Smiles and Frowns can Grow on You

My first husband was in the ROTC in college. After his graduation we went to El Paso to live while he attended officers’ school. My little girl took her first steps there. We lived in a small housing complex with other young families. I became friend with another of the mothers in her twenties. She was from Oklahoma. One of the first things I noticed about her was that living in that hot, dry climate had scored deep frown and squint wrinkles in her youthful skin. Seeing them I determined right then that if I was going to have wrinkles at least they would be pleasant ones, and so I trained myself to notice whenever I started to squint or frown. Then as I caught myself, I would stop.

Some research on the Internet revealed that it takes more muscles for a genuine smile than it does for a frown. Furthermore, the act of smiling exercises the facial muscles and brings more blood to nourish the cells of the face. This I turn helps make us look younger and prettier. More important, so far as I m concerned is that the act of smiling releases endorphins in the brain. These are feel good hormones that makes us feel happier. So as we do so, we smile more and so forth. This is called a positive feedback loop.

One does not always feel like smiling. Some days it seems like the whole world is conspiring to create problems for you. Now certainly you do not feel like smiling. However, you can take heart. Even a pretend smile releases he feel good endorphins. I learned this from Thicht Nhat Hahn, the well-known teacher of meditation. If you make even a small smile it will release some of those feel good endorphins and make you feel better and more like really smiling.

The subject of this column was sparked by the visit of an old and dear friend who came over recently for lunch. He told us that a little while ago when he was interviewing for a job his interviewer asked him, “Do your cheeks hurt?” He said they didn’t and asked why. “Because you never seem to stop smiling,” came the reply. He does indeed smile a lot, and he is a very happy person. I expect there is a connection there. For myself ever since I can remember I have always enjoyed smiling at people. It does make me feel good and sometimes I get a smile in return.

Years ago I did find that it was unwise to smile at strangers on the subway because they might get the wrong idea and try to follow me home. It is also true that in some societies, smiles are considered bad form and indicate something less than friendliness. An article in Wikepedia suggests that smiles may have evolved from a grimace of fear. However, perhaps this worked to make people less fearful and happier, who knows. It has been said that in our youth we have the face God gave us, and in our elder years we have the face we have given ourselves. This is a good enough reason to smile as often as possible.

Tasha Halpert

A Recipe for Unexpected Guests

Spring blossoms, whiteIt makes me laugh when it gets cold after a warm day and someone says, “What’s happened to spring? It’s winter again!” That’s what spring is: a back and forth time of year. One day it’s lovely out, the next it snows. It’s difficult to make plans. Once many years ago my father decided to give an Easter egg hunt in the house he had inherited from my great aunt Alice. He invited all the members of an extended family of 12 children grown and married with children of their own, and told them all to come at one o’clock on Easter for the party. Then he went to Maine, intending to return that morning.

At eight AM that day it commenced to snow furiously. By twelve it had pretty much stopped, however my father, having been snowed in was still in Maine. I was faced with hosting a party for a large group of people I had never met not to mention hiding the eggs, providing the food, and being gracious. I called a friend and together we managed to pull off the party. I was rather put out with my father who very cavalierly said, “Oh, I knew you could handle it.”

For as long as I have known him, Stephen, like my father has been prone to spontaneously invite people over for a meal. Confident in my ability to come up with something on the spur of the moment, he doesn’t hesitate to play the host, and to be honest, I can say I have never minded. I love to cook and it gives me pleasure to provide for my friends or even for strangers who may become friends. The trick is to have certain things on hand that I can rely on to fix quickly and easily to feed two or more guests. Potatoes to bake and serve with sauce and cheese, shrimp in the freezer–a quick fix for shrimp scampi. Another is cooked rice for the following recipe.

Chinese fried rice works wonders as a quick meal. Of course you must have the simple ingredients on hand. The secret of this dish is that it must be made with leftover rice. Very quick to fix, it is popular with most. To serve four, use a cup of cooked rice per person, one egg, half a cup of frozen peas, half cup of chopped onion, half a cup of chopped celery, and 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or Dr. Bronner’s Mineral broth. If you have any leftover chicken, or extra firm tofu chop a half a cup of that too. 2 or 3 sliced garlic cloves and 2 or 3 Tablespoons ginger in thin strips is good too.

Take a half a cup large or extra large shrimp per person from the freezer, and thaw briefly in warm water. Peel if necessary and line up on a cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 5 or so minutes. Scramble the egg without any extra liquid and fry in some oil or butter. Set aside. In a large frying pan, sauté the ginger, garlic, onion and celery in oil until transparent. Stir in the rice and cook 5 minutes stirring. Add the peas, the egg, broken up, tofu, chicken and shrimp. Stir in the soy sauce and cook 5 more minutes stirring occasionally. Voila, Dinner is served.

Thrifty Ways

clothes-in-closetWhen I was a child a friend of my mother’s gave me the dresses that that her twins had outgrown. Because they were dressed alike, I had to wear two of whatever came my way. In the days when I was growing up, thrift meant making do with what was available. Aside from the fact that while my family had enough, they weren’t exactly wealthy, there was a war on and many things, including clothing and shoes were rationed.

In addition, in the years that followed, my mother had to stretch what my father earned to cover the needs of the three more children born after I turned eight years old. I remember how excited I was when in my sixteenth year I got a pair of Bermuda shorts. They were newly fashionable and I felt very special to have a pair. Although they were wool, I wore them all that summer and for a number of summers after that. For a long time they were my only pair.

Growing up in a thrifty household inclined me toward a thrifty lifestyle as an adult. When I was raising my own family of five children I had to stretch our food dollars to try to nourish as well as please my family. I learned all kinds of tricks to make inexpensive cuts of meat palatable and I baked cookies by the dozen so the children would have treats. Home made was far less expensive than store bought. My sewing machine hummed as I made dresses for my daughters and even some outfits for my sons when they were small.

Judging from the advertisements I see today, thrift is not especially fashionable. Bargains, of course are. However what is considered a bargain by some standards is not by others. When I was growing up the annual church fair rummage sales held in local churches were the best places to find inexpensive, serviceable garments. My mother was a faithful customer.

I do not remember there being consignment shops or other places one could find good second hand clothing when I was a child. When we got together I introduced Stephen to consignment and thrift store shopping, and he embraced it happily. I find it more fun to shop that way because you never know what you will find and the prices are far more reasonable than what other stores charge.

Over the years, I have amassed a wonderful collection of clothing. Much of it has come from consignment or thrift stores, the rest from sales. Certain garments have endured the test of time and I wear them joyfully in the appropriate season. Others get rotated back into the mainstream to be discovered by someone else who enjoys saving money by shopping wisely. What is especially nice for me is that now I can have a number of pairs of shorts for the price I would pay for one bought new, or a cashmere sweater that someone has passed on, at a fraction of the cost in a regular store. Perhaps this is a kind of payback for the days when I wore the twins’ hand me down dresses over and over again.

Tasha Halpert

Cherish Every Moment with Loved Ones

tashas-birthday-party-at-dianasI remember going to church with my mother on Sundays, and how uncomfortable the kneeling benches were. She was a devout Catholic and thought God would punish her if she didn’t go faithfully. As a result we went to my father’s church, an Episcopalian one on special holidays only after we went to early mass at my mother’s church. My fondest memories of her are centered on Christmas eve when she played her violin and we sang carols in front of our tree.

While I do have many memories from my childhood I wish I had more. I can remember my late mother telling me stories about things that happened or that I did that I had no memory of, but that she had cherished herself. Children do not realize that things will change, that what is will not be there forever and must be noted or it will be lost.

The other day Stephen and I were out with my daughter and her fiancé for dinner and a movie. As we sat over pizza afterward, I thought to myself how wonderful this all was, and how much I was enjoying it. I reminded myself to cherish the moment. We never know when something will end, or at least change so that it is no longer available. I did not always feel this way; it is something I have learned from experience.

When my children were little I was a busy mother with five young ones and a husband who traveled on sales calls. When I look back on our lives together I realize my mind was too filled with thoughts of all that I needed to do to be present with them and what they were doing. I know I missed much of what I would cherish now if I could remember it. This is a lesson that can only be learned from experience.

I realize how much I may have missed in my life by not being present. A friend once said to me, “I always take special care to enjoy myself at your home because then when things change I will have no regrets.” We moved away and she went back to South America; we have lost touch. Most likely I will not see her ever again, yet because of what she said she has a presence still in my heart. When I see again someone that came to our home years ago for gatherings or classes and remembers us, and it makes me glad.

Recently I have lost a sister and a sister in law to death as well as a number of friends and acquaintances. At no time did I know when last I was with that person that I would not set eyes on her or him ever again. I am aware more than ever that when I am with someone I know, and especially someone I love that it is vital to be mindfully present, or I will miss out and regret that I did not take advantage of the time I had with him or her. Change is the law of life; nothing stays the same. Every moment is precious, most especially when we are with those we love.

 

The Fruits of Summer

Belfast veggies 12My parents both gardened, but differently. My mother had a vegetable garden; my father grew flowers. She spent her summers growing, harvesting, and putting up what the garden produced. He filled the house with fresh flowers in vases. His roses were lovely. He worked as an arborist and summer was a busy time for him as he helped others plan and tend their property. I always had a little garden of my own. I too grew flowers.

Later as a young wife I grew vegetables, though except for beans, not easily from seed. My children helped some but I did most of the work myself. My tomatoes were successful and appreciated. When I moved to Grafton I enjoyed growing herbs and flowers in my spiral garden, where I learned the virtue of perennials interspersed with annuals here and there. These days I no longer garden, instead I enjoy the fruits others’ efforts.

The farm markets in the surrounding countryside burst with local produce of all kinds. Vegetables and berries gathered daily line shelves and counters, and the freshly picked corn is piled high for the taking. Summer is the perfect time to indulge in this freshness. Between now and harvest time, the hot sun nourishes both roots and leaves. Its warm rays ripen the eventual harvest that people once stored for winter. These days we simply enjoy what grows.

Yet summer is also a time for people to take time off and appreciate the opportunity to spend it relaxing. Whether on the beach or in a park, the hot weeks are a time to be in nature, to let the sun bathe our senses and ripen our opportunities to kick back and nourish ourselves in nature and with play. The long daylight hours encourage extra outdoor activity. The relaxed pace allows time to catch up on reading and as well as see friends and family.

Rest is an important part of good health for everyone. Vacations are intended to provide more than just a change of pace. Whether they are taken at home in the form or staycations, or as trips to planned destinations, days off are a real necessity for everyone’s health and well being. One of the fruits of summer that does not grow on a tree or in a garden is time to let go, to set down the list of tasks and let things slide a bit.

Once a busy gardener with summer weeding chores, I find myself now doing more reading, as well as spending more time enjoying and appreciating others gardens. However, aside from weeding and watering, once the hot days of summer begin a well planned garden does not require much of the gardener. The harvest will come later when trees heavy with fruit and bushes with berries demand attention. For now it is time to enjoy a bit of lazy time, to lean on the fence or sit in my easy chair and let the garden grow.

Tasha Halpert

 

The Dailyness of Doing

Nature's Art 1. 2012-06- While I was growing up, when it came to household chores my mother did not consider me to be capable. This may have been because she expected more of me than I was able to do at a young age, or it may have been that she was so particular that my childish efforts were simply inadequate. She had very high standards. Regardless of the reason, she never encouraged me to do any cleaning or other household tasks even after I was in high school. What this meant was that I never really learned how to clean properly.

I remember the day I came home to the first apartment my young husband and I had and found my father sweeping the rug. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was cleaning the rug. But I don’t have a vacuum, I told him. You don’t need one, he said, and inquired of me where I kept my dustpan and brush. I had never realized you could clean a rug just by sweeping it.

I had to learn how to keep house the hard way, by trial and error and doing it. The other day as I cleaned the sink in the bathroom, I began thinking about household tasks in general. I realized that when I complete some tasks, I give a sigh of contentment and think to myself: good, now that’s accomplished. There are others I complete and with a sigh of resignation wonder how soon I’ll be doing it over again. Much depends on the task in question; some are more satisfying than others. Cooking, for example is my delight and I have no problem making three meals a day.

On the other hand, when I wash the kitchen floor, although it looks very nice, I don’t feel happy because it doesn’t last. Somehow it gets dirty practically immediately. Although small in surface, it is still a chore to keep clean. The stove presents the same issue. It seems that no sooner do I clean the pans under the burners than when I next turn them on, they’ll emit a bit of burning smoke from another stray crumb.

It is hard for me to take much satisfaction when I finish doing something I know I will have to do again practically immediately. Yet when I do not allow myself to take that satisfaction, I do not feel rewarded. If I do not feel rewarded it is much more difficult to do what needs doing again with any promptness. The good feeling I get from completing any task is an important part of what helps motivate me to repeat it, no matter how soon.

There is only one solution I can think of: to do the task as fully as possible in the present moment. What this means is that while I am doing it, rather than thinking of how soon I will have to do it again, or how onerous it is, I focus exclusively on the performance of it. It helps almost any situation to be mindful during it. As I direct my attention and my energy to the activity of the task, I am not only more efficient, but also more able to find pleasure in it.

Tasha Halpert

 

The Politics of Fear

 

 

I grew up with parents who had little to no interest in politics. They were staunch adherents to the Republican party and voted for the candidates of that party without thinking much about it. I took little interest in the political scene until I met Stephen, who is a student of history and follows the ins and outs of politics. I now listen and learn, and I consider myself to be an informed voter. What I don’t like is the inability of many of the current candidates to do more than spout what they want people to hear, and most especially in order to manipulate them, to slant what they say to appeal to their desire to be safe.

Too often candidates for election seem to try get votes by playing upon the fears of those they hope will vote for them. As I have said before and probably will say many times again: Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. The reason it appears real is that it is based on belief, not facts. Stephen and I once had a remarkable spiritual teacher who taught us that all is a belief, and that you can change your beliefs if they are not working for you.

For instance, if I believe that this country is in deep trouble, ready to crumble into doom and destruction as some say it is, then that is my belief, and it is fostered by those who would manipulate me into doing what they want me to do. However it may not be the truth. There are statistics to prove otherwise. Check out the articles by those who do not believe this. There is plenty of scientific evidence to the contrary. This is especially true of global warming. However it is difficult to argue with belief. It is based on emotion not reason.

There may or may not be any hard facts to bolster a person’s belief, however these are not as important to the believer as the adherence to what is believed. People believe what they wish to, or what suits their outlook on life, or even what is important to them personally. I recall my parents railing against President Roosevelt because he had instituted social security, never mind how much help it was to how many people. They believed it was a bad idea. It is natural to have beliefs and we all have them. It may however be important to examine one’s beliefs from time to time.

I strongly believe that it is wrong to try to sell anything no matter how helpful it may seem by pitching it in terms of fear. “If you do not buy this, this terrible thing will happen.” I reject this approach because I feel it is dirty to play on people’s fears. It tries to undercut rationality and good sense in order to appeal to people’s need to feel safe. Because it is key to survival, one of the most basic needs of an infant is safety. I won’t vote for a candidate that tries to frighten me. To me that is not ethical; honest behavior and factual statements will guide my choice of whom to vote for.

Tasha Halpert