Tag Archives: happiness

Do you believe in magic?

23 Nov

I wish I still believed in Santa. When I was a child, I barely slept on Christmas Eve, which made it difficult for my parents to get all the presents under the tree without me knowing they, not Santa, were the gift-bringers.

After fighting sleep for hours, my excitement growing with each little real or imagined noise in or outside the house, I drifted off for two or three hours. When I awakened, usually about 5:30 a.m., I would run down the hallway to the living room to find toys and wrapped gifts arranged carefully under the tree. One year, there was a little round table and chairs. Another time, a red tricycle. There were Barbie dolls, red cowgirl boots, storybooks and baby Thumbelina.

Magic. Pure, blow-your-mind magic. Every year. But the gifts weren’t the magic — it was the fact that they were there, that they had appeared while I slept, that they came from someplace I could only imagine.

Believing was so easy then. Now it’s harder. Even after I found out there was no Santa, I still believed in magic, in things unseen and unknown. I still do, but I find the belief hardest to hold on to during the time of year when it would seem to be most present.

Here it is the day before Thanksgiving and all I feel is dread for the coming six weeks. I’m not a grinch and it’s not even that I dislike Christmas or the holiday season. But there’s much too much expectation, too much frantic merrymaking, too much food, too much shopping, too much noise, too many versions of “Silent Night” blaring from speakers everywhere I go. Too much, too much, too much. The magic is lost in the cacophony of the season.

Last week, a friend asked me what I want for Christmas. I didn’t know what to say at the time. I stumbled around and said I’d think about it. So I did.

What I want for Christmas is more security and less stress, more time with family and friends, more time to enjoy the old and new things in my life. I would like to live the moment without having to remind myself to do so.

I want some silence and peace and good will. I want people to slow down, see the beauty in their lives, feel gratitude and be mindful of the gifts that can’t be found in any store. Why is everyone in such a rush?

I want simplicity. And magic. Pure magic.

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Today’s resolution, from Simone: Expect treats, but watch the hand that feeds you

14 Nov

Ever the optimist, Simone shares these words from I Ching 25, Innocence (The Unexpected):

“Man has received from heaven a nature innately good, to guide him in all his movements. By devotion to this divine spirit within himself, he attains an unsullied innocence that leads him to do right with instinctive sureness and without any ulterior thought of reward and personal advantage. …

But, Simone warns, temper optimism with realism. A dog knows these things instinctively:

“However, not everything instinctive is nature in this highest sense of the world, but only that which is right and in accord with the will of heaven. Without this quality of rightness, an unreflecting, instinctive way of acting out brings only misfortune.”

Simone at the rose garden, Clinton School of Public Service. Simone notes that the metaphor here is too obvious to mention. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Sustain my world

4 Nov

Just a short thought for today as I’m buried in work, playing catch-up after 10 days 0f vertigo. This sums up perfectly what sustains me — and what I am trying to sustain — at the moment:

“The three immovable and perfect rocks on which the judgments of the world are sustained: the poet, the written word, and nature.” — Irish triad from Senchus Mor

Colorado rocks on the deck rail, 2011 (Photo/RO)

Today’s resolution: A little mind dance

20 Oct

There have been times when my imagination has gotten me into trouble or thrown me into an anxious looping frenzy. Mostly, though, imagination has been my salvation. The world of my mind is a bright, brilliantly intense place of dance, color, light and song (yes, there, I can actually sing … and I dance, dance, dance in the music video of my life), and it’s full of imaginative people with the faces of flowers. As you may imagine, I have never needed hallucinogens.

Imagination means I never run out of ideas for articles and stories, and I never tire of interviewing interesting people. I marvel at my life sometimes, amazed that I’ve managed a career that allows me to run with my imagination.

So, today, I share with you another favorite passage from J. Ruth Gendler‘s The Book of Qualities:

“When Imagination walks, she writes letters to the earth. When she runs, her feet trace postcards to the sun. And when she dances, when she dances, she sends love letters to the stars.

“Some people accuse Imagination of being a liar. They don’t understand that she has her own ways of uncovering the truth. She studied journalism in junior high school. It gave her an excuse to interview interesting people. She was surprisingly good at writing articles. When in doubt, she just made things up. More recently, Imagination has been working as a fortuneteller in the circus. She has this way of telling your fortune so clearly that you believe her, and then your wishes start to come true.

“Imagination is studying photography now with an eye toward making films. She has no intention of working in one of those factories where they manufacture images that lull us to sleep. Her vision is more complex, and very simple. Even with the old stories, she wants us to see what has never been seen before.”

I very much want to meet Ms. Gendler.

Dancing statues near the Clinton Library, Little Rock, Ark. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Simplicity in time of decrease

18 Oct

Over the past 2 1/2 years, my life has become both simpler and more complex because of the economic downturn — complex because I must be ever more resourceful and creative to earn a living and simpler, too, for the same reason but also because a decrease in fortune requires me to strip my life down to essentials. It’s not always easy or desirable, but I try to make it work. Most days, it does. And it’s good.

This passage from I Ching, or Book of Changes, resonates on this first cold rain of fall as I pass through my time of decrease:

“Decrease does not under all circumstances mean something bad. Increase and decrease come in their own time. What matters here is to understand the time and not to try to cover up poverty with empty pretense. If a time of scanty resources brings out an inner truth, one must not feel ashamed of simplicity. For simplicity is then the very thing needed to provide inner strength for future undertakings. …

“One must draw on the strength of the inner attitude to compensate for what is lacking in externals; then the power of the content makes up for the simplicity of form.”

Cold rain at Lake No. 1, North Little Rock, (2011/RO)

 

 

Today’s resolution: If there is no choice?

3 Oct

As we begin another work week, here’s something to think about from one of my favorite poets, W.B. Yeats.

The Choice

The intellect is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.
(1932)

Entering the woods of the river walk at Two Rivers Bridge (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: In synch with introversion

21 Sep

Every morning, I read my horoscope in the newspaper — out of habit, mostly, because it’s so general that it rarely has any relevance for me. But an occasional message resonates, like today’s:

“Planning ahead for an event might be your saving grace. This requires more thought that simply how you’ll get there and what you’ll wear. Consider who will be there and what you’d like to talk about.”

Actually, that made me laugh. Welcome to my life — or life as an introvert.

This mural near the Santa Barbara Beach speaks to me. Wonder if the artist is an introvert. (2011/RO)

Everything I do that involves interaction with other people requires preparation. If I’m going to a party, for example, I always think about who might be there and what we have in common so that I have an idea of what we might talk about. I’ll flip through my memory and review our last conversation for reference points. It’s not far out to say that I spend more time on the mental preparation than I do on getting dressed and made up.

Prep work for social and other occasions calms me and is a way of making sure I’m not overwhelmed in a social situation. If I’m overwhelmed, I shut down, go blank. Oh, it’s not pretty.

I’m sure that sounds strange to some, especially folks who thrive on being in crowds of people, who can chat up anyone and who think while talking.

Introverts like me — type INFP —  spend a lot of time looking inward. We’re constantly evaluating and reflecting on our behavior, attitude and reactions. We want to understand — on a deep level —what we’re thinking, feeling and experiencing.     

We can’t help it. To us, it’s essential to understand ourselves because we see the world and other people through the lens of that understanding. It’s how we figure out the external world.

Believe me, being introverted isn’t easy. Someone once asked me if I’d rather be introverted or extroverted. I answered that I’d rather be introverted — that’s what I am, after all. But, honestly, I will admit there are times when I wish I could change, that I could be an extrovert — extroverts make everything look so effortless.

I try to imagine would it be like not to not overthink every decision, every conversation, every word I speak or write. I wonder what it would it be like to never be at a loss for words, to draw energy from being with other people instead of feeling drained, to not need to understand everything.

But, on the other hand, I enjoy the thinking and the fact that I don’t require a lot of external stimulation, activity and people for fulfillment. I’m happy to have accepted that I’m an introvert, instead of living life dissatisfied with myself, feeling out of synch with others and actually believing something is wrong with me because I want — and enjoy — a significant amount of time alone (although, please understand me, there’s more to introversion than a need for solitude).

Before I found out about the different personality types, I thought needing to be alone more than my friends meant I was depressed or destined to become the weird cat lady of the neighborhood. The fact that solitude replenished my energy didn’t factor in. I judged myself on standards set by a society that values sociability, being a team player, living a go-go-go! lifestyle.

Understanding what it means to be introverted flipped my self-image from negative to positive, although that didn’t happen instantly.

***

Even though we need time alone to recharge our batteries, that doesn’t mean introverts want to feel like or be  outsiders. Discovering our true nature and learning that others think and feel like we do can be liberating. It was for me.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours reading other introverts’ insights about introversion. There’s one writer who refers to introverts as “my people.”  I like that. We’re a people. We’re together in being energized by the internal world of ideas, impressions and emotions. We’re not alone in our desire to understand.

That understanding is our holy grail. To that end, introverts are constantly questioning why they react to certain things as they do — for example, why do introverts use Facebook? Why do introverts often feel more lonely when they’re with other people than when they’re alone?

What fascinates me about this — in addition to my inherent interest, as an introvert, in introversion — is that extroverts don’t need extensive internal reflection, plus they don’t seem to need or want to talk about their extroversion with other extroverts. It’s not that extroverts live lives free of self-reflection, but deep knowledge of themselves isn’t essential for relating to the external world. And the majority (I know some exceptions) don’t talk about that.

Out of curiosity, I searched Facebook and Twitter for groups focusing on introversion and found them on both. I also searched for groups devoted to discussions of extroversion. I found none — not one. Everything that included the word “extrovert” in its name was related to an activity or person. One FB page was for a musical group named Extrovert.

On Facebook, I participate in an introvert group of about 800 people. Facebook works for us — the majority of us would rather be forced to listen to John Tesh than have to attend a physical meeting together. We’d all blank out from the pressure.

Online, however, we’re able to interact at our own pace and when we choose. We discuss myriad aspects of introversion and share ways of coping with expectations in the workplace, at home, at school, in our communities, and so on. Our discussions are aimed at understanding, of course, but also have a support aspect. For example, members in densely populated countries with cultures or religions that push togetherness find validation and comfort in our virtual musings.

While some people may think that external validation is contrary to the nature of introversion — surely introverts aren’t people who need people? — it’s not. When you live in a world that places a premium on social skills, it’s incredibly affirming to know you’re not the only one for whom a certain amount of solitude is as necessary as air.

***

I first learned about introversion nine years ago when a friend (also an introvert, although a different type) pushed David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II at me, saying in a do-not-argue-with-me tone, “Take this test.” I was annoyed and almost blew her off, but her insistence made me curious.

I took the test — which contains questions such as “Is it better to be just or merciful?” — and found out that I’m an INFP, specifically the Healer variant. Was I happy? No. Healers make up about 1 percent of the population, which, to me, meant the chances of ever being understood were one in never.

But as I continued to learn about my personality type, I relaxed. It explained so much. Although everything wasn’t spot on, the author seemed to be describing me. I realized that so many things about me that I had always thought were wrong weren’t. They were simply personality traits that run contrary to expectations of a society dominated by extroverts — who make up 70 percent of the population, to be precise.

Since then, I’ve done a lot research into introversion, and talked to many, many introverts. I’ve gotten to where I can recognize a kindred introvert almost immediately — even if the other person doesn’t know he or she is an introvert. I often feel like I’m on a mission to help other introverts feel good about their introversion. By the way, trying to make things better for others is a characteristic of the healer personality.

One of the most helpful books I’ve found for introverts is The Introvert Advantage. In it, Marti Olsen Laney provides the results of scientific studies — actual tests on brain function — that reveal physiological explanations for why introverts and extroverts approach life differently.

But that’s a topic for another post. For now, fellow introverts, focus on not judging yourself harshly for being yourself. Accept. Nurture.
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Today’s resolution: Southern comfort — chicken & dumplings

17 Sep

Sometimes I almost cry thinking of all the delicious food we had growing up. We had garden-fresh tomatoes, pole beans, pintos, crowder and purple hull peas, okra, squash, turnips, kale, sweet potatoes, red-skinned potatoes, white potatoes, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, watermelon and more.

Grandpa raised cattle so we always had the quality of meat people pay premium prices for today. Grandmother bought fresh eggs and chicken from a farmer down the road. They picked poke sallet, muscadines and persimmons growing wild.

True comfort food

For Sunday dinner, we had one or two kinds of meat, vegetables and other side dishes. One of my favorite “side dishes” was chicken and dumplings  (a meal in itself). I rarely make dumplings anymore, for a variety of reasons, but yesterday’s cool temperatures inspired me.

Since I can’t share the actual chicken and dumplings with you, I thought I’d share how to make them. I took photos as I went along to illustrate the process. The photos aren’t great, but I hope they get the message across. (By the way, I have all kinds of respect for folks who make their living styling and photographing food. It’s an art.)

The two most important things about this dish are the broth and the dumplings. You can use any kind of broth. I’ve made dumplings to add to homemade potato soup, for example. While I’ve never done it, I know you could cook them in vegetable broth.

This is the version I made last night. The chicken broth is, ahem, souped up with three kinds of canned soup. The combination creates a rich-tasting, savory broth for the tender dumplings.

Chicken broth

Ingredients:  2 large skinless, bone-in chicken breasts (or whatever chicken parts you prefer), at least 2 quarts of water, approx. 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour, 1 egg, 1/3 cup Crisco, 1 can each of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken, Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Celery soups, salt and pepper to taste.

Use only the best canned soup

Add water to large pot or dutch oven, add chicken and boil until the chicken is fully cooked. Remove chicken and let cool. Keep heat under pot of broth on medium.

While the chicken is cooling, dip out 1 cup of the hot chicken broth and pour into a large mixing bowl. This is the liquid for your dumplings.

Loretta Lynn is right: Crisco makes the lightest dumplings.

Add 1/3 cup of Crisco. While it’s melting in the hot liquid, open and add the cans of soup to the broth left in the pot. Stir until smooth; lower heat and let simmer while you make the dumplings.

Don't overwork the dough.

Stir 1 egg into the broth and shortening in the mixing bowl. Then, using a fork, stir in 2 1/4 cups of flour until the mixture is soft and sticky. Don’t overmix or overwork the dough because your dumplings will be tough.

Back to the pot of broth — increase the heat so that it starts boiling.

Spread out wax paper and sprinkle liberally with flour, then dump the dough onto the paper and add more flour as pictured.

Ready to roll

Roll out until 1/4- to 1/8-inch thin.

Flour your rolling pin, then roll the dough until it’s between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thin. If you make your dumplings any thicker, they’ll be tough. Not good.

Cut into squares.

Cut rolled dough into squares, then drop the squares one by one into the boiling broth. Stir gently with a wooden spoon. Your dumplings should not stick together.

They should look like this while cooking. See how they float to the top?

Cut or tear the chicken into small chunks. Add the meat to the dumplings. Lower heat and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

A word about salt: The soup and the self-rising flour both contain salt so you need to taste your broth as you season to make sure it doesn’t become too salty.

After the dumplings have simmered for 30 minutes, remove the pan from the heat; cover the pan and let sit for another 30 minutes. This is what makes the dumplings tender.

Dish dumplings into bowls and enjoy.

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Today’s resolution: Thrive as an introvert

14 Sep

When I started this blog, I thought I would write about my experiences as an introvert and how I view the world from the introvert perspective … but introversion sometimes slows me down. If you’re an introvert — specifically an INFP like me — you immediately understand how that could be. Being an introvert means always needing a deeper understanding of oneself, others … everything, really, before feeling comfortable with expression.

Introverts are like the light-colored fish in this koi pond. We swim just as well as the others, but are sometimes overshadowed by their brightness. (Hawaii 2011/RO)

So I’ll start small with a quick quiz that can help you identify if you, too, are one of the few, the quiet, the introverted, or if you are more of the extrovert personality variety.

This quiz is from Marti Olsen Laney’s book, The Introvert Advantage  (a must-read for an introvert; really, it’ll change the way you see yourself in relation to the extrovert world).

Laney’s instructions: “Look over the list of key qualities below. Which list feels more like you, or is more like you most of the time? (Not every characteristic on the list will fit.) Answer as you are, not as you would like to be. Go with your first impression.

Qualities A

Like to be in the thick of things.

Relish variety, bored with sameness.

Know lots of people, consider them friends.

Enjoy chitchatting, even with strangers.

Feel stoked after activity, eager for more.

Are generally quite peppy.

Tend to talk more than listen.

Qualities B

Prefer to relax alone or with a few close friends.

Consider only deep relationships as friends.

Need rest after outside activities, even ones you enjoy.

Often listen but talk a lot about topics of importance to you.

Appear calm, self-contained, and like to observe.

Tend to think before you speak or act.

Experience mind going blank in groups or under pressure.

Don’t like feeling rushed.

***

While you won’t possess all the qualities on either list, one will suit you better than the other. Which do you think is the list for extroverts? If you aren’t sure, ask yourself: “Am I refreshed more often after quiet time or active time?”

If  you feel the qualities in the B list best describe you,  congratulations — it’s likely you’re an introvert. Because introverts are outnumbered 3 to 1 in our society, we often feel like we don’t fit in, aren’t in step with the rest of the world. We’re the group of people described as marching to a different drummer. In future posts, I’ll share some of the skills I’ve developed for living quiet in a noisy world. Until then, remember to not judge yourself based on qualities valued in a world that rewards extroversion.

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Today’s resolution: Thanks for all the birthdays

12 Sep

“Do not allow persons to bother the baby, particularly if she is sleeping. Too much handling is bad regardless of who does it.” — hospital baby-care instructions to Mom

As my mother says, “We made another one” — birthday, that is.

Every year, I thank my mom for keeping me — as you can see, I was not the prettiest baby. I’m grateful I was her first child and she had nothing to compare me with. My two younger sisters were really cute babies. But Mom says she thought I was cute, too.

This photo was tucked into the baby book that Mom wrote in a few times during my first three  years; after that, my sisters had arrived and she had three toddlers on her hands and no time for baby books. But the things she recorded seem to reveal how I developed certain interests.

Gifts at the one-year party were clothes (red ruffled pants!) and a mechanical donkey. A gym set was among my second-year gifts. The third year really nailed it: telephone, bead stringing kit, dog, plastic gun and books. Those who know me will instantly recognize how those gifts relate to me today. Hints: iphone, jewelry making, Simone, .410, books, books, books, gym membership and clothes. I’m not sure how the mechanical donkey figures in. … Oh, wait.

Thanks, Mom, for thinking I was cute and for raising me right. Thanks, too, for making all my days special.

By the way, folks, I grew into that nose.