Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Time Is It?

Not too long ago I heard a wonderful sermon at a Catholic church about being a good steward of one's time. Since tomorrow is my 43rd birthday, it seems a good occasion to meditate upon what this means. The tab on the Yogi tea bag I just opened reads, "Wherever you go, go with all of your heart." Does this include going down to the basement to face a mountain of laundry? Yes, because all of life is connected. I personally fritter time away every day for the reason that I don't know where to begin. "Do the next right thing" is a popular saying in Al-Anon Family Groups. But what is the next right thing? I started taking ornaments off our Christmas tree awhile ago but did not finish the task. This seems to be my standard operating mode lately. The time has come, my friends, to once again focus on paring down and pulling focus.

Here are a few suggestions I am planning to follow for the new year. Get your body moving again! I am on a long break from teaching my belly dance classes, but last evening I began working on a new choreography to teach in February. This gives a structure to my exercise. It doesn't work to vow vaguaries such as "I will get in shape" or "I will lose weight" or "I will eat healthier." You must be specific! I am determined to walk our dog for at least 15 minutes each day. In winter it is imperative to get out of the house every single day, breathe fresh air, get your vitamin D from sunlight, and do something active. Cabin fever does not settle in so easily if you regularly step outside the cabin.

What kind of food do you want to eat? For me, the time has come to make a hearty soup every week. Eating in season means root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, yams, onions, and turnips. Immunity boosting foods such as mushrooms, garlic, thyme, parsley, oranges, pomegranates, and grapefruit are especially satisfying. Being a vegetarian, I have to make a conscious effort to incorporate protein, such as peanut butter on whole grain bread, yogurt, beans, a few eggs a week, and whole grain rice. I have given my husband the task of making seitan weekly, which is a wheat gluten and soy sauce based meat substitute. Tempeh sandwiches, from soy beans, are another of his specialties. With more protein, I notice less cravings for sweets. Ginger tea is beneficial for the respiratory and digestive systems and is an invigorating substitute for coffee or black tea, although in moderation these are fine.

Sleep! Take advantage of the early darkness and go to bed when you are tired. Take time to wind down. Praying the Rosary while I lie in bed calms my monkey mind, and often I can barely stay awake to finish it! Turn your troubles over to Father God and Mother Mary. People, however you do it, just pray. Pray every day. Light naturally scented candles or incense and listen to music you enjoy. Center yourself by reestablishing daily routines once the holidays have passed, and once focused, go about your daily round in a spirit of reverence. Alternate doing something you don't want to do with something pleasurable. Try something new!

Go through your closet and dresser drawers. Whatever doesn't fit, doesn't look good on you, doesn't suit your personality or lifestyle, and doesn't make you smile goes to charity. Don't save it to sell on Ebay. If you want to keep it for sentimental reasons, lovingly store it away. Make room for clothing that fits the person you want to be, the person God created you to be. Recently I watched the Audrey Hepburn movie, "Breakfast at Tiffany's." I was always inspired by Audrey's simple, chic style as a single woman and had the advantage of a thinner body and vintage clothing stores in the city in which I lived. But as a homeschooling mother I need comfortable, functional clothes. I was surprised when I watched the movie again that Audrey's style could still work!

The little black dress, which Audrey made so popular, is not actually so little. A sleeveless black dress in a fabric that stretches a bit, in a length at least to the knees, is a perfect mainstay for the chic mother's wardrobe. Ballet flats and feminine shoes with a short heel are so Audrey. Casual clothing that is fitted rather than baggy is flattering, and sticking with mostly neutral colors is mandatory for easy dressing. This is the French way to dress. French women have less clothing than Americans, but their wardrobe foundations are in classic styles and are high quality. They change it up with accessories--jewelry, scarves, hats, shoes, belts--adding a flash of color and individuality. They keep it simple. So where can you find Audrey style? In a brilliant stroke of memory I flashed back to the Ann Taylor Loft store I used to shop at. I went to Ebay, and hurray, lots of Audrey Hepburn type pieces.

So settle back on a cold winter's night and watch "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Roman Holiday," and "Funny Face" and remember how whimsical and creative you once were, how you spent your time dreaming and following your passion, how you delighted in just being you. Visualize, maybe even in the form of an artist's sketch book of magazine images you use to create collages, exactly how you want your hair, makeup, wardrobe, and home to look. Then visualize how you want your life to be. Do you want to get married? Travel? Write a book? Start a business? Meditate? Live in a well-ordered home that is a sanctuary? See it in your mind and feel it in your heart first, then take a step each day toward the goal. That is doing the next right thing. Take the time to take care of yourself, and love the person you see in the mirror every day. Then spread the love.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Art and Spirit of Giving

One of the best things I ever heard about Christmas shopping is to honor the person to whom you are giving in your choice of gifts. This single concept is revolutionary in its simplicity. It helps me to focus not on just getting it done, but on contemplating before I shop and pondering as I shop what would honor a particular person. But what does it mean to give honor?

Some people are easy to shop for. They have hobbies, they collect things, you know what they like. Other people seem to have everything. Like my dad. If you ask him what he wants or needs, he will tell you to save your money, because he knows you don't have much. He doesn't read (such people are particularly tricky!). He loves golf, but he buys himself all the necessary paraphernalia. He may appreciate something unique, like a gumball machine for his office, but he won't actually use it. My dad, however, is a clothes hound. It might seem boring to the giver, but a nice sweater or a snazzy hat will make him happy.

There is a key in that to honoring your loved one. What will make him happy? When I was in my 20s I had a boyfriend who asked me what I wanted for Christmas. What I wanted more than anything was a VCR. This was back in the 90s when they were still kind of expensive and not everyone had one. He fussed and said he did not want to get me that! He argued that we could watch videos at his apartment. That was the point. I wanted to be able to rent a video and watch it at my own apartment, with or without him. Although he did eventually acquiesce, his resistance to honoring me in the area of gift giving was reflective of his general lack of honor. So put the recipient of the gift ahead of yourself. While you may not adore images of Justin Bieber or his music, if your child loves him, you know what you need to do!

I read a Dear Abby column once in which a woman complained that she gave meaningful, handmade gifts and that a member of her family never displayed them in her home. The giver equated the gifts being handmade with more intrinsic meaning than a store bought item. And she evidently was more concerned with what she valued than she was with the taste and interests of the person to whom she gave her gifts. While I do not advocate compromising your own morals and ethics, if the person on your list, for example, hates primitive handicrafts but loves mass produced products by a particular company, to honor her you need to buy what she prefers, not what you want to give her.

You can honor someone with a practical gift just as easily as you can with a luxurious one. I noticed one year that my grandpa's slippers were worn out, so I got him a nice, new pair. They could be worn outside, which I thought would be great when Grandpa went to get his newspaper. I never saw him wear the old pair again. There was a time when I didn't have enough money even for the basics, so gifts of underwear and socks surely honored me!

There are also the gifts of time, service and attention. A young cousin of mine has for years made it a tradition to decorate our grandparents' house for Christmas. She digs everything out of the basement and gives the gift of her time, energy, and creative talents. Inviting a friend to bake Christmas cookies at your home, helping to organize a church bazaar, and singing carols at a nursing home are all a part of the spirit of giving. This is the time of year to reach out to family and friends who live far away. A card, phone call, or invitation to Christmas dinner can go a long way in re-establishing a personal connection, repairing estranged relationships, and getting you out of yourself.

In the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi and the ancient tea ceremony, the guest is all. If someone comes to stay in your home, remember that preparing for a trip and traveling can be exhausting, and the willingness to do this to spend the holidays with you is a gift in itself. Put the comfort of your guests ahead of yourself, nurturing them not only as family, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. They may feel left out of the family if they live a distance away, so make the effort to reassure them that they are honored and included. Most of all, set aside your expectations this holiday season for how things should go, how children should behave, what food should be served, how the house should look, what someone should know that you would or would not want for Christmas. "Should" is a 4-letter word! Meditate instead on how you can honor one another in the art and spirit of genuine giving. Merry Christmas!!