Coffee at the Spa

A few years back, it was my first night at the New Age spa. A silver-haired woman sat across from me at the communal dining table; she slipped me something, very sly.

“You’re new here right?” she asked.

“How did you know?”

“You’re wearing a cashmere sweater and pearls. Look around — Everyone else is in sweats.”

I looked around. She was right. I smiled. I could see I was going to like this this place.

“I’m checking out tomorrow morning,” she said. “But you can have my packets. Don’t let anyone know.” She looked around, eyes squinting. I looked at the packet — Sanka.

I went cold turkey for the next couple of days. I never used the packets, but just to remind myself they were there, I’d occasionally tap them in the pocket of my sweats.

Just the idea of coffee comforted me.

Coffee was there for me if I needed it. And I do need it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere have been times my family, friends, colleagues failed me. But not coffee.
Coffee loves me unconditionally.

Studies show that coffee keeps women from depression. The Consumer Report Study on Coffee says Four or more cups a day? Fine, you’ll be 20 percent less likely to be depressed. So, go ahead. Have another cup of coffee. Better yet, have four. I dare you. Yea, try to keep up with me!

Not that I’m competitive. Okay, yes, I am a competitive person. I blame the fact that I have three brothers. I have even found I can be competitive in a spa-like setting – in yoga class or a moment for meditation.

How fast can you get into a meditative zone? Oh, yeah! I can meditate and relax twice as fast.

This summer I went to Kripalu, a wonderful, place. The breakfast is a silent meal. And guess what? I am more silent than anyone. I am also the slowest and quietest eater there.

In this political season, you may hear some politician brag of having good words or the best or hugest plans. Yes, well. I have the best silence. I have a huge mindfulness practice. The hugest.

I have trouble letting go of my competitive drive even while receiving a massage. I am probably the most relaxed person the masseuse has ever laid hands on.

Oh, God, who am I kidding? I am never able to relax. I am so tense. It is from the coffee. Or maybe the chai tea latte. Yes, they serve that at spas now. I had that at the quiet breakfast at Kripalu. I was bursting to tell someone — anyone — “Wow this is some good chai!”

But everyone was so quiet — unlike the old days when we chatted and discreetly passed one another little Sanka packets. Coffee tasted better when it was forbidden.

Still. Coffee’s perfect. With conversation or with quiet. Communal or solitary. The world may bring you down. But coffee and chai and a few days at the spa? They lift you up.

I read this tonite at noson lawen, translated as “happy evening” at the Welsh Church. 

Kindness Counts

One special night Chris and I took the kids to see the Big Apple Circus. The show was spectacular and Grandma, our favorite clown, was so funny. It was warm although it was Thanksgiving weekend. A golden moon hung over Manhattan.

“Look at the moon,” I told my son, who was eight or nine years old at the time.

“No, c’mon. Hurry up, Mom. I have to get home to see Drake and Josh.” That was his favorite TV show.

Duhrr! What did I do wrong? I had given my kids EVERYTHING — including the moon and what did I get? No ‘Thank you.’ ‘Gee, I’m so lucky.’ ‘You’re the best.’

I just read this Karen Weese article in the Washington Post about raising kinder kids. I love it. I relate. I know, too, that kids at certain ages are simply caught up in the here and now. And they cannot fathom that something wonderful is not right in front of them at any given moment. They deserve it. We all do. Even though something wonderful might just have happened for us. Are we all so entitled?

We have to learn to SAVOR. This is a stage I learned about at Global Ministries on the Marketing Team. Working for the United Methodist Church, I had worked on lots and lots of marketing campaigns. On the team, we needed to remind each other to stop and pause and savor how well we had done before we started some new project. It was hard to do.

Probably in all jobs and in all families, there’s this feeling — I’m on a treadmill. I just hopped off this one treadmill. And now I must jump on another. That’s life. No time.

Let’s remember to pause every day. Pause between our runs on the treadmill. We must savor. And in that savoring moment, have gratitude for the circus, for the moon, for our favorite TV shows, but mostly for each other — and for Grandma too!

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This was one cold Chicago 5K Turkey Trot. 

Meditate

You might set the timer on your phone for five minutes. Try these three things:

  1. Sit quietly (Or lay down)mindfulness round
  2. Close eyes (Or half close eyes)
  3. Breathe (Or simply relax)

Yup, that’s it. Try to stay awake. And when the timer goes off, find a renewed sense of energy. Or feel rested. Maybe you’ll find clarity to a problem.

I took this picture last weekend at Wave Hill, a beautiful little nature center in Riverdale.


I love the image of the lotus flower as a symbol for the meditative mind. Like a lotus, let all cares rest on the surface. Let the mind be calm water. Or a cloudless sky.

I heard Thich Nhat Hahn once say that when troubles strike, let the troubles be like a storm that may toss and turn the top branches of a tree but your trunk, your center, stays strong. You bend but do not break.

Last year I dedicated the month of October to mindfulness. It worked. I felt more at peace — for a few minutes, for a month, for a while.

Tree

Ordinarily Happy

In the next day, my 16-year-old twin girls are going to tour nearby colleges. My 19-year-old son and his good friend are just home for the weekend to attend a concert, and they will fly the coop back to the university tonight. This leaves just me and my husband at home. And I am longing for a new beginning.

Yes, in the last month I have started a new job, I have refloored our kitchen. As exciting as work friends and home improvements are, I can easily feel stuck. My distraction of choice? I tumble down a rabbit hole, like Alice. I fall into the day’s election news.

In this morning’s revelations on Trump’s taxes, I will tell you, I pay A LOT in taxes. Last year, in addition to what we paid throughout the year, we owed and paid about $12,000 at tax time. Oy! That hurts. But I do not care. Gladly, I would pay more to be sure every single person in this country has health insurance. Also, I have to release my taxes every year to apply for financial aid, so if you want my family’s financial details, we oblige.

I enjoy following the election news — opinionators, bloviators, and pundits. And I, too, can easily spin off on a political rant.

There is also this — I want to be informed to be a good citizen. When public schools were first growing in the United States, their purpose was to teach citizenship, not just load students’ heads with facts. What does it mean today to be a good citizen?

How can I take the day’s news, not feel swamped by a tsunami of unease, but make the world a better place?

Can reading and writing political rants enhance my ordinary life? My citizenship? My kindness towards my fellow human?

Because ordinary life is extraordinary. Yours is too. Your ordinary, boring day is a miracle. You get to be here in this life. You get to embark on a new beginning.

The election is a kind of new year. My children, considering and attending colleges, are at a new stage. And I am ready for newness. And if something new and wonderful does not drop in my lap today, I aim to find the new beginning in this one day. In my ordinary day. This makes me happy — the idea of some unplanned and happy synchronicity.

harold-and-maudLast night, in addition to the joy of the new season of Saturday Night Live, Cate, Chris, and I watched the movie Harold and Maude. I woke up humming Cat Stevens.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are

Things I’m Going to Do in November

I’m happy that I wrote and posted every single day of October. I was part of a challenge to write every day. My topic was mindfulness.

Now that October’s over, I plan to:

  • rest
  • write more in-depth essays
  • query some magazines and newspapers
  • tidy my beautiful, rambling NYC apartment
  • connect with and encourage other bloggers and writers
  • work my a$$ off at my awesome jobs
  • go for my annual physicals
  • get a bit more creative with my writing and social media
  • write some poetry
  • revisit my novel
  • make mixed media art
  • plan Thanksgiving, Christmas, (and still dreaming of Cuba)
  • get to yoga or Pilates class

The month-long writing challenge taught me:

  • I have something to say about mindfulness
  • Because I committed to this topic, I sought opportunities to reflect on mindfulness
  • Sitting still for 10 minutes is really all there is to mindfulness
  • I did not have to write perfectly. I could repurpose old photos and a couple of old topics
  • I wanted to quit but I didn’t
  • I did the best I could
  • Consistency is more important than perfection
  • I did find a few typos as I looked back, but basically I write well and fast
  • I can do my own thing and still take good care of my family
  • I don’t want to call myself an expert, but, well, a-hem I know a few things (humble brag)

This fall has been different for my fam — with my son off to college and my husband Chris directing a play in Florida; the girls and I have enjoyed our estrogen-fest at home.

I still do that mom-thing of trying to be there for everyone and everything and then, suddenly, ‘Hey, what about me!!! Whaaa!!’ And I can get sorry for myself.  But despite the inevitable stress and conflict, our home dynamics are pretty calm. It could be because of this writing and mindfulness challenge. Or it could be that we’re all getting older.

Whatever the reason, it’s all good. Happy Halloween!

Writing the Details

Set your scene with three or four details. Here are ten ideas of what Pat Carr meant by sensory details and then an example from my story set on a playground.

  1. Odor – wet sand
  2. A time of day or season – end of summer
  3. Temperature – warm and humid
  4. Sound – children laughing
  5. Important object – small charm bracelet
  6. Dominant color – beige
  7. Dominant shape — circles
  8. Something that can be touched – curly hair
  9. Taste – rain in the air
  10. Certain slant of light – late afternoon sun

I love numbering 10 things. Pat was inspired by Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.”

Light is so important.

This is a repost from when I attended Southern writer Pat Carr’s Memoir and Fiction Writing class at the International Women’s Writing Guild. I wrote this from a sun-soaked bench, cloistered in a square at Yale University.

Pat Carr’s writing exercises, like this one, can be found in her book Writing Fiction with Pat Carr. Her new memoir is One Page at a Time: On a Writing Life.
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I still love bookstores. I visited the nearby Barnes and Noble while the girls were in a singing lesson.

I love the UN

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At the mic is Betty Reardon, called a midwife to UN Resolution 1325, the reason for this three-day celebration and call to action. My friend Nicole Goodwin is on the far right.

Reporting on the peacemakers at the United Nations civil society today, I noticed that women leaders come in many ages.

And it’s not just the many-aged women who are amazing, so are the men. Last night, Dean Peacock asked the people gathered to challenge harmful stereotypes of masculinity.
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Also last night, I heard Iraq Veteran Against War Matt Howard, who said that “Iraq and Afghanistan are not the root causes of our problems. Militarism is.” There is something wonderful about men who work for peace and who support women who work for peace. In a world that is corporate, consumer-driven, militaristic, I love the peacemakers.

Today, my friend Nicole Goodwin, an Iraq veteran and fellow writer, spoke of the trauma of witnessing torture. Her essay in the New York Times, Talking With My Daughter About My Service in Iraq, shows me how complicated we all are. How we want to protect our children. Stay sane ourselves.

I learned so much today.

I love the United Nations.
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I love the idea of it. And I wish more people loved it and its capacity for creating a peaceful world.

Silence

So it is an art piece at Brookfield Place near the World Financial Center. Is there a message? Does art need a message? Ten people dressed in white sit calmly. Or walk in silence. Take a break. Write in their journals.

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Maybe the performance art piece is meant to prompt reflection.

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Because you walk by the reflecting pool to get there, it is hard not to be reflective.
What is silence? Why do we write?
Life tells us to. We do what is required.

imageWe are a part of a performance art piece. We sit and work. People walk by. Some contemplate silence.

This art piece 9-5 was created by Ernesto Pujol. 

Pajama Day

I better not be the only teacher dressed in my jammies today. That could be a real nightmare.

I like School Spirit Week. It seems like when I was in high school the highlight of the school year was Homecoming. And every Friday and Saturday nights, we’d go to all the football and basketball games. But I’m not sure if the jocks would come to our shows — our musicals or as we called them, our ‘straight’ plays. They likely came to our Variety Shows.

I like the fancy night out. I like cake.
I like the fancy night out. I like cake. I like enthusiasm.

Showing spirit and enthusiasm can be anathema to teenagers. Teaching high school I see that the slouchy sarcastic kid is sometimes the revered one. But, of course, the eager, upright kid is just as valuable, (especially to the teacher!)

“Students, show some enthusiasm. Life is short. You are young and beautiful. Smart and creative. Run! Stumble then get up! Run with that idea again!” Still, they slouch.

When I have met my daughters’ teachers, the ones who stood out, the ones we remember are the passionate, enthusiastic ones! People like the charisma of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is entertaining. Try it!

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

-True enthusiasm is a fine feeling whose flash I admire where-ever I see it.
Charlotte Bronte

Central Park

I don’t think anyone took a bad picture in Central Park today. The beauty of the changing leaves. The sudden sunshine after a grey morning. Reasons to feel grateful. Alive one more day. image

I had a ton of chores and work assignments to dedicate myself to this afternoon. But why? Why? Really? My friend called and invited me out to Chamomile Tea near the Sheep’s Meadow. We sat on a tall rock and chatted. Percussionist drumming. Rollerskaters’ disco beat pulsing.image

Leaves falling like snowballs.image

Riding my bike out of the park on 72nd. Guitarists sit near the Imagine memorial, strum, “All You Need is Love.” Strawberry Fields behind me. Sunset ahead of me. image