June 29, 2010

Meditation Inspiration: Pema Chodron

Awakening Loving-Kindness (Shambhala Pocket Classics)

I love these tiny Shambhala Pocket editions for travel. On my Spain trip, I brought Awakening Loving-Kindness (Shambhala Pocket Classics) by Pema Chodron. I already own her book The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness and these are basically the same book (with a few edits), but I bought it anyway because I wanted a travel-size version and I find myself reading it again and again.

One of the chapters I found inspiring on my trip is called Sending & Taking, and it is about tonglen practice. This is basically a practice where you take all the good stuff you feel and send it out into the world for others to share in, and you take all the bad stuff (pain, fear) in the world and experience it personally so that others don't have to. She explains "This pain can be of benefit to others because I can be courageous enough to feel it fully so no one else has to." I know, I know... you're probably thinking "but it doesn't work that way" and on a certain level you're right. But I think the practice is really about developing compassion and that if you are able to do that, it really does benefit others. Pema explains that it means "you have the aspiration to be able to walk into any situation and be of benefit."

What do you think about this idea? And what would it take for you to "walk into any situation and be of benefit"?

June 27, 2010

The Perfect Boiled Egg

Local eggs purchased via CNY Bounty

I never remember the exact amount of time you need to boil an egg, so every time I boil eggs I look it up in The Joy of Cooking. Other than that, I didn't think there was any problem with how I boiled eggs. Then I read this post on the Readymade food and entertaining blog. To summarize the point of the article - most of us severely overcook our hard-boiled eggs. After trying it their way (approximately 7 minutes versus the 14 minutes I was doing before), I don't think I'll go back.

However, I disagree with them that 8 minutes is too long. The 7 minute eggs still have a bit of gooeyness in the middle. Not so much that they are runny or messy, but enough that they wouldn't be ideal for some purposes (deviled eggs?) .

I really like them for eating straight though, and they work very well for some dishes. I made an egg salad out of them, and it was quite delicious. I didn't even use any mayo - just mustard, chopped pickles with a little pickle juice, and spices (salt, garlic powder, and dill) - and it was nice and creamy from the softness of the yolk. I served it on a bed of homegrown salad greens with a little potato, asparagus (also homegrown), and homemade crackers (recipe here) on the side.

If you do decide to try it, be sure to read down to the comments at the bottom of the Readymade post - they leave out a few key details that are clarified in the comment section.


Barbara's entry to the Mini Memoir Vignette Contest Using Google Search Story won! A small contest and a fun idea/project. You can view it again here:
Barbara's Dream Year Google Search

And while you are at it, check out the Women's Memoir site...here is the announcement about why it was chosen

June 17, 2010

A time of transition, a time of joy

A little rough weather coming out of the Pyrenees

Returning home from my time in Spain on the Camino de Santiago has been interesting. I think for me it may be easier than for others, since what I'm coming home to excites me - a lovely time of year to be outdoors and in the garden, plenty of time to spend with friends and loved ones, a vibrant community, and work I am excited about (mainly unpaid, but I will even be getting paid for a little of it). When I was on the Camino, I felt a desire to stay there longer while also desiring to be at home. At home now, I feel great joy being here but I also miss the Camino and would have liked just a bit more time there.

Lots of rain = happy snails
For the most part, I've been able to carry with me certain things from the Camino - my sense of calm and relaxation, feeling able to be open and spontaneous about what I will do each day, and being excited about what each day may bring. Some things I do miss though. I miss the sense of instant connection to a larger community (other pilgrims), even people you just met. I miss the culture of sharing what you have. I miss the magic - the feeling that whatever you need will be provided (by the universe, or by a random stranger or a new friend). And I miss my confidence in my intuition, which seems more rock solid in a culture of magic like the Camino (or when traveling in Nepal and India) but seems to fade here as the skeptical/cynical part of me takes charge.

Enjoying and appreciating fresh garden salads (with local eggs and dressing) at home

June 10, 2010

Are You Happy? - Book Review

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
Barbara's most recent book review of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun is posted on the Story Circle Book Review website -- a great place for reviews of current books by women.
Check out my review there (with active links) or just read below:

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

As a reader I am happy that Gretchen Rubin switched her focus from heads of state (she is the author of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK) to her own head—and heart and psyche in her new book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

This already fairly happy woman—a former lawyer who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, accomplished author, married, mother of two well-adjusted children, living a somewhat charmed American life—asked herself, "Can I be happier?"

Rubin's book is part of the recent phenomena termed "stunt memoirs" by the New York Times and other media. Many of these start as online blogs, in which an ordinary person commits a year or so to a project such as eating locally (The 100 Mile Diet: Local Eating for Global Change); reading the encyclopedia from start to finish (AJ Jacob's blog); cooking Julia Child's recipes daily (The Julie/Julia Project); getting by without shopping (The Compact); or—in Rubin's case...becoming happier (The Happiness Project)—and writing about the experience.

Ms. Rubin makes the right disclaimers, including the necessary distinction between unhappiness and depression. She is aware that she is delving into the realm of problems of the privileged. Rubin also anticipates and counters criticisms, including the obvious, "Isn't this searching for happiness too self-indulgent?", by describing research that concludes that happier folks are more altruistic than unhappy ones.

Rubin is one of a few women who have tackled the happiness topic—most of the current research and books have been conducted and written by men. She skillfully weaves in age-old wisdom and contemporary research. The book is sprinkled with relevant quotes, although I wish she had included more by women (I'd refer her to Rosalie Maggio's section on happiness in The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women).

Rubin methodically analyzes happiness. Her resolution charts are a helpful tool for accountability and she offers many resources. I initially found it odd when she even broke down "fun" into three distinct categories—challenging, accommodating, and relaxing—but was pleased when I saw some wisdom and inspiration in her examples.

I had previously read Rubin's blog, "The Happiness Project" and would have liked it if the book included more of the concise self-help suggestions from it. But the book focuses on her personal happiness journey while the blog is more of a help to create one's own. If Rubin's intent in writing The Happiness Project was to inspire, her descriptions of what she tried and her triumphs and set-backs, although at times tedious, ultimately did inspire me. This memoir of one woman's journey is a wonderful explication of how people can change and reading it made me...well, a bit happier!

Gretchen Rubin is the author of several books, including Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK. She is a former lawyer who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She maintains a popular blog and e-newsletter and her author website.

June 7, 2010

This Rural and Ordinary Life


Over the last few weeks...
While I was at a wonderful memoir writing workshop, The Red Thread, led by Gail Straub, and held at The Holy Cross Monastery, Alan was installing new bedroom windows.



I write daily...I start my day with a cup of coffee and my journal (Blueline hardcover notebook with grid pages) and write my Morning Pages, a technique first described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way:
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages-- they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind-- and they are for your eyes only.
Sounds easy, huh?
I don’t recall my initial reaction when I read that... but I was encouraged by Julia Cameron’s description and her explanation for writing in the morning – before one’s inner critic wakes up. And that got me – my sporadic journaling often had a self-conscious quality to it. I’d write during crises but didn’t maintain the journaling habit during “ordinary” times because I was waiting to write something profound. Something interesting or insightful, pithy or witty. Just not ORDINARY.

Now that I’ve kept it up – having written Morning Pages almost daily for over 15 years – I know it is more about the process and less about the details. Oh, every so often there is something I wrote that I want to save – to reflect back on or to include in another piece of writing. But what’s most important to me is having a place to check in daily – to keep myself honest and to watch my own patterns. I notice when a seed of a thought grows into something larger because my morning pages notebook is the right environment for it. Or when a thought or feeling that I’ve been ignoring recurs (what I describe as “keeps knocking on my door”) and so I finally listen to its message.

I find it easy to credit the morning pages process for my big accomplishments and projects – from writing books to taking the Dream Year sabbatical. I also know that it continues to be helpful on a daily basis. Acknowledging and understanding and, in essence, honoring my ORDINARY life.