which is no longer in print.  It’s only available used from Amazon, which is where I purchased my most recent one.

Uncle Sid 1 CroppedWhen I opened it, your note to your niece Abigail fell out.  Clearly the dictionary I was holding had been your gift to her, probably when it was new.

Reading what you wrote to her flooded my heart with joy.

My very first dictionary was from my beloved aunt Eugenia, a dedicated librarian (thanks to her I adore librarians).  I was very little and the one she gave me was written for a child, very simple and easy.  Every year or so she would check my reading level and advance me to a tougher one.

By the time I was 9, I was reading at a senior high school, and even college, level.  I discovered much later that this is exactly how Abraham Lincoln, and even earlier generations like Thomas Jefferson‘s, learned how to read, and even went on to study law, back when literacy was much higher and they had much larger vocabularies than today. They were in the dictionary all the time.

Although I have a few crazy friends who adore dictionaries and words (especially discovering their derivations) as much as I do, it’s exceedingly rare to find anyone outside these crazy friends who believes dictionaries can be a source of such extreme happiness. The fact that you do staggers me.  That you, with great confidence, such great certainty, ASSURE (great word) Abigail that there is great happiness to be found here blows me away.  You truly are a kindred spirit.

You see, it’s not unusual for me to spend a couple hours a week buried in a dictionary. When I pore over the pages of a big fat dictionary, one that provides an abundance of definitions for a single word, I step through a portal to extraordinary enlightenment.

To me, if you know how to read them, dictionaries reveal the emotional truth inside words.

You can take a look at some of my earlier posts if you’re at all interested in examples of this.  If any of these words strike your fancy, they have particularly interesting roots.

Words are, in our world and at this time, our main source of understanding, a desperately needed element in humanity.  Important words like sacred, honor, dignity, worthy, respect, spirit, soul, and sublime carry the meaning of life from one being to another, from one generation to another, from ancient Greece to now.  The old dictionaries keep them alive.

Inspire Noah Webster 1828 DictionaryI don’t know if you know this, but the reason Noah Webster wrote the original 1828 dictionary, the purpose that compelled him to such a massive undertaking, was to ensure the new Americans preserved their religious and political freedoms.  He believed that only if a people understood the full meanings of words, could these freedoms be preserved. A profound statement.

Although I prefer the hefty weight of this fabulous dictionary in my lap (and am thrilled you can order the massive hard copy from Amazon) it’s also online ( where I can be anywhere and look up the really important words like soul.

Uncle Sid, although I haven’t met you, I have a GREAT affinity for you and only wish I could talk with you about the words that you found here that were especially meaningful to you.  I have a feeling we could talk for hours.  I’m so interested in what you would have to say.  What words did you look up?

Your gift and intimate note have passed through Abigail’s hands and into mine.  I’m sure this would have never entered your mind, that you would enter the life of someone you would never meet, many years in the future, and fill her with so much joy, and yet you have.

Your intent lives on.  I have no doubt I too will find great happiness, pleasure and fulfillment in this rich book.  Your note lives on my refrigerator and receives a daily smile from me. It’s a constant reminder that there are people in this world I may never see with my physical eyes, who have great goodness, powerful understanding, who give beautiful gifts with great heart, who share the same deepest higher truths that inspire me, whom I can love without boundaries.

With love and gratitude for your gift,



No, Dr. Love, that is not my problem

Inspire Happiness is a choice

I was turning 21 and had pressing questions about the meaning of life.  My boyfriend at the time was very handsome, but he was the strong silent type, and it was making me a little crazy.

I was in college at Temple University in Philadelphia. They had a free psychology center where students could go and talk to a licensed psychologist.  At the time, I thought a licensed psychologist would know everything, not only about the meaning of life, but how to get my boyfriend to talk.

By the luck of the draw, I was assigned one whose name was (I kid you not) Dr. Love.  His office had the best cozy lighting and the most comfortable chairs I’d ever seen.  I was full of anticipation.

My first appointment I sunk into one of the chairs across from him and told him everything.  I don’t think he even needed to ask me a question to get me started.

He listened and listened, very attentively.  He took notes (I loved that).  His face studied me.

After listening to me, he looked very sad and said, “Ingrid, your problem is you want to be happy all the time.”

I cried, “Eureka, Dr. Love! That’s exactly right! You understand!  I want to be happy all the time!”

Then I said, “Wait a minute, what do you mean that’s my problem?”

He said, “Yes, that’s precisely your problem.  It’s not realistic to want to be happy all the time.  This is not something that can be remedied in just one session.”

I said, “How many sessions?”  He said, “It could take a year, or longer.”

I thought to myself, “He wants me to spend a year with him learning how not to want to be happy?”

I thanked him and told him I would think about it.  I left and never went back.

Somehow, I still felt very good about it.  I hadn’t ever fully realized how much I wanted to fill every moment of my life with happiness.  I felt I’d learned something valuable about myself.

I felt bad that I never got back to him, but I didn’t know how to tell him that I really didn’t want to adjust my expectations, I simply wanted a life and a boyfriend that made me happy.  All the time.

All these many years later, I would love to say to him, “No, Doctor Love, wanting to be happy, that’s not a problem. It’s a very, very good way to live life.”

I’ve learned that creativity, learning and helping others unleashes happiness, that happiness is something I can create anywhere, anytime, that there is no restriction on how big it can get, it’s limitless and easily goes sky high.

That boyfriend is now happily married with children and a wife who love him just the way he is.  I’m pretty sure I know the meaning of life.  I’ve learned how to make other people happy.  And I’m happy pretty much all the time.  And I hope you are too, Dr. Love.



The Painter and the Fairy

The Painter and the Fairy by Louis and Diane

My purpose in life is to enable others to express who they are to the world.  I believe communication is magic, that it can achieve a level of art and concentrated ecstasy.  My purpose in life is to enable others to achieve that in all areas of their lives.

Diane Woods has been my good friend for over 30 years.  It was an instant friendship. When I heard her laugh, I knew I wanted to hear that laugh often and forever.

She is also a gifted artist, my favorite.  Her paintings infuse me with powerful joy.

Louis Alan Swartz has published 2 volumes of magnificent poetry.  In  his upcoming 3rd volume, Louis beautifully captures my belief in the magic of communication and the joy of helping a friend express her artistry to the world.  A real gift to both of us.

May you paint the world gloriously too, all in your own way of course.



A most unusual Thanksgiving

Image result for frozen rutted road

As we come to the week leading up to one of our biggest holidays, I want to talk about our very first official national Thanksgiving in the United States of America, 1777.

We were mid-war for Independence and Democracy.

It was cold.  One in 4 of the 11,000 men in the fight for freedom was barefoot which led their leader, George Washington, to offer a $10 reward for the best design of a substitute for shoes.

They were on the road to Valley Forge, the deeply rutted, frozen road brutal for the more than 2,000 soldiers whose sensitive feet took each step in sheer barefoot agony.  A biting wind stung them with freezing rain.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dearborn wrote of the bloody footprints they left on this day, “Hundreds of my companions might be tracked by their blood on the rough, frozen ground”.

The troops had not been paid since August, rations were short.

Joseph Plumb Martin, a Private from Massachusetts, wrote about the first Thanksgiving in his memoir entitled, A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Danger and Suffering of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observation.

Martin writes, “While we lay here there was a Continental Thanksgiving ordered by Congress, and as the army had all the cause in the world to be particularly thankful, if not for being well off, at least that it was no worse, we were ordered to participate in it.  We had nothing to eat for two or three days previous … But we must now have what Congress said, a sumptuous Thanksgiving  … Well, to add something extraordinary … our country, every mindful of its suffering army, opened her sympathizing heart so wide, upon this occasion, as to give us something to make the world stare.  And what do you think it was, dear reader?  Guess.  You cannot guess, be you as much of a Yankee as you will.  I will tell you; it gave each man four ounces of rice and a tablespoonful of vinegar!!”

Imagine celebrating Thanksgiving with 4 ounces of rice and vinegar.  They supplemented this with “bread cakes” made from flour mixed with water, cooked on hot rocks.

And yet, their morale was described as “merry” by all who wrote about it later.

That’s leadership.  How did George Washington do it?

The word Leadership means to cause to follow.  I’ve made an observation that in the presence of great leadership, people don’t follow a person, they follow an idea.  They have confidence that this person can move civilization forward and cause that idea to become reality.

Great leaders, the ones who make history, are the ones who lead others to greater freedom.  The idea George symbolized, and that they had confidence he would make real if they followed him, was that, for the first time since ancient Greece, people could be free to govern themselves.  That they could pursue happiness on their own terms.

In his orders to the troops the day before Thanksgiving, Washington wrote he had confidence that this freezing, tattered, hungry army would, “with one heart and one mind resolve to surmount every difficulty with a fortitude and a patience, becoming their profession, and the sacred cause in which we are engaged.”  He added that he himself would, “share in the hardship and partake of every inconvenience” and he too slept on the frozen ground that night.

Freedom is a sacred cause.  I am extremely grateful to honor this group of men who maintained a merry spirit, despite the most horrific of hardships, to shape the soul of a nation born of freedom, where I am free to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of them!  And too you as well.  I trust you have much more than 4 ounces of rice and a tablespoon of vinegar with which to celebrate!  And I hope you have much to be thankful for.







Grand Opening

Deer 4

I would like to announce the grand opening of the newest deer restaurant in the Oakland hills.

My deer, I mean dear, friend Crystal planted collards for me because she knows how much I love them.  It’s been thrilling to watch them grow.  24 hours ago these five stalks below proudly displayed beautiful large, lush, deeply green collard leaves.  As I went to work yesterday, I was thinking I would harvest them for my dinner and was full of anticipation for their sweet flavor.

However, by the time I returned, it was clear someone else had the same thought.Collards deer

This is the 3rd time this has happened, not just with the collards, but also with the kale and several of the beautiful flowering plants in my new garden.

I looked around and realized, Yes!  This was the perfect location for a brand new deer restaurant.  I’ve always had deer in my yard.  They come to rest and Mama deer like to raise their young ones here.  But they usually stuck with the ivy, which didn’t seem to require an entire restaurant as it seemed more of a snack food.

So, with this new development, I am happy to announce the official grand opening and to make a point of saying it’s already a success!

Only organic, local, and the freshest ingredients are served, even fresher than ‘farm to table’.  Family-friendly.  Casual, don’t dress up, just come as you are.   Open air dining.  Great views.

As an aside, this is not an exclusive restaurant.  Already many butterflies, hummingbirds and bees are drinking nectar and dining here too.  I spotted a raccoon, but I think he was after the cat food.  All are welcome.

I’m sure you’ll see 5-star Yelp reviews as soon as the deer get online

Position open for a Deer Maître D’.

Love, Ingrid

Dame Cleo Laine

Cleo Laine 3

I was in graduate school and living in a 4th floor walk-up in Philadelphia when I first heard her.  4 long flights of stairs climbed every day to get to the top apartment up on the hill at 44th and Spruce.  Rent was $320.  Three-bedroom apartment shared with two guys, both also in grad school.   My room was furnished for under $100 spent at an estate auction out on the Main Line where the wealthy live in mansions.  A beautiful large oriental rug I got for $25 that I couldn’t believe no one else bid on.  My stereo sat on a lovely wooden plank raised from the floor by two milk crates.  Tall ceilings, large windows, curtains I made myself, great acoustics.

My roommate Brooks and I sat on the rug and listened to music when we were done studying in the evenings.  He brought Cleo’s Live at Carnegie Hall album over one night.  We listened to the whole thing in silence and I in awe.

Side A –

Side B –

Dame Cleo Laine is a jazz singer with a greater than 3-octave range and the ability to produce a G above high C that is breathtaking.

She sang me through graduate school.

Then driving aimlessly across our country, looking for where I wanted to live, she kept me company on one of the best road trips ever.  I put the top down of my MGB convertible and cranked the volume as loud as it would go.  3 months later when we drove up Highway 1 along the California coast, I knew I was zeroing in.

Since then she sang me through countless late evenings working, through love, despair, warm sunny afternoons, conversations that lasted till 4 in the morning, heartbreak, healing and hope.

I’m listening to her now as I write this. She is 91 years old tomorrow and still winning awards, still singing me through life.

Thank you, Dame Cleo, for singing me through all the dreams I’ve had since I first heard your voice so many decades ago.  Your songs are my friends, your talent eternal.

May life give back to you as much as you have given.





Walt is right

Malacca 2

Walt (someone I’ve known so long, I don’t even remember when we met – we have pictures from grammar school) recently send me a link to an article about research that shows intelligence is enhanced by travel.

This is so true, I could not only write a blog on this topic, I could write a 10-volume encyclopedia.

I have traveled ridiculously much.  One year I was gone for 10 months straight.  When I traveled I always had house sitters or friends staying at my house to take care of the cats and everything else.

One night when I was back from my travels for a short bit and was taking the trash down my hill to the street, I ran into my neighbor from across the street who was taking her trash out at the same time.  She saw me and she asked, “Oh! You’re new!  Are you staying in Ingrid‘s house?”  I burst out laughing and said, “I am Ingrid!”  She stared at me bug-eyed and said, “I never thought I’d actually meet you!”  I moved into my house 5 years earlier and she’d never seen me.  That’s when I realized how much I had been traveling.

I wanted to do all that travel.  I wanted to see the world, see everything, experience everything first-hand.  I found the best way to get to know a country and a culture was to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the people.  I received an education that I would have never glimpsed as a tourist.

We’ve delivered our programs in 30 countries now.  I haven’t traveled to all of them, but to many.

And Walt is right.  So right.  All that travel made me much more intelligent about people, about life.

I’m going to give you an example. It was a perfect full moon in Malacca, Malaysia.  I was eating dinner with my students outdoors, right on the water, the gentlest of warm breezes soothing the world.

My students were very beautiful, gentle people. Exquisite manners, kind.  Warm. They smiled a lot, big, genuine, sincere, smiles. Their kind of kindness is unusual in the corporate world.  It makes you melt.

They were the hourly workers of a very large multinational corporation headquartered in Silicon Valley, a headquarters they had never seen but only imagined.

While we were having dinner I found out they lived in little villages nearby and none of them had been more than 15 miles away from where we were sitting at that moment.  Although they were in their 30’s or close to it, none of them had traveled any further than that.

I couldn’t even think with that. By the time I was 30 I had traveled the USA extensively, even to South America and Europe.  I couldn’t imagine what life would’ve been like if I had lived it all within 15 miles.

So I asked them, what is it like? They said it was all about their families. They had BIG, beautiful families and there was always something happening, especially around their meals which were always celebrations. They all got together every day and talked and shared their lives. They celebrated every little thing that happened to each of them. Even the littlest things.  They venerated their elders and were grateful to see them every day.

I asked them if they had any urge to travel and they said No, they were perfectly happy where they were, they enjoyed their lives immeasurably, their lives were full of interest and love.

I realized I was talking to people who had more love in one day than most people have in a year. They were surrounded by people who cared about them, were interested in them, helped them, people they cared about people they were interested in, people they helped. They had completely full, rich, completely satisfying lives.

The incredible joy in their faces as they talked about their families floored me.

I would’ve thought that living life in a 15-mile radius would’ve been confining, but for them it was liberating.  It liberated all the joy, love and meaning anyone could possibly want.

They looked so much happier than all the people I’ve ever seen in an airport traveling to anywhere. They look so much happier than people look anywhere. It was sincere and deep, genuine, solid 24-karat gold happiness.

What I learned that evening! I truly was astonished.  I spent a lot of time thinking about it.  And then I realized. You can create circle of friends and family that makes you that happy, that is that rich with communication, laughter, caring, helping, love.

When I was in Lithuania, my home country, one of my father’s closest friends called me “rootless” because I was always traveling, always moving, always going somewhere. The word rootless doesn’t sound so bad in English, but in Lithuanian it sounds DREADFUL.

That lovely, moonlit evening in Malaysia, for the first time, I understood what he meant.  He also probably never traveled more than 50 miles from his home and had very deep roots into his family and the humanity around him.

It’s just that these people made the most of what they had and took it to a height that many of us never achieve. They had goals and dreams, but they were truly rich and happy living them where they were, with what they had.

I realized you can do this wherever you are, whether or not you travel.

If I hadn’t seen it firsthand, I don’t think I would’ve known it was possible.  I realized the depths of joy available right now if we just reach out and create it right now. That dinner conversation in Malacca, 8,500 miles from my home, changed my life forever.

I travel some now, not as much.  I love having roots now.  I know my neighbors and love them.  I have traditions and rituals with friends that we do over and over again in our neighborhood.  We experience new joy each time.  I love our rituals.  I’m very content with my 15-mile radius. It is a rich one.

Walt is right.  The intelligence we gain from traveling can’t come from anywhere else.

May both your travels and your 15-mile radius open your eyes to new intelligence that fills your life with new things to believe in, new love.