"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Category: happiness

“the whole world” . . .

truro 30A few weeks ago, I came across a saying online:

“When you realize there is nothing lacking,

 the whole world belongs to you.”   (Lao Tzu)

I don’t know if this quote is attributable to Lao Tzu or not, but it sounds like him, doesn’t it?

A variation that might follow along that theme is this quotation:

“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 

I don’t know who said that, but it strikes close to home for me. Throughout many years, being out on my own from an early age, raising children during a long and unhappy first marriage, then patching together a life afterwards with a demanding career in mid-life, I’m habituated towards feeling like my glass was half empty even though my brain might tell me that it was probably more than half full, most of the time.

Yesterday, I don’t know how this happened, but I woke up from that errant dream of being vaguely unhappy. Here’s how it came about.

A ritual I’ve taken on every year after Christmas was to look for the perfect winter coat at the after-holiday discount sales: a puffy but fashionable shiny black down three-quarter length coat with a huge, luxurious coyote or fox fur hood (real) that I had glimpsed in the New York Times Style page years ago and carried the clipping around in my wallet. This hunt served as amusement (or served as withdrawal from holiday shopping,) with a succession of coats tried on, delivered and then, mostly returned to the seller. Sometimes, I would buy one, then give it away to one of my daughters when they needed one more than I did. And so, the elusive coat search continued, at least until now.

Over the weekend, I looked at Patagonia, North Face and Nordstroms before I somehow found myself looking at “vintage LL Bean” listings on Etsy yesterday. I’ve been a fan of LL Bean for their quality, classic stock, especially in decades past. On about the eighth page of listings, I came upon a 1970’s vintage duffle coat, size Medium, in a deep army green with a yoked back, hood and a blue/green woolen plaid lining. It hung gracefully on the model in the photo, not crumpled up and bedraggled like others that were also online. In any case, as soon as I saw it, I instantly felt that the grand hunt for my winter coat was over. It had no fur trim, no contemporary flourishes, just a plain woolen coat that reminded me of my youth, truth be known. I also happen to have a loden shearling hat that G. doesn’t use and a Barbour tan and forest green plaid scarf that matches the color of the coat. Turns out that I had the accessories before I found the coat.

I don’t know if I can convey the sense of home or grounding that I instinctively felt with this coat. Perhaps you know what I mean. It’s as though one goes out looking for something and it turns out to be hanging on the line in your backyard or in a wooden storage chest that you forgot about or something.The other thing that this coat has done is to bring me full circle “back to my beginning” (a la T.S. Eliot) from the extravagances of decorating, food, gifts and spending that the holidays entailed; including taking everything apart, repacking the stockings, the ornaments, replacing broken ones, saying farewell to the Frasier Fir tree that was still fragrant, its needles still fresh to the touch.

As a loner at heart, my interests have been pretty insular for the most part, which is to say that I do most things I enjoy by myself: read, play the piano, cook meals, clean the house, knit, and so on. I realized after finding that coat that I have everything that I have ever wanted (and struggled for) including the most important intangible ones that are not always just up to us. I also noticed that my former habitat of being not very happy for most of my life had shifted to being happy without my truly “getting it” until now. This is not as strange or peculiar as it may sound. In any event, I awakened from feeling unhappy, to understanding that there is nothing keeping me from being happy now, except for old habits I wasn’t that aware of.

“When you realize that there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

Thanks to the Helpers of the Universe who have shielded, guided and pushed me to this place. It feels as though it has been an enormous struggle but perhaps at least half of that burden might have been of my own making and wrestled within my own head. Attitude is everything and mine has been edified by finding an old duffle coat and a quotation that floated by my screen unbeknownst from wherever.

As noted,  the Sage, Helpers and the Cosmos have helped me create a soft landing for my life. I just haven’t felt it to its fullest until now. And I am thankful more than ever.


bach and (much) more . . .

Now that the Christmas things have been packed up and put away, I turned my attention yesterday to learning how to use the new Tascam recorder my daughters gave me. After a few tries, learning how to input the settings like “turn mic on,” I sat down at the piano Xmas 2005-Spring 2006 579_2and played through the Bach Prelude in C major. In the middle of that playthrough, the phone rang (G. calling me) which I ignored (see if you can hear it on the video. . .)

I shared the recording with my daughters yesterday which they were able to play and then wanted to upload it as an audio onto YouTube because transmission of the audio clip was too large for a few friends’ mailboxes which were bounced back to me as “undeliverable.”

This morning, after reading that YouTube only accepts video clips (with music in the background) I learned that I have something called I-Video on my Macbook Pro dock (duh!) So, I went through some photos and added enough of them so that the “soundtrack” of the Bach played all the way through, adding a final photo so that the last C-major chord could be heard.

Not being that technologically able, I managed to upload this video onto YouTube (twice!) set the viewing button to “public” and hope that it will play for anyone who might be curious to see what’s possible with a little time and preserverance. Thanks for listening/watching. . .

(In carrying out this little exercise, I am reminded once again how profoundly fortunate I am, surrounded by the love of this beautiful family.)

small wonders . . .

birthday tulips!Today, I was fiddling around with some photos in order to print some out and take along with me when I visit my daughter and her family in Minneapolis, a couple of weeks from now. What I had in mind was to print them out in smaller sizes, make a montage of them, print out the montage and frame it, thereby getting more images into one space.

On my HP printer instructions, it showed “contact sheet” as an option to print multiple small photos all lined up in rows. Not knowing how to input more than one photo at a time, I searched on online for help. Up popped various sites including ones for free software to make collages online, save and download them for printing. JUST what I didn’t know that I was searching for. So, a few minutes later, I downloaded “Smilebox” for a 7-day free trial ($3.+/month if you choose to subscribe afterwards.)

Much to my surprise, there were a myriad of collage formats to choose from–some marked “premium” which would be free during the 7-day trial. PLUS, my little collage could be set to MUSIC! ~ mine or theirs. I chose to upload the ukelele version of “somewhere over the rainbow” played by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. A piece of music that I uploaded for another collage was Steve Martin’s composition for banjo called “the great remember” in memory of Martin Short’s wife, Nancy. It’s a sweet little piece.

Anyhow, I’m excited about this little discovery and thought I’d mention it in a post today to share the first and second “pancakes” from this fun medium. And thanks to all the smiling faces in the collages for such good times that we have shared together!

Click here to see this small wonder that appeared out of the blue today! And here’s another . . .

Postscript: here is one that marries a poem by mary oliver with a prelude by Scriabin played by Yuja Wang.

little hearts . . .

So here we are on Valentine’s day eve with a few goodies for enjoyment and fun! I was in Barnes and Noble on Monday afternoon this week, paging through some of the British magazines that I love to look at for ideas but have stopped purchasing in order to save money and space at home. In one of them, (sorry I don’t remember the title to give full credit,) I saw a very charming, yet easy idea to make a Valentine treat. Here it is if you would like to try it out yourself sometime:

Heart tarts with raspberry/cream cheese filling!

The recipe called for mixing some fresh raspberries with whipped cream cheese plus a dab of honey for the filling. Instead, I looked for a jar of raspberry preserves which I thought would have more flavor.

Cream together:
1/2 cup of raspberry preserves
1/4 cup of Philadelphia whipped cream cheese
1 Tablespoon honey

Roll out Pillsbury pie crust and cut out pairs of pastry with heart-shaped cookie cutters.
Take a cookie sheet, line it with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick oil. Place the thickest hearts on the bottom; add a dab of filling in the center of bottom crust. Brush the edges with milk; place second heart pastry on the filling and press the edges together and prick with tines of a fork. Prick the top of the tart with a toothpick for steam to escape.

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. The recipe called for icing the heart shaped tarts but I liked the appearance of a tiny bit of confectioners sugar sprinkled on the top while they were still warm. G. took a pair of them slipped into a cellophane sleeve with white polka dots to his 94-year old mother and brother who live across the street. She thought they were “cute.”
DSC_0260And if that’s not enough to make our day, this little video may. G. and I were watching a documentary last night on TV that we just happened upon of Bobby McFerrin, the jazz improvisationist and conductor of classical orchestras who has won ten Grammy awards over the years. In the film, he coached four young aspiring singers to improvise together on stage with him, to the tune, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” When asked earlier what would make them successful as musicians in search of making their own mark, his answer was sweet and simple: find your own authentic voice and style ~ so that when one heard it, they would know it was you.

Curious, I looked up more information about Bobby McFerrin, because I remembered he had served as the Creative Chair of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, for which my sister and her partner have played for over thirty years. It turns out McFerrin has also conducted other major orchestras all over the world. He is an impressive gent because he is so modest and true to himself. Then, I came across this video of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performing the “William Tell Overture.” Here is a link to this piece ~ it will bring a smile to your face!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

contentment . . .

DSC_0242_2The previous post gave some guidelines on longevity, marital and otherwise. “We live with contentment,” said John Behar. Did any of you hesitate at that word when you read it? Sounds so simple. Yet, all day yesterday after posting it, I wondered how many of us feel contentment and/or even know what that is?

Does it take becoming a certain age after striving for and achieving certain goals in one’s mind to feel contentment? Or is it a matter of the kind of values that you grow up with or find for yourself that feels like your purpose in life? How many of us when asked what we want to be when we grow up would say, “be contented?” Lest you think I am poking fun at this concept, I am actually doing just the opposite: that is, reflecting about what it takes to be content with one’s life on a daily basis.

Many of us have what we need to live each day: food, shelter and a way to pay our bills. What we THINK about all day long is what may account for an empty hole in our perception of how we are doing: we need more money; we want a better job; we want to re-do the kitchen; we want a new car; we have to have (fill in the blanks.)

I was thinking about the article about the Behars and that my stage in life seems to complement theirs: which is to watch my family grow and to go with the flow. I have discovered that all the nagging things that had to be a certain way actually are made-up ideas in my head and so I sent them packing. When G. forgets or does something that annoys me, I stop myself and say, is it worth it to nag him about it or what difference does it make anyhow? Believe me, it’s taken me a long time to get here. The driving motivation for me to stop “sweating the small stuff” is that I actively want to be contented. I want to acknowledge how lucky we are to be together and to live a life that is fairly simple except for all the cooking forays that I embark on. I knit and read a lot. I like to clean house and clear off the kitchen counters so that our place looks neat. We have avoided the flu so far this winter.

Contentment doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s how much we humans pile onto the idea of contentment that makes it, well, farther out of reach. For example, we can take contentment in little bites: when we have a cup of coffee or tea that tastes so good and hits the spot; or when we listen to a favorite song or piece on the radio while we’re driving in the car. Or when we sit down to a meal with someone we care about and enjoy eating it together. I wonder if feeling grateful has something to do with it? What do you think?

nature and nurture . . .

Today, there’s a fascinating article in the Science section of the Times which describes the work of Dr. Hopi Hoesktra, a biology geneticist at Harvard. Her recently published paper in Nature outlines work her team of researchers have done to distinguish genetically traceable traits in two different species of deer mice by the way that they build burrows and provide escape hatches (or not.)

We are not mice but we might as well be to think about what we have control over in the way that we look and behave in the world as much as the person beside us or across the table from us. Much has been made of how much acculturation (nurture) has influence on our personalities and character traits. What if, for example, much of it is genetically persuaded if not outright determined; e.g., “we were born that way?” Recently, there has been so much information about how behavior is influenced by our DNA and the physical/biochemical makeup of our brains. And this is not just from watching “House” on TV either.

In my own life, I have been surprised to gradually understand how many habits and traits I have that are similar to my father’s, the helpful and the not so helpful: insight and intuition, bluntness, adherence to what you believe in even though others may disagree. So much literature is devoted to describing these kinds of parallels in families and life consequences that result from them. I’ve often wondered whether it was the nurture from such strong traits growing up that causes that symbiosis or whether it’s mostly genes. Probably some of both.

In any case, the reason I am writing this post is that the deer mice research is truly fascinating to read about. And to think that we humans might also be genetically predisposed to either building long burrows versus fat ones and whether or not to provide an escape hatch in the burrow is, well, a humorous reflection on our own human behavior.

I know that many of us take life too seriously (that’s me) but that we may also have ancestors who have done that for eons before us it seems. How happy we are with ourselves depends on a lot of things. Luck is a big one, it seems to me. That’s been an influential factor in how life has made corrections for me almost in spite of myself, and for which I am ever thankful. So, with nature (genes,) nurture (environment) and luck (unpredictable opportunity) maybe it’s time to give in to the Zen idea of just going with the flow, and not to resist because of some preconceived idea that maybe we know better.

truly, madly, deeply . . .

May-July 2007 351_2
Truly, we want to leave this world a kinder and better place by our actions and thoughts;

Madly, some of what we say may be taken the wrong way;

Deeply, we are fortunate in our lives and have much to be thankful for.

“sweet spot” . . .

DSC_0720Since it’s Sunday, I was reading the New York Times, one of my favorite pastimes, and came across an interview in the business section with Kon Leong, CEO of ZL Technologies about what he seeks in people who want to work for him. Concluding the article is his definition of what a “sweet spot” in life is:
” . . . the intersection of what you’re really good at and what you love to do. If you can find that intersection, you are set. A lot of people would kill for that because, at 65, they’re retiring and never found it.”

I thought about that and am glad that G. embodies someone who is living in his sweet spot. He tunes and restores pianos and is good at it. And he loves it too (he’s right now typing out bills and appraisals which he hates to do, but even with that, he loves what he does.) For over twenty-five years, I was really good at directing project management in biotech start-ups over and over again. But I didn’t love it. It was too rife with politics, power struggles and stress. I’m grateful for the opportunities and I’m also glad it’s behind me.

Now that I’m retired, I am loving doing what I’m really good at doing: cooking, keeping house, knitting, playing music, watching TV, reading books and magazines. It’s okay to love what you do, even if it’s mundane, repetitive and, well, not written about in the New York Times! I’ve always been curious and interested in learning new things especially now that I have more time to do it.

To each their own. We’re lucky if we ever find it. Some of us are already doing it without even knowing it! And it’s especially sweet when you do notice it!

making things right . . .

DSC_0021_2Have you ever had an uneasy feeling about some loose ends that you’re not comfortable with? I have, although only a few, thank goodness. This holiday season, I’ve taken care of one of the most important ones: that is, to send a much loved Chinese carpet hanging of the Eight Immortals which hung in my late mother’s apartment to the family that took care of her for over twenty years during the last phase of her life. It was a thank you and appreciation for all of the times that they included her as family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Easter and at other family gatherings of their very large clan. She had knitted sweaters for just about everybody there while she was alive.

Reconnecting with a niece (one of my brother’s daughters) was also important while she went through some medical procedures right before the holidays. We’ve had such a nice correspondence ever since and I intend to keep in touch with her as she prepares for college. My grown-up (almost) granddaughter, A. came and visited with her friend, M. the day after Christmas. The cinnamon rolls weren’t as tender the day after they were baked, but we had a lunch with leftover filet of beef, sliced up on toast with gravy on top. Two batches of crispy, skillet potatoes later, we played the piano for each other and finished off our visit by cracking a Droste orange chocolate apple for dessert.

I don’t know about you but I find there are other loose ends lurking around in the background of one’s consciousness: an ex-husband, an ex-old boyfriend, perhaps someone you’re not friends with anymore but wish you hadn’t parted ways. Some of these, I find, might still be accessible but mostly not. With the holiday goings on, especially the birthday DVD, I can see things more clearly. And most of all, that I want to be intentional everyday to provide loving gestures to those who are important to me. And not to let my usual crankiness get in the way. That’s a pretty big idea: to catch the cranky in time and to crank up the love and affection to communicate how I really feel to those around me.

Perhaps that’s the best way to make things right, all around. Any other ideas?

“waves crashing on the shore” . . .

These are photos of G. and Josie pretend playing there are waves crashing on the shore: