Sunday, January 30, 2011

life in the slow(er) lane

Today, in the Arizona Daily Star HOME section, there's an article entitled, "Try Life in the Slow Lane...and do it now." In the article, which focuses on how to design your living space in harmony with the "slow life" philosophy, they cite a website I just checked out and encourage you to do, also. It's

From that site's January posting I found the following (the list below is from the book, The How of Happiness, promoted on their blog):

In looking over the list, consider what you already do naturally, what you are interested in trying, and what seems most appealing.

1. Expressing gratitude
2. Cultivating optimism
3. Avoiding over-thinking and social comparisons
4. Practicing acts of kindness
5. Nurturing relationships
6. Developing strategies for coping
7. Learning to forgive
8. Doing more activities that truly engage you
9. Savoring life's joys
10. Committing to your goals
11. Practicing religion and spirituality
12. Taking care of your body
Designing your life for well being
We realize that our enthusiasm for The How of Happiness is because it echoes our own approach to the good life. We believe that with personal awareness and practice you can, over time, arrange the different areas of your life so that you primarily focus on living well and doing good. There is no single formula for doing this, but there are rules of thumb, processes, and people to inspire and guide you. Part of the joy is the creative act of figuring out what works best for you.

Their suggestion, and it's a good one, is to take each of the 12 and use it as a focus for each month of the year. This suggestion connects with the book I just bought this week, The Power of Receiving, by Amanda Owen. I am half done reading it and her basic premise is that we can't experience happiness, success, etc. if we are not open to receiving it and she includes being grateful as a behavior that fosters receptiveness.

She suggests a daily record of 5 things for which to be grateful and that we identify one of the five and concentrate on the experience of that element for a least a full minute. I tried that last night (I experienced gratitude for the clear blue sky and sunshine as I walked along the Rillito) and so it's a new practice I will begin to incorporate into my daily/evening/bedside journal-writing.

It's not easy living a slower life. I sort of jumped into busyness when I returned from our family Philly trip, but a mid-week respiratory "bug" laid me back a few days and, while the cough lingers, I am resisting my impulse to move quickly. I do notice that, even when I move fast, it's not as quickly as I used to. Part of that is the aging process but I would like to think some of the moments of pause in my life is because I am trying to do life differently, experience it more slowly. In a previous book I was reading, From Panic to Power, the author suggests hitting the 10 second pause button when fear, worry, anxiety emerges.

So amidst all of this "navel gazing" as some might say, I am not unaware of the unheaval in Egypt and the ongoing process of healing in Tucson after 1/8--among other worldly challenges. One could go crazy trying to keep up with the turmoils across the globe---or across the street, for that matter. Just keeping a focus on what I can do is my biggest challenge this first month of 2011.

So I ask you, readers, to think about the 12 behaviors for the How of Happiness and consider if including these behaviors into your daily reflections might increase your positive life experiences.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the best pretzel

I have been away from writing for two weeks which wasn't my plan but it seems that once I go on a vacation (to New Jersey for my niece's bat mitsvah and then to Philly for fun), my monkey-mind gets very quiet: I rarely read and only do my daily journal and/or travel note-taking. Also, this time, even though I took my handy mini-notebook computer to check emails and maybe write my blog, the hotel we stayed in charged 10 bucks a day for internet access (and the air line charges $13.00 which we did pay in the air on our way back East). So, except for one frigid day in Philly when we walked from the Visitor Center and Liberty Bell exhibit to find First Christ Church and found, by accident, Betsy Ross' house (miniature in scale, like a doll house)--we located a Starbucks right across the street from Betsy's house, settled in for an hour or so to do emails and warm up. There are many details from the trip I have in my pencil scribbles but today I am just trying to refind the rhythm of writing and I want to write about the best pretzel I have ever eaten.

Philly is a fine place to eat and eat we did (and I gained 2-3 pounds for the pleasure). A hot dog at Pat's in Passyunck/South Philly melted in my mouth, gentle nestled in a freshly baked bun. The creme brule at Maggiano's on Filbert had a light, whipped custard texture and the burnt sugar on top was as thin as a fingernail. But, as usual for me (this is my third visit), the Reading Terminal Market offered the delicious delights: Hertzel's Deli pastrami that was absent any fat and was cut into quarter inch slices of meat that were perfectly brined and a pretzel that was swathed with farm fresh butter,(from Lanchaster, Pennsylvanin-Amish Country), dotted with sea salt and had just come from the oven. We had two and I could have eaten twelve. I don't know when or if I will ever eat another pretzel! How could anything compare? How could anything so simple bring such pleaure? I gently ducked my pieces into the chicken broth and matzo ball soup, also from Hertzel's, and imagined my mother-in-law doing the same. It was in 1973, on my first visit to San Diego and first meeting with my now-husband, that she took me and her youngest daughter to the San Diego Zoo and bought me my first hot pretzel. And, as I write this, I recall it was also my mother-in-law who introduced me to pastrami at the "old" Tucson JCC (before I met my husband to be), and as I chewed on the meat I thought "where has this been all my life?" (I was only 22 years old at the time).

Such is the discovery and welcome remembrance of the simple joys of eating. But, along with the taste of a good pretzel, or pastrami or creme brulee, is the memory, often enhanced over the years, of with whom I shared this food. In the case of Philly, it was with my husband and son. We don't often get together and so these shared meals were very special to me. Often, in the midst of an order, or a bite of pasta or pot sticker (another good meal at a Chinese Fusion restaurant in Cherry Hill New Jersey), I would look at the both of them and give thanks for these moments of peace. Because when the two of them reunite, at first it's like watching two bull mooses lock horns in a forest. Neither one of them wants to relinquish control or dominance and, over time, I have learned not to try to mediate between their squabbles but move out of the way and let the tension dissolve into our son's sarcasm or my husband's silence. Maybe someday they will find a better way to resolve their ego fueled differences, but for now, it's the mutual appreciation of the best pretzel that is my metaphor for reclaimed family fun.

What is your metaphor for how food makes for good times in your life? Whatever the menu item, I hope you can find time to enjoy it as much as I did last week in Philly.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

ruminations on the tragedy in tucson

"The tragedy in Tucson": that's the "brand" CNN and NBC have given to the shooting yesterday. Another channel called it "rampage in Tucson" (not as alliterative) and Sherrif Dupnik referred to Tucson as "the Tombstone of today, USA" (which shows he has a flair for rhyme as well as illustrative language). I am not trying to be clever about language here but this is how my writer's ears open up. I hear words and consider their impact on my understanding.

My mind has been stuck in some kind of holding pattern about what transpired and the long-term ripple effects on this community. My heart, I guess, is somewhere else: maybe it's locked up for right now while the factual information comes dripping into my life like water torture. With some acceptance of this new reality, I want to trust that security is wrapped around the house of the alleged shooter's home so that no revenge-type act can take place. I want to trust that the parents of the little girl--who thought she was going to see Rep. Giffords and get some tips from her about how to succeed on the elementary student council but, instead, lost her life looking at her mentor's face as a bullet went "through and through" the Congresswoman's skull--are being consoled by their parish and family as they plan a funeral. I want to trust that an angel swooped down and lifted the child quickly away from the bloody scene and another one shouldered the Congresswoman's aide on his shoulders; that an angel with a gavel slug across his/her back guided the judge toward the pearly gates and that the other victims rode in silver chariots to the sky.

I am not saying I believe any of that happened, but I like to imagine such a scene. I am so grateful for the three heroes who averted more bloodshed, for the able EMT and medical staff who worked like champions on the battle field. I am proud of our Mayor, Sheriff and others who, when faced with the dark side of human behavior, showed valor and weighted judgement. I respect the response from the head trauma surgeon who, when prodded by reporters, said "I am not a politician; I am a public servant." A huge sigh came from my chest when he said that: here was a moment when the distinction between the two was appropriately stated and emphasized.

Later in the day today, Mark and I went to see the movie, "Social Network." I don't doubt that many moviegoers found entertainment from this story but I almost walked out--something I rarely do in a movie. For me,there was a disturbingly dark quality to almost all of the (predominantly male) characters. It reminded me of the movie "Inception" in the way the male ego drove the characters' behaviors like a battering ram into one amoral scene after another. The script sparkled with intelligence but it also was a dead intelligenge, smarts without soul. And that reminded me of the emerging story of the alleged killer of this weekend's tragedy. Here was another young man, searching for a place in an unkind world, shaped by forces we have yet and may never understand, and he forged ahead with his wild mind. He was aided by gun sellers and a negligent community that has no safety net for the mentally ill who function on the margins---most of the time.

As one of the commentators yesterday on MSNBC, Eugene Robinson said yesterday, "We are all responsible for what happened in Tucson." He meant, I think, when we don't listen to someone we disagree with, when we let our egos drive us into choices where "I win, you lose", when we ignore the silent dying of the mentally ill among us--we, also, are part of the tragedy in Tucson.

My community of Tucson is not a perfect place, but it's not a place where compassion is absent or tolerance is pushed aside by selfishness. My community, like many communities, is a place of mixed livelihoods and neighborhoods; we who live here are tempered by the presence of our mountains,that the hills will long endure past the time and actions of our individual lives.

I am going to turn my eyes toward those mountains ("my eyes lift up..." as the Psalmist said) and take comfort from the pink and lavendar slopes as the January sun sets this Sunday. As time shifts us forward, I believe that healing and hope beckon us like bright stars in the middle of the dark night; we can do better tomorrow and be better people after our sorrow.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

a very old tradition 1.1.11

According to my source, Garrison Keillor's daily newsletter (The Writer's Almanac), celebrating New Year's goes back about 4,000 years (origins: Mesopotamia), so I guess there is a very old human need to start "anew". Every day could be viewed as a new beginning, or every hour, if we are conscious of it. But, with some kind of symbolic ritual, the turning of a page on a calendar, fireworks, music, crazy behaviors--I guess January 1st is as good a time as any other to begin to think of a new year.

Growing up in Illinois, January was always a cold, bleak month that seemed to spread into February and March. Even early April, sometimes, was marked by a snow storm that dampened spring buds and forced us to wear snow boots over our Easter shoes. But in the desert, usually, January is a month of sunshine and comfortable temperatures for hiking. Right now, I am sitting in my pajamas and UA sweatshirt as the house warms up (we turn off the heat at night and bundle under blankets) and, surprisingly, we are also waiting for ice to melt off a pipe on the roof which is frozen: hence, we have no water in the bathrooms! Kind of nice excuse to go slow and not rush about--as long as we do get water, eventually!

I will bake a new cookie recipe this morning and maybe, if the weather doesn't cloud up, try--yet again--to make my mother's divinity. But if humidity builds, divinity is a no go, so again, go slow with the plans.

The message of "a slow life" is the one I want to carry over from 2010 to 2011; perhaps with the adaptation to a "slower life" is more accurate. Moving from immobility to mobility after the ankle accident in April, signified a deeper kind of movement and rebalancing that I have tried to describe in this blog. And growth continues within. Similar to the level of healing in my ankle, where there is still slight swelling and reminders of metal parts that initially held the bones together, healing happens, cell by cell, tissue by tissue.

I guess I am not unique for my generation. We, according to today's New York Times, share a continued tendency toward self-absorption which is now becoming fixated on our aging process. But I am going to try to move into my 62 year with more than anxiety about aging and find ways to embrace the opportunities of this life stage with enthusiasm and creativity, although, no doubt, I will often have to act "as if" this is the way I feel.

But just for today, I feel pretty good about this day, about seeing friends and family tomorrow, about starting a new work week, about submitting another round of writing. There is much I can do to renew my world each day, and so that is one of my resolutions for 2011.

What new behaviors do you want to begin this year?